Monday, December 17, 2012

The Voice of One Crying in the Prison A Sermon by Vicar John Nieminen.


The Voice of One Crying in the Prison
Based on Matthew 11:2 – 11
Dear beloved children of God who suffer: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
John the Baptist is a hero of the faith. Before John was even born he rejoiced when Jesus was near. He leapt with joy in his mother’s womb when Jesus, also carried in His mother’s womb, came to visit [Lk. 1:39 – 45]. John’s ministry was foretold by Old Testament prophets [Is. 40:3 – 5, Lk. 3:4 – 6], and his birth was announced by an angel to his father [Lk. 1:11 – 20]. He had a miraculous birth, born to a couple too old to have children, and his mother being barren. John’s father was even given a sign by the angel concerning the prophecy of his birth – he was mute until John was born.
John, the forerunner who prepared the way for Jesus, was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. He baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove, and heard the voice of God the Father announce from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased [Mt. 3:13 – 17].” John proclaimed the One to come, the One greater than him. He preached repentance, telling people to turn away from their sins in preparation for the coming of the mightier One.
Jesus asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” Certainly not. This hero of the faith was not like a reed swayed by public opinion and societal pressures. He preached God’s Word whether the hearers liked it or not. And his preaching of repentance was not exactly liked by everyone. Herod, the ruler of Galilee, had divorced his wife and taken Herodias, his brother’s wife [Lk. 3:18 – 20]. Others around Herod accepted his adulterous life, but John preached God’s Law to Herod as he did to everyone else, without fear of consequences. He was not a reed that bends to the fear of man, even a man as powerful as Herod.
John the Baptist was an unswerving preacher of God’s Word. A steadfast teacher of the truth. The crowds came to him to ask him, “What should we do [Lk. 3:10]?” Tax collectors and soldiers came to him and asked him, “What should we do [Lk. 3:12, 14]?” People came to John for answers, and John always had them. He would point them to God’s Word: this is the will of God; walk this path. He had many disciples that followed him, but he continually pointed them to Christ – saying He is the One. I am not worthy to untie His sandal.
This hero’s life work was pointing to Christ. And he gave up much in order to do it. “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.” John the Baptist gave up a life of comfort that he might have had as the son of the high priest Zechariah. He gave up soft, rich clothing, for garments of camel’s hair. He gave up luxurious foods for locusts and wild honey. He was resolute in what he believed and what he taught. There was no uncertainty. He pointed to Christ and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world [Jn. 1:29].”
But then, something happened which John did not anticipate. His preaching of repentance to Herod because of Herod’s adultery landed him in prison. His preparing the way of the Lord resulted in his loss of freedom. He was confined to a small, dark dungeon. He was left alone, without the crowds that followed him, without his disciples.
John was shocked. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was waiting for the coming kingdom of God, the deliverance of God’s people, the Day of Judgment on those who opposed the Messiah’s kingdom. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees,” he had preached [Mt. 3:10]. Christ’s winnowing fork is in His hand to collect His wheat into the barn and cast the chaff into unquenchable fire [Lk. 3:17]. How is it possible that Herod can have John the Baptist cast into prison? How is it possible that the one who prepares the way for the Judge of the living and the dead is cast into prison by this this adulterous chaff?
Here in the jail cell, John sees no sign of the deliverance of God’s people, no sign even of his deliverance from prison. This is where doubt sets in. This is where the devil attacks, when John is at his weakest. He begins to question, is Jesus the One? Is He truly the deliverer, or is there someone else? If Jesus is the Messiah, why would I be suffering here in prison? If Jesus is the deliverer, why has He not come to deliver me? So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
How does Jesus respond? In anger? “Did you not see the Spirit descend on me in the form of a dove? Did you not hear my Father’s voice from heaven? Did you not yourself point to me and say, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world?’” No, this was not Jesus’ response – He responds with words of comfort. And, in fact, Jesus starts to praise John, saying he is greater than a prophet, the greatest born of women. What a response considering the doubt evident in John’s question to Jesus.
But having faith, we still sometimes doubt. We often have many doubts. We sometimes doubt God’s guidance in our lives. We doubt if His will is really good for us. If God wants what is best for me, why am I suffering such a horrible illness? If God loves me, why did my spouse leave me? If God is real, why would He allow me to lose my job? This week, there are many parents in Connecticut asking why God would permit their children to be massacred. We sometimes doubt if God even hears our prayers. We feel alone as if we are the only ones who suffer doubt. Ashamed of our doubts, we start to question whether we believe at all, whether God is even real.
Doubt lives in us as long as we have this flesh, as long as we have our sinful nature. Faith is not absence of doubt, but it is trust in Christ even amidst doubt. Faith does not mean we never fear, but in spite of fear and doubt, faith clings to Christ’s promises.
This is why Jesus praises John in his doubt. John did not trust what he saw in the prison. He did not believe his feelings of doubt, but he sought to hear the Word of Christ. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One who is to come. This was an act of faith. Faith wants to hear God’s Word; unbelief wants to be far from God’s Word. John sought assurance in the only place it can actually be found. He wanted Jesus to send His Word to him. He wanted to hear God’s Word to strengthen his faith in the midst of overwhelming doubt.
John’s question is a question we need to learn. When you are in trouble and suffering, look past your jail cell of grief. In your trouble, call on Jesus, flee to Him for refuge. Ask Him, “Are you the victor over my suffering?” Ask him, “Will you get me through this difficulty, will you be with me?” In temptation ask him, “Are you the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?”
In all these situations, Jesus wants to send His Word to you. He will respond. See Jesus’ response to John. Jesus gives John His Word, quoting two passages from Isaiah, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped [Is. 35:5],” and “the poor have good news preached to them [Is. 61:1].” Jesus sent the best thing possible to John – He sent His Word. He sent His Word, which answers John’s anxious heart whether or not He is the one who is to come, by saying, “I am.” Isaiah writes that the very purpose of these words is to comfort the anxious heart, and this is exactly Jesus’ purpose in sending them to John. Jesus says, “I am who I am. I fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah. I preach the good news of salvation also to you.”
Very interestingly, Jesus does not carry on with the passage in Isaiah, which continues, “He has sent me… to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound [Is. 61:1].” Jesus does not speak these words that might lead John to hope for release from prison. Instead, Jesus adds a phrase that does not appear in these passages of Isaiah. He told John’s disciples to tell him that the dead are raised up. Jesus does not point John to hope that suffering and affliction will disappear in this life. Here Jesus says directly, “Death does not separate you from me. I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Whatever hardships you may face, even death, you will be raised up to the eternal bliss of heaven.” With Jesus’ response, with His promise, John could wait even for Herod’s soldiers to come and behead him, in his last moments, clinging to the promises of God, knowing that Jesus will never leave him or forsake him.
There is only One who has ever been forsaken by God in the midst of suffering. There is only One who received no answer to His words of groaning, and was not rescued despite His trouble. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was forsaken by His Father so that you will never be! He suffered to take away your suffering. His bitter sufferings and death were for your sake, so that God will be gracious and merciful to you.
And God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you [Heb. 13:5].” He will not leave you to fend for yourself. His love, which forgives you all of your sins, gives you the assurance of a future rescue from all afflictions. Even amidst pain and suffering, God’s Word gives you life, and assures you of future joy with Him in eternity. These are Christ’s words that He sends to you, to which you can cling to comfort your anxious heart. Amen.
May the peace of God, which comforts our troubled hearts, keep us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Turn of the Church Year


