Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

White Trash Christianity?

By Larry Beane

Here is an except from a cultural observation showing the state of modern America's dearth of understanding of the Christian faith.  The book is called When Did White Trash Become the New Normal: A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question by Charlotte Hays.

There is some witty writing here, including:
Cultural illiteracy breeds White Trash behavior. If you don’t know who Adam and Eve were, you probably don’t have reasoned arguments as to whether Adam and Steve should get married. Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and predict a day when a clergyman divorces his wife, comes out of the closet, takes a male lover, and then becomes the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. Nah, that’s crazy. Things will never get that trashy. Sometimes I amuse myself by trying to picture my grandfather, a plain vanilla Episcopalian if ever there was one, “exchanging the peace.” No can do. But you know what I really can’t imagine? I really can’t imagine him—or any of his contemporaries—sitting in a pew at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine engaging in ritual howling. Back in the day, even Episcopalians had a grip on reality.
I have not read the book.  I have only read the above excerpt.  But I am intrigued by what I have read.

The author examines the relationship between the ignorance of religion and the decaying culture.  I think a more pertinent approach is for us, as Lutherans, to examine the culture's Biblical illiteracy, combined with a culture hostile to "organized religion," exclusive truth claims, and the critique of sin, in light of how we, as pastors and as lay people, preach, teach, and confess the faith.

Our culture is seeing a precipitous decline in not only knowledge about Christianity, but even in a curiosity of the same.  We're finding that our culture has rapidly become a mission field of people who are not merely unbelievers, they have no idea who Jesus of Nazareth is or what He had to do with anything in world history.  They are in large numbers intellectually and culturally adrift, with no sense of history, and no desire to learn.

This is especially an issue for Lutherans, being not only a manifestation of the catholic faith that is based on Holy Scripture, but which worships liturgically by definition and by confession, and has a rigorous view of theology.  All three of these constituent aspects of Lutheran Christianity are at odds with what the author calls the new "White Trash" religious culture we live in.

Some openly argue that in order to reach young people, we must ditch our liturgical tradition.  Usually those who argue in this way believe that we can somehow hold onto our theology and biblical grounding while tossing our liturgy to the lions in the arena, as though a tripod with a leg missing will work just fine.  The obvious issue here is if our culture rejects the exclusivity of the Bible, the traditional and un-entertaining nature of the liturgy, and theological truth (in fact objective truth of any kind) entirely, how can we "reach" them without getting rid of not only the rituals of the Mass, but also the church's doctrine and commitment to Scripture?

Indeed, we're seeing many bearing the name "Lutheran" - both within and without the LCMS - abandoning the catholic faith in search of mysticism, goddess-worship, feminism, entertainment-worship, the culture's fascination with homosexuality, the trivialization of sins that are increasingly culturally-acceptable, and other idolatrous practices designed to "reach out" to the "disaffected."

Written from the perspective of a disgruntled Episcopalian, knowing the fate of that particular erstwhile catholic tradition, Ms. Hays's book might serve as a sort-of Marley figure in our latter-day Christmas Carol, in which the Church has become miserly with her treasures of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Preaching Doctrine For Life

To go along with Pastor Curtis's last post, "When Will They Learn?" a dear friend and colleague from my seminary days, Pastor David Juhl, gave me this helpful document on "How A Pastor Can Treat All the Chief Doctrines Preaching the Gospel Pericopes in One Year." Pastor Juhl translated it, and I don't know who compiled it. This was designed for the One-Year Historic Lectionary.

I haven't made a lot of use of it, only when I'm hurting for material. But I think by following something like this we will also become better theologians ourselves. For we will have to learn how to teach and preach the intricacies of doctrine in ordinary language to people who are probably not used to hearing or thinking about it.

How a pastor can treat all the chief doctrines preaching the Gospel pericopes in one year

1. It is a preacher's sacred duty to preach to his hearers the whole counsel of God for salvation. In fulfilling this duty he may not be hindered by anything, but must use all diligence to comply with it.

2. There is no obligation commanded by God to do this just in the Sunday sermons within one year on the basis of the pericopes. However, this arrangement is good and advisable in some cases. Of course, it in itself does not fully guarantee that the whole counsel of God is preached to the hearers. This is only the case if the plan is executed faithfully and conscientiously.

3. To execute such a plan has its difficulties, but is possible. Yes, the nature of the pericopes is such that they urge the partial attempt [of a plan].

The following plan is set up for the coming church year. To be able to accommodate the various teachings of the Catechism as possible, it is necessary to divide the pericopes like this:

I. The festival pericopes. According to these a suitable subject must be treated.

II. The pericopes that are loci classici for certain doctrines and may not be very well treated otherwise.

III. The pericopes that also have a certain scope by which very probably a different doctrine can be treated.

IV. Such pericopes that contain either more parts or more doctrines, one of which is as good as the other, that can be treated according to the text.

V. Finally, such pericopes where one must be in doubt what doctrines (not what theme!) you are supposed to treat. They also sometimes offer, or at least is a very good opportunity, to treat only the relevant doctrines.

The number that is after the pericope designates the class that the speaker referred to above.[1]

1 Advent - Royal Office of Christ (II)
2 Advent - Judgment Day (III)
3 Advent - Word of God (Divinity) (V) - This doctrine can be treated well by many pericopes, but this is one of the most appropriate.
4 Advent - Baptism. (V) - Besides Trinity Sunday and the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the only good opportunity. But it would be better to consider this doctrine in the confirmation address and here [consider] repentance.
First Christmas Day - The Birth of Christ (III)
Second Christmas Day - Confession of Christ (V)
1 Christmas - Humanity of Christ (V) - Since this is also [the pericope for] Third Christmas Day, it would be better to treat the Personal Union this day.
New Year's Day - High Priestly Office of Christ (IV)
2 Christmas - Reign over the World (III) - If St. Michael's fest is omitted, one can beautifully combine this doctrine and the doctrine of good angels.
Epiphany - Mission (I)
1 Epiphany - Parenting (4th Commandment) (III)
2 Epiphany - Marriage (6th Commandment) (III)
3 Epiphany - Faith (III) - This pericope and Trinity 21 both treat faith, but in very different ways.
4 Epiphany - Personal Union (III) - If this doctrine is treated on Third Christmas Day, this will fit best: Christ's kingdom of power.
5 Epiphany - Visible Church (II)
Septuagesima - Good Works (III) - This pericope and Trinity 20 both have the scope of election of grace. But since Septuagesima is the best opportunity to preach on the doctrine of good works, which also can be treated on Trinity 20, are easily accommodated elsewhere, this choice is preferrable.
Sexagesima - 3rd Commandment (II)
Quinquagesima - [Christ's] State of Humiliation (IV)
1 Lent - Scripture as Source and Norm (IV)
2 Lent - Temptations (III)
3 Lent - Devil (IV) - Also Trinity 14
4 Lent - 9th Commandment (Against Greed) (III) - This and Trinity 7 are the two feeding miracles. The distinction made here reflects the difference between the two Gospel accounts.
5 Lent - Original Sin's Corruption (V) - This doctrine cannot emerge out of this text, except to show the example of the wicked Jews. Better opportunities would be Trinity Sunday and Second Pentecost Day.
6 Lent - Day of Confirmation. Baptism. Also Trinity 4.
Maundy Thursday - Holy Lord's Supper (I) - It seems to be almost standing custom to preach on the Epistle or a free text.
Good Friday - Suffering and death of Christ (I)
First Easter Day - Resurrection of Christ (I) (or His Divinity. See Trinity 12.)
Second Easter Day - (Use and interpretation of Scripture) (V)
2 Easter - Unbelief (IV) (See Trinity 19.)
3 Easter - Prophetic Office of Christ (V) - The two main points of this doctrine (how Christ arranged this office in the days of His flesh and how He does this now) certainly come on Lent 1 and Easter 7 the case according to the language; so perhaps it would be better to stick with the usual theme, or, Christ as a model stand, to deal with the ministry. Then one could on 7 Easter deal with sin (See Walther's Gospel Postils).
4 Easter - The Cross (II)
5 Easter - Office of the Holy Spirit (III)
6 Easter - Prayer (II)
Ascension - Ascension of Christ and Sitting at the Right Hand of God  (I) (See 7 Easter)
7 Easter - The Preaching Office (V) A better occasion would be Ascension (See 3 Easter). The real object of the feast could be easily connected with this, and the State of Exaltation would be considered at Easter.
First Pentecost Day - Invisible Church (I) - For the doctrine of the Person and the Work of the Holy Spirit 5 Easter is almost regular.
Second Pentecost Day - The Gospel (I) (See also 5 Lent)
Trinity Sunday - The Trinity (I) If this festival is not taken into account, a better fit: the Doctrine of Rebirth. Then 7 Easter: The Trinity, and Ascension: The Preaching Office (See 7 Easter).
1 Trinity - (Heaven and) Hell (III) - The Doctrine of Heaven is a very suitable subject for funeral addresses.
2 Trinity - Vocation (III)
3 Trinity - Repentance (IV) - Better: The Grace of God's Will, and the Doctrine of Repentance on 4 Advent (See also 11 Trinity).
4 Trinity - 8th Commandment (III) - The last part suggests at the same time the Doctrine of Excommunication (the carrying out of excommunication).
5 Trinity - 7th Commandment. Work (II) - Suggests according to Dietrich into the Ban.
6 Trinity - 5th Commandment (Law) (III)
7 Trinity - Preservation of the World (III) (See 4 Lent)
8 Trinity - False Doctrine and Hypocrisy (II) (2nd Commandment)
9 Trinity - Charity. Command of the 7th Commandment. (II) (See Trinity 5)
10 Trinity - Wrath of God (IV)
11 Trinity - Justification (II) - Or according to the second half: Repentance. Then the Doctrine of the Forgiveness of Sins on Trinity 19. The Doctrine of Absolution would then be dealt with only in Confessional Addresses.
12 Trinity - Deity of Christ (V) - Almost every miracle Gospel deals with this doctrine. This is not the best (see 2 Easter, 16 Trinity), but quite good.
13 Trinity - Charity (IV)
14 Trinity - Apostasy (V) - 3 Lent would be better. But this Gospel also has its advantages.
15 Trinity - 1st Commandment (III)
St. Michael's - Good Angels (I) (See 2 Christmas)
16 Trinity - Resurrection of the Body (II) - Or: Deity of Christ, and this Doctrine in Funeral preaching. Then one must on 12 Trinity treat this somewhat differently.
17 Trinity - Ceremonial Law (Sabbath) (IV)
18 Trinity - Law and Gospel (Relation of the two) (III)
19 Trinity - Absolution (III) (See also 11 Trinity)
20 Trinity - Election (III) (See Septuagesima)
Reformation - A free text is often taken at this festival (Doctrine of the Antichrist)
21 Trinity - Faith, in particular the infirmities of faith (Sins of weakness) (III) (See 3 Epiphany)
22 Trinity - Forgiveness (5th Commandment) (III)
23 Trinity - State and Church (II)


[1] It is impossible to take into account the different circumstances of different congregations. Therefore, if someone wanted to use the above, it is essential that it be changed as necessary, or - and this is the very best - one makes his own plan.

When will they learn?

The discussions below on preaching, 3rd use of the Law, exhortation, etc., have also served to reinforce the connection in my mind between these issues and the need to do a lot of teaching from the pulpit.

I've not been out of the seminary long - just shy of a decade - but this is yet another issue where I have changed my mind pretty thoroughly...and reluctantly. One of the formative books for me in my seminary education was Forde's Theology is for Proclamation. Forde had his problems, to be sure: he was a universalist, did not subscribe to the Formula, and had no problem with women's ordination. But whatever his (significant) faults, this book forcefully and beautifully reminds us that preaching should actually do something, not merely be about something. We should preach the Gospel; not merely preach about the Gospel.

So in my early ministry a definite pattern emerged. My sermons were tightly knit, intentionally and individually crafted proclamations of Law and Gospel. The sermon was almost exclusively "preaching the Gospel" and I saved almost all of the teaching of doctrine, the "preaching about the Gospel,"  for Bible Class.

I love teaching Bible Class. I flatter myself to think that I am good at it. I love to get down into the nitty gritty of Lutheran theology, talk about the liturgy, dig deeply into a book of the Bible, etc. The expositional homiletic style popular in American Evangelicalism I find truly cringe-inducing. For one thing, I don't think it works well with a lectionary. I don't want to turn sermons into Bible Class. I don't want to be guilty of merely preaching about the Gospel and never preaching the Gospel. So I was very comfortable and very happy with the arrangement in which I preached almost straight proclamation from the pulpit and did almost straight teaching in Bible Class.

But as time wore on, especially as I stayed put in one place, the more I came to see the weakness of this arrangement. First of all: most folks just aren't coming to Bible Class. No amount of inviting seems to affect my numbers much. I have anywhere from 1/5 to 1/3 of the adults who were in church in Bible Class each Sunday. The number fluctuates not because of new people trying it out, but due to the weather.

Second, the more I remain in one place, the more I see how little of catechesis sticks and how little I'm actually able to get my catechumens through (especially the kids from families that choose not to utilize the Lutheran school). It needs constant, life long reinforcement.

Third, I began reading a lot more Reformation era sermons and Church Orders. I saw that the Reformation actually took place via teaching from the pulpit. I saw Luther preaching not exactly like Dr. Stanley on the radio, but not exactly like me and Forde either. I saw Chemnitz give instructions that the preachers should make sure that the people learned "something definite" from the sermon.

And fourth, and perhaps most decisively, I realized that many of the people were unable to articulate why doctrine was important, why it was good to be in this church and not that church, why the liturgy is a good thing and not merely a preference, why we practice closed communion, why we teach what we teach, etc. I was covering all that in Bible Class....but the majority of the people were not hearing it.

I still don't imagine that I have "fixed" my preaching in this regard. I try to do more teaching from the pulpit, even while I try to also keep Gospel proclamation in there each week. One problem is that I am acutely aware of my congregations' expectations when it comes to how long church should last. I have to plan to be very efficient in my presentation to keep church around 60-70 minutes. We can complain about that all we want, but I don't see it changing very fast, at least in my neck of the woods. Pastors who have tried to move their parishes to every Sunday communion have encountered the same limits and frustrations when it comes to time.

So, I think we need to be very intentional about doing more with less. One great idea I got from a friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Ben Mayes. He keeps notes on what doctrinal topics fit well which each Sunday's readings. Then he can refer to that list during sermon prep and easily cover a topic - and make sure that a full range of doctrinal topics are covered in the course of a year. I have his notes here somewhere....I should be more faithful in using them!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Remember the Simul . . .

Two of the complaints that have arisen in response to the recent posts on preaching the law "Are you an Antinomian," "Luther in the Antinomian Disputations," "Some thoughts on Law & Gospel Preaching," and "Good example of exhortation," is that to preach the law in a manner so as to exhort to good works, especially after having preached the gospel, is to forget that 1) we are simultaneously sinner and saint (the simul), and 2) the law always accuses. I'd like to look at these briefly and ponder their merit.

We know from the Scriptures and the Confessions that the new man in Christ delights in the law of the Lord. It accuses him not. For in Christ, who is the fulfillment of the law, the new man also has fulfilled the law of God perfectly and completely (FCSD V and VI).

We know also from the Scriptures and the Confessions that the old man must be put to death by daily contrition and repentance. He is a recalcitrant donkey who needs to be prodded, pushed, and pulled, even threatened to do what is good and right. The law then accuses because the old man still clings to the flesh (FCSD V and VI).

I think we who have been hashing this out, sharpening one another as iron sharpens iron, agree on both these statements. What we have been seemingly disagreeing about is whether it is proper to end a sermon with a use of the law as exhortation to good. The above posts have argued that yes we should. Others have disagreed (You can read this in the comments). The reason one must not preach the law as exhortation to good after you have freed them with the gospel is that it binds those who are free or worse heaps more chains on those who are already bound. This is so because you must remember the simul because the law always accuses. So the argument, as I've understood it, is that if you preach the law as exhortation to good you at the end of a sermon you have forgotten the simul because the law always accuses and thus have bound those who are free.

Now it seems to me that it is not those who encourage exhortation who have forgotten the simul, but those who reject it. Here is why.

The new man delights in the law of the Lord. He meditates on it day and night. He hears it with joy and a glad heart.

The old man chafes under the law, as well he should. For it accuses him constantly. There is no reformation of the old man. He can not be made better. He needs to be killed. He needs to be drowned. He must die. But the old man is a good swimmer. And he continues to cling in the flesh. So he must be continually killed. He must continually be made with the bit and bridle of the law to be prodded, pushed, and pulled, even threatened to do what is good and right. And that is the law's job, not the job of the gospel.

The gospel frees men from their sin so that a new man might arise in them to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. The gospel frees men from their sin so that they might hear the law of God as it was intended to be heard, so that they will rejoice in it. That is to say, to preach exhortation to the Christian at the end of a sermon, takes into account both natures in him, the new man and the old man alike. It preaches what the new man will rejoice in, and it preaches what must force and kill the old man who will use even the most precious gospel as license to do what he ought not to do.

Refraining from this preaching of the law, the preaching of exhortation to good, forgets the simul in that it fails to recognize either that the old man in the Christian will stop at nothing to use freedom for sinful advantage or that he is in someway no longer present and needs to be killed. If the old man is further bound, if more links are added to the chains that weigh him down in the water to kill him, then that is exactly what he needs. And the new man hears the Lords commands with joy. He can't be bound. For he has already fulfilled it in Christ.

So do not be afraid to preach exhortation to good. The law will do what the law does for the Christian, the old and new man alike, by the power of the Spirit attached to the Word.

Of preachers and preaching.

Thought experiment time.

Take a fresh look at the excerpt of a sermon I posted below. Do you read it differently if I tell you that our own David Petersen wrote it?

Do you read it differently if I told you that I actually wrote it?

What about if I told you that this sermon flunked LCMS Doctrinal Review?

How about if I told you it passed DR and has been published by CPH?

Would any of that matter to your interpretation of this sermon? We all like to think that we are objective - especially in our chosen field of study, theology. But I wonder. I didn't see anything in the sermon to find objectionable; others did. But I wonder if I was tainted by the fact that it's one of my favorite preachers who wrote it. I wonder if others were drawn into over analyzing and being overly critical because of the debate we have been having and assumed that it couldn't be right because it was posted by me in the context of this debate.

Well, for what it's worth, this sermon is from one of my favorite preachers and artists of the English language, Dr. Norman Nagel. It's the conclusion to his sermon for 14 Pentecost in the volume of his selected sermons from CPH. That's a book you should own.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Good example of exhortation

Things are often clearer when we see examples. So here is an example of the last paragraphs of a sermon (not mine) that I think does a great job of ending a sermon with exhortation to faithful, godly living. These paragraphs come after some solid, direct, Fordesque Gospel: not talking about the Gospel but actually preaching the Gospel.

I don't think anyone could accuse this sermon of legalism, even though it would even be a great way to end a sermon if the elders are after you for "more stewardship talk"!

So have a look and comment below.

This is not the end of the restoration but the beginning. God wants more happiness for us than only that between us and Him, thought that is the number one happiness and runs through every happiness. We are happy indeed to know that God does not condemn and cast us off as we deserve. We are no longer bargaining with God, no longer scared of Him. He has given us to be His children who love now from the resources of His gifts.

When God can give, He is happy. When we are given to by God so unimaginably abundantly, we are happy. Being made happy with God's giving, we multiply our happiness when we also give. The opportunities are plentiful to spouse, family, friend, and others knocked about beside the road. Our enemies provide the opportunities of purest giving, for then it is not so easily mixed with getting. As God's happiness increases, as His giving increased, so does ours. For this purpose God gives us abundance of gifts so that we may have joy in giving them further.

God's gifts always grow; they grow by being given away. If they are not given, they wither and die. That is, above all, true of the Gospel. God, you see, is not greedy of His happiness. He did not insist on having all the joy of giving it away. God gave it into our hands. Just think of that! When you have given Christ away to somebody, then is Christ more richly and powerfully yours.

We are, perhaps, not so willing to agree when it comes to some of God's other gifts, our work and business and money, for here the emphasis is so strongly on getting. These things, however, we must see in the light of their purpose. If we work hard, strive to increase our wages or business to get for ourselves, then we are only breeding further restless wanting and getting and wanting. If we work and earn so we may have more to give for God, for friends, family, and others, then happy is our work. Our work is worship, for it is performed in God's way of doing things.

The increase of happiness' treasures is by giving, not by getting. As the loaves and fishes were multiplied by being given away, so all the gifts of God are multiplied by being given away. It is far happier to give than to receive. God knows that, and He wants us happily to know it too. Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Some thoughts on Law & Gospel Preaching

Jesus said that "repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name" (Luke 24) among all the nations. That's our job. That's what we preach.

Now what is repentance? It is not merely contrition, though contrition is a necessary part of true repentance. Repentance is action, or if you will, counter-action: the turning away from sin toward God in faith. Not that any man will ever set aside the struggle against sin (Rom 7) - that will be with us always until this sinful flesh receives the wages of sin in death. And yet the Scriptures are clear that one cannot continue in willful, deliberate wickedness and claim faith in Christ. That is not faith, but mere knowledge, a knowledge which even the demons have...and shudder. Luther:

On the other hand, if certain sectarists would arise, some of whom are perhaps already extant, and in the time of the insurrection [of the peasants] came to my own view, holding that all those who had once received the Spirit or the forgiveness of sins, or had become believers, even though they should afterwards sin, would still remain in the faith, and such sin would not harm them, and [hence] crying thus: "Do whatever you please; if you believe, it all amounts to nothing; faith blots out all sins," etc.—they say, besides, that if any one sins after he has received faith and the Spirit, he never truly had the Spirit and faith: I have had before me [seen and heard] many such insane men, and I fear that in some such a devil is still remaining [hiding and dwelling].
43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, ... and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (SA III.3.42ff. See also Walther's L&G Thesis X.)

And thus with St. John we know that "there is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All lawlessness is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death" (I John 5:16-17). Though we still struggle against sin daily and will not be able to fully overcome in that struggle until death ("still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it"), we are saved by Christ - and so this sin does not lead to death. Yet there is a sin that leads to death, that drives off faith and the Holy Spirit: sin that is clung to, willfully chosen against better knowledge, etc.

The example that Luther chooses from the Scriptures are instructive. Looking at a woman lustfully is adultery in the heart. It is a rare gift among men to be able to walk down a street full of beautiful women and avoid temptation to this form of adultery. Indeed, most men must struggle against this all their days (and even the pagan Socrates expressed gladness at the coming of old age so that this struggle was somewhat lessened.). Yet Christians struggle against it. They do not embrace the temptation, choose it, and act upon it. When David did that he "cast out faith and the Holy Spirit." He lost his faith. He reverted to pagan status.

I'd say it's likewise with Peter's apostasy. What Christian can claim such an iron clad faith that he never has thoughts of doubt? Who has never wondered in his heart of hearts, "Is all this just so much hogwash?" The temptation to unbelief, to deny Christ, will be with us always in this life in the flesh. Christians struggle against that temptation, even praying as they doubt, "Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!" But when the unbelief is embraced, chosen, acted upon deliberately: "faith and the Holy Spirit have departed." Peter lost his faith. He reverted to pagan status.

As the Apology says, "But since we speak of such faith as is not an idle thought, but of that which liberates from death and produces a new life in hearts, [which is such a new light, life, and force in the heart as to renew our heart, mind, and spirit, makes new men of us and new creatures,] and is the work of the Holy Ghost; this does not coexist with mortal sin [for how can light and darkness coexist?], but as long as it is present, produces good 65] fruits."

[For a much fuller discussion see the Lutheran dogmaticians' discussion of mortal sin under the locus on faith.]

So what is the point of preaching? To change the behavior of men in will, thought, and action. The point of preaching is to turn the will from unbelief to belief, to change thoughts from what is impure to what is pure, to change actions from sins to righteousness. This change is effected only by the power of the Holy Spirit "when and where He pleases" utilizing the Word and Sacraments as means, which are distributed through the Holy Ministry (AC V).  So the point of preaching is "repentance and the forgiveness of sins." The latter is only received with the former. The former is not true repentance (but merely a "sorrow of the world that worketh death," I Cor 7:10) unless faith is added to receive the latter.

That might be called "preaching for conversion." I suppose we could also speak of "preaching to prevent reversion:" to warn against the dangers of acting as David and Peter did, to encourage a living and active faith, to strengthen the smoldering wick, etc. But I would still call this preaching "repentance and the forgiveness of sins;" the point is still to encourage faith in the will, purity in thoughts, godliness in actions. And it still all happens by the power of the Spirit operating through the Word and Sacraments. And the Sunday sermon will probably always be a mixture of this preaching for conversion and preaching to prevent reversion.

So, on this Gaudete Sunday, let us preachers of the Word rejoice, going forth in confidence, knowing that the Holy Spirit means to change men by the power of the Word which He has placed in the mouths of us jars of clay.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fr. Mark Surburg Has a Confession...

You can read it here.

The Problem With Pan

By Larry Beane

Pan-Lutheran organizations have always been troublesome to confessional Lutherans.  We don't want to give the impression of theological agreement when there is no agreement.  We don't want to imply fellowship when there isn't.  But in the past, it was much easier to cooperate in some matters not involving sacramental fellowship.

But that's different today.

With several "Lutheran" bodies in the United States and in the world denying the authority of Holy Scripture in matters of the created order of sex (now cleverly spiritualized by the euphemism "gender"), such cooperation has become nettlesome, to say the least.  The "gender" issue manifests itself primarily in the Christian world in two ways: women's "ordination" and homosexual "marriage."

Most who advocate one, advocate both - as indeed this is intellectually and hermeneutically consistent.  Some denounce homosexual marriage while paradoxically accepting female "ordination" - straining the gnat of a woman being a "husband," while swallowing the camel of a woman being a "reverend father."

And so this dichotomy makes for strange bedfellows.

It's a slam-dunk that we're not really going to have much overlap with the ELCA.  Aside from some awkward pre-existing conditions, such as the joint ELCA-LCMS parochial school in the next town over from where I serve, and Valpo (where an LCMS pastor who openly promotes women's "ordination" is protected by the COP bureaucracy), we're not likely to rub elbows with those who worship goddesses.

But there are worldwide and domestic bodies with whom the LCMS is in dialogue or even partnership, organizations that have women wearing clerical collars.  And what to do about these situations is more tricky.

But the real devil is in Pan-Lutheranism.

One example is Thrivent.  Many people have insurance and investment accounts with this "Pan-Lutheran" company.  They also put out a glossy magazine featuring "Lutheran pastors" of both sexes.  This serves to "normalize" something that ought to not merely be incongruous, but repugnant: women wearing clerical garb and using titles of the office of the holy ministry.

And here (click ahead to pages 12 and 13) is a recent example from another "Pan-Lutheran" organization: Lutherans For Life.

While championing sexual purity, they are promoting an unbiblical sexual situation by featuring an article by a lady "pastor."  They are nodding to the very feminism that has slaughtered sixty million unborn children.  LFL's contact info is here.

I believe we need to speak clearly and firmly on this issue.  Our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering persecution for opposing feminism's triple-horned beast of women's ordination, homosexual marriage, and infanticide.  We are desperately trying to raise our sons and daughters to respect the biblical order of creation and the complementarity between the sexes - which is anathema to modern feminism, both inside and outside the church.  To have copies of these magazines (that portray women in collars) in our homes is akin to having normalized pictures of gay couples imitating Christian marriage.  Such images - especially in a Lutheran context - teach the very opposite of how we catechize our young (and older) people in the sixth commandment and in the authority of God's Word.

The issue of women's "ordination" refuses to go away in the LCMS.  And indeed, there is more and more toleration of individual woman "preachers" whose celebrity status seems to be beguiling some in our communion.  Feminism has been insidious and seductive (to both sexes) from the beginning.

So maybe it's time to say goodbye to the chimera Pan for the sake of the Gospel and for the clarity of our confession.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In the Roll of the Book It Is Written of Him

"Behold, I have come to do Your Will, O God."  And by this Will of God, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

So, I've been trying to approach recent discussions and rethink them in terms of Christ and His fulfilling of the Law for us; and then to consider what that looks like, and what that means for us, as Christ now lives in us and we in Him.

I resonate with those who make distinctions between the "old man" and the "new man" in us; and with all those extrapolations, which apply the Law to the "old man," the Gospel to the new.  I'm simplifying here, for the sake of brevity (and so as to humor my colleagues), but I get it, I've said it and taught it myself, and I still find it an attractive way of thinking.

Yet, for all that, I've been challenged, not only by such quotes as Fr. Curtis and Fr. Braaten have recently shared, and by my own careful reading of the Apology (especially Article IV on Justification, of all things), but also by the preaching and catechesis of my Lord in the Gospels, and by His holy Apostles in their Epistles.  St. Paul, in particular, the great champion of Justification by grace, never flinches from preaching and teaching the Law, and exhorting the people to whom he writes with admonitions to live righteously.

I don't believe that the Gospel is lacking in anything.  I don't believe that the Law can enable us to become better, or to do good works.  I don't believe that our righteousness before God is found in our keeping of the Law.  And, while I am convinced by the Scriptures and the Confessions that God does promise temporal and eternal rewards to those who keep His commandments, I also believe that such rewards are in, with, and under the Cross; that the righteous suffer many things; and that, in any case, I am deserving of nothing of punishment.  Whatever hidden good there is in me, I have received by grace through Jesus Christ, my Lord; and it is only by His mercy and forgiveness that all that is lacking in me is filled up and completed by Him.

But as to this dividing of the Law and the Gospel between the "old man" and the "new man," much as I like it, I don't believe that distinction satisfies the consideration of the way in which the good and acceptable Will of God is revealed to us and worked in us by the Spirit of Christ, our Savior.  The "new man" delights in the Law of God, precisely because it is His good and holy Word, and because it faithfully reveals His Will, which has been fulfilled by Christ for us.  It conveys not only information, but establishes the good and determines what the life of righteousness is: faith toward God, and fervent love toward one another.

Returning, then, to my initial thought, and my point for consideration and discussion:

When Jesus "went down with [His earthly parents, Joseph and Mary], and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them," was that His "old man" (sic) or His "new man" that was heeding the Fourth Commandment?

When Christ Jesus relied upon the Holy Scriptures to resist and refute the devil's temptations in the wilderness, citing the commands of God, such as "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve," and "You shall not tempt the Lord your God," was that His "old man" (sic) or His "new man" that was laying hold of the Law and submitting to it?

When the Lord Jesus Christ "loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the end," and He knelt down to wash their feet in humble obedience to the Father who sent Him, and He commanded them to "love one another, as I have loved you," was that His "old man" (sic) or His "new man" who was living and loving in fulfillment of the Law of God?

And, in turn, as St. Peter writes that "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously," was that His "old man" (sic) heeding the Law and subjecting Himself to the Will of God? Or, was that not the very "New Man" whose fulfilling of the Law is here set forth as "an example" for us to follow?

The necessary caveats: I'm posing these questions for the sake of my own thinking out loud about them, and because I welcome the comment, correction, and clarification of my brothers.  I have no "opponent" in mind, real or imagined.  This isn't offered as an accusation or critique.  It's probably not even provocative enough to prompt a response, but, hey, I gotta be me.  No kingdom building here; just trying to start a conversation.  (I also recognize and understand that the "old man" never keeps the Law.  I do realize that, and, if I were speaking more precisely and thoroughly, I would have noted that throughout.  My question has to do with the way in which the Law is used, and the way in which it functions, in the life of Christ; on the assumption that His use of the Law will inform an understanding of the Christian's use of the Law in Him.)