Reformation and mission are not unconnected concepts. According to Luther, every single person, being a helpless sinner in the eyes of God, needs to hear God’s word as law and gospel. The church’s mission finds its source, content, and strength in the missio Dei, God’s mission to save the lost. The Christian church’s mission on earth is to preach and lend credibility to its proclamation through Christians’ witness of a new life of evangelical freedom. Church doctrine and real-life practice of one’s Christian identity converge on the mission field, that is, in Christians’ daily life of witness as they fulfil their human callings in the new freedom of evangelical faith.
It was precisely the lack of an authentic Christian piety, including gospel-aligned practice within medieval Christendom, that prompted Luther to set out on a mission to “Christianize Christendom,” beginning in Germany and extending beyond. Though Luther’s “missionary” agenda crystalized primarily during 1517–1522, he arrived at a fuller understanding of the dire state of Christianity in Germany after his Saxon visitations of 1528. His vision of a genuinely Christian church emerged as he processed the biblical witness in the light of his own monastic experience as an Augustinian friar, the legacy of selected scholastic teachers, medieval mystics and renewal movements, earlier reformers, and the ideas of 16th-century humanists, as well as a number of his contemporaries, and, above all, his colleagues in the so-called Wittenberg Circle.
Motivated by his understanding of the missio Dei, Luther’s mission was to destroy the existing rampant idolatry and superstition in its various forms and to reintroduce the theocentric message of the gospel which changes not only humans’ ideas about God and their attitudes toward Him, but also the Christian practice of piety in the areas of liturgy, the personal life of a Christian, and one’s social, political, and economic engagements. United in faith to Christ, believers are moved by the Holy Spirit away from religious schemes of merit to a theocentric, communal vision of life in true devotion, which not merely produces new obedience but entails it. Luther did not champion a one-sided internalization, spiritualization, and individualization of faith. Much of the medieval heritage could be reappropriated in the renewed Christian faith and practice, provided the old forms were conducive to evangelical teaching.
Luther realized that the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration in Christians will never be complete in this life, just as the mission of the gospel will not achieve the conversion of all. Instead, “real Christians” are to live in repentance, ever renewed in faith, hope, and love as they patiently bear the cross of suffering. While never losing hope in the final victory of God over the forces of the devil, Christians must accept that they will always be a minority, constantly under attack by the evil one. Persecution may help the church to live and spread the gospel. In what Luther considered to be the final stage before the imminent apocalyptic closure of history, the newly Christianized, evangelical church must use all its resources for the sake of faithful proclamation of the gospel—even to Jews, Turks, and newly discovered territories (though these emphases are rather marginal in Luther). For this to happen, new preachers and teachers need to be trained and new evangelical schools must be established, which is the duty and responsibility of Christian landlords and magistrates. Christian liturgy and preaching, evangelical catechesis, the singing of Christian hymns, the spreading of Reformation pamphlets and woodcut engravings, Christian art, architecture, and prayer are all effective missionary tools at the church’s disposal.
An acute sense of apocalyptic urgency stimulated in Luther not only a highly focused, disciplined, courageous stance and action, and a strong prophetic self-perception, but also impatience with his opponents, which resulted in some inexcusable statements against Jews, “papists,” Anabaptists, and other dissenting groups of his time. While Luther’s agenda of Christianization took root almost exclusively in Germany and Scandinavia, his effort to reinvent an evangelical (i.e., theocentric, gospel-oriented) piety found its new expression in later pietistic renewal movements (among Lutherans, Moravian Brethren, and Methodists), thereby influencing, though indirectly, global Christianity and mission.
Joanne M. Pierce
The liturgy of the medieval Christian West (ca. 600–1500) provided the structure around which life in Western Europe was structured for almost a thousand years. Rooted in Christian antiquity, in the early central liturgical structures of Initiation and Eucharist, the private and public observance of daily prayer, and the development of a liturgical year, the long medieval period that followed saw a broadening elaboration and expansion of the liturgical life of Christians in many different directions. By the year 1200, theologians had defined seven of the Church’s liturgical rites as primary sacraments: Baptism and Confirmation (from the ancient initiation sequence); Eucharist; Penance (with the emphasis on private confession of sins); Ordination (through various minor orders to the three major orders of deacon, presbyter, and bishop); Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick, now reserved for the gravely ill); and Matrimony (as the liturgical rites for the originally domestic rituals of marriage become more elaborate and set in the church rather than the home). A more fulsome cycle of the liturgical year developed around the ancient feasts of Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and Epiphany, augmented by an elaborate calendar of commemorations and feasts of saints. Monastic influence resulted in a daily round of liturgical prayer, the Divine Office, in which various “hours” of prayer during the day and night were marked by liturgical “offices” of psalmody and scripture—some longer, others more brief. One of the major ways this liturgical growth and diversity can be studied is through an examination of the various liturgical books compiled and used during these medieval centuries, books used for the celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass), for the Divine Office, and for other liturgical rites. In addition to the volumes containing rubrics and prayers for liturgical celebrations, a separate cluster of books contained music to be used during these rites, in a style known as chant; Gregorian chant became the dominant form. The full impact of medieval liturgy as it was experienced in the Western Europe, however, extended far beyond the “bare bones” contained in these books, intertwined as it was with the development of art and architecture, law and commerce, and the political/socio-economic developments that would take Christian society and religion from the twilight of late antiquity to the dawn of early modernity.
Bryan D. Spinks
What exactly is meant by the term “Modern Christian Liturgy”? At one level it could mean any recent worship service in any church, for example, the Divine Liturgy of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Orthodox churches celebrated last week. Although a modern celebration, with adaptations made to the rite amongst the diaspora, the rite itself was formulated in the late medieval era and has much older roots in Egypt. Sometimes the term applies to the most recent official liturgical services of a particular main line denomination growing out of the Liturgical Movement, such as the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic rites compared to the so-called “Tridentine” rite represented by the missal of John XXIII, or the Church of England’s Common Worship 2000 rites compared to those of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Here, the term is reserved for those newer forms of service that have appeared officially or unofficially in contemporary Euro-Atlantic protestant, evangelical, and charismatic churches in the 20th century, frequently adopting the current fashions of popular music for worship songs, and incorporating modern technology.
Anne W. Stewart
Do humans have a will capable of choosing the good, doing the good, and evaluating the good? These are the central questions of moral agency, the notion that humans can be morally responsible for their actions, that is, that they are capable of deliberately exercising agency for good or ill. The Hebrew Bible offers multiple perspectives on these questions, and at least three different models of moral agency can be discerned. Some traditions indicate that humans are fundamentally flawed moral creatures who are incapable of choosing the good apart from divine intervention. For example, the psalmist confesses: “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5) and prays for a divine change in the human condition: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (51:10). Other traditions, however, frequently take the more optimistic view that humans are capable of choosing and acting in accord with the good, though they may not always exercise their inherent capacity to do so. The Deuteronomic law, for example, is based on the notion that humans have the ability to distinguish obedience from disobedience and to act accordingly. Thus humans will reap the consequences of their actions, for God “maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and [God] repays in their own person those who reject him … Therefore observe diligently the commandment” (Deut. 7:9–11). In other words, humans are held responsible for their moral choice. A third view, found especially in the book of Proverbs, takes a middle view that moral agency involves a combination of internal and external factors: while most, though not all, humans are inherently capable of choosing the good, their capacity for moral agency requires cultivation by external forces. That is, humans are capable of moral choice, yet their ability to choose according to the good depends upon both an innate receptivity and training by others. The Hebrew Bible thus reflects a diverse set of viewpoints about the status of human moral agency, the extent of human accountability, and the factors that influence human action.
