Thursday, August 1, 2013

So What is in a Confession of Faith?

     So what is in a confession of faith? To answer this question I will quote extensively from Charles Porterfield Krauth's book “The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology” (which by the way is a very long, and at times a very difficult book to read, but I found it to be pleasant nonetheless). Krauth writes:

      Standing really upon the everlasting foundation of this Rule of Faith, we stand of necessity on the faith, of which it is the rule. It is not the truth as it lies, silent and unread, in the Word, but the truth as it enters from that Word into the human heart, with the applying presence of the Holy Ghost, which makes men believers. Faith makes men Christians; but Confession alone marks them as Christians. The Rule of Faith is God's voice to us; faith is the hearing of that voice, and the Confession, our reply of assent to it. By our faith, we are known to the Lord as his; by our Confession, we are known to each other as His children. Confession of faith, in some form, is imperative. To confess Christ, is to confess what is our faith in him. As the Creed is not, and cannot be the Rule of Faith, but is its confession merely, so the Bible, because it is the Rule of Faith, is of necessity not its Confession. The Bible can no more be any man's Creed, than the stars can be any man's astronomy. The stars furnish the rule of the astronomer's faith: the Principia of Newton may be the Confession of his faith. If a man were examined as a candidate for the chair of astronomy in a university, and were asked, “What is your astronomical system?” and were to answer, “I accept the teaching of the stars,” the reply would be, “You may think you do—so does the man who is sure that the stars move round the world, and that they are not orbs, but 'gimlet-holes to let the glory through.' We wish to know what you hold the teachings of the stars to be? Do you receive as in harmony with them, the results reached by Copernicus, by Galileo, by Kepler, by Newton, La Place, and Herschel, or do you think the world one great flat, and the sun and moon mere pendants to it?” “Gentlemen,” replies the independent investigator, “the theories of those astronomers are human systems—man-made theories. I go out every night on the hills, and look at the stars, as God made them, through a hole in my blanket, with my own good eyes, not with a man-made telescope, or fettered by a man-made theory; and I believe in the stars and in what they teach me: but if I were to say, or write what they teach, that would be a human creed—and I am opposed to all creeds.” “Very well,” reply the examiners, “we wish you joy in the possession of a good pair of eyes, and feel it unnecessary to go any further. If you are unwilling to confess your faith, we will not tax your conscience with the inconsistency of teaching that faith, nor tax our own with the hazard of authorizing you to set forth in the name of the stars your own ignorant assumptions about them.”
     What is more clear than that, as the Rule of Faith is first, it must, by necessity of its being, when rightly used, generate a true faith? But the man who has true faith desires to have it known, and is bound to confess his faith. The Rule cannot really generate two conflicting beliefs; yet men who alike profess to accept the Rule, do have conflicting beliefs; and when beliefs conflict, if the one is formed by the Rule, the other must be formed in the face of it. Fidelity to the Rule of Faith, therefore, fidelity to the faith it teaches, demands that there shall be a Confession of the faith. The firmest friend of the Word is the firmest friend of the Creed. First, the Rule of Faith, next the Faith of the Rule, and then the Confession of Faith.
     What shall be our Confession? Are we originating a Church, and must we utter our testimony to a world, in which our faith is a novelty? The reply is easy. As we are not the first who have used, with honest hearts and fervent prayers, the Rule, so are we not the first who have been guided by the Holy Ghost in it to its faith. As men long ago reached its faith, so long ago they confessed it. They confessed it from the beginning. The first adult baptism was based upon a “human creed,” that is, upon a confession of faith, which was the utterance of a belief which was based upon a human interpretation of divine words. The faith has been confessed from the beginning. It has been embodied in a creed, the origin of whose present shape no man knows, which indeed cannot be fixed; for it rose from the words of our Saviour's Baptismal Commission, and was not manufactured, but grew. Of the Apostle's Creed, as of Him to who its heart is given, it may be affirmed that it was “begotten, not made.” The Confession has been renewed and enlarged to meet new and widening error. The ripest, and purest, and most widely used of the old Confessions have been adopted by our Church as her own, not because they are old and widely received, but because they are true. She has added her testimony as it was needed. Here is the body of her Confession. Is her Confession ours? If it be, we are of her in heart; if it be not, we are only of her name. IT IS OURS—OURS IN OUR DEEPEST CONVICTION, REACHED THROUGH CONFLICTS OUTWARD AND INWARD, REACHED UPON OUR KNEES, AND TRACED WITH OUR TEARS—OURS IN OUR INMOST HEARTS. THEREFORE, WE CONSECRATE OURSELVES TO LIVING, TEACHING, AND DEFENDING THE FAITH OF GOD'S WORD, WHICH IS THE CONFESSED FAITH OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH. FIDELITY TO THE WHOLE TRUTH OF GOD'S WORD REQUIRES THIS. We dare not be satisfied simply with recognition as Christians over against the Jew, because we confess that the Rule of Faith, of which the New Testament is a part, has taught us faith in Jesus Christ: we dare not be satisfied simply with recognition as holding the Catholic Faith as embodied in the three General Creeds, over against heresies of various forms and shades. Christian believers holding the faith Catholic we are—but we are, besides, Protestant, rejecting the authority of the Papacy; Evangelical, glorying in the grace of the Gospel; AND LUTHERAN, HOLDING THE DOCTRINES OF THE CHURCH, of which the Reformation is the child—not only those in which all Christendom or a large part of it coincides with her, but the most distinctive of here distinctive doctrines, though in the maintenance of them she stood alone. As the acceptance of the Word of God as a Rule of Faith separates us from the Mohammedan, as the reception of the New Testament sunders us from the Jew, as the hearty acquiescence in the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds show us, in the face of all errorists of the earlier ages, to be in the faith of the Church Catholic, SO DOES OUR UNRESERVED ACCEPTANCE OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION MARK US AS LUTHERANS; AND THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE APOLOGY, THE CATECHISMS OF LUTHER, THE SCHMALCALD ARTICLES, AND THE FORMULA OF CONCORD, CONTINUES THE WORK OF MARKING OUR SEPARATION FROM ALL ERRORISTS OF EVERY SHADE WHOSE DOCTRINES ARE IN CONFLICT WITH THE TRUE SENSE OF THE RULE OF FAITH—that Rule whose teachings are rightly interpreted and faithfully embodied in the Confessions afore-mentioned. Therefore, God helping us, we will teach the whole faith of His word, which faith our Church sets forth, explains, and defends in her Symbols. We do not interpret God's word, but interpreting both independently, by laws of language, and finding that they teach one and the same truth, we heartily acknowledge the Confession as a true exhibition of the faith of the Rule—a true witness to the one, pure, and unchanging faith of the Christian Church, and freely make it our own Confession, as truly as if it had been now first uttered by our lips, or had first gone forth from our hands. (p. 166-169)

