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Friday, July 30, 2010

God the Crucified - The Trinity in Action

(part 4 of 9)

What about the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Mightn’t our singular focus on the crucifixion of Jesus cause us to forget or diminish the Father and the Holy Spirit and thus undermine our confession of the Holy Trinity?

It would, indeed, be a grave error to deny or diminish the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The United Pentecostal Church has done this, and in the process become altogether non-christian. Their rejection of the Holy Trinity, for instance, leads them to insist that anyone who has received a Trinitarian baptism should, instead, be baptized in the name of “Jesus only.” But, perhaps surprisingly, this heretical Christo-monism did not come about because of an over emphasis on the crucified Lord. In fact, it is unlikely that you could find the crucified Jesus depicted anywhere in their church building. Instead, this anti-trinitarian heresy is the end result of an isolated focus on the Holy Spirit—as the name “Pentecostal” implies.

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, for all it's emphasis on Jesus, cannot bring itself to look at the crucifixion — or even upon the cross — substituting a bare spire in its place. This is only the most visible manifestation of their own particular brand of anti-trinitarianism which has much to say about “heavenly father” but nothing about the cross.

It would certainly be an evil thing if we were to do the same. If our emphasis on the cross of Christ were at fault, we should immediately dispose of it. But the cross is not at fault. Rather, the anti-trinitarian evil is avoided only by viewing each distinct Person of the Holy Trinity in proper relationship with the other Persons. Jesus’ words from the cross teach us this in the very moment of the crucifixion.

Jesus’ first word from the cross is, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Here we see the forgiveness won by Jesus on the cross as the Father’s own gift to the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16). Also, by drinking the cup of suffering which the Father gives Him, Jesus becomes the only One who truly submits to the Father’s will.

Jesus’ last word from the cross is also addressed to the Father, “Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit.” With these words, Jesus commits the Holy Spirit back into the hands of the Father in order that the Spirit might convey the fruits of Jesus’ crucifixion to the entire world.

The evils of denying the Trinity are not avoided by making sure we give equal time to looking at and talking about each of the three Persons separately. (For this, activity—in itself—denies the unity of the Trinity and sets one Person over against another Person causing us to see not One God but Three Gods.) Quite the opposite, we extol Father, Son and Holy Spirit most especially as we see the Father giving His only-begotten Son into death for the whole world and the Son giving His Holy Spirit from the cross that we might believe and be saved.

That is why Christians believe in the Holy Trinity—because the crucifixion is the Holy Trinity at work for our salvation.

Where is the True Church Found?

Martin Luther addresses this question not by looking for marks of success but by pointing to the seven marks of Jesus' presence.

“First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God. ...wherever you hear or see this word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, “a Christian holy people” must be there, even though their number is very small.
“Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance.
“Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution.
...don’t be led astray by the question of whether the man who administers the sacrament is holy… Wherever you see this sacrament properly administered, there you may be assured of the presence of God’s people.
“Fourth, God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly. That is, as Christ decrees in Matthew 18 [:15–20], if a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways, he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved.
“Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers... Wherever you see this done, be assured that God’s people, the holy Christian people, are present…

“Sixth, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God. Where you see and hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed and taught; or psalms or other spiritual songs sung, in accordance with the word of God and the true faith; also the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism used in public, you may rest assured that a holy Christian people of God are present.
“Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates)...”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Holiness of Christ’s Church

Ubi Christus, ibi ecclesia, “Where Christ is, there is the church.” With this saying one of the oldest church fathers spoke of the mystery of the church. The saying also sums up Luther’s faith in the church. It is not the power of our faith, nor the holiness of our life that constitutes the church, but rather that “Where Christ is, there is the church.” When the church is called a holy people, a communion of saints, it is not to be understood in the way it has often been understood in the history of the church: “the church should be a holy people, therefore only the holy shall belong to her. Away with all the unholy! The honour of Christ demands it!” When the worst of sinners must be excluded from the fellowship, one must then begin to classify sins in order to determine which ones lead to exclusion. How often has not that been attempted, both in the past and more recently. How imposing was the strictness of the ancient church, when people sought to create a holy and pure church (as also happens now). Or consider the Donatists, who demanded that at least the clergy should be free of mortal sin. Whenever the attempt has been made to create an ideal church, the end result has always been bitter disappointment. The community of saints turns into a community of Pharisees.

