Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

     Yes I am a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and yes I make the sign of the cross. Does this seem odd to some of our Lutheran brothers and sisters? Should it? Do you, as a member of the LCMS view certain practices of orthodox Christianity as Roman Catholic and therefore suggest they should be avoided? We as Lutherans, all of Christendom for that matter, should not be afraid to embrace certain practices that are associated with Roman Catholicism. In fact I believe that the move in the opposite direction of certain, supposedly, Roman Catholic practices has actually produced negative results. So why make the sign of the Cross? Making the sign of the Cross is in fact adiaphora (neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible so left to Christian freedom and choice) but we should not treat these practices, when understood correctly, as something to be avoided.
      In our hymnals, as we open the service with the invocation, we read in red letters that all can make the sign of the Cross in remembrance of their Baptism. What happened to baptized Christians at the font should not only be something that is desired but also one that is lived in and remembered. As Colossians 2:11-12 reveals to us, baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision, which to the Israelites was a covenant promise between God and the people of Israel. This covenant was made on God's part not of man's and the same is true in baptism. Man did not invent this institution but rather it was given to the Church by Christ. A profound reality exists in the waters of Baptism which should be remembered and celebrated and this “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” can be brought back into the mind of all those who have received this life giving flood by making the sign of the Cross.
     We need to realize as well that we are not only remembering what took place in our Baptism but by who it was taken place through. By making the sign of the cross we are confessing who we are gathering together to be fed spiritual food by. The Trinity is being confessed when we say “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” and they all certainly play unique roles in our coming to faith. God the Father has created us and by his gracious will and mercy uses the Church to proclaim the message of Christ where the Holy Spirit is present to bring us to faith. Jesus is the foundation of this proclamation and gives us this washing to renew us steadfast in the faith. The Apostle Peter confesses “baptism now saves you”, not just a past act that occurred in time, but an on going reception of salvation so it is only proper that we remember and confess it.
     Again it is in our Christian freedom to make or not make the sign of the Cross but I say do or do not for the appropriate reasons. Don't do it if it is out of self centered Christian piety (in which case learn the theological reason behind it, which only enriches the experience) and don't avoid it because its Roman Catholic. Luther himself implores us to make the sign of the cross, not that Luther is the rule over Christ but it is testimony that this tradition exists outside of Rome. In the Small Catechism, evening and morning prayers, Luther writes "In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say:In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

Friday, April 29, 2011

“Given and shed for you..”:The Sacrament of the Altar

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread,
and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples
and said:'Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. This do in
remembrance of Me.' In the same way He also took the cup after supper,
and when he had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying:'Drink of it, all
of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for
the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'”

These words are recorded for us by the Apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 11:23-25, an institution made by Jesus Christ himself, for all of Christendom. They are of great comfort for us as Christians and the Lord's Supper is described as a means of grace or a sacrament. A sacrament is simply a sacred institution of God for the purpose of grace to those in reception of it. The names given to the Lord's Supper would be communion, Holy communion, the Eucharist, Sacrament of the Altar, etc. The big question surrounding the Sacrament is “Is Christ's body and blood truly present in the bread and wine or did he institute this for us for symbolic use only?” Most of the Christian world would say that this institution of Christ is merely a symbol, nothing more. They would say that we receive no benefit from the Lord's Supper other than partaking of the elements and in so doing we remember Christ. Some other explanations would be more simplified namely: “This is what Christians do.” And with little to no self investigation of Scripture and the beliefs of the Church throughout history the idea of Christ's body and blood being truly present in the Lord's Supper is thrown out the window. Seemingly our Lord and Savior would simply institute something of this magnitude on the night of His betrayal for no reason and when He says “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” evidently he was just using word play of some sort.

Despite Christ's clear words, “this is my body, this is my blood”, most of the modern Christian world choose to accept the teachings of men on this issue of communion. Man in his blind reason cannot fathom why we would need to partake of the very body and blood of Christ. “Faith in Christ is sufficient enough!” they would proclaim in all their excellence, and I would agree but if you have faith in Christ than you should have faith in Christ's words and make your reason subservient to the Scriptures. The reason I partake in the Eucharist with the hope of being strengthened in faith through the Holy Spirit is directly correlated with faith in Christ and should not be separated by any means. If we apply the same logic of the deniers of the sacrament to the Scripture we can say the same thing. “Faith in Christ is sufficient enough! So why do I need the Scriptures? All I need is faith in Jesus!.” But you see that the Word is a means of grace just as the Sacrament is. The Word brings to us faith, forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, life, and salvation. For through the Word we hear of Christ and there the Holy Spirit is present to create faith in the heart's of men as it is written:
Romans 10:17
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

