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:

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 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.