Phos Hilaron

O gracious light,
Pure brightness of the ever living Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
And our eyes behold the vesper light,
We sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
And to be glorified through all the worlds.

According to tradition, this ancient hymn was composed by St. Athenogenes, bishop and martyr. He sang it as he entered the flames, ca. 305.

Aren’t We Saved by Faith Alone?

From ‘Catholic Answers’, March 2003

PROTESTANT: The other day I was reading the book of Galatians, and it struck me how much emphasis Paul places on faith as the means of salvation. Then I asked myself how Catholics can believe in justification by works. If the Catholic Church really believes the Bible, as it claims, how can it continue to teach that we have to earn our salvation? The Bible seems pretty clear that justification is by faith alone.

CATHOLIC: There are several aspects to this question. The most important is to realize that the Catholic Church does not teach that we earn our salvation by our own efforts, although it does teach that we have to work on our salvation. The same apostle who wrote Galatians also wrote Philippians, wherein Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

PROTESTANT: Yes, but don’t you think that statement has to be understood in light of the teaching in Galatians? In Galatians 2:15–16, Paul says, “We ourselves… who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.”

CATHOLIC: I don’t see these two verses as contradicting each another or even in tension. But first let me make clear the official teachings of the Catholic Church: It teaches that we can do nothing to merit the grace that comes to us in baptism, which is the normal beginning of the Christian life. In fact, the Council of Trent condemned anyone who taught that we can save ourselves or who taught even that God helps us do what we could do for ourselves. The Church teaches that we can be saved only by God’s grace.

PROTESTANT: Well, if the Catholic Church really teaches salvation by grace, that’s wonderful. But it’s hard for me to believe because Catholics place so much emphasis on doing good works. Paul’s letters stress again and again that salvation comes through faith alone. In addition to Galatians 2:15–16, consider Romans 4:2: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Then three verses later, in 4:5, Paul puts it another way: “And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”

CATHOLIC: We don’t disagree about the primary role that faith plays. Following Paul, the Catholic Church teaches that justification comes by faith. Only it says that it doesn’t come through faith alone. If you look carefully at Paul’s writings, you will notice that he never says that our righteousness comes from faith alone—only that it comes from faith apart from works.

PROTESTANT: Well, there you have it. That was almost a direct quote from Romans 3:28: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” That phrase by faith apart from works of the law sounds to me like Paul is saying that justification comes through faith alone.

CATHOLIC: Romans 3:28 is a key verse in the differences between traditional Protestants and Catholics. You will notice that Paul says a man is justified by faith (pistei in Greek). When Martin Luther translated the letter to the Romans into German in the sixteenth century, he added the word alone —but alone is not in the original Greek text. The phrase “faith alone” does occur in the New Testament: one time, in James 2:24. There the inspired apostle denies that justification is from faith alone. Let me quote it: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

PROTESTANT: The classic text in James 2:14–26 is a difficult one. Let’s come back to that one. I just want to point out that Luther was completely justified—pun intended—in translating Romans 3:28 with the words faith alone because that is another way of saying that justification is “apart from works of the law.” You see, when Paul says in Romans 4:2 that Abraham could boast if his salvation were from works, he is explaining what he said in 3:27 when he asked, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith.” Boasting before God is possible if any works are involved in our salvation, but no boasting is possible if it is by faith alone.

CATHOLIC: Agreed—Paul categorically excludes works from our salvation. But what kind of works is Paul talking about? If we believe the entire Bible, we need to see how Paul’s words fit together with James’s words, because James clearly says that “a man is justified by works.” If Paul and James mean the same thing by works, then they contradict one another. Since you and I both believe that the Bible cannot contradict itself, we must agree that Paul and James mean two different things by the word works.

PROTESTANT: I agree, but this is a tough problem of interpretation.

CATHOLIC: The Catholic Church believes that we should interpret Scripture by using Scripture. You will note that sometimes Paul expands his phrase from works by adding the phrase of the law, as in Romans 3:20 and 28 and Galatians 2:16. Further, sometimes Paul substitutes the phrase through the law to describe the same reality. For example, in Romans 3:20, he says, “Through the law comes knowledge of sin.” In other words, when Paul uses the word works he is talking about the Old Testament law.