In the same way the Holy Spirit must be present in the Eucharist because not only was it established by Jesus, attached with it is God's Word. And if Christ tells us that forgiveness of sins comes through the Supper that he instituted then surely strength in faith, life, and salvation follow. If we step out of Christ's own word when instituting Holy Communion, which in itself is sufficient enough, we can see that the apostle Paul testifies to what Christ said, we see Christ confirming His words early on in the book of John, and there are Old Testament foreshadows of the Lord's Supper as well.
John 6:53-56
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food an my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

In these verses we hear Christ talk in bold terms and this is exampled in the reactions of the Jews and the very disciples of Christ who were present when he said this. Some people would refute that in this area Christ is speaking about the Lord's Supper but rather he is speaking about faith in Him in general because Christ was comparing himself in the beginning part of the chapter to the manna that came down from heaven to the Israelites. But it is an interesting note that not only the Jews became very disgruntled with Christ's word after Jesus says in verse 51 “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” but also his disciples did as well for we hear their response in verse 60:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

The reason I want to point this out is that it seems whenever Christ's disciples misunderstand something that Christ says figuratively He addresses it with them instead of having them continue in their misunderstanding. We see this in Matthew when Jesus warns his disciples against the “yeast” of the Pharisees.

Matthew 16:5-12
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn't bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

So we see that with a sharp rebuke Jesus gets His disciples thinking on the right track about the message he is trying to convey. Now there are other places where Jesus talks in potentially confusing terms of His body and does not explain. In the case of John chapter 2 when Jesus is speaking with the Jews about the temple. Christ says:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

We learn of course that Jesus is speaking of His very body not the actual Jewish temple and here he doesn't go into an explanation. But if we examine the attitudes of the people in each account we see that Jesus' disciples were acting in ignorance where as the Jews were speaking in arrogance and demanding that Jesus would give them a sign and for Christ to speak plainly to the Jews wouldn't have served his purpose because we know that Jesus was speaking to unbelievers in parables instead of literal terms so that they might ponder what Jesus was trying to say instead of hearing Him plainly and rebuking Him on the spot, as they do when Jesus is speaking of his body and blood in this account in John. We know that these Jews didn't have faith in Christ but the disciples did and we also know that Jesus tells his disciples that they will have the secrets of the Kingdom of God revealed to them. Furthermore we see some of Jesus' disciples leaving Him because of this issue and if he was speaking in figurative terms we would have to assume that Jesus wouldn't just let those who had faith in Him walk away because of the misunderstanding of words.

Briefly, another account in John where Jesus goes to raise Lazarus from the dead we hear:

John 11:11-15
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

I moved away from the issue of the Lord's Supper but I think these serve as good examples for the point I'm trying to make. When Christ speaks of His body and blood in this account in John, I have no reason to believe He is speaking figuratively. Clearly he would have set His disciples on level ground so that they could understand that this hard teaching wasn't meant to be taken literally.

Now lets see what Paul has to say concerning this issue. I already wrote the words of Christ's institution of the Lord's Supper so what does Paul have to say after he records these words of Christ. We hear in 1Corinthians 11:27-29:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.

Paul tells us that if we eat of the bread and drink of the cup unworthily we will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ! Now how can that be if the only thing contained in the supper is merely bread and wine. How can we sin against Christ's body and blood if they are not truly present. And how is that we drink in an unworthy manner? Paul talks about self examination which makes me believe that we should be repenting of sin and recognizing that we are sinful. He also says that if we do not discern the body of the Lord we eat and drink judgement on ourselves! So Christ wants us to be repentant and trust in his words “this is my body, this is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

My question to those who would deny this blessed sacrament is, if God can create from nothing what we see today, if he can drown the sinful world in a flood and save Noah and his family in an ark, if he can keep Jonah in the belly of large fish for three days, if he can heal the sick and cast out demons, walk on water and be raised from the dead, then why on Earth could you not believe the words that He speaks during the Passover meal with his disciples? Nothing that I write can convince the unbelieving Christian of this merciful reality but I will say that I find pardon and peace in this sacrament. And its not because I trust in the ceremony or the bread and wine its because of Christ's own words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” I don't share these things out of boastful pride but rather out of love. I would have all Christians experience this institution of our Lord. Christ has left this behind for us as a visible means of grace, along with the Scripture and Holy Baptism. The Triune God is present in these things to bring us to faith and keep us strengthened in that same faith.
Again, like every other useful tradition or legitimate institution of God, the modern Christian world has abandon God's own word on this issue because of its perceived association, namely, the Church of Rome. Christians today want so badly to flee from anything that appears Roman Catholic that they manage to throw out things that aren't Roman Catholic but Scriptural. And a lot of these Churches like to quote ancient Church fathers such as Augustine, Ambrose, Irenaeus, Justin, and Polycarp as well as Martin Luther all the while ignoring the fact that these men believed in the very bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For in Justin's own words:

“This we receive not as common bread and common drink. We receive them as Jesus Christ, our Savior, who through the Word of God became flesh. For the sake of our salvation he also had flesh and blood. So we believe that the food blessed by Him through the Word and prayer is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don't write this to suggest Justin Words are above Christ's or Paul's but to show that they are in agreement with them. So if the words of Christ, “this is my body, this is my blood”, are to be understood literally by the ancient Church all throughout her history then why would we stray from the agreement of the Church? Again I say it is to separate ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church and this is ignorance because Martin Luther himself recognized the false teachings of Rome even to the point of excommunication and the fear of death but held onto the sacraments because of Christ's Word.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?:

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words, which are given here, “Given...and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” These words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, the chief thing in the Sacrament. The person who believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.”

-Martin Luther
Small Catechism
VI. The Sacrament of the Altar

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Power of the Word:Defending the Liturgy

A verse in Romans comes to mind when I think of how a person comes to the knowledge of Christ.

Romans 10:17
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

All people are dead in their sins and transgressions and have no opportunity to be cleansed and brought to faith in Christ except through the Word. There is where the Holy Spirit is present to create the faith which clings to the cross and justifies us before God. I want to address the issue of pushing the liturgy out of the Church. The same liturgy that contains the very Words to bring the dead in sin to life in Christ. It seems that a figurative towel is being thrown in, concerning the liturgy, because of a decline in the Church.

This begs the question, what is a better option? Seemingly for certain LCMS churches it is to do away with the organ, the hymns, the rites throughout the liturgy, and the reverence necessary to focus on Christ and Him crucified. We envision it being a problem that our service, in all its richness, doesn't appeal to the ever popular “secular Christianity” which demands a band on the stage in all THEIR glory. What can be more attractive to the flesh than focusing our attention off of the cross and onto the keyboard, guitar, drums, and vocalist who are supposedly leading worship when in actuality this “worship service” appears to be more of a concert than a place to confess our failings before the Lord. And through this confession the glory of the true passover Lamb is brought in its fullness.

Why do we want to replace the liturgy with a contemporary service? What are the reasons for this quick abandonment of something that has been in place for more than a thousand years? With reckless abandon we choose to “liven” up the service. And in my own mind I've discovered the answer to why we are choosing to throw the liturgy out. Sin. I'm not saying that contemporary churches are sinners. That isn't the issue here, what I am saying is the folks who propose heading in the direction of contemporary Christianity are afraid that if the LCMS doesn't change her ways than the attraction to such a traditional church would be slim to none by our upcoming youth. We've begun to notice that the youth are more interested in the secular world rather then the church and this, without surprise, forces us to make these drastic decisions. If a band brings kids in the church then lets do it! But there is a problem. We are bringing kids into the church by using something that wasn't designed for conversion or the creation of faith. And its obvious that a quick rebuttal is at hand, namely: “If we can get youth in the church with music then they will be exposed to God's Word.” But I say you're fishing without a hook. In the hopes for our youth to become and maintain their pilgrimage on Earth we turn to a desperate attempt to get them in the Church using something other then God's Word! If this is the direction we are headed, which I'm convinced it is, then we have a problem on our hands. There is nothing special about the liturgy, in the sense of excitement but there is something unique about it which is God's Word. From confession and absolution all the way to the end of the Service of the Sacrament God's word is infused everywhere! The last thing we hear in the service before the last hymn is the benediction that goes:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.

This benediction comes from Numbers 6:24-26

In the verses that come before and after this blessing God says to Moses:

“The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron and his sons, this is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

This blessing is thousands of years old and it is still used today in the LCMS. God says His name is being put on the Israelites and so they will be blessed and I believe the same can be said today. But would you find such richness when you ditch the liturgy? Certainly not, in fact the non denominational Churches don't even say the Lord's Prayer which strikes me because Christ said “when you pray, pray like this” and he gave us this prayer. In the two accounts where the Lord's Prayer was recorded, one in Matthew chapter 6 and the other in Luke chapter 11, Christ talks about forgiveness (Matthew account) and the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Luke account) so through this prayer we are receiving again the Holy Spirit and forgiveness from God. So why isn't it being prayed?

