This is the third year I've posted this tune on my blog. Enjoy! Sing Along!

The Reformation Polka

by Robert Gebel

[Sung to the tune of "Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious"]

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian!

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter's profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints' Bull'tin board:
"You cannot purchase merits, for we're justified by grace!
Here's 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!"

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
"Are these your books? Do you recant?" King Charles did demand,
"I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!"

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting "George" as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin's model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek!

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Let's raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that 'catholic' is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance!

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!


How NOT to Give Advice to Single People

So the other day, I met a really nice couple. The husband was friendly and asked me a lot of questions about my life. We chatted about travel, and I told them about my trip to Europe with my family.

"Husband and kids?" he asked.

"No, parents and brother. I'm single," I replied.

And then... such a speech. Here's what he advised me to do.

1. Make a specific list of everything you're looking for in a husband. This advice was accompanied by a lot of questions. Have you thought about what kind of things you're looking for? Really? Specifically? In detail? What about things you don't want? Really? Specifically? In detail?
2. Realize that that man exists. Pray specifically for him. He is the only man for you.
3. Recruit other people to pray for that specific man. Don't forget about the parable of the unjust judge. Pester God until he brings your husband along.
4. Remain under your father's authority.
5. If that doesn't work, join eHarmony.

I definitely wished I could have made the whole conversation just STOP, for the love of heaven and all its angels, STOP!! It basically sums up all the bad advice I've gotten about singleness -- not just the advice itself, but the context in which it was offered.

So here (as revenge) is MY advice to married people who feel tempted to say any of the above things:

1. Don't give advice to single people you just met. Relationship advice should be given in the context of -- surprise!! -- relationships. Most people would never give marital advice to a couple they just met, but the rules somehow go out the window when talking to single folks.

2. Think about your attitude before you offer advice. As Christians, we have to recognize that the problem of humans is sin, and the solution is the Gospel.
Singleness is NOT a problem to be solved. Do I want to get married? DUH. But please don't see my life as something you can "fix" with some pithy tips.

3. Keep in mind that every person's situation is different. Again, folks get this ordinarily. But with singles, it seems like people are so much more tempted to say, "Well, such-and-such worked for _____, so it'll definitely work for you." It's not that your advice is necessarily
wrong, but... for example, I have ZERO problem with online dating services. And the courtship model makes sense for younger singles who live near or with their parents. And I wish more of my married friends would be bold enough to set me up with some dudes. But not all of those things is right for every person. For crying out loud, one of my dearest friends emailed a guy from halfway around the world because he read her blog and jokingly called her a feminist and she didn't like it and then they started talking and fell in love and now they're married and she's pregnant with their first child. Good GRIEF. PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT. Ok. Rant over.

4. Please, please, please, don't perpetuate the idea that there's one ideal man out there for every single woman, and she'll never be happy until she finds him. The Prince Charming Myth has disillusioned and embittered countless young women, clinging to their "lists" while overlooking godly men all around them. Yes, in the grand scheme of God's sovereign plan, he knows and chose who I'll marry. But in my time-bound perspective, there are any number of godly, ministry-minded men with whom I could have a good, happy, sanctifying, Gospel-centered marriage.

OK, single peeps, any other advice for our married friends? ;)


Awesome Deal, People

Seriously, check this out. My church, Sojourn, is packed wall-to-wall with talented musicians, some of whom worked on last year's Christmas album, Advent Songs. It's a beautiful, unique album that normally sells for a very reasonable $10, but leading up to the advent season, it's being made available for download fo however much you want to pay for it. OR, if you tell five friends about it, you can get it for FREE. Crazy.

Check out the details HERE at SojournMusic's website.


The Countdown Continues

28 Days!! That's four weeks from tonight!

Go Wildcats!


And Now For Something Completely Different...

Michael Pollan's beautiful, sweeping, joyous, practical, intense, inspiring, provocative, stunningly magisterial open letter to the incoming president (whoever he may turn out to be) in the Sunday New York Times Magazine section, all about revolutionizing and returning to our agrarian roots.

It's nine pages long, wordy for a newspaper article, but is so thrillingly visionary that you'll be finished before you know it. Can't recommend it highly enough.


Rules/Rants About Blogs

The "rules" bit:

1. If you don't have time to read or address reader comments, consider that you might not have time to blog.

2. If you have a strict disclaimer or instructions for commenters (what behavior or content won't be tolerated), but don't have time to enforce these policies, then really don't bother blogging.

Theologica and Boundless Line are two prime examples of what happens when you don't consistently respond to out-of-line or heretical comments, and in the case of Boundless, what happens when you don't enforce your comments guidelines. The moderators end up suborning heresy, the comments sections spiral out of control, and the constructive discussion gets choked out by confusing, contradictory comments by believers, unbelievers, and pseudo-believers.

So, do you 1. address and refute out-of-line or heretical comments, 2. delete them, or 3. let them slide?

