No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13

Question: How are we to understand Romans 13?

This text has been in the headlines a lot over the past few weeks following the Trump Administration’s decision to separate immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.

In response to the vocal  and unified religious opposition against family separation, Attorney General Sessions cited the Epistle to the Romans, specifically directing his comments to “our church friends”:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later echoed the Attorney General’s remarks:

I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.

For what it’s worth, here’s the relevant text from Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.

So how do we understand Romans 13? Does it give governments carte blanche to act without opposition from the Church?

Short Answer: To again quote Saint Paul, “BY NO MEANS!” Continue reading “No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13”

Subordinationism, God, and Egalitarianism

Question: What is subordinationism?

trinity-shield1A few years ago, something strange happened in the Fundamentalist world. For a few decades, Wayne Grudem and a few others have been teaching that God the Son is eternally subordinate to God the Father, a position they call Eternal Functional Subordinationism. In the summer of 2016, the debate around this position reignited centuries-old arguments over Trinitarian theology and a heresy called subordinationism.

Things get weird (or weirder), though, when Grudem and his ilk try to make a parallel claim that women are subordinate to men the same way that Christ is subordinate to the Father.

So what is subordinationism, what is EFS, and what does this have to do with the role of women?

Short Answer: The belief dates back to an ancient heresy which claims that Christ is subordinate to, and therefore inferior to, God the Father. The modern version builds on the ancient heresy while also arguing that women should be submissive to men. Continue reading “Subordinationism, God, and Egalitarianism”

The Triune God, the Holy Spirit, and Gender

Question: The pastor called the Holy Spirit “she.” What’s up with that?

Language is tricky, translation trickier still, and translating language about God is trickiest of all. Relational terms like Father and Son, describing the First and Second Persons of the Trinity respectively, describe the intimate relationship between parent and child but in ways that can, at times, limit our understanding of the Triune God. Trickier still is how we understand the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, and what pronouns to use.

Short Answer: While human language is limited and translations complicate the matter, there are linguistic reasons to refer to the Holy Spirit using feminine pronouns, and the practice was common in parts of the early Church. Continue reading “The Triune God, the Holy Spirit, and Gender”

Feast of the Ascension: The Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies

Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy_chin_(15th_c.,_GTG).jpg

There are holy days in the Church that we always make sure to celebrate on the day itself. Who among us would go to an Ash Wednesday service on a Tuesday morning, or a Maundy Thursday service on Good Friday? There are other feasts that are easy enough to observe precisely because they always fall on a Sunday: Easter and Christ the King spring to mind. And there’s one feast that we mark the night before: in most American congregations, Christmas Eve has become the principle service of Christmas, and few parishes assemble on December 25th.

There exist, though, some feasts that are important to the life of the Church but which are rarely observed on their proper day. Epiphany (the Sixth of January) rarely falls on a Sunday;  Reformation Day (the Thirty-first of October) and All Saints’ (the First of November) face a similar problem.* When these feasts fall on a weekday, they are often observed the following Sunday.

Then there’s the Ascension. Continue reading “Feast of the Ascension: The Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies”

One Baptism: Re-Baptism, the Christian Faith

Question: Ok, so the pastor is throwing water at us. Does that mean we are being re-baptized?

An ordained pastor says a prayer over the water at the Font and then sprinkles people with water? To an outside observer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism might look a lot like the asperges. So is the pastor re-baptizing the congregation?

Short Answer: By no means! Baptism follows a very particular formula (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”). The grace poured out in that Sacrament is sufficient for a lifetime, and the Church has long held that Baptism is not something that need be repeated — nor can it be repeated. Continue reading “One Baptism: Re-Baptism, the Christian Faith”

Remember Your Baptism: Why We’re Getting Splashed

Question: Why is the Pastor throwing water at us at the beginning of the service?

Starting at the Easter Vigil, we have taken up a rite called asperges, in which the pastor and other ministers fling water from the Font into the Assembly. What’s going on here?

The Short Answer: As a way to tangibly remember our Baptism during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Continue reading “Remember Your Baptism: Why We’re Getting Splashed”