Thursday, July 12, 2018

Criteria for Hymn Selection: Christocentric

“The righteous live alone by God’s grace, work, Word and might reveal in Christ which is their preaching, hymn, praise and song.” Martin Luther, The Good Confession of Psalm 118 (1530; Erl. 41:57-58).

It has been popular to use the hyphenated “Christ-centered” as a compound adjective to describe such things as education, marriage, or counseling. Perhaps it would be better to say solus Christus, "Christ alone," rather than “Christocentric.” Saying that Jesus is at the center does not necessarily address that which may lie at the periphery. Thus, the Scriptures do not speak of a Christ at the center but rather: "Christ is all and in all." (Col 3:11b), as is also echoed in other passages of Scripture emphasizing the "all things" from and through and by Christ alone.

In Thee Alone, O Christ, My Lord

In Thee alone, O Christ, my Lord, 
My hope on earth remaineth;
I know Thou wilt Thine aid afford,
Naught else my soul sustaineth.
No strength of man, no earthly stay
Can help me in the evil day;
Thou, only Thou, canst aid supply.
To Thee I cry; On Thee I bid my heart rely.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Criteria for Hymn Selection: Theology

By Rev. Joel Brondos

“Theology must sing.”
Martin Franzmann

The first Lutheran cantor, Johann Walter, maintained in the 16th century that music is “wrapped up and locked up in theology, so that he who desires, pursues, and studies theology at the same time lays hold of the art of music, even though he may fail to see, feel, or understand this.”

The Lutheran Confessions even use the text of a well-known hymn to emphasize a doctrinal point (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article I:23, “They teach that what is sung in our churches, ‘Through Adam’s fall is all corrupt . . .”).

Centuries later, the first president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, wrote concerning the hymn selection process for the 1847 Kirchengesangbuch:

“In the selection of the adopted hymns the chief consideration was that they be pure in doctrine; that they have found almost universal acceptance within the orthodox German Lutheran Church and have thus received the almost unanimous testimony that they had come forth from the true spirit (of Lutheranism); that they express not so much the changing circumstances of individual persons but rather contain the language of the whole church.” Hymns selected for this new hymnal follow in this tradition.

In our own day, Robin Leaver has expressed it this way: “For the people of our churches, theology is largely formed by the hymns they sing,” (“Renewal in Hymnody,” Lutheran Quarterly, no. 6 [Winter 1992], 367).

The hymnody of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod is part and parcel with its theology. That which we believe, teach, and confess finds concrete expression through the hymns which we sing.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Paul Ministering in Corinth

Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

Paul preaches Christ in Thessalonica. His opponents gather a mob and set the city in an uproar. They attack the house of a man named Jason, where Paul was staying. At the end of the affair it is Jason, Paul, and the other brethren who are arrested and must post bond. Paul preaches Christ in Berea. The reception is a little better there; but when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul in Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Paul preaches Christ in Athens. He wasn’t physically attacked by an angry mob but, when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, some were converted, and some said they wanted to hear more. Paul departed from among them.

In Corinth, the scene appears set to play out as it did in the other places. Paul preaches Christ in Corinth. He was compelled by the Spirit to do so, Scripture says, and he testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” This time, however, the risen Jesus tells Paul not to be afraid. He should keep speaking, “...for I am with you, and no one will attack or hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” And Paul does, for a year and a half. And the Jews bring Paul to the judgment seat of proconsul Gallio. They hope Gallio will assume Paul is advocating illegal religion and acting treasonously by telling people to pledge their allegiance to a king other than Caesar. They charge Paul with persuading men to worship God contrary to the law. Gallio wants no part of this religious dispute. He tells them to handle it amongst themselves and clears the court. Paul is saved; the one who takes the beating is Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue. The church steadily grows and becomes more firmly established through the bold proclamation of Christ crucified for our sins and risen from the dead; God the Holy Spirit, working as He wills, makes Christians in the face of ferocious opposition through His means of the external word of God.

