Back from South Carolina
We are back after 6 weeks in South Carolina trying to get our condo there in livable shape after a fire 14 months ago. It is livable, but work remains to be done.
Joke of the week: Squirrels vs. Churches
The Presbyterian Church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrels. After much prayer and consideration they concluded that the squirrels were predestined to be there and that they shouldn’t interfere with God’s sovereign will.
At the Baptist Church the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a water slide on the baptistery and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and, unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.
The Methodist Church decided they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creatures. So, they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist Church. Two weeks later the squirrels were back at the Methodist Church after the Baptists took down the water slide.
But the Catholic Church came up with a very creative strategy. They baptized all the squirrels and consecrated them as members of the church. Now they see them only on Christmas and Easter.
Not much was heard from the Jewish synagogue. They took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They haven’t seen a squirrel since.
Chesterton on Religion, Rationalism, Skepticism, and Superstition
“It’s part of something I’ve noticed more and more in the modern world, appearing in all sorts of newspaper rumours and conversational catchwords, something that’s arbitrary without being authoritative. People readily swallow the untested claims of this, that, or the other. It’s drowning all your old rationalism and skepticism, it’s coming in like a sea, and the name of it is superstition….It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are…. And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery and a pig is a mascot and a beetle is a scarab, calling up all the polytheism from Egypt and old India….and all because you are afraid of four words, ‘He was made Man.’” G.K. Chesterton, The Omen of the Dog.
Just published: Galatians: Freedom in Christ
Saluda Press is happy to announce that it has just released the third study guide in the Timothy Series of Bible study guides, Galatians: Freedom in Christ. More next week.
Luther’s 95 theses for the 21st century, continued.
Before I took a vacation we looked at Theses 1-13. This week we resume the series by considering the mental and emotional state of believers and unbelievers when faced with death and purgatory. There is good counsel here even for us today who do not believe in purgatory; see especially Thesis 17.
- Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love the greater the fear.
- This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
- Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
Thesis 14 simply summarizes 1 John 4:16-19:
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”
In Thesis 15 Luther says that if there if purgatory entails any penalty or punishment, it is the fear of falling into the hands of an angry God, since fear of divine judgment is a horror akin to the despair of the damned. Those in hell suffer real, unending despair, the utter loss of hope. Dante puts it well in The Divine Comedy when he depicts the gate of hell. Over its yawning blackness is the inscription, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” To be sure, the Catholic Church formally taught that purgatory was only for those who would finally reach heaven. Nevertheless, Luther believed those in purgatory must suffer a fear close to the despair of hell.
Some Christians today live in fear (even as many more live unconcerned lives). They believe their own good works must have some part in their salvation, and they fear their own contribution will not be enough. They call on Christ for forgiveness, but their love for their loving Father is small. As John writes in 1 John 4:19, we love because he first loved us. If we love little, it is because we think God loves little, and we think we have to do something to please him, whether good works in this life or suffering in purgatory.
Luther later rejected the doctrine of purgatory. He came to the full realization that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ’s atoning work alone. Though repentance is necessary, no works of penance are necessary. God does not demand personal suffering of us, since Christ suffered the full penalty for our sins.
Thesis 16 summarizes well the mental and emotional states of men and women. Assurance of salvation, like salvation itself, is the happy lot of those who rest completely on Christ. Weak faith will always be mixed with fear (but let us remember that faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed can lay hold of salvation). Unbelief will ultimately lead to despair, sometimes in this life, always in hell.
- It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
If purgatory is to accomplish what God intends (according to the Roman Catholic Church), it follows that the punishments of purgatory ought to sanctify, that is, to make the imperfect Christian more perfect, more holy. The more holy we are, the more we will love God and the less we will fear. Consider again 1 John 4:17:
“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment.”
We today who don’t believe in purgatory, how do we obtain that perfect love that casts out fear? The chief, perhaps the only means, is to meditate on and claim the blessings of being justified by faith. In the first four chapters of the Book of Romans the apostle Paul teaches the doctrine that Luther would later consider the truth on which the church stands or falls, justification by faith. Then, in Romans 5:1-11, Paul writes of the hope of glory (heaven) and the love of God which the Holy Spirit gives us:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.