— Hermann Sasse

(Brought to my attention by Rev. Paul T. McCain)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Legalism Under the Guise of Freedom

As a congregation, we are often puzzled by the decisions that other church bodies have been making over the past several years. Professor Steven Paulson (author of Luther for the Armchair Theologian) has some insights which might help you understand what is happening in the contemporary church scene.
...Fanatics are a specific type of infiltrating and clandestine false prophet. They are self-righteous. They are on a mission. They believe that they hold the key to the future. They are decidedly *not *antinomian, in fact they believe in the law alone. The trick is that the law is held by them with a twist.
They believe they are the messengers and purveyors of a *new and higher law* than had ever existed before in church and world—even laws given by God himself. Furthermore, this new and higher form of law comes in the person of the Holy Spirit who gives them new spirit-led revelations that are not in Scripture but are supposed to be part of God’s hidden plan.

Plan for what?

For making the church a more righteous, perfect group of saints who will then be a light to the nations by living out the love the law requires. Fanatics are never very creative. Fanatics think that God has communicated the new law through them (such as in a new ecclesiastical vote at a churchwide assembly).

They believe they are enlightened. This is why the issue of homosexuality has been taken up as a matter of rights or righteousness along with the supposed movement of the Holy Spirit to “do a new thing.”

Fanatics think that the Holy Spirit has given them a new word not found in Scripture that approves of homosexual acts because a higher righteousness has now been revealed to them than has ever existed in history.

They know, even though they have no word from God to stand on.

To read the whole article, see Against the Holy Blasphemers by Steven D. Paulon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Christian Unity and Holy Scripture

Gnesio Lutheran Blog posted the following from Franz Pieper. It says well what we have been talking about here for the past several years.

“Thus our precious Lutheran Church confesses: There is no teaching in the Christian faith which is not revealed in passages of Scripture with clear and unambiguous words. In these Scriptures all articles of the Christian faith have been revealed in a way which is accessible to both the learned and unlearned, as St. Augustine early affirmed. You should be grateful that God has led you to a church body which adheres to this scriptural position, a church body which takes very seriously the truth that Holy Scripture is a lamp unto our feet, and a light upon our path.

Perhaps you are wondering if this is not a position taken by all Protestant churches. By no means! If we look about us today, we must unfortunately conclude that their signature is one of despair about the clarity of Scripture – including that of modern Lutheran theology. Today they attempt to build unity in the church by disregarding unity in doctrine; indeed, they have declared it impossible to achieve unity in the church by means of doctrinal agreement. But why do they make such a declaration? Well, simply because they do not trust in Holy Scripture; they do not believe that God has provided us with clear Scriptures, and that by them all Christian teaching can be established with surety. Hence, they wish to bring unity by means of externals and “fundamentals,” but not by ‘all articles’ of Christian doctrine.

This is apparent nowadays also in that the churches allow not only a varied selection of beliefs but also a diversity of “opinions.” We, however, who maintain that our beliefs are not opinions but based on clear Scripture, are decried as romanizers with “infallibilist” tendencies…

But by the will of God you must not permit Holy Scriptures to be placed in doubt for you by the modern theology and unionism which are inundating the church. By God’s grace, cling to the inspiration, that is, the divinity, of Holy Scripture and its perfect clarity. It is only then you can have proper joy in Scripture and read God’s Word with firm countenance and, by God’s grace, obtain a sure conviction. It is only by belief in the clarity of Holy Scripture that you are orthodox Christians, true Lutherans.”

Via Pieper’s “Modernists Seek Unity Through Fundamentals Only”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Conversations on Christ: Jesus in the Nazareth Synagogue

July’s Conversation on Christ discussed Jesus’s use of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue at Nazareth. Pastor Lange made the following remarks.

After Jesus was Baptized by John and the Holy Spirit had anointed Him visibly in the form of a dove, Jesus began His public ministry. Soon He journeyed to Nazareth with a purpose: to read to them from Isaiah 61. Whether by timing his visit to their lectionary schedule or by choosing the passage Himself, it was not by chance that these words are the subject of His first sermon in the town of His fleshly ancestry.

