Category Archives: This I Believe

This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part VIIc


Today we’ll finish up part 7 with chapters 19, 20, and 21–the sacraments!

“Sacraments are mystical symbols, or holy rites, or sacred actions, instituted by God himself, consisting of his Word, of signs and of things signified, whereby in the Church he keeps in mind and from time to time recalls the great benefits he has shown to men; whereby also he seals his promises, and outwardly represents, and, as it were, offers unto our sight those things which inwardly he performs for us, and so strengthens and increases our faith through the working of God’s Spirit in our hearts.”

Yes, that was all one sentence. It says several important things:

1. Sacraments are symbols or symbolic actions.
2. Sacraments are instituted by God.
3. Sacraments include the word of God, the symbol, and the thing to which the symbol points.
4. Sacraments remind us of God’s action.
5. Sacraments seal God’s promises.
6. Sacraments are outward signs of something God does inside us.
7. Sacraments are intended to encourage and strengthen faith.

The confession tells us that we observe only two Sacraments–baptism (which Bullinger equates with circumcision’s place in the old covenant) and the Lord’s Supper (which is equated with the passover lamb in the old covenant). These sacraments were not created by human beings, but God alone, and “as God is the author of the Sacraments, so he continually works in the Church in which they are carried out.”

Because the Sacraments come from God, the minister who celebrates them is not the point–it doesn’t matter if the minister is a sinner or perfectly learned or whatever (something we’ve discussed before in relation to the Donatist controversy). The integrity of the Sacraments depends upon the institution of the Lord.” period. Except if the minister is a woman…“we teach that baptism should not be administered in the church by women or midwives. For Paul deprived women of ecclesiastical duties, and baptism has to do with these.” (first of all–no Paul didn’t, but someone writing with his name did. Paul’s many female colleagues would be surprised to hear it. second–this has more to do with refuting the Roman teaching that unbaptized infants who died were destined for hell (or at best purgatory), so midwives baptized babies out of habit–not as part of God’s covenant people, but as a form of magic. That is indeed something to condemn.)

Anyway, back to the points:

In baptism we are reminded of Christ’s baptism, and of his death and resurrection. We are also reminded of God’s promise to make us all children of God. We remember that Christ sent the apostles to baptize and teach. We remember that the Holy Spirit descended on many at their baptisms in the book of Acts. It’s often called a sign of initiation for God’s people.” The symbol for baptism is water–the symbol of birth and of cleansing. The “thing signified is regeneration and cleansing from sin.”  

There’s only one baptism–you only need to be baptized once, and the form (sprinkling, pouring, immersing) is not the point. The point is that in this ritual we are reminded of God’s promise, and our faith is built up as we participate in that promise. We live as baptized people, people of God, people called and gifted and full of grace.

One of the important things about the Sacraments is that they use common things–like water–to show and effect something holy. Because baptism with water is both common and sacred, and because it’s the only thing talked about in scripture, “we do not consider necessary to the perfection of baptism…exorcism, burning lights, oil, salt, spittle, and other such things as a multitude of ceremonies.”  In other words–all the bells and whistles and trappings that the Roman Church added on are unnecessary or even harmful, according to Bullinger. Remember that he’s writing early in the Reformation era, and distinguishing from the Roman Church was important–and Bullinger’s main issue in these kinds of cases is that the extras make the ritual seem more like magic than holy. Baptism has one purpose–“to be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God…to be cleansed from sin…to be granted the manifold grace of God in order to lead a new and innocent life….all these things are assured by baptism.” In other words, the ritual of baptism is the outward sign of these things that the Holy Spirit does in our hearts–and it is a sign that reminds us of God’s promise and encourages us to live in it.

