Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Liturgical Worship...Also Not Fit for Lutheran Consumption?

I am a high-church weirdo. I like the “smells and bells.” I like incense. I want my pastor to wear vestments…Lots of vestments. I think genuflecting is neat. If I were the king of church, things would look a lot different. Worship in the Lutheran Church – Joseph Synod would look a lot more like the 16th century than the 20th century. And the chanting…there would be sooooooo much chanting. Some of the chanting might be in English, as a good-will gesture to some of my more low-church friends…but not much.

Those who know me are rolling their eyes, chuckling softly to themselves now (I hope), and offering a silent prayer that there are, as of yet, no plans to elevate me to the throne. While they may not wish to return to a chanted Latin mass, my friends do know that my respect for our Lutheran liturgical heritage, as rooted in the western catholic liturgy, is genuine. In fact, though I may be decried as a filthy papist by some, I do not advocate “high-church” forms as necessary, or view them as good works. I do not, in reality, wish to exchange Wittenberg for Rome. Perhaps it is simply the result of my conservative inclinations to resist the novel. It is in keeping with the spirit of the Reformation to retain that which is beneficial, and to dispense with that which is harmful and contrary to God’s Word. Maybe my attraction to ancient liturgical forms is even a bit reactionary, considering the trends in modern Christianity to absorb as much secular culture as possible in an effort to simplify, and make people feel comfortable. Pastor Benjamin Mayes describes it this way:

“Within the last two decades, the Lutheran Church in the United States, and perhaps all Christendom in North America, has seen two tendencies in worship. One tendency is to make worship as accessible as possible to modern man, for the sake of mission. This tendency has led to wholesale or partial abandonment of historic western liturgical forms and has often neglected liturgical song, making worship music the business of a band or song leader. Music and text have striven for simplicity[1].”

This trend of modernizing worship for the sake of mission, and abandoning traditional forms and practices, is readily apparent, even to the most casual observer. The mission doesn’t even have to be legitimate. There are people who have made these changes for well-intended reasons, and there are those who have made them so as to tickle as many ears as possible, for the sake of filthy lucre. All you have to do is tune into TBN to see a parade of prosperity preachers promising you your best life now, if only you send in your seed offering. Mega churches like Willow Creek are trying to make “seekers” more comfortable, so that they will be persuaded to enter the church and, once inside, have their felt needs met. Not that I would necessarily call mega church worship “simple.” It takes a lot of time, money, equipment, planning, and personnel to pull off what goes on there, if it is to have the intended revivalist effect. From the worshipper’s point of view, however, it is somewhat passive. You sit, you listen, you repeat words and phrases as instructed by the leader. Maybe you sing, if you know the words to the latest CoWo rock song. But mostly you just “be emotionally manipulated” into making some kind of decision, or reaffirmation. This is much simpler than worshiping by using an archaic liturgy printed in some moldy old hymnal, or engaging the text of a Paul Gerhardt hymn.

While we (particularly we Confessional Lutherans) may see the danger of modernization and simplification easily enough, we often miss the dangers which approach us from the other direction. Our direction. Well meaning people – people like me – who love and respect our Lutheran liturgical heritage, and wish to preserve it, also are in danger of worshipping the form for the sake of mission, rather than Christ, who ought to always be the object of our worship.

What I’m saying is this: Sometimes we traditional types fall into the same pit as the contemporary worship types; We come to rely on our form and style of worship to draw people into the church and, to save them.

I believe wholeheartedly that “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” is true. I believe that the traditional liturgy, developed over the course of 2,000 years, is the best vehicle for delivering God’s gifts to his people gathered together as the church. I believe that the traditional liturgy is the type of worship most harmonious with Christian doctrine as presented in Scripture, and taught in the Lutheran Confessions. I do not believe, however, that Christ ceases to care for his people, or is hampered in his work, when we “don’t do church well.”

It is wrong to adopt contemporary worship practices in order to get people into the church, and keep it from closing. It is equally wrong to practice the liturgy in order to do the same.