#3 is irresponsible and foolish, and either 1 or 2 works. I lean towards deleting (although a blog that's turned into a public forum would want to be crystal clear about the standards for deletion). Heretics who find themselves being blocked will keep moving until they find somewhere else to comment.

And really, have you ever heard a new believer say, "You know, I was an atheist until I started commenting on this blog..."?


Questions and Answers, Part 9

Hey Laura,

Here’s another theological question for you: theosis, deification, all that stuff. What’s going on there? I see great Truth in the Salvation by Faith alone and of course there is plenty of Scripture to back it up. I recognize my incapability to do good (without selfish motivation) and take joy in the Gift of Grace.

But there’s always been a lingering vision or motivation in my brain of “working my way towards Christ” for lack of a better phrase. I think perhaps I have a romantic idea of it. And I think it might come from bottomless cups of tea and hours of readings of Dostoevsky and the like. But I think it’s hard for me to dismiss the thought. And I think the idea of “I believe, I am saved, the end,” is repulsive.

I believe that we are required to do good works BECAUSE we are saved; that that should be our motivation. But frankly, sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough. Your favorite verse comes in handy here (work out your salvation because it is God who works in you). But then there are those verses in… Is it Timothy? Or James? “Faith without works is dead” and many more in that book. What do these mean?

And I suppose I see such a connection between our life now and Kingdom life. Although I don’t know what I’m talking about really. And although I believe in resurrection into new life… I do believe there is a connection between now and eternity. This seems to be further support for some idea of becoming more and more like Christ. Surely we have some part in this? Yes, God gives us Grace and works in us to be more and more confirmed. Yes, he will complete the good work he began. Yes, we do have responsibility though. How does our Protestant idea of this clash with this idea of “theosis”? The answer seems simple but then…. I’m not totally sure I know what it is.

Your Friend,


OK, first. Let's not get the idea (so often perpetuated among modern evangelicals) that Belief = Assent to a bunch of statements. As in, yes, I believe that Jesus died for my sins and that makes me a Christian. that is LAME. There are plenty of folks who believe that that's what "belief" means but it's completely not the biblical picture of faith. Faith/Belief/Trust is all wrapped up in that word. As in confidence in, reliance upon. So "by grace, through faith" doesn't mean "by grace, through agreeing with propositions" but rather "by grace (God's undeserved favor) through trusting, relying, leaning on Jesus Christ." And Ephesians 2:8-9 says that faith in itself is a gift -- in other words, the ability to trust in, rely on Jesus is made possible by God's grace -- that we never would have relied on Jesus for our salvation apart from the Holy Spirit working in us... we would have kept on relying on ourselves.

You are right that there IS a tension in the Scriptures about God's sovereignty and our responsibility. And I would venture a guess that most of the folks we know who call themselves "reformed" at Sojourn and elsewhere are really what we call "compatibilist," which means that God somehow works out that WE have a responsibility, in the midst of HIS plan, to do OUR part, enabled by HIM. That our choices are real and meaningful. That we have to work out our salvation.

Another thing too... we believe that the Scriptures even when they seem in tension, actually describe different aspects of the same reality. So James is talking about faith without works is dead. Right. Totally agree. He's talking about "faith" and FAITH. "faith" is that lame-o belief business, just assenting to propositions about Jesus. FAITH is robust, relying on God -- evidence of a changed heart. There's an old saying I learned as a teenager -- "We are saved through faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone" -- in other words, true faith, faith that saves, is never just assent. It's trust in a God who changes lives. So James is talking about the outward workings of an inward reality. Just like Paul talks about the inward and spiritual realities, and ALSO describes the outward "evidences" of true saving faith.

Paul also talks in 2 Corinthians (and other places) about how we are being saved. It's consistent throughout the NT to discuss salvation in three ways: (1) as an accomplished fact (Romans 8:24, for instance) -- "you were saved," (2) as an ongoing process -- "you are being saved," and (3) as a future reality to be hoped for and anticipated (Romans 5:10, which also contains some of #1)-- "you will be saved." It makes a lot of sense of how a Christian's spiritual life ought to look: Confidence in Christ and his finished work that purchased us, sanctification and the necessity of discernment and work and prayer and community, and a balance of humility and hope as we await the final salvation that sums everything up in Christ.

Part of the issue is how much we have a tendency to lean toward #1 in the reformed/protestant type circles! We think of salvation as an accomplished fact, something that happened in the past, and forget that the Bible talks about how salvation is not just an event, but a process. Now, I do think salvation happens. Paul talks to the Ephesians so much about what they were BEFORE they were saved and makes such a sharp contrast between you were like this but now you are like this in Christ, that it leads me to believe strongly that there is a time when a person is a pagan headed for hell and then God does a work and their nature is changed. But they are also being conformed to the image of Christ. It's a process, just as much as growing up and maturing in our natural lives.