The Lord’s Supper, like baptism, uses common things (food) to signify God’s promise and work in us. Bullinger takes great pains to ensure that we don’t think that bread and wine are actually turned into body and blood (they are not “changed into the things signified, or cease to be what they are in their own nature. For otherwise they would not be Sacraments–if they were only the thing signified, they would not be signs.” alrighty then.) The purpose of the Sacrament is two-fold–to “keep in fresh remembrance that greatest benefit which God showed to mortals” (giving God’s own self to and for us), and to feed us–not necessarily physically (because that would involve “infamy and savagery”), but spiritually–when we receive the bread and wine and remember all Christ’s work and life and death and resurrection and God’s promise, then the Holy Spirit applies and bestows upon us these things…Christ lives in us and we live in him”.

Instead of transubstatiation (the turning of a substance into another substance, aka the bread literally and physically becoming the flesh of Jesus), and instead of Christ “hiding” in the bread (leading to the worship of the bread), the confession teaches that the physical body of Christ “is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and therefore our hearts are to be lifted up on high, and not to be fixed on the bread, neither is the Lord to be worshipped in the bread. Yet the Lord is not absent from his Church when she celebrates the Supper. The sun, which is absent from us in the heavens, is nothwithstanding effectually present among us. How much more is the Sun of Righteousness, Christ, although in his body he is absent from us in heaven, present with us, not corporeally but spiritually, by his vivifying operation, and as he himself explained at his Last Supper that he would be present with us. Whence it follows that we do not have the Supper without Christ, and yet at the same time have an unbloody and mystical Supper, as it was universally called by antiquity.”

In other words–when we participate in Communion, we are lifted up to Commune with Christ–our hearts are lifted up on high. Jesus is not absent from our celebration of the Sacrament because we don’t believe the bread and wine become body and blood–instead we are drawn into Christ’s presence at the Supper.

At the end of today’s theology class, I just want to go back to the beginning of chapter 19 for a moment, where the confession talks about the number of sacraments (again refuting the Roman Catholic church)…because this is just amusing. “There are some who count seven Sacraments. Of these we acknowledge that repentance, the ordination of ministers, and matrimony are profitable ordinances but not Sacraments. Confirmation and extreme unction are human inventions which the Church can dispense with without any loss, and indeed, we do not have them in our churches, for they contain some things of which we can by no means approve.” heehee.

What do you think of these explanations of Sacraments, and of the particulars of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? How do you experience God’s promise and presence in these symbolic actions? How does participating in the Sacraments inform your life as one of God’s covenant people?

This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part VIIb


Today we explore chapter 18, “Of the Ministers of the Church, Their Institution and Duties.” In this chapter is one of my favorite descriptions of what pastors do…see if you can guess which one it is.

God uses ministers in the building of the churchBullinger argues that ministers have always existed for the purpose of gathering, organizing, and teaching God’s people–and by always, he means always–all the way back to Abraham. “Ministers are to be regarded, not as ministers by themselves alone, but as the ministers of God, inasmuch as God effects the salvation of men through them.” What? Our salvation comes through ministers? That sounds suspiciously like what the Reformation was against, not what it was for. And so he expounds upon this–“How are they to believe in whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)And then this: “Yet, on the other hand, we must beware that we do not attribute to much to ministers…”No one can come to me unless by Father draws him” (John 6:44). God moves the hearts of Men. Therefore, let us believe that God teaches us by his word, outwardly through his ministers, and inwardly moves the hearts of his elect to faith by the Holy Spirit; and therefore we ought to render all glory until God for this whole favor.” In other words, Bullinger reaffirms that faith and salvation are gifts of God, given through the Holy Spirit (as per Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12), but reminds us yet again that these gifts come through hearing and experiencing–if we never hear, if we never share the good news, how can we expect faith to grow?

What do you think about this? What does the ministry of others have to do with your own faith development?

In the New Testament, “Ministers are called by various names: apostles, prophets, evangelists, bishops, elders, pastors, and teachers.” Apostles went throughout the world sharing good news and gathering churches, and “once established, there ceased to be apostles and pastors took their place.” Prophets interpret scripture and share God’s vision for the world. Evangelists share the good news through writing and speaking. Bishops “are the overseers and watchmen of the Church, who administer the foods and needs of the life of the church.” Presbyters (elders) govern the church with “wholesome counsel.” Pastors “keep the Lord’s sheepfold and provide for its needs.” Teachers “instruct and teach the true faith and godliness.”