The Spirit of the Lord LORD (Yahweh / Kyrie) is upon Me because
The LORD (Yahweh / Kyrie) has anointed (Messiah / Christ) Me
to bring good news to the poor
He has sent (Shaliach / Apostle) Me
to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, (61:1-2)

In these brief verses, Jesus Trinitarian Mission is stated plainly  and underscored three times.
1) The Spirit of the Father is upon Him (the Son).
2) He (Son) is Anointed / Christed / Messiahed by the Father Himself.
3) He (Son) is Sent as the Shaliach / Apostle / Ambassador of the Father Himself.

With this beginning, Jesus indicates that everything to follow in His earthly life, death and resurrection... is the full and complete revelation of the Holy Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit are acting subjects in all His preaching and healing.

Don't forget that these words are spoken in the town of Mary and Joseph, His parents according to the human nature. In fact, a more careful look at the context of Isaiah 61, reveals that His human nature is emphasized there also.

If you inquire, “who is the Me being anointed and sent in 61:1?” Isaiah Himself answers clearly, “I, the LORD (Yahweh) am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob...” (60:16)

The Mighty One of Jacob is the subject of this whole passage. (This Person is also named in Gn 49:24; Ps 132:2, 5; Is 1:24; 49:26) “Of Jacob” means that He is of the flesh of Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. And yet, this Man is clearly identified with the Lord (Yahweh). He is also called Savior (from Jeshuah) and Redeemer.

The Mighty One upon whom the Spirit of the Father rests, is none other than the actual man born of the lineage of Jacob. Here the clear teaching of the Holy Trinity is coupled with an equally clear statement of the two natures of Christ.

And this God/Man is Sent and Anointed for very specific work...
to bring good news
to bind up
to proclaim liberty
to open the prison
to proclaim the jubilee

And not only is His activity specified, but in each case, the object of His activity is specific. Jesus is Sent and Anointed to do all these wonderful things to ...

the poor
the brokenhearted
the captives
those in prison
all who mourn

As Jesus will put it in the following chapter (5:31): “they that are whole need no physician, but they that are sick.” (This saying ought not to be overlooked when you hear Jesus reference the proverb, “Physician heal thyself.”)

This means that if the Christ is to be for me, I must be numbered with the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners and the mournful. It means that if the Gospel is to be for my hearers, they too must be numbered with the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners and the mournful.

If the focus of my preaching directs my hearers to think only of monetary poverty, they cannot, by any stretch of the imagination be the subjects of Jesus' Gospel. If I am thinking of the captives and the prisoners to be in jail cells or in ghettos, I am exempted from Jesus' liberation. If I am thinking of brokenheartedness and mourning only in terms of social injustice, I am not the object of Jesus' bandaging and comforting.

But as I come to see and know...
my true poverty -- without Christ or His Word
my true brokenheartedness and sorrow -- over sin
my true captivity -- to the devil
my true prison -- of my fallen will
Then, the Christ's coming is most assuredly for me.

Thus, the Mighty One of Jacob, the Man from Nazareth has come to bring me good news, bind me up, set me free, and proclaim my liberty. And if it is the Man from Jacob, the human offspring of Mary and the legal son of Joseph who is doing these things to is the work of the Father Himself, who, through the Spirit sends and anoints His only-begotten Son to do these things through the flesh and blood of Jesus, the Son of Mary and Joseph, the Man from Nazareth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Luther for the Armchair Theologian - Chapter 6

What Theology Is About: I, the Sinner; God, the Justifier

“One doesn't do theology in an armchair... One SUFFERS, is done unto—then theology, good or bad, will come out... Everybody has a 'philosophy of life' and is more than willing to unload when someone is listening. How will you ever decide whether you should really have been a Buddhist, or if Scientology is really more your thing? If Protestants or Roman Catholics are better off on the last day? If you should really be an atheist or create your own religion. But Luther's Theology doesn't start in the typical way...” (pp. 91-2)

Trust: An Involuntary Reaction
“Trust is not a light switch that you can turn on or off. You do not decide one day to trust someone or something... Like it or not, you are thrown into the world without asking to be born and have to place your trust somewhere." (p. 94)

Thus, we are never for a moment untrusting souls dispassionately seeking someone worthy of our trust. Rather, we are always trusting somebody or something from the moment we come into existence. The only question ever is “what?” or “who?”