And yeah, man!! The kingdom!! It's so rad. WE, us, the church -- we are the sort of pro-tempore kings of God's kingdom, the provincial rulers given charge over it while Jesus tarries. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God when he came in flesh, and our JOB as those who are becoming like him while we wait for him to return is to push the front lines of the kingdom forward! This is WHY we do mercy! It's why we "do" Church, for crying out loud. Evangelism is part of this! Environmental stewardship! Counseling! Raising kids! It's all kingdom work!!! That's why there is NO unimportant person in the Church or in the World. We build and create and love and civilize and settle and obey the cultural mandate (be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it) because all that stuff has found its ideal and its goal in Jesus! We're not just building a human kingdom like the Israelites were! Jesus is the True Israel of God and we are in Christ, so we push forward. So we see places where the Kingdom of God is NOT reigning, and we ought to grieve! We ought to see a Christian married couple with a crappy marriage and want to bring God's Kingdom rule to bear on their lives. We ought to see pollution and mistreatment of animals and say, huh-uh, that ain't the way it's going to be in the coming Kingdom! Let's work to make this not happen. I mean, what is the POINT of fighting against abortion -- I mean, all those babies go to heaven, right? -- unless we are WORKING to make THIS world look more and more like the world to come! The world to come won't have death, or suffering, or misery, or exploitation, or loneliness, or any of that crap. So we work and fight and strive to make our LIVES kingdom LIVES and our world like the Kingdom that is to come. THAT is a compelling vision of our future! We work now, hampered and thwarted by sin and the flesh and the devil and the world, but we look forward to the day when our work (which will be a continuation of our work now) will be perfected -- not held back by our own selfishness, not thwarted by sin, not made futile, not fruitless or weak!! SO. RAD.

Naw, what are you talking about? I'm not excited about that. Not at all.




Questions and Answers, Part 8

Hey Laura,

I guess the confusion for me still lies in whether those plans that “will definitely be carried out” necessarily involve details like marriage. You said, “If God's purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, like the Scriptures say, then whether or not I get married isn't all that important.” Yeah, and so it’s pretty easy to say, “Well, God doesn’t care either way, therefore whether or not I end up as a wife and mother is totally due to things like how attractive I am, how mature these boys are, the decisions I make in relationships, etc., etc.” Of course, this is a very anxiety-inducing way to think of it! It kind of makes things all my fault if they don’t go “right,” rather than being according to Gods Will. So, naturally, I don’t like that idea and it doesn’t sit right with me when I consider God’s goodness and love for us.

Your Friend,


Hey Girl,

It's a tough balance, for sure, because in one sense, it doesn't matter if you get married or not in the grand scheme, because God's purposes will be accomplished either way. But God is ultimately in control, not just of the overarching themes of history and your life and mine (although you're right, that is extremely helpful for perspective to keep in mind), but of the details of our lives as well. Look at Psalm 139, for example. God knit you together. He sees your going out and your coming in. He knows your thoughts. He "hems you in" from all around (a pretty amazing thought!). He wrote down all your days before you ever existed. That says to me that he is intimately involved (although mysteriously for sure) with the daily stuff of our lives.

The problem with, "God doesn't care either way. He's powerful enough to work with whichever way I go" is that it quickly becomes two things: one of which you've noted, which is Oh Crap, it's all up to me. But the other is, well, then, I can do whatever I want because God can work with whatever I give him. That's true in a way, but we're still accountable to him for our decisions. I'm not saying you're going that direction, but historically, that's where Christians have gone -- either to over-emphasizing our own responsibility in living a holy life or under-emphasizing our accountability to God to live rightly.

So... it's a tension, and something I get pulled back and forth on in a big way. Yes, God can work in spite of my deficiencies, but yes, I also have a responsibility to participate in my sanctification and move toward holiness, because God is at work within me. I think it's helpful to frame it like that. God's work is at both ends, making my work possible. Philippians 2:12-13 is basically my favorite verse because of this: "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you, to will and work according to his good pleasure." God is at work, so I can work (and live and pray and do my daily stuff) both with confidence in and awe of God, who works everything according to the pleasure of his will.

With the "marriage" issue, the balance (or tension, I guess) is in saying, OK, God cares. He is at work. I have a responsibility to grow in godliness, to strive for those qualities that make up righteous woman, and to seek him -- remembering that I can work because he is already working to sanctify me. Those godly characteristics won't make God bring me a husband (which I've actually heard -- "God won't bring you a husband until you've taken care of X issue in your life" which is incredibly lame). The truth is, if he does bring me a husband, then those qualities will help me become a wise and godly helpmate. If he doesn't right now or for a while or ever (although that's pretty statistically unlikely), those qualities will help me be content and joyful in whatever circumstance I end up in.

I don't think I've ever actually achieved that kind of balance, and I may never. But there it is...




Questions and Answers, Part 7

Hey Laura,

Now here’s a big question: how does God’s sovereignty really play into this whole deal? The fact is, we all know it, a lot of people are increasingly immature and delaying marriage, for example, because of their fear of commitment and… I don’t know, inordinate affection for X-Box or something. But God doesn’t force them to obey him, push them into marriage, right? Now I do believe that God works all things together for good. But I see this in the way of sanctification, which of course, is our ultimate goal in life. But in the details? What’s your take?