Paul wasn’t surprised or disheartened when he was mocked, beaten, stoned, and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Scripture tells us he was compelled to preach by the Holy Spirit. He knew what the reaction would be. We also should know what the reaction of the pagan world will be to us as well. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came to His own and His own did not receive Him. Jesus taught His disciples that He was sending them out as sheep among wolves; that they would be delivered up to councils; that they would be scourged; that they would be brought before kings and governors for His sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Jesus’ disciples, we included, will be hated by all for His name’s sake; but he who endures to the end will be saved.[1] The world hates us because it hated Jesus before us, and no student is above his master. They hate us because of the message we proclaim: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day; that by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death. This message is foolishness to those who are perishing. The carnal mind cannot understand spiritual things.

Being dead in our transgression, we must be made alive by the working of God, through water and the Word. Being dead we must be born from above by water and the spirit. And even though the world may mock us, reject us, and even react violently toward us, we continue to bring them the Gospel, the message of the cross. It isn’t through the elegant turning of a phrase that God makes Christians out of non-Christians, as we see from Paul’s example; Christians are made through the preaching of the Gospel. We must not be afraid to boldly proclaim that Gospel to those around us, according to our vocation. It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.[2]

[1] Matthew 10:16-26
[2] Romans 1:16

Criteria for Hymn Selection: “Sing praises with understanding” (Psalm 47:7b)

By Rev. Joel Brondos

This series is offered for consideration as objective criteria to address subjective concerns used in the process of selecting hymns for use in hymnals and services.
 “The Lord is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2; Psalm 118:14; Isaiah 12:2)

Where there is salvation, there is singing.

Singing springs forth from the lips of people who have been delivered from sin, death, the devil, the world and their own flesh. As Luther wrote in his preface to the Babst hymnal in 1545:

"For God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave for us to redeem us from sin, death and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so that others also may come and hear it. And whoever does not want to sing and speak of it shows that he does not believe and that he does not belong under the new and joyful testament, but under the old, lazy, and tedious testament." (AE 53:332-33)

Similarly, Robin Leaver writes,

"Music is the accompanying counterpoint to the Divine message and in all the mighty acts of God, music is never very far away. From eternity to eternity, from creation to judgment, from Genesis to Revelation, the sound of music is to be heard.” Even the heavens, the sea, mountain and forest break into singing." (1 Chron. 16:32-33; Is. 44:23)

For Lutherans, hymn singing is the corporate confession of God’s work in Christ. It is not primarily a clergy-manipulated attempt to elicit certain emotions from people. It is not essentially a human-centered effort obey a sovereign God who demands utmost praise according to His divine Law. The hymns, psalms and spiritual songs of God’s people are rather sung confessions of the works and gifts of Him who has obtained such deliverance as declared by the Holy Scriptures.

The Word of God begets the song of the Church.

Hymns recall and recount the promises and works of Jesus Christ among people who know their sin and their need before a righteous God. In this way, people learn to love hymns not for the sake of their melody, rhythm, childhood memories or sentimental phrases, but rather because they are people who cling to the saving work of God in Christ which is expressed in the hymns.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The True Vine

Christ: The True Vine
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Jesus is the vine. The vine carries the nourishing sap to the branches, from which fruit will grow. We are the branches. In order to produce fruit, we branches must remain connected to the vine. Branches which are disconnected from the vine and do not receive sap do not produce fruit. God the Father, the Vinedresser, removes those dead branches. Every branch that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Just as branches must abide in the vine in order to bear fruit, we must abide in Christ to bear fruit. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Apart from Christ we are dead, fruitless branches. Such branches are broken off and cast into the fire.
What is the fruit of which Jesus speaks? Good deeds? Certainly. We know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[1] Certainly a disciple of Christ who abides in Him and keeps His Word will exhibit these fruits to a greater, or lesser, degree. A good tree, Jesus teaches, cannot bear bad fruit. One does not collect figs from thistles. But Jesus is not simply talking about doing good deeds; He certainly isn’t telling His disciples to do good works in order to merit, increase, or strengthen their connection to the vine. After all, it is the Vinedresser’s job to graft branches into the vine, and cleanse the vine by pruning it back.[2]
God does this grafting in and pruning through His holy Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.[3] God’s Word lives and abides forever, and through it men are born again.[4] The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.[5] Through His Word God shows us our sin; He brings us to repentance. In we who were spiritually dead and the enemies of God by our nature, He creates faith though the power of the Holy Spirit, working through His Word. Using His tools of word, water, bread and wine, He cleanses us from our sin and grafts us into the True Vine, where we receive the gifts of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We are still called to bear fruits worthy of repentance.[6] Our good works are evidence of our faith; faith without such works is dead.[7] You cannot separate faith from its natural fruit of good works. If you have one, the other follows naturally. And so, as St. Paul explains to the Philippians, we work out our faith in fear and trembling.[8] We cannot boast about all the good things we do; we cannot boast about our salvation. God’s action is the cause of both. And though we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we go about it doing the works which God prepared beforehand for us to do.[9] It is God who works in you, both to will and to do, for His good pleasure.[10]

