Friday, August 30, 2013

Persecuted Church: When will the U.S. stand up for religious freedom in the world?

Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom and Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chairwoman of the committee, have written an op-ed piece in which they describe how U.S. administrations have failed to use International Religious Freedom Act which provides a variety of means by which the U.S. can prompt nations to provide greater religious freedom.

Culture news: Canada continues on the path towards religious discrimination

When we look at Canada, we see a disturbing situation that could be a preview of what lies ahead for the United States. Quebec is considering the "Quebec Charter of Values."  It would:

"ban public employees from wearing religious symbols, including such things as turbans, crucifixes, hijabs, and kippas. And it’s not just for government representatives: it would apply to all public institutions, including schools and hospitals. That’s right: teachers, doctors, and nurses, among numerous other workers, would all be forbidden from wearing religious symbols on the job. Don’t like it? Find another job."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sermon for Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Trinity 13
                                                                                                            Lk 10:23-37

            I took it for granted. I didn’t realize what a unique stretch of time I was experiencing.  You see, I was introduced to Indiana basketball in the winter of 1979.  That summer, we had moved from Pensacola, Florida as my dad took a job teaching at Indiana University.  During the 1979-1980 season I received a full immersion into the culture of Indiana basketball, and learned that as a Hoosier fan, I was now part of something special.
            Indiana had played in the Final Four in 1973.  They had won 31 straight games in 1975, blowing opponents away, before they lost in the regional final by two points to a Kentucky team they had beaten soundly earlier in the year. They lost because their best player - Scott May - had broken his arm.  In 1976 Indiana had come back to go 32 and 0 as they became what is to this day the last undefeated national champion. They had won the Big Ten championship four years in a row between 1973 and 1976.
            In my first year I saw Indiana win the Big Ten title.  Then in 1981 I saw them win the national championship – winning by what was then a record average margin of victory.  They won the Big Ten in 1983, and then in 1987 Keith Smart’s game winning shot gave them another national championship.
            I had come to expect that every five for six years, Indiana won the national championship.  Every other year they won the Big Ten – except for that terrible stretch when we had to wait three whole years between 1983 and 1987.  This was simply how things were.  And so with Big Ten titles in 1989, 1991 and 1993 Indiana was obviously moving toward another national championship that year.  Everything was going to happen right on schedule.  It had been six years since the last national championship, and so it was time.  Indiana had a loaded team filled players who came from the state of Indiana, and they finished the regular season ranked number one in the country
            But at the end of the 1993 regular season, Alan Henderson, a key inside player injured his knee.  They weren’t the same team without him and they lost in the regional finals. And then, unfortunately, I learned the hard way what a remarkable period the twenty years between 1973 and 1993 had been. For in the next twenty years Indiana didn’t win any national championships.  They only won one Big Ten title.  Their coach, Bob Knight was fired because of misconduct.  Another coach, Kelvin Sampson, broke NCAA rules. Indiana was put on probation and was heavily penalized by the NCAA. As a result, Indiana fans endured a 8 and 46 record between 2008 and 2011.  During the last twenty years I have come to appreciate what a truly unique stretch of time I had enjoyed – something I took for granted when it was happening.
            In the first verses of our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus announces to the disciples that they are living in a unique and remarkable moment in history.  And his words don’t only apply to the disciples. They call us to recognize that we are too, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
            When you heard the Gospel lesson being read this morning, you probably thought that you were going to hear a sermon about the parable of the Good Samaritan. When you heard the text for the sermon announced as the Gospel lesson just a few moments ago, you probably thought your expectation had been confirmed.  So I have a surprise for you – this morning you are not going to hear about the Good Samaritan. 
Instead we are going to focus on the first two verses of our text which say: “Then turning to the disciples he said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’”
            Jesus’ words pick up on what has just happened in chapter ten of Luke’s Gospel.  At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus sends out seventy or seventy two disciples (there’s a textual question here) – to       go before him to the cities and towns where Jesus is about to go.  It is important to understand Jesus’ ministry has taken a crucial turn.  At the end of chapter nine we read: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Our Lord has begun his final journey to Jerusalem.  He is going there to suffer and die on the cross.
            Because of the timing, there is a sense of urgency in Jesus’ ministry.  He sends out this group of disciples – one that is larger than the twelve apostles – as a kind of “advance team.”  They are to prepare the way by going to the towns and proclaiming, “The kingdom of God has arrived.”  They are to declare that in the saving ministry of Jesus Christ, the reign of God had entered into the world in order to turn back and eject the forces of Satan, sin and death.