Your Friend, X

Hey Girl,

Here's where I start with the whole "free will" thing. I said a little bit of it the other night, I think. My fundamental premise is that we are perfectly free to act as our nature allows (for instance, I can walk and run and crawl and skip and do cartwheels... but I can't fly). Which means that

1. unbelievers, who have a sinful nature unchanged by the Holy Spirit, are perfectly free to behave according to their nature, which is marred by sin. That's what depravity means -- every element of human nature is touched by sin -- NOT that humans are as sinful as they could be. I believe that God in his mercy and love for his creation and for his people restrains human sinfulness.

2. believers, whose sinful nature is being mortified and replaced with the nature of Christ as we are conformed to his image by the Holy Spirit, are free to act according to our renewing nature. This is why Paul talks about the war within himself -- on the one hand, we desire to follow Christ, but on the other hand, our sinful nature is still fighting against us.

I also think there are two ways to look at God's sovereignty that are true simultaneously. From our perspective, since we cannot know the future, and because God actually operates within time in our lives, every choice we make has true, infinite possibilities until we make it. When I choose to turn left instead of right at the stop sign, or to take Job A rather than Job B, or to marry Joe and not Fred, those are real choices that limit and change my future choices. But from God's perspective, since he exists outside of time and knows all events in the scope of time because he created them, we also say that he is sovereign over those things. They don't happen apart from his purposes being fulfilled.

I think you're right to look at things from a "sanctification" perspective -- just don't forget the universal perspective too, that God's purpose is to redeem for himself a people, i.e. the Church, not just individuals, and to redeem and transform creation -- all through Christ. So in some sense, Jesus is the goal of all creation. That helps me put the whole "marriage" thing in perspective. If God's purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, like the Scriptures say, then whether or not I get married isn't all that important (which, uh... don't see me as one of those people who pretends not to care. Cuz I do). I believe God already knows each hour of my life, but not in a weird micromanagement way that turns me into a robot. Like I said, when we're talking about human life within the constraints of time and space, God's sovereignty and our (real, meaningful) choices look very different.

I DON'T think we're meant to spend our whole lives looking for "signs" of what we're supposed to do, or that we're supposed to pray about what color to paint the bathroom or where to eat dinner or stuff like that. I believe that God uses what he gave us -- our experiences, our education, our brains, our consciences -- guided by the Holy Spirit, to put our lives in line with his plan. I think that's one reason the Scriptures talk so much about wisdom and ALSO emphasize the inevitability of God's plan.

That's why I don't like to talk about "the man God made for me" or whatever. I think that, in that time-bound human perspective of God's sovereignty, there are dozens if not hundreds of men I could marry and be happy with and have a godly marriage and raise a godly family with. I can think of several off the top of my head -- not guys I would necessarily marry right now but men I know are godly Christians with a biblical understanding of marriage, guys who love God's church, who could lead me, who'd be good dads, etc. I don't think it's some mystical thing that we have to feel all googly about or panic about or spend four hours a day praying about. God uses means to accomplish his will -- means like the preaching of the Gospel, and our brains and hearts. Means like first dates, wedding ceremonies, and uteruses. Things don't usually spring fully-formed from God's mind -- he graciously brings us into his plan for all creation by giving us responsibilities and using our choices to accomplish the summing up of all things in Christ. Which I think is pretty awesome.



I Miss Tassie

Specifically, at the moment, I desperately miss morning tea, which is an Aussie tradition so sacred that its omission at social or business gatherings of any kind is punishable by death. Or at least in theory, because who, really, would even dream of skipping a steaming cup of tea and a plate full of booze-soaked cake, scones with jam and cream, and chocolate slices?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sob into my afternoon tea.

Questions and Answers, Part 6

Hey Laura,

Thanks. Just wanting to make sure I’m knowledgeable rather than just uncomfortable. Thanks again for your input on all of this stuff. What do you think about Saint's Days and Feast Days -- and the church calendar in general? I've read up on some of those things too and I'm just wondering.

Your Friend,


P.S. I’m sorry, but I just love those Icons. They’re so gosh-darn beautiful!

Hey Girl,

You are right. They are SO beautiful -- I think much more dramatic and evocative than a lot of Western sacred art, although that may just be since I wasn't exposed to Eastern art as much. I would feel comfortable personally with icons of "saints" and men and women of old in a church building. I think it'd be hard to argue that it's a sin to do so. Maybe unwise in certain settings (if there are a lot of former Orthodox folks who have conscience issues, etc.), but not a sin. It's the depictions of God that I think just blatantly violate the "no graven images" thing and that I think we should avoid using devotionally.

I think feast/saint's days are rad. They started off in the church as commemorations of the martyrdom days of martyrs, which is SO cool, and which I think we should still do (like lots of other things -- the church calendar, for example). And I agree that the "saints" interceded for God's people while they were on Earth.

