That Time Martin Luther Became a Thief

In this 1875 painting by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg, “Luther Making Music in the Circle of His Family”, Melanchthon is portrayed sitting at the table behind them. Apparently he was present at every Luther family gathering?

The relationship between the German Reformers Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon has been puzzled over by scholars for centuries. They were fellow professors at the University of Wittenberg and collaborated on a number of projects, from a German translation of the Bible to the Augsburg Confession. Yet, there were undoubtedly some theological differences between them in later years, and all their contemporaries noted that their personalities were essentially opposites. Luther himself once characterized the relationship in the following way.

I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike. I am born to fight against innumerable monsters and devils. I must remove stumps and stones, cut away thistles, and thorns, and clear the wild forests; but Master Philip comes along softly and gently, sowing and watering with joy, according to the gifts which God has abundantly bestowed upon him.[1]

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How Christ Redeemed Our Suffering

“Christ Carrying the Cross” by Anthony van Dyck, circa first quarter of the 17th century

In a recent essay, I made a throwaway comment to the effect that Jesus Christ has not only redeemed us, but also our suffering. I then fell prey to a nagging question. “What exactly do you mean by that, Amy?” It seemed right to me that I should follow up on that thought and flush it out more fully. Here is the result.

Suffering is a result of sin, either directly or indirectly. There was no suffering before the Fall – not even anything we could truly call difficult. Following the Fall, we suffer in such myriad ways that we become desensitized to a certain percentage of it in order to simply get through the day. First, you have the obvious aches and pains, an assortment of physical maladies so diverse that it has made the health care industry one of the largest in the world, with plenty of room to grow. Then there is the emotional pain brought about by daily disappointments: friends letting you down, careers going south, opportunities missed, etc.

There is the persecution, both active and passive, faced by so many Christians worldwide, to which the New Testament devotes much of its focus on suffering. There are those times when the universe itself seems out to get you, so bemoaned in Alanis Morisette’s hit tune, “Ironic”. Often ignored is the spiritual suffering we all experience due to the distance between ourselves and God, which is only less painful because we are unaware of what perfect communion with God really feels like. Last of all, there’s the really big one: death.

The good news is that Christians do not suffer in the same way as everyone else. Yes, we are subject to the same kinds of suffering, and anyone who tells you that becoming a Christian will magically make your life suffering-free is either a liar or doesn’t believe in what the Bible has to say. They are setting you up to feel that either you are failing in your faith or God is failing as God, for you will inevitably face suffering. The difference is not that Christians don’t suffer, but rather that through the work of Jesus Christ, our suffering has been redeemed. Continue reading

We’re Rebranding

Friends,

In the interest of simplification and in order to reflect my shift in interest away from political topics and toward religious ones, I have dropped the “Church & State” label for this site and rebranded it simply as “Amy Mantravadi”. Think of it as the blog equivalent of a self-titled album. No, I did not do this in order to see my name in a really big font. If you have any complaints about the changes being made to this website, please mail all disgruntled letters to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC or Tweet them to @realDonaldTrump. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Amy Mantravadi

Humble Rebellion: Living as Ambassadors of Christ

“The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer” by Jean Léon Gérôme, circa 1863-83

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

How can we expect to reconcile with a world that hates us, or what are we in relation to that great mass of humanity? Should we simply abandon the world to its fate? We are fools if we think we can do so, for the world will always find us in the end. More to the point, we would be rather poor disciples of Jesus Christ, who commanded us to go out into the world making disciples (Matthew 28:19), serving as witnesses to the gospel (Acts 1:8), and living as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).

Sometimes we labor under the mistaken assumption that God is only seeking to reconcile with the Church. On the contrary, God is looking to restore all of creation. (Romans 8:18-25) This entire universe was His good work, and though it has been tainted by sin, it still belongs to Him. When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God, it was in effect a massive restoration project. However, it was also a rebellion, because in the present age, the earth is under the reign of evil. Therefore, to side with the kingdom of God is to stand against the kingdom of Satan. To live for righteousness is to live in opposition to sin.

