Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Contemporary Worship: Not Fit for Lutheran Consumption - Part 2

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-24).

The idea that worship is where God serves us, rather than where we serve God, is probably one of the two biggest differences between Confessional Lutheranism and American Evangelicalism[1]. Confessional Lutherans view worship as God’s service toward man for some simple and obvious reasons, which come from Holy Scripture. Scripture teaches that faith is a gift of God, which He gives out of His grace, through means of His Word. Since He has chosen to deal with us through the means of His Word, rather than spontaneously in other ways, we need to gather around the means He has provided so He can give us His gifts. Thomas Maschke writes in his book, Gathered Guests, the following:

“Worship is God’s service to us as His gathered guests and our faith-full response to Him in Christ. Worship is also an opportunity to grow and develop as a community and for the community to be empowered to go out into the world. Therefore, Lutheran worship can be described as being upward, downward, outward, and inward…Lutheran worship is encounter, expression, education, and evangelism[2].”

Confessional Lutheranism also teaches that man is converted by God, and not by an act of man's will, i.e., making a decision to repent and believe. American Evangelicalism, influenced heavily by revivalism beginning with the Second Great Awakening, generally teaches that conversion is an act of man's will – we decide to believe. What you believe about conversion has a great impact on how you worship. If you believe that conversion happens because you decide to be converted and that God speaks to you directly through your thoughts and feelings, rather than by the external word, then you will worship accordingly. Rather than focusing on delivering God’s Word to the people, as God has called His servants to do, so that God can do His work through that Word, the focus will be on man and what he is supposed to do. The service of Word and Sacrament becomes a service of emotion and decision. It must; there is no way around such a change. In American Evangelicalism, the worship space, the music, the actions of the “worship team,” the message delivered, are all geared toward moving the hearer emotionally so that they make the proper decision to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, by the power of their will. 

I wouldn’t expect American Evangelicals, who have differing beliefs about conversion, the will, worship and the church gathering, to worship in a traditional, liturgical way. To do so would cause friction between what they believe and how those beliefs are manifest through worship; to do so would undermine their theological teachings, and be ineffective in eliciting the desired emotional response. 

Why do so many Confessional Lutherans, then, want to abandon their Christian heritage – the liturgy, which has been preserved and handed down to us through many centuries – and worship in a way that undermines their confession of faith? I suspect that the reason is perceived success.

The reason so many Lutheran congregations subjected themselves to such theological dreck as 40 Days of Purpose is that it looks like it works. If you measure success in terms of backsides in the stadium-style seats, then I suppose it does work. All you have to do is search "Willow Creek" on the internet. The sleek, professionally-produced, website of Willow Creek Community Church showcases all of the fruits of the American Evangelical style of worship and evangelism. The first image presented to the visitor is an enormous crowd in what appears to be some type of arena. The arena, which is actually the worship space (what Christians from a by-gone era would have called the sanctuary), is filled to capacity and has a stage with a rock band in the center as it's focal point. 

Compare this exciting scene, charged with emotion, to the worship service of the average Confessional Lutheran Church. 30 or 40 people (if we are generous) gather inside a church building and sit in long, semi-comfortable wooden pews. Hymns are sung, prayers are recited, and a man in a dress gives a lecture. The people shuffle to the front, and the man in the dress feeds them a cracker and a bit of wine. There is more singing and reciting. Finally, the people are dismissed in an orderly fashion by ushers, and that's all there is until next week. There is no emotion, no excitement. There is no experience to excite the senses and give the feeling that the worshipper has had an encounter with the Almighty. 

This view, of course, is not true; the ancient liturgical worship is not as many perceive it. From a worldly perspective, this type of worship appears foolish and worthless. This seems to be how many of my Evangelical friends see liturgical worship. If man is converted by an act of his own will, if he must be convinced to make a decision, then this is, indeed, all liturgical worship is. But, here we have no continuing city, and God uses the foolish things of this world to make this world’s wise into fools. Christ comes to us, as he has promised, in his Word and Sacraments. In the Lord's Supper, He gives us His very body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. His Word, which is living and active, permeates every part of the divine service. It is read. It is in the music we sing, in every portion of the liturgy we recite, in the words of the sermon preached by our faithful pastor, in the furniture and decorations of the sanctuary around us. We come to gather around Word and Sacrament, not to do some good work for God, or to be convinced to dedicate (or rededicate) our lives to Christ but to receive what he has promised to give us – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Many Confessional Lutherans, however, look at the large numbers of people attending megachurches, such as Willow Creek, and compare their "success" with the numerical failure of their own modest congregation. Something must be done. Have they a band? Let's get a band. Have they abandoned the liturgy? Let's get rid of it too. The problem is, it takes a lot of resources to “do worship” the way a place like Willow Creek does. The emotional manipulation can only work if the show is produced properly. Willow Creek, with a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars, can put on what amounts to a rock concert every week. St. Nobody's Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has 150 parishioners, cannot. In the end, the Confessional Lutheran congregation that abandons the liturgy for contemporary worship ends up not being able to do it as well as the Evangelical megachurch down the road. Now, in addition to undermining their confession of faith, they have a "worship experience" that is awful and uncomfortable for the parishioners. Those who want the emotional manipulation will move on to a place where their “felt needs” can be met. Those who remain may return to the liturgy, but the congregation will have been divided and weakened, and it will be that much harder for them, from an economic standpoint, to remain in operation. 

This is not merely a disagreement over a style of worship. How we worship expresses and effects what we believe, and vice versa. Confessional Lutherans must realize this. The sanctioning of contemporary worship practices by those in leadership positions in the LCMS indicates their departure from their confession of faith, not simply a disagreement over style (such as should we chant the liturgy or speak it). Peter Hitchens, in his book “The Rage Against God,” describes, in part, his return to the Christian Church. In one section, Mr. Hitchens writes about his search for what could be described as traditional, or liturgical worship, unspoiled by modern liberal influences. He, as many faithful and well-meaning churchmen of the Church of England had before him, thought that the stuffy Elizabethan language was the main problem people had with the worship of the church. He was to come to a different realization:

"I bicycled from place to place in search of citadels of the old worship. In one particularly lovely Oxfordshire church, I enquired of a priest – a cozy-looking, well-padded old gentleman – if they ever used the Prayer Book. He stared at me, his eyes hot with dislike. "Never!" he pronounced, and then almost spat out the words "I hate Cranmer's theology of penitence." This was one of those moments of abrupt realization…when the truth suddenly became clear to me. It was not the language they disliked (though they probably did dislike it too). It was what the words meant. The new, denatured, committee-designed prayers and services were not just ugly, but contained a different message, which was not strong enough or hard enough to satisfy my need to atone[3].”