     So the question becomes, “How seriously do we, members of the 'mighty' Missouri-Synod uphold this exhortation 'to living, teaching, and defending the faith of God's word, which is the confessed faith of the Evangelical Lutheran Church?' Are we allowing our confession of faith to collect dust? Do we, as the Missouri-Synod, do what Walther suggests by providing “a good, inexpensive copy [of the Book of Concord,] and pastors should see to it that every home has one,” the Book of Concord being this most precious confession of faith. Or are we allowing our Church to fall into apathy by hiding from our laity the excellent gift we hold in our Confessions? Walther goes onto say: “If a person isn't familiar with this book, he'll think, 'That old book is just for pastors. I don't have to preach. After [working] all day, I can't sit down and study in the evening. If I read my morning and evening devotions, that's enough.” No, that is not enough! The Lord doesn't want us to remain children, who are blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine; instead of that, He wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others.” It seems much hasn't changed in our day from Walther's time. A lot of our body is either subjected to forced ignorance about our Confession or are willfully so. Whatever the case may be it would seem that Krauth and Walther alike would be disappointed with the position our Synod is in. We are not excising ourselves in the Confession that was so diligently prepared and has been utilized and cherished for centuries rather we are satisfied to do what the non-denominational churches are doing. Like them our laity's theological insights are a mile long and an inch deep. How many individuals in the LCMS, do you suppose, even know what the Book of Concord is? How often are the Confessions, those same Confessions that each and every Pastor must bow a knee to before he is ordained and installed, invoked on a Sunday or in a Bible study? I think the numbers would be embarrassingly low.

