Quite some time ago, we were reading through Becker's "The Foolishness of God". Today, I am looking at what we did not finish. Over Christmas questions have arisen about what "incarnation" means and whether Jesus blood shed on his circumcision day, Jan. 1, also has something to do with our redemption. In this conversation it seems to be unacceptable to someone that this physical way of talking is appropriate.
This brought me back to Becker pp. 198, 199.
When Lutheranism says that God is man and man is God, that God died, that the blood of Jesus is the blood of God, that man, in Christ, is almighty, and that his body partakes of the divine attribute of omnipresence, it goes out of its way to point out that this is not a mere figure of speech, not a mere rhetorical expression, not an epistemological device, but a metaphysical reality. When Lutherans defend the real presence in the sacrament, they are intent upon defending the reality of the communion of the two natures in the person of Christ. It is no accident that the article on the "Lord's Supper" and the article on the "person of Christ" were placed side by side in the Formula of Concord. When Lutheran theology defends the statement that Mary is the mother of God, it is not intent, as Rome is, on heaping honor upon Mary--and it deliberately rejects all the illogical and unwarranted conclusions that
Rome draws from this statement. Lutheran theology defends this truth because of its significance for the doctrine of the person union of the two natures in Christ.
An interesting illustration of the contrast between the Lutheran and the Reformed position is to be found in the hymnody of the church. When Isaac Watts, a Reformed poet, wrote "Alas! And did My Savior bleed," in his Hymns and Spiritual songs in 1707, one of the stanzas read,
"Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in
When God, the mighty Maker, died,
For man the creature's sin."
The Lutheran Church has generally permitted this stanza to stand unchanged, but in Protestant hymnals the third line of the stanza often reads, "When Christ, the mighty Maker, died." Although all the Lutheran hymnals I consulted contained this hymn, only two were found which have this revised reading. These two were the hymnals of the former Augustana synod and of the former United Lutheran Church, which since have merged to from the Lutheran Church in America, now generally recognized as the most liberal Lutheran body in America. Most Reformed hymnals do not contain the hymn at all, but out of more than a score that do, only the hymnals of the former German Reformed church and of the former Evangelical church, both of which were strongly influenced by Lutheranism, contain the original wording. The revised wording, in itself, teaches nothing different from the original, but in the light of the Reformed position on the doctrine of the personal union, the change is significant.
Lutheranism itself, and even the most conservative Lutheranism, has not always been able to resist the pressures of reason on this doctrine. When the Synodical conference revised its hymnal in the 1930s, it changed the lines,
O sorrow dread!
Our God is dead!
O sorrow dread!
God's Son is dead!
in spite of the fact that the original German says,
O grosse Not!
Gott selbst ist tot.
But generally it must be said that Lutheranism has withstood the pressures of reason in this doctrine with at least a measure of success, by the grace of God.
From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern Publishing House (www.nph.net). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.