Therefore, since there are plenty of roles and names for ministers in the New Testament, all the “Papal Orders” are unnecessary–“for us the apostolic doctrine concerning ministers is sufficient.” And monks…well…“they are of no use to the Church of God, nay, rather, they are pernicious.” When they were hermits, earning their living and being part of the local church, they were fine. But “now”–remember it’s 1566–“the whole world sees and knows what they are like.” Remember that monastic orders were extremely wealthy, were often the major landowners keeping people in the feudal system, and were believed to live completely in opposition to their vows, living a life of leisure and wealth at the expense of the poor. Bullinger has no room for that kind of life.

Ministers are to be called and elected –ie, you can’t just start proclaiming yourself a minister, you have to have a call from both God and the people, elected by a congregation, and must be “distinguished by sufficient consecrated learning, pious eloquence, simple wisdom, by moderation and an honorable reputation.” Those elected will be “ordained by the elders with public prayer and laying on of hands.” Again, you can’t just make things up–you need to be gifted, educated, called, elected, and ordained by a community.

Why? Because ministers are not priests–separated from the community for the purpose of making sacrifices on behalf of the community, communicating with God in a way that regular people can’t. Instead we are part of the “Priesthood of all Believers” –everyone can “offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ”–aka, anyone can communicate directly with God. “Therefore the priesthood and the ministry are very different from one another. For the priesthood is common to all Christians; not so is the ministry.” This seems in direct opposition to what we say often–that everyone does ministry. The issue here is language–“the ministry” is what Bullinger uses to describe pastors, people whose function in the community is to preach and teach and celebrate sacraments. Each Christian is called to the priesthood in the sense that we can all have access to God that used to be reserved only for priests, and each Christian is called to minister in various ways, but “the ministry” is a particular office and task within the community. This task is to be a “Steward of the mysteries of God.” The mysteries of God as understood by Bullinger  = the gospel and sacraments. “Therefore for this purpose are the ministers of the Church called–namely, to preach the Gospel of Christ and to administer the Sacraments.” So minsters are to be wise and faithful stewards, taking care of these mysteries and ensuring that people are able to grow through them.

What do you think about the role and purpose of the minister, as compared to the role and purpose of every Christian person?

Power: We know that the Reformation was in part a reaction to power abuses by the Roman Catholic church, its ministers, hierarchy, and various orders. So naturally we expect that the minister has power only under Christ, the head. In addition, all ministers of the church are equal in power–no one is above another, with greater power or authority.

“The duties of ministers are various…the teaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the Sacraments…to gather together an assembly for worship…to teach and to exhort, to urge idlers and lingerers to make progress in the way of the Lord…to comfort and strengthen the fainthearted…to rebuke offenders…to recall the erring into the way…to raise the fallen…to rebuke wickedness…to preserve the faithful in a holy unity…to check schisms…to commend the needs of the poor to the Church…to visit, instruct, and keep in the way of life the sick and those afflicted…attend to public prayers in times of need, together with common fasting.”

No pressure. On the bright side, even when we fail, still Christ can work through us (in contrast to what the Donatists taught about the work of priests who had failed being ineffectual).

Last but not least, “The worker is worthy of his reward. All faithful ministers are also worthy of their reward and do not sin whtn they receive a stipend, and all things that be necessary for themselves and their family.” 

phew–a long chapter with lots of stuff in it! What do you think? What makes you wonder? What questions do you have? What sounds familiar and what sounds strange? What do you think Bullinger may have left out when considering ministers and The Ministry? What might be different about The Ministry in the 21st century?

