Saturday, April 27, 2013

Johann Gerhard's Meditations on Divine Mercy.

If you are looking for a good prayer book, which contains solid confessional prayers (meaning that they focus on the true source of justification, namely the crucifixion of our Lord) and point to the source of true hope and peace (namely the providential care of our Lord through Word and Sacrament,) then I recommend you purchase "Meditations on Divine Mercy," written by Johann Gerhard; translated by President Matthew C. Harrison. You can find it at or; ISBN 0-7586-0387-8.

I have not really been drawn to a prayer book until I began reading through Gerhard's prayers. It seemed that all the one's I had been reading were written by me. Gerhard does a great job bringing out the sinfulness of man, in light of the Scripture, and pointing to the source of forgiveness. He breaks the "7 rules that every Christian ought to break as often as possible" (another great book; Broken written by Rev. Jonathan Fisk, again or and points you to Word and Sacrament where our Lord is truly present to forgive the sins of his people.

One prayer in particular that I have come to love is titled "Prayer For the Mortification of the Old Man":

O HOLY AND MOST MERCIFUL GOD, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg You in the Holy Spirit, for the sake of Your Son, to powerfully work in me and put to death the old man. I need this every day so I can be made strong in You according to the inner man. Sin dwells in my flesh (Romans 7:17). Give me the strength of the Spirit so I will not allow sin to rule me (Romans 6:12). You set my hidden sins in the light of Your countenance (Psalm 90:8). I ask You to bring them to light in my heart so I may recognize them, regret them, and humbly seek their forgiveness. 
      I am not yet completely free from the indwelling of sin. Please be gracious, I ask, and grant me freedom from the guilt and condemnation of sin. The law of sin in my members is warring against the law of my renewed mind (Romans 7:23). Give me the grace of Your Spirit so I may take captive the law of sin and not be captive to the old law of the flesh. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh (Galatians 5:17). Indeed, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Give my spirit, therefore, great power and strength so it may overcome the depraved lusts that battle in my flesh. Strengthen my inner man by Your Spirit (Ephesians 3:16) so lust cannot break the inner man's power. How incredibly difficult and hard it is to fight against one's self. When I fight the flesh, I am fighting myself. How difficult and arduous it is to remove an enemy from one's own home.
     Unless You clothe me with heavenly strength in this war, I am afraid that I will certainly be defeated by the hidden plots of the enemy. Strike down, burn, cut, and kill the old man so I can flee from this flattering fraud and seduction. Grant that daily I die to myself so the lures of the flesh will not draw me away from the true life that is in Christ. Inflame the fire of the Spirit in my heart so I may offer to You as a sacrifice the beloved child of my soul, which are depraved lusts and my own will. Flesh and blood cannot receive the inheritance of the kingdom of God (1Corinthians 15:50). May they die in me so I will not be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Those who live according to the flesh will die; those who by the Spirit kill the deeds of the flesh will live (Romans 8:13). Those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh with its desires (Galatians 5:24). Pierce and crucify my flesh, O Christ, You who were pierced and crucified on the altar of the cross for me. AMEN.

This is a preview of the excellent quality of Gerhard's meditations on divine mercy. This prayer seems to reflect on Luther's explanation of the third petition of the Lord's Prayer. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? Answer: The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer. But we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is this done? Answer: When God BREAKS and HINDERS every evil counsel and will that would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, AND OUR FLESH."

This is essentially Gerhard's request, that the evil intentions of his own flesh be mortified by our Lord through the death and resurrection of Christ, which also echoes Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." It is a strange paradox that our Lord brings us to life through death. This ultimately happens through baptism where we die to sin and are connected to the death and burial of Christ, but even more to his resurrection to everlasting life (Romans 6:2-4). God bless in the merits of Christ crucified, for you.

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

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Fishing With Flashy Lures?

During the last two days of my spring break I got to enjoy some fly fishing with my older brother. Every time I would cast my line up stream I was hoping to attract a fish with the nymph flies I had selected. I wanted to make sure I had the right flow, the right flies, and the right fish. You know, the fish that would be willing to be caught by my flashy trickery. While fishing I was reflecting on the passage where Christ approaches "Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:18-19). The image of two disciples throwing a net into the sea in order to catch fish and likening that image with being fishers of men seems to take on a different idea if, say, the disciples were holding St. Croix fly rods in their hands.