We are at the end of another church year and the beginning of a new one.  The end of the church year as well as the beginning of Advent is a time in which we meditate upon the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus.  We sing hymns like “The Day is Surely Drawing Near,” or “Wake Awake, for Night is Flying.”  It is a constant reminder to live our lives in daily repentance. 
Jesus is certainly coming.  He is coming to judge the living and the dead.  He will come as a thief in the night.  He isn’t going to secretly snatch away all the true believers while everyone else gets left behind.  No, He is going to raise up all the dead, and He is going to open the Book of Life and read from it who the righteous ones are.  He is going to separate the goats from the sheep, casting those who are unrighteous away from His sight while taking those who love His appearing with Him to live with Him forever.  This is expressed so beautifully in the last stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, “Oh Lord, How Shall I Meet You:”
He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to His foes,
A light of consolations
And bless├ęd hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing.
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth Your beams so cheering,
And guide us safely home.
Jesus is certainly coming.  His Kingdom is coming.  And Paul says that it is the lovers of Jesus’ appearing who will receive the crown of righteousness when Jesus comes again (2nd Tim 4:8).  But how are we lovers of His appearing?  We can only be lovers of His appearing if His kingdom comes to us, and it is already here for those who believe in His Name and trust Him alone for their forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This is what we learn in the Catechism (Lord’s Prayer, 2nd Petition):
            How does God’s kingdom come?  God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father give us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
We enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven right here when we hear His holy Word through which the Holy Spirit sustains us in our faith in Jesus.  So when we pray to our Father in Heaven, we aren’t praying to some remote place with clouds and cupid angels.  Jesus doesn’t live on some planet far away.  No, heaven is close to us who believe.  Why?  Because heaven is where God is, and those who trust in Jesus alone and in His merits, His suffering and dying in your place, His forgiveness – those who trust the God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness, and their God is not far from them.  Heaven is high above us, because it is above our understanding, as God says through the mouth of Isaiah:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)”
But if God has revealed His mercy to us in the suffering and dying of His Son, and if God sends the Word of Christ into our ears and into our hearts, then despite our small understanding we can know for certain that our heaven is actually very close to us. 
And Heaven is close to us for our benefit.  God’s presence among us is not known in any other way than through His Life-giving Word of Truth.  We experience God not by getting warm fuzzies or when things are going our way at work or in our lives.  No, we experience God when His Kingdom comes through the Word of peace and forgiveness of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  We know Jesus because He continues to come to us in His Word.  So when we keep dwelling in His Word, we get to know Him better.  It is through faith in Him alone that we are lovers of His appearing.   

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Article on Justification and Christian Worship

                                                 Every Lutheran knows that the article of justification is the central article of the Lutheran Confession.  Perhaps not every Lutheran knows this in those exact words, but ask any 4 year old in a Lutheran Sunday School, "Why are you going to heaven?"  He'll answer, "Because Jesus died on the cross!"  Ask him if he gets to heaven by works and the child will answer an emphatic "No!"  That is wonderful.  As the child gets older, he might memorize such Bible passages as Ephesians 2:8,9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." And Romans 3:28, "28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."  Whether the child memorizes these passages or not, he is a Lutheran if he confesses them.  


We seminarians like to quote the confessions.  When asked what we believe, we might answer, "The central article of the Lutheran faith is this, "Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ's sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ who by his death made satisfaction for our sins.  This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4). (Tappert. AC IV. 30.)

Whether it is confessed by a little child or quoted from the confessions, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith for Christ's sake is the central article of our faith and one which can never be compromised.  In fact, we should not compromise on any article of faith we confess.  We believe that the confessions derive their teachings from Scripture, which is the norma normans of the faith (the norming norm).  The Lutheran Confessions make up the norma normata (the normed norm). Therefore, these confessions are incredibly important, since they are normed by Scripture.  And Scripture is "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16)  

People often assume that as long as you confess that one is saved by grace through faith on account of Christ, that it doesn't matter how you worship God.  Besides, didn't Luther write of the Mass of the Papacy, "It is an unnecessary thing that you can easily omit without sin or danger."  (Smalcald Article 2:3)  Also, aren't ceremonies in the Church adiaphora?  Meaning that they are neither commanded or forbidden by God as the Formula of Concord says in Article X, "In the same way a dispute arose among some theologians of the Augsburg Confession over ceremonies and ecclesiastical practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden in God's Word but have been introduced into the church with good intentions..."  Certainly it does not matter how we worship.
We worship God rightly when we come before Him with nothing but our sorrowful hearts and receive his gifts. We come to the divine service to hear the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins.  (The forgiveness of YOUR sins, it is personal).  There is both a vertical relationship between you and God and a horizontal relationship between you and the entire congregation, especially in the Sacrament of the Altar.  We worship rightly when we hear the preaching of the Gospel.  We worship rightly when we receive Christ's true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  We worship rightly when we receive God's blessings.  We also worship rightly when we respond to God's good favor with hymns of praise and thanksgiving.  We worship wrongly when we come to church to praise God, show him how much we love him, attempt to show him our works, and don't accept His benefits for us.

You cannot understand true worship unless you understand the doctrine of the article of justification.  Worship must reflect this doctrine, because worship must reflect your faith.  When your worship attempts to show God how good of a Christian you are, then you don't understand justification.  We are made right before God because of what Christ did for us.  A little child learns that Jesus saved him from his sins by dying on the cross.  He relearns that by receiving the gifts won on the cross every time he goes to worship.  If you take that worship away from him you take away from him the article of justification.  Worship cannot be adiaphora, because it comes from the article of justification, which is essential.  

