Nothing New
Thursday in Advent 2
14 December 2017
The mysteries of the incarnation have caused no little conflict among those who call themselves Christians. How is it that Christ could be both God and man in such a way that He is truly and completely both, but without impairing the attributes of either the divine or the human natures? The answers to this question caused epic ecclesiastical battles in the early church, and continue to do so, often through ignorance of the outcome of the early church's battles. Solomon's dictum that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9) is still true in doctrine. And yet, today's theologians are quite willing to tout their own views as new and exciting without regard for the ancient teaching of our forefathers. As any housewife can tell you, new is not necessarily improved.

This was the settled opinion of Bishop Leo of Rome (c. 400-461). He expressed this concern for acceptance of the ancient teaching of his forefathers in a letter to his colleague in Alexandria, Bishop Proterius (d. 457). Leo thought that the heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches introduced new Christological opinions into the church's life and for that reason alone needed to be rejected. Leo's more famous Tome made the clear and accepted arguments for the rejection of these heretical opinions. In our age, when theologians are spending their time constructing statements intended to deviate from the long-accepted truth of Christian theology, Leo (a far better theologian than our modern models) made a great effort to see to it that he supported the old theology, that his theological opinions square with it, and that he used language that was long received and acceptable to the church.

Today, many theologians are wanting to invent new language with which to speak of God and divine things, but many times this new language also imposes on us a new God and a different theology. God's people are disturbed by this. They wonder, "If the language of our fathers needs to be changed, why was it inadequate? Did they hold an incorrect faith, which we need to fix?" It is a kind of slander against our forefathers when we decide to fix their putative ignorance with our brilliant new ideas. It is to attribute to them ignorance and stupidity. Since we Christians believe that our fathers are with the Lord it is not our right to slander them. They are saints that behold the face of the Lord. For all the talk of those who are breaking the eighth commandment, perhaps it would be well for us not to slander our forefathers by junking their long-confessed theology and the venerable words the church has used to deliver them.

The apostolic warning against scratching itching ears (2Ti 4:3) is no longer heeded. I agree with a younger colleague of mine says he is sick of listening to 70-year-old men come up with new ideas. The younger members of my congregation are especially suspicious of introducing new words in the church. They see the new every day in their work and must deal with it. They don't want it in church. There has to be a bedrock; something dependable and unchanging in their lives. The world won't give it. The considered tradition of the church must. David Chytraeus, one of the Lutheran Formulators of Concord said, "The new must be wrong by definition." And that's nothing new.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Leo the Great
"For there is no new preaching in the letter that I wrote in reply to [Bishop] Flavian of holy memory, when he consulted me about the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In nothing did I depart from that rule of faith which was outspokenly maintained by your ancestors and ours....This therefore, beloved brother, I advise in my anxiety for our common faith that, because the enemies of Christ's cross lie in watch for all our words and syllables, we give them not the slightest occasion for falsely asserting that we agree with the Nestorian doctrine. And you must so diligently exhort the laity and clergy and all the brotherhood to advance in the faith so as to show that you teach nothing new but instill into all men's hearts those things, which the Fathers of revered memory have with harmony of statement taught, and with which in all things our epistle agrees. And this must be shown not only by your words but also by the actually reading aloud of previous statements, that God's people might know that what the Fathers received from their predecessors and handed on to their descendants, is still instilled into them in the present day.

"To this end, when the statements of the aforesaid Fathers have first been read, then lastly let my writings also be recited, that the ears of the faithful may attest that we preach nothing else than what we received from our forefathers. And because their understandings are but little practiced in discerning these things, let them at least learn from the letters of the Fathers, how ancient this evil is, which is now condemned by us in Nestorius as well as in Eutyches, who have both been ashamed to preach the gospel of Christ according to the Lord's own teaching.

"Accordingly, both in the rule of faith and in the observance of discipline, let the standard of antiquity be maintained throughout."

 Leo the Great, Letter to Proterius, Bishop of Alexandria, 129.2-3
2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.  
Lord Jesus, You once for all delivered the divine truth to the prophets and apostles in these last days. Send your Spirit to us that we would not depart from the rule of faith which was outspokenly maintained by our ancestors. Cure our itching mouths that are eager to say something different to the hurt and offense of Your people. Make us ever the students of the Word that we might never waver from its message, that together with them we may say, "The mouth of the Lord has said it." Amen.

For the family and friends of John Hatteberg, who will receive Christian funeral rites today, that we would be comforted by the confession of the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come

For all those who think it their task to deliver new ideas to the church, that they would be led into humility and obedience and thus bring their mouths under subjection to the Word of God

For Sophia Benton, that the Lord would grant her strength and enable her to be brought home from the hospital in time for Christmas
Art: JANSSENS, Jan  The Annunciation (17th c.)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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