Throughout the nearly fifteen centuries of Muslim-Christian encounter, individual adherents of both traditions often have lived peaceably with each other. At the same time, Muslim expansion into Christian territories and Christian imperialism in Muslims lands have fostered fear and ill-will on both sides. Repercussions from the Crusades continue to resound in the contemporary rhetoric employed by defenders of both faiths. In recent years relations between Muslims and Christians across the globe have become increasingly polarized, fanned by anti-Islamic rhetoric and fearmongering. While a number of verses in the Qur’an call for treating Christians and Jews with respect as recipients of God’s divine message, in reality many Muslims have found it difficult not to see Christians as polytheists because of their doctrine of the Trinity. Christians, for their part, traditionally have viewed the Qur’an as fraudulent and Muhammad as an imposter. Old sectarian rivalries play out with serious consequences for minority groups, both Christian and Muslim. Conflicts in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere for much of the 20th century were often labeled as ethnic, political, or ideological perpetuations of long-standing struggles over land, power, and influence. These conflicts now tend to be labeled in accord with the specifically religious affiliation of their participants. Understanding the history of Muslim-Christian relations, as well as current political realities such as the dismantling of the political order created by European colonialism, helps give context to current “hot spots” of Muslim-Christian conflict in the world.
It is difficult to imagine a time in history at which there is greater need for serious interfaith engagement than now. We need to understand better the history of Muslim-Christian relations so as to give context to current “hot spots” of Muslim-Christian conflict in the world. It is also important to understand the ways in which members of the two communities experience each other in specific areas of the world today, including the United States, taking note of efforts currently underway to advance interfaith understanding and cooperation. The events of September 11, 2001, and the resulting American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, have led to ugly commentary reminiscent of medieval hyperbole. Right-wing evangelical rhetoric in the United States against Islam has been fueled by incidents of international terrorism involving Muslims, while the well-funded Islamophobia industry in the United States has been producing and distributing large amounts of anti-Muslim material. Since the events of September 2011, American Muslims, caught in a painful position, have decried the acts of the 9/11 terrorists and defended Islam as a religion of peace. American Muslims want to exercise their constitutional rights to free speech in expressing their objection to certain American foreign policies, at the same time that they fear the consequences of the Patriot Act and other acts they view as assaults on their civil liberties. Meanwhile other Americans are struggling to understand that the Muslims with whom they interact in businesses, schools, and neighborhoods are different from the Muslim extremists who are calling for ever more dire measures against the United States. This is the general context in which Christian-Muslim dialogue is now taking place and to which it must address itself if it is to be effective.
Martin Luther’s spiritual and theological development was deeply rooted in mystical traditions. During his early years as an Augustinian friar, he experienced mystical visions following the paths of Dionysian mysticism, while a few years later he was inspired by Ps-Bonaventure, Bernard of Clairvaux, and John Tauler. His early theology of penitence, as expressed in the Ninety-five Theses, derived from these sources, as did his description of justification in the image of bride and bridegroom in his tract On the Liberty of a Christian. Even more so, central elements in his theology were shaped by mystical influences, including his distinction between Law and Gospel, the doctrine of justification, and the concept of the priesthood of all believers. Thus, Luther’s theology should be seen as a reception and development deriving from the mystical discourse of the later Middle Ages.
For Luther, the understanding of the world is determined by his theology of creation, according to which the world is created as an expression of the creative love of the eternal God. Natural theology, then, is the ability to interpret all created phenomena as gifts of the Creator, and natural law is the ability to align one’s life with this principle of lovingly serving everything created.
However, in a sinful world afflictions and anxiety makes it impossible to maintain an attitude of unconditional trust toward God based on natural reason. In spite of the possibility of reaching a fairly correct understanding of God as the giver of gifts, one will therefore never learn through natural reason alone to trust God as one’s savior.
The re-creation of a trusting attitude toward God is only possible through God’s presence in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The creative power of the gospel message thus entails the rediscovery of the significance of the natural knowledge of God and morality. A full appreciation of the natural is therefore dependent on having one’s trust in God re-established by an action of unconditional divine love. From within this perspective, natural law retains its traditional and positive significance.