     Krauth's exhortation to live in, teach, and defend our Confession of faith faithfully and diligently is not a light suggestion. He recognizes the grave danger that can befall a church body if she refuses to remain steadfast in her confession of faith. We may still carry with us the Rule of Faith, but without a fixed conception of what is contained within its binding we would be better off without it. Do we believe that our Confession was formulated in an easy, lackadaisical way? By no means. The blood of faithful martyrs show that clearly enough and yet now, in our twenty-first century American mind, which is sedated with all the revelries of the world and false doctrines from other Christian bodies decide it better to satisfy ourselves with nothing more than the most minimal devotional materials we can find. Devotional materials which bounce us from one Bible verse to another, potentially conceptualizing them out of their context, and so throwing us into the midst of the wolves. For example, we'd rather tell our children, with the assistance of non-contextual reading, that they are commanded by their boss, Jesus Christ, to witness for him in the world (See previous post).

     I am aware that there are pockets of confessional Lutherans out there “fight(ing) the good fight of the faith” and “hold(ing) fast the confession of [their] hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (1Tim 6:12; Heb 10:23). My thoughts, prayers, and most certainly grinding teeth and raised blood pressure are with you. I'll leave you with Krauth, who might as well have been giving this speech in Braveheart:

      And shall we despond, draw back, and give our names to the reproach of generations to come, because the burden of the hour seems to us heavy? God, in His mercy, forbid! If all others are ready to yield to despondency, and abandon the struggle, we, children of the Reformation, dare not. That struggle has taught two lessons, which must be secured at any price. They are beyond all price. We dare not compute their cost. They are the soul of our being, and the whole world is as dust in the balance against them. No matter what is to be paid for them, we must not hesitate to lay down their redemption price. The other grand lesson is, that their price is never paid in vain. What we give can never be lost, unless we give to little. If we give all, we shall have all. All shall come back. Our purses shall be in the mouths of our sacks. We shall have both the corn and the money. But if we are niggard, we lose all—lose what we meant to buy, lose what have given. If we maintain the pure Word inflexibly at every cost, over against the arrogance of Rome and of the weak pretentiousness of Rationalism, we shall conquer both through the Word; but to compromise on a single point, is to lose all, and be lost. (p. 21)

Lord's blessings.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Be Told On the Mountain that Jesus Christ Was Crucified For Your Sins

It is clear that there is an idea floating around Christendom which attempts to suggest that every man is a minister/missionary. Unless I am missing something it is also clear that there is not a shred of biblical evidence to support such an idea, in fact the Word speaks in quite the opposite direction focusing on the fact that each person is called to a certain vocation in this life (See table of duties in Luther's Small Catechism). To be sure there are those who are called to the office of preaching and teaching as well as mission work (Ephesians 4:11-14) here in the United States and out in the other countries of the world, but the notion that we should bind the consciences of the laity with the false teaching that they are responsible for the fulfilling of the “Great Commission” (another phantom that does not show up in the scriptures) is damaging to both the office of the holy ministry and to the peace of those who should be reminded of Christ crucified for them each week by those who are actually called to deliver them the Gospel. It is also very apparent that this idea has found its way into the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as can be seen by the VBS theme for 2013; “Tell It on the Mountain Where Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Days 1-4 seem appropriate: Day 1 On Mount Sinai: God is with His People; Day 2 On Mount Carmel: God Shows He is the One True God; Day 3: On the Mount of Transfiguration: Jesus Is God's Son; On Golgotha: Jesus Saves Us All. It is not until we arrive at Day 5 that we see things start to crumble; On a Mountain: Jesus Says, “Go to All!”. On the itinerary for Day 5 we have the “Take-Home Point”: Jesus Christ is Lord, good start. Bible Memory Verse next: Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “You will be my the end of the earth” which if taken in the direction that the VBS package suggests you take it makes the Scripture say something that it is not intending to say. Bible Stories: Learn that Jesus tells us to share His news of salvation with the world. Does he really? Rotation 1:Application: Learn that Jesus wants us to witness to the whole world through the power of the Holy Spirit. Does he really? Rotation 2: Bible Challenge: Learn the Bible Memory Verse song and how God uses Sinners like us to be His witnesses to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Again, does he really? Rotation 3: Crafts: This is where the kids get to make Go & Tell Scratch Art. Then comes a break, Snack time, but oh wait they are Spreadin' the Good News Snack. And finally Games:Tell the World, Go and Tell, Climb A Mountain.