As another example of the infusion of God's Word in the service, before the Gospel reading of the day is read the congregation rises and sings together:

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia, alleluia.

This comes from John 6:68 and the context is many of Christ's disciples deserted him and he says to the twelve:

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Appropriately this is placed before the Gospel reading because here we are hearing what Christ has to teach to us and we know that he is the Holy One of God. These are just a few examples of how the liturgy is rich in God's Word. I want it to be clear that I am not speaking down on contemporary worship for no reason, as I believe others would speak down the liturgy because its “Catholic” or whatever other erroneous thought they can conjure about it. I've been in both places, contemporary and Lutheran alike that is so my opinions and thoughts aren't stemming from being raised in a traditional Lutheran Church. Nor was I lead to believe that the liturgy is rich and awesome but I realized it through experiencing it and being taught about it.

Further more the Lutheran understanding of worship is being dumbed down to a loud projection to a God that is evidently so far away. This is wrong! We believe, teach, and confess that where Christ is present he is there with both his divine and human nature. To divide the person of Christ is to make him something that he is not. When first studying the issue of the Person of Christ I thought it insignificant but by the end I truly appreciated this article of faith because it shapes the way we worship. If Christ is truly present with us in the service we are not going to be singing loud praises to him as if he is way up in the sky seated at God's right hand (he is seated there but its a position of power not a fixed box that he can't leave). Worship isn't about us doing things for God, it is about God coming to us with mercy and grace in hand to strengthen us. But the contemporary worship style forces our understanding to shift. It fools us into believing that the Service is our work for God, which in fact even in its name, Divine Service, we see that this isn't true. And then begins the trickle affect. If the Service is our work for God then so is everything else. Baptism is now our work of confessing publicly our decision for Christ, communion becomes our work of remembering Christ, sharing Christ is now our work instead of it being the work of the Spirit through us. And the preaching we receive is no longer an explanation of God's Word, which reveals his work of redemption through Christ but its about crushing the parishioners with the third use of the law. The third use of the law is as a guide. So while the Pastor should be preaching Christ and Him crucified he is spending more time telling his parishioners how they should live to be better Christians. I already do a good enough job beating myself up with the third use of the law so I don't need to hear it preached from the pulpit. I need grace, mercy, forgiveness, absolution, and Christ. I believe the style in which we worship ultimately dictates how we understand everything else. Don't believe me? You don't have to throw a stone very far to find a contemporary church preaching the “good Christian life” and creating the works righteousness mindset. The Roman Catholic church explicitly says we need good works to be saved, the evangelicals don't come right out and say it but its strongly suggested and this puts an overwhelming amount of weight on the congregation. Now of course there are exceptions to every rule and I'm not suggesting that where the liturgy is present problems don't exist, I'm just conveying what I've seen and the reasonable thought process of both sides.

I want to reiterate the point that I am not approaching this from ignorance. I have shared the experience of contemporary Christianity. I may offend some who read this but ultimately that is not my goal. My goal is to show that God's word and the glorification of the risen Christ is greatest through the liturgy. If we think about God's name being hallowed among us, which just means to be regarded as holy or sacred, then what better way can there be then to have the Word infused into every part of the service. And again I say if true conversion takes place where God's Word is being heard by the people then why should we remove something that is busting at the seams with God's Word. As I said before I believe the negativity against such a liturgical service is attributed to modern day Christianity's fear of appearing Roman Catholic. My thoughts on this is that the modern Christian world believes if they strip the Church of candles, hymnals, an organ, the liturgy, and the overall reverence that seems to them as being Roman Catholic and overload the Church with projection screens, lights, a band and whatever else the modern world can conjure up for the Church, then things will be better. If we can just be to the world a hip church that presents itself as laid back and cool, non judgemental and fun then we as Christians will be perceived better. I believe the desire to form the Church to fit the age that we're in is ultimately screaming disaster. We shouldn't be afraid to be traditional and “boring” to the world and if a Christian proposes that a traditional Church is boring then they are not looking at the liturgy, they are not paying attention to all aspects of God's Word that are right there in plain view. They are wanting something more, something that I don't believe God intends for us. They are searching for a way to make Church more fun and limiting the sufficiency of God's Word and Jesus Christ, this might be a drastic thing to say but I can think of no other explanation. We don't go to Church to be entertained, we are not there to hear the latest in rock n roll Christian music we are there to confess that we are sinners and in turn receive the absolution from God that we crave. Sure an upbeat song warms us for the time being but it ultimately holds no light to the forgiveness God gives to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus didn't come to this world in a flashy fun and hip way and I don't believe the the Church needs to present herself to the world in this way. But unfortunately this is what the world demands, they've had enough of that boring service that contains God's Word and gives Him the highest praise so we've said to the world “If these aspects of the service aren't bringing you in the doors then we will change for you to make you feel more comfortable and “free” as a Christian.” This is where I take my stand, I cannot believe that the liturgy is insignificant and should be replaced with a contemporary style of Christianity.