            Jesus warns them that in some places they will meet with rejection. There will be people who don’t want to hear the message.  Our Lord says, “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has arrived.’”
            Just before our text, the disciples had returned from their work of proclaiming the kingdom of God.             They returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  Jesus said that in the proclamation of his saving work, people were being saved and Satan was being cast out. But he told the disciples not of focus on the mighty works they had been able to do.  Instead they were to rejoice that their names were written in heaven – that God had called them to faith through the Gospel.
            And then right before our text, we read, “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’”
            Our Lord expresses the unique relationship that exists between the Father and the Son within the Holy Trinity.  And then he tells us that only the Son can reveal the Father to us.  Sent by the Father into the world, it is the Son who makes know the Father.
            If you look around at the world – you can see the beauty and the order and the wonder of it all.  All through history this has led people to recognize that there is someone or something behind it.  But that recognition doesn’t tell you anything about where you stand.  It doesn’t tell you anything about how this someone or something is disposed towards you.
But in the first century in Palestine, God the Father sent God the Son into the world through the work of God the Holy Spirit in order to reveal his loving heart to us.  He did it in the fullness of time – when things were just right.  He did it as the fulfillment of all that he had done with his people Israel and all that he had spoken through his prophets.
In our text, Jesus says to the returning disciples: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” The disciples were seeing the fulfillment of God’s saving plan. They were living in the moment when the Messiah descended from the kings of Israel since days of David had come into the world. They were living in the moment when the Messiah promised by the prophets was present and at work to bring salvation. 
In fact at that very moment they were making their way to Jerusalem where Jesus would fulfill God’s saving plan by his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  As Jesus would say to the disciples on the evening of the first Easter: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus told the disciples to recognize the moment in which they lived.  He told them to understand that the reign of God had arrived in their midst.  He told them that they were blessed – that they were experiencing God’s end time salvation because this was true.
As we gather here this morning, it is critical that we realize that Jesus’ words are just as true for us. Through the Sprit given witness of the Scripture, blessed are our eyes that see. We know what God has done.  We know about the fulfillment of the things that God’s people in the Old Testament, including their prophets and kings wished to know about. Because we live in the time when Christ’s saving death and resurrection has occurred, we are those upon whom the end of the ages has come.  We know that we are living in the last days.
The question then, is whether we see things in this way. Do we understand and believe that we live at a time when the reign of God has arrived in Jesus Christ?  Do we understand that the things Christ reveals to us in his word and gives to us through the sacraments are the very things prophets and kings longed to see and hear?
 Our actions will go a long way towards revealing where we really stand. If we understand the time in which we live and what Christ is doing, then coming each Sunday to the Divine Service will be only natural.  Reading and studying God’s word both at home and at church will be our ongoing activity so that we can continue to see and hear about the things prophets and kings longed to know.  If we understand the time in which we live and what Christ is doing, then forgiving others and seeking to help others will characterize our lives, because that is what Jesus Christ has done for us in this time.
In out text this morning Jesus says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  He says this, not just at the time when he, the incarnate Son of God, had come into the world.  He says it at the very time when he is making his way to Jerusalem to die on the cross for our sins and rise from the dead.
This is the saving action that prophets and kings in Israel longed to see and hear.  Blessed are you, because you live at the time these things have been accomplished.  Blessed are you, because in the work of Jesus you have the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life. Blessed are you, “for I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”




Thursday, August 22, 2013

Culture news: Planned Parenthod to help implement Obamacare; will have access to personal information

The Obama administration is giving $655,000 to hire "navigators" to help consumers who will be using health insurance exchanges. This story is disturbing on several levels. First, the fact that the Obama administration is using Planned Parenthood for this illustrates yet again how intimately the abortion agenda has been part of Obamacare itself. Second, the fact that these "navigators" will have access to our Social Security number and medical records is extremely troubling.  The screening for these workers is going to be very lax.  It opens up the possibility of individuals in these jobs using the information for fraud.  It also raises the specter of Planned Parenthood having access to the personal information of those who oppose abortion.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cultures news: The homosexual movement's antagonism with blacks around the world

Robert Oscar Lopez has written an interesting piece describing the homosexual movement's antagonism with blacks in the United States and around the world.  