As you can see after Day 4 on Golgotha, where the focus of the entire VBS should be focused, we leave the cross where our sins were put to death and then have the Law hurled on us as we walk out the doors. “Yes kids, who have potentially never heard the Gospel ever, here is a nice bit of Law for you to chew and and assume this encapsulates the most important aspect of Christianity.” What was that thing that C.F.W. Walther said: “You are not rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel in the Word of God if you first preach the Gospel and then the Law” (Law and Gospel, Readers addition, p. 3). Does it sound as though the author is a bit overreaching? I mean after all the kids are only 4-6 maybe 7 years old. Is a bit of false doctrine really going to affect them that badly? I mean are they really going to hear and comprehend God's Word anyway? Can the Holy Spirit work through the proper teaching of God's Word on someone so young? Aren't we just here to have a little fun? False doctrine is false doctrine no matter what the age of the individual is who is receiving it.

That having been said it is probably time to unveil the reason why I think this is false. Taking the Bible Memory Verse alone will establish this. Acts 1:7-8: “He said to them (the 11,) 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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.” We can see right off the bat that Jesus is speaking directly to the Apostles concerning the command he was giving them, not the entirety of the Christian Church and especially not to those who should be being catechized, namely the children. Christ says that they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. The VBS book conveniently leaves this part out, maybe due to the fact that a kid would say “Well we weren't witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria so maybe Christ isn't telling us to do this,” and you can just imagine what the response would be. Christ also adds that the Apostles will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Does this seem perplexing? Well it shouldn't because the Apostles are in fact that witness because they recorded what they saw in the Holy Scriptures, which is the Apostolic witness, of the things that Christ did while he was on this earth and the implications of those actions for the whole world. This establishes the fact that we are in fact not Christ's witnesses. Let's forget about the fact that the authors of the 2013 VBS packet fail to recognize the difference in terms between those who witness and those who confess because even if they had used the correct term, which is confess, they would have conveyed the same false meaning on Day 5.

Who said that all of mankind was supposed to run around spreading the Gospel? Are we all called to be “witnesses” as Day 5 suggests? And if so how often have you fulfilled this Law? If you haven't you are guilty of sin and should repent. And let me say that even the most adamant of people who suggest that we are all supposed to be spreading the Gospel are probably not doing as good of job at it as they might think. I think Paul gives us a nice picture of how the Gospel is spread. In Romans chapter 10 verse 14 and following he writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” It seems from this set of verses Paul recognizes that preachers are called and sent, and I think, actually no I know that the LCMS has some article in some book that says that someone shouldn't preach without a divine call. Is this to say that no one can talk about Christ unless they are called the Office of the Holy Ministry? No, but it is saying that preaching the Gospel and spreading the good news is not a command that applies to all people, but is rather a gift to the Church that is received by those who hear.

In 1Corinthians chapter 3 verse 5 and following Paul writes: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.” “We” namely Paul and Apollos and those who are called to the office of the ministry are God's fellow workers in preaching the Gospel. And what are those who receive this preaching? A field and a building. How does a field grow? And how is a building built? Does the field grow itself by dancing about tossing seeds everywhere? No, it is cultivated and watered and grows by those means. Likewise does a building erect because the stones hopped one on top of the other? No, it is built up by the hands of the builder. Our church grows (or sometimes does not) when the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered by those who are called to do this work.