This phenomenon may be explained like this: Our church is “dying,” and we want people to come and support it, so that we don’t close our doors, and so the Gospel continues to be proclaimed in this place. We know that the mega church model is contrary to Scripture and our confessions; what we will do instead of abandoning the liturgy, is embrace it…so tightly that we strangle it to death. We need the perfect pastor…one who has an excellent singing voice so that he can chant the liturgy perfectly. We need the perfect organist…what is E. Power Biggs up to these days? Dead, you say? See if we can get a hold of that Hector Olivera guy then. We have to have an organist who won’t detract from the worship experience with his bumbling mistakes. Speaking of worship experience, let’s see if we can get an acting coach for the new pastor while we’re at it. His sermons are orthodox, but he’s driving people away because he’s so boring. The liturgy, after all, is a play, and in order for it to be as effective as possible we have to make sure the pastor doesn’t screw it up by his mediocre performance skills. Did you hear how flat and monotone he delivered the Prayers of the Church last week? So distracting…And what’s with that choir?! Maybe we can find some ringers from some other church to help them out with their intonation. After all, we don’t want them to detract from the worship experience and drive people away. One more of those out-of-tune Graduals and the whole place will be empty.

It is frighteningly easy to develop the attitude that, if any one of a number of factors is missing or done “incorrectly” during the course of the worship service, then “church” has not been properly achieved. I know, because I was there.

The problem is that these aren’t really the things that drive people away from the church. The reason people stay away from church is because they hate Jesus.


People are drawn to contemporary worship and the mega church because it focuses on them. It meets their felt needs. It enshrines their contemporary culture, which makes them feel comfortable. On the other side of that coin, people aren’t pushed away from the liturgy because the pastor has a nasal singing voice, or a dry delivery, or because the organist pumps out a few clinkers during the Te Deum (though this can be annoying). They walk away because, enshrined in the liturgy is Law and Gospel. People are told that they are sinful and need to repent. They are confronted with their sin and their need for a savior, week after week, and they don’t like it. Heck, I don’t like it. But, I know I need what Christ provides for me there – repentance, faith, and the forgiveness of my sin. And the people who remain know that as well.

So, how do we keep our churches open? We don’t. Jesus does that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the means he has appointed – Word, Water, Bread and Wine.

The response I have most often received to this concept from many of my concerned brethren is something like, “Yes, yes, I know…Holy Spirit, and all that, but…” Or, “With all due respect to Word and Sacrament ministry, and the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish great things through them, I believe…” What this has in common with the contemporary worship mistake is that it focuses us, on us. Any time you add a “something” as necessary, you negate the sufficiency of Christ, even if that something is one of the liturgical bells/whistles we like. At that point, whatever that something is, it has supplanted Christ.

So, is it still church if we don’t have incense? How about if we don’t process? What if we don’t have kneelers, and my pastor doesn’t genuflect? What if we don’t have a choir? Or an organ? What if we only speak the liturgy, rather than chant it? Can we still worship in line with our liturgical tradition, in a way which teaches Christian doctrine as taught in the Scriptures and affirmed in the Confessions, without these things? I, at one time, would have answered no. History, and Holy Scripture, however, says yes.

“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:18-20).

Christ, in this passage from Matthew 18, teaches the church how to deal with a sinning brother. He is not here referring to the universal church, but the congregation[2]. Jesus emphasized his point that the gathering of Christians (the congregation), no matter how large or small, has the power to come together to bind and loose by using the phrase, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name.” Luther explains:

“Here we hear that also two or three assembled in Christ’s name have the same power over everything which St. Peter and all the Apostles have. For the Lord Himself is present, as He says, too, John 14:23: ‘If a man love Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him.’…We here have present the Lord himself, the Lord of all angles and creatures; it is He who says that all are to have equal authority, keys, and office, even two common Christians by themselves, when gathered in His name. Of this Lord the Pope and all devils shall not make a fool, liar or drunkard, but we will trample on the Pope and declare that he is a confirmed liar, blasphemer, and idolatrous devil, who under St. Peter’s name has arrogated the keys to himself alone, while Christ has given them equally to all in common.[3]

The thing that makes church, according to Christ, is the gathering of Christians together in his name. Where two or three are thus gathered, there he is with them. The Augsburg Confession explains that, where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel, there is the church[4], whether there are two Christians present in a dark basement for fear of persecution, or 2,000 in an ornate cathedral. The Church’s existence and growth doesn’t depend on us, but rather on Christ, whose body the Church is. We should, as the Catechism explains, maintain and extend God’s church by telling others about Jesus Christ, by personal service, and by prayer and financial support[5]. We must ultimately, however, recognize the truth of St. Paul’s words:

“I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor" (1 Cor. 3:6-8).