He notes regarding the attempt to cast the homosexual movement as a civil rights issue parallel to that of blacks in the United States:

"People who love the same sex come with many different agendas and experiences.  The peculiar ideology of the LGBT lobby, however, seems fashioned perfectly to inflame the rage and resistance of African-Americans.  First, the ideology is based on biological determinism.  The repeated appeals to the Fourteenth Amendment depend upon the notion that homosexuals are born with their orientation in the same way black people are born with dark skin.  This isn't the most inviting way to start a comparison: "Hi, I'm a guy who loves playing with other men's genitals, and that's just like you being black!"


There is an added dimension to this dangerous form of essentialism, however.  The LGBT lobby is driven by the belief that people whom they classify as "born homosexuals" must engage in the actual acts of sexual gratification with the same sex, or there is something wrong with them.  Within this logic, it is impossible to go from homosexual activity to non-homosexual activity.  So convinced are LGBT activists of this rejection of free will and self-control that they have moved to make it illegal in California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts for counselors to help minors cease or avoid sexual activities with the same sex."


He goes on to observe about the demand of homosexuals to be parents of children:


"The LGBT lobby also demands that same-sex couples have the right to be parents.  Here is where the movement becomes utterly irreconcilable with black history, regardless of how much Melissa Harris-Perry may enjoy her repartee with Thomas Roberts.  For same-sex couples to become parents, they must purchase children.  They won't call it that, of course.  But buying sperm from a sperm-bank or renting a woman's womb both entail the exchange of money for ownership of a child.  The state is then embroiled in the arrangement as an enforcer of the contract, compelling the child and third parties to respect the authority of two adults, one or both of whom are unrelated to the child, and both of whom came into possession of a dependent human being through money.  (Those high incomes that Crystal Dixon pointed out among gay couples come in handy.)

How does this sound for a race of people who came out of slavery?"




Life news: When you are keeping company with China and North Korea, it's not a good sign

The United States stands with China, North Korea and Canada as the only nations in the world that allow abortion after a child is "viable" for any reason at all.  When you are keeping company with China and North Korea, it's not a good sign.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sermon for Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Trinity 12
                                                                                                            Mk 7:31-37