This last paragraph is for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and her Pastors, district Presidents, and Matthew Harrison. We need to teach the liturgy! I'm sure that Pastors coming out of the Seminary know the liturgy well and it has to be their duty, if we are to show the richness of the liturgy, to teach it so the congregations will understand it. It comes as no surprise to me that people don't care for the liturgy when they are not understanding it. This was my problem with attending a Lutheran Church growing up. I had no idea what this repetitive script could possibly be doing for me so I ran away from it only to be brought back and taught the meaning of it all by my Pastor which opened my eyes to the strength of God's Word through the liturgy. How can we expect people to not ditch the liturgy if we aren't explaining why we should keep it? To all interested in learning about the liturgy I encourage you to ask a Lutheran Pastor instead of raising your nose at such a “Catholic” practice. This is exactly what I did and I'm sad to say I missed it in my life for eighteen years.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Baptism-How Can Water Do Such Great Things?

We hear at the end of Matthew's gospel, Christ say “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20. Given that this is a prominent institution given by Christ, who is the source of life, it is probably a good idea to look into the gift of baptism and what its benefits are for a Christian.

We should start by looking at the purpose of our baptism, because understanding the purpose is crucial to answering the other question pertaining baptism. We know from scripture that the state of mankind is sinful and this sin is expressed in two different ways, original sin and sins of omission(things we fail to do) and sins of commission(things we do that we aren't supposed to do). Original sin is our inherited infection, passed down from Adam. You may wonder how this is different from committing sin in our day to day lives. In Psalm 51:5 we hear David confessing his sin and in doing so says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”, this shows us that even in conception we are sinful. But how can that be? Surely a baby can't knowingly commit a sin right? That is where original sin is seen. If a baby can be sinful without knowingly committing the sin then there must be another explanation, which is inherited sin. Moses writes for us in Genesis 8: 21 “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil, even from his youth.” Here is another case where we see that man's evilness (which stems from sin) is present even in his youth.

So why is our baptism concerned with this sin? If we are looking at it from a modern understanding, our baptism would have nothing to do with our sin because it is merely a profession of our faith toward God in the presence of believers. This “pledge”, for modern Christians, is a fixed point in time that carries no significance throughout their life. But is this belief biblical or human construct? Do we find evidence anywhere that baptism is an act, which is fixed in time, and never thought about again? From looking at what the scripture has to say about it I would conclude this belief is of human origin, having no place in Scripture. Taking a verse out of the epistle to the Romans we see strong language from Paul, he says:

Romans 6:1-4

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

The picture that Paul paints here in Romans is very comforting for the Christian who has been baptized because he addresses the issue of sin and how its dealt with. We should focus on two important words/phrases that Paul uses in these verses to uplift baptism. He shows us a parallel between what happens in our baptism and the death and resurrection of Christ, which was vitally important for Christians. In the context of these verses Paul is addressing the issue of sin. We see that our death to sin was produced by the death and resurrection of Christ, which is brought to us by the Holy Spirit, in a new way which we hadn't received before, that being baptism. The two things that are important in this verse is the word “through” and the phrase “in order that”. The word “through” is telling us how we were buried, which was baptism, and the “in order that” is telling us what the purpose of that baptism is, which is “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we to may live a new life.” So our baptism connects us, not symbolically but truly, to Christ's death and resurrection.

Obviously this doesn't fit with our reason. “How can we be connected to Christ's death and resurrection that took place two thousand years ago?” Although our reason has been given to us by God we must let it be subservient to the Scripture in order to prevent human constructs.

