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A case of disunity in the LCMS…from The Lutheran Witness

Koinonia

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

The Lutheran Witness is the “official periodical of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p2).  Since the presidency of Pres. Matthew Harrison, elected in 2010, The Lutheran Witness has undergone a transformation.  The following letter may help illustrate this.  “Last night I read the October issue of The Lutheran Witness, and I could not help but praise the Lord for the content.  Here was the material that I have wanted to see in our church periodical for many years, clear biblical expositions of theological, doctrinal and life problems confronting clergy and laity in our Synod at this time.  We need more of this clear, open of Scripture in common English for all to see” (The Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p22, 24).

I am in agreement with this observation.  The majority of articles now the in The Lutheran Witness are doctrinal, and thus, practical, in nature, directing the reader to the Word and to Christ, drawing distinctions where they should be maintained, and genuinely Lutheran.  I enjoy reading the articles and am encouraged greatly by them.

Before President Harrison was elected, The Lutheran Witness had a more “church growthy” approach, having the assumption that the gospel and the doctrine were “there,” but not explicitly indicated as such, generally speaking.  It seemed that the emphasis was more on human activity rather than God’s activity through Word and Sacrament, emphasizing the “mission,” minus the content.Walking together

Yet even as The Lutheran Witness has changed, for the better, I believe, others do not have this view, not at all.  Such a negative view of change towards The Lutheran Witness is illustrated by this letter from a more recent issue, “The March 2013 number of The Lutheran Witness is on of the most troubling I have ever read” (The Lutheran Witness, May 2013, p25).  Another letter illustrates a similar negative view, “I grew up in the ELCA and was active there until age 40, when I moved my family to the LCMS for doctrinal reasons.  The move was the right choice for our family.  That said, I had an extremely negative reaction to the March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness” (May 2013, p25).[1]

Reading even only a few of the letters offered in The Lutheran Witness gives a taste, albeit, only a nibble, of the discrepancy found within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).  One writer says, “More, more.”  Another says, “No, no.”  Such responses indicate that, like so many other denominations, we are not 100% united, specifically, in doctrine.  If one greatly appreciates what is right and true and another does not, what does this say of a united faith that we claim to possess?  It essentially demonstrates that we’re not as united as some claim us to be.  Of course, in Christ, true unity remains.  But then again, the question remains, “What does this mean?”


[1] The March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness, entitled, “Free in Christ” included articles such as, “Can’t we all just get along,” “Free in Christ,” “Finding a home,” “The Life of the baptized,” and a chart, “Differences and Distinctions” between the LCMS, Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic on such teachings as God’s Word, Justification & Sanctification, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

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Claims about Martin Luther

Sola FideIt is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

Claims about Martin Luther

According to Luther, salvation was a free gift—not merited, earned, achieved, or won by man for believing or acting.  In other words, man does nothing (and can do nothing) for his salvation.  This doesn’t, however, mean that man does nothing in life but believe.  The Christian believes in Christ alone for salvation, to be sure, but as Luther has said, “faith in Christ alone saves, but faith is never alone.”  In other words, the Christian believes in Christ, and this faith in Christ truly saves (unto eternal life), yet such a Christian will also do good works.[2]  Thus, the Christian believes, and such a Christian who believes will also be active in good works (see John 15:3-5).

The essence of Luther’s teaching is called the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.  This is the teaching that sinful man, by God’s grace in Christ, through faith, is declared righteous (objective justification), without him (that is, sinful man), having done anything or doing anything towards his salvation.  This central teaching of the Christian faith excludes all human works, potential works, thoughts, and inclinations on man’s part and rests solely on Christ and Christ alone for salvation.  Man cannot save himself, nor can he contribute or add to his own salvation.

Such a teaching conflicts with the Roman Catholic teaching of infused grace and its sacramental system, for Luther’s teaching denied even the presumed result of infused grace (i.e. actions/works of man) as being meritorious.  Infused grace is the teaching that God freely gives His grace through means (i.e. the Sacraments), and this grace moves men to do and act, and only then will man be saved.

According to the Roman Catholic teaching, then, man is saved by God’s grace, but such a grace also works through love.  Such grace is not sufficient alone to save without the works that follow.  Thus, man is saved by God’s (infused) grace, but if works do not follow, then there is no salvation.  Salvation, then, is dependent both on infused grace and man’s response.  This teaching makes salvation dependent on God and man together.  Luther, however, was teaching that salvation rests on God and His grace alone, without man’s response included.

