I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. (ESV)
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Worshiping the Father and the Son
Martin Luther's Birthday
10 November 2015
Constantinople was mad for horse racing in the same way that Americans are enthralled by NFL football. The Hippodrome of Constantinople, a U-shaped horse track for horse and chariot races, was the centre of the city's social life. Huge sums of money were bet on chariot races. For all I know they had "Fantasy Hippodrome!" At the time of Gregory Nazianzus (c. 381) four teams took part in these races, each financially sponsored and supported by a different Byzantine political party (sports sponsorships are not new!). The teams were named by colors: the Blues, the Greens, the Reds, and the Whites. The people of Constantinople identified themselves by their favorite racing team, like British football supporters. Using the analogy of the horse racing teams in Constantinople, Gregory chided those of his hearers about being denominated "Christian" when they were in fact opponents of the divinity of Christ. Why choose to be known by a name that belongs to a mere creature, as the Arians did? "Christian" cannot be taken as a mere name, like wearing the battle-red jersey of your favorite football team. What does it mean to be a Christian? It must begin with Christ. And Christ not as a mere creature, but as He is; God of God.
The adoration of Christ as God of God is not a zero-sum game. In economics, a zero-sum game is the presumption that there is a limited amount of value, represented by money, to go around. In this pattern of thinking, if I have more money it necessarily means that someone else has less of it. This kind of thinking gave rise, and still gives rise, to socialistic redistribution schemes intended to provide social justice. The only quality it created was to make everyone equally miserable. Zero-sum games are played not just in economics. The Arian heretics of the fourth century presumed that if divine honor and worship were accorded the Son of God, then it would diminish the honor and worship bestowed upon the Father. And yet they willingly called themselves Christian, which is itself an expression of honor. In our day, at least the Jehovah's Witnesses are honest in declining to name themselves Christian.
When I moved to the town of my first parish, I asked around to find out who was the best barber in town. It was Sam. I duly went to Sam when my head demanded it. Being a small town, Sam was interested in why I was there. When I told him that I was a Lutheran pastor there to start a new parish, he was intrigued. After some conversation, he informed me that he was a member of the local Masonic lodge and that the Anglican rector was the secretary of the organization. I understood that this was a not-so-subtle invitation to join the lodge. Wickedly, I played along. I began to ask him about the religious rites of the lodge, and he intoned sagely, "The lodge is a very religious organization, Reverend." "Ah, but your religious rites wouldn't mention Jesus Christ would they? You would not want to offend those who declined to believe the holy Trinity." "Oh, absolutely Reverend." "But are you a Christian, Sam?" "Oh, absolutely Reverend. I attend the United Church at least once a month." "So then you would have a great deal of respect for what Jesus actually said, right Sam?" "Oh, absolutely, Reverend." "How can you participate in prayers that leave out the name of Jesus, when Jesus himself specifically says, 'that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him' (Jn 5:23
). Immediately, he said: "Reverend, the lodge is not a religious organization." "Ah." Sam was basically an Arian, who thought more of the name "lodge member," than he did of the name of the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus Christ. Honoring the Son is honoring the Father. By worshiping the Son, the Father is not cheated, but rightly worshiped in Him.
"Consider people who are devoted to horse racing. They are named after the colors and the sides on which they have placed themselves. You know the names without my mentioning them. If it is thus that you have got the name of Christian, the mere title is an insignificant thing even though you pride yourself upon it. But if it is because you believe Christ to be God, show your faith by your works. If the Son is a creature, then even now also you are worshiping the creature instead of the Creator (Rm 1:25
). If the Holy Spirit is a creature, you are baptized in vain, and are only sound on two sides, or rather not even on them; but on one you are altogether in danger. Imagine the Trinity to be a single pearl, alike on all sides and equally glistening. If any part of the pearl is damaged; the whole beauty of the stone is ruined. So when you dishonor the Son in order to honor the Father, He does not accept your worship. The Father does not glory in the dishonor of the Son. If 'a wise son makes a glad father' (Pro 10:1
), how much more does the honor of the Son reflect upon the Father! And if you also accept this saying, my son, do not glory in the dishonor of thy Father. Similarly the Father does not glory in the Son's dishonor. If you dishonor the Holy Spirit, the Son does not receive your honor. For though He is not of the Father in the same way as the Son, yet He is of the same Father. Either honor the whole or dishonor the whole, so as to be consistent. I cannot accept your half piety. I would have you altogether pious, but in the way that I desire.
Pardon my emotion. I am grieved even for those who hate me. You were one of my members, even though you are now cut off. Perhaps you will again become a member; and therefore I speak kindly."
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 37.18
Lord Jesus Christ, you have given us the name Christian as a sign that we are Yours. Help us to confess faithfully Your divinity, that we might give right worship to You who are God of God. Call back to a faithful confession those who have rejected Your divinity, that they may become sons of Your church once again. Amen.
For Audra Tackett, that she might recover fully from successful surgery
For the members of the Council of Presidents of the LCMS, which will be meeting next week, that the Lord Jesus Christ would send His Word to them
For those who are rejoicing at reconciliation with estranged family members, that they would give thanks and praise to the Lord who creates harmony
For President Obama, that he would carry out his office in a way that benefits all citizens
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015