This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part VIIa


Section 7, as laid out in the study guide, consists of chapters 17-21 and is about “Church, Ministry and Sacraments.” As you might imagine, this is a ridiculously long section. So we’ll take it a bit at a time–first, Church. Next week, Ministry. The following week, Sacraments. Otherwise this post will be so long that you’ll still be here reading it next week anyway! 😉

So, chapter 17, “Of the Catholic and Holy Church of God, and of the One Only Head of the Church.” (you can kind of see where this is going, can’t you? Remember it’s 1566…)

This chapter has some real gems–I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

“The church has always existed and it will always exist.” That’s quite an opening line. The confession goes on to say that “The Church is an assembly of the faithful called or gathered out of the world” which does make it possible then to suggest that in all times and places, God has had a church. The ancient Israelites may not have known themselves that way, exactly, but Bullinger says they too are part of the church, the great cloud of witnesses, because they were an assembly gathered out of the world to worship and serve the One true God. In other words–because there has always been only one God, there has always been only one mediator between that God and humanity (the one eternal Son) and therefore there has always been a church.

“Therefore we call this church Catholic because it is universal, scattered through all parts of the world, and extended unto all times, and is not limited to any times or places. Therefore, we condemn the Donatists who confined the Church to I know not what corners of Africa. Nor do we approve of the Roman clergy who have recently passed off only the Roman Church as catholic.” Alrighty then! I think the Roman church zinger is clear enough, and highlights a difficulty we still have today with the word “catholic”–which in the creeds means universal but is commonly used as shorthand to mean the Roman Catholic church. The Donatists may need a little more explanation. Donatism arose in North Africa in the 4th and 5th centuries in response to persecution. The basic idea was that anyone who, under persecution, had handed over a bible or renounced faith but then, when persecution ended, came back to the church, was a traitor. The church was to be full of “saints, not sinners” and so any sacraments performed by these traitors were invalid, any preaching done by them was inferior, etc. No amount of penance could restore these priests or bishops to their authority. The Donatists held themselves to be the only true church, against the church from Rome (even when the emperor became head of the church rather than persecutor of the church). The sect had mostly died out by the 800s.

Bullinger discusses various metaphors for the church, most of which will be familiar to us. The church is “the temple of the Living God” it is “bride and virgin of Christ” it is “a flock of sheep”  it is “the body.” He also discusses that “the church does not err” which sounds like something we would never say today. He continues that statement though–“as long as it rests upon the rock of Christ and upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles. And it is no wonder if it errs, as often as it deserts him who alone is the truth.” Well…yes. So the church does not err as long as its foundation is sure, but the foundation is often not so sure, so….no wonder things happen.

“Christ is the sole head of the church. It is the head which has the preeminence in the body, and from it the whole body receives life.”  “The Church cannot have any other head besides Christ.”  Using the body metaphor, Bullinger expounds upon what it means to be a body–and a major part is to be “under” the head, and there can be only one head. We are all under Christ, and there is no human being that can ever consider himself head of the church. Not a priest, not a politician, not an emperor, and not a pope. If we truly believe Christ is present in the church, there is no need for a substitute vicar/pope/head/pontiff. There is also to be no primacy in the church”  which means no succession or dominion–aka no bishops or popes who can be raised through the ranks (because there shouldn’t be ranks) by the opinion of one or via any way other than the whole community’s ratification of call. And to those who insist that there must be hierarchy and primacy in order to maintain order in the church, Bullinger says “The Roman head does indeed preserve his tyranny and the corruption that has been brought into the Church…” That’s not the kind of order we want anyway, in other words.

There is a whole section, though, on the biblical model for how to handle dissension within the church. The early church we find in Paul’s letters had plenty of controversy and dissension but still managed to be the church together and to maintain enough order that the Word could be preached and Sacraments celebrated, the poor fed and the community gathered, must be possible.