A careful reading of Galatians will show that Paul is using works of the law to refer especially to the law of circumcision. He is so strong about this that he says in Galatians 5:2, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” Paul’s opponents in Galatia wanted to bring the Gentile Christians back into the Old Testament law. These are the works of the law that Paul is fighting against, and they have no place in our justification. Paul is saying in essence that Gentile Christians do not have to be circumcised and live like Jewish Christians in order to be saved.

PROTESTANT:  Agreed—we should interpret Scripture by using Scripture. I can agree with your interpretation of Galatians, but I think also we can generalize Paul’s words so that any work that we put before God as a reason for him to accept us is the kind of work he condemns.

CATHOLIC: I might agree if that’s all there was to it. But Paul speaks about Christians fulfilling the law by following the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). He then explains that we must show the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:16–26) and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1) as a way of fulfilling the “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). All Paul’s teaching comes down to this: Our own works can never justify us, but works that grow out of faith in Christ are part of our justification. That’s why Paul says in Philippians 2:12 you must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And that squares with James’s teaching that works that grow from faith justify.

PROTESTANT: Okay, I’ll agree that James is teaching that we must add works to our faith. But notice that these works are only evidence of true faith as opposed to a false faith. Read James 2:14 carefully: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” James is dealing with the problem of those who claim faith but who don’t show it by their works. In verse 17 James says this kind of faith, “if it has no works, is dead.” James’s message is this: If you have true faith, then you will have works to follow. But that does not mean that James sees works as having to do with our salvation.

CATHOLIC: Okay, James is teaching that works show true faith. But we Catholics insist that James 2:14–26 shows that works are more than mere evidence of faith. Works actually justify. James is speaking about works growing out of faith. If works of faith are not a part of our justification, then it is hard to understand why James would say, as he does, that “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (Jas. 2:21). You may remember how Paul said that Abraham was not justified by works but by faith. Paul means that Abraham was not justified by keeping the Old Testament law, while James means that Abraham was justified by doing a work that grew out of his faith in God.

PROTESTANT: Maybe all James means is that Abraham’s actions showed that his faith was real.

CATHOLIC: You could argue that if James did not say explicitly, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works” (Jas. 2:22). And then in verse 24 James concludes again, “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

PROTESTANT: I must admit that I’ve never heard a Catholic give the explanation you gave, but I am still not convinced that the Catholic Church is right on this point.

CATHOLIC: Well, these are difficult points of theology and interpretation. I encourage you to pray and think about the Catholic understanding of justification. In sum, the Church teaches that salvation is a process of becoming holier and holier through time. All of this is a work of grace that God performs in our hearts through faith. Works done in faith are the natural completion of believing in Christ. As we trust and do God’s work, he instills within us more grace so that we may become holier and so be ready to meet him at the end of our life.

Why do parents speak for babies at baptism?

Re-blogged from https://immanuelwaterloo.org, by Pastor Merritt Demski:

Scripture says ‘Believe and be Baptized’. Since babies cannot do that, and we in the LCMS have the parents speak on the child’s behalf…does this then not in a round about way ‘sort of cover’ for this sequence? I do believe babies are in need of Baptism (we are conceived in sin and born into a sinful world, and Christ does command us to be baptized). Why then do we in the Baptismal Service have the parents say, ‘I (baby name) do swear’, etc? This is something we asked another pastor a while back, but it comes up from time to time and I don’t know how to answer it. I also know that it is what is done to us not in any way what we do (gift of grace).”

Such a great question, and one that I had wrestled with for a long time since I came from a “Believers baptism” (you have to be able to confess and articulate the faith before approaching baptism) background.

Before we attack that question head-on, let’s start with a recap on baptism. We already know that we’re sinful from conception, as this individual stated in the question (Psalm 51:5). We know that baptism is a means of grace (1 Peter 3:21). In other words, it’s a way through which God relays his saving grace. God relays his saving grace through his word (Romans 10:17). Baptism brings us into the Christian church as members of the body of Christ and gives us the assurance of our salvation in something outside of us. So we don’t have assurance of our salvation because we’re so devoted that we chose to get baptized. We don’t have our assurance because we felt the warm and fuzzies during a worship service. We don’t have our assurance because God relays his grace through lightening bolts. No! We have assurance that God’s word is for us because of what CHRIST has done FOR us, which culminated in his death and resurrection. And in the waters of baptism our sins are washed away and we are covered in the perfection that Jesus won for us. In the same way in the bread and wine we taste and see that the Lord is good. In the words of the pastor announcing the absolution we hear the promise again and again that in repentance and faith – given by God (Ephesians 2:8) – we have assurance that that promise is true…that through Christ our sins are forgiven.

Here are some passages from our Lutheran Confessions on the matter:

“Concerning baptism it is taught that it is necessary, that grace is offered through it, and that one should also baptize children, who through such baptism are entrusted to God and become pleasing to him.” – The Augsburg Confession Article IX. Concerning Baptism.

“For it is most certain that the promise of salvation also pertains to little children. But it does not pertain to those who are outside the church of Christ, where there is neither Word nor sacrament, because Christ regenerates through Word and sacrament. Therefore it is necessary to baptize little children in order that the promise of slavation might be applied to them according to Christ’s mandate, ‘Baptize all nations.’ Just as salvation is offered to all in that passage, so baptism is also offered to all-men, women, children, and infants. Therefore it clearly follows that infants are to be baptized because salvation is offered with baptism.” – The Apology of the Augsburg Confession IX. Baptism.

Now, back to the main question at hand: Why do parents speak FOR the child?

Parents do a TON of things for their children, on behalf of their children, and for the welfare of their children. Parents go to the doctor and sign off on forms on behalf of their child. Is the parent the one receiving the treatment? No. Is the treatment being done because of something to do with the parent? No. But, the child is not able to write or speak in such a way yet as to indicate the need for the desired treatment. We don’t say, “My child has a 103-degree fever, and we’re happy to treat him just as soon as he can say, ‘I’m sick, help me!’” The child can feel that there are problems and can indicate through crying that pain and suffering are present, but cannot articulate that issue.

In the same way. In baptism, the parents stand in the stead of the child, in the child’s place, to bring the child to the waters of baptism where sins are washed away, the Holy Spirit is given, and the child is placed into the care of the family (both biological and congregational) to be raised in the Christian faith. A child (or anyone) should NEVER be baptized and then not raised in the Christian faith. Baptize AND teach is the command of Matthew 28. To not teach is to misuse the sacrament and would be a detriment to any person who is baptized. When an adult hears God’s Word and expresses a desire to be baptized as commanded in Scripture, we discuss the saving work of Jesus and what baptism is leading up to baptism. It’s not their work to show devotion, but we explain the significance of what baptism is. It’s God work to bring assurance of salvation through Christ (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12) and we passively receive that gift. When a child is baptized we see the greatest example of our passive role in salvation. Our faith is not our own work, it’s God’s work (Ephesians 2:8). All who are baptized continue learning about the teachings of Christ and grow in the understanding of God’s Word in the joy of salvation rather than in an attempt to attain salvation. There’s a misconception that parents don’t want to “sway their children” by forcing religion down their throats. The problem is, our actions and words teach our children either way. Either we teach them that church and salvation is important and that Christ is the only way to salvation, or we teach them there is no God and if there is it’s not important enough to teach about him. Why would we not baptize and teach our children if we desire to have them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ?

Here’s a great quote from Luther in a baptism booklet that was incorporated into many catechisms in Luther’s day. He writes the following in response to many people who aren’t taking baptism seriously and aren’t looking to it with the reverence it is due.

“Out of a sense of Christian commitment, I appeal to all those who baptize, sponsor infants, or witness a baptism to take to heart the temendous work and great solemnity present here. For here in the words of these prayers you hear how plaintively and earnestly the Christian church brings the infant to God, confesses before him with such unchanging, undoubting words that the infant is possessed by the devil and a child of sin and wrath, and so diligently asks for help and grace through baptism, that the infant may become a child of God.

Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extemely necessary to standy by the poor child with all your hear and with a strong faith and to pelead with great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might resist him valiantly in life and in death. I fear that people turn out so badly after baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all.”

“For this reason it is right and proper not to allow drunken and boorish priests to baptize nor to select good-for-nothings as godparents. Instead fine, moral, serious, upright priests and godparents ought to be chosen, who can be expected to treat the matter with seriousness and true faith, lest this high sacrament be abandoned to the devil’s mockery and dishonor God, who in this sacrament showers upon us the vast and boundless riches of his grace. He himself calls it a ‘new birth [John 3:3, 5], through which we, being freed from the devil’s tyranny and loosed from sin, death, and hell, become children of life, heirs of all God’s possessions, God’s own children, and brothers and sisters of Christ.” – Book of Concord, The Small Catechism, Baptismal Booklet, 371-373.

The big problem that comes in for many people is actually the comment that started this question: “We know babies can’t believe.” So the basis of everything for this question begins with an assumption that infants are incapable of faith AND that the nature of baptism require that YOU do something. If we confess that our belief is passive, a work of the Holy Spirit, then who is to say that infants cannot have faith just like adults? If it’s not a work for an adult, then it’s not a work for a child either. Faith is never described in Scripture as a cognitive activity. We talk about articulating the faith, but faith is not a chemical reaction in the brain. If that were the case we would have to count out of the kingdom all who have mental disorders and are not capable of expressing or comprehending all of the wonders of God (not that any of us can comprehend ALL of the wonders of God). Faith is a gift from God by God’s grace. It’s the thing that holds on to God’s promises. Faith always has an object. So we don’t just have faith. Instead, we have faith in something or someone. In this case…the only case that gives life…we have faith in Jesus Christ alone as Lord for the forgiveness of our sins and in the waters of baptism, that gift is delivered to us. OUR faith doesn’t make the baptism valid. Our faith is just what trusts in the validity of God’s promise in baptism. If someone lied when they went to the font as an adult and said they believed, but didn’t, their baptism would still be valid despite the misuse of it. That baptism wouldn’t be helpful to them, but God’s promise is there. If that person was brought to faith later, they wouldn’t need to be re-baptized, they need only trust God’s promise when they were baptized.

We don’t assume a child doesn’t have faith. In the Large Catechism we read this (The Large Catechism on this topic is super helpful if you want to see the full text…the text used in that link is Old English in nature. We have some Book of Concord copies in the church library if you would like a more updated translation):

“Thus we do the same with infant baptism. We bring the child with the intent and hope that it may believe, and we pray God to grant it faith. But we do not baptize on this basis, but solely on the command of God. Why? Because we know that God does not lie. My neighbor and I – in short, all people – may deceive and mislead, but God’s Word cannot deceive.” – The Book of Concord, the Large Catechism, Baptism, p 464.

We pray for God’s blessings on every person who approaches the waters of Holy Baptism. We trust God’s promise, rather than our own determination. To demand signs and soliloquies from people before baptism is to misrepresent the Word of God and how it talks about baptism. Some people believe in Jesus and then approach the Waters of Baptism in accordance with God’s Word and to have that promise of salvation placed on them as a blessing in their salvation. Others, like children, are brought to the waters of baptism trusting in God’s promise of salvation as the church prays that God will strengthen the child’s faith to hold onto God’s promise as the child grows and is taught more about Jesus. Take a look at Titus 3 all about God’s work for us being salvific in the washing of regeneration and the Holy Spirit.