In this way, Luther integrates aspects of late medieval theology without being fully aligned with any of its prevailing schools of thought. Like the nominalists, he understands God as activity, not as substance, but not in the sense that God can be seen as arbitrary. For Luther, the trustworthiness of God’s promises is what anchors Christian theology. Luther’s understanding of the hidden God is therefore quite different from the nominalist idea of God’s absolute power.
For Luther, theology’s dialogue with philosophy is important. He maintains, however, that rationality that is not explicitly grounded in a theology of creation will never develop an adequate worldview. Following his emphasis on the theology of creation, in his evaluation of the natural Luther was always looking for thought structures that would let the discontinuity of grace be fully appreciated.
James F. Puglisi
Several important works on the history and theology of ordination have been published in the English-speaking world, among the most recent of which is one by Dr. Paul F. Bradshaw.1 The questions touching on ministry are absolutely essential for the resolution of questions regarding the unity of the church. The mutual recognition of ministry among communities is fundamental if they are to recognize one another as authentic apostolic churches. Although ministry is not the only question for the apostolicity of the church, it is a fundamental one, given that ordination rituals articulate an effective structuring, as well as an auto-definition, of a church. This fact begs, therefore, an exploration of the theological meaning of the “process of ordination” as a whole, as well as careful consideration of the content of the ritual and prayers. The attempt to recognize theological equilibria, which are articulated through the relation of the lex orandi, lex credendi, and the Trinitarian dimension of the process of access to the ordained ministry, leads to an understanding of the originality of the ordained ministry in the context of a plurality of ministries in a church that is itself fully ministerial. Finally, the importance of ordination resides in the fact that it is a process that represents, in a demonstrative way, the structuring of each church, because the process is not only an ecclesial act but also a confessional, epicletic, and juridical one.
Thomas B. Dozeman
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Please check back later for the full article.
The Pentateuch (“five books”) is the title for the first five books of the Bible in the Greek translation, known as the Septuagint (LXX). The more original title is the Hebrew “Torah,” meaning “law.” The revelation and composition of the Torah is attributed to Moses, which is reflected in the additional designation of the books as the “Torah of Moses.” The authorship of the Pentateuch is central to its interpretation in Jewish and Christian tradition. The Mosaic authorship characterized the interpretation of the Pentateuch in the pre-critical period of research. The study of the Pentateuch in the modern era has been dominated by the quest to identify its anonymous authors and the changing social contexts in which the literature was written.
In the history and prehistory of human societies, poets, prophets, and seers (the word vates can cover all three) have often been virtually indistinguishable from one another. From time immemorial, their respective activities overlap and interpenetrate to such an extent that prophets (or mantics or seers) and poets have been closely associated and tend to completely coalesce in many of their functions and modalities. The Sanskrit word kavi (like its Latin cognate vates) embraces both. A certain strand of ideology running through the Bible (at least as interpreted by classical rabbinic texts) aims to drive a wedge between God-inspired prophecy and humanly created poems. Nevertheless, the Hebrew word nabi for “prophet” means “bubbling forth, as from a fountain,” so the vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible, too, is naturally apt to suggest the creative fecundity of verbal imagination. In fact, Amos, Isaiah, Elisha, and Ezekiel frequently produce parables, proverbs, and even love songs.
In primordial cultures, with only minimal social stratification and differentiation of roles, long before any specific mantles as either prophet or poet can be identified and donned, a figure like that of the shaman or even the wizard (Merlin, for example) is often emblematic of a certain undecidability between religious revelation or spiritual experience and creative imagination and invention. Of course, in modern cultures, with their highly differentiated social roles, theological revelation and poetry are typically seen as distinct and often even as opposed to each other in crucial respects. Yet the two still need to be understood together as reciprocal and symbiotic in their origins, aims, and purposes. Throughout subsequent history, the deepest intents of literary and religious practices remain inseparable from each other in their myriad manifestations within our cultural traditions and institutions; they thus stand to be illuminated by such a juxtaposition. Poetry and prophecy together comprise the common matrix of some of the oldest and most fundamental modes of expression of humanity across cultures.