The next question might be, “Well why is it so bad to tell little children that they are supposed to be out there telling people about Jesus?” If you have your VBS packet handy turn to page 60 and follow along with the poem “The Great Commission”: “Climb atop this mount with Me,” the risen Lord did say.(He did?) “You shall be my witnesses, this fine and glorious day. My Spirit will be with you as you step out in My name. Tell the world I died and rose, for them I took the blame. Sin and death are beaten, for I have set you free. Go and teach, and baptize, for all have life through Me. Boys and girls, we have a job, and Jesus is our boss; Let's show and tell His story, so none are ever lost.” What was that other thing C.F.W. Walther said: “The most common way people mingle Law and Gospel—and one that is also the easiest to detect because it is so crude—is prevalent among Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists. These people turn Christ into a kind of new Moses or Lawgiver (or boss.) This transforms the Gospel into a doctrine of meritorious works. Furthermore, some people—like the Papists—condemn and anathematize those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ.”(Law and Gospel, Readers addition, p. 2). What a perfect thing to send the kids out with. “Jesus is the boss of you. Now I know your general reaction to those who are the boss of you is to disrespect them, but Jesus is the big boss so you better listen to him real good.” I notice that Walther says this way of confusing Law and Gospel is “so crude,” and the the “easiest to detect” and it absolutely is because it takes the aspect of Christianity, which sets it apart from all other religions, and has Christ walk hand-in-hand with religions that demand works from people on their ascent to God. So my question is, who doctrinally reviewed this? If this mingling of Law and Gospel is so easy to detect and so crude, as the “stodgy” Walther suggests, then why didn't a Pastor catch this, or some editor at CPH? Perhaps it is due to the fact that some of us in the Missouri Synod are in love with this “evangelical” stuff and we want to push it on even the littlest among our ranks. I don't know and that was not putting the best construct on the situation, but quite frankly I am sick of seeing and hearing this kind of stuff. Let us not crush a child's faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by burdening them with a Law that is not founded on God's Word. And furthermore, if it is not too much to ask of you CPH, please don't publish stuff like this which forces Christ to take a back seat to our sinful flesh that is always seeking the glory road of works.

Instead of this command to “Go tell it on the mountain,” we should be teaching our children from the mountaintop of parent-hood and the pulpit that Christ died for their sins. We should be constantly pointing them to the crucifixion of Christ instead of to the road of self-glorification through works of the Law. But who's law is this exactly?

I'll end with a quote from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord article VI: “This doctrine of the Law is needed by believers in order that they may not make up a holiness and devotion of their own. Using God's Spirit as an excuse, they must not set up a self chosen worship, without God's Word and command. For it is written: “You shall not do according to...whatever is right in [your] own eyes,” but “be careful to obey all these words that I command you,” “you shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:8, 28, 32). This notion of every man a minister/missionary is in fact a made up “holiness and devotion” because it suggests that this is the mightiest work that can be done for God. Ironically God has never commanded it in this way.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Idle Chit-Chat

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” These are the Words of the apostle John as his eyes beheld Jesus Christ during the revelatory vision he recorded. At the presence of our Lord the apostle finds himself at Christ's feet as though dead. In the Formula of Concord, article 8 of the epitome the confessors write “Christ may give His true body and blood in the Holy Supper, as one who is present—and it is very easy for Him to do so. He does not do this according to the mode or ability of the human nature, but according to the mode and ability of God's right hand. Dr. Luther says this in accordance with our Christian faith [as we teach it to] children: this presence <of Christ in the Holy Supper> is not <physical or> earthly, nor Capernaitic; yet it is TRUE and SUBSTANTIAL, as the words of His testament read, “This is, is, is My body,” and so on” (R.E. Of the Book of Concord p. 493). It seems that Confessional Lutherans have believed and believe that Christ is present in the Divine Service, not in some hyper spiritual sense as our modern “evangelical” and charismatic friends would have us understand, rather He is truly and substantially present with us (in one undivided person both Divine and human natures,) not only in the Sacrament of His body and blood, but also in the public reading of the Word, Confession and Absolution, the proclamation of the Gospel etc. Utilizing the Office of the Holy Ministry our Lord comes to meet His people to serve them the means of grace which lead us to life. So my question is, “Why are there so many in our congregations who wish to fill what they might deem as down-time during the Divine Service into moments for idle chit-chat?” Whether it's before the Divine Service begins, or during the Distribution Hymn, or the Offering, or worse yet the Sermon, should we not keep remain quite and consider the falling down as though dead of the Apostle John?