God will increase his Church as he sees fit, working by His Holy Spirit, through the means he has provided, when and where he wills. In the words of the Small Catechism:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives me all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true[6].”

It doesn’t matter if your church is large or small. It doesn’t matter if your church performs the liturgy perfectly, by the outward act. You can’t grow the church by catering to people’s inclinations. Christ must grow his church. Leave it to him. Plant. Water. Let him worry about the increase. Your method – whatever it might be – may get more bodies inside the building, but they will, most likely, be worshiping an idol. Stop worrying; Preach Christ crucified. 

End Notes

[1] Mayes, Rev. Benjamin T. G. The Brotherhood Prayer Book. 2nd ed. Kansas City, KS: Emmanuel Press, 2007.

[2] The Smalcald Articles do not, of course, refer to the Church Universal, scattered over the whole world (ecclesia universalis), with the phrase “given to the Church,” but to the congregation (ecclesia particularis), as the passage added indicates: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” For the Church possesses all spiritual treasures and privileges, not inasmuch as it is large or small, but inasmuch as it consists of believers (Pieper, Franz. Christian Dogmatics. Vol. III. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publ. House, 1953. p. 452).

[3] Pieper, Franz. Christian Dogmatics. Vol. III. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publ. House, 1953. p. 452

[4] AC VII 1

[5] Luther, Martin. Luther's Small catechism, with explanation. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 1991. p. 159.

[6] Luther, Martin. Luther's Small catechism, with explanation. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 1991. p. 15.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Luther's Sermon for the First Sunday After Trinity

In a sermon on 1 John 4, Luther addresses those pastors and people who wrongly imagine that they can preach and listen only to the Gospel apart from the rebuke and admonition of the Law:

YOU have often heard and are now hearing the complaint, which is universal in all the world, that when human beings hear the preaching of faith about the remission of sins, they embrace it, because it is a delightful preaching: God has sent His Son for you. But when it is said that you must adorn your faith to the praise of God, and sins are rebuked, no one wants to hear anything more.

In towns everywhere, people distinguish among preachers. “This one is a fine preacher, who talks about grace and mercy; and what is even finer, he does not scold anyone or frighten people.” That is the way people commonly talk and act. If he does rebuke [sins], they undertake to have him removed. Therefore, many [of these preachers] have returned to us.

When you are scolded as a usurer, adulterer, or whatever kind of swine you are, or [it is said] that a peasant, a townsman, or a nobleman is godless, no one will suffer that. “But if I am a usurer, adulterer, swindler, and [the preacher] does not scold me, ah, what a pious man he is!”

[Are you] really righteous because I [do not] rebuke your vices? Then let the devil be [your] preacher. If I see peasants, townsmen, noblemen and do not chastise them, then I will go to the devil along with you. For [God says in] Ezekiel 3 [:18]: “I will require [their] blood at your [hands],” and they themselves will go to the devil. You shall give an account of yourself. I will not be responsible for that in the hour of death or of judgment. Rather, I shall declare what is contrary to the commandment, and then if you do not obey, you do it at your own peril.

. . . Surely an upright [Christian] gladly hears an admonition to faith, not to be greedy or a usurer, and he amends himself. I would want a brother to admonish me when I go astray. But they refuse to tolerate anyone who rebukes them [even] in general. When I say that usurers belong to the devil, why do you cry out? It is because you yourself are guilty. If you want to know which dog has been struck, it is the one who cries out.8 Therefore, you are accusing yourself, if you grumble, and are defaming yourself. As Cicero says, when vices are rebuked in general terms, whoever becomes angry at it shows himself to be guilty.

Whoever cannot bear it when unbelief is rebuked along with the fruits of unbelief, he is most certainly the dog who has been struck. But this is the purpose for which they want to misuse the Gospel: that they may do whatever they want, and the preachers should confirm it and so be cast down to hell along with them, or else we should nullify the Gospel and the ministry [of the Word], etc., [saying,] “Oh, it is all the same; do whatever you want and you will be saved!”

The Word must be unbound [cf. 2 Tim. 2:9]. It must be freely preached. Human nature has been corrupted by unbelief, which brings its fruits along with it. Therefore, sins must be rebuked, as in the Ten Commandments, etc. If you don’t want to listen to God, then don’t!

Luther, Martin. “Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity, 1 John 4:16–21.” Luther’s Works: Sermons V. Ed. & trans. by Christopher Boyd Brown. Vol. 58. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, pp. 234–235.

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).