I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but the Orthodox view of the "communion of saints" is that the living and dead believers exist together -- that the dead aren't dead in the way we think of them as, and so they intercede for us before God just like they would have done on Earth. They deny that the living church and the "dead" church are separated. This makes the idea of the intercession of the saints make total sense. I deny that there is no separation between living and dead -- again, this is an example of over-realized eschatology. The perfect unity we will have in the age to come is not here yet! We look forward to it, but we are not now experiencing it. Making any sense?



Questions and Answers, Part 5

Hey Girl,

Hmm… interesting… clearly you think “venerating” is the same as “worshipping.” Is it possible to show special honor without worshipping? Where would you personally draw the line?

Your Friend,


Hey Girl,

Here's my opinion about the "veneration of Mary" shown by Catholics and others: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. A lot of people who worship Mary say they don't, but in their actions, they are giving her far more praise and honor and glory than are due to a person, even someone like Mary who is unique in all of history.

This is from an online Catholic encyclopedia:

This attitude [toward the "worship" of Mary -- and they actually use the word "worship"] becomes still more explicit in Tertullian and St. Cyprian, and the stress laid upon the "satisfactory" character of the sufferings of the martyrs, emphasizing the view that by their death they could obtain graces and blessings for others, naturally and immediately led to their direct invocation. A further reinforcement, of the same idea, was derived from the cult of the angels, which, while pre-Christian in its origin, was heartily embraced by the faithful of the sub-Apostolic age. It seems to have been only as a sequel of some such development that men turned to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.

The (Catholics) have suggested that Mary's obedience undoes Eve's disobedience -- that she is a "substitute" for Eve in the same way that Christ substitutes for mankind in Adam. This is typical of Marian devotion -- ascribing to her the same salvation-related characteristics that the Scriptures ascribe to Jesus. Sinlessness is another one -- that Mary was born without sin, that HER mother (traditionally called "Anna") was a virgin when she was conceived. She's also frequently called "Co-redemptrix" and "co-mediatrix" with Christ. Eep. You can call that "just veneration" if you want, but saying that Mary is fully co-operative in REDEMPTION?? That's worship, and it's also blasphemy.

Here's a link to a set of actual prayers to Mary (the Virgin of Fatima) written in the 1980s. (Most RCs don't take it this far, but it's there, and more common in Latin America.)

As far as where the line is? Here's Martin Luther's opinion, which I can get on board with in general:

She is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ ... She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still, honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.

If our honor of her puts her on the same level as that of Christ, that's a major issue. If we're giving her salvific powers, that's a blasphemy issue. No one can save but God. The Scriptures say that Christ is out intercessor before God, and that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in prayer. It says nothing about Mary. That's significant to me. She was a woman to be honored as one who obeyed God, whose very body was host of the Redeemer of the World -- HUGE deal. I want to imitate her, to set her as an example of joyful obedience in hardship and suffering, and even to recognize her as uniquely and spectacularly blessed! Our Lord loved her as his mother. So far, so good. But the minute we start saying she was perfect, she works together with Jesus to save us, she has the power to answer prayers or to influence God's will... that's when we've taken it WAY too far.



Questions and Answers, Part 4

Hey Laura,

How long did the veneration of Mary and of icons and all that stuff go on before people really started to protest it? Was it first protested by Luther or was there disagreement before that? I Googled some of the basics of the ecumenical councils and found…

3. Council of Ephesus (431), of more than 200 bishops, presided over by St. Cyril of Alexandria representing Pope Celestine l, defined the true personal unity of Christ, declared Mary the Mother of God (theotokos) against Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and renewed the condemnation of Pelagius.

7. Second Council of Nicaea (787) was convoked by Emperor Constantine VI and his mother Irene, under Pope Adrian I, and was presided over by the legates of Pope Adrian; it regulated the veneration of holy images. Between 300 and 367 bishops assisted.

I guess it’s still hard for me to understand why these people, after meeting and discussing over long periods of time (some of the same people who, while fallible, were able to recognize the heresy of Arius, etc.) were able to come to these decisions but we determine it not valid later? What's up with that?


Hey girl, great questions.

Number 3, the council of Ephesus, I would agree with those things. I don't have a problem calling Mary the Theotokos (which means "God-bearer" in Greek), because Jesus was and is God. Nestorius was a heretic who under-emphasized the divinity of Jesus -- so the God-bearer thing was really a Christology issue, not whether or not Mary was divine-like or worthy of veneration. Christians have ALWAYS viewed Mary as worthy of honor.

I think we (meaning evangelicals) have reacted too far against the misuse of Mary's life and example, and how Catholics especially have twisted it in a really sick way. So much so that we'll talk in over-the-top language about Elisha's miracles, David's passion for God, Esther's boldness and intelligence, but we won't talk about Mary's humility, joy, courage, and honor. We won't even say what the Scriptures say about her, which is that she was highly favored by God, blessed among all women.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we don't "decide" independently whether people were right. We make like the Bereans and search the Scriptures to see if the things they taught were in line with Scripture. Clearly it's out of line with Scripture to worship icons or images, or to pray to the dead, or to worship Mary, so we have to reject that teaching because Scripture says not to make a graven image of God, not to try to communicate with or conjure up the dead, and to give worship to no one but God.

