Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Sanctity of (Oyster) Life

Disturbing things you find when researching oysters on the Internet:

Dr. Peter Singer, the "philosopher" and noted advocate of infanticide, has "gone back and forth" on whether or not oysters feel pain and, subsequently, whether or not it is ethical to eat them. He wrote, "One cannot with any confidence say that these creatures do feel pain, so one can equally have little confidence in saying that they do not feel pain.”  If the jury is still out on the ethics of killing oysters because they may or may not feel pain, should we not reconsider late-term abortion (indeed, all abortion) on the very same grounds, at least as a starting place for the debate? Oysters, I don't know about. I am confident, however that children have a central nervous system and can feel pain. Perhaps I am the odd man here, and shouldn't be disturbed by this strange classification of the sanctity of oyster life above the sanctity of human life (a concept which Dr. Singer sees as outdated). Then again, I'm not a professor of Bioethics at Princeton University.

Dr. Singer is famous for his ideas about what constitutes Personhood. According to Dr. Singer, personhood, on some level, involves rationality and awareness. This line of thinking opens the door to such horrific nonsense as "after birth" abortions. Thank you, The Left. Lord, have mercy.

You can read other strange things involving the "ethics" of personhood here:

Cox, Christopher. "It’s OK for Vegans to Eat Oysters." Accessed December 30, 2014. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2010/04/consider_the_oyster.html.

"FAQ." Princeton University. Accessed December 30, 2014. http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/faq.html.

Saletan, William. "What’s Wrong With “After-Birth Abortion”?" Accessed December 30, 2014. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2012/03/after_birth_abortion_the_pro_choice_case_for_infanticide_.html.

Friday, December 26, 2014

St. Stephen - Martyr

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:54-60).

I never particularly understood why St. Stephen’s day was the day after Christmas. Superficially, it seems like there must have been some leftover saints and a need to celebrate their “days” by the end of the year, sort of like getting a last minute tax deductible expenditure in before the new year. I’m sure that’s not how this happened, and there is some perfectly logical explanation of why these saints are remembered on these particular days. I have, however, neither the time nor the inclination to do the research. I am still fat and lethargic with Christmas ham.

Directly after celebrating the Savior’s birth on December 25, we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Dec. 26), St. John the Apostle (Dec. 27), and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28). December 29 is the feast day of St. Thomas Beckett, who was assassinated on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Saint Anysia of Salonika, a martyr of the 4th century, is remembered on December 30. Anysia’s delightful story begins with her birth to a wealthy and pious Christian family in Salonika (modern day Thessaloniki). The legend of her martyrdom states that in 304 AD, a Roman soldier apprehended her as she was on her way to services. Discovering she was a Christian, he beat her, and intended to drag her to a pagan temple to sacrifice to Roman gods. When he tore off her veil (a reminder of her vow of chastity), she spit in his face, and he murdered her. Rounding out the year we have St. Sylvester on December 31. St. Sylvester was a pope whose claim to fame is being mentioned in the forged Donation of Constantine, according to which Pope Sylvester was offered the imperial Roman crown by a grateful, newly converted Emperor Constantine, which he refused. Sylvester is credited with lots of other actual good things, which you can read about here.

I like celebrating St. Stephen in such close proximity to the birth of Our Lord Jesus though. He reminds us what the point of Jesus’ birth was, and just how hostile an unbelieving world is to the message of the Gospel. When he is taken into custody and brought before the Sanhedrin, he wastes no time arguing with his captors, or pleading for mercy. St. Stephen, when given the opportunity to speak, preaches Law and Gospel, using the condensed story of God’s salvation history given in Holy Scripture. To the stiff-necked, unrepentant people about to murder him, St. Stephen preaches law:

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? The even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7:51-53).

This sermon is reminiscent of St. Peter’s address to the crowd on Pentecost. Both men are addressing Jews who have received God’s Law, but are not believers in Christ. Why does St. Peter’s sermon turn out so much differently than St. Stephen’s? Was he a better preacher? Perhaps he was able to relate to the crowd better by meeting them where they were at and not speaking in terms of antiquated doctrine or outdated worship styles. Maybe he wore hipster glasses.

What the story of St. Stephen’s martyrdom illustrates when compared with St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon is the difference between repentance and faith, and sin and unbelief. It shows us that God is responsible for saving us though the gift of faith given through the means of his word, and we are responsible for our damnation by rejecting that gift and resisting the Holy Spirit. Faith comes to us as a gift, through the means of God’s word and sacraments. Unbelief comes from us. God’s Holy Spirit works when and where he will through those means. Man’s sinful mind is hostile to God. Perishing and being dead in transgression, the message of the cross is foolishness to men. Natural man does not, and cannot, submit to God’s Law.

This should take a lot of weight off of us Christians. It is not up to us to convert people. That is God’s job. He does that though the preached word, through the waters of Baptism, and in Christ’s body and blood given to us to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper. God will use his means of grace to accomplish his purposes. Therefore, we can be bold like St. Stephen and simply proclaim Law and Gospel, without worrying whether or not we have packaged it effectively.