            First time parents are pretty much all the same.  It’s the first child so everything is new and special and exciting.  Entrusted with the care of this little life they are so concerned about doing everything right and watching out for the child. 
Amy and I were certainly that way.  When we only had Timothy and we went somewhere, we would constantly follow him around to make sure that he was safe.  If he was eating crackers, dropped one on the ground and went to pick it up and eat it, we swooped in order to snatch it away and keep it out of his mouth.
How very different things have been for us with our fourth child!  While we certainly still have Michael’s safety in mind when he is out and about, basically if there isn’t an open flame or a swimming pool involved we aren’t all that concerned.  As for food dropping on the ground, we just haven’t been uptight about it – the five second rule definitely carries the day.
First time parents doesn’t recognize the things that are really no big deal.  But because they are first time parents, sometimes they also don’t recognize the things that are a big deal.  I was certainly a case in point. 
Timothy was our first child and I really hadn’t been around children in the early stages of development.   I knew that when he first began to speak he was difficult to understand – but I didn’t really think much of it.  As time went on Amy and I became attuned to the way he spoke, but others couldn’t understand what he was saying, and we would have to “translate” what Timothy was said.
It was Amy who first observed that this was not the way things were supposed to be developing.  I had no clue that there was any problem, and at first was skeptical.  But once Amy pointed it out, I soon realized that there was a problem.  I am very thankful that there was a wonderful speech therapy program available when we lived in the Chicago area.  They helped to get Timothy’s speech back on track and today when you interact with a smart, articulate middle school student you would never know there had been some problems when he was little.
Speech therapy is something we take for granted in our world.  But of course, it was not something that existed in ancient world.  There was no help for someone who struggled with this - and certainly no help for someone who was deaf.  Yet in our Gospel lesson today we see Jesus heal a man who suffered from both of these.  We learn that in the person of Jesus Christ the reign of God broke into our world in order to free people from sin and all the wrong it has caused.
In our text, Jesus is in northern Israel, in an area where many Gentiles lived.  We are told that they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.  We aren’t told who brought the man.  Unable to hear and unable to communicate he would have had very few opportunities in the first century Palestinian world – he would have been living a very difficult life. 
They brought him to Jesus and asked our Lord to lay his hand on him.  People had heard about Jesus. They knew that he was performing miracles of healing and so they brought this unfortunate man to Jesus in the hope that his touch would bring healing.
They wanted Jesus to lay his hand on the man. However, the man probably got more than he expected!  We are told that Jesus took the man away from the crowd, so that it was just the two of them.  Then, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting he touched the man’s tongue.  Then Jesus groaned and said to him, “Ephphatha,” which is Armaic for, “Be opened.” And we are told that “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
After Jesus had healed the man he ordered them to tell no one.  Our Lord does this on a number of occasions in the Gospels, and at first it may seem puzzling.  After all, doesn’t Jesus want people to know about his saving ministry?  Yet what we see here is that Jesus wants to define his ministry.  The first century Jewish world had all kinds of hopes and expectations about the one God would send and what he would do.  Many of these dealt with power, glory and success. 
As the miracle demonstrated, Jesus had great power.  But he had not come to use that power in ways that the world expects.  He had come to serve.  He had come to bring relief to the lowly and suffering. He was going to provide the answer to the root cause of suffering – he was going to provide the answer to sin.  However, he was going to do this by suffering in his own person.  He was going to suffer and die on behalf of the sins of all people.  As Jesus will say just later in this Gospel: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
However, the people didn’t want to do it Jesus’ way.  It was all so cool!  It was all so exciting!  When you know something cool and exciting, how can you keep it to yourself?  And besides you can be the center of attention when you have something cool and exciting to share.  And so we learn that the more he commanded them to keep it to themselves, the more they were proclaiming it to others.  After all, it was amazing stuff.  They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The people didn’t listen to what Jesus told them.  They had their own idea about how things should be done – about how things should work.  Jesus wanted to do things in his own way and his own time.  He was going to do things in the way of the cross. They wanted to do things in the way of success and glory.
The fact of the matter is that this describes us too – and I freely include myself.  You see, deep down, we really don’t like what Jesus tells us to do right now. In our text this morning we hear about a miracle.  Jesus heals a man who was deaf and couldn’t speak. We see that in Gospels Jesus heals many people who were afflicted by many kinds of illnesses and conditions.  And you know what?  Most likely that is not going to happen to you. Jesus doesn’t tell you to expect healing.  He tells you to believe and trust in him for the forgiveness of sins.  He tells you to receive his Means of Grace so that you can be sustained in that faith.  He tells you to believe and trust in him as you look for his return on the Last Day when he will transform your body so that it will never again need healing.
And frankly, that’s not what we want to hear.  We want results now.  We want healing now.  We want freedom from cares now. And because Jesus doesn’t do that – because Jesus doesn’t even promise that – we get frustrated.  We doubt his word.  We stop listening to his word, and we don’t put it at the center of our life.
Jesus tells those who witnessed the miracle not to talk about it because he was in the process of carrying out the saving work of God. It was a work that needed to be done in God’s way, and that was a way that would surprise many people because it wasn’t going to happen in the way of success and glory.  Instead, it was going to occur through the cross.
Yet make no mistake – the miracle in today’s text does say that it is God at work bringing salvation and restoration.  The man who is healed is described as having a speech impediment.  After Jesus heals the man, the astounded people say, “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The Gospel’s description of the man as having a speech impediment and the crowd’s reaction point directly to what Isaiah chapter 35 says in the Old Testament. There the prophet describes the future salvation that God is going to bring and writes, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”
Mark is telling us that in Jesus’ ministry this salvation has arrived.  It’s here!  Jesus himself announced this at the beginning of his ministry when he went into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at arrived; repent and believe in the gospel.”
The end time salvation of God has arrived and is already at work.  And we know this is true because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The source of our hope for the future is his resurrection because it means that in Jesus the new creation has already begun. The renewal and restoration of our bodies has already started in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What has happened to him will happen to us because our bodies will be transformed to be like his. The root cause of all this is wrong – sin – has been dealt with by our Lord’s death on the cross, and the renewal of all things has begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
            And so right now, we need to listen to Jesus’ word.  The final salvation has started in Jesus, but its consummation and fulfillment has not yet arrived.  Sin is still here and physical suffering is still here.  Our Lord calls us to believe and trust in him.  He calls us to live in peace, because our sins are forgiven and we are the children of God. He calls us to live in hope, because we know what has already happened in Jesus and what will therefore happen on the Last Day.
            In order to support and sustain us while we look for his return, Jesus Christ keeps doing the same things that we see in our text this morning.  He freed the man with his word, “Ephaphtha!”  Our Lord continues to free us from the sin in our lives by his word – the word of the Gospel as it comes to us in the reading and preaching of the Scriptures.  He frees us with his word of Holy Absolution as he forgives all our sins.
            And in our text Jesus healed the man with his bodily touch.  Jesus continues to do the same thing for us as he touches us in his holy Sacrament.  In the Sacrament of the Altar he touches us with his true body and blood, given and shed for us.  He gives to you the very price he paid for your salvation and in receiving it you know that this forgiveness is for you.  He gives into your body his own crucified and risen body and blood through which he nourishes the new man in you and guarantees that your body too will be raised up and transformed on the Last Day.
            By these gifts he gives us forgiveness, life and salvation now. And by these gifts he points us forward to the consummation of his saving work when he returns in glory.  He holds up before us the promise that he will make all things very good once again, for that is the purpose of his entire saving work.  It was a saving work that he carried out with the man in our text.  It is a saving work that he continues to carry out in our midst this morning through his Means of Grace.  Sustained in the present by his astounding gifts, we can look towards the future and exclaim in faith, truly, “He has done all things well.”      




Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mark's thoughts: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 1- The western Church before Nicaea

(St. Cyprian)

In the popular imagination today, there are few things that are more “Lutheran” than the Rite of Confirmation.  Generations of Lutherans have donned a white gown, and in front of a church full of family and friends they have confessed the faith and vowed faithfulness in Confirmation.  Then they have received the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time. 

However, upon further reflection, it is remarkable that Confirmation exists at all – much less in the Lutheran Church.  The history of Confirmation is a weird and wacky story that twists and turns in unexpected ways.  In a series of posts I am going to look at the history of Confirmation in the western Church up to the Reformation, and then in the Lutheran Church up to our own day.  As we think about the status of Confirmation in our own pastoral practice, it is important to understand how Confirmation in its present form in the Lutheran Church came into existence.   This information puts us in a better position to evaluate Confirmation itself.

I. Anointing and laying on of hands
The story of Confirmation begins in the rites that accompanied the administration of Holy Baptism in the early Church.  The Romans considered bathing to be one of the quintessential features of civilized “Roman” life. In fact, “the bathhouse was produced as a new cultural form in the cities of Italy in the second century BC and became the hallmark of Roman urbanism at locations across Italy and the western Empire until, by the second century AD, it was impossible to imagine that anyone in the Empire did not bathe in a bathhouse.”[1] Bathing was ubiquitous in the Roman world, and wherever there was bathing, people anointed themselves with olive oil.  Leonel Mitchell surveys the evidence and concludes that “to a Roman or Hellenistic Greek anointing would be associated with washing as naturally as we associate soap with water. When a Roman went to the bath he took a towel and oil.”[2]

The New Testament says that at Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:21-22) he was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:18; Act 10:38).  It also says that Christians have an anointing from the Holy One (ὑμεῖς χρῖσμα ἔχετε ἀπὸ τοῦ ἁγίου; 1 Jn 2:20) and that they have been sealed with the Spirit (Eph 1:13; see also 2 Cor 1:22).  In a letter filled with baptismal language 1 Pet 2:9 describes Christians as a royal priesthood – a description that calls to mind the fact that kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:12-13) and priests (Leviticus 8:12, 30) were anointed.  The cultural setting and language of Scripture made it almost inevitable that anointing with oil would be a part of the administration of Holy Baptism.  We cannot say how soon this began.  Regarding this first factor, Aidan Kavanagh has observed, “One can only note that more was involved in the bathing process then, and hence more was implied in the bathing metaphor when used by antique authors, than is the case today.”[3]  With the respect to the second he cogently observes that we must question, “whether it took communities prepared to be ritually literal about washing metaphors up to a century and a half to become similarly disposed regarding unction.”[4]

Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit works through baptism (Jn 3:3, 5; Tit 3:5-6; 1 Cor 6:11).  However, one biblical text held the early Church’s attention as she reflected upon baptism and the gift of the Spirit. In Acts 8:4-8 Philip goes to Samaria and proclaims the Gospel.  The chapter then goes on to say: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17 ESV).  The text highlights the unique circumstances within salvation history of the Gospel’s advance beyond the Jews to the Samaritans (see Acts 10:44-48 where again unusual circumstances related to baptism and the Spirit mark the Gospel’s advance to the Gentiles).  Through this action the apostles recognized the Samaritan mission as part the apostolic Church.  The laying on of hands by those authorized by God in order to give the Spirit would become the feature that strongly influenced the Church’s ongoing baptismal practice.

