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Sin and salvation, as an interconnected pair of ideas, imply that human life as it is ordinarily lived has been diverted from its true good or distorted from its proper form. Taken together, these paired ideas thus imply a narrative of human transformation, a redemptive process that recovers human life from erroneous ways and reorients it toward an ultimate goal or a transcendent power through which life is fulfilled. Narratives of redemption from sin have taken many forms in the course of American history, but in considering any specific example it is useful to recognize its relationship to two especially common patterns. In some cases, the redemptive narrative is organized around a decisive personal experience, and autobiographical accounts of “conversion” that describe such transformative events are common in American religious literature. In other cases, the redemptive narrative accentuates the gradual process of shaping a way of life that incorporates an individual into the ongoing social practice of a community, through spiritual disciplines ranging from meditation and prayer to acts of public witness and compassion. In either of these versions, redemptive narratives frequently hinge on the reconciling work of a transcendent power, in which salvation represents the event or process that incorporates individual persons into a society or a natural order of existence that is itself the subject of a larger, even cosmic history of redemption. In all of these variations, American narratives of redemption have interacted with broader cultural ideas of human nature and the possibilities for human psychological and societal change.

Article

The 4th–6th centuries can be considered a classic period in the development of Christian worship. During this time many of the liturgical forms that are still recognizable today were consolidated: the architectural disposition of church buildings, the shape of the Eucharist and the various traditions of the eucharistic prayer, the rites of initiation, the annual liturgical cycle (calendar), and the rites associated with ordination, weddings, the anointing of the sick, penance, and the burial of the dead. This was the period in which the great diversity and variety that characterized the first Christian centuries gradually settled into the basic structures that are familiar today. At the same time, it was the period of the development of the great rites of Christian worship that were centered on the major cities of the Roman Empire: Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Edessa, Jerusalem, and Rome. The new diversity of these rites often corresponded to the various languages in which they were celebrated: Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and Latin.

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The inquiry into the nature of atonement (or reconciliation) presupposes a broken relationship. Atonement (or reconciliation) brings about the restoration of the relationship, creating both a change in and renewal of it. Hence, atonement is recognized as a communicative and open-ended process, which needs continual repetition and renewal. Indeed, God reconciled the world with Himself once and for all (2 Cor. 5:19), but this atonement event is reappropriated in faith and put into effect again and again. In Luther’s theology, atonement designates the communicative disclosure of God’s salvation revealed to believers in the person and work of Jesus Christ in two ways: in the proclamation of the gospel and in the existential impartation of the person of Jesus Christ to the believer, who in turn is freed to enter new life, trusting in God, in the process of reconciliation. In this atonement event mediated by the work of the Holy Spirit, sin is overcome; the death and life of Jesus Christ are appropriated by God for the believer, and the person is separated from his or her sin. Therefore, atonement rests completely on the creative, communicative action of the triune God. However, there is also a human aspect involved that anticipates the believer’s death in baptism and transfers the believer into a new life (2 Cor. 5:17–19).