We celebrate the Christ child’s birth looking forward to his death for our sin on the cross, and his glorious resurrection. Knowing this we can, with the same faith that St. Stephen had, preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus to a fallen, sinful, and hostile world, and God will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, save sinners.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The External Word

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum
The Word of the Lord Remains Forever
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The author of Hebrews tells us here that, what God wanted to communicate to mankind, he has communicated finally and completely through Jesus Christ. In the past, from the Fall of Man until Christ, God the Father used many different ways to communicate with man. In the Garden of Eden he spoke to man directly. He spoke to the patriarchs by appearing to them as the Angel of the Lord. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush, and through a cloud on a mountain. He spoke to the prophets in dreams and visions. The message was always the same throughout all that time: That he would redeem mankind from their fallen state by His grace through faith in Christ, and restore creation. But in these last days, the writer of Hebrews says, he has spoken to us by His Son.

The message of the entire Bible is God saving mankind from sin, death, and devil by the atoning work of Christ. St. Augustine explained, “The New [Testament] is in the Old [Testament] concealed; The Old is in the New revealed.” This is the message God was communicating to man after the Fall in the Garden, and this is the message He communicates to us now.

Whenever God is speaking to us, however, he speaks to us by his external word. What I mean is this: God comes to man “externally,” through means. He communicates to us though words, using human language that men are capable of understanding. He uses physical elements and uses his word to connect his promises to them, and to deliver those promises to man. He does not work in man through “burnings” in the bosom. He does not work redemption in man apart from His word. St. Paul writes in Romans:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” (Romans 10:17).

The burning bush, the visions, all the other means by which God communicated the Gospel to man, were means of delivering to man the external word. And now, in these last days, God has spoken to us through Christ. God’s communication with man has been concentrated down to Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. It is finished, and there is no longer any need to burn bushes or send visions to prophets. God has spoken to us by his Son – the Word incarnate, who bled and died on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of the world. This word, the message of Christ, has been collected for us into the volume of Holy Scripture we call the Bible. When you read the Bible, you hear God's voice. It is God who speaks to you through those words on the page. When you hear faithful preaching, it is God who speaks to you, through the voice of that faithful pastor. When you receive the Sacrament of the Altar you hear God's word of promise - given and shed for you, for the remission of sins - and faith takes hold of that promise, connected with those physical elements of bread and wine.

Martin Luther in his day dealt with “enthusiasts,” or people who believed that they received the Spirit and faith without God’s word, i.e., by some mystical divine “inner revelation.” The world is no less full of people today who deny the efficacy of Holy Scripture, yet claim that God has given them some new revelation or inner illumination allowing them to ignore what Scripture teaches. All you have to do is turn on Trinity Broadcasting Network and you will see a parade of preachers preaching, not the Word of God as delivered to us in Holy Scripture, but a word that they have received from some personal revelation. What Luther had to say about enthusiasts is equally appropriate for us today.

He [the devil] led them [Adam and Eve] from God’s outward word to spiritualizing and self-pride. And yet he did this through outward words. In the same way our enthusiasts today condemn the outward word. Yet they themselves are not silent. They fill the world with their babbling and writings, as if the spirit could not come through the Apostle’s writings and spoken word, but has to come through their writings and worlds. Why don’t they leave out their own sermons and writings and let the Spirit himself come to people without their writings before them, as they boast that He has come into them without the preaching of the Scriptures?[1] (Luther).

The Gospel is the means by which the Holy Spirit offers us all the blessings of Christ and creates faith in people. The written and spoken (preached) word of the Gospel, as well as the sacraments – God’s word of promise connected to bread and wine, and water – are the means of grace.

Lest I be accused of “putting God in a box,” I must clarify that I am not saying it is impossible for God to impart divine revelations today, or that it is impossible for God to convert men apart from his word. I’m simply saying that he does not wish to. God has always dealt with man through means, and he expressly tells us that it is his will to do so. So, while it is indeed possible for God to send man a “burning in the bosom,” we shouldn’t expect him to do so, because he has told us that he doesn’t operate that way. Many mistakenly take their intense feelings, worked up in a religious frenzy, as a way to assure themselves that they are in the faith. Feelings change, however, and should certainly not be used as a basis for assurance of faith. Furthermore, anyone who claims that he has received a divine revelation should be tested against what we know for certain to be divine revelation – Holy Scripture. Whatever is not in accord with Scripture should be soundly rejected. Luther comments:

In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments. For God wished to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word; and no prophet neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments [or spoken Word]. Neither was John the Baptist conceived without the preceding word of Gabriel, nor did he leap in his mother's womb without the voice of Mary. And Peter says: The prophecy came not by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost[2]. Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy, much less would the Holy Ghost have moved them to speak when they still were unholy [or profane]; for they were holy, says he, since the Holy Ghost spake through them (Luther).

We should marvel at how God deals with us. Not only has he redeemed us by His grace, through faith alone in Christ, He has given us his external word, by which we can be certain of God’s promises of forgiveness and eternal life, even when we feel the weight of our sin, and do not feel “saved.” That can sustain and comfort us when our bosoms cease to burn, our inner illumination goes dim, and we remember what kind of rotten sinners we are, undeserving of God’s favor. In those times we can look to God’s external word; whether in Scriptures, in the preaching of a faithful pastor, or in the Lord’s Supper or remembrance of our Baptism, and have assurance that though we are sinners, God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake, and is faithful.









Luther, M. (n.d.). The Smalcald Articles. Retrieved December 04, 2014, from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church: http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#confession



[1] SA III VII 5-6
[2] 2 Peter 1:19-21