For Luther, God’s grace alone was (and is) sufficient for man’s salvation.  Resting on Christ alone through faith for salvation means that the sinner, forgiven by God, has certainty of salvation, not in Himself, but in Christ, who has fulfilled the Law and has paid the penalty of man’s sin completely.

In distinction, the Roman Catholic teaching cannot say unequivocally that man can be sure of his salvation, unless he also does (shows) the works.  The Roman Catholic, then, can only doubt his/her salvation, and seek to be more sure by doing more through the receiving of “grace” in the sacraments (and going to mass), whereas the one who believes in Christ alone for salvation has nothing but certainty of having God’s grace and favor, and peace with God (Romans 5:1ff), not on account of his faith or because of any change within him, but on account of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30).

This is the Gospel that Luther preached and taught.  Most certainly, it can be denied, and is by all who seek to contribute to their salvation with their own doing.  Such a teaching can also result in “smug” Christians and hypocrites, who omit God’s law and repentance, and seek only to do what they will, contrary to God’s Word.  Yet, such actions are not of faith, nor are they representative of the true biblical doctrine.  They are a misuse and abuse of God’s truth and doctrine for their own means.

Luther preached and taught according to Holy Scripture.  His certainty was not in the Roman Catholic Church of the papacy, in tradition, or in any other authority (including his own), but rested in the Bible alone.  For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him.  And though Luther wanted the Roman Catholic Church to prove him wrong according to the Bible, this they did not do.

For both Luther and the Roman Catholic Church, the issue could be said to be one of authority.  But for Luther, it was the authority over sin, death, and the devil that concerned him, not his own authority, of course, but that of Christ’s.  According to the teaching of the church of his day (which is found today, also), Luther only knew the God of law, demand, and condemnation.  Rightly, Luther recognized that he could not appease God or placate his wrath.  Even with “God’s help” in the sacraments, Luther saw himself before God as a sinner who was undeserving of God’s mercy.  This is how the Bible, too, reveals our condition before God.

Luther found no solace and no comfort in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church because, ultimately, he still had to do something for his salvation, which he knew was not worthy of God’s recognition or approval.  The comfort and the consolation Luther desired, he found in the Gospel, the good news of sins forgiven through faith in Christ, apart from his own works and apart from what the Roman Catholic Church was teaching (and continues to teach).  But far from creating a complacent Luther, this revelation of God moved Luther to action, preaching and teaching the doctrine of God as revealed in Holy Scripture and not by the church.

Luther, actually, didn’t want to break with the church.  Yet the church did not want any part of him or his teaching, which was according to Scripture alone.  Luther wanted the Gospel preached rightly and with clarity, but this the church would not bear.  Thus, they excommunicated him, and the break was clear.


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Works that are done, having faith in Jesus Christ and according to God’s Word and will.  This excludes man-made works.

Minors and Majors

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

Acts 16:31

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  How easy it is to focus on the “minors” rather than on the “majors,” on things trivial and not the main thing.  Such happens in the church, too.  We become so obsessed with appearances, actions, and external things that we actually miss the “one thing needful,” as in the hymn, “One thing’s needful; Lord this treasure.” [1]  When how we live and what we do (or don’t do) become the focus of our preaching and our life, we major on the minors.  In the church, too, when the center becomes growing the church or “doing this” or “doing that,” (and the “right way”) and not on Christ and the Gospel, we’re losing sight of our means of salvation and eternal life.

The Christian life is of Christ, and remaining in Him.  Only if the tree is first good does that tree bear good fruit, says our Lord (Matthew 7:17-18).  Jesus cleanses us with His Word (John 15:3), and we are clean.  Clean in Him means that our sins are not counted against us.  By remaining in Jesus, we do good works and bear fruit (John 15:4-5).

The concern of the Christian, therefore, is remaining in Christ who works the good works within us, which is faith.  If one is not doing good works, it is because that one is not first good in Christ.  On the other hand, one who is doing good works is only doing so because Christ is doing the good works in him.

