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The Church and What the Church is, Articles VII & VIII of the Augsburg Confession

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.

Article VIII: What the Church Is.

1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc. Matt. 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

*Book of Concord

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“The Defender’s Guide for Life’s Toughest Questions”–some observations

The Defender’s Guide For Life’s Toughest Questions

(Ray Comfort)[1]

Some observations

Ray Comfort, in the preface of this book, writes, “Most of the questions and objections in this book come from those who call themselves ‘atheists.’  Many have placed their faith in erroneous information…and because of it have hardened themselves against God and Christianity (Romans 1).  They ask questions but don’t really want answers.  My hope is that you are open to reason, and that you will find that that the answers will give you another perspective” (7).

I agree with Comfort’s observation that many atheists have placed their faith in erroneous information.  The same, however, could be said of many groups, including some who call themselves Christians, for not all who call themselves Christians exclusively use the Bible as the “rule and norm” for faith and life.  Again, I agree that some atheists really don’t want answers, that is, the truth that the Bible provides.  Similarly, there are others who follow suite, not wanting the truth at all, but only evidence that seems to support their conclusions.   This applies not only to atheists, but to all people, including Christians as well.  None are immune to the deficiencies and limitations of human reason.  And none perfectly resist the temptation to defend only that which benefits oneself.

These are dangers for which all need to be aware—trusting erroneous information and not really wanting the truth.  These do not lead to honest and forthright investigation at all, but only intensify the divide between the two or more contrasting positions.   Incorrect information only leads further away from the truth and may further confuse the issues.  Not wanting the truth but only that which supports one’s own position really only demonstrates an unwillingness to consider the truth at all, not as anyone sees it, but as it is—the truth.

Such a comment certainly does assume that absolute truth does indeed exist.  However, truth exists, not because I or anyone else believes it to exist, but because truth is truth, regardless of my own presuppositions or assumptions.  In the words of Comfort, “unbelief or belief doesn’t negate reality” (p48).

John 3:16, for example, as all of Holy Scripture, is true, even if I don’t believe it.  Whether I believe or not doesn’t make something less true.  It only means that I don’t believe it.  I can believe that gravity doesn’t exist should I jump out of the plan while in the air, but that won’t at all change what is true, that gravity will result in my falling to the ground.

In the same way, the Bible is God’s Word and is therefore true, whether I believe it or not.  Only Christians take this truth seriously.  Others may joke about the Bible and act as if it means nothing at all, but their attitude does not change the true and faithful Word of God  (i.e. Psalm 119:89), nor what it is or what it says.

Comfort’s belief that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word is welcome and encouraging.  Christians can give reasonable explanations to the many questions and statements of the day as posed by atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and others.  They can do this, not only using their God given reasoning abilities, but Christians also and especially have the Word of God.  Christians can not only address faulty logic and false conclusions.  They can also say what God has said.

Should the “scientific evidence” seem to contradict the Word, Christians can rightly question the evidence and the assumptions held concerning the evidence, and therefore, get to the deeper conflict that the nonbeliever has with reference to sin and grace.

In five chapters, Comfort addresses these topics:

  1. Humanity: Rights and Suffering
  2. The Bible: Biblical and Theological Issues
  3. Science: Scientific Thought and Evolution
  4. Philosophy: Beliefs and Worldviews
  5. Religion: God and Atheism

Throughout these topics, Comfort often points to man’s inability to keep the law.  He exposes the error of false belief and seriousness of the human condition.  For the most part, Comfort does a fine job addressing many of the issues between the covers.

However, in certain responses, I believe that he could have answered more charitably.  In some places, he seems to write with a bit of sarcasm and/or what may sound as derision.  It seems to me that he does not entirely stick with the issues at hand.

Overall, I found this work to be of benefit for two primary reasons.  The first reason is that Comfort does present a number of arguments, comments, and questions by mostly nonChristians.  These are beneficial in that they present the Christian with a greater understanding of what is being said about Christianity and what Christians believe concerning matters of faith and life.  Secondly, Comfort can help Christians consider answers to the critics based on the Bible and sound reason.  Sound reason will not convert anyone, but it may give critics reason for considering their position.  God’s Word creates faith (Romans 10:17).  Man’s word does not.  Nevertheless, Christians are to use the gifts God has given them, in service to the Gospel, and directed by God’s Word.

Among the weaknesses of this work is the constant refrain of “if…then” statements.  Comfort is coming from a background that assumes sinners can “make a decision for Christ.”  This is what we call “Decision Theology,” and this book is loaded with phrases that place the burden of sinners in need of a Savior, not fully on Christ, but on themselves.  Comfort does indeed articulate the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, but in many instances, this is not as clear as it could be.