Similarly, it isn’t simply the organ, or the hymns, or the vestments, or the language and structure of the liturgy that many proponents of contemporary worship dislike. It is what those things mean. 

End Notes

[1] I would say, just as a side note, that the other glaring difference between these two theologies is their view of the Sacraments and the place of the Sacraments within worship. Of course, all of these things are inter-related, and one's understanding of conversion, repentance, faith, and good works and obedience to God, etc. will have a significant influence on worship and the Sacraments.

[2] Thomas Maschke, Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2003. 20.

[3] Hitchens, Peter. The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Contemporary Worship: Not Fit for Lutheran Consumption

"Trust me, I'm an enthusiast!"

Charles "Crazy Eyes" Finney
When I was teaching at a Lutheran school, there was much discussion at our congregation about something called blended worship. The idea was, as sort of a compromise, the congregation could adopt aspects of contemporary worship into the liturgical framework. For example, the worship service would still be laid out according to the pattern of the divine service. Changes to each one of those elements of the divine service, however, might be made. For example, parts of the liturgy, such as the Kyrie or the Gloria, might be swapped out with other pieces of more popular and contemporary, music. The idea was that we could compromise with those in the congregation who wanted to move toward contemporary worship. We could still retain our Lutheran liturgical heritage, while "getting with the times." This would liven things up, it was argued (though not in those words), and make church more attractive to the youth. Of course, any and all praise and worship music would have to be screened by the pastor for doctrinal purity.

My church never adopted such nonsense. We did, however, spend many hours in agonizing conversation regarding what we could do to attract more people to the church, and keep people from leaving. If only we had the right music… If only we had the right worship service… If only our building were fancier… If only we had more programs for the kids… If only insert thing for us to do or change here, we will attract more people, we will keep more people, our children won't leave us when they grow up, and we will have enough money to keep the church going.

But is it our job to do all these things? Is it our job to “keep the church going?” No, at least not in the way this question is usually asked.

There is a problem with this frame of mind: It is not Lutheran. And, when I say it is not Lutheran, I mean that it is not biblical. Many LCMS parishes are in financial difficulty, and many have closed. Enrollment at our day schools in many places is dwindling. Well-meaning people want to know what they can do to stop these terrible things from happening. We look around us at our American evangelical neighbors and seem to see quite a different situation. We see large modern-looking buildings (which no confessional Lutheran would ever mistake for a church) filled to capacity on Sunday mornings. We watch popular TV preachers filling former sports arenas with people week after week, and drawing in millions of dollars per year (I’m looking at you, Joel Osteen). We look at what they're doing, and we think, if we adopt a little of that methodology, perhaps our churches will fill up as well.

This idea couldn't be more wrong. The way we worship directly reflects what we believe theologically, and vice versa.

We have believed the lie that worship style, and our pastor's personality is what will keep people in our churches and make new Christians. In reality, there is only one thing which will really do that: God's Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. I am convinced that this is why we allow so much of the nonsense that goes on in our parishes to continue. We are infected with American Fundagelicalism.

I'm not talking about fixing an out of tune organ or trying to build a better relation between pastor and congregation. No right-thinking person would say that a congregation must use a broken and out of tune organ because an organ is the only appropriate instrument to use in worship. If the organ were broken, we would push in the piano from the fellowship hall. We would sing a cappella. We might even, in an homage to Franz Gruber and Josef Mohr, break out the guitar… Or, if you're me, the accordion...Or whatever would facilitate the preaching of Law and Gospel through the liturgy, the reception of the gifts we are given there, and the teaching of doctrine to the congregation through our hymnody.

This brings me to the heart of the issue: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. That's a $.25 Latin phrase which means, "law of praying, law of believing." In other words, how you pray (worship) influences how you believe (theology and doctrine). It also works the other way around. The way you worship influences what you believe. How could it not?

Consequently, if one worships in a manner which is contrary to one's doctrine, one’s doctrine will begin to change.

Confessional Lutherans cannot adopt aspects of contemporary worship such as the music, the building layout, and the manner of dress for the participants, just to name a few things. By doing so, we confess by our actions something that we do not believe, and something that is not taught in the Scripture: Man is saved by a decision of his own will, and that confirmation of saving faith comes through an inner, personal, private, emotional experience with God.

There are those who would say that "modern" or "alternative" or "blended" worship practices (henceforth here to be called Contemporary Worship) can be substituted for the liturgy at will as this is simply a matter of adiaphora. They are wrong. The types of musical instrumentation used in Christian worship has changed a lot throughout the centuries. Indeed, to a large extent, the instruments are immaterial to worship. The thing that is important is what a style of worship teaches doctrinally. Liturgical worship has developed in the church over the last two millennia. It emphasizes the biblical truth that God comes to us, not we to him. It teaches us that God gives us his gifts out of his grace. Contemporary Worship does just the opposite. Contemporary worship focuses the worshipper on himself and his feelings. It treats him like a consumer, appealing to his will, and manipulating his emotions so that he finally makes a decision to accept Christ.

Contemporary Worship practices are designed to manipulate emotions. They were intended to bring the person to a place where they would have a "come to Jesus moment" and make a decision to become a believer. Contemporary Worship practices are based in, teach, and reinforce, the ideas that 1) conversion happens because of an act of the person's will, 2) that man can cooperate with God before his conversion, and 3) that our faith is confirmed by how we feel. This is great if you happen to be a non-denominational sacrament-denying Pelagian Arminian, but Contemporary Worship has absolutely no place in a Confessional Lutheran church.

What we know today as Contemporary Worship is a product of American Christianity. I believe it can be traced back to a man named Charles Finney. He was a revival preacher during the Second Great Awakening. Finney is sometimes called the father of modern revivalism. Charles Finney was a Presbyterian minister in America. He advocated for "new measures" to jar complacent people from their indifference toward religion. He taught that conversion, rather than being something God does to a person through the means of His Word, was something man must be convinced to do. To get a person "saved," Finney taught that preaching and worship style should manipulate the person emotionally. Preaching and worship style should drive a person on toward their decision to give their heart to Jesus.