Our concern, then, is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Where this faith is placed aright, right confession and good works follow.  The Gospel works this, not the law.  The Law condemns and shows us our sin (Romans 3:19-20).  It is the Gospel that saves, that God forgives your sins through faith in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul and the early church faced opposition to the clear Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, as do we.  In his day, and demonstrated in his letter to the Galatians (and elsewhere), some were saying that you had to keep the law in order to be saved (i.e. circumcision, etc.  See Colossians 2:6-23).  You had to do things “the right way” for eternal life.  Thus, they emphasized the command of Moses, ritual, and ceremony.  Doing so, they set aside Christ, even as they spoke piously about God, His Son, and the church.  The preaching of Christ crucified and the forgiveness of sins took “back seat” to “living rightly” and “doing the right thing” to be assured of God’s favor.

We, of course, have the same struggle today.  For some, it’s what “Mother Church” says.  For others, it’s what “the pastor” says.  Still, for others, it’s what “I say or believe.”  However, each of these demonstrate the removal of Christ as the means of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Instead of pointing to Pope, Church, pastor or self, the attention of Christian doctrine is Christ and His Word and work.  The pope, the Church, the pastor, and self are to look to Christ alone, and to draw attention away from themselves to Him who forgives.  Our works and what we do never will save.  Only the work of Christ and what He has done does!

For this reason, circumcision and following the Law doesn’t merit you eternal life.  These can’t help you obtain salvation, but they can prevent it if such are your hope.  But where Christ is your hope and your foundation, know that you have God’s forgiveness.  And having God’s forgiveness in Jesus, the main thing, everything else will fall into place and will indeed, become trivial, as they are.  Yet Christ and His Word, His doctrine, will only become more and more precious and meaningful.

Luther

“It is neither sin nor righteousness to be either uncircumcised or circumcised, just as it is neither sin nor righteousness, but a physical necessity, to eat and drink. For whether you eat or do not eat, you are neither better off nor worse off (1 Cor. 8:8). But if anyone came along and attached either sin or righteousness to it and said: “If you eat, you are sinning; but if you abstain, you are righteous,” or vice versa, he would be both foolish and evil. Therefore it is a very wicked thing to attach sin or righteousness to ceremonies. This is what the pope does; in his formula of excommunication he threatens with punishment the soul of anyone who does not obey the laws of the Roman pontiff, and he makes all his laws necessary for salvation.6 Therefore it is the devil himself who is speaking in the person of the pope and in all such papal decrees. For if salvation consists in the observance of the pope’s laws, what need do we have of Christ as our Justifier and Savior?” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep us from disputing over trivial matters and grant us rather to “set” our “mind on things above, not on things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2), ever trusting in only Your Son, our Savior.  Amen.


[1] Lutheran Service Book, Prepared by The Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, (St. Louis: CPH), 536.

 

 

Claims about the doctrine of Sola Scriptura originating with Martin Luther

Sola Scriptura

It is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

 

Claims about the doctrine of Sola Scriptura originating with Martin Luther

 

A brief examination of the New Testament will demonstrate that the teaching of Sola Scriptura did not originate with Martin Luther.  Though I’m not aware that the phrase Sola Scriptura was used before Luther’s time, the doctrine was in practice before Luther.

Jesus says, for example, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think that you eternal life, and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).  Here, Jesus was speaking with Jews, the people of His day.  Note that He references the Scriptures, which are the Old Testament writings.  He says that these writings testify of Him.  He says the same elsewhere, too (i.e. Luke 24).

The angel Gabriel, who visited both Zechariah in the temple, concerning the birth of John the baptizer (the forerunner of Christ), through the womb of his wife Elizabeth, and who also visited the virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus the Lord, testified to them of what was to come using the Old Testament.

The preaching of the apostles after Christ’s ascension was the preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.  Significantly, they claimed that this proclamation, and their teaching, did not derive from tradition, but was founded on the Old Testament.  They were claiming, therefore, that Christ was not only the one prophesied in the Old Testament, but that He had fulfilled those prophecies (i.e. Acts 2ff).

These few examples draw attention to where Gabriel, Jesus, and the early church recognized the origination of true doctrine to come, not from tradition or a human figure (i.e. the pope), but from God alone, through Holy Scripture (the Bible).  This is especially noteworthy, because such a claim equates the Bible with God’s Word.  This means that the denial of the Bible as the only authority is also the denial of God’s Word, from which God makes Himself known to us through Jesus Christ.  And the denial of the Bible, God’s Word, as the only authority for faith and life, leads to the denial of salvation by God’s grace alone, through Christ alone, through faith alone, all three, for these teachings the Holy Scriptures clearly teach.


[1] Peters, 2.

Some misrepresentation and