Sunday, December 25, 2016

Pondering Glory

By Rev. Joel Brondos

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

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

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

But, nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Resurrection of Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Romans 9:7

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Blue Nose Theology

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

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

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

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

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

The main difference between Catholics and Lutherans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to have a beer.

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] SA II, iv, 14.

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

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

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

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

[7] Ephesians 2:1-10

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

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

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

[11] Acts 17:11-12

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

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