Speaking of Word and Sacrament–these are the signs of a true church–“the true Church is that in which the signs or marks of the true Church are to be found, especially the lawful and sincere preaching of the Word of God as it was delivered to us in the books of the prophets and the apostles, which all lead us unto Christ…and those who are such in the church have one faith and one spirit; and therefore they worship but one God….and they do not seek righteousness and life outside Christ….Moreover, joined together with all the members of Christ by an unfeigned love, they show that they are Christ’s disciples by persevering in the bond of pieace and holy unity…they participate in the Sacraments instituted by Christ and delivered unto us by his apostles, using them in no other way than as they received them from the Lord.”  That’s mostly self-explanatory, except that last bit, which is another jab at the Roman church and its expansion of the sacraments from two to seven, and their understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice that turns bread and wine into body and blood (literally, not metaphorically)–because, as we’ll learn in the Sacraments chapters, we observe a meal as Christ did–one that brings us together with him but does not re-do his death every time.

Now we get to the good stuff. (see what I mean about breaking the section up? wow.)

“Outside the Church of God there is no salvation”  (again, the words need no explanation, though the concept is uncomfortable…but remember what he said about the church at the beginning of the chapter!) … “Nevertheless, by the signs of the true Church mentioned above, we do not so narrowly restrict the Church…For we know that God had some friends in the world outside the commonwealth of Israel…” Interesting, no? And of course we know this to be true, in Old and New Testaments as well as throughout church history. As Jesus himself said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.”

“We must not judge rashly or prematurely…we must be careful not to judge before the time, nor undertake to exclude, reject, or cut off those whom the Lord does not want to have excluded and rejected, and those whom we cannot eliminate without loss to the Church. On the other hand, we must be vigilant lest while the pious snore the wicked gain ground and do harm to the Church.” heehee, pious snoring. This seems contradictory on the surface–we can’t judge, but we must be vigilant. Remember that Bullinger is a pastor–he knows the ways we can behave badly even in the church, the ways we harm ourselves and community. What do you think he means by this?

Last but not least…“Unity consists not in outward rites and ceremonies, but rather in the truth and unity of the catholic faith.” In other words, the true unity of the church can sustain diversity of worship and ceremony, as long as the One is the foundation.

So, now that we’ve gone through a very long chapter, what do you think? What seems to still apply to the church as we know it today? What seems odd? What questions do you have? There’s more to this chapter so if you have a question, feel free to ask and we’ll see if Bullinger addresses it in the parts I left out, or if other parts of our theological tradition can shed more light.

This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part VI


We are now on to chapters 12-16, which the study guide in the Book of Confessions says is the section about “Reception of Salvation and New Life in Christ.” The Chapters are titled “Of the Law of God” (ch12), “Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Promises, and of the Spirit and Letter” (ch13), “Of Repentance and the Conversion of Man” (ch14), “Of the True Justification of the Faithful” (ch15), and “Of Faith and Good Works, and of Their Reward, and of Man’s Merit” (ch16).

Wow, Bullinger really knew how to write a good hook, eh?

When talking about “the law” the confession distinguishes between the 10 commandments with their exposition in the books of Moses, the ceremonial law (concerned with worship), and the judicial law (concerned with political and domestic matters). Distinguishing these different types of law is going to make it easier later to determine which parts Jesus himself fulfilled and which parts we as Christians are still obligated to follow, so watch for that!

“We believe that the whole will of God and all the necessary precepts for every sphere of life are taught in this law.” In other words, there’s something here for everyone, and it touches all aspects of our lives. We are not allowed to box up certain segments of life and claim that God and God’s law doesn’t have sway there–it does.

The “law was not given to men that they might be justified by keeping it, but that rather from what it teaches we may know our weakness, sin, and condemnation, and, despairing of our strength, might be converted to Christ in faith.” … “for no flesh could or can satisfy the law of God and fulfil it, because of our weakness….therefore Christ is the perfecting of the law and our fulfilment of it.” In other words–it’s not possible to 100% keep the law (though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it!), at least not for us. But in Christ, we are both more capable of doing God’s will and already justified by his perfection.