Though Comfort does indeed call for the sinner to repent, and though he does speak about the depth of sin, he doesn’t seem to go far enough, for he at least implies that man can somehow “choose God,” even in his sinful condition.  The Bible, however, indicates that man is much more corrupt than this, and must be completely born again, something that Comfort doesn’t adequately address (i.e. Genesis 6:5, 21; Psalm 14:1-3; 19:12; 51:3-5; Matthew 15:18-20; John 1:12-13; 3:3, 5-6;  Romans 3:10-20; 5:6-11; 7:24-25; 10:4, 14-17; 14:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 2:20-21; Hebrews 11:6)

Because of Comfort’s inconsistency about the depth of human sin and man’s corruption, he is unable to fully declare God’s grace in Christ.  He doesn’t rightly distinguish Law and Gospel throughout.  He therefore also fails to consistently articulate man’s salvation by God’s grace through faith (salvation, God’s grace, and even faith) as pure gift (i.e. Ephesians 2:8-9).[2]

This doctrine, that sinful man is saved only God’s grace in Christ through faith, is known as the doctrine of justification.  This doctrine teaches that man can do nothing for his salvation, that God has done it all in Christ through His death on the cross.  Salvation and God’s grace, and even faith, are fully gifts of God (as is Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

The doctrine of justification is objective, sure, and certain.  Anything of man, even any decisions or choices he makes, is uncertain and doubtful, whereas the things of God give only confidence and certainty.

Unbelievers, including atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and any others, will not know such certainty or believe God’s grace apart from Jesus Christ.  They will not believe the forgiveness of sins without the Holy Spirit.  Christians can address the faulty and limited logic of the naysayers.  They can give rational arguments for their understanding of the evidences.  But only God, by means of His Word, creates faith to believe that Word, even that Word which is now flesh, Jesus the Christ.  It is this Word, also, that God calls His people to speak consistently and truthfully throughout, as in Jeremiah, “He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).


[1] Ray Comfort, The Defender’s Guide For Life’s Toughest Questions (Green Forest, AK: Master Books), 2011.

[2] Cleary absent from this book is any reference to baptismal regeneration.  Comfort often confuses Law and Gospel, too.

Unprofitable Servants…

Augsburg Confession

Article VI: Of New Obedience

1] Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification 2] before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by 3] the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone. (http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article6)

Already Clean…

“You are already clean because of the word

which I have spoken to you.”

John 15:3

“For above all one must take care that the heart is good, pure, and holy, as Ps. 51:10 states: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” It is as if he were saying that cleanness of the works of the body is nothing unless there first is cleanness of the heart. But this uncleanness of the heart is so deep that no human being is sufficiently aware of it, much less can purge it away by his own strength, as Jer. 17:9–10 says: “The heart of man is deceitful and inscrutable. Who will search it out? I the Lord search out the heart and the reins.” Therefore the heart becomes pure and good only through faith in Christ, as we read in Acts 15:9: “He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith.” For faith in the Word purifies, because just as the Word of God is completely pure and good, so it makes him who adheres to it pure and good like itself. Whatever it has and is able to do it shares with him who adheres to it and believes it. Ps. 19:7 says: “The Law of the Lord is unstained, changing the souls.” And Christ says in John 15:3: “You are clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you.” Thus also Ps. 51:4, in the Hebrew: “Against Thee alone have I sinned … so that Thou art justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.” He who believes in the Word of God is righteous, wise, true, good, etc. Thus, on the contrary, he who is separated from the Word of God or departs from it will necessarily remain in wickedness, in uncleanness, and in everything that is opposed to the Word of God. “He who trusts in his own mind is a fool” (Prov. 28:26), which is a statement against his own confidence. Therefore the apostle says in Titus 1:15: “To the impure nothing is pure, but their minds and consciences are corrupted.” This is what the apostle means here when he speaks of “falling away from the living God.” For one falls away from the living God when one falls away from His Word, which is alive and gives life to all things, yes, is God Himself. Therefore they die. He who does not believe is dead. But falling away comes about through unbelief. And thus it is clear what an “evil heart” of unbelief is. It is a heart in which nothing is good, but everything is evil, because it departs from everything that is good.” (LW 29: Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews)

On the Lord’s Ascension

“By His exaltation and ascension the Son of Man, also according to His human body, has entered into the full and unlimited use of His divine omnipresence. His gracious presence is therefore assured to His congregation on earth. He is now nearer to His believers than He was to His disciples in the days of His flesh. He is now sitting at the right hand of His heavenly Father. As our Brother He has assumed the full use of the divine power and majesty. He reigns with omnipotence over all things, but especially also over His Church. God has put all things under His feet, and has given Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, Eph. 1, 22. 23. By His Word and Sacrament He gathers unto Himself a congregation and Church upon earth. He works in and with His servants; He governs in the midst of His enemies. He preserves and protects His Church against all the enmity of the hostile world and against the very portals of hell. And His intercession before His heavenly Father makes our salvation a certainty, Rom. 8, 34.” (http://www.kretzmannproject.org/)