We lack explicit evidence about the ritual actions that accompanied the administration of baptism in the western Church prior to Tertullian (155- ca 220 A.D.), Cyprian (ca 200-258) and (if accepted as genuine) the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.  However it is very likely that they arose in the first and second centuries.  In the judicious candor that typifies his scholarship, J.D.C. Fisher concludes: 
For the moment it is sufficient to observe that there is no reason to suppose that at the time of writing these further baptismal ceremonies were recent innovations.  If they were established customs by the second decade of the third century, they must have had their origin back in the second century, although how far back it is difficult to prove.  But the clear evidence of these ceremonies in the early third century has to be set against the failure of the second century writers to supply evidence as unmistakable of their existence in the period between the end of the end of the apostolic age and the time of Tertullian and Hippolytus.[5] 

Kavanagh states the case in a stronger, but not unwarranted fashion: 
This should alert one to the probability that when the New Testament texts refer, especially in passing, to ‘baptism’ they mean something ritually larger and increasingly more sophisticated and complex than the water bath alone.  If this is not presumed, then it becomes impossible to account for how rites particularly related to  the Spirit and in closer ritual contact with the water bath than proclamation prior to it, suddenly appear as though from nowhere during the second and third centuries.  Nor does it explain why these rites quickly become accepted as traditional in churches obsessed with fidelity to the gospel and apostolic tradition.[6]

II. Tertullian
The administration of Holy Baptism in Tertullian’s North African setting involved baptism in water, anointing (On Baptism 7), signing with the cross (On the Resurrection of the Flesh 8), and imposition of the hand (On Baptism 8).[7]  Tertullian explained the anointing in relation to priesthood: “After that we come up from the washing and are anointed with the blessed unction, following that ancient practice by which, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses, there was a custom of anointing them for priesthood with oil out of a horn” (On Baptism 7).[8]  This  explanation of anointing in relation to priesthood (cf. 1 Peter 2:9) will be one of the dominant ones found in the western Church.

Tertullian is very explicit that the Spirit is given through the imposition of the hand in prayer: “Next follows the imposition of the hand in benediction, inviting and welcoming the Holy Spirit” (On Baptism 8).[9]  In a corresponding fashion he says that the Spirit is not given through the water: “Not that in the waters we obtain the Holy Spirit; but in the water, under (the witness of) the angel, we are cleansed, and prepared for the Holy Spirit” (On Baptism 6).[10]  At the same time, in his writings Tertullian can speak about how the soul is “renewed in its second birth by water and the power from above” (Treatise on the Soul 41).[11] 

Lampe has described Tertullian’s theology as confused because it seems to deny “that the Spirit is actually bestowed upon the believer at the moment of his regeneration.”[12]  However Fisher is most likely more accurate when he counters: “It may be freely granted that blessings which Tertullian ascribed to baptism and to the hand laying respectively are from the theological point of view in the last resort indivisible.  But in his day both acts formed part of a rite which was a single whole, in which baptism in water, unction, consignation and imposition of the hand followed one another without any appreciable interval of time between.”[13]  As he goes on to say, “In short, then, the evidence as a whole points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that in Tertullian’s view baptism by itself by the operation of the Holy Spirit conferred eternal salvation and remission of sins, while the subsequent hand-laying conveyed the gift of the Holy Spirit to the initiates … To say, however, that the convert received the Holy Spirit at the hand-laying after baptism does not carry with it the implication that he had been untouched by the Spirit up to that moment.  The baptism which he had received was not a mere water-baptism but a baptism of water and the Spirit.”[14]

III. Cyprian
Cyprian’s writings demonstrate a very similar ritual structure, a little later in North Africa, as was found in Tertullian: baptism in water, anointing, imposition of the hand, and (perhaps) signing with the cross.  Like Tertullian he attributed the gift of the Spirit to the imposition of the hand: “They who are baptized in the church are brought to the prelates of the church, and by our prayers and by the imposition of the hand obtain the Holy Spirit, and are perfected with the Lord’s seal [signaculo dominico]” (Letter 73 to Jubaianus, 9).[15] In this section of the letter, Cyprian is the first writer to cite Acts 8 as justification for this practice.[16]