So are the law and the gospel different, or even opposed? The confession says yes, but that is a strange thing to say. More often now we talk about reading the law through the lens of the gospel–what can we learn about God’s will and God’s promise from the Torah (the first five books, which contain much of the law)? How does it inform our understanding of Jesus’ life and teaching and work? There is still good news in the Old Testament–even Bullinger admits as much, saying “those who were before the law and under the law were not altogether destitute of the Gospel.” (that’s good!) One reason we know this–the extraordinary promises God made in the Torah, including “the Lord will raise up a prophet” and “I will be their God and they will be my people” and all those awesome promises to Abraham and his descendants.

So what is the Gospel? It is “properly called glad and joyous news, in which is…preached to us in the world that God has now performed what he promised from the beginning of the world, and has sent, nay more, has given  us his only Son and in him reconciliation with the Father, the remission of sins, all fullness, and everlasting life.” What do you think of this definition of the Gospel? Is there anything missing or anything that needs to be changed/removed? 

Knowing the Gospel encourages us to repentance–to turn toward God. This repentance is a gift from God–we don’t do it on our own. In fact, “we expressly say that this repentance is a sheer gift of God and not a work of our strength.” Repentance involves a few different facets–lament for our sins, confession of sin, and turning away from sin and toward God. “Sincere confession is made to God alone, either privately between God and the sinner, or publicly in the Church where the general confession of sins is said…in order to obtain forgiveness it is not necessary for anyone to confess his sings to a priest that in turn he might receive absolution from the priest…” This is a big deal during the Reformation, and still a major difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant faith traditions. We do not believe that one must speak with a priest in order to speak to God–rather, we go directly to God on our own and together as a community, and forgiveness comes directly from God to all who turn toward God. The role of the pastor is different from that of priest–rather than being the go-between with power to absolve, pastors are called to preach and teach, to open the doors of the kingdom and proclaim God’s grace that is already at work.

The heart of this grace, according to this confession, is what is called “Imputed Righteousness.” This means that when God looks at us, God sees us through the lens of Christ. Rather than being convicted by our sin, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and so we are “justified”–made right with God. This grace comes to us through faith–which is not to say that we get it for ourselves or that we create it in ourselves, but that God’s gift of faith is also a work of grace. This justification leads us to the affirmation we find in Galatians 2, “It is no longer I who live, but christ who lives in me.” And so we are able to put our faith to work–good work–again because it is a gift from God. The confession says it is a gift we receive by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel and steadfast prayer. 

Faith can “quiet the conscience and open a free access to God, so that we may draw near with confidence…the same faith keeps us in the service we owe to God and our neighbor, strengthens our patience in adversity, fashions and makes a true confession, and in a word, brings forth good fruit of all kinds, and good works.” In the law we find that good works are God’s will for us, but they “ought not be done in order that we may earn eternal life by them, for eternal life is the gift of God. Nor are they to be done for ostentations…nor for gain…but for the glory of God…to show gratitude to God, and for the profit of the neighbor.”  So we know that we do not earn our salvation through works, but even though we are justified by grace we still “know that man was not created or regenerated through faith in order to be idle, but rather that without ceasing he should do those things which are good and useful. For in the Gospel the Lord says that a good tree brings forth good fruit.”  These good works are pleasing to God, though they do not cause God to love us more or less–they do not earn us grace or good favor, but they do please God who will reward those works in mysterious ways. (Admittedly, sometimes the reward is a gift or skill or calling to yet another work!)

Ultimately, the point of this whole section is this: “We are not to glory in anything in us, since nothing is our own. We therefore condemn those who defend the merits of men in such a way that they invalidate the grace of God.”

What do you think of this section? What questions do you have? What stands out to you as particularly right-on or relevant, or wrong or ridiculous? What do you think is the difference between the Law and the Gospel, and what does all this have to do with how you live as a Christian?

This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part V


woohoo, the Predestination chapters (10 and 11)!!

Okay, I’m a weirdo.

