The Athanasian Creed

Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)

Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?

Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.

So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?

Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.

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“Additional Duties as Required”

Question: What exactly do you do?

Most parishioners see their clergy for two hours once a week. What is it that we do with the rest of our week? What do pastors do when they aren’t in the pulpit? What do deacons do when they’re not setting the Altar?

As one person asked me, “What is ‘work’ for you?”

I’ve gotten this question from a lot of people — but strangely never any members of my own parish. It’s almost as though folks are nervous to ask their own pastors but really, really want to know.

Before we dive in, though, some caveats:

  • Every pastor or deacon will have a different answer based on areas of expertise,  theological perspective, and setting. Someone called to  youth and family ministry will answer differently from a solo pastor who will answer differently from someone on a synod/diocesan staff. An Episcopal priest will have a different answer from a United Methodist elder. A priest serving in downtown Manhattan will divide their time differently from the pastor serving three churches in rural South Dakota.
  • I serve a part-time call. This necessitates that I delegate more work than a full-time pastor or deacon.
  • I’ve been at this for just about a year now. I bet I’ll have a different answer in a year and in five years and in a decade and when I retire. Or at least, I’ll probably have different wording.

So, what is it that I do when I’m not in the pulpit?

Short Answer: “Additional Duties as Required”

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The Sign of the Cross

Question: Why do we make the sign of the cross?

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Christ the King Cathedral, Reykjavik, Iceland

The sign of the cross serves as something of a liturgical barometer. Want to know where a parish falls on the scale between “low” and “high” liturgy? Look for how many people make the sign of the cross and how often. On the one side, there are congregations that shy away from the sign of the cross for fear that it’s “too Catholic.” On the other side, there are parishes in which people seem to cross themselves at every turn.

In either case, though, one has to wonder: do the people actually know what it means? If Baptists understood the full implication of the sign of the cross, would they adopt the practice? Have liturgical Christians let the sign of the cross become a mere reflex?

What is this weird hand gesture? How old is this tradition? And what does it all mean?

Short Answer: Tracing the sign of the cross is an ancient physical reminder of our connection to Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Holy Trinity, and God’s blessing.

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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”

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”