“Luther understood from his own experience that God is dead set on revealing your trust to you. When God's preacher reveals a person it is unsettling, especially for people who are used to looking at their reflection in the pond like Narcissus and falling in love. Not only are humans “trusters” by nature, but they are terrible judges of charactor and frightened into putting their trust into the wrong people, places, and things. We are like bad serial daters, looking for love but falling for the wrong kind of man or woman, suckers for what looks slick and whoever heaps us with false praise.” (p. 95)

Hope, not Love — Waiting, not Striving
Augustine said, “Love changes the lover into the beloved.”

Luther changed this to, “What is hoped for and the hoping person become one through tense hoping.”

“Where Augustine says ‘love’ Luther says ‘hope’... This switches directions from what aims at to what one waits for in hope. The lover pursues; the hoper waits. In whom do you trust? Trust does not come out of thin air but depend on the word of promise that break in and change the normal course of events. Trust depends on another to arrive.” (p. 99-100)

Thus, you do not become a theologian by dispassionate study and deciding who to trust. you become a theologian by God revealing your false trust to you and placing you into a posture of waiting and hoping while clinging to nothing but His promise.

As my dear college mentor, Professor Charles Froelich, had us memorize:

Vivendo, immo moriendo, damnando fit theologus, non intellelgendo, legendo, aut speculando.

Translated: “By living, dying, [and] being condemned a theologian is made; not by understanding, reading or speculating.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Pope Within

An excellent article from the Brose family’s former pastor and the newly elected 5th Vice President of the Missouri Synod, the Reverend Doctor Scott Murray.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thy Will Be Done

What does this mean?
The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

How is God’s will done?
God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.

Pray like this:
Compared with your will, ours is never good but always evil. your will is at all times the best, to be cherished and desired above everything else. Therefore have mercy upon us, O dear Father, and let nothing happen just because it is our own will. Grant and teach us a deeply based patience in times when our will is prevented from happening or comes to nothing or when someone contradicts our will by what he says or does not say, does or leaves undone. Help us not to become angry or vexed, not to curse, complain, protest, condemn, disparage, or contradict [when what we will is not done]. Help us to speak well of such adversaries, to bless them, and to do good to them as persons who are carrying out your best and godly purposes in contradiction to our own will.

Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize in this your divine will is crucifying our will. Help us also to endure injustice gladly and preserve us from taking revenge. Let us not repay evil with evil [Matt. 5:39; Rom. 12:19, 21] nor meet violence with violence, but rather let us rejoice that these things happen to us according to your will and so let us praise and give thanks to you [Matt. 5:11]. Let us not ascribe to the devil or evil persons anything that happens contrary to our will, but solely ascribe this to your divine will which orders everything that may hinder our will in order to increase the blessedness of your kingdom. Help us to die willingly and gladly and readily accept death as your will so that we do not become disobedient to you through impatience or discouragement on our part.

Grant that we do not give our bodily members—eyes, tongue, heart, hands, and feet—free rein for what they desire or purpose, but make them captive to your will, bring them to a stop, and subdue them. Protect us from any kind of evil will—froward, stubborn, stiff-necked, or obstinate. Grant us true obedience, a perfect, calm, single-minded composure in all things—spiritual, earthly, temporal, and eternal. Protect us from the horrible vice of character assassination, slander, backbiting, frivolously judging or condemning others, and misrepresenting what others have said. O hold far from us the plague and tragedy which such speech can cause; rather, whenever we see or hear anything in others that seems wrong or displeasing to us, teach us to keep quiet, not to publicize it, and to pour out our complaints to you alone and to commit all to your will. And let us sincerely forgive all who wrong us and be sympathetic toward them.

Teach us to recognize that no one can harm us without first harming himself a thousand times more in your eyes, so that we might thus be moved more to pity rather than to anger toward such a person, to commiserate with him rather than count up his wrongs. Whenever those who did not do our will or did us harm in their conduct or otherwise displeased us are struck with adversity, help us to refrain from rejoicing. Also help us not to be saddened by their good fortune.

To this petition belongs every psalm, verse, or prayer which petitions for help against sin and our foes.