A minister should never introduce innovations that are not called for. If he does they will embarrass him. He cannot alter the Gospel; that remains the same. But new measures are necessary, from time to time, to awaken attention and bring the Gospel to bear upon the public mind. And then a minister ought to know how to introduce new things, so as to create the least possible resistance or reaction…Suppose I were preaching on the subject of Temperance, and that I should first show the evils of intemperance, and bring up the drunkard and his family, and show the various evils produced, till every heart is beating with emotion[1].

The church, he taught, was cold and dead. It was stuck in the mire of old-fashioned forms and man-made creeds. New measures must be used to initiate revival where people can have a genuine conversion experience. Such an authentic conversion experience would, according to Finney, be marked by an inner emotional response.

If you say to him [the anxious soul], “There is the anxious seat, come out and avow your determination to be on the Lord’s side,” and if he is not willing to do so small a thing as that, then he is not willing to do anything, and there he is, brought out before his own conscience. It…prevents a great many spurious conversions…The church has always felt it necessary to have something of the kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles baptism answered this purpose…And in modern times, those who have been violently opposed to the anxious seat have been obliged to adopt some substitute, or they could not get along in promoting a revival. Some have adopted the expedient of inviting the people who were anxious for their souls to stay for conversation after the rest of the congregation had retired. But what is the difference?[2]

A lot of what Charles Finney taught about worship can be seen in American evangelicalism today. Consequently, American evangelicalism, from where we borrow many contemporary worship practices, most notably music and “worship space” design, does not view the gathering of the visible church in the same way as confessional Lutheranism.

American evangelicalism sees the worship service as a public meeting into which we, the initiated (Christians), are to coax the uninitiated (non-Christians). At this meeting, we are to project the right image to them, just as we do in our everyday life, to make our religion more desirable to them. The preaching, the mood, and the worship space are intended to play upon their emotions as well. Everything is designed to elicit an emotional response urging the "seeker" or, as Finney might say, the anxious soul, to give his heart to Christ. To Finney, the extent to which the preacher is able to excite the emotions of his hearers is the degree to which he will be successful in converting sinners. Internal emotional experience is the proof of genuine conversion, rather than the promise of God. 

Look at the Methodists. many of their ministers are unlearned, in the common sense of the term, many of them taken right from the shop or the farm, and yet they have gathered congregations and pushed their way, and won souls everywhere. Wherever the Methodists have gone, their plain, pointed and simple, but warm and animated mode of preaching has always gathered congregations. Few Presbyterian ministers have gathered so large assemblies, or won so many souls…we must have exciting, powerful preaching, or the devil will have the people, except what the Methodists can save[3].

This all culminates in the person finally proving the genuineness of their decision. In Finney's day that was having these converts sit on the anxious seat, where they would be preached at and prayed for until the conversion was fully affected[4]. The modern “crusade,” with its emotionally manipulative music and persuasive speakers, as well as the televangelists, are the direct descendants of Finney’s anxious seat.

Scripture teaches that, through his natural powers, man does nothing whatsoever to effect his conversion or assist in it. He is incapable of accepting the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). These things, i.e. believing that you are dead in sin and that Christ died to save you, are, as St. Paul says, spiritually discerned. The unregenerate man cannot understand or accept these things because he is, just as St. Paul described him, spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-10). These notions are foolishness to him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:18-24).

Confessional Lutherans believe, teach and confess the same:

But the question is about the effective cause [of conversion]. Who works this [the perception of sin and acceptance of the promise of grace in Christ] in us? How does a person have this? How does he get it? Therefore, this teaching informs us that, since the natural powers of mankind cannot do anything or help toward it (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:5), God, out of His infinite goodness and mercy, comes to us. He causes His Holy Gospel to be preached. The Holy Spirit desires to work and accomplish this renewal in us. Through preaching and meditation on His Word God kindles faith and other godly virtues in us. They are the Holy Sprit’s gifts and works alone (FC SD II 71-72)[5].

Believing this Biblical truth about the condition of man and the working of the Holy Spirit, we worship in a way which confesses it. The first thing we do is to confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. Then we hear the word of forgiveness spoken to us by our pastor, as from God Himself. Then we enter into the Service of the Word. We sing His Word in the Introit, in the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Psalms, the vast majority of all the other parts of the liturgy, and in the hymns. We listen to the reading of His Word, according to a set schedule, so that we learn, over time, all the things which God would teach us (that’s doctrine). Then we hear our pastor preach God’s Word. All of the while we are gathered around God’s Word we are passively receiving God’s gifts of repentance, forgiveness, and faith in Christ – all things which God works in us[6]. Then, when our pastor is finished preaching Christ into our hearts, we gather at the Lord’s Table to have the Word placed into our mouths in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper[7]. Then, with the words of Simeon on our lips, we depart in peace, our eyes having seen His salvation. The focus of the liturgy is on Christ crucified. It is all designed to point us to him and to deliver to us the gifts of God which we are unable to take for ourselves, through the means which God has appointed – Word and Sacrament. The only time in the liturgy when we spend any time focusing on ourselves is during confession and absolution, and the prayers. The first shows us that we are wretched and sinful; the other shows us that we are helpless.

Contemporary worship causes us to confess something unbiblical, in the name of “keeping the church going,” and in the end, it can’t even accomplish that goal. Joel Osteen may fill Lakewood to capacity, but he points the people to themselves rather than to Christ. Is it better to have 10,000 gathered where Christ is excluded, or to have two or three gathered in Christ’s name around Word and Sacrament?

God is in charge. He causes the church to grow, when and where he wills. Pastors are called to preach the Word and to administer the Sacraments – to feed the flock. The people are called and gathered by God to be fed. Christ crucified is at the heart of this gathering. Anything which serves to change our focus, which contemporary worship does, has no place. Scripture teaches that God grants his Spirit to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word, and God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments[8] (Galatians 3:2-5; Hebrews 1:1-2). Far from being something neither commanded nor forbidden, worship style is inseparable from the doctrine you confess.