Yet also like Tertullian, Cyprian clearly believed that the Spirit was active in the water of baptism as he gives forgiveness of sins and spiritual birth.  For example, he writes in Letter 74.5, “Furthermore a person is not born again through the imposition of the hand when he receives the Holy Spirit, but in baptism so that having first been born he may receive the Spirit.”[17] And so Fisher is justified when he says, “In conclusion, then, Cyprian’s doctrine of initiation, virtually identical with that of Tertullian, requires a liturgical practice where baptism, anointing, consignation and hand-laying with prayer are seen to be an organic whole. There is no ground for disagreement as to the spiritual blessings conferred by the whole rite; the difficulty arises when the attempt, unavoidable in the circumstances of today in the West, is made to distribute the blessings among the particular moments in the rite.”[18]

Tertullian knew of infant baptism but argued that, baptism should be delayed because children were more likely to sin after baptism, and thus require the rigors of public penance and reconciliation to the Church (On Baptism, 18).  Cyprian, on the other hand, was a strong supporter of infant baptism (Epistle 64).  Cyprian also provides evidence that children, and even infants, were receiving the Sacrament of the Altar (On the Lapsed 3.9, 25) and is the first witness that they received the Sacrament after baptism.  Holeton has commented:

Cyprian gives us what appears to be an already developed theology of the practice as well as several illustrations of infant communion.  First, he bears witness to the coupling of John 3:5 (‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit …’) and John 6:53 (‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…’) as a single logion in the traditio fidei, establishing what is necessary for participation in the Christian community.  Infants are as capable of baptism as are adults and share equally in the divine gift given in baptism. Having thus been baptized in the Spirit the newborn drink thereon from the Lord’s cup, and are thus both ‘baptized and sanctified’ (‘baptizandum et santificandum’).[19]

From this period on, infant communion after baptism and anointing was the standard initiation pattern in Christianity for more than a thousand years.

IV. Apostolic Tradition
In the past, the so-called Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hippolytus (ca. 215) has been cited as evidence for baptismal practice in Rome at the beginning of the third century.  There, after baptism the (21.18) the individual is anointed by the presbyter (21.19).  Next the bishop lays his hand on him and according to the oldest manuscript (Latin) prays, “Lord God, who have made them worthy to receive the forgiveness of sins through the laver of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, send on them your grace, that they may serve you according to your will” (21.21).[20]  The later Boharic, Arabic and Ethiopic manuscripts have “make them worthy to be filled with the/your Holy Spirit” instead of “send on them your grace.”[21]  Then the bishop anoints the baptized (21.22) and signs them on the forehead (21.23). This double anointing, with the hand laying and second anointing done by the bishop, matches what will be found in Rome in a later period.

While the Apostolic Tradition has in the past been used as evidence for pre-Nicene baptismal practice in Rome, this now seems unlikely.  The attribution to Hippolytus is based on weak evidence and is in no way certain for a large number of reasons.[22]  It seems more likely that the text is a conflation of several different traditions from a number of periods and that its final form reflects a fourth century setting.[23]  Since the Verona (Latin and earliest) manuscript dates to fifth century Italy, the text provides important information for understanding later practice in Italy.

V. Observations
I would like to make four observations about this pre-Nicene evidence.  The first is that we do not find the rite of Confirmation in this early period.  There is not yet, as the medieval Church came to understand it, a separate action by the bishop which bestowed the Spirit in order to provide some new or additional gift for someone who is already a Christian through baptism.  Instead, there is simply the single rite of Holy Baptism through which a Christian received rebirth and the gift of the Spirit.  The focus is Holy Baptism – nothing more and nothing less. Confirmation was not instituted by Christ like Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar and so we do not find the early Church administering it from the beginning.

Second, we see here the beginning of a trend that will run through the whole history of the early and medieval Church.  Acts 8 becomes the basis for the belief that the laying on of hands by a bishop (or presbyter in many cases) bestows the Holy Spirit in the rite of Holy Baptism.  As we have seen in Tertullian and Cyprian, this does not mean that the work of the Spirit giving rebirth has been absent in the water of baptism.  Instead, it indicates that the laying on of hands is part of the baptismal rite that bestows the Spirit in a unique way.

The descriptive account of what happened with the apostles Peter and John in Samaria becomes justification, authorization and prescription for those in the Office of the Holy Ministry to do the same.  The problem is that the text contains neither command nor the promise that this will be true for others.  While the Scriptures speak about the water of baptism and the command and promises attached to it, they never say anything in regard to the laying on of hands in baptism in order to give the Spirit. 