Luther describes three modes of Christ. I will provide the latter two because they are significant in understanding Christ's presence with us, though unseen:

Secondly, there is the incomprehensible, spiritual manner of being present. According to this, He neither occupies nor vacates space but penetrates all creatures, wherever He pleases, just as, to offer a crude illustration, my sight penetrates and is in air, light, or water and does not occupy or vacate space; as a sound or tone penetrates and is in air, water, board, or wall and also does not occupy or vacate space; again, as light and heat penetrate and are in air, water, glass, crystal, and the like, and also do not occupy space. Many similar illustrations could be presented. This manner He used when He left the closed sepulcher and when He came to His disciples through closed doors, when He is present in the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper and also, as people believe, when He was born of His mother.

Thirdly, there is the divine, heavenly manner. Since He is one Person with God, all creatures must, of course, be far more penetrable and present to Him according to this manner of being present than according to the second manner. For if, according to this second manner, He can be in and with creatures in such a way that they do not feel, touch, circumscribe, or comprehend Him, how much more marvelously will He be in all creatures according to this sublime third manner of presence, so that they do not circumscribe nor comprehend Him, but that he rather has them present before Him, circumscribes and comprehends them. For you must place this Being of Christ, who is one with God, far, very far indeed, outside the creatures—as far as God is outside them; again, as deeply into, and as near to, all creatures as God is within them. For He is inseparably on Person with God. Where God is, He, too, must be, or our faith is false. (What Luther Says, point 516 p. 178)

The last sentence might be the most important concerning this discussion. We believe that God is present everywhere and where the divine nature of Christ is, there his human nature also resides, so not to divide the person of Christ, but allow Him to remain the same Christ that came into the flesh “born of woman, born under the Law” (Gal. 4:4b) and was crucified for our sins on the tree of the cross. Most especially is He present with us through the means of grace. The preached Word and the visible sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. During the Divine Service we experience the presence of Christ in a way that we do not throughout the rest of our week. This is a time set aside to be served by the triune God who has his fullest revelation in the Person of Christ. So if the divinity of Christ is present there too his humanity is present which means he is no less substantially present as when the apostle John encounters Him on the island of Patmos. Of course this is too much for our sinful flesh to comprehend, but believe the Word of God which testifies to Christ's presence even though he is unseen.

How many times have we all been caught despising the Word of God and not paying due reverence to the Christ who comes to feed His flock? This should not be. As a matter of confession we should remain in silent reverence during the “down-time” of the Divine Service revealing that we believe that Christ is truly and substantially present with us and for us. If Jesus was standing right before your very eyes I dare say that you might thrust yourself to the ground just as John did. Brothers and sisters in the Lord, show fear and reverence for the Christ who is present for you, to offer you forgiveness, life and salvation. Believe that Christ is present where he promises to be present, and if not for you do so for the love of your neighbor who's Divine Service you may be interrupting when you're chatting during the Distribution Hymn instead of singing along.

Lord's blessings to you as you hold your tongue, unless you are addressing one another in “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” or receiving into your mouths the very body and blood of your Lord for forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, life and salvation

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Blessing of Repetition in the Divine Service

Amongst all the chaos in our world; the fast moving society, the ever-developing technology, the day-to-day fashion trends, the evolution of music (just to name a few) it brings great comfort to know that each Divine Service on Sunday mornings will begin with "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," invoking the name of the Triune God, (who we come to worship in Spirit and in truth) as well as calling to remembrance the sacrament of Holy Baptism where we were washed clean from our sin by the powerful working of our Lord. This is always followed by some variance of the confession of sins. Whether it be "I a poor miserable sinner plead guilty before God of all sins..." or "Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean..." we are reminded of our pathetic condition before a righteous God, but He doesn't leave us there. The proclamation of Christ crucified awakens the new man in order to hear the preached Word, both Law and Gospel, as well as receive the body and blood of our Lord in a worthy manner for the forgiveness of our sins. I give thanks for the structure of our liturgy which provides, with great clarity, the presence of Christ who comes among us to "liturgize" us with Word and Sacrament.