[1] Finney, Charles G. The Works of Charles G. Finney: Lectures on Revivals of Religion, Lectures on Systematic Theology, Sermons on Gospel Themes, Lectures to Professing Christians (4 Books With Active Table of Contents) Kindle Edition. Amazon Digital Services, 2011. Kindle.
[2] ibid. Location 19859-19889 
[3] ibid. Location 19975, 19982 
[4] ibid. Location 19856 
[5] McCain, Paul Timothy, ed. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005. 
[6] Acts 5:31; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 
[7] This should give us a new appreciation and understanding for Cranmer’s collect, wherein he writes, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.” "1928 Book of Common Prayer." 1928 Book of Common Prayer Home Page. Accessed February 03, 2017.
[8] SA III viii 3, 10. McCain, Paul Timothy, ed. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Pondering Glory

By Rev. Joel Brondos

The glory of the multitude of an angelic host praising God -- has any mortal flesh ever witnessed anything as magnificent as that which lowly shepherds experienced?

They then went to see Jesus as it had been told them, a babe lying in a manger, making widely known the marvels which they had seen and heard . . . and then what?

After such an astounding event, did they not expect some imminent follow-through -- some comparable fulfillment on the heels of so great a portent?

But, nothing.

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, but it would be thirty years before anything out of the ordinary would happen again. Could they do anything more but go back to their shepherding?

Now, in 2016, Christmas has come . . . and gone. Whatever might have been glorious -- paltry in terms of what the shepherds experienced with our LED lights, glittered decorations, mail-order gifts, seasonal music and high-calorie food -- now fades in the rear-view mirror. Did it satisfy? Did it fail to live up to the hype yet another year? Do we now just go back to our daily duties, counting 364 days until the next round?

Mary had her own encounter with an angel as well as other unexpected visitors from poor shepherds to rich magi. They came with accounts of their own to confess the One born to be Savior. But after these passed, Mary, too, had to wait. There was no immediate consummation of all that she had seen and heard.

And yet, there was not just a going back to business as usual. We read that Mary treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:19). Couldn't these words have sustained her throughout the years and even as she stood at the foot of the cross when her soul was pierced through (Luke 2:35)?

This Christmas, with Mary, when the worldly glamour and festivities have passed, we treasure all these things in our hearts. We return to our daily chores, and from time to time we are likely to be bloodied and bruised with the cares of this life, but our hearts ponder the news first proclaimed by angels, confessed by shepherds, worshiped by wise men. 

We return to our homes, schools, and workplaces, glorifying and praising God for all that has been proclaimed to us in His Word, knowing that it may take thirty years or more, but we shall be called into that glory from whence the angels came. That glory shall not terrify us as it did the shepherds because we have been baptized and clothed in the holiness and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the historic Lutheran liturgy of the Divine Service, we weekly sing the message of the angelic hosts to the shepherds in the Gloria Patri. With "angels and archangels and with all the heavenly host we laud and magnify the Lord's glorious name, ever more praising Him . . ." only to return to our daily duties with joy, treasuring these things in our hearts. (1 Peter 5:4) " . . . and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Prayer

Christmas Eve - Prayers for the Divine Service (St. Paul's Ev. Luth. Church, Brookfield, IL)

P: Almighty and most merciful Father, we who cannot go to the manger have been drawn by Your grace and mercy to this altar to receive Him who is born to be our Savior. We who have not seen a multitude of the heavenly host, marvel at the words of the prophets and apostles by which You have declared to us where the Savior is to be found. Seeking Him where He promises to be found and finding Him where He comes according to His Word, we find also everlasting peace and joy.

Heavenly Father, we have often come to this altar to declare the complaints of our flesh – and because You have redeemed us, You answer us with grace and mercy. He have come before this altar with prayers at the birth of our children and grandchildren – and have likewise come at the death of our loved ones. At this altar You join together two as one flesh and You hear the vows of those who are confirmed, who are accepted as members, and who will serve as officers and board members. At this altar, we bring no gold, frankincense and myrrh, but our offerings that they may be used in service to Your kingdom. But over and above all things, we pray, O Lord, that Your glory may be declared and seen in Your salvation and in the fruits of righteousness. Lord, in Your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: O Consolation of Israel and Prince of Peace, grant Your peace which the world cannot give. When the devil seeks to rob us of our peace with his lies and accusations, when the world offers us its counterfeit peace achieved through self-centered glories and self-serving compromise, and when our own flesh feels no peace recalling its own guilt and shame, even the secrets of our heart which are known to You, grant that we would not pursue glory through worldly means or our own efforts, but may cling by faith to Your gracious work of redemption, by which we may enter into Your eternal glory. Grant us that peace which gives us courage to do and say what is right, which leads us to glorify and praise You in word and deed in our homes and communities. Give us that peace which is manifested in a sure and certain hope of Your eternal glory through Your only-begotten and beloved Son, born to be our Savior; Lord, in Your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Heavenly Father, remember all of those who are called by Your name through holy Baptism and do not forsake or abandon them in the hour of their need. As they lie in hospital beds, grant them to know that You were laid in a manger to deliver them from every aspect of sin's cursed effects . . . For the sick and the needy during this blessed season, care packages of things that will break and wear out and grow old . . . Provide for their need in body and soul and preserve them through this life into that life which has been prepared for those who seek Your kingdom and righteousness in Jesus Christ alone; Lord, in Your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Move the hearts of Your people to know the same joy as the shepherds to return to our homes glorifying and praising you for all that they have heard and seen in Your Word by faith as it was told to them. Hunger and thirst for righteousness as evidenced by their hunger and thirst for Your Word and Sacraments. Grant that our Bible classes and catechism classes may grow not for the sake of our congregation, but to the glory of Your holy name. Move the hearts of Your people to offer the sacrifices and offerings which are commensurate with Your grace and glory that the message of the angels may still be proclaimed in all the world. We pray especially this Christmas Eve / Day that You would grant strength and peace to missionaries who, for the sake of proclaiming Your Word, are isolated or far from home and family , who may be imprisoned or threatened for Your name's sake – and turn the hearts of Your enemies to believe, teach and confess Your truth and love . . . Lord, in Your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: These and whatsoever other things You would have us ask of You, O God, grant to us for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, Your only Son, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
C: Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Resurrection of Israel

When the Lion Roars
I'm reading a book right now called When The Lion Roars: understanding the implications of ancient prophecies for our time. The book describes itself on the back cover like this:

We are living in unprecedented times. Prophetic events are unfolding at lightning speed right before our eyes and, unbeknownst to most of the world, are being reported in the daily news cycle. From the supernatural resurrection of the nation of Israel to the extraordinary advancement of end-time technologies, ours is the first generation to witness the revelation of such amazing prophetic events. But do not fear, there is a balanced, biblical understanding to everything that is occurring in our day (Gallups 2016).

The author, Carl Gallups, deals with events taking place in the Middle East, Islam and ISIS, and the Shemitah[1], among other things.

I must confess, I love reading books like this. I am a sucker for anything "end of the world." That goes all the way back to Hal Lindsey's, "The Late Great Planet Earth." I couldn't agree less with the dispensational theology[2], but I love to read them. I have accused large part of American Evangelicalism of reading the Bible through the headlines of the newspaper, to interpret Biblical prophecy. This book not only proves that, but the author also admits it on the back cover of the book.

Here we are again, trying to make our way down the narrow road between two ditches. This time, the ditches are liberal Higher Criticism on the one side and American Evangelical literalism on the other.

I have sometimes been criticized by evangelical friends for not reading the Bible literally. This is a baseless criticism as I do understand the Bible literally. I know that it means what it says. When the Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, I believe that he was literally swallowed by a big fish. When the Bible says that the world was created in six days, I believe that the world was created in six days. Because, however, I am an amillennialist[3], because I don't believe in the Rapture[4], or think that the founding of the nation-state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, my evangelical friends believe that I am some kind of theological liberal. This, as my regular readers will know, could not to be farther from the truth. I don’t believe in the teachings mentioned above because I don't believe they are taught in Scripture. On the other hand, I have accused American Evangelicalism in general of not reading the Bible literally, but rather literalistically. In other words, evangelicals literally interpret every word and phrase of Scripture, rather than interpreting words and phrases in the context in which they are presented. Here's an example:

In support of the doctrine of the Millennial Kingdom we are invariably pointed to Revelation 20:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1000 years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while (Revelation 20:1-3).

In this passage, evangelicals see the Millennial Kingdom. Satan is bound for 1000 years. During this 1000 years, Jesus will establish his Millennial Kingdom on earth. The explanation given is usually something like, "The words are right there! It says 1000 years, it means 1000 years!" When we take a second to think about it, however, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to take those words literally.

The phrase, "1000 years," occurs only in two other places in the Bible. It occurs in Psalm 90:4, and 2 Peter 3:8. In both of these locations, the phrase is used to illustrate a long, undetermined period of time and the timelessness of God. Psalm 90 compares the time period of 1000 years to “a watch in the night.” St. Peter makes the same point:

But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for the fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord on day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:7-9).

Peter is saying that, even though the scoffers will scoff, Christ will return in his own good time and according to his own plan. The point is that God does not experience time in the same way we humans do. He does not work on our schedule. With him, "one day is as 1000 years, and 1000 years as one day." 1000 years is a long time to a human being. To God, that same 1000 years is like a watch in the night (about four hours) to us. In other words, we might think he is taking a long time to complete his work but, to him, it is only an instant.

It should be reasonable then not to understand the phrase "1000 years" in these contexts to mean a literal 1000 year period. Every time the phrase is used it means a great, undetermined period of time. So, if it is used that way in the Psalms (a book of poetry), and 2 Peter (a letter of correspondence), would it not make even more sense to take it figuratively when it is used in the book of Revelation (a book of apocalyptic visions and symbols)? This is not denying the truth, divine inspiration, or inerrancy of Scripture; this is simply applying the rules of language to written language. We must do this if we are to understand what is being said to us. God did, after all, choose to communicate to us through this written word, recorded in human language by human beings.

This example, I believe, illustrates the difference between the literal interpreter and the “literalistic” interpreter. The literalistic interpreter does not take context into account. When you look at Scripture that way, strange things begin to happen. For instance, you start to believe that the word Israel means "Israel."

American Evangelicalism is notoriously dispensational. As a result, much of it is preoccupied with the nation-state of Israel. Dispensationalists believe that, before Christ’s return, God has to gather his chosen people, the Jews, back to the Promised Land. When they are gathered there, Israel will then take control of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. According to dispensationalists, the reconstitution of the nation-state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of God's prophecy to bring his chosen people back to the Promised Land. It is proof that we are living in the End Times. Dispensational Christians also seem to focus on prophecy, rather than the preaching of Law and Gospel, as a means to convert people. Non-Christians, it seems to me, are expected to become Christians because of the convincing fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, like the resurrection of Israel in 1948.

Non-dispensationalists, naturally, object to this interpretation. Paul spends a lot of time explaining that, in Christ, there is no Jew or Greek. He explains that "for they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'in Isaac your seed shall be called[5].'" He spends a lot of time explaining that what makes you a child of Abraham is not being able to trace your physical bloodline back to Abraham, but believing the promise God gave to Abraham.

Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise (Galatians 3:15-18).

John the Baptist, preaching to the Pharisees who came out to see him in the desert, says that bloodlines aren't important and that God can raise up children for Abraham out of the stones if he chose[6]. To raise such an objection, however, one would likely be met with a chorus of "Israel means Israel!" from dispensationalists. Ignoring the context in which "Israel" is used throughout the New Testament, Dispensationalism maintains that every time the word Israel appears, it is referring to the physical nation of Israel, i.e. the Jewish people. To dispensationalists, Israel and the Church are two separate things[7].

Paul expressly teaches that there are not two peoples, Jew and Gentile, with whom God deals separately, one from another. On the contrary, Israel is the Body of Christ; that is, all those, Jew or Gentile, who have been brought to penitent faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all one through faith in Christ. To be in Christ is to be part of Israel because Christ is Israel reduced to one.

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:24-29).

Israel has indeed been resurrected, but not in the way evangelicals believe. This resurrection did not happen in 1948 with the birth of the nation-state of Israel in Palestine. It happened on Easter morning when Christ rose from the dead and exited the tomb. Christ was Israel reduced to one. Israel was to be a light to the nations by living in a unique relationship to God. God would be their Savior, and they would be faithful and obedient. They were, however, not faithful and obedient to God, and needed a substitute. Christ was that substitute and succeeded where Israel failed (Klotz, Replacement Theology 2015). In fact, Jesus reenacted the existence of Israel, as described by Rev. Alexander Lange:

John [the Baptist] was calling Israel to repentance. Then God sent Jesus to John with a very special mission. Jesus would become Israel's a substitute. He would become Israel Reduced to One. He would be the Israel that Israel never could be. Jesus with six seed where Israel had failed. Just look at our text and see how Jesus reenacted Israel's life (Matthew 3:13-17). Like Israel, Jesus passed through water. Having been baptized, he was anointed by the Holy Spirit, just like Israel. God announced that this man is his beloved, firstborn Son, just as he once did with Israel. After his baptism, Jesus wandered in the wilderness, just like Israel. He was tested, just like Israel. Unlike Israel, and Jesus withstood all temptations. He did not whine when he grew hungry or worship false gods. He did not grieve God's Spirit. Unlike Israel, Jesus was a faithful, obedient Son. Jesus carried out God's mission perfectly. He was the light of the world. He drew people to himself and told people about God's wonderful works and steadfast love. Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of Israel (Lange 2014).

If you are in Christ, as St. Paul says, you are a new creation. If you are in Christ, you are an Israelite. We have been united to Christ, through baptism, in the likeness of his death and will also be in the likeness of His resurrection. Rather than attempting to interpret Holy Scripture through the lens of the Chicago Tribune, we need to call people to repentance. We are indeed living in the End Times. Our response to that realization should not be to try to get our friends and neighbors to join our church because of the “truth” of this type of dubious prophecy fulfillment. We should know nothing among them except Christ crucified and allow God to work through his means of the Word.


Works Cited

Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. The "End Times" - A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism. St. Louis: The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, 1989.

Gallups, Carl. When the Lion Roars: Understanding the Implications of Ancient Prophecies for Our Time. Washington, D.C.: WND Books, 2016.

Klotz, Joseph D. "Replacement Theology." The Hodgkins Lutheran. August 5, 2015. (accessed December 14, 2016).

—. "The Judgment of This World." The Hodgkins Lutheran. December 15, 2011. (accessed December 14, 2016).

Lange, Rev. Alexander J. "Israel Reduced to One." St. John's Lutheran Church - East Moline, IL. January 12, 2014. (accessed July 27, 2015).

Mathison, Keith. "The Church and Israel in the New Testament." Ligonier Ministries. October 1, 2012. (accessed December 14, 2016).

Wikipedia. "Shmita." Wikipedia. November 15, 2016. (accessed December 14, 2016).

[1] The sabbath [sic] year is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel, and still observed in contemporary Judaism…Chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus promises bountiful harvests to those who observe the shmita [sic], and describes its observance as a test of religious faith. There is little notice of the observance of this year in Biblical history and it appears to have been much neglected (Wikipedia 2016). To hear an explanation of how contemporary televangelists use the con of the Shemitah to extort money from their followers, go to this web address:

[2] Dispensational premillennialism, or simply dispensationalism, is a theological system having its origin among the Plymouth Brethren in Ireland and England in the early 19th century. This system’s originator was John Nelson Darby (1800-82), one of the chief founders of the Plymouth Brethren movement. Dispensationalism arose as a reaction against the Church of England and the widely held view of postmillennialism (Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 1989).

[3] While there are numerous variations in millennialist teaching today, a fourfold categorization has been widely accepted: 1) dispensational premillennialism; (2) historic premillennialism; (3) postmillennialism, and (4) amillennialism. Of the first three categories, all of which hold to a millennium or utopian age on this earth, the most commonly held view is dispensational premillennialism…The less common postmillennial view places Christ’s second advent after (post) the millennium. Only then will the rapture, the general resurrection, the general judgment , and the eternal states occur. The millennium is not understood to involve a visible reign of Christ in the form of an earthly monarchy, nor is the millennial period to be taken literally as necessarily 1000 years long. In these respects postmillennialism corresponds closely to the amillennialist position (Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 1989).

[4] Some denominations teach that the Millennium will be a literal 1,000 year period when Jesus will set up his kingdom on earth. Along with this view, it is also taught that, at some point before the Millennium, Jesus will return secretly to resurrect or rapture all true Christians. There will then be a seven year “tribulation”, where Christians are persecuted. The battle of Armageddon will take place, culminating in Christ’s visible return to bind Satan, and the beginning of the Millennium. Following the Millennium, Satan will be released from the pit. The wicked will be resurrected for final judgment, Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, and the new heavens and the new earth will enter into eternity with Christ (Klotz, The Judgment of This World 2011).

[5] Romans 9:7

[6] But when he [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones (Matthew 3:7-9).

[7] The traditional dispensationalist view maintains that God has not replaced Israel with the church but that God has two programs in history, one for the church and one for Israel. Traditional dispensationalism also maintains that the church consists only of believers saved between Pentecost and the rapture. The church as the body of Christ does not include Old Testament believers (Mathison 2012).

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Blue Nose Theology

Luther vor Cajetan
I had an intensely interesting conversation-turned-debate with a delightful Roman Catholic friend at a local brewery recently regarding religion, particularly the differences between Roman Catholic and Lutheran teachings. I suspect that my friend had not met, or at least had an extended theological conversation with, a Confessional Lutheran, because she appeared to hold me as a curiosity. We had a great time discussing the deep thoughts of drunken philosophers and theologians (though I held the advantage as I was working, and therefore, sober). By the end, though, it sort of turned into a Rome vs. Wittenberg debate, with each of us vigorously defending our positions. It was almost like a modern day Luther meets Cardinal Cajetan[1] (Except, Cajetan was a Roman Catholic laywoman, Luther was a cop, and it took place at a hipster brewery. Also, I didn’t answer her questions on my knees so, not like Luther and Cajetan at all, I guess).

I wanted to pursue the conversation because, having many friends who still allow themselves to be subject to the antichrist pope[2], I have suspected for quite some time that there is a disconnect between what many laymen believe about Christianity and what their church actually teaches. This disconnect is not peculiar to the Roman church. It exists in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and in most other flavors of Christianity as well. It is most stark to me, however, when observed in Roman Catholicism.

The reason is because they have one guy who is the head of their church. Not only that, this guy claims for himself the title Vicar of Christ. He says that he is Christ's only representative on earth. Moreover, when he makes doctrinal pronouncements regarding faith and morals, his pronouncements are viewed by the church as infallible so, what he says goes. That, one would think, should be the end of it. It seems to me that Roman Catholic laypeople should not be as confused about the doctrines taught by their church as, perhaps, the laypeople of other denominations. I certainly wouldn’t expect there to be any instances of Roman Catholic laypeople flat-out denying their own church’s doctrines (I mean, if you knew what your church taught and disagreed with it, why would you remain a member?). Of course, the Roman church has had to contend with the same challenges as every other church body in America. This includes the church growth movement and the rise of post-modern thought. These two innovations will certainly always obscure biblical truth whichever denomination they infect.

I don’t chronicle our interaction to demean my friend in any way, or to flaunt my skills as a debater or theologian. I am in the lowest grade in both of those categories, and I think we genuinely had a fun time with our discussion. I write this to examine the danger post-modern thinking poses to God’s people. I will try to demonstrate the curious circumstance it causes for those who think in a post-modern way but still maintain an allegiance to a church body that professes absolute truths.

We didn’t begin with post-modernism, though. We started with…

The main difference between Catholics and Lutherans.

Right out of the box she asked my opinion regarding the main difference between the Roman Catholic Church, and the Lutheran Church. My “Cajetan” preemptively offered that the difference could be boiled down to… Consubstantiation[3].

My friend said that Lutherans believe in consubstantiation, and her church believes that the bread and wine at communion are actually the real body and blood of Jesus. I explained to her that, Lutherans do not in fact believe in consubstantiation. I pointed out to her that this is an area where Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians are closer to agreement with each other than Lutherans are with evangelicals, who believe the Supper is merely symbolic.

Rome teaches that Jesus’ body and blood is present in the supper, so do the Lutherans. We do, of course, disagree regarding the particulars of what actually takes place when the elements are consecrated. My explanation of the doctrine of the Real Presence, however, was completely misunderstood. When I said that in, with, and under the bread and the wine are Christ's real body and blood as he has promised to give us, for we Christians to eat and to drink, I was met with an incredulous stare. "Yes, like I said" came the reply, "you believe in consubstantiation!" Then she showed me a Google definition of the word Consubstantiation on her phone that mentioned Lutherans.

Such are the perils facing the Lutheran theologian. We have to navigate down the narrow road of God's word and avoid falling off into the ditch of popery and philosophy on one side or the ditch of Calvinism and rationalism on the other. The result is a nuance in our teaching that is difficult to grasp when one has imbibed beyond one’s limit. It's a good thing that I keep a copy of the Augsburg confession with me in the car. I fetched it and explained what Confessional Lutherans believe, Google notwithstanding.

We then moved to the matter in question. For a Confessional Lutheran the main difference separating Rome and Wittenberg is obviously the doctrine of Justification. Justification is the teaching upon which the church stands or falls. The explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism asks the question: How is it possible for a just and holy God to declare sinners righteous? God declares sinners righteous for Christ’s sake:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:22-24; 4:25).

The Whore of Babylon - Woodcut by Cranach from
the Lutherbibel, 1534
Going along with this would be Rome’s insistence upon papal authority over the Church by divine right. Luther asserted, rightly, that the Bishop of Rome was a pastor of God’s people in Rome and of all those who voluntarily attach themselves to him and nothing more (McCain, et al. 2005). He also asserted that the pope was the Antichrist[4]. The pope claims, however, his authority over the whole Christian Church by divine right and the Roman Church explicitly teaches that all those who are outside of Rome are outside of the one true faith. At this point our discussion took an interesting turn when my friend began making the point…

Your religion is true for you, mine is true for me.

This is where things got interesting. At one point I said that, in order to be saved, one must repent and believe in Jesus. My companion replied, "That's fine for us, but what about all the other people who have different religions?" I asked her to explain what she meant. She said, "What about Muslims?" Who are we, she continued, to say that they are wrong, necessarily? Their religion is true for them and our religion is true for us.

This type of postmodern thinking it's quite pervasive in American Christianity in particular and American society in general. I explained that, as Jesus teaches, no one comes to the Father except through him; anyone who does not have penitent faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins is lost. This would include Muslims, or Jewish people, or anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus. Just because you have many religions, doesn't mean you have many right choices. Other religions may have a shadow of the truth in them, and some more than others, but in the end there is right and wrong, good and evil, yes and no. Jesus explains this to us and gives us no other choice:

[Jesus said] Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me… Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:6; Acts 4:8-12).

My friend was shocked that I would assert such an insensitive, unenlightened idea. Imagine her surprise when I explained to her the dogma of her own church – that the only true Church of Christ is the Roman Church:

The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it…This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him (Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994).

And also, that salvation comes through this one Catholic Church alone:

The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God” (Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994).

I can understand why she was surprised. The supreme pontiff of the Roman church has made statements which have led many people to believe that the pope is OK with salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis made several, now infamous, statements that seemed to say atheists may be able to make their way into heaven by obeying their conscience[5]. Messy statements like those made by Pope Francis promote the idea of a kinder, gentler, Roman Catholic Church when reported by secular media who have little understanding of these things. They give the impression that the Roman Catholic Church has a “you go your way, I’ll go mine, we’ll all get there in the end” attitude. Liberal Catholic laypeople and post-modern American secularists believe the Roman Catholic Church is embracing the ideas of post-modernism in its doctrine because of this type of reporting: There is no “truth;” everyone has a shot at redemption with their own personal Jesus.

Except for Lutherans. We just can’t catch a break, and this I explained. Rome has been, and continues to be, clear on that point. Canon nine of the Council of Trent, which has never been rescinded by the Roman church[6], explicitly states that anyone who teaches the doctrine that man is justified by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone without works[7] is anathema.

If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema (The Council of Trent 1547).

Anathema: That means cursed. So, while their laypeople are given the false impression that their church has changed its teaching so that atheists and other noble pagans have a shot at working their way into heaven, the fact remains that all is as it was in the 16th Century. Rome still anathematizes the Gospel.

Needless to say, we never did come to a mutual understanding. There may not be absolute truth, but I was wrong, nevertheless. I was, however, able to get some sympathetic brewers to smuggle me out of the brewery inside a disused beer barrel and safely back to my patrol car[8].

The bottom line 

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

Christ Among the Lampstands -
Woodcut by Cranach from
the Lutherbibel, 1534.
I believe the reason that Lutherans are strange to other Christians (not to mention pagans), and misunderstood, comes down to this: We confess the truth of God's Word, even where we don't necessarily understand it, or like it. The only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone[9]. This flies in the face of both the secular world, and Rome. Moreover, we interpret Holy Scripture using the Historical-Grammatical method[10], which respects and recognizes Holy Scripture for what it is – the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God. The secular world has embraced post-modernism and asserts the truth that there is no such thing as absolute truth; The Roman Catholic Church claims that the church and its tradition is the divine authority, superior to that of even Holy Scripture, since the church existed before, and “created,” the Bible. To put it in a nutshell – church traditions preceded the Bible. Take into account the decades-long infiltration of post-modernism into the colleges and seminaries of the Roman Catholic Church and the result is a church body with doctrine that asserts it is the only true church and the only access God while its laity proclaims that all paths lead to the top of the mountain – I’m ok, you’re ok.