When I say God is not looking to reconcile merely with the Church, I am not suggesting that there is some path to lasting reconciliation and salvation outside of the Church or the work of Jesus Christ. I am not advocating something akin to universalism, where every person will have their sins forgiven whether they believe in Christ or not. Rather, I refer to the Church’s role as a witness to the nations. Continue reading

A Puritan Response to William P. Young’s New Book

Many of you may be familiar with the new movie titled The Shack, which is based upon William Paul Young’s novel of the same name. Depending on what circles you run in, you may have heard this described as a great Christian film, or alternatively as a terrible piece of heresy. The extreme popularity of Young’s novel (20 million copies and counting) has caused many Christian leaders to address the theology contained therein, and they have found several topics of concern. However, those who defend the novel typically fall back on the fact that it is, after all, a piece of fiction and not a theological textbook. Some have even argued that Young’s true beliefs are rather ambiguous.

Well, with the release of the film now upon us, Mr. Young has done us all a favor and released a non-fiction book (though given its contents, some may still wish to classify it as fiction). This one is called Lies We Believe About God, and it has rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. Within its pages, the author gives us a series of statements that are often made by people in the Church and tells us why he believes each one of them is wrong. Tim Challies has already written an excellent article looking at several of the more troublesome claims made in the book, but for my purposes I wanted to examine just one of the statements that Young says is a lie: “God is in control.”

Now, if you hold to anything like orthodox Christianity, the fact that this is described as a “lie” ought to set off alarm bells in your head. However, you might be thinking, “We need to actually hear his explanation before we make a judgment one way or the other.” I fully agree with you, which is why I got my hands on a copy of the book and read the chapter in question. Continue reading

“No Little Women”: An Awesome Book about Women in the Church, Written by an Awesome Person

Never before have I hawked another person’s book on this site, but I am about to make an exception. I commend to you the latest release by Aimee Byrd entitled No Little Women, a book that addresses a very real problem in our churches today: the dearth of good literature and good teaching aimed at the fairer sex.

Why am I taking the time to promote this book, for which it must be stated that I receive absolutely none of the proceeds? First, because the subject matter is very important. After 2,000 years of trying, the Church as a whole still struggles to discern how to deal with women. Most of the literature out there about women in the Church has to do with their roles, whether that be as wives, mothers, or congregants. Much of the literature aimed at women is rather shallow doctrinally, trumpets internal “feelings” over the truth of God’s Word, and even manages to slip in the occasional heresy or two. There are too few books out there that challenge women to up their game theologically, to be good analytical readers, and to think twice about which sources of “truth” they devour. Continue reading

The Perils of Pastoral Power

“A Franciscan Monk Preaching”, by an anonymous painter near Romagna, Italy circa 1500-1525. “I’m very proud of my humililty,” the monk said.

One of the best decisions I made during my undergraduate study was to do a double major in Political Science and Biblical Literature. I had plotted my course in politics from the very first semester, but somewhere along the line, I developed a conscience and chose to study scripture as well. When my new Bib Lit adviser met with me to sign off on the paperwork, he said, “The two things you’re never supposed to talk about: religion and politics!” When my Poli Sci adviser, who had been lobbying for me to attend law school, learned of my decision, his response was, “So are you going to seminary now?”

My choice might have confused these esteemed representatives of two departments that rarely worked in concert (and indeed seemed almost antithetical), but having a background in both areas has helped me to make connections that may not seem obvious to the average person. On the one hand, I am a firm believer in the separation of Church and state, for the sake of the Church even more than the state. On the other, there is no question that my religious beliefs about the nature of man affect my view of what is achievable in politics, and I have recently discovered that there is one particular way that thinking a bit more politically might be beneficial from a spiritual standpoint. Continue reading

Another Path to Reconciliation?