St. Paul & ethics

In the Pocket Dictionary of Ethics, Grenz & Smith write, “Paul sought to understand the significance of Jesus’ entire life, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation for ethical living.  He also attempted to apply Jesus’ teachings to the situations faced by the early churches under his care” [1]

These words seem to imply that Paul the apostle had not fully understood the significance of Jesus’ life for ethical living.  In addition, these words suggest that Paul may have been deficient in applying Jesus’ words to the matters of his day.  However, the very words of Paul in his letters[2] demonstrate otherwise.

Take for example Paul’s words as recorded in Romans 12, where he writes, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (v3), or these, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.  Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (v9-18).

Specifically, these words of St. Paul the Apostle, inspired by God to write what he wrote, indicate not a seeking to understand, but certainty, in applying Jesus’ words to how God’s people are to live.  St. Paul knew and understood what he was writing about, not, however, due to experience, but due to the revelation of Christ (i.e. 1 Corinthians 14:6; Galatians 1:12ff; 2:2; Ephesians 3:3).

St. Paul the apostle was not seeking to understand how to live.  He sought to preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2).  He sought to the please God who had sent Him.  Ethically speaking, Paul knew how he was to live and how others were to live.  He knew and believed what God had revealed to Him.  The issue was not in Paul’s understanding, it was in actually doing what God said.

Read Romans 7:7-25, for example.  Here, Paul speaks of the struggle between his sinful flesh and the spirit.  His problem was not that he did not “know” how to apply the teaching of Christ.  He certainly did.  Rather, his problem concerned the battle of the flesh and spirit, not only within himself, but also within everyone who has believed in God and His promises since the Fall of Adam and Eve, even into our day, even to the end of this world (see Galatians 5:16-26).

Instead of seeking to understand Christ’s teaching for everyday living as God’s people, Paul sought to preach and teach the truth of God’s Word.  In doing so, Paul actually did apply Jesus’ teaching to the everyday situations of the church in his day.  He did not merely attempt to declare God’s law and judgment upon sin, and to preach the forgiveness of sins.  He did proclaim these very truths, as God Himself had given him to do.  Had the hearers of his preaching and teaching not believed or acted according to the words of Paul, this would not have been due to what Paul had said, but to the hardened hearts of those who heard him speak.

Grenz and Smith’s use of the word “attempt” is unfortunate, for it leads the reader to assume that Paul failed to faithfully apply God’s Word.  But look at the letters of Paul, and you will find something quite different.


[1] Stanley J. Grenz & Jay T. Smith, Pocket Dictionary of Ethic (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2003.

[2] Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & Timothy, Titus, Philemon.

Certainty in Christ!

 

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.

Psalm 119:89

What blessed and eternal comfort the child of God has in God’s own Word!  You see this according to faith, not according to sight, for you live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).  But what kind of faith? The faith that believes that anything is possible? The faith that believes you can do anything you set your mind to?  The faith which blindly trusts that all things will work out the way we hope them to?

Such description of faith is not that description of faith revealed by God in His Word.  The Christian faith is not “blind.”  It trusts in God’s promises.  Such faith does not trust in worldly expectations or self expectations, but only on the mercies of God in Christ.  Such faith does not believe that anything is possible by oneself or by putting one’s mind to something.  It rests on God’s unchangeable and unconditional grace, revealed in Christ.  Also, such faith does not rest on false or misguided hopes, for its foundation is God’s Holy and faithful Word.

Such faith as the Christian faith rests squarely on the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And this Gospel is nothing but certain and sure, and not at all because I believe it.  The Christian faith rests upon God and His Son.  He makes it sure.  I do not add anything at all to it, but simply believe it.  This, after all, is what Christians do.  They confess Christ and believe His Word.  And they are sure that God’s Word “abides forever.”

 

Luther

“Christ and His side are weak, and the Gospel is a foolish proclamation.  On the other hand, the kingdom of the world and the devil, its prince, are strong; in addition, the wisdom of the flesh is very impressive.  But this is our consolation, that the devil with his members cannot accomplish what he wishes.  He may trouble many persons, but he cannot destroy the Gospel of Christ.  The truth may be endangered, but it cannot perish.  It is attacked, but it cannot be conquered; for ‘the Word of the Lord abides forever” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p54).

Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive me for doubting Your promises and Your undeserved mercy.  Help me at all times to trust in Your Word and be ever sure of Your abundant grace and mercy in Christ.  Amen.

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