There was a TON of disagreement about the veneration of Mary, indulgences, purgatory, praying for the dead, images/icons, the Lord's Supper all the way through Christian history. The problem was that the Roman church in the west and the Orthodox church in the east were in bed with the government which was often only nominally Christian, and so they could forcibly put down any dissent -- and they frequently did. Look up groups like the Lollards, and dudes like John Wycliffe and John Huss.

One of the major reasons Mary-worship popped up so soon (in the 4th and 5th centuries, spreading from there) is that it connected pagan goddess-worship to Christianity (incidentally, it's also a reason Catholicism caught on like billy-o in Latin America). When the Roman Empire was "made Christian" in the 4th Century, we're not talking about a mass conversion of hearts and lives. You still have all these thousands upon thousands of pagans who no longer have just Artemis or any number of other pagan goddesses to worship but also this "new" religion. So folks come up with the idea (unfortunately not corrected by some irresponsible church leaders) that, see, this "Mary" person is the Queen of Heaven like our goddesses! We can "venerate" her like we worshiped Artemis!

Now, it's obvious to me from reading church history that the worship of Mary became increasingly required over the years -- so whereas there seem to be pockets of Mary-worship surrounded by a lot of harmless if slightly overzealous Mary-honor beginning in the 4th and 5th centuries, over the years the institutional church began to demand it more and more, until it was considered heretical and punishable by death not to offer prayers to Mary and think of her as the chief intercessor for us in heaven. Which is jacked up, just in case you're curious.

Just because something is a long-standing tradition or really "ancient" doesn't make it right. One of the oldest "churches" in the world is the heretical Coptic "church" which sided with Arius over Jesus' nature. They believe that Jesus is less than God, that he was a created being that God elevated to divine status -- basically what the Jehovah's Witnesses believe only 1800 years before.

As far as the decisions being reached, you could probably find out about the votes on various subjects -- I don't know how good the records were that were kept of specifics. But some of the decisions provoked or were provoked by (in the case of the Icons thing) actual wars! So we're definitely not seeing total agreement amongst the folks at these councils.

Lunch break's almost over. Later.



Questions and Answers, Part 3

Hey Laura,

What do you think of the Eucharist? I’ve always had a hard time seeing it only as a symbol but maybe that’s just because I’m such a sensualist!

Your Friend,

Hey Girl,

I totally do not think you're being a sensualist when you find yourself dissatisfied with a purely "symbolic" or "memorialist" view of the Lord's Supper. Not at all. I think that those two views are reactionary and flat, and don't accurately or robustly represent either the Scriptural presentation of communion or the practices of the church (which I find helpful here).

First, what do we call it? I don't think it matters. Eucharist just comes from the Greek word "eucharisto" meaning "to give thanks." The Lord's Supper is what a lot of evangelicals call it. The term communion just has to do with the fellowship and unity we share as we take the bread and wine.

Second, do we call it a sacrament or an ordinance? I think we can call it both or either. Typically evangelicals shy away from the word "sacrament" because of its association with the Catholic view of communion, but I don't think that's necessary. There IS something sacred about the body of Christ fellowshipping together over this meal. But it's also an "ordinance" because Christ ordained, or commanded, it. That's why we have only two sacraments/ordinances (baptism and communion) vs. Roman Catholics and Orthodox who have seven (confirmation, marriage, ordination, confession/penance, last rites/extreme unction) -- because we believe that Christ instituted only those two as commands for all believers.

Third, views of the Lord's Supper:
(ALL Christians believe that we take communion in memory of Christ's death, and that he commanded us to do so. The arguments arise from Jesus' so-called "words of institution" -- "This is my body, broken for you... this is my blood, shed for you" -- and what they actually mean in our communal lives as the church, and also from the effect of communion on the body of Christ.)

1. Catholic – the mass (celebration of the Lord's Supper) re-offers the sacrifice of Christ, who is bodily present in the elements. It is a continuous re-sacrifice of Christ. Transubstantiation means that the wine becomes the blood of Christ, in its very substance, once it's consecrated by a priest, and the bread becomes the body of Christ. Only the outward form remains but in every spiritual and actual way, Jesus is bodily present in the elements. This has been discussed and debated and refined and nuanced for hundreds of years. They really, really, really mean that the bread = flesh and the wine = blood. Period. They even claim to know how it all happens. For Catholics, participation in the Sacraments actually saves people. The sacraments are the means God uses to confer his saving grace.

2. Orthodox – the Divine Liturgy has the Eucharist at its center. Their view is very similar to the Catholic view in that they believe that the "real presence" of Christ is in the elements in a bodily, actual way, but they just haven't flogged it out to such a ridiculously complex extent as the Catholics. Same problems exist, though -- re-sacrifice, transubstantiation, saving element of sacraments, etc.