It is true that ceremonies are adiaphora, but church practice should follow its confession as Apology XXIV on the Mass states, "Ceremonies should be observed both so that people may learn the Scriptures and so that, admonished by the Word, they might experience faith and fear and finally even pray."  Ceremonies therefore have a purpose.  There is a right and wrong form of worship.  However, to show you what true and right worship is, I am not going to use AC XXIV on the Mass.  I am going to go back to Article IV on Justification.

Our worship must connect with our central article of faith.  It makes sense that the most important part of the Christian life should be connected with the most important article of his faith.  Indeed practice must follow doctrine.  Melanchthon writes, "Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers; the righteousness of the law is that worship which offers God our own merits.  God wants to be honored by faith so that we receive from him those things that he promises and offers." (Apology IV:49)




God does not want us to offer him our works or praise. "I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your fold for every beast of the forest is mine,  the cattle on a thousand hills." (Psalm 50:9-10)  We go to worship God to receive from him.  Our worship is intrinsically connected with our doctrine of justification.  We go to church to receive those gifts from God, which Christ earned for us on the cross.  Melanchthon continues, "This worship, this latreia, is especially praised throughout the Prophets and Psalms...Thus they received the free mercy and forgiveness of sins by faith, just like the saints in the New Testament."  Worship toward God has not changed in its truest form.  Just as the patriarchs and the psalmists before us, we worship God by bringing Him our sinful hearts, confessing our sins, and receiving His forgiveness.  We come with empty hearts and leave with hearts filled with Christ's righteousness.  However, as the psalmist in Psalm 4 wrote, "Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer."  We too must return to the God of our righteousness and receive more mercy and righteousness again and again. 



Wonderful Hymn- sorry for no new posts.

Sorry that we have not posted any new material since last Saturday.  As you may know, we students get busy.  This is not from a Concordia, St. Catharines student, but I thought our readers would take great comfort in this hymn written by Pastor Mark Preus.  The hymn is especially appropriate for the end of the Church Year, which we will be observing next week.    

The hymn is in this link:

http://revivelutheranhymns.blogspot.ca/2012/11/a-beatitude.html

Have a wonderful weekend.

In Christ

Propter Christum


Saturday, November 10, 2012

(Belated) Commemoration of Johann von Staupitz

On Thursday, November 8th, Christ's Church commemorated Johann von Staupitz, the 16th century Vicar general of the German Augustinians and the confessor and spiritual father to Martin Luther.

It is true that Staupitz never accepted the pure evangelical doctrines, and even wrote against them personally after the Reformation sped up, but his choices did help Luther to survive and continue his work of convincing others.  Likewise, his teaching on many levels was so influential for Luther, that the reformer claimed he would have sunk in to Hell had it not been for his father-confessor.  When the scrupulous monk came to his confessional Fr. Staupitz encouraged many Augustinian and Medieval devotions (ex. The Five Wounds) to help Luther understand God's love in Christ.  In the now famous Luther movie (2003) there was one scene that I felt depicted Staupitz acting out this role in an admirable way.

It is still not the full expression of sola fide to be sure, but in memory of von Staupitz, I hope and pray those without the pure gospel would nevertheless be led by good confessors as devoutly to Christ and his Word (the prayer is Psalm 119:94) as Luther was (in this depiction at the very least).

Friday, November 9, 2012

Does God Intend for Bad Things to Happen?

Recently Republican senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock weakened his campaign for the Indiana Senate with a comment he made concerning pregnancy caused by rape.  Many blame his comment for his loss to Joe Donnely 50% to 44%.  Mourdock's comment is as follows:

"This is that issue that every candidate for federal, or even state, office faces, and I too stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view and I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have [for abortion] is in that case [where] the life of the mother [is threatened]. I struggled with it for a long time, but I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen." (Emphasis added)  





That last phrase, "something that God intended to happen." perhaps lost Mourdock the election.  As I watched the election on CNN Tuesday night, one of the reporters stated that Mourdock made a "blunder."  Perhaps it was a political blunder.  Most people find it hard to believe that God would use evil to do good.  But was Mourdock correct to say that God intended it to happen?  

One could ask whether Mourdock meant that God intended the rape or the pregnancy to happen, or both.  Without a doubt this is a tricky subject.  As Christians, we believe that children are a gift from God.  
"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,

    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior-----------
    are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man         ---------------------------
    who fills his quiver with them!"
 [Psalm 127:3-4]

However, what about when a child is conceived in rape?  Does God use rape to give a gift?  Does God intend on the rape to happen?  Indeed we know that God abhors sin and that He Himself is not capable of sin.  "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."  [1 John 1:5]  However, we also know that God is the source of all life and that nothing is made or does anything without God.  "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."  [John 1:3]  And, "In him we live and move and have our being"  [Acts 17:28]  

How can this be?  How can God hate that, which is evil, but also cause all things to be?  Can God cause evil things to happen?  Does He cause them to happen?  Would God intend for a child to be conceived from rape or for a rape to happen?  To answer these questions, let us review what Scripture tells us about God's relationship with His creation and His relation to sin.  

First, we know that God is the creator of the Universe (Genesis 1:1)  We also know that God continues to preserve His creation (Acts 17:28).  Also, "All things were created by Him...by Him all things hold together."  [Col. 1:16-17]  To be more specific to our topic at hand, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb."  [Psalm 139:13]  As Lutherans and based on Scripture we confess that God is omnipresent, holding the entire creation in His presents, and omnipotent, all powerful.  Herein lies the problem.  Does then God also cause sin?  

Here is what we know about God and Sin.  First, God hates sin.  "You shall have no other gods before me....You shall not murder."  [Exodus 20:3 &13]  Second, God often prevents sin from happening, as in the case of Abimelech and Sarah.  "Then God said to him in the dream, 'Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.'"   [Genesis 20:6]  Finally, God also uses sin to serve a good purpose, such as the example of Joseph being sold into slavery.  "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good"

This third point is the focus of this whole post.  God does in fact use evil to do good.  We know that God does permit evil, if not from our own experience, from Scripture, "So I gave them up their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels."  [Psalm 81:12]  But in what way does God cause sin to happen?  All actions that we witness are causae secundae, that is second causes.  Nothing can move or act, without God's operations.  Neither the sun can rise nor your eye blink, the devil can't even roam the earth without God's operation.  So God does indeed concur with every action, however, He does not agree or approve of sinful actions.  A man cannot shoot his neighbor without God's operation, but that does not mean that God shoots the man's neighbor.  God Does not endorse evil.  This is a paradox.  Our human reason cannot understand how God can be omnipotent, the source of all actions, concur with every action and hate sin.  Along with the Crux Theologorum, this paradox will never be understood through human reason, but it must be believed by faith.  