Monday, July 12, 2010

God the Crucified - The Spirit of Jesus

(part 3 of 9)

Above, I said that Jesus of Nazareth is so completely God that we need not, and ought not, seek any knowledge of God outside of this man. As Luther summarized it in the Reformation hymn, “Ask ye, ‘who is this?’ Jesus Christ it is, of sabbaoth Lord, and there’s none other God” (LSB 656.3). We reviewed the Scriptures wherein God the Father Himself directs our entire focus to Jesus Christ. We learned from both the words of the Father and the words of Jesus that the Father glorifies Himself in the crucifixion of Jesus, His only-begotten Son. Now we speak of the Holy Spirit.

In the Creed, we confess the Holy Spirit as the One “Who spoke by the prophets.” Thus, we confess that all of the Holy Scriptures are the Holy Spirit’s writings. About these Scriptures Jesus told the Jews, “These are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). Luther somewhere said, “stick a pin in any page of Scripture and out spurts the blood of Christ.”

In the Scriptures the Holy Spirit is never One who testifies of Himself. He is always and ever the One who testifies of Jesus. As Jesus promised on the night before His crucifixion, “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (John 15:26)

This is nowhere more clear than when we read the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In all canonical accounts of Jesus’ life, the crucifixion is the singular event that drives the story forward. Every detail that is provided from Jesus’ birth to His death is related to the crucifixion. Over half of the Gospel narrative is devoted to Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem to be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. 48 chapters out of 89 total (54%) of the Gospel narrative covers only 3½% of Jesus’ Galilean life. Thus, the Holy Spirit Himself focuses our attention on the cross of Christ.

We are so familiar with this Gospel emphasis that it hardly seems remarkable to our ears. But this emphasis should not be taken for granted. Numerous counterfeit Gospels were set forth by anonymous authors to advance their own version of Christianity, but only those inspired by the Spirit of Christ have Jesus’ crucifixion as the central act in the history of the world.

This is what lies behind Paul’s statement to the Corinthian Christians,
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. ... For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified...That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:18—2:2)
Understanding the crucifixion emphasis of the Apostolic Scriptures; receiving the testimony of the Holy Spirit who is breathed forth at the moment of Jesus’ death; rejoicing that in this moment, the Father Himself is honored, glorified and praised; we are moved to glorify the Triune God by proclaiming the crucifixion of Jesus at all times and by all means.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Luther for the Armchair Theologian - Chapter 5

For God, to speak Is to Do: The Pastoral Care of Souls

The practice of confession and absolution provides an excellent case study to see what happens when God’s word of law and God’s word of Gospel are confused or inverted. Luther saw three fundamental problems...

Penance: Pride and Uncertainty
The  medieval practice of Confession developed to require an act of satisfaction to be performed after the absolution was pronounced. “Say ten hail Marys,” for instance.  The problem is that any satisfaction that I must do after the Absolution tends to teach that the Absolution is only a precursor to the real action of my satisfaction. When this happens, spiritual pride and spiritual uncertainty are the certain results. Pride, because I have done something to advance my spiritual state. Uncertainty, because I can never be sure I have done enough.

Pastor: Forgiver or Judge?
In the Church of Luther’s day, the pastor’s role was to determine whether the penitent had repented enough to merit the absolution. Thus, he became a judge. If he judged you were not fully repentant, he prescribed spiritual exercises to get you there. If he judged you were repentant enough (nobody is fully repentant, after all) then he would simply tell you that you were already forgiven.  Either way, his words had no real effect on your forgiveness. He could only judge and label what you had already accomplished on your own.

When Luther understood the thrust of the Gospel, he came to understand the pastor not as judge but as the mouthpiece of the creative voice of God. Just as God’s Word CREATED the entire universe just by speaking. So also God’s Word CREATES righteousness when it is spoken by Christ through the office of the Ministry. “Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven them...” (John 20:21) means exactly what it says because of Jesus’ promise: “He who hears you, hears Me.” (Luke 10:16).

Jesus: Player or Spectator?
Closely related to the previous point is the question of what Jesus is doing during all of this. Is He sitting around and patiently waiting for you to get sorry enough to obtain what He won for you on the cross? That’s the way most Christians think about conversion and forgiveness.