3. Anglican/Episcopalian – there is a "real presence" of Christ in the elements, but it's whatever Christ says it is. This is a typically vague Anglican position... ;) And there's a range of opinions on it. I'd say most faithful Anglicans avoid the Catholic view but don't go as far as the Protestants do in reducing it to mere symbolism. The elements are a means of grace.

4. Lutheran – Christ is present in a "sacramental union" with the elements. The typical way Lutherans talk about Christ's presence in the elements is that he is "in, with, and under" the elements. Luther utterly rejected the idea of the mass as a re-sacrifice of Christ, rightly arguing that it undermines the once-for-allness of Jesus' death on our behalf, and adds human works to salvation. God uses the sacraments to confer grace to us in the community of faith. (On a side note, I am strongly attracted to this view in many ways.)

5. Methodist – Christ's presence is real but a great holy mystery experienced by faith. The sacraments are an experience of Grace for the believer.


Up to this point, the actual elements have to be guarded with some care and disposed of properly (or never, in the case of the Catholics and Orthodox, but instead stored and venerated or worshiped), because they contain the actual presence of the Lord. Beyond this point, that's not the case.

6. Calvinist/Reformed – The presence of Christ in communion is not "actual" but "spiritual." The body and blood of Christ, spiritually present in the elements, feed our souls, not our bodies, by faith -- but real nourishment and a real experience of the incarnate Christ occurs to those who have true faith and thus the Holy Spirit. Believers feast with Christ in heaven during the Lord's Supper, as though they were carried by the Spirit to his immediate presence there. Thus communion is an image of the unity and joy to be found at the marriage feast of the Lamb. When we participate in communion, the community of faith becomes the Body of Christ in a truer way. (This probably describes my view best, although I like to borrow from the Methodists and Lutherans too.)

7. Zwingli/many modern evangelicals -- Mere memorialist view, often called the "no presence" view. Christ is not present in any meaningful way in communion, and we participate in it because Christ commanded us to do so in order to remember his death.

I think we really miss out on a sense of connectedness and symbolism and mystery when we forget that Jesus Last Supper was the Passover -- that the bread he blessed and broke was the "bread of affliction," symbolizing the Israelite's hasty deliverance from their bondage in Egypt, and that the wine he lifted up was the "cup of salvation/redemption," which should have been blessed with the words, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you" but instead Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you."

I also think we have a pretty dim view of symbolism, representation, and memory -- those things are faith-building, deep, and real. Christ is present with us when we gather, and he has graciously given us these elements of bread and wine to stir our minds and hearts, lest we forget his sacrifice on our behalf. It's not "merely" a picture, it's a drama or a "story time" for our childish, stubborn hearts to hold on to in our moments of doubt and difficulty. It symbolizes the unity of the Body of Christ. It depicts Christ's death. It gives us a foretaste of the glory to come. It lets us feast with and on Christ for our spiritual nourishment. It's a beautiful, amazing, mysterious gift from God.

We must reject the idea that communion is a sacrifice in any sense -- which means we also must reject transubstantiation, because the two go hand in hand -- because it directly contradicts Scripture. But I think any view that doesn't contradict scripture, speak of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, or over-emphasize OUR works rather than remembering and giving thanks for God’s grace is fine for believers to hold.

Geez... it's like a book.




Questions and Answers, Part 2


Can you tell me a little bit more about the ecumenical councils? When exactly were those formed? I guess I’m not fully clear why they’re invalid or why they wouldn’t be binding on the Church before all the schisms and splits (I assume those councils were before any split, correct?)

Your Friend,


Hey Girl,

What the Orthodox Church (and Catholic Church for that matter) tends to portray is this single monolithic set of seven councils, that all True Christians (i.e. Orthodox) have always recognized as authoritative, since the dawn of Christianity. That's not how they really went.

The councils were a lot like denominational conventions are today -- pastors got together to discuss issues that were arising in their churches, to talk about how to deal with the problems brought on by persecution, etc. We have this idea that they were some grand royal-type arrangement. We're talking about ordinary pastors who were doing their best to be faithful to their congregations and the Scriptures, meeting to deal with problems and doctrinal concerns and heresies and to encourage and promote the unity of the church. They were patterned after the Jerusalem Council which is mentioned in Acts 15, when the apostles met to discuss the management of the churches and the issue of circumcision -- and when Paul rebuked Peter for giving in to the Judaizers.

The "First Ecumenical Council," as it's called, was the council of Nicaea in 325. Constantine asked for it to be called (probably at the urging of his pastor) to settle some disagreements about the nature of Christ and the trinity, because a pastor named Arius had been teaching his church that Jesus was a created being who was not fully divine. Since that's not what the Scriptures teach, the council asked him to repent, and he refused. The important thing to remember is that the council didn't decide that Arius was wrong and his opponent Athanasius was right -- they recognized that Arius's teachings were out of line with what Christians have always believed, and so they called him to repent, and when he refused, they removed him from his position as pastor of his church in Alexandria and excommunicated him. We get the Nicene Creed from this council, which is just a clear statement of the beliefs Christians have always held.