“God has elected us out of grace. From eternity God has freely, and of his mere grace, without any respect to men, predestined or elected the saints whom he wills to save in Christ…” “Therefore, although not on account of any merit of ours, God has elected us, not directly, but in Christ and on account of Christ…” “Finally, the saints are chosen in Christ by God for a definite purpose…that we should be holy and blameless before him in love…” “We are to have a good hope for all. Although God knows who are his, and here and there mention is made of the small number of elect, yet we must hope well of all and not rashly judge any man to be a reprobate….” “And when the Lord was asked whether there were few that should be saved, he does not answer and tell them that few or many should be saved or damned, but rather he exhorts every man to “strive to enter by the narrow door” as if he should say, It is not for you to curiously inquire about these matters…”

See, how great is that? I don’t even have anything to add yet, other than a clarification: remember that predestination is only and solely about salvation, nothing else. It is about God’s action, not ours. It is about God acting to save us before the beginning of the world. It is not about things that happen to us (that’s “foreordination” and is a completely different, and weirder, thing). It’s not about us. It’s certainly not about whether we can judge others. It’s not about whether Christianity is the only way or not. It’s about God. It is supposed to be good news, because we are not able to do anything to earn or lose our salvation, nor to judge others as elect/saved or not.

Now, to the point everyone always makes RE predestination: “if God already saved us and it doesn’t matter what we do, why should we bother trying to be good?” The confession says, “Therefore we do not approve of the impious speeches of some who say, “Few are chosen, and since I do not know whether I am among the number of the few, I will enjoy myself.” Others say, “If I am predestinated and elected by God, nothing can hinder me from salvation, which is already certainly appointed for me, no matter what I do. But if I am in the number of the reprobate, no faith or repentance will help me, since the decree of God cannot be changed. Therefore all doctrines and admonitions are useless.”  The reason for non-approval? Because we are commanded to teach, so that if God should be acting in either our or someone else’s life without our knowledge, we will be ready to live a life worthy of our calling, a life of gratitude in response to God’s grace, a life of following God’s will. In addition, since we cannot know for certain, it is our task to live as close to Christ as possible and be a part of building the kingdom of God and let God deal with the bigger picture. “It is to be held as beyond doubt that if you are in Christ, you are elected.” In other words–live as though you have received grace upon grace! “This is therefore above all to be taught and considered, what great love of the Father toward us is revealed to us in Christ.”

And who is this Christ? He is the one who is before all generation, before eternity, “coequal and consubstatial with the Father, true God.” (aka, the Son is also God, the same substance as the Creator, equal and not subordinate in any way.) He is also “true man, having real flesh…from the seed of Abraham and David…therefore the flesh of Christ was neither imaginary nor brought from heaven.” There have been many people who have asserted over the years that Jesus must have been either a very good man who became God after his death/resurrection, or a god who was only pretending to be human, wearing flesh like a costume. But “we therefore acknowledge two natures or substances, the divine and the human, in one and the same Jesus Christ our Lord. And we say that these are bound and united with one another in such a way that they are not absorbed or confused or mixed, but are united or joined together in one person–the properties of the natures being unimpaired and permanent.” So the divine and human are both fully present and fully real in Jesus, not mixed up into a new third thing, and they are not separable either. “Thus we worship not two but one Christ the Lord. We repeat: one true God and man.” Consubstantial with both the Creator and with us.

Because Jesus was truly human as well as truly divine, we believe “that our Lord truly suffered”–there have been those who insist that was all an act, that all of human life was just God pretending. Similarly, Jesus did not abandon his body in the resurrection. In this truly human and truly divine life, God experiences everything there is to know about human life–hurt, pain, joy, laughter, tears, torture, relationships, love, death. And in resurrection God shows us that love is above all.

What do you think? What questions do you have? What thoughts are sparked? What do you agree with, disagree with, wonder about? How do you think the idea of predestination and the stuff about who and what Jesus is are related–why are they lumped together in this section? What is the good news, to you?