Baptismal water regenerates the Christian from sin, putting to death his sinful nature and raising him to walk in the newness of life. Some might argue that “Faith in Christ alone is what saves, not baptism” and I would agree. Baptism and faith work together, because faith in Christ clings to the comforts and promises of baptism. There is no suggestion here nor biblical evidence that baptism alone saves a person, without faith in Christ.
Galatians 3:26-27

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

In Paul's epistle to the church in Galatia we see faith and baptism working together to make us “sons of God.” First Paul tells us we were made 'sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus..' but a reality is revealed when Paul uses the word 'for' because this gives significance to our baptism and connects it with our son-ship in God through faith. This verse in Galatians is a comfort to Christians and should be embraced not rejected. You have 'clothed yourselves with Christ' who above all is perfect in every way and died for the sins of the world! We should not take away the comfort of this verse by suggesting that it is merely symbolic, rather we should live in this reality daily and comfort ourselves with this promise.

In the verses following Romans 6:1-4 Paul says:

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

This is incredible comfort for the baptized Christian! We hear that through this baptism into Christ its as though we have already died to sin and it is no longer counted against us! This of course can take place with faith in Christ without baptism, but if there is another means of grace that exists, a visible assurance out there that God wants to bless us with, then I think its smart to make use of that gift. Furthermore Paul says that if we are united to Christ's death how much more will we be united to His resurrection and that in itself gives strong validity and reason for baptism.

Who then should be baptized? Everyone, as Christ gives the command to his disciples. All nations should be baptized! Again not for the purpose of proclaiming our faith publicly, although that can be a function, it is not the reason to be baptized. God doesn't need us to do anything for Him, He does it all for us. If being baptized is a work we do for God what would be the significance of that? The New Testament is no longer about law but grace and mercy. Law is certainly still applicable but God doesn't want us to do things for Him, that is law! He wants to do things to/for us, baptism included.

Now when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Infants and the old alike are all in need of faith in Christ and baptism, which the Holy Spirit is present in to create faith in an infant and continues to strengthen faith. Currently the mainstream idea is that infant baptism is nothing more than a traditional practice made popular by Rome, or some other early Church, that people don't want to associate with so as a result they created their own tradition and human construct (not that the first was created by men or a human construct). Since the popular belief of today is Decision Theology (See To Choose or Not To Choose) then of course infants should not be baptized because they have not yet made “the decision to accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior” (which is only done by faith, that is a Gift of God, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the Word) so how can they be baptized into something they don't understand? But Christ says 'make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' and what is a disciple? It is a follower of some doctrine, in this case of Christ, so we see that the way the of discipleship is being baptized and following the teachings of Christ.

Before I said that baptism and faith go together so the question rises “How can a baby have faith?” But I say, how can you have faith? Romans 5:6-8 says:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Here we see that Christ died for us while we were still powerless! Other places in Scripture talk about being “dead in your transgressions”, so our faith is a result of God.

And a baby can have faith, although its hard for “decionists” to imagine, in Luke 1:41-44 we hear:

“When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was fill with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But who am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.'”

John the Baptist leapt for joy in Elizabeth's womb! This was a response in faith because he was in the presence of the unborn Christ! So John's faith existed there even in the womb. Psalm 22:9 says: "Yet You brought me out of the womb, You made me trust in You even at my mother's breast" and Psalm 8:2 says: "From the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise....". So anyone who says an infant can't receive faith is lacking the faith to trust those words of God. If he can create from nothing what we see today then he can create faith, in Christ, in an infant. Because we know from Romans 10:17 that God's word is the means by which faith is created, and this word is attached to the visible means of water where the Holy Spirit is present to create that faith in an infant and sustain them there. The child, when grown to understand these things, can and should look on his baptism knowing that he has been washed and renewed by the Spirit.

Furthermore we see two verses that raise a certain question the first one is Romans 2:29:

“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.”

This verse in Romans may seem confusing in a way, because the question is “How does the heart become circumcised by the Spirit?” Colossians 2:11 helps us to figure that out:

“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Now why is this important? We know that in the Old Testament, Abraham was given the covenant of circumcision. Its purpose was to set the people of Israel apart from the world and was their seal as the people of God. Along with setting Israel apart it was a visible means which God used to create faith in the promise of the Christ. If this covenant wasn't kept then the breaker of the covenant was thrown out of Israel. We also know that Israelite infants were circumcised on the eighth day, now you have to ask yourselves. How would an eight day old infant know he was entering into a covenant with God? Shouldn't he be able to make that 'decision' for himself? The answer is no. God's blessing of sealing His people and creating faith in them in the Old Testament was circumcision and its greater reality is fulfilled in baptism as we see in Colossians. Is God's grace more abundant in the Old Testament that He would give this blessing to a baby of the Israelites and not bestow a seal on a New Testament Christian infant? Another point to note is the fact that baptism is an objective truth. Again the modern understanding of baptism is a fixed point in time where a person confesses their faith in front of believers, but the Scriptural position shows baptism as an action done by God which remains with us all our lives. It is something we can reflect on and say “Yes I have been baptized, although I don't remember the action I know that God's promises and His preserving presence is with me through this Sacrament.”

There is significance in baptism and it is for all to receive. It isn't up to sinful man to redefine the purpose of baptism and in effect hold it from infants, who are in need of it. There sin is as prevalent as ours so the question is, how do we deal with it? We can invent human constructs such as, the age of accountability, (a false idea that a person isn't accountable to God until they reach a certain age, an idea which only stems from our human reason of dealing with God's judgement as oppose to the Scripture) , but the fact is God gave us a way to deal with an infant's sin and you should not keep it from them for fear of following a man made tradition and as a result creating one for yourselves.

The question still remains “How Can Water Do Such Great Things?”:

“Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.”

-Martin Luther
Small Catechism
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Parts of Service: Invocation, Confession and Absolution

Every service I attend begins with the words that are recited in a Christian's baptism; In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, followed by an amen which is said by all. What an appropriate way to begin. There is beyond no shadow of a doubt who we're coming into the presence of in the service, the Triune God, to receive His gifts of Word and sacraments for the strengthening of our faith and the constant reminder of the forgiveness we have in Christ. First and foremost this is the purpose of coming together for Divine Service, that we may receive all the benefits from God in order that we might serve His will diligently and worship Him correctly and the secondary reason for attending the service is to give thanks to our God who constantly preserves us in the true Christian faith. For David writes in Psalm 51:14-15 “Save me from blood guilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Through these verses we see that in order for David to sing praises and thanksgiving to the Lord, or rather about the Lord's work, he first needs to receive God's forgiveness from his blood guilt and more than that he needs God to open his lips in order for him to declare God's praise.

So appropriately what follows the invocation is corporate confession which is recited by all. Here we confess:

Pastor:If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Congregation:But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

These first two things that are recited are taken straight from 1John 1:8-9:

1John 1:5-10
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word
has no place in our lives.

We see the severity of sin and the repercussions we can face if the sin isn't dealt with. Christ dealt with our sin by His death and resurrection, but we also should confess not only in our day to day lives but also in the midst of God's presence in the service where he is present for the purpose of bringing us his Word , strengthening our faith, and forgiving those sins we confess.

There is a moment of silence for the congregation to reflect on their sins of omission (things we fail to do) and sins of commission (things we do that we shouldn't) which then leads us to what is called corporate confession.

Pastor:Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.
Congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned
against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your Holy name. Amen.

All the sins confessed here couldn't be closer to the truth. Confessing that we are sinful by nature and unclean is all over in the scripture.

Psalm 51:5
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Genesis 8:21
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”

We have certainly sinned against God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. And in all these ways which are said by the congregation. At the end you might be feeling that you haven't lived up to the expectations of God and are ashamed for the sins you've committed throughout the week, but the purpose of realizing our sin is to appreciate the grace we receive through the righteousness of the Lamb.

Romans 5:20-6:2
“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But when sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our lord. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

In order for realization of Christ as the one who takes away the sins of the world and the reconciliation that comes from Him, we hear the words of absolution. Those words are spoken after we are raked over the coals, because of our own sin, to comfort us and assure us, though we spent the week sinning and pulling away from God's will, He forgives us and wants us to know of our forgiveness in Christ. So we are absolved through the way of God's mercy. The words of absolution are spoken by the pastor, and not just for our benefit but also for his own forgiveness of the sins He has committed. The absolving words come from John 20:19-23

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'”

In these verses there are two things we can focus on when dealing with absolution, which simply means forgiveness. The first is when Christ says “Peace be with you!” In the context of the verse he is saying this because of the disciples fear of the Jews but we see how through our fear of sin and damnation these words of Christ are a comfort because ultimately he is saying “Peace be with you, because you have confessed your sin and are forgiven.” So we no longer have to fear our sin, just as the apostles no longer had to fear the persecution of the Jews. Secondly is the authority Christ gives to the apostles which is, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” This authority is exercised through the office of the ministry. Although the words are ultimately spoken to the the apostles, we see that this authority is carried out through the office of the ministry. This isn't to say that our sins can only be forgiven by the Pastor, who is in the stead of Christ, but to show the authority of the Church to call the unrepentant sinner to forgiveness, and so the Pastor speaks these words:

Pastor: Almighty God in His mercy has
given His Son to die for you and
for His sake forgives you all your
sins. As a called and ordained
servant of Christ, and by His
authority, I therefore forgive you
all your sins in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit

Congregation: Amen

Friday, February 4, 2011

To Choose or Not To Choose

Is believing in God a choice? Do we make a decision for Him, and through that decision bring about God's grace through our work of deciding? Most Christians would say yes, although with out making faith a work, because obviously the Bible teaches that "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast." -Ephesians 2:8-9. So we must establish what classifies as a good work? Is it helping our neighbor, obeying our parents, or diligently serving God? These are examples that people can cling onto and say, "Look I'm a good person and so God will honor that fact because I do so many good works." These are in fact good works that please, but don't justify us before Him. So the question is: if in fact man can come to God on his own and make a decision to believe in him, and to use the modern phrase, "Make Jesus my personal Lord and Savior", does that classify as a work? Initially a person who holds to this construct would say "No its not a work, I decide to believe in Him and He bestows on me the benefits of that belief." Doesn't that language make it seem as though you have done something to bring about God's grace? I would have to conclude that that is the case.

So what if I were to say that the Biblical position is that we are corrupted by sin to the point where we can't understand God, let alone believe in Him. To most Christians this would be heretical because "God doesn't force us to be Christians, He wants sincere love coming from His people and that can't take place if God forces us to believe." But doesn't Paul set a perfect example for us? A man who was against the Christian world and oversaw Christian's deaths and even approved of them. He persecuted the Church and was feared by Christians and yet he came to believe in the One True God(Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). So another question is raised. Didn't Paul have a choice? Christ was someone Paul was familiar with, its not as though he had never heard the name Jesus. So that option existed for Paul, yet he didn't make the choice, Christ had to intervene in order that Paul might stop his persecutions and become the man that God would have him be. He turned into the most influential writer of the New Testament. And people say he chose Christ after persecuting Him, I don't think so.

1Corinthians 2:14 "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

This verse from Paul to the church in Corinth suggests that before we have the Spirit we are blind to the things that concern God. We can't accept them or do anything in our flesh to believe or worship correctly or pray correctly or do good works correctly or love correctly. So how then do we make a decision for God if before we have the Spirit we regard the things from Him as foolishness. This verse tells us that we need God's Spirit in order to believe in Him. Some might say that God prompts us in certain ways or gives us an initial push, but we must respond to it. So their theology starts to be chipped away, because before we made the choice to believe and bring about God's grace but now He prompts us first and then we believe. But is that correct? Does God first prompt us and then we respond by believing or is God's work more significant then that?

Phillipians 2:13 “...for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

From the epistle to the Philippians it would seem that God's work is the most significant thing in our coming to faith. Everything good that we produce in our life as a Christian is ultimately God's working not ours. That is why no man can boast. This is true even for our conversion. And what a comforting truth that is. I know that when I look to the cross for hope it is because God is enabling me to hope in it. If I kneel down to pray I thank God that my desire is to do so. And when I trust that Christ died for my sins I know it could have only happened in one fashion which is God bestowing that faith on me. I don't need to be concerned if my “decision” was good enough because God gave me the faith that allows me to cling to the promise of Christ. So what role do we play?

Romans 3:9-12 "What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.'"

Those verses from the Old Testament, which Paul is quoting, continue for a few more to explain man's condition in the flesh after the fall. Paul tells us that we are not any better and continues on to say that there is no one righteous, not even one! More then that there is no one who seeks God, who is the only one that can declare us righteous. The condition of man after the fall is nothing but sin and evil.

So how then, in this condition, do we come to the knowledge of God. Does he just pick and choose at random who will be saved and who will not? That wouldn't fit with Scripture because in Ezekiel 33:11 God says "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live..." So then how do people come to faith?

Romans 10:17 “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

God's means of bringing people to the knowledge of Him is his Word which the Holy Spirit works through to bring us to faith. If the Spirit is successful then we believe and the Christian fight begins, if we resist and harden our hearts then we are still spiritually dead. And some might say “That doesn't make sense. God wants us to choose Him.” But you must let your reason be subservient to the Scripture. Your reason might not let this fit together like a puzzle, but yet that is what the Scripture reveals.

 Understanding this point brings us to a conclusion. We shouldn't look to ourselves to determine the validity of faith, but rather be present where the Spirit is actively working to strengthen faith and keep us steadfast, walking in the righteousness of the Triune God who produces faith and preserves us in it.