[1] Galatians 5:22-23
[2] Romans 11:11-26
[3] Romans 10:17
[4] 1 Peter 1:22-23
[5] Romans 1:16
[6] Matthew 3:8
[7] James 2:14-26
[8] Philippians 2:12-13
[9] Ephesians 2:10
[10] Philippians 2:13

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Shepherd Knows His Sheep

The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jew, “but for blasphemy because you, a mere man, make yourself God” (John 10:24-33 NIV).

Tell us plainly! Are you the Christ? What has Jesus been doing up to this point? Precisely what the Pharisees demand. He has shown them many great miracles from the Father. He has healed many people. He has taught in the temple and the synagogues as one who has authority. He has declared that the scriptures were fulfilled in Him. He casts out demons who testify to who Jesus is. He has called the Pharisees lying children of the devil, and Himself the Son of God. He has called Himself I AM, applying YAHWEH’s divine name to Himself. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd, the one come to search out the lost and scattered sheep, and rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered.[1] In calling Himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is calling Himself YAHWEH. The prophet Ezekiel wrote that, because those who were supposed to shepherd Israel would neglect the responsibility given to them, God Himself would come among His sheep and be their shepherd Himself.[2] Jesus announces to the Jews here in John 10 that the long wait for their shepherd is over. He has arrived.

The Jews still reject Him. They are not His sheep, and therefore, do not hear His voice. They are the false shepherds who eat the fat, clothe themselves with the wool, slaughter the fat ones, but do not feed the sheep. They rule the sheep with force and harshness.[3] They try to charge Jesus with breaking the Law when He heals on the Sabbath.[4] After hearing Jesus read the scriptures and teach, they try to throw Him off a cliff.[5] They ignore the casting out of demons, and the restoration of people possessed by them, and say He colludes with the devil to cast out devils.[6] They have eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear. They have hearts, but do not understand.[7] Here, as He did just a short time before, Jesus tells them exactly who He is. He is one with the Father. Not merely one in will and work, but one in being and essence.[8] Jesus is telling us that He and the Father are one in essence, or nature, but they are not identical persons. As the Scripture says, the Jews understood exactly what Jesus was saying. They took these words to be blasphemy and tried to impose the penalty for blasphemy prescribed in the law, though without due process.[9]

Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and, in so doing, gives us an indication of the intimate relationship He has with His followers, and the love that moved Jesus to die for them all. Sheep who do not listen to the voice of the shepherd are bound to wander away from the safety of the flock and be devoured by wolves. Like the shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, the God-man’s love for His own moved Him to endure the humiliating death on the cross to be the sacrifice for their sins.[10] Jesus’ declaration that He and the Father are one, and that no one can snatch His sheep from His hand should give all believers hope, no matter what they face. Believers can rest secure that they belong to Jesus Christ and will never perish; all of Jesus’ works affirm this truth.[11] Consequently, to reject Jesus as the Pharisees did, even in the face of the miracles Jesus did and the testimony of the Law and the Prophets, is to reject God Himself and His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life.