The next council was the council of Chalcedon, which addressed similar issues with the humanity of Jesus. Again, they weren't deciding that Jesus was human; they were recognizing what the Scriptures teach.

There is general agreement among Eastern Orthodox on most of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. But some Orthodox recognize certain ones that other Orthodox don't -- so it's kinda 6 + one or the other, or 6 + 2. Also, some councils were considered ecumenical (universal) at the time but were later rejected -- usually because a so-called ecumenical council would promote heresy and then would be hard-core corrected a few years later.

There were schisms between the Assyrian church and Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox and Orthodox in the midst of the councils. The "Great Schism" didn't happen until the 11th century, but there had been major trouble brewing for about 400 years between the East (Orthodox) and the West (Roman Catholic). The Great Schism was kinda the last, "Oh yeah? Well I excommunicate you TOO! Take THAT!"

For me as a Protestant, there are two major areas of disagreement with the Orthodox (and Catholic) view of the Councils.

1. The creeds. Catholics and Orthodox see creeds (which came out of the councils) as authoritative because the council wrote them. I see the creeds as helpful, but not authoritative, summaries of what the Scriptures teach and thus what Christians have always believed. The Councils didn't "come up with" this statement of belief, they just wrote it down in a clear way to prevent heretics from feeling like they could teach something contrary to the Scriptures. Creeds are like mini-systematic theology texts. I don't take a Systematic textbook and call it perfectly authoritative, but I sure do find it helpful in organizing what the Bible says on a particular issue. That's all creeds are -- condensing down the essentials of the faith into a few easy-to-learn paragraphs. There's pretty good consensus that the organization and content of creeds came from "baptismal formulas" -- sort of like interviews: what do you believe about God the Father? What do you believe about Christ? What do you believe about the Holy Spirit and the church and the resurrection, etc.? -- to test the beliefs of a candidate for baptism.

2. The nature of the councils. Catholics and Orthodox look at the councils and say, "Those people got together to DECIDE Christian doctrine. Without them, we wouldn't KNOW what true Christian doctrine was!" Baloney. The Scriptures contain everything we need for life and godliness, and these godly pastors and overseers knew that. That's why they used the Scriptures to repudiate heresy and keep the church as a whole pure. That's why they used the methods of the Bible to exclude people who didn't teach in accordance with the doctrines all Christians have always believed.

Part of the reason we struggle to get our minds around these councils, I think, is that we see titles like "bishop" and think Oh, that sounds very official and serious! -- but that word translated as "bishop" by some Eastern Orthodox and Catholics is the word "presbuteros," which is the word we translate as "elder." So we are literally talking about pastors or elders, plus regional and national leaders, getting together to address problems and promote unity, not a bunch of Cardinal-types meeting to decide whether or not we should believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God. They simply affirmed what the Scriptures already taught.

There's such a temptation to desire that someone in an authoritative position would just tell us what the Scriptures mean. But two things about that. First, pastors are just as fallible as we are -- they're not our "high priests" who intercede for us, Jesus is, nor are they our perfect guide to God's word. The Holy Spirit is. Second, whenever the Scriptures are taught or prophecy or words of knowledge are spoken, Paul (for example) tells us to test what is right in what they're saying. He doesn't say, "If I come and preach to you, you better just accept what I way because I'm an apostle!" He instead commends the Bereans, for example, because when he came to them, they earnestly searched the Scriptures to see if what he said was true. We're never supposed to just go along with what a Christian leader says without being certain that they are in line with what we know to be true in God's word.

Look, nobody would have the nerve to say, "Last year's Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis is perfectly authoritative on the same level as Scripture for all Christians everywhere, and anyone who rejects its decisions is anathema." But for some reason we're tempted to think that a gathering of fallible humans can make perfect and perfectly authoritative declarations just because the gathering took place 1700 years ago. It's a crazily false view of history. We are no more or less jacked-up than they were. They had their hidden sins, their blind spots, their mistaken theologies -- for instance, the oldest creed we have is the Apostles Creed (from around the 2nd Century) and I disagree with one of the lines when it says that Jesus "descended into hell." I don't think the Scripture indicates that Jesus went to Hell! The worship of Mary began as early as the 4th century. Does that make it right? No way!

We get this notion in our heads that these "great men of old" had it together in a way that we don't, but that just doesn't reflect the picture of humanity that we get in the Scriptures. Luther hated Jews. Calvin allowed the state to execute heretics. Augustine thought sex was evil and abstinence was the only holy path for "serious" Christians. The first Baptists turned into political revolutionaries. Everyone, even those halo-sporting council guys, gets things wrong. Maybe God allows that to keep us humble. Maybe he allows it so we'll long for Christ's return and the perfect unity of God's church. I don't know. But it's the reality.