What I mean is this, fly rods and fly tackle are designed to attract fish so that they can be caught whereas a net being cast into the sea is designed, not to attract fish, but to forcibly snatch them up and pull them into the boat. You might even say that the fish are being caught totally against their will. Is it important to look into the imagery this closely? When contemplating the action of the will in our 21st century Christian world I think so. With so many denominations focusing on the correct action of our will in "accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and saviour" it is important to note this subtle yet profound image of how God calls people out of the darkness of sin.

It does not seem coincidental that we have this particular scene recorded for us. In fact the disciples casting their net into the dark sea, forcibly bringing fish out of the water and placing them into the boat is a perfect image of how the Word of God calls people from the darkness of their sin and brings them to repentance and faith in Christ, placing them in the ark of the Church. This action of the preached Word does not involve our will in any way, rather we are passively receiving God's grace. And just like a fish desires to remain in the dark depths of the sea and not be put to death so our sinful flesh desires to stay in the dark depths of sin and wars against the idea of being crucified.

When we consider the richness of this scene (the fact that Christ is paralleling God's work of saving people to the lowly image of fisherman tossing a net into the sea to catch unwilling fish) we can rightly ask the question "Does more need to be added to God's Word in order that the unwilling person be turned to repentance and faith? Should the net of God's Word and Sacraments be cast out to pull people from the darkness of their sin, or should we attempt to utilize flashy lures to catch fish? What are we suggesting when we attempt to make God's word more relevant to the age we live in? If we put bells and whistles on it will more people join the fold? Is our attempt to attach attractants to the Word and Sacraments a silent commentary on what we believe about the will?"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Apostolic Witness & Confessing the Faith

In the up and coming Christian world there is a term that has taken hold, and a more important term that has fallen by the way side. It is often that we hear Christians say, "I'm going to witness for Christ today," or the question, "Have you witnessed to anyone?" In the meantime we have dropped out of our memory the better term, which is confess. To many people this distinction between witnessing and confessing is a mere splitting of hairs. It is to rigid to think that there is a problem with the use of 'witness' rather than 'confess.' The question has probably already arisen, "Why should I confess the faith rather than witness about it?" This question escaped me for a long time. I always thought that it was of no real consequence to "witness" to others. I did not consider the difference between witnessing and confessing as a noteworthy distinction. Being brought to the correct understanding of how these terms should be utilized I now have a deeper appreciation both for the power of the Word and my role as a Christian in the vocation that I have been called to. I believe we disrupt context and begin to lay out a false teaching when we insist on witnessing rather than confessing the faith, especially as it relates to the blessed doctrine of vocation that we in the Missouri-Synod are unique in possessing. To suggest that the term "witness" produces a false understanding of vocation (and ultimately the context of Scripture verses where "witness" is used) is a bold statement, but I'm convinced that it is true based on the results such so called "witnessing" has across the denominational board.

You'll notice that the title of this post begins with "The Apostolic Witness." You might say to yourself, "Hasn't this guy just spent his opening paragraph suggesting that we should not use this term, but rather confess?" This is a good question, and you are right in asking it. It is better for US to confess the faith and allow the Apostles to remain in their rightful role of witnessing about all the aspects of the life of Christ our Lord. Klemet Preus asserts in his book "The Fire and the Staff:Lutheran Theology in Practice," that everywhere the term witness is used in the New Testament it refers to people who have actually seen an event take place. I trust that he has done a proper word search to verify that this is true, but even in our English use of the term "witness" it is defined as follows: "to see, hear, or know by personal presence and perception," so it only makes sense that the Apostles would bear this special role or vocation as the witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, in turn excluding everyone else who has not witnessed these things, namely everyone but the Apostles. We can see in the book of Acts when the eleven Apostles must choose someone to replace Judas's office that that person has to be "one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection" (Acts:1:21-22). The eleven produced two men who fulfilled this requirement and from the two Matthias was chosen. From this example we can see that certain individuals were chosen for this vocation.

Preus discusses an important reason why we should confess the faith as oppose to witness about it. When you witness you might be tempted to say "'Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me.' No one really needs to know what you think when it comes to eternal life. And we certainly will never be saved by hearing what Jesus has done for you" (Preus, 389). The point is if you become a witness you might be concerned more about telling people how God is working in your life instead of confessing the universal faith that Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world. This is a good point to make, but I'm more concerned with how this false use of a term disrupts our sense of vocation.

