Saturday, December 14, 2019

Not Carnality but Christ

Daughter of Zion, behold thy salvation cometh. The Lord shall cause
His glorious voice to be heard and ye shall have gladness of heart.
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel: Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock.
Saturday after Populus Zion

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:1-11).

Paul continues his familiar call for Christians to live in accordance with their new nature, rather than according to their old, sinful nature. The one who has been baptized has been buried with Christ, and he has been raised with Christ through faith.[1] He is a new creation, though he will indeed fight with his flesh and its evil desires all the days of his life. Paul encourages us to seek those things which are above. We are to set our minds on things above, not the things on the earth. This is not a call for Christians to isolate themselves from the world, and live in a cave constantly chanting only prayers. No, as he writes elsewhere, we are called to deny the lusts of the flesh and walk in the Spirit, i.e. act according to our new man, since we now live in the Spirit, and those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.[2] In our baptism we died. Our life is hidden with Christ in God. In short, we are called to act like it.

We must understand, however, two things. First, this putting to death of our members is a process; it does not happen instantly upon our conversion. Paul demonstrates this when he writes, in his distress, the words of Romans, chapter seven:

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.[3]

Second, our justification comes first, and then our sanctification. That is just a fancy way of saying that God saves us by grace, through faith in Christ first, and then we work to deny the desires of our flesh. We do not try to do good, to clean ourselves up, to make ourselves holy so that we are acceptable to God, and He then saves us. We must pay attention to the order of things. Paul tells the Colossians to put off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, lying, and the entire “old man with his deeds,” after he declares to them that they are raised with Christ. He does not tell them to put off these things to become raised with Christ, for it is by grace you are saved, through faith, so that no man can boast.[4]

It is because of these deeds, Paul says, that God’s wrath will be poured out on the earth, on the sons of disobedience. We are no longer son of disobedience, though we once walked according to the course of this world as they did. Since we are a new creation in Christ, we ought to act like it. Peter writes:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?[5]

We ought to be the kind of people who repent of our sin; who strive to put to death our old man; who seek to love and serve our neighbor; who walk carefully, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.[6] This is the purpose of Advent: that we may prepare ourselves for Christ’s return, waiting, ready for Him, with girded waist and burning lamp.[7] Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching.[8]

[1] Colossians 2:12
[2] Galatians 5:16-17, 24-25
[3] Romans 7:21-23
[4] Ephesians 2:1-10
[5] 2 Peter 3:10-12
[6] Ephesians 5:15-16
[7] Luke 12:35
[8] Luke 12:37

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Good Works and Light Bearers

December 12, 2019 - Thursday after Populus Zion

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me (Philippians 2:12-18).

It is tempting to take Paul’s words here, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and make them say something which they do not. If the passage stopped at that point, we could hardly be faulted for thinking that Paul was instructing the Philippians, and us, to do good works to merit our salvation. He commends them for having always obeyed, and he continues on by telling them to keep obeying, and to work out their salvation. Perhaps whomever said that Noah was saved, not by grace, but rather by obedience, had a point.

But the passage does not stop there. Paul continues on to reveal just who it is who is doing the work: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Paul is indeed calling the Philippians, and all Christians, to do good works; but, he immediately explains that it is not actually we who are doing the works. It is God. In fact, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.[1] God has made us into good-works-producing machines; He has created the good works for us to do. He calls us now to walk in those good works, i.e. to produce them, not unlike a tree produces fruit. The tree can’t help producing the fruit, it is the tree’s nature to do so, because of how it has been created. We should not make the mistake of thinking that the works we do are accomplished because of us. The works are God’s works. As a new creation in Christ, it is our nature to produce good fruit.

This is why Paul wants us to do all things without complaining or grumbling. God is doing the work. He is the catalyst that causes us “to will”, i.e. to want to do good works, and “to do”, to actually carry them out. In that situation, how could anyone other than God claim credit or responsibility for any of the good works that we do? This is the mistake Sacramentarians[2] make with the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. They call them works, which indeed they are. And, they say, since we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, and not by works, as Paul writes to the Ephesians, those sacraments are nothing more than symbols of God’s promises, and acts of obedience by which we demonstrate to God our faith. If the Sacraments were our works, this would be true. They are not. They are God’s works; they are sacred acts, instituted by God, in which God has joined His Word of promise to a visible element (e.g., water, bread and wine), and by which He offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins by Christ.[3]

In Baptism, it is the Triune God who washes away sins; it is God the Holy Spirit who works faith in the heart by water and the Word; and it is with Christ’s own righteousness we are clothed, and to His death and resurrection we are joined, even though it is a man who applies the water to us. When we eat the Lord’s Supper, we are not simply acting out a memorial play to demonstrate our obedience to Christ and proclaim His death (though that is certainly part of what is happening); in the Lord’s Supper we receive the very body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins: “For My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.”[4] Who is the one who is active, who is doing all the work in the Sacraments, man or God? If we are honest with ourselves, and we let Scripture speak for itself, the answer is obvious.

And when we walk in these works, prepared beforehand by God for us to walk in, we shine as lights in the world. Paul here echoes Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”[5] The amazing thing is, that God has created us in Christ for these works, to be lights in the world in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Paul is encouraging us to act according to the new creation we have been made in Christ, rather than according to the sinful desires of our flesh. He is basically telling us not to be a tree that tries to produce bad fruit. And, if we resist the desires of our old sinful nature, our Old Man, we effectively drown him in the waters of our baptism, and we will shine brighter amidst the darkness of this crooked and perverse generation.

[1] Ephesians 2:10

[2] Sacramentarian: One who holds the sacraments to be simply symbols; a name given to Zwinglians and Calvinists. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary . Third Edition of the Merriam Series. The Largest Abridgment of Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language. 1700 Illustrations. Published by G. and C. Merriam, 1919.

[3] Luther, Martin. Luther's Small Catechism: with Explanation. Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

[4] John 6:55-57

[5] Matthew 5:14-16

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Reconciled in Christ

December 4, 2019 - Wednesday after Ad Te Levavi

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:19-23).

One of Paul’s purposes in writing here is to emphasize that Christ is first and foremost in everything because He is God in human flesh. He wants the Colossians to be rooted in Christ, the head of the body, the church, rather than in hollow and deceptive philosophy. Based on the focus of his letter, Paul may have been aware that the Colossians were struggling with false teachers, who were denying the deity of Christ, and teaching the Colossians to trust in their own works and minds as a means of making a right relationship with God. Paul, however, continues to proclaim the Gospel he always proclaimed: that mankind is reconciled to the Father by Christ’s sacrifice, through His blood shed on the cross, and that Christ gives this gift of reconciliation to us individually by creating faith in us through the Word - the hope of the gospel which we heard preached.

He writes, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell.” That is, God the Father wanted Jesus to be both 100% a human being, and 100% divine, God in human flesh, no mere created being or demi-god. Nothing short of the substitutionary death of God could atone for the sin of mankind.

And it isn’t only mankind who needed saving from sin, death, and the devil. The entire creation was placed under the curse because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. The blood of Christ atones for our sin, and by it, all of creation is restored to friendship and harmony with God. This peace which Christ has made with us through the blood of His cross will only be fully realized on the Last Day. He has reconciled the world, that is, all creation, by His death and resurrection; make no mistake, that also includes the Christians in Colossae, you, and me, as individuals - all who were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, washed clean of sin by Water and the Word.

The thing that actually does the reconciling is the actual death of an actual Jesus, who is actually God in human flesh, as the actual propitiatory sacrifice for sin. Paul does not mean this in some figurative sense. Christ presents us holy by cleansing us, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “with the washing of water by the word.” It is this way that baptism, as Peter says, saves us: by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This water, in Holy Baptism, is bound and connected to the promise of forgiveness and life by Jesus Himself. It is a way He has ensured that all people, old or young, simple or educated, can receive His Word and promise. He binds the promise to a physical element, water. This should not surprise us, since God has a history of connecting His promises to physical things, such as when by God’s promise the ordinary water of the Jordan River had the power to cure Naaman of leprosy.[1]

Moreover, Paul warns that this gracious gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation can be lost, if one does not remain firmly fixed in place on the basis for our faith, which is the Gospel: Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, He was buried, and rose again on the third day for our justification, according to the scriptures; that He ascended into Heaven, and will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, something which could happen at any time. There is no prophecy left to fulfill which is holding Jesus back. God the Father has appointed the day, and He alone knows it. Everything has been done that was to be done, including the preaching of the Gospel to all nations before the end, which Paul confirms when he writes, “...which [the Gospel] has come to you, as it has also in all the world…” and also here in this verse, “...which was preached to every creature under heaven…”

He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to His foes,
A Light of consolations
And blessed Hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing. 
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth Thy beams most cheering, 
And guide us safely home.[2]

[1] 2 Kings 5:1-27

[2] Hymn 58, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee”, The Lutheran Hymnal, stanza 9. Author: Paul Gerhardt. Translation: Composite.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Private Property

November 4, 2019 - Monday after Trinity 20

The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters (Psalm 24:1-2).

The ownership of private property is an important concept to Americans. It might even be argued that they concept of private property ownership is fundamental to the development of Western Civilization. Property, and the money and currency we have developed to help us keep and dispose of our property, represents our time and effort, our work. A certain school of economists are fond of describing money as “frozen work”. We trade our time and effort doing a job and we receive money in compensation. We can then trade that money for other property we need or want, property some other person owned or created. God is the author of the idea of private property ownership; He commands us through Moses not to steal. In order to steal something from someone else, that other person must first have a legitimate claim on that property. He may have produced it, or he has the power to dispose of it as he wishes. To steal is to deprive the property owner, then, of a piece of their time; of something they gave up a portion of their time either making, or working to get money so that they could buy.

Socialism, what the dictionary calls the transition phase between capitalism and communism (though Karl Marx used the terms “socialism” and “communism” interchangeably),[1] subverts private property ownership. Indeed, it must. The goal of socialism is the collective, or governmental, control of the means of production. The means of production is just a fancy way of saying factories - the way “property” is produced. In this system, the State (the government, the “collective”) would decide what things were produced, how many of these things were produced, who has access to those things, and how those things could be used. As Marx wrote, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

This isn’t intended to be a lecture on economics. It is, however, important to understand, at least broadly, these two ideas of capitalism and socialism, and their relationship to the concept of private property. In real capitalism, individuals, through their voluntary interactions and commerce with each other in the market, decide what property is produced, how, and to what degree; in a socialist system, the government does all that. The economy is centrally planned. 

Why the economics lesson? It is important to understand that God created the world. It is His property. He may dispose of it as He likes. As the psalmist writes, “The earth is the LORD’s and all it’s fullness.” The “fullness” would be us. We are also His creatures, whom He made out of the dust of the earth, into which He breathed the breath of life. We confess the creation in the words of the Venite:

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth, the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Oh, come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.[2]

This means He can dispose of us and this world as He sees fit, since it is His property which He, through His Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ Created:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.[3]

If this is not true, then God does not own us. If God and the creation are the fairy stories that modern atheists say they are, no one owns us or the world, which means that we own ourselves. It means that the things we have learned called Christian morality, do unto others as you would have others do unto you, is not a divine creation given to us, an absolute moral system written on our hearts by God, but rather a creation of man. If morality is not absolute, not created by God, but relative to man, then there is no reason, except a personal desire to submit to it, or compulsion by a stronger human force. Right and wrong, rather than being concrete and unchangeable things, become abstract ideas, relative to the dominant culture. Every culture dictates their own “right”, the one that is appropriate for them. Different cultures, with different ideas of “right” might come into conflict, but the stronger will prevail, and whatever is synthesized out of the clash of those two opposing ideas is “right”. 

Modern atheists, living in the afterglow of Christendom, where Christian values are still widely known and kept, even by people who are not Christians, think they like this idea. They like the idea of owning themselves. It means that they don’t have to answer to anyone except themselves, which is quite convenient, since they are in charge of making up all the rules now. In an interview, comedian Stephen Fry was asked what he would say to God if he were called before God’s judgement seat in order to get into heaven. He answered that he would turn the judgement back on God. To Mr. Fry, God was the one who was sinful and immoral:

“I’ll say: bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you create a world where there is such misery that’s not our fault? It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? The god who created this universe, if he created this universe, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish. We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him. What kind of god would do that? Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind...I wouldn’t want to [get into heaven]. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They are wrong.”[4]

There is a lot to digest in Mr. Fry’s statement, and not at all entirely unreasonable questions to raise. 

Of course, the fact of the matter is that Mr. Fry does not believe that there can be a God, because of the existence of evil. We get into trouble when we assume that the misery isn’t our fault. In reality, God, sin, death, and the state of the universe do not have their existence based on whether or not we humans approve of them. God does not cease to exist because we selfish people, who worship ourselves, don’t understand Him, and subsequently reject Him, much as a petulant child doesn’t understand that the doctor who wants to vaccinate him is working for the child’s good. The doctor doesn’t disappear because the child hates him and, in the end, the child gets the shot.

Or, to put it another way, just because we don’t like what God says or does, how He disposes of His property, doesn’t change anything. It isn’t as though we get let out of the judgement because we don’t like the rules. When Job asked similar questions of God, God showed up in a whirlwind and answered Him:

Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.[5]

Job’s response, his speechlessness and subsequent repentance, is the reality of what will come of any man standing before the Almighty God.

I suspect it is for this reason atheism and evolutionary theory go together so well. It takes away ownership of the earth and it’s fullness from the Creator, and gives it to the creation. More importantly, it removes any obligation for man to abide by God’s morality - Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...You shall love your neighbor as yourself - and allows man to make up his own. But we all know this is nonsense. Creation itself bears witness to it’s creator; God’s law, written on our hearts bears witness to the fact that we are evil, fallen and sinful creatures. 

There is also another way in which God has claim of ownership over the earth and all it’s fullness: through Jesus, God in human flesh, second person of the Holy Trinity, Redeemer of the world. Jesus bought back the property that He created, after it had been stolen from Him. Adam and Eve plunged mankind, and all of creation, into sin by their disobedience to God, and their selfish desire to become like Him. The entire creation was put under the curse, now utterly corrupted, and subject to sin, death, and Satan, who was responsible for introducing sin into the world. But God knew that, before it’s foundation, He would redeem the world through the blood of Jesus. God promised Adam and Eve that they would be redeemed, and that Satan’s head would be crushed by the woman’s offspring, even as He sent them out of the earthly paradise. He spent hundreds and hundreds of years preparing and gathering to Himself a people, whom He would set apart from all the other peoples of the earth, through whom this offspring - this Seed - would one day come. He gave them peculiar civil laws and religious worship, so that they would be reminded of the Seed to come, and keep them set apart from the rest of the world; He hammered into their collective heads just what kind of a God He was, as C. S. Lewis wrote:

Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process. Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.[6]

Jesus, God in human flesh, took on human nature and lived the sinless life that it was impossible for man to live. Born of the Virgin Mary, born sinless, He was born under the Law. And He kept the Law perfectly, as mankind could not do. Then, He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, as the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. He was executed as a criminal and a blasphemer in our place, taking the punishment the world deserved, according to the scriptures. He rose again from the dead on the third day, again, as written in the scriptures. He is the propitiation for our sins, the ransom for many. And He will come again with glory, to judge the quick and the dead, and to take possession of His creation as King, once and for all; He will remake it, purging it of sin and death forever. 

It makes no difference if we like this or not. In fact, we don’t like it, none of us. He has to prepare us. He sends His servants, pastors, into the world to preach His Word; they call people to repentance for their sins, and announce to them the forgiveness Christ has won for them on the cross. He connects us to His death and His resurrection in Holy Baptism, where He saves us and washes away our sin. He feeds us with His very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, nourishing, sustaining, and increasing our faith, so that no matter what misery and injustice we must endure while we live in this fallen creation, it will be for our good. Even the ultimate evil, death, will ultimately be for our good, if we are in Christ. The worst thing that the devil can do to us is kill our bodies. But Jesus tells us not to fear the one who can kill the body, but rather the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell - God Almighty. So, even though we may not understand or like the things that happen to us in this life, we strive to live according to the new creation, His own possession, that He has made us in our Baptism; we love the Lord with all our hearts and we love our neighbors as ourselves, showing our faith by our works. And when we sin, we repent, knowing that we have been baptized into Christ, and that He died for the forgiveness of our sin, and rose for our justification. He also gives us gifts to possess. His death and His resurrection are ours. His life is our life. Because He lives, we shall live. In this world there is trouble and injustice. Christ has overcome the world. He is the ultimate justice.

1. “Socialism: Definition of Socialism by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English. Lexico Dictionaries. Accessed November 12, 2019.

2. Lutheran Intersynodical Hymnal Committee, and Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. 1941. The Lutheran hymnal: authorized by the synods constituting the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House.

3. Colossians 1:15-18

4. Independent Staff. “Stephen Fry 'Blasphemy': Comedian's Remarks about God That Prompted Police Investigation in Full.” The Independent, May 7, 2017.

5. Job 40:2

6. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (version alt.binaries.e-book 2002), 1953.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Great Apostasy

Friday after Trinity 13

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) recently held their convention. The convention was broadcast on the internet and, for the orthodox Christian who is unfamiliar with the liberal (and very political) Christianity of main-line Protestantism, the proceedings were quite shocking. Pastors preaching sermons, disguised as virtue-signaling prayers, on how white people can atone for America’s original sin of racism, which is inextricably imbedded in the machinery of both church and state. Groups of people on stage confessing their racial sins to people of color, and not receiving an absolution, but rather a prescription for how to make things right; a kind of modern day, social justice penance. And, in the most shocking moments, a flat-out denial of Jesus Christ. When a layman stood up to speak to a resolution asserting the validity of all religions, pointing out that Christ Himself denies this when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” (John 14:6), he was derided and ridiculed openly on the convention floor by the clergy. The pastors scrambled to apologize to their “inter-faith guests” for the ignorant layman’s shocking, rude, and culturally insensitive comments.

Paul writes to Timothy, explaining that in the latter days, some people will depart from the faith. Paul seems to be dealing with the legalism of keeping the Old Testament Law, and the man-made traditions of the elders, that he writes about in his other epistles. Departure from sound doctrine, however, is certainly not limited to just these types of things. If you ever needed any evidence that we are living in the latter days, certainly such shameful goings-on should suffice. People dressed as pastors, shepherds of congregations charged with feeding their flocks with God’s Word and administering to them His Sacraments, denying Christ before all the world. Even the Pharisees were better than this. At least they honored God with their lips, though their hearts were far from Him. 

No, these are false ministers of a false Christ; one who is concerned with calling members of the oppressor classes to repentance for their sins of racism, sexism, and class exploitation. These ministers are not concerned with the actual Gospel message of Christ crucified as the ransom for mankind’s sin, and raised to life again on the third day for man’s justification. They are interested only in fixing the injustices of this present world; they are interested only in assigning guilt to people for the crimes of their ancestors collectively, to achieve social justice. They deal only with people as groups, and not as individuals. They never see a man as someone who is a sinner, in need of Christ’s forgiveness. He is only a member of a class, a race, or a gender. If one happens to be a part of an oppressor group, the only forgiveness he can hope for is what he can earn through doing the penance that the oppressed prescribe, and then only if he is deemed worthy enough will he be absolved.

This is called Liberation Theology. It is politics masquerading as religion. It has infected all of the so-called main-line Protestant denominations, along with the higher critical method of Biblical interpretation. It is what happens when you reject the truth of the Bible. St. Paul explains:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

Higher criticism is a man-centered approach to Biblical interpretation. This approach assumes that to understand the Bible, we must understand the mind of the authors, and their perceptions of God, at the time they wrote what they wrote. It is inherently materialistic; in the higher critical method of Biblical interpretation there is no room for miracles. Higher critics claim to believe the Bible, but they cannot accept anything supernatural. That means no six-day creation; no parting of the Red Sea; no Jonah receiving a prophetic word from the Lord and being swallowed, and vomited out alive again, by a giant fish. It means, in fact, no prophetic words from the Lord at all. If nothing supernatural happens then all of the prophecies recorded in the Bible aren’t really prophecies. All of the things that the prophets wrote are just clever pieces of literature, written hundreds of years after the events that they claim to foretell. It means no fall into sin, no promise of a savior, and no Christ, God in human flesh. Jesus was simply a man, if he even existed, a wise and good moral teacher who cared about equality and justice, and taught men to love their neighbors. That means no atonement for sins, and no resurrection from the dead. The result of all this is indeed empty preaching and an empty faith:

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

What happens to a congregation, or an entire denomination, in the case of the ELCA, that gives up the guts of the faith? Well, just like when a person is eviscerated, they die. But, those people have to put their hope in something. Since there is no supernatural, no hope in a world to come, no hope in a Jesus in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily, who died as the atonement for sin, who has promised to return in judgment and bring ultimate justice to mankind, they must focus on themselves, and on the here-and-now. All of a sudden, the purpose of the church isn’t to preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, but to fight for justice in this world. Man’s problem is no longer being dead in trespasses and sins, but rather racism, political oppression, and crimes against the environment.

What’s wrong with justice? Nothing. God’s Word calls us to be just; we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. If, however, you reject what God says about the human condition, you will never understand why that is impossible, in this fallen creation, to achieve that goal. Moreover, achieving social justice, whether you believe the idea is right or wrong, does nothing to rescue us from sin and death.

We are fallen, sinful creatures living in a fallen, sinful world. We are, by nature, sinful and unclean. It is why Jesus tells us, in the Sermon on the Mount, to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. He’s showing us that we can’t do it. He is using the Law to show us our sin, to show us that we are lost, and that we need a savior from outside of ourselves. In the absence of the real Jesus, churches turn to Counterfeit Jesus. In America, that is oftentimes Comrade Jesus. Comrade Jesus teaches us that our real problems are systemic racism, sexism, and class oppression. Comrade Jesus teaches us to overcome these sins through socialism, communism, environmentalism, and whatever other political “ism” there is that gives man a work to do to atone for their sin. Not their real sin, mind you, but the things that those “isms” call sin; the things they use to control men, and keep them from fixing their eyes on the real Jesus, the author and perfecter of the real faith.

What is the remedy? In short, it is to repent, and believe the Gospel. That is the fix for those caught in the heresy of Higher Criticism and Liberation Theology. Christ’s blood is powerful enough to wash away the stain of our sin, no matter what it is. But we who are firmly ensconced in supposedly orthodox church bodies, like the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, are not immune from what has happened in the ELCA. If we go chasing after fads, and abandon Jesus so that we can try to make friends with the world to keep parishioners in our pews, the same thing will happen with the LCMS. If we bow to the pressure to be relevant to the culture, to be “woke”, to be what the world falsely calls tolerant and loving, if we abandon sound doctrine, we will end up on a stage competing with each other in displays of heresy, virtue-signaling how woke we are on whatever issue the culture is up-in-arms about that week. And we will be outside of God’s Kingdom along with the other social justice warriors who have replaced Christ with the idol of politics. God forbid! Lord, have mercy!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

All For Christ - What is the World to Me?

Thursday after Trinity 11 

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:1-11). 

Rejoice in the Lord, not in the flesh. Paul gives the people who receive his letters this message again, and again. It is a message Jesus gave: For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?[1] We are to take up our cross and follow Jesus. He calls us to deny ourselves. And, He says that whoever desires to save his life, this life he lives here and now in the flesh, will lose it. He will lose real life. He will lose Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, as he tries to hold on to the things of this world, which is in decay and passing away.

Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation. The people to whom Paul is referring here are sometimes called the circumcision party, or the Judaizers. They were the ones sowing dissension in the ranks; they were teaching false doctrine. They were teaching men to trust in their own works, literally in the cutting of their flesh in circumcision. They taught that you had to keep the Law and be circumcised to be a Christian, and that Paul was a false teacher. 

But Paul calls these men, these evil workers and the act they propagate, “the mutilation.” The circumcision they advocate is not the true circumcision. It is a kind of destruction. Not simply physically, by removing a bit of flesh from the body; It destroys Christians by removing faith in Christ: 

Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.[2]

It is a work of man designed to please God by keeping the Law. But the Law has been fulfilled by Christ. And the covenant sign of circumcision, which God gave to Abraham, is obsolete. It is a shadow of the true sign that marks you as one of God’s people: Baptism, the circumcision of Christ, which He performs on your heart. Paul says that we, those who have been baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins, are the true circumcision: 

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.[3]

We were dead in our trespasses. We were dead in the uncircumcision of our flesh. Jesus made us alive in Him. He has circumcised us with the true circumcision – the circumcision not made with hands, but with water and the Word, the circumcision of Christ – in our baptism. He has taken, as Paul writes to the Colossians, “…the hand-writing of requirements that was against us,” and nailed it to the cross. Jesus, who had no sin, became sin for us. Because we have been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ in our baptism, His death on the cross as the sacrifice for sin is also ours. We died in Jesus through our baptism. Through that same baptism, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead also belongs to us. We have risen from the dead already, in Him. And even though this body will die and be buried, we will not die. We are immortal. We are baptized into Christ. We have put on Christ. Our bodies will die and be buried, if Jesus should delay his coming, like a seed in the ground, but we will be with Christ. He is our body. And one day He will return to judge the living and the dead. And, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised, sprouting forth from the earth, only now incorruptible and utterly changed, with immortal bodies like Jesus’ immortal body. In that way, this corruptible will put on incorruption, and this mortal will put on immortality; Death will finally be swallowed up in victory, once and for all. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Looking at our situation in that way, you can see how Paul is able to say that the things he formerly counted as gain – his fleshly circumcision, his blood connection to the nation of Israel, his zeal in working to please God and keep the Law – he now counts as loss, for the sake of Christ. These things are ultimately worthless. What Paul has gained by the grace of God through faith in Christ is priceless: the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, membership in the true Israel of God, adoption as a son of Abraham by faith.

We have received the same gracious gifts. In comparison with such a treasure, what is a little suffering in this present age? In comparison to life with Christ in a remade world, one without sin and death, with a perfect, immortal body, living in perfect relationship to the Almighty Creator of the universe, what is it to endure a little scorn, a little ridicule, some persecution. These things are not pleasant, but they cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ.[4] Even death, our bitter enemy, need no longer be feared, though the devil and his angels do their best convince us otherwise. We have something more precious. We have eternal life in Christ. What is this world to me?

The world is sorely grieved
Whenever it is slighted
Or when its hollow fame
And honor have been blighted.
Christ, Thy reproach I bear
Long as it pleaseth Thee;
I'm honored by my Lord,-
What is the world to me![5]

The world with wanton pride 
Exalts it’s sinful pleasures 
And for them foolishly 
Gives up the heavenly treasures. 
Let others love the world 
With all its vanity; 
I love the Lord, my God – 
What is the world to me![6]


[1] Mark 8:36 
[2] Galatians 5:2-4 
[3] Colossians 2:11-12 
[4] Romans 8:38-39 
[5] Ev. Luth. Synodical Conference of North America. The Lutheran Hymnal. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941. Hymn 430, “What is the World to Me?” stanza 5. 
[6] ibid. TLH 430, stanza 6.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

No Creed but the Catechism

I went to mail a package the other day and wound up getting into a strange little theological conversation. It was brief. To tell the truth, I was a little surprised, and didn’t quite know how to respond to the statement that offended me. The fellow saw that I was mailing some religious books. He asked me what denomination I was. I told him I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran. He seemed to know what that was, but then told me this: “I had dinner with two Lutheran friends from out of town the other night. The one I’m not worried about. The other one… too catholic! He talked too much about the catechism.” I thought to myself that the man he was worried about and I would probably get along better than the other “Lutheran” and I would. I knew I only had a few moments to respond in some way. Rather than being confrontational, or saying something sarcastic (which is my modus operandi), I replied, “God works through His Word when and where He wills.” I got a smile of approval, finished my transaction, and left. 

This attitude among Evangelicals really does kind of bother me. It falls under the umbrella of No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible. This is supposed to express that the person who professes this mini man-made creed doesn’t profess man-made creeds, and that they get their doctrines from the Bible, and not man-made theology. It’s not so much because of their smug sense of superiority when expressing it, but rather that they are so certain about something that just is not so. Not only are they professing a creed that is not “Christ”, one that is far inferior to the ecumenical creeds, they often subscribe to many books other than the Bible for their theology; books that take the words of Scripture out of context and teach things foreign to it, like dispensationalism (I’m looking at you, Cyrus Scofield).
Cyrus I. Scofield, creator of the Scofield Reference Bible

Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism (hereinafter referred to as The Catechism) falls into the second half of the mini-creed; it is a book other than the Bible. It must, therefore, contain the doctrines of men. After all, if it were Jesus’ catechism, it would have His name on it. There are, however, several problems: No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible ignores the reality of how men are converted, and how doctrine is preserved and transmitted from one generation to the next; also, my fundagelical friends have a misconception about what a catechism is. 

They don’t know what a catechism is, so they don’t know what they are missing by rejecting such a resource out-of-hand because it was “written by men”. The desire to obey God rather than men is good. We Christians should follow the example of our fathers in the faith who came before us and preached, taught, baptized, and worshiped in the face of persecution. But that is just the point: Christianity isn’t just me and my Bible, and you and yours, having personal experiences with God. Christianity is the death of Jesus as ransom for the sin of the world, and His resurrection for our justification.[1] And when a man is made a Christian by the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of the Word, he becomes a part of something bigger than himself – the body of Christ, the Church, the Communion of Saints, spread out through time and space, preserved by Him until the Last Day when Christ will come to judge the living and the dead, and establish the new creation. I don’t mean to wax metaphysical, but Christianity, rather than being a religion of “do these things in this prescribed way according to this rulebook,” is instead a religion of being. You once were dead in trespass and sin, and now you are made alive by Christ.[2] You once were dirty with the filth of your sin, and now you have been washed, you have been sanctified, you have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God;[3] You have been saved in the waters of Holy Baptism,[4] where you were connected to Christ, His death and resurrection, clothed with His righteousness,[5] washed clean of your sin.[6] You used to be a fallen, sinful creature; now Christ has made you a new creation, by the grace of God through faith in Him.[7] Now, be forgiven. This is a concept that the unregenerate human mind, hostile to God, cannot understand.[8] We Christians can only begin to grasp it, and struggle with sin while we live here in the flesh because of sin living in us.[9]

What does that have to do with The Catechism? Good question. I doubt that most people even understand what the word catechism means, let alone what the book actually is. Catechism means to instruct by question and answer.[10] Consequently, a book containing a summary of religious doctrine in question and answer format is called a catechism. So, is The Catechism not a summary of Luther’s teachings? If it is, then my friend is right, I follow Luther rather than Christ, and I am a filthy pagan. But is he correct? Not hardly. Dr. Luther’s catechism is an instruction in the teachings of the Christian faith, as it had been believed, taught, and confessed since ancient times, using Holy Scripture as it’s foundation. In the preface to his catechism, Luther wrote: 

The deplorable, miserable conditions which I have recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.[11] 

The Catechism, according to Luther, is a teaching tool, designed to help instruct people in the doctrines of the Christian faith, all of which are exposed in Holy Scripture. 

If someone claims that they only need the Bible, they probably mean to express that they are faithful Christians who hold Holy Scripture in high regard, and believe what it says. But how did they hear the Gospel? Did a Bible fall from heaven, open, in front of them? Was it a Scofield Reference Bible?[12] If so, are the notes inspired Scripture as well? Did they begin reading it without human interaction, with only the odd quiver of the liver to direct them? No. They were brought to hear preaching and teaching at church, Sunday school, Bible study, and by other Christians as they encountered them in their various vocations, etc. Did these other Christians simply read to them the Gospel of John? Did they answer each question directed to them with a bare quotation of Scripture? No. They summarized and taught, and pointed to the Word as recorded in Holy Scripture, preserved and handed down through the church by the working of the Holy Spirit, to show that what they were teaching was true. 

Some do this faithfully; others do not. But we know that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church in unity, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.[13] This Church, made up of all the faithful of all time, we cannot see, and call the “invisible” church. We seek to remain a part of this “invisible” church, and be faithful to that “visible” church (that gathering of people around the means of grace which is made up of believers and hypocrites[14]) which teaches all of the Bible’s doctrines purely, and administers the Sacraments according to their institution.[15] Moreover, we are called to avoid false teachers, churches, cults, and all organizations that teach contrary to God’s Word.[16]

What about all those people, probably the vast majority in human history, who were too poor to own a printed book of any kind? They had no Bible. How about those people who could not read? How did God make them Christians? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.[17] Anyone who became a Christian was baptized and taught, and their teacher didn’t just read Bible quotes at them. If he was a faithful teacher and preacher, all that he preached and taught had God’s Word, understood in it’s proper context, as a foundation, just as The Catechism does. I wonder how my fundagelical friend talks to people about Jesus. Does he share his testimony? Does he explain how to walk down the Roman Road? Does he follow the method of Dr. D. James Kennedy? These things are attempting to do what The Catechism does: summarize Christian doctrine and deliver the Word of Christ (Though, I would argue, these other methods are far inferior to The Catechism, and distort God’s Word by teaching it out of it’s proper context).

The human heart is, as I once heard a faithful preacher say, an idol factory. We can make anything into an idol – including Luther – as Rome did with the Pope, as cults do with their leaders, and as some do even with the Bible (KJV Only movement, anyone?).

But creeds and confessional statements, like The Catechism and the Book of Concord of which it is a part, are wonderful things. They distill the teachings of Holy Scripture into concentrated bits that the Church can learn and confess together. They serve as a check for the layman on the preaching of the pastor. If he deviates from the doctrine of Scripture as they have learned it, it is the duty of the people to call their pastor to account. Confessional statements and creeds serve as clear examples of what men are teaching as the Word of God from Holy Scripture. Those documents are the best starting point for Christians to begin talking to each other in a serious and meaningful way about what they believe, teach, and confess, and working toward true Christian unity, so that we teach all things that Christ has commanded.[18]

God works through preachers, and teachers, and the liturgy, and the catechism, and books written by Christians intended to teach, and people talking to one another, and all kinds of ways, provided that God’s Word, the Word of Christ, is being delivered. God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit – without the Word and Sacraments – is the devil himself.[19]


Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Got Questions. "What is the Scofield Reference Bible?" Got Questions: Your Questions, Biblical Answers. July 26, 2019. (accessed August 20, 2019).

McCain, Paul T, Robert C Baker, Gene E Veith, and Edward A Engelbrecht. Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. 1st. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1924.

Wikipedia. Dispensationalism. "Wikipedia (accessed August 20, 2019).

[1] Mark 10:45; John 3:3-5, 10-17; Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; Romans 4:23-25
[2] Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 6:11
[3] 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
[4] 1 Peter 3:18-22
[5] Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 3:27
[6] Acts 22:16
[7] 2 Corinthians 5:16-19
[8] Romans 8:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14
[9] Romans 7:13-25
[10] Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 1924
[11] Concordia Publishing House, 1991
[12]  The Scofield Reference Bible promoted Dispensationalism, the belief that between creation and the final judgment there would be seven distinct eras of God's dealing with man and that these eras are a framework for synthesizing the message of the Bible (Got Questions 2019). It was largely through the influence of Scofield's notes that Dispensationalism grew in influence among fundamentalist Christians in the United States. (Wikipedia n.d.)
[13] Matthew 16:18
[14] Matthew 13:47-48; 22:11-12; Acts 5:1-11
[15] John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 1:10
[16] Matthew 7:15-16; Romans 16:17-18; Galatians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:3; 1 John 4:1
[17] Romans 10:17
[18] Matthew 28:16-20
[19] Concordia Publishing House, 1991. SA III VII 10