I am afraid there are some among the fold who despise this repetition and seek a way to conform our Sunday morning routine in such a way that it reflects the chaotic culture that we are thrust into every day. Whatever the reason for this is, whether it be the desire to put an individual's talent on display, create a culturally satisfying environment, or attract a few younger people it seems that this wayward fold is missing a serious point in their endeavour. Like the Backstreet Boys or the earliest cell phones, an irreverent, "do whatever you want" Divine Service is going to eventually become dissatisfying to those who's satisfaction is trying to be fulfilled. This will result in yet another renovation and the point will continue to be missed; the happenings of the Church on Sunday morning, namely Word and Sacrament do not appeal to any culture and are a timeless culture in themselves. We can rejoice that the Aaronic benediction has been taking place in the Church for thousands of years, we can celebrate (along with the church catholic) the Word's of our Lord when he says, "This is my body; This is my blood," and we can happily confess, along with Simeon, "Lord now you let your servant go in peace, Your Word has been fulfilled," after receiving forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of the altar. This is only to name a few repetitive things we enjoy in the Divine Service. The "black sheep," if I can be so bold as to call them that, do not offer the same stable, timeless setting. Rather they are looking for new ways of doing things because by all appearances the old ways are not working. All of this is building up to the main focus of this post.

For the sake of privacy I will not use this individuals name (although I do not think he would mind,) but I will use his age because it helps to highlight the blessings that the repetition in our Divine Service bring. To the best of my knowledge this little boy's age is 3-4. Each Sunday his mother brings him and his older sister to the Divine Service at Messiah Lutheran Church in Missoula, MT where (I am happy to say) the "mundane" repetition takes place very faithfully. Over the Easter season I was the crucifer so I would be seated in a little pew on the altar for the entire service. Throughout different parts of our liturgical rites I could hear a little voice (almost in unison with the Pastor I might add) mimicking some of the parts of service. My Pastor's custom is to elongate the "is" during the Word's of institution in order to drive home the point that we are receiving the very body and blood of our Lord. When my Pastor would arrive at "issssssssss my body" I could hear this other voice, when he would say "with angels and archangels" I could hear this other voice, when he would conclude the benediction "and give you peace" I could hear this other voice. Not to mention I could hear this other voice humming some of the collect tunes.

To some this might be a frustration. Due to the sinful flesh they might be thinking "Can someone get this little kid out of hear, or tell him to stop mimicking the Pastor," but what a glorious and God pleasing thing it is when a child is delighted to receive and mimic the Pastor's words, especially when the parts he is mimicking are Holy Scripture. I dare say the same effect could not be attained in a Divine Service that is ever changing. Needless to say I had to abandon my reverence and look over to see who was speaking along with the Pastor and to my heart's delight it was this little boy. Usually I would be seated right behind him and notice him playing with little cars or eating fruit snacks, but it seems even in his distracted state (and mine as well) the Word of our Lord, which is infused into our repetitious liturgical life, is working all the same.

So what is the next step for this little unnamed tike? I pray that he continues to be raised in the faith and the knowledge of the truth as well as the repetitive nature of the liturgy, BUT also that he is taught the importance and significance of the parts of service in our liturgy so that he can be protected against the tantalizing ideas that it is better to abandon such lifeless routines and become more "excited" about worship. This story is just one example of the blessing of repetition, but I'm sure there are many more. There may be some that revolve around those folks who are toward the end of their life and can be comforted by the recitation of Words memorized in our Divine Service. I can say that I have sung the Nunc Dimittis, Kyrie, Gloria Patri etc during frustration, temptation or strife and maybe some other people could say the same. Whatever the uses of the ordinaries/propers a person might have, the point is they can be recalled easily because they are done with such high frequency. And before those contemptuous, "super-pious" people shout "God wants us to be super sincere worshippers who are innovative in our love for him. We have to be diverse and super happy-clappy to show him how much we love him," consider what He did for you to show you his love. By being crucified on the tree of the cross God showed his love for you in Christ. This is not so glorious or flashy and yet Paul, in a repetitious manner says, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1Corinthians 2:2) Lord's blessings.

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

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