We can also look at church history and find that baptism of infants wasn’t brought up as a concern (nor was the Lord’s Supper being the body and blood of Christ) until rationalism and the enlightenment when people started saying, “Hey! I can’t SEE that or prove that with science tests so it must not be true.” They didn’t trust God’s promise by faith. Instead, they wanted the proof. Ironically, in rejecting the tangible, outward proofs given by God’s command for the forgiveness of sin, these people turned to inward sentiment and personal works as a sign of faith and hope. It leads to people not trusting God’s complete work but always needing to add in some of their own work somehow to make God’s promise valid. For example, “I need to believe and prove it, THEN God will love me” (compared to “Christ died for us while we were still sinners Romans 5 and he gives me an outward sign for my hope. I don’t need to trust my feelings or experiences. Instead, I trust God’s promise in the waters of baptism”). We don’t have faith in water, but in God’s promise that is tied into the water that God has provided for our washing and assurance.

So…in the end: We don’t assume a lack of faith in infants, and parents speak on behalf of their child in baptism (followed by teaching in the Christian faith), just as they speak on behalf of their child in any area that’s a matter of life and death which a child does not yet, fully comprehend or is not yet fully able to articulate. Faith comes through hearing God’s Word (see the book of Romans) and our regeneration comes through baptism.

(Since I know a question will come from the last statement…let me just answer it really quickly here: “What if someone is on the way to be baptized and they die?” We’re saved by grace through faith in God’s promise in Christ. We get baptized according to God’s command and for hope in God’s promise, but death without baptism doesn’t mean we go to hell. God gives his gifts in multiple ways: The Word, Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, Absolution. In each case, we have peace as we hear God’s promise, and yet each is unique and experienced in a different way. If we start asking, “How little can I do and still be okay?”, then that’s a whole different issue altogether.)

It’s Not a Coincidence

It’s not a coincidence,
But part of a plan,
With God watching o’er us
As only He can.
Revealing His righteousness
In all that takes place,
Without being limited
By our time or space!

We all need to realize
God’s there for each one;
He proved that on Calvary
Through Jesus His Son—
Perfection, Personified!
Praise God, to be sure,
No matter what’s happening
God’s motives are pure!

Not one speck is wasted,
Forsaken or lost;
It might not make sense
As we’re counting the cost.
Refrain, though, to question
God’s wisdom divine,
As He works for our good—
Just let your light shine!

Then thank God for all things,
You’re never left out;
His ways are mysterious
As He moves about.
Like, Job, just be confident
Beyond what you see,
Since it’s no coincidence
God loves you and me!

Eleanor Brueggeman

 

 

Come down, O love divine

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Bianco da Siena
15th century

Let’s remove our hats

Dear Father in Heaven,

Your good book tells us that every good gift comes down from above, so we want to take a moment and give you thanks for your gifts—for the food we are about to eat, for the nice weather today, for the friendships we’ve made, for the health to play this game in the first place, but most of all for your only Son, and our only Savior Jesus Christ, in Whose name we pray, Amen.

Look and live

So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. Numbers 21:9

The bronze serpent on the pole was there for those who had been bitten.  When an Israelite was bitten, then the looking would save him.

Our salvation is all about looking to Jesus Christ who, like the bronze serpent, was lifted up so that those about to die might live.  Might look, and live.

But providence all the same

And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there…The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening. 1 Kings 17:4,6

O child of God, pay attention! He commanded the ravens; they didn’t just happen by. Sometimes we are blessed with a miraculous providence, most of the time with what we might think of as an ordinary providence.  But providence all the same.

 

Identify with Him

But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. Psalm 22:9

This verse, this chapter, is ultimately about Jesus the Christ. But so are all of the Scriptures. The Son of God became a man to identify with us, and that we might, through faith, identify with Him. The little child who is brought to the font is given faith, in a way mysterious to be sure. He is made to trust. It is a lifelong enterprise.

The forgotten verse

All Creatures of Our God and King is a hymn written by William Draper at the beginning of the last century. It is essentially a paraphrase of ‘The Canticle of the Sun’, a poem written by St. Francis of Assisi in 1224, the last year of his life. The final verse of the poem was composed just a few minutes before he died, and is paraphrased in Draper’s hymn very powerfully, although it rarely appears in hymnbooks:

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.
O praise Him! Alleluia!