Luther understood that Jesus is never a spectator in the forgiveness of sins. But He is always the player. Jesus’ work of forgiveness did not end when the atonement was completed on Calvary. There, the one sacrifice for the sins of the world was “finished.” But the work of creating faith and distributing His blood bought salvation is not left to the second team. After all, that’s why He rose from the dead bodily... so that He Himself might be the one who bodily comes through the preaching of the Church to create faith in you and to personally forgive your sins.

When Christ is no longer a bench warmer but is back in the game, our victory is certain even while our pride is moved from our own efforts to Christ alone.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Goose

On July 6th, 1415 Jan Huss was burned at the stake as an heretic. He went to his death predicting that 100 years hence, he would rise from the ashes unable to be cooked. On account of this prediction, Martin Luther was popularly depicted as a goose rising from the ashes.  One of our hymns about the Lord’s Supper is attributed to Huss.

Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior
1. Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior,
Turned away God’s wrath forever;
By His bitter grief and woe
He saved us from the evil foe.

2 As His pledge of love undying,
He, this precious food supplying,
Gives His body with the bread,
And with the wine the blood He shed.

3 Jesus here Himself is sharing;
Heed then how you are preparing,
For if you do not believe,
His judgment then you shall receive.

4 Praise the Father, who from heaven
To His own this food has given,
Who, to mend what we have done,
Gave into death His only Son.

5 Firmly hold with faith unshaken
That this food is to be taken
By the sick who are distressed,
By hearts that long for peace and rest.

6 Agony and bitter labor
Were the cost of God’s high favor;
Do not come if you suppose
You need not Him who died and rose.

7 Christ says: “Come, all you that labor,
And receive My grace and favor:
Those who feel no pain or ill
Need no physician’s help or skill.

8 “For what purpose was My dying
If not for your justifying?
And what use this precious food
If you yourself were pure and good?”

9 If your heart this truth professes
And your mouth your sin confesses,
You will be your Savior’s guest,
Be at His banquet truly blest.

10 Let this food your faith so nourish
That its fruit of love may flourish
And your neighbor learn from you
How much God’s wondrous love can do.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Luther for the Armchair Theologian - Chapter 4

The Simple Sense of Scripture: Letter and Spirit

As long as you are still laboring under the notion that religion is about progressing toward God, it remains impossible to take the Scripture in its simple and plain sense. This is the reason why so many Christians find it necessary to “interpret” Scripture. In this way, Scriptures can be wrested from God’s use to our own use and the reader remains at the mercy of our “interpretation” while we are never in any real danger of being challenged, chastened of changed.

But when we simply let the words of the Scripture stand as they are, we no longer are “interpreting” God’s Word. Rather, God’s Word is interpreting us. He is measuring us, not we Him. He is creating us in His image—not we creating Him in our own image.

In short, Luther’s slogan sola Scriptura, is simply the natural outflow of letting God alone be the Creator while we remain always His creatures. As Steven Paulson puts it:

Luther set about to rid the church of its long-standing form of Gnosticism that has tried to be rid of the Old Testament by turning Scripture’s “law” into something old and Jewish and “gospel” into nothing but better laws. That false step tried to make Christ into a better Moses than the Jews had. It made the church a superior form of the Jewish synagogue. It put final church authority in the papal office instead of in Scripture alone. It put laws where the gospel belonged, and its effect was to bury Jesus Christ under self-righteous motives to keep every Christians from becoming immoral. To the contrary, Luther came to assert that Scripture was not hiding mysteries, nor was the church improving on Moses’ laws.

Luther for the Armchair Theologian, pp. 65-66

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Luther for the Armchair Theologian - Chapter 3

Justification by Faith Alone

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God ; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where [is] boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:20-27)

Paul’s language here makes absolutely no sense whatsoever if we do not understand what He means by “the righteousness of God.” If we think that this is referring to God’s inherent righteousness that we are called to live up to, how can this be effected one way or another by our faith? Is God more or less righteous because we believe?  Certainly not!  No. The righteousness of God is not what God is but what God gives. This is the righteousness which God gives to us by Christ who gives us His Spirit who gives us faith.

This is the heart of the Gospel. This is God’s good news to man. This is the righteousness which those who reject Jesus miss out on. Paul makes it plain in the tenth chapter of this same book. “For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness , have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:3)