Must it really be believed?  Yes, it must.  This topic is more than theological jargon or the defense of a senatorial candidate, who is behind the times, or ahead of the times... well, out of these times.  There is another great evil that was done, which God permitted, indeed concurred with, was innocent of it, and with it benefitted the entire world.  Jesus Christ was innocent of any crime.  He never sinned.  He obeyed the government.  He obeyed every iota of the Law of God.  He did not deserve any punishment, let alone death.  Jesus gave warning to Judus when he planned to betray Jesus, "woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born."  [Matthew 26:24]  Jesus also warned Pilate that sentencing Him to death was a sin, "he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin."  However, God concurred with Jesus' betrayal (Matt. 26:24), unjust sentencing, and death.  "For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors."  [Luke 22:37]   


Candidate Mourdock was right when he stated that it was something God intended to happen, when he referred to the conception of a child through rape.  An evil act does not undo the good that God does.  Children are gifts from God.  God knows what He is doing.  He has done all things for good.  Even the sin of betraying the Son of God and sentencing Him to die a criminal's death, God used to do the greatest good for mankind.  God used that evil to save the entire world.  Mr. Mourdock could not expect the public to understand his comment, because it is paradoxical.  We Christians don't understand either.  But we accept it for truth, because we know that the evil done to Christ was intended by God for our good.  

   

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sermon: Illuminating Liturgy by John Nieminen


Sorry that I didn't post this last night.  I got distracted by the American election.  Here is another sermon by Vicar John Nieminen.

Illuminating Liturgy
Based on Ephesians 5:6 – 21
August 19, 2012
            The Apostle Paul uses one of his favorite rhetorical devices in the portion of his letter to the Ephesians we heard this morning – the use of contrasts.  Last week we heard of the contrast between choosing to walk in godlessness and choosing to walk in the way of Christ.  Paul continues this contrast, bringing in imagery of darkness and light.  This is very effective, because we are very familiar with this contrast, and it is used elsewhere by Paul and throughout the Bible.  We know what it is like trying to find something in the dark.  We have a great feeling of helplessness when the power goes out and we have to grope around in the dark, trying to find a flashlight or candle.  Having even a little light is a great help.  So we can visualize the contrast between the darkness of sin that surrounds and the light of Christ.
            Paul writes of the unfruitful works of darkness, and of our tendency to want to hide our sins in darkness instead of exposing them.  When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, Jesus said to him, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” [John 3:20]  While Jesus is not speaking of physical light, one can readily think of evil deeds that take place at night, trying to hide from the light, so as to not be exposed.  The night is when thieves use the darkness of night to hide themselves and steal from unsuspecting citizens.  During the night time, places of ill-repute open up for business.  During the night, people often act in ways they would not during the day for fear of getting caught.  According to a study done at The University of Michigan on street lighting and its effect on crime, simply improving lighting reduced crime on the streets at night-time significantly.  Even the impact of physical light can reduce the evils of darkness where that light is shining.
            But of course the question here is of spiritual darkness, so it is spiritual light that is required.  Doesn’t it make sense that Paul writes, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them?” [v. 11]  Instead of sharing in the sinful deeds of darkness, we ought to be discerning and condemn them with God’s Law.  If we take part in works of darkness, it becomes harder for us to see the light.  Instead, shining the light of God’s truth exposes sin for what it is, and helps us stay out of darkness.  The Law of God also exposes our sin and brings it to light, so that we can see it and our need for forgiveness.  It is also the light of God that transforms us into children of light, even though we walk in a dark world.
            Why does Paul then jump into talking about the best use of your time and the liturgy?  This may seem like a bit of a leap unless you look carefully.  Paul cites what is believed to be a baptismal hymn, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” [v. 14]  In Baptism, we awaken from our sleep of darkness and death in the light of Christ.  In the Early Church, Baptism was called “enlightenment” or “illumination,” with the understanding that the Holy Spirit is received in Baptism, enlightening the eyes of the heart. [cf. Eph. 1:18]
            Ok, but what about the best use of your time and the liturgy?  Paul goes back to contrasts then, to make his point.  He writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” [v. 15]  In his contrasts, being unwise, foolish, and drunk are assigned to darkness, while being wise, understanding, and filled with the Holy Spirit are light.  In calling the Ephesians to be wise, Paul’s earlier words from the beginning of the letter should be kept in mind where he writes of the riches of God’s grace “which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and understanding.” [1:7-8, 17-18]  Paul clearly explains the source of the wisdom and understanding is God.  So this is not so much an exhortation for Christians to smarten up, it is reminding us from where wisdom, understanding, and enlightenment come, and to keep this in mind for how we use our time.
            Well, how do you make the best use of your time?  Since man is fallen, the days are evil.  However, through the Holy Spirit, being united with Christ, you can “redeem” or “save” time from being lost by wisely considering how you walk, in other words, how you spend your time.  This certainly includes avoiding the immorality and impurity Paul discusses earlier [5:3 – 14], but it also includes walking in the Spirit, [v.18ff] especially through your involvement in the liturgical community [v. 19 – 20].
            Instead of spending your time being drunk by being filled with wine, be filled with the Spirit.  Paul calls drunkenness “debauchery,” that is, excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.  Paul is saying, “do not get drunk since it is excessive indulgence, wasteful and reckless,” but also, “do not get drunk since it leads to reckless behaviour, excessive indulgence, and the pursuit of sensual desires.”  Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, be under His influence; walk in the light.  Paul has earlier mentioned that it is God the Father who gives the Spirit [1:3, 17].  Here Paul points to where the Holy Spirit is at work – in the worshipping community.  Thus he writes about “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [vv. 19-20]
            The Holy Spirit is at work where God’s Word is read and heard. [Rom. 10:17, 1 Pt. 1:23]  And we know where two or three are gathered in His name, there Christ is also. [Mt. 18:20]  The words of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are certainly addressed to God, but Paul also writes “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Here he emphasizes the teaching element of the liturgy and hymnody.  What we sing should teach ourselves and each other God’s Word.  Thus we should avoid empty repetitive refrains and choruses that say little, and keep the rich Scriptural hymns through which the Holy Spirit comes to us and teaches us.  Yes, we are to be filled with thanks for what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, as Paul mentions.  But the emphasis is not on us or our thanksgiving, but rather on what Christ’s death means for us.  So in our opening hymn we sung of the Word made flesh, who lived among us, asking Him to shine upon our human darkness, piercing the night that shrouds our race.  We recalled the light and life that burst from God’s powerful words, “Let there be…”  We prayed for the healing restoration of God’s image lost by sin. [LSB 914]
            There is a reason why the Divine Service we use is 98% Scripture.  We know the Holy Spirit works through the Word.  With the invocation, we start by calling on the name of God and remembering the illumination we received in our Baptism.  Then we confess our sins – we confess the darkness we have lived in, in thought word and deed, and we hear the words of absolution from the pastor, as from God Himself [Luther, Small Catechism, Jn. 20:22-23].  Through confession and absolution, our unfruitful works of darkness are exposed by the light and become visible [v. 13], and being exposed to the light, they are no longer darkness, but forgiven in the light of Christ.  The absolution also tells us, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” [v. 14]
            In the Kyrie we pray for God’s mercy and peace, for the Church of God, for help, salvation and comfort, [Mk. 10:47] not because God doesn’t know what we need or what is best for us, but to remind us from Whom it all comes.  We sing the Gloria in Excelsis with the angels announcing Jesus’ birth [Lk. 2:14] or This Is the Feast with the angels around the throne and the great multitude at the marriage Feast of the Lamb from Revelation. [Rev. 5:12-13, 19:5-9]  The light of God’s Word shines through the Scripture readings appointed for the day and the sermon, and we respond with Peter’s words from today’s Gospel reading, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” [Jn. 6:68]  In the Creeds we confess our faith to be that of the one true Christian Church, not just around the world, but also through all time, of those already in their heavenly home.  We sing the offertory with the psalmist [Ps. 51:10-12, 116:12-13, 17-19], and the Sanctus, singing Holy, Holy, Holy with the seraphim around the bright glory of the throne of God in Isaiah 6. [vv. 1-3]  We pray the Lord’s Prayer as Christ taught us [Mt. 6:0-13] and remember His institution of His Supper [Mt. 26:26-28, Mk. 14:22-24, Lk. 22:19-20, 1 Cor. 11:23-25], testifying with John the Baptist in the Agnus Dei that Jesus Christ is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. [Jn. 1:29]  We then receive the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins, for the removal of all darkness from us, responding with praising God in the Nunc Dimittis with Simeon, who having seen and held the infant Jesus in his arms, was ready to depart in peace, having been illuminated by the glory of God’s redeeming grace. [Lk. 2:29-32]  We pray a prayer of thanksgiving, and then close with the Aaronic benediction, where God puts His name on us and blesses us, making His face shine on us. [Nu. 6:22-27]
            So you see the Divine Service is about you receiving from God.  It is about you being in the light of His forgiveness and glory.  The forgiveness of Christ’s death on the cross is distributed and given to you in the Divine Service.  Through it all, the Holy Spirit works to shine the light of Christ on you and your life; you are filled with the Holy Spirit.  You are taken from darkness into light.
            This is the best use of your time.  As the writer to the Hebrews writes of worship in the new covenant, right here we worship with angels and saints who have gone before us; right here we worship with our loved ones who have died before us in the faith; right here we worship in the very presence of God.  He writes, “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” [Heb. 12:22-24]
            Today, right now, we are part of this.  Heaven has come down to earth.  We worship God with the angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.  We are about to receive the body and blood of Christ which unites us with each other and with Christ Himself.  The light of Christ shines on us, enlightening the eyes of our hearts, so that we know the hope to which He has called us, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints. [Eph. 1:18]  And when we are in the light, as John writes in his first epistle, “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 Jn. 1:7]  And as Paul writes, “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” [v. 8]  As in the beginning God said, “Let there be light,” [Gen. 1:3] so He “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [2 Cor. 4:6]
            So in contrast to how you could spend your time, spend your time wisely, by being in God’s house.  Here God the Father gives you His wisdom, understanding, and enlightenment, filling you with the Holy Spirit.  Here God forgives your sins and strengthens you to walk in His light.  Here the light of Christ shines on you, raising you from the dead, to live in His light eternally.  Amen.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Contemporary Lutheran Lesson from the English Recusants

