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.