What is meant by vocation? The literal definition of the term is a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling. So a vocation could be anything from a witness, as the Apostles were, down to a father or mother, student, blue-collar worker, "black collar" worker (Pastor,) school teacher, husband or wife etc. The key term is called. These various positions are filled when God calls us to them which is a comforting and pleasant way to look at the various stations we hold in life. For one it gives us purpose, but also it does not leave us searching for ways to "do God's will." When we are faithful in our various callings we are being faithful to our Lord. In the Small Catechism of Dr. Luther he has a portion called [IX] Table of Duties. His introduction to this table of duties is as follows: "consisting of certain passages of Scriptures, selected for various estates and conditions of men, by which they may be admonished to do their respective duties" (Tappert, 354). "Various estates," "conditions of men," and "respective duties" can easily be rendered vocations. Luther notes importantly that the following admonitions are "certain passages of Scriptures," so our vocations are given by God and he gives us his Word in order that we carry them out according to His will. In the Large Catechism of Dr. Luther and the fourth commandment he discusses why and how children should honor their father and mother and "in the second place" he says, "notice what a great, good, and holy work is assigned to children. Alas, it is utterly despised and brushed aside, and no one recognizes it as God's command or as holy, divine word and precept. For if we had regarded it as such, it would have been apparent to all that they who lived according to these words must also be holy men. Then there would have been no need to institute monasticism or "spiritual estates" (Tappert, 380). 

As Luther shows we all have "great, good, and holy work(s)" assigned to us, but they are in the sphere of the vocations which we have been called to. Why is this important? For most Christians in our modern world "witnessing" is the main role of every Christian. With phrases like "every man a Minister" and "go out and witness" we have turned our faces away from the "great, good, and holy work(s)" only to suggest that somehow this zealous witnessing is something more elevated in the eyes of our Lord than the humble estates which he places us in. Oh how we have fallen into monasticism again by applying this word "witness" to all Christians instead of only those to which it was applied. In Luther's time individuals who entered into the monastic life were thought of as more holy and God pleasing because of this pursuit of God. How often do individuals think, "I'm a much better Christian than Joe because I "witnessed" to five people today and poor old Joe just went to his job, fulfilled his duties no doubt, but did not "witness" about Christ to anyone." 

You might be wondering, "Well is this not just a different term with the same understanding as confessing the faith?" In shorthand the answer is no. If we are to confess, or  ομολογεώ (homologeo,) than we are to say the same thing that the Scriptures say. By asserting that every Christian ought to witness as the Apostle's did, you are not saying the same thing as the Scriptures. For one you are giving an entirely new meaning to the word "witness," and for two you are placing the Law on the consciences of men where God has not placed it himself. Consider Luther's words about the book of Acts: "Contrary to what has sometimes been the practice, this book should not be read or regarded as though St. Luke had written about the personal work or history of the apostles simply as an example of good works or a good life...Rather it should be noted that by this book St. Luke teaches the whole of Christendom, even to the end of the world, that the true and chief article of Christian doctrine is this: We must all be justified alone by faith in Jesus Christ, without any contribution from the law or help from our works" (TLSB, 1828). It is almost as if Luther saw the day coming when people would read this commission to the Apostles and then proclaim, "I must do just as the Apostles have done, so I will witness to all the world!" You can see how devastating it is to apply this little word "witness" to ourselves. Luther sees that if we utilize the entirety of the book of Acts, and so including this one passage, as a way to set up the Apostles as a guide to right living we lose the true purpose of the book, which is the proclamation of the forgiveness we have in Christ. What a difference. In maintaining the context and so reserving this little word "witness" for the Apostles we can either be burdened by the acronym WWAD (What Would the Apostles Do) to a release from the Law and the acronym WDAP(What Did the Apostles Preach) which is the complete forgiveness of sins in Christ, without any merit or worthiness of our own, before or after our conversion to faith.

The clarification in context between the role of the Apostles and our own, as it concerns witnessing and confessing is important because without it consciences can be burdened by over-zealous spirits who wish to insert themselves into the role which is reserved for the Apostles. The distinction between the Apostles and ourselves lies in the notion that a witness refers to a person who has seen events first hand. The Apostles are this witness to the life of Jesus Christ, not you and I. We should reserve this term for the Apostles in order to separate their very important role in spreading the Gospel and not confuse their vocational task with our own. Let us consider the words of our Lord as he commissions the eleven:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."(Acts 1:8).

