Divine monergism in salvation leads to synergism in good works

When the Holy Spirit has worked and accomplished this, and a person’s will has been changed and renewed by His divine power and working alone, then the new will of that person is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Spirit. So that person not only accepts grace, but he also co-operates with the Holy Spirit in the works that follow.

From the Formula of Concord, Epitome II.18.

That lovely phrase, “the new will of that person is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Spirit” wonderfully sums up the relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the regenerate will of the believer.

This is why St. Paul was able to write to the Romans, “… be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2 ESV). In other words, be what you have been made, and become what you are.

Would this be sung at your church?

Unconditionally

Oh no, did I get too close?
Oh, did I almost see what’s really on the inside?
All your insecurities
All the dirty laundry
Never made me blink one time

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

Come just as you are to me
Don’t need apologies
Know that you are worthy
I’ll take your bad days with your good
Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you, I love you

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

So open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart

Acceptance is the key to be
To be truly free
Will you do the same for me?

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
And there is no fear now
Let go and just be free
‘Cause I will love you unconditionally (oh yeah)
I will love you (unconditionally)
I will love you
I will love you unconditionally

Source: YouTube
HT: twitter.com/richardengland, via Peter Ould

Putting s back into Christmass

Here’s a brief article I wrote for the Christmas issue of the magazine of a local Baptist church. It’s distributed to hundreds of homes in the area where our congregation worships.

What’s missing from Xmas?

The answer: the second ‘s’.

Get it? If not, bear with me, and I will explain.

It’s coming up to Christmas time. At the time of writing, I’m preparing the first church services in December, including the first carol service of the year.

Now, whether you love Christmas or hate it, it’s probably for the same reason: all the Christmas traditions. It’s the carols, the decorations, the food, the cards, the presents, the TV specials, Father Christmas, as well as all sorts of family traditions that have developed over the years. Some love them, others detest them. And for some people, they are a cause of regret or sadness or grief—bringing home the realities of loneliness, tragedy or loss in a particularly painful way.

There’s one other tradition, a more recent one, that I didn’t include in that list: Christians complaining about the fact that for most people there is no more Christ in Christmas. It’s all Xmas, Christmas without Christ: the jolly bits originally there to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but without Jesus. Santa, not God’s Son, is now the central character.

It’s all festive season without the Reason for the Season. Add the grotesque commercialisation of Christmas, and even those who aren’t Christian will begin to complain.

To be fair, I’m with the complainers. Up to a point. Contrary to what you might have read or heard, Christians never did steal Christmas from the pagans—but in these latter days, the non-Christian world does seem to have taken over Christmas and pushed out its real meaning altogether. And that’s regrettable, to say the least.

On the other hand, there’s this to consider: why should someone celebrate the birth of Jesus if they don’t believe in Him? And it doesn’t seem right to insist that shops, supermarkets and public broadcasting companies should take responsibility for teaching the real message of Christmas—their job is to make money or to attract viewers and listeners. They are just doing their job, even if they sometimes do it almost too well.

No, putting Christ back into Christmas isn’t a matter of forcing the general culture, or commerce, to talk more about Jesus—even though, if they did, I would be the first to be pleased.

Just as much as we need Christ instead of X in our Xmas, we also need the second ‘s’. The real meaning of Christmas is ‘Christ’s Mass’—the church service to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Church at Christmas is more than a tradition: it is where we encounter Jesus today in His word and in Holy Communion.

The Son of God who came to earth as the child of Mary comes to us today as we gather in His name to hear and meditate on the words of the Bible, to pray in His name, and to eat and drink the bread and wine of which He said, “This is my body, this is my blood.”

It’s when you put Mass back into Christmas that you will also get Christ back into Christmas—and with him, lasting joy. Not just for Christmas, but for every day of your life, and to all eternity.

Happy Christmas!

Bring back The Office

No, not this one. Or that. The original.

Because repetition is the mother of all learning.

I am frequently struck by the extent and depth of the biblical knowledge of the fathers—the apostles, the fathers of the early church, the Mediæval doctors, the Reformers and the great theologians of the late-16th and 17th centuries. How did they manage to absorb the Scriptures so thoroughly?

This facility with the Bible is most obviously demonstrated in two features of their writing. First, there are the frequent minor errors in quotations and references, which show that the author is quoting from memory. Secondly, it’s frequently difficult to tell where the Scripture reference begins and ends, because the author’s language is so thoroughly suffused with biblical language as to blur the edges. (In NT scholarship, there is talk of “echoes” of Old Testament in the language of the apostles.)

Nor is this biblical facility restricted to professional theologians. I remember being struck, when preparing a performance of Heinrich Schütz’s Seven Last Words, to see that the composer grossly misquotes John’s reference to the hyssop branch used to offer a vinegar-filled sponge to Jesus. It’s obvious that (a) he had forgotten what hyssop was and, therefore, (b) he can’t have been copying the words down from a book, but rather from memory. He got all the other words verbatim.

How did they manage to learn so much, so well—all without Navigators flash cards?

The answer (at least part of it): the Office. The Liturgy of the Hours.

From time immemorial, the Christian Church has marked each day, and different parts of the day, with the Word of God and prayer. The form of these services has varied from time to time, from one place to another, and from one setting to another. But it has always been there.

When the Lutheran reformers, or the later Lutheran theologians, were little lads at school, they participated in the Daily Office. At the very least, each day began and closed with a service where they sang the Psalms and heard readings from the Old and New Testaments (as well as the Apocrypha). Day in, day out. Year after year.

Then they went to university (or the monastery), and carried on doing the same, or in the case of the monastery, an awful lot more of the same.

And then they were ordained, so they continued to do so as part of their vocation in the church.

A whole lifetime of singing, hearing, reading the Scriptures, twice-daily or more. Repetition upon repetition.

And so they learned.

Looking back at the brief history of my church, there is much that is good, worthy of gratitude. Some things I wish hadn’t happened, and some things I wish that had happened.

I do wish that from the very start, all pastors would have been encouraged—nay, instructed—to observe the Daily Office in their churches, and to encourage all members of their congregations to attend these services as much as possible, so that priest and people alike grow in the Scriptures.

As of this autumn, that is what has started to happen in my congregation (see details here and here). I have been saying Matins privately for years, mostly silently in my study. A few months of public recitation of the Psalter and the reading of Scripture has already made a significant difference.

I started at 40. God willing, if I’m as average as I appear in other respects, I may have another 40 years to go. If in those 40 years I absorb a small part of what Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Gerhard, Schütz or Bach absorbed, I will consider myself blessed.

P.S. I am increasingly convinced also that assigning the same melodies to the same Psalms is an important tool in the learning. If I ever edit a Psalter, each Psalm will have its appointed chant. But that’s really another topic for another post.