The Scriptures tested everything. This is the viewpoint of the authors of the New Testament, and the early church fathers. However, at the council of Trent, it was proclaimed that tradition was equal in importance and authority with the Bible. When the apostles preached the Gospel, the people who heard them tested what they said against the Scriptures they knew to be from God (the Old Testament)[11]. This happened before the New Testament was collected or the organized church existed. The Bereans tested the Gospel message and the apostles praised them for it.

Using the Historical-Grammatical method of biblical interpretation, an interpreter seeks the literal or intended sense of the text. He derives the meaning of the text from the text and allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. In order to discern God’s intended meaning, the Scriptures must be read as historical, literary documents. The meaning of Scripture is to be found in the text itself, not from some special revelation or extra-biblical source. The interpreter must also recognize that the Holy Scripture is the written word of God. It is not a primarily human witness to revelation, and thus not subject to human failings. In the historical-grammatical approach, the interpreter must always remember that Scripture, like our Lord, has two natures – the human and the divine – and has them equally and fully.

The Higher criticism method[12], on the contrary, favored by enlightened post-modern liberals, examines scriptural writings like witnesses in a court of law. Scripture must be “interrogated” and evaluated rationally. Following this method, Scripture is treated as any other human writings, subject to human failings. Higher criticism gives the individual interpreter, not Holy Scripture, ultimate authority and is incompatible with the “Sola Scriptura” principle of Lutheranism. Rome has begun to interpret Scripture according to this method in recent years. Main Line Protestantism and much of American Evangelicalism have been lost to Higher Criticism long ago.

What is disconcerting is that post-modernism is seeping more and more into those denominations which hold Scripture to be the divinely inspired, inerrant, efficacious Word of God. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has dealt with this in the 1960’s and 1970’s in what culminated in the seminary walk-out and Seminex[13]; we are still affected by it today.

We few who hold Holy Scripture in such esteem appear to be getting to be fewer.

Time to have a beer.

Works Cited

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (accessed December 4, 2016).

Day, Michael. "Pope Francis assures atheists: You don't have to believe in God to go to heaven." Independent. September 11, 2013. (accessed December 4, 2016).

Fields, Ligonberry. "7 Times Pope Francis Was Misquoted." BuzzVine. January 16, 2015. (accessed December 4, 2016).

Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cathechism of the Catholic Church. New Hope, KY: Urbi et Orbi Communications, 1994.

Lueker, Erwin L., ed. Lutheran Cyclopedia: A Concise In-Home Reference for the Christian Family. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984.

McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, . Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

Reformation 500. "Luther meets with Cajetan at Augsburg." Reformation 500. (accessed December 4, 2016).

"The Council of Trent." EWTN: Document Libraries. 1547. (accessed December 3, 2016).

Wikipedia. "Martin Luther." Wikipedia. December 4, 2016. (accessed December 5, 2016).

[1] In the summer of 1518, legal proceedings in church courts began against Luther for his criticism of indulgences…As a result, an order was issued for Luther to stand trial in Rome. However, Rome lifted that requirement, paving the way for his interrogation on German soil. The counselor appointed for that case was the Dominican cardinal and papal legate Tomas de Vio, named Cajetan…Cajetan was a theologian and ecclesiastic of high standing…Frederick the Wise… had arranged for the accused’s safe conduct to Augsburg and a fair hearing from Cajetan…Cajetan was directed by Rome neither to debate Luther, nor make a final judgment on his theology, but rather to insist that he recant by saying the simple word revoco—“I recant.” Upon arrival, Luther followed the advice of his colleagues and prostrated himself before Cajetan, then rose to his knees to answer the cardinal’s interrogation. Luther, however, refused to recant his positions and instead pressed Cajetan for clarity on where he was in error. Over the course of the three meetings on consecutive days from October 12-14, the theologically erudite cardinal was unable to resist debate with Luther (Reformation 500 n.d.).

[2] SA II, iv, 14.

[3] Consubstantiation is the view, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form one substance (a “third substance”) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present like bread and wine, in a natural manner (Lueker 1984).

[4] SA II iv 14: Finally, the papacy is nothing else than the devil himself, because above and against God the pope pushes his falsehoods about Masses, purgatory, the monastic life, one’s own works, and false worship. (This, in fact, is the papacy.) He also condemns, murders, and tortures all Christians who do not exalt and honor his abominations above all things. Therefore, just as we cannot worship the devil himself as Lord and God, so we cannot endure his apostle – the pope or Antichrist – in his rule as head or lord. For what his papal government really consists of (as I have very clearly shown in many books) is to lie and kill and destroy body and soul eternally (McCain, et al. 2005).

[5] The Pope wrote, “God's mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience” (Day 2013). He also said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone!” These statements are vague and confusing regarding the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on Justification and RC apologists and theologians were forced to run some heavy duty damage control to clarify that Pope Francis was not, in fact, subverting centuries of church dogma (Fields 2015).

[6] The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it. This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council. Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: “There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation”. The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith n.d.).

[7] Ephesians 2:1-10

[8] The hearings degenerated into a shouting match. Cajetan's original instructions had been to arrest Luther if he failed to recant, but the legate desisted from doing so. Luther’s supporters got wind of this, and helped Luther escape the night on October 20th Luther slipped out of the city at night, unbeknownst to Cajetan (Wikipedia 2016).

[9] Galatians 1:8; FC, Ep. 1.

[10] The historical-grammatical method is a Christian hermeneutical method that strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text.

[11] Acts 17:11-12

[12] Historical criticism, also known as the historical-critical method or higher criticism, is a branch of literary criticism that investigates the origins of ancient texts in order to understand "the world behind the text".

[13] Seminex is the widely used abbreviation for Concordia Seminary in Exile (later Christ Seminary-Seminex), an institution for the training of Lutheran ministers that existed from 1974 to 1987. It was formed after a walk-out by dissident faculty and students of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (LCMS).