This is a great and glorious comfort to us Christians today, and for all of those who would receive this witness from the Apostles. Christ has assigned a specific task to the eleven, as well as the newly appointed Matthias, and later Saul of Tarsus.

Having the context in its proper place we can take further comfort in the fact that the spreading of the Gospel does not depend on us, but rather the Apostles. You might say, "How can the Apostles spread the Gospel, they are dead and gone," but I contest because contained within the New Testament Scriptures is the very substance that witnesses to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord (among other important events). It is this Apostolic witness which is no doubt carried into the world by pastors, missionaries, and other Church workers, but the Apostles are still the ones testifying to the life of Christ. This brings power to the Word. Is the word efficacious in creating faith? Typically those who would advocate for witnessing do not place a whole lot of faith in the power of the Word. Is this a bold statement? Maybe, but I think not because after they are done witnessing they then leave it on the one witnessed to to make a decision as to whether or not they believe what was spoken. The power has thus been drained from the Word and it is merely a listing of facts which a person can either say yes or no to. In his letter to the Church of Rome, Paul seems to speak differently of the Word: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Maintaining the distinction between the Apostolic witness and our confessing of that witness then trusts in the Word to do its job. To be sure this commission is in part fulfilled from the pulpit when the Lord's Word is read and preached. It is also fulfilled in the sending out of missionaries and other Church workers, but the growth of the people of God still does not depend on these individuals, but rather the power and substance of the Apostolic witness. The second point is something that our pride-filled flesh doesn't seem to swallow so easily. We want to proclaim, "Look at me, I am fulfilling the commission of Christ just as the Apostles did, this is the role for every Christian to partake in!" Sadly this brings a heavy burden upon the consciences of numerous Christians. In the false sense of piety and trust in our own good works we separate the role of the called Apostles, preachers, and teachers and those who are in reception of the gracious gifts of our Lord, namely the laity.

So where does this leave us? If we should extinguish the use of the word witness and it's false emphasis on the idea that all Christians are called to verbal evangelism, does this mean that we should not confess the sacrifice of our Lord to others? In his first epistle the Apostle Peter says, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1Peter 3:15). Paul speaks in a similar way in his epistle to the Colossians. He says, "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Col. 4:6). In each of these examples it is important to note that both Peter and Paul anticipate a question or an attack. The confession then is not an evangelistic tool in the way that Evangelical Christianity would force the word witness to be. Rather it is a response or defense which suggests that you, Christian, are being approached by someone else. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew we see Christ addressing the twelve Apostles. He says, "Therefore all who ομολογήσει (will confess) in me in the presence of men, ομολογήσω (I will confess) in him before my father" (Matthew 10:32). He also puts it negatively that all who deny Christ before men, he will also deny before his father. Taking Peter and Paul into consideration we can see that Christ is not commanding that all people go out and confess him, again, as an evangelistic method, rather this confession of Christ is presupposed by a question or an attack by another individual. And then the question becomes, how should we understand these words? Is Christ saying that our work of confessing causes a saving act? We are saved by grace through faith which is not from ourselves so I hardly think that is the case. It is essential for a layperson to confess the faith when they are questioned or attacked, but this is not something that he possesses in himself to do, rather the new man, through the motivation of the Gospel, makes the confession of faith without a thought about it. For from the newly created faith pours forth all the fruits of faith, including the confession of the Apostolic witness.
 And this is not done by word only, but rather "Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works give glorify to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). This also pours forth from faith, which again is a gift. We can see too that we are called to a certain vocation in this life, but we are all called to the newness of life in Christ as well, out of which is produced our confession when defending the Gospel of our Lord and walking in the ways of the Law. It is not a compulsion, obligation, or work but rather spontaneous and God given. Will we at times fail at these tasks? The Scripture testifies with a resounding yes! This is not the end though for Christ has given the witness to some, namely the Apostles, and he grants you to confess the one true faith as he nourishes you daily through his Word and Sacraments. Let us give thanks to God that our salvation does not depend on our own self measured piety, but rather on his son who WILL confess YOU before his father even as he causes you to confess him to men when those times come.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit