Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Too Good to be True

In conversing with other believers one will find a common misconception about our Heavenly Father. So many will state something to the effect that God is still angry with people over sin. This is taught to people either directly or indirectly. From pietistic rules such as you better come to church at least 3 times a week to this terrible thing happened because you did something wrong. Rather than tell others of the good news people make God out to be the one with the problem.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 ESV)

In this section St Paul makes a bold statement which seems too good to be true. Christ’s finished work on the cross and rising from the dead has reconciled all people to God. This is so hard to swallow that many object to it no matter the Theological bend which has grabbed them. To combat this bend we see St Paul continue:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV)

Aha so God is not the one with the problem but rather the sinners who have it against God who will not reconcile. This makes perdition all the worse for it is not the falling short of God that damns but the stubborn refusal to trust in Jesus’ provision. It is so unnecessary for one to spend eternity apart from the goodness and joy of our Creator.

Let us therefore, believe this good news and live in the peace that it gives. In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chrysostom on Justification by Faith Alone

More wholesome teaching from John Chrysostom, here expounding Acts ch. 15:

“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that of old days God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe.” (v. 5–7.) Observe Peter from the first standing aloof (κεχωρισμένον) from the affair, and even to this time Judaizing. And yet (says he) “ye know.” (ch. x. 45; xi. 2.) Perhaps those were present who of old found fault with him in the matter of Cornelius, and went in with him (on that occasion): for this reason he brings them forward as witnesses. “From old days,” he says, “did choose among you.” What means, “Among you?” Either, in Palestine, or, you being present. “By my mouth.” Observe how he shows that it was God speaking by him, and no human utterance. “And God, that knoweth the hearts, gave testimony unto them:” he refers them to the spiritual testimony: “by giving them the Holy Ghost even as unto us.” (v. 8.) Everywhere he puts the Gentiles upon a thorough equality. “And put no difference between us and them, having purified their hearts by faith.” (v. 9.) From faith alone, he says, they obtained the same gifts. This is also meant as a lesson to those (objectors); this is able to teach even them that faith only is needed, not works nor circumcision. For indeed they do not say all this only by way of apology for the Gentiles, but to teach (the Jewish believers) also to abandon the Law. However, at present this is not said. “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples?” (v. 10.) What means, “Tempt ye God?” As if He had not power to save by faith. Consequently, it proceeds from a want of faith, this bringing in the Law. Then he shows that they themselves were nothing benefited by it, and he turns the whole (stress of his speech) against the Law, not against them, and (so) cuts short the accusation of them: “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved, even as they.” (v. 11.) How full of power these words! The same that Paul says at large in the Epistle to the Romans, the same says Peter here. “For if Abraham,” says (Paul), “was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.”
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Homily 32 on Acts 15:1 [italics mine]


I just read on an Eastern Orthodox blog that justification by faith alone is a 'Protestant heresy'. That may well be a justifiable (sic!) Orthodox view if one is guided by post-Reformation Orthodox polemics on the subject...but then, what to do with statements like this from one of the Fathers whom Orthodoxy most reveres? The only solution would appear to be a doctrine of 'double justification', initially by faith and subsequently by works (not unknown in the West, either!). Among the Orthodox, this position is usually accompanied by a polemic against the 'overly juridical' bent of 'Western theology' since Augustine which Luther subsequently inherited (a curious view, since Augustine certainly did not hold to a juridical/forensic doctrine of justification). Here's an example from a modern Orthodox theologian:
'In summary, it is not an antagonistic attitude that causes the eastern Christian and patristic scholar to recoil at some notions of western and Protestant theology, it is simply that the approach employed by many western scholars (inherited from the likes of Augustine, Anselm and Luther) seems at odds with what eastern Christians believe has been safeguarded since the foundation of the Church at Pentecost. The traditional Orthodox mind is immediately suspicious of biblical interpretations that have little or no root in the early life and theology of the Church; this is true in spades of particularly the forensic notion of justification, and of its consequent bifurcation of faith and works... Because of its less juridical exegesis of Pauline soteriological statements, Eastern Christianity has never had anything approaching the kind of faith v. works controversies that have enveloped and (for both good and ill) theologically shaped the Christian West... Rather, the East has maintained a somewhat distant and even puzzled attitude toward the theological polemics which have raged over justification in terms of faith or works.'
Valerie Karras, in Justification and the Future of the Ecumenical Movement (Liturgical Press – Collegeville, MN)

It is certainly true, as Dr Karras maintains, that Orthodox theology and doctrine followed quite a different trajectory from that of the Western church - to the extent, that is, that the latter has been guided by Augustine's anti-Pelagianism. To my mind Orthodox theology represents a development of the theology of the early semi-Pelagian ascetics, some of whom brought monasticism from the East to southern Gaul (see the life and influence of John Cassian, seminal to the development of monasticism in both East and West). The West officially rejected the theology of this movement at the 2nd Council of Orange (529AD), although its influence was never expunged, principally due to the rise and rise of monasticism into the Middle Ages courtesy the Benedictine movement and its offshoots.

Tellingly, the Christian East has never rejected semi-Pelagianism; from that perspective the centrality of disputes about justification and works in Western theology over the last 500 years must indeed seem inexplicable. But can it really be said that justification by faith alone 'has little or no root in the early life and theology of the Church'!? Granted, the full exposition of the Biblical doctrine had to await the Lutheran Reformation, but there is ample evidence that the Fathers who closely expounded the New Testament in their homilies knew the doctrine. The problem is that they never succeeded in integrating it into their theology of the Christian life as a whole (for various reasons which we might explore in further posts on the subject). That task that was God-given to Blessed Martin Luther, Melanchthon, Martin Chemnitz and other luminaries of the Lutheran Reformation. SDG!

Thank you to Pr Mark Henderson over at Lutheran Catholicity blog for allowing this repost.

Monday, September 12, 2011

WDJM - What Did Jesus Mean?

Matthew 13:44 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. ESV

I have listened to sermons on the above passage. In some of the sermons the treasure hidden in the field is you and me. Jesus is the sacrificial purchaser of this treasure which of course he did by shedding his blood on the cross.

Yet another approach was to present it as Jesus being the treasure. Not that we sell all we have to purchase the field but as a demonstration of incalculable worth this salvation is to each and every one of us.

Still another view was that salvation is to be gained by our sacrificial living and being willing to leave all we have to obtain this treasure.

Which one or more do you think is the most accurate understanding(s) of this passage? Why do you think it is the best understanding? Or have you another understanding which you think is better?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Of hats and hair.

Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. ESV

The other day I heard a preacher say that he is going to start church discipline against women who do not wear head coverings or men with long hair. It was his opinion since it was an apostolic command it should be adhered to and to not do it would damage the person.

1 Corinthians 11:2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. ESV

The above passage is used to insist that women cover the head while in church. This was customary in all churches years ago. Since it is not customary in some churches it would be incorrect to discipline women who do not cover the head. This is inventing a weight or a law for her to bear which is outside of scripture. In this way one resembles the Pharisees of Jesus’ day which is something he does not tolerate. A better use of a pastor’s time is to do what Jesus says and tell people their sins are forgiven. John 20:23

1 Corinthians 11:16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. ESV

This verse seems to toss it all out the window about long hair on men and head coverings for women to place him or her under bondage. A pastor’s time would be better spent working to increase in his flock more trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. In that way he would encourage to keep eyes on Jesus and to live in the peace that gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen †

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Stuff of Jesus: Baptism 3.

But here the devil is busy to delude us with false appearances, and lead us away from the work of God to our own works. For there is a much more splendid appearance when a Carthusian does many great and difficult works; and we all think much more of that which we do and merit ourselves. But the Scriptures teach thus: Even though we collect in one mass the works of all the monks, however splendidly they may shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a straw. Why? Because the person is nobler and better. Here, then, we must not estimate the person according to the works, but the works according to the person, from whom they must derive their nobility. But insane reason will not regard this, and because Baptism does not shine like the works which we do, it is to be esteemed as nothing.*

In the above section of his Large Catechism Dr Luther uses an example of a group of monks to end all monks due to the severity in their practices. The monks lived as hermits in reaction to the degeneracy in the church of the day. The chief monastery was located north of Grenoble France. What made this order so special is they would go out of their way to not interact with other monks to the point that if one was dying no one would care for him. The works of the monks are admired by the monks and some others as great acts for God.

This is the way many in our evangelical and reformed congregations treat baptism. The evangelical will claim it is their work and therefore it cannot save as scripture proclaims so clearly. In our reformed it is taught that it is the work of the visible church to make members out sinners. It is taught to deliver some grace but it is quickly taken back due in part to the doctrine of limited atonement. In both instances due to it being the work of man St Peter’s proclamation in his first epistle is reevaluated so that there is no salvation at all.

1 Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. ESV

To deny the powerful gift of baptism and make it a pitiful work of man robs it of the firm promise that one can look to in struggles on this fallen world. This promise of salvation, apprehended by faith, indeed justifies us. Since it is Jesus’ work for us we are not claiming any of the credit for this benefit so that the salvation is still all about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus has determined to both locate and deliver the benefits of his cross and resurrection in baptism. Instead of trying to snatch this gift away from Jesus let us believe this good news and live in the peace it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

*Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jesus, Our Mercy Seat.

Leviticus 16:12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. ESV

Wow, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant was serious business! One had to have it covered by smoke or he would be killed. The covering of the ark, and the blood sprinkled on it, was the propitiation for the people of Israel. This was bloody business. Both a bull and a goat were sacrificed, and the blood of both were for the sins of the people. This happened during the Day of Atonement which happened once a year. In addition to the sacrifice of the bull and goat, a live goat was also required. Aaron would place both hands on the goat confessing the sins of the people and send the goat into the wilderness. Even after all that, the work is not done, because a ritual cleansing was also ordered by the Lord.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. ESV

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus shed his blood to form a new and better covenant. No animal sacrifice is needed; no goat being released to run into the wilderness; no threat of death to any man serving God. Jesus became our high priest and gave His life on the cross to make us right with God. The laws' requirements are covered by the fact that our Lord has become the mercy seat, the propitiation, for all our sins. This happens for a person whether or not he or she believes. Apart from faith in the finished work of Jesus, one does not receive these benefits. Such a tragedy when one refuses the only salvation provided; their eternal death is so unnecessary since their sin debt has been paid in full.

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. ESV

Since the shed blood of Jesus has atoned for our sins, let us let go of them after confessing them and realize the books are balanced. Our Father, in His wonderful grace, will not hold us accountable for our sin, so we have no need living under the guilt in our minds. In His mercy, He will not reward us with eternal death, but through faith we receive the right to be called children of God and have an eternity of life awaiting us. Let us believe this good news and live in the peace it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Stuff of Jesus: Baptism 2.

Acts 4:11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. ESV

We see clearly that in the name of God, in the name of Jesus, there is salvation. When a person is baptized into the name of the Triune God there is salvation. This is so painfully clear one wonders why it is so hard for some to come to understand. They maintain baptism is the Christian’s work to show loyalty to Jesus and make a profession of faith in him for salvation. There is a dearth of scripture that teaches that fact so it is merely church tradition once again, wrongly, being placed over and against clear scripture.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. ESV

For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own work. From this fact every one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work greater than the work of God can we do?*

Baptism is not man’s work whatsoever. Nor is it the invention of man. Jesus uses the hands and the voice of the minister to apply the water and to invoke the name of God. However, it is clearly Jesus doing the baptism. Jesus has located the delivery of the fruit of the cross in the preached word and in baptism. He cleanses his church and makes it to his sight without spot or wrinkle no matter what sin captivates the heart and mind of the baptized believer. Rather than rejoicing in the sin like the unbeliever he or she will be granted repentance in the same Triune name of God. These are strong and precious promises given to us in God’s word. Jesus has given us such a wonderful gift in baptism that no matter what the world, our own sinful flesh or the devil says or does we remain able to tell them “I am baptized!” Let us believe this good news and live in the peace it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

* The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Stuff of Jesus: Baptism.

Today, as in the day of Martin Luther, Christians have mistaken to whom the sacrament of Holy Baptism belongs. You will hear “I was baptized in a ___________ Church.” or “I was baptized as a witness to the world of my faith in Jesus.” These totally miss the point of who instituted baptism and the purpose of the sacrament. There is only one baptism in the Triune name of God. That is Christian baptism which does not depend on the name of the congregation in which it is administered.

In the first place, we must above all things know well the words upon which Baptism is founded, and to which everything refers that is to be said on the subject, namely, where the Lord Christ speaks in Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.*

Likewise in St. Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.*

In these words you must note, in the first place, that here stand God's commandment and institution, lest we doubt that Baptism is divine, not devised nor invented by men. For as truly as I can say, No man has spun the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer out of his head, but they are revealed and given by God Himself, so also I can boast that Baptism is no human trifle, but instituted by God Himself, moreover, that it is most solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we cannot be saved, lest any one regard it as a trifling matter, like putting on a new red coat.*

In this section Martin Luther recaptures baptism and places it back in the realm of Jesus things rather than man’s things done for Jesus. This changes, of course, what one believes about baptism and its effectiveness as a means of grace. If it were merely the work of men we could not look at it for assurance of our standing as children of God.

Rather than looking for ways to wrestle with scripture to make baptism our work we should rather believe scriptures strong teaching. Leaving baptism to be the stuff of Jesus we can live in the peace and certainty it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen †

*Martin Luther’s Large Catechism

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shine Jesus Shine!

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The light of the world is Jesus! He is not merely a light like that we have so much in our modern society. Take a drive out into the country at night away from the artificial lights of the city. We return to some of what the people in the day of Jesus experienced at night. In that darkness that one can almost feel and taste a small flame off a match will seem like daytime. The darkness is not of the absence of light but more of the reaction of people to challenges of life. Our bent is toward acting in a way contrary to God’s law and will. This is why we need Jesus because he fulfilled the laws requirements and this is given to us graciously.

Such is the darkness in our world. On every hand we see the sinfulness of man in his cruelty to his fellow man. Death always seems to be the answer. It does not seem to matter if the person is too young or too old and ill to care for him or herself the answer is always death to the world. Christ have mercy. Help us good Lord as your children to be people who honor life as a gift from you and value it no matter the age or capabilities of the person.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. ESV

Ok I get it. That is the cause of all the fuss around Christmas. Atheists and others are so offended at nativity scenes and work feverishly to rid themselves of them. The world does not know Jesus and has no use for him. But to those who know him he is the older brother which hung on a cross as his throne on a fallen world. He was also buried and resurrected for our sin. He did all that so we have the right to become children of God in him.

In the name of Jesus. Amen †

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shut Up!

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, a roadmap to get to heaven, or a guidebook for successful living etc. These are a few phrases I have heard when people tell you what they think about the bible. You got it! They are all based upon a law only understanding of scripture.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. ESV

So there we have it! This is the purpose of the law. It is not to be able to raise perfect children, have a winning soccer team or have a marriage free of stress. The law tells us to shut up! How rude! God does not want us to credential ourselves before him with our puny efforts to obey him. Jesus did that for us and him being God he could where we fail and fall so miserably short.

The bible is about Jesus first and foremost. It also contains the good news of the Gospel. Hear this good news:

Isaiah 44:21 Remember these things, O Jacob,
and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you; you are my servant;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.
23 Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains,
O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
and will be glorified in Israel. ESV

What our Lord told Israel so many years ago he tells us today. He has blotted out our transgression and sins. He will not hold those in Jesus accountable for the evil they have done. Do we then sin up a storm? What a horrible question to ask! Why would we want to do that in the face of such a gracious God? Rather let us believe this good news and live in the peace it gives.

In the name of Jesus. †

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oil and Water.

Nothing will quench my thirst after a time of yard work like a nice tall glass of ice water. I can see it when I am working in my mind. Clear water with ice so cold that when I take it outside it fogs up on the outer part of the glass. Every 3 months or 3 thousand miles we change the oil in our vehicles. That habit will serve us well in keeping a car operational over many years.

Each fluid described above has a specific task for which it qualifies. Neither task is interchangeable. If one fills the crankcase of the car with iced water instead of oil it would be a disaster. Drinking a tall glass of motor oil would cause serious illness or death. The effectiveness of the fluids is also diminished when mixed. The same can be said with the law and the Gospel.

The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.*

Dr CFW Walther, so many years ago, identified the problem in the church of mixing the Law and Gospel. We still have that error today. Some will talk of Jesus being the new Moses. Teaching of how one cannot know he or she is saved unless a drastic change in life has happened to where he or she no longer sins or sins much less. Or that one must make Jesus Lord of one’s life as an extra step in conversion. These and other errors will rob the Gospel of its sweetness and the Law of its sternness. The first happens and one can be led to even doubt one’s eternal salvation. The latter happens and one may fall into impenitence and endanger themselves and their salvation.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

St Paul clearly distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel. The law shows us that all have sinned and fallen short of God. The Gospel on the other hand shows that by faith we now have the righteousness of God given to us. In addition we are justified graciously with no effort on our part. This is the done didness of Jesus’ work for us.

Thanks be to God. †

*Thesis I on the Law and the Gospel by CFW Walther First President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. 1884