[1] Ezekiel 34:11-12
[2] Ezekiel 34:1-4; 11-12
[3] Lenski, R. C. (1942). The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press.
[4] Matthew 12:9-14
[5] Luke 4:16-30
[6] Matthew 12:22-30
[7] Matthew 13:10-17
[8] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House. John 10:38
[9] Leviticus 24:16
[10] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House. Philippians 2:8
[11] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Your Best Life Now

Creflo Dollar: Word of Fatih Preacher
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

This is one of the favorite verses for prosperity gospel heretics to twist. Jesus, they say, wants us to have life abundantly. The more faith we have, the more God will bless us. He’s just waiting for us to give Him the go-ahead. Prosperity preachers, like Creflo Dollar, then try to convince people that Jesus’ plan was that everyone who believes in Him should have a happy and fulfilling life.[1] You see, God is a god of abundance. He wants us to enjoy life.[2] When we really believe in Jesus, and attune ourselves to Him, we get supernatural results.[3] That sounds fantastic! How can I get God to bless me like that? How do I have faith and attune myself to Him? Here is where the aptly named Dollar and his prosperity gospel preaching heretic friends step in. They can help you step out in faith. All you have to do is get your mind right by not allowing the wrong thoughts to enter into our minds, and dwelling on those thoughts, which causes us to think wrong.[4] We also have to sow a seed offering into one of their anointed ministries. Your blessings will be on their way, in size and speed directly proportional to the size of the seed (read: monetary offering) that is sown. If you don’t, by some chance, receive your miracle cure for that case of terminal cancer, your job promotion, or the monetary blessing, it’s your fault. You simply didn’t have enough faith. Maybe you need to be bolder, and sow another, bigger seed that really shows God you’re serious. The health and wealth preachers will be happy to accept your seed. After all, private jets are expensive to maintain.

This, of course is dangerous and heretical false teaching. Christ is not saying here that He wants us, to borrow a phrase, to have our best life now. Jesus explains that in the world, rather than peace and happiness, we will have trouble.[5] The reason we can be happy and take heart is because Christ has overcome the world by His death and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven. He is ultimately concerned with mankind’s eternal well-being, not how comfortable our lives are here on earth. He has not promised us physical healing, no matter how badly the prosperity preachers mangle Isaiah 53:5: But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and By His stripes we are healed.

Far from having happy lives, free from disease and filled with monetary blessing, Jesus promises His disciples that they will be betrayed by their unbelieving family members. They will be delivered up to be killed. They will be hated by everyone on account of His name.[6] Jesus calls His disciples to confess Him before men. He warns not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, but rather treasures in heaven, because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.[7] No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.[8] The word mammon means material wealth. Rather than using God as a magic genie to seek after material wealth, possessions, and long life, we are called to seek first the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches us to pray, not for an abundance of wealth, but for daily bread. We are commanded not to covet and steal our neighbor’s possessions, but to help and be of service to our neighbor in keeping his money and possessions.

Knowing that we are of more value than the birds of the air, who neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet are fed by our Heavenly Father, we recognize what is truly important, and sing with Martin Luther: And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife; Though these all be gone, Our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.[9]

[1] "Living Life to the Fullest." Creflo Dollar Ministries. March 27, 2017. Accessed May 10, 2018.
[2] Dollar, Creflo. "Sow Your Seed Until You Reach Your Destiny." Creflo Dollar Ministries. August 01, 2014. Accessed May 10, 2018.
Let me ask you a question. Do you believe it is God’s will for you to be successful in every endeavor in life? If you don’t believe it, you should because that is what total-life prosperity means. Don’t allow religion to rob you and tell you that God doesn’t want you to be successful in every way. God’s will is that everything you touch prospers! He wants you to depend on and trust Him for your success. His grace is on your life for a reason—to bear fruit. God’s grace is what empowers you to have sweatless victory in life. If you’re sweating to produce something, you’re not yielding to God’s grace that’s been bestowed upon your life.
[3] "Living Life to the Fullest." Creflo Dollar Ministries. March 27, 2017. Accessed May 10, 2018.
[4] Dollar, Creflo. "Abundant Life to the Fullest." Creflo Dollar Ministries. January 22, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2018.
[5] John 16:33
[6] Matthew 10:22-31
[7] Matthew 6:19-21
[8] Matthew 6:24
[9] Luther, Martin. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." In Lutheran Worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986.
Stanza four; Composite translation.