“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix, circa 1830

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I am about to transition from speaking about reconciliation within the Christian Church to speaking about reconciliation in the world as a whole. In doing so, I am taking not a small step but a massive philosophical leap. Up to this point, I have been arguing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true path to lasting reconciliation. More than that, it places upon us an imperative of reconciliation. Such an argument is easy to make when the majority of people in question agree that the gospel message is both true and important (at least in principle). Once you move into the wider world, where there is no agreement as to the truth of the gospel and few common beliefs of any kind, appealing to Christian principles does not have the same effect.

The world is never going to want to solve problems the gospel way. Why? Because it is really, really hard. Now, when I say “really, really hard”, I don’t mean it in the sense that solving a Rubik’s Cube is hard, or staying upright on skis is hard, or even completing a PhD is hard. I am referring not to complexity, but to gut wrenching sacrifice. The gospel is hard because it requires everything we are. To follow Jesus Christ is to die to self that we might be raised with Him, and when that happens, we cease to be the same person we were previously. The life of a Christian, lived according to the gospel message, is one of continual dying to self. This is the grace of God, but it is costly grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. Continue reading

Bhagat Singh Thind Had His Citizenship Revoked…in 1923

The “Asiatic Barred Zone” instituted by a 1917 act of Congress

The current debate over immigration that is taking place in the United States is certainly nothing new. Much as Americans like to pride themselves on being a “nation of immigrants”, this has never been a particularly easy place to come as a foreigner and start a new life. With each new ethnic and religious group that has landed on these shores, there has been a certain amount of suspicion. I am not saying this to demonize anyone who wants to place any kind of restriction on immigration, but as a way of framing the issue I intend to address.

Way back in 1790, restrictions were put in place that limited just who could become a naturalized citizen of the United States of America (as opposed to those who became citizens by virtue of being born within our borders). The specific groups that caused concern changed over the years. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was mainly Asians who worried Americans. Congress passed a law that restricted many types of immigrants, including “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons…” One wonders what kind of test they employed to measure what constituted an “idiot”, as a good number of persons living in any country on earth at any point in history have surely deserved this label. Yet, the law was more specific in excluding,

…persons who are natives of islands not possessed by the United States adjacent to the Continent of Asia, situate south of the twentieth parallel latitude north, west of the one hundred and sixtieth meridian of longitude east from Greenwich, and north of the tenth parallel of latitude south, or who are natives of any country, province, or dependency situate on the Continent of Asia west of the one hundred and tenth meridian of longitude east from Greenwich and east of the fiftieth meridian of longitude east from Greenwich and south of the fiftieth parallel of latitude north, except that portion of said territory situate between the fiftieth and the sixty-fourth meridians of longitude east from Greenwich and the twenty-fourth and thirty-eighth parallels of latitude north…

Immigration Act of 1917

If you found that confusing – and you undoubtedly did – then let me put it in plain terms for you. This law barred immigrants from any part of Asia except for the Russian Empire, Japan, Korea, and eastern China. This was understandably a problem for many people of Asian descent who were planning on immigrating to the U.S. Continue reading

What I Learned about Scripture from Gardening

Bees hanging out on a zucchini flower

Three years ago, my husband and I moved from our urban setting near Washington, D.C. to a decidedly suburban environment in Ohio. This brought about a number of changes in our lives, not the least of which was that we were able to rent a house rather than an apartment, property being far less expensive in Dayton, Ohio than it is in Arlington, Virginia. With the house came both a front and back yard, and for the first time in my life, I began to think about gardening.

Although I did not grow up in a large city, I was pretty far removed from an agricultural mentality. My mother had always been a wonderful gardener, but I rarely helped her growing up, and she can attest to my decided lack of interest. I was much happier indoors reading a book. Yet, renting a house forced me to think about how that house looked, for no one wants to be the eyesore of the neighborhood. With some extra time on my hands, I decided to start growing a few plants for food in addition to all those flowers and shrubs. My aspiration was no greater than having some fresh basil to put on my pizza. Continue reading