Third, it must be conceded that while the exegetical basis for the claim about the hand laying is inadequate the idea itself of the Spirit being given more than once, or for more than one purpose, is not contrary to Scripture.   A reading of John 20 and Acts 2 demonstrates that this is possible.

Finally, while the evidence for infant communion in the first millennium of the Church is incontrovertible, that fact does not justify the practice.  While is it possible to construct a theological argument based on the nature of the Means of Grace and of faith, such an attempt founders on 1 Cor 11:27-31.  We must acknowledge the unique character of the each of the Means of Grace as it is presented to us by Scripture.  The apostolic instruction that it is necessary for a believer to examine himself (1 Cor 11:28; δοκιμαζέτω δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἑαυτόν) and discern the body of Christ (11:29; μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα) – to recognize what it is and what it does in the vertical and horizontal relationships created by the Sacrament (1 Cor 10:16-17) – preclude infants from receiving the Sacrament.  The exegetical data permits no other answer.[24] 


The Lutheran Confessions lead us to the same conclusion.  Lutherans confess that we administer the Sacrament to those who know what it is and why they need it.  We do not give it to those who  "does not believe these words or doubt them" because in such a case they are "unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe" (SC VI.9-10). They say that, "No one should by any means be forced or compelled to go to the Sacrament” but instead those who have faith in these words “given and shed for you for the fortgiveness of sins” (SC VI.9-10). Infants are incapable of doing this, and so they should not receive the Sacrament until they are able to do so. Holy Baptism is not the Sacrament of the Altar, and vice versa.  We cannot operate as if the requirements for the two sacraments are mutually interchangeable.


While infant communion is to be rejected, this does not mean that children are to be excluded from the Sacrament.  It is entirely commensurate with the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the practice of the Church – including the Lutheran Church - for children to receive the Sacrament of the Altar.  I will treat this point in more detail when we arrive at the Reformation period. 


Next in this series: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 2 - Rome before Confirmation

[1] Ray Laurence, Simone Esmonde Cleary and Gareth Sears, The City in the Roman West c. 250 BC – c. AD 250 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011), 204.
[2] Leonel L. Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1966) , 26.
[3] Aidan Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 28.
[4] Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism, 28.
[5] J.D.C. Fisher Christian Initiation: Confirmation Then and Now (Chicago: HillenbrandBooks, 1978), 28.
[6] Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism, 26 (emphasis original).
[7] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 33.
[8] E.C. Whitaker, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy (rev. and ed. Maxwell E. Johnson; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 9 (hereafter DBL).
[9] DBL 9.
[10] Ante-Nicene Fathers 3.692 (hereafter ANF).
[11] ANF 3.221
[12] G.W.H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit: A Study in the Doctrine of Baptism and Confirmation in the New Testament and Fathers (2d ed.; London: SPCK), 161.
[13] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 36.
[14] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 38-39.
[15] DBL 13.
[16] Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (rev. and exp.; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), 91.
[17] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 41.
[18] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 47.
[19] David Holeton, Infant Communion - Then and Now (Bramcote/Nottingham: Grove Books, Ltd., 1981), 5 (cited by Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 93).
[20] Paul E. Bradshaw, Maxwell E. Johnson and L. Edward Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 118.
[21] Bradsahw, Johnson and Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition, 118.
[22] Bradshaw, Johnson and Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition, 1-6. See the summary of the weaknesses in Paul F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), 81-83.
[23] Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation 101-110; Bradshaw, Johnson and Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition, 108-125.
[24] On the vocabulary and structure, see: Mark P. Surburg, “Structural and Lexical Features in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, “Concordia Journal 26 (2000): 200-217.  On the referent of “body” in 1 Cor 11:29, see: A. Andrew Das, “1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Revisited,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 62 (1998): 187-208, 197-208.  On the setting of the Corinthian Lord’s Supper, see: Mark P. Surburg, “The Situation at the Corinthian Lord’s Supper in Light of 1 Corinthians 11:21: A Reconsideration,” Concordia Journal 32 (2006): 17-37.  For a helpful discussion of the issues raised by this text, see: Jeffrey A. Gibbs, “An Exegetical Case for Close(d) Communion: 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; 11:17-34,” Concordia Journal 21 (1995): 148-163.