As a first time contributor to the site, I would like to explain that before I was confirmed a Lutheran and prior to this year when I began pre-seminary studies at Concordia St. Catharines, I had pursued studies in British Church History and had been a convert to Roman Catholicism.

 During the Reformation in England there was a group of clerics who had returned from the continent and worked in secret to translate the scriptures into the vernacular that they might preach it to the common people. They were hunted and executed by the established church as heretics, and many of these new converts insisted it was they who professed the true catholic faith of which the creeds spoke, rather than their neighbours in acquiescence to the ruling episcopate.

 To Lutheran ears so recently after our celebration of Reformation Day a story like this tends to make our hearts burn within us, and to remember the struggles of our spiritual forbearers against the tyranny of the Pope. And yet, my description was of the English Jesuits, who had largely been converts from the Church of England (broadly Reformed in the Jacobean Era). They worked in Douay and then Rheims to compose an English translation of the Vulgate, and through the counter-reformation techniques of Ignatius Loyola to urge people back to the ways of the old superstitions. They were called recusants – literally resisters – because they rejected the Reformed teachings of their bishops, declaring that it was the continuity of true doctrine not a living episcopate which represented the true church in England. We live in a time and place in the English speaking world where once more, a group of well-educated and zealous Protestants and Lutherans have departed for Rome and Constantinople. Richard John Neuhaus and Jaroslav Pelikan were prominent, but the list counts hundreds of former pastors and churchmen who now peddle their conversion stories anywhere they can (from “Rome Sweet Home” by Scott Hahn in 1993 to “From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart” by Chris Haw published this year).

 The distance between Wittenberg and Rome (or Constantinople) is all in one’s initial premises. It is the great existential choice between building one’s epistemology on their soteriology or their ecclesiology. Luther famously shouted at the Devil that he had been baptized - he built his certainty on the promises of God which had been written for him in Holy Scripture. The new Papists repeat the Augustinian maxim that ‘they would not even believe the Gospels were they not been moved by the authority of the Catholic Church’. The ‘infallibility’ of their decisions does not rest upon the infallibility of God’s promises in the Bible, but rather upon an infallible church (or an infallible bishop). The Lutheran confessions, while speaking of a desire to retain the episcopate, did not insist on its absolute necessity. When Christ prayed for the twelve and His church on the night He was betrayed, he said “sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jn 17:17). It is the Word of God and the true doctrines it teaches that sustain the church, not any episcopal hierarchy. The Lutheran Reformers and to some extent the English Recusants both confessed this. As those around us might choose to place their trust in bishops, councils, and popes, let the Lutheran Church take memory of the spirit (not the heresy) of the English Recusants, and resist those who bend the knee to ecclesiastical tyranny rather than their conscience formed by the true Word of God.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Campus Ministry at Wilfred Laurier, Waterloo, ON


Greetings in the name of the Triune God who justifies the ungodly through faith for Christ's sake!

I am serving my vicarage year at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Waterloo, ON. I am very excited that we have been able to start a weekly campus Bible study every Tuesday night at Wilferd Laurier here in Waterloo. So far we have only a few students joining us, but I like to look at it as a good start and a good base. We are currently going through the articles of the Augsburg Confession. I find that it is a good study for university students, since it addresses our Christian faith according to one of our historical confessions of faith. My goal is to engage them in constructive discussions and fruitful learning.

It is such a privilege to teach the Christian faith as it is laid out in the Augsburg Confession. On June 25th, 1530 our Lutheran fathers presented this confession before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V. They boldly and courageously confessed the Scriptural truths that were faithfully taught by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. What they confessed on that day remains the confession of each and every one of us even today. I am a firm believer that Christian theology is not just for seminary students, professors, and pastors. It is for all Christians. Article IV of the Augsburg Confession says that people are declared innocent and righteous “for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.” This truth is the center of all that I am teaching to the students because it is the center of all that we as Christians believe, teach, learn, and confess. I ask for your prayers that through this campus ministry, the Holy Spirit would strengthen these students' faith in their Saviour through His pure teaching.

In Christ,
Vicar Andrew Preus

For Students in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, please join us at room 431 Bricker Academic Building, Wilfred Laurier, Waterloo, ON on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm. This coming Tuesday, November 6th, 2012, we will not meet, since I will be at a Pastors' Conference.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reminder to Tune into Issues Etc 24

If we are Scriptural, then we are dogmatic.

Listen to Issues Etc... It's Propter Christum approved.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Reformation and the Church Today: It's About Doctrine... and a Reformation Collect

Christian Doctrine is a body.  The Lutheran dogmaticians called it a body of doctrine (corpus doctrinae).  This body of doctrine is made up of articles of doctrine, or articles of faith.  For Luther, as well as the Lutheran theologians that followed him, the chief and central article of all Divine Doctrine was the article of justification, or simply faith in Christ.  He writes in his Smalcald Articles (II, 1, 5; Trig):
Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heavengiven among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.
It is crucial that the teaching of man being justified not by his own merits, but through faith alone in Christ when he believes that his sins have been forgiven for Christ's sake remain the central focus of all theology and church practice.  

In his Galatians Lectures (1535, AE 26:458-59), Luther applies this focus to how we deal with the Papacy.  First he explains that the world embraces and praises the righteousness of works and condemns the righteousness of faith.  It is difficult, Luther explains, for timid souls to believe that such a great majority that call themselves the church would be so wrong on this issue, even when the papists' immorality is publicly exposed. 

But despite the wickedness of the papacy's behavior, Luther keeps the focus on the righteousness of faith.  He writes:
But even if the religion and discipline of the papacy stood now as it did once, we would still have to follow the example of Paul, who attacked the false apostles despite their holy and virtuous fronts, and battled against the self-righteousness of the papal kingdom, saying: "Regardless of how celibate a life you lead or how you conduct yourselves in humility and the religion of angels or how you wear out your bodies with frequent discipline, you are slaves of the Law, of sin, and of the devil; and you will be cast out of the house, because you seek righteousness and salvation through your own works, not through Christ."
Luther continues: 
Therefore we should pay attention not so much to the sinful lives of the papists as to their wicked doctrine and their hypocrisy, and this is what we chiefly attack. 
Luther finally explains that Satan does not defend the wicked behavior of the papists.  The more pious they are, the better it is for the devil, so he can deceive souls into trusting their own works rather than Christ alone for their salvation.  

Luther's words here should exhort and encourage us to keep our focus on the doctrine of the gospel when we argue theology.  This does not by any means indicate that we should ignore sin.  On the contrary, when our focus is on the forgiveness of sins, we will better understand how we should deal with sin, since it is through the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus that the veil is taken from our eyes so that we can understand God's law (2 Cor 3:12-18).  It is when we understand the gospel of Christ that we better understand the magnitude of sin, namely that the sin from which we need redemption is not only a bunch of outward acts, but a deep corruption of our natural desires (see AC II and Apology II).

We likewise focus on justification when we talk about the church.  It is easy for people to slip into radical anti-institutionalism when they praise the Reformation.  On the other hand, Romanizers like to say that the Reformation was terrible, since it broke apart the Church.  Both sides prove not to understand the church, since they take their focus off of justification.  When justification is not at the center, people begin to think that the church is all about their efforts.  People are always going to emphasize tact, style, methods, and other human virtues.  But these things can be used for good as well as for evil.  They are used for evil when they become the main emphasis rather than it being the pure doctrine of Christ.  When "Law and Gospel" is seen as merely theological jargon used by an ecclesiastical elite when they have their exclusive conversations, the people will learn to turn  not to doctrine, but to their efforts.  They won't understand the discussions, so they will be turned off by the negative vibe in the arguments.  They will then seek the works-righteousness of the devil, the world, and their flesh.

But the people need to hear and be taught pure doctrine.  Just as Luther noted, the world seeks after works-righteousness.  So whether trusting in our collective works our individual works, we are by nature inclined to trust and thus worship our pious acts, our efforts, and even our teamwork.  But God has instituted His church and has given His church pastors to preach the pure Christian doctrine in which justification for Christ's sake is at the heart, and God's people hear that doctrine with faith.  So if we imagine that everyone is a minister and that the pastoral office is simply put together by the church, we then direct the people's focus on their works and away from the righteousness of faith which God sends pastors to preach.  Also, if we imagine that the Lutheran church is not the true catholic church, but is some kind of break off from Rome, we take our focus off of the ministry of the gospel through which God creates and sustains the church.  We must not forget that it is on the basis of pure Christian doctrine that the church is considered true and catholic.  

So while we talk about everything pertaining to the church, we focus on doctrine.  It is when we focus on doctrine, with justification at the center, that we can see clearly the practice and mission of the church.  



Lord God heavenly Father,
You sent your Apostles to declare the good news of Your
Son, that He was crucified for our sins and raised again 
for our justification; 

As you sent your servant Martin Luther with the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, help us your servants to treasure throughout all generations
 that saving message of Justification through faith alone in Your Son, and though Devil, Turk, and Pope attack, let us never become weary or bored with it. 

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, for whose sake you justify
the ungodly, and who lives and reigns with You and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen

Happy Reformation Day!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What are Indulgences anyway? (Reformation Day with Propter Christum)

We Lutherans would love to take back October 31 from the neopagans, Wiccans, and wannabe occultists.  October 31 is Reformation Day!  This is the day to sing A Mighty Fortess is Our God and Salvation Unto Us Has Come!  But what does Reformation Day celebrate?  What happened on that All  -Hallows-Eve 495 years ago?  A young friar, ordained minister, doctor of theology and university professor (not a big shot, but not just some dumb ol' monk) posted 95 Theses of protest on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  What was this man, whose name our church proudly bears, protesting?  Did he call for the abolition of the papacy?  The right for priests to marry?  Justification by grace through faith for Christ's sake alone?  Not quite.  Luther did not tackle the entire beast of the papacy and its false doctrines right away.  He did, however naively, threaten the purse of the papacy and bishops.  Luther questioned not the entire concept of indulgences, but how indulgences were being preached as a replacement of good works. You know what indulgences are, right?  That's when you pay to get your sins forgiven instead of trusting in Christ for your forgiveness! Right?  Again, not exactly.  Indulgences indeed are an abuse of men in the Church, which distracts people from that one thing needful, but let us examine exactly what indulgences are, so we can understand the meaning of this special day in Lutheranism and in the Church itself.

First, we should understand the Roman Catholic understanding of Confession and Absolution.  Unlike the Lutheran teaching in the Small Catechism which lists two parts: 1. Confession, where we confess our sins and 2. Absolution, where the penitent receives absolution, that is forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself, the RC doctrine has three parts: Contrition, Confession, and Satisfaction.  Contrition is when a sinner feels sorry for his sins. The sinner then confesses his sins to a priest and receives absolution, that is forgiveness of sins from eternal punishment.  The Lutheran usually stops there and goes in peace.  The Roman Catholic isn't done yet.  The third step is satisfaction.  The penitent may have received remission of all eternal punishment, but there still remains temporal punishment.  For this, the priest prescribes works of penance. This might include five Hail Mary's or Our Fathers for the five wounds of Christ, depending on the severity of the sin.

A problem arose when the penance required of penitents accumulated over years and the penance became too much to accomplish.  The pope and bishops would prescribe indulgences as a way to relieve the burden of doing penance.  Instead of reciting a number of Psalms on bended knee a penitent could fast for a day or pay alms.  Often times indulgences involved making pilgrimages to holy places such as graves of saints, visiting relics, or the holy city Jerusalem.

Again, the bishop or pope doesn't arbitrarily (or so they claim) forgive the temporal debt of the penitent.  The payment for the temporal punishment comes from the Treasury of Merits of Christ and the Saints.  The RC Church teaches that just as the sins of a person negatively affect other people, the good deeds and merits of people benefit other people.  So while the regular Bob and Sue might rack up a debt of temporal punishment, the super good Holy Virgin Mary and St. John racked up a surplus of merits.  These along with all the merits and works of Christ and the Saints go in to a treasury in Heaven and the Pope and Bishops sort of like trustees, distribute them under the appropriate circumstances.

Indulgences became very important in RC practice.  This is due strongly to its connection with the Treasury of Merits.  The application of indulgences increased in use.  Sinners who died in the "love of Christ" but who had not paid for all of their temporal punishment went to Purgatory to pay for their temporal punishment there.  Indulgences eventually became available for those in Purgatory, using the logic that the Treasury of Merits is available to them and those on earth can access them on behalf of those in Purgatory.  By the time of the Crusades in the 11th Century Pope Urban II introduced Plenary Indulgences.  Plenary Indulgences forgave All temporal punishment for a penitent.  Pope Urban II decreed, "Whoever out of pure devotion, and not for the purpose of gaining honor or money, shall go to Jerusalem to liberate the church of God, let that journey be counted in lieu of penance.”

Believe it or not Rome attempted to prevent the abuses of indulgences.  In 1215 the Fourth Latern Council forbade bishops from giving indulgences of more than a year's worth of penance.  The Third Lateran Council of 1179 limited bishops' rights to grant indulgences as well.  Bishops were also forbidden to sell or show relics for money.  However, the more strapped for cash the papacy became, the more Plenary Indulgences were issued by the Pope.  In 1300 Pope Boniface VIII issued a Jubilee Indulgence to raise money.  August 3, 1476 Pope Sixtus IV issued the first application of indulgences to souls in Purgatory with the Bull Salvator Noster.  


The Jubilee Indulgence of Pope Julius II 1507 and Leo X 1513 sparked Martin Luther's 95 Theses.  Archbishop Albert of Mainz issued the Instructio Summaria after Pope Leo X issued a commission of indulgences at the end of 1514 to the German and neighboring provinces.  This indulgence was intended to help erase the debt of the Archbishop and help the building of St. Peter's in Rome, but that is not to what Luther objected.  In fact Luther did not even know to what extent the corruption of these indulgences went.

Luther objected mostly to the people's understanding of the preaching, which accompanied the selling of indulgences.  The hearers concluded that they could replace penitence with purchases of indulgences.  Luther found this most offensive.  Luther in a letter to the Archbishop asks, "How then can you, through false promises of Indulgences, which do not promote the salvation or sanctification of their souls, lead the people into carnal security, by declaring them free from the painful consequences of their wrong-doing with which the Church was wont to punish their sins?”  Luther was concerned that the people would misconstrue the intention of indulgences and become lax Christians.  Luther thought that a Christian should work out his salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) with true repentance and reliance on Christ alone.  


Luther believed that when Jesus said to repent, He meant the Christian should live a life of repentance (Thesis One).  He also denied that the Pope could forgive any guilt, but he could declare and confirm the forgiveness of guilt from God (Thesis 6).  The Pope also could only remit penalties that he himself imposed (Thesis 5), so the idea of a plenary indulgence was incompatible to Luther's thinking.  Luther, however, did not yet call for the abolition of the papacy.  He hoped that the pope would realize the error of these indulgences and correct them.  We know that the story ended differently.  Luther inadvertently threatened the purse of the papacy and bishops and was pushed to the center of controversy.  Luther, however, did not back down, but instead he stood firm on the Word of God and eventually discovered and clearly articulated the true Gospel of Christ that man is justified by grace through faith alone propter Christum!  


The RC Church has not done away with indulgences.  Even in Vatican II Pope Paul VI insisted that indulgences were useful for the piety of Christians.  The practice of introducing indulgences along with the doctrine of the Treasury of Merits are still errors of the Roman Church.  As Luther states in his sixtieth thesis, "We do not speak rashly in saying that the keys of the Church are its treasure, and are bestowed by the merits of Christ."  And again in his seventy-ninth thesis, "It is blasphemy to say that the cross erected with the insignia of the Papal arms is of equal value with the cross of Christ.”  To stay true to the true doctrine taught by Luther, we must confess the authority given by the Church, The Office of the Keys and the Merit won by Christ and deny any additional authority.


In summary "An indulgence is the remission in the sight of God of temporal punishment due for sins, the guilt of which has already been forgiven.  A member of Christ’s faithful who is properly disposed and who fulfils certain conditions, may gain an indulgence by the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of merits of Christ and the Saints.  (Canon 992) And an indulgence is partial or plenary according as it partially or wholly frees a person from the temporal punishment due for sins.  (Canon 993)"  This is not the purchasing of eternal salvation or forgiveness of the guilt of sins; nevertheless, this doctrine of the Roman Church distracts from the Gospel that Christ paid the full debt of sin.  There is no Treasury of Merits except that, which Christ earned on the cross and gives freely in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Lord's Supper.  


Happy Reformation Day!  






         

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pure and Mixed Articles of Faith: What This Means for the Two Kingdoms and the Separation of Church and State

"Separation of Church and State!"  "You can't govern morality!"  "I'm not going to force my religious beliefs on anybody."  I'm sure we've all heard these statements said at least a few time in our lives.  Many have arrived at the conclusion that because the United States of America and Canada are not theocracies, that the doctrine of the Church should not effect the laws of these governments.  Even among Lutherans the term "Two Kingdoms" is often used to keep Christian doctrine out of legislation and judicial decisions.  I am by no means supporting a theocracy in the United States or Canada.  On the contrary, I seek to help us define the lines that separate the Church from the state.

To understand the Christian acceptance of "Separation of Church and State" and the Lutheran teaching of "The Two Kingdoms" we must first understand two terms: pure article of faith and mixed article of faith.  An article of faith is that believed on account of revelation, because it is revealed by the Holy Spirit through Holy Scripture (of course God has used other means to reveal such articles of faith, such as Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1), God in the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3), etc.)  A pure article of faith is an article of faith that is only revealed through revelation of the Spirit.  This article of faith cannot possibly be discovered by any human reason or strength.  An example of such an article of faith is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel" etc. (Luther's Small Catechism Pt. 2, Art. 3)  In Matthew 16:16 Peter makes the confession to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered him (v. 17), "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."  That Jesus is the Messiah, who came to the world to save sinners is a pure article of faith that can only be known through revelation of the Spirit.  We know that the Spirit reveals this truth to us through Holy Scripture, "Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them,“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,47 and that repentance and[c] forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:44-47)  This is the Gospel that is only revealed to Christ's Church by revelation through Scripture.  The Church can only use words, based on Scripture to bring people to this faith.  

A mixed article of faith is revealed to us through revelation, but can also be revealed to man through the light of reason.  This includes the Law of God such as the Ten Commandments.  One does not need to know the True God or have heard the proclamation of His Word to know that murder is a sin.  One can through natural human reasoning discern what is right and wrong.  The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:19-20, "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."  Paul writes in chapter 2, "14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them."  This is why nearly every religion, (that is a system set up by man to understand God, contrary to the Christian Church, which is established by God for the sake of His sheep) teaches that murder, adultery, theft, and dishonesty are wrong.  One does not even need to believe in God to know that these things are "evil."  

You might be wondering, "So what?"  Here's what.  God has given His authority to the governments of this world, the Left Hand of the two kingdoms.  What people often forget is that these two kingdoms are the two kingdoms of God.  They are the left and the right hands of God.  Just because the left hand is not the Church, does not mean that it is not directly under God's authority.  As Jesus said to Pilate, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above." (John 19:11)  Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit even states, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." (Romans 13:1)  These pagan governments received their authority from God!  They didn't even believe in the true God!  Yes, but they did and do have the authority of God.  Their purpose, whether they acknowledge it or not, is to preserve God's ordered creation.  God instituted government to prevent the godless, and even the Christians who are driven by concupiscence to sin and even commit crimes, from destroying his created order.  Paul writes of the one in authority, "for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain."(v. 4)  That's right, the government bears the sword and God handed it to him sharpened and ready.  Even if the government does not acknowledge that it receives the sword (authority to punish criminals) from God, it is still true.   

The government is supposed to punish those who do wrong.  But how can the government know what is right and wrong if those in government are not Christians?  "The work of the law is written on their hearts."  The law is a mixed article of faith.  The government is required to enforce the law, whether or not it knows it through revelation, because it should know it by natural law, and most times it does.  This does not mean that we must submit to the government when it forces us to do things contrary to our faith.  Then we must "obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)  Where the government does act within its ordered authority, we are ordered to, "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme."  (1 Peter 2:13)  

So when people say that the government should not force the Christian religion on people, they are right.  The Church does not use the power of the sword as the government does.  As AC XXVIII states, "The power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer and distribute the sacraments...it does not interfere at all with government or temporal authority...Temporal power does not protect the soul, but with the sword and physical penalties it protects body and goods from the power of others."  People cannot be converted to the Gospel by force.  The function of the Church is primarily Gospel.  The function of the government is LAW.  

This does, however, mean that the government should use its force to protect morals.  Those who murder should be punished, along with those who steal, slander, and do violent acts without cause.  Even when it comes to institutions such as marriage, the government is given authority.  The government can force you to take care of your children.  If you starve them or abuse them, it can take them away.  It does not have to condone lifestyles that nature says are unnatural, such as polygamy and homosexual lifestyles.  

The government, however, doesn't have free use of the sword.  It must act within the ordered power of God.  When Hitler ordered the "final solution of the Jews" he did not act within his God given authority.  The government has the authority to kill criminals, not "innocent" humans.  This is why the Church should remind the government what is a "just killing."  It is absolutely possible for the government to kill people unjustly and go to unjust wars.  These acts are not ordained by God, even if the government has the sword from God.  It is, in these cases, not inappropriate for the Church to educate the government on mixed articles of faith.  When it is not only revealed through revelation, but also through natural wisdom, the Church and Christians should step in.  In this way, protesting the murder of unborn children, the sick, handicapped, elderly, and unjust wars is not mixing the Church with the State.  The light of wisdom has revealed these things to everyone.  The law is written on man's heart.  And to us who have had it revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the revelation of Scripture, we have no excuse if we keep silent.  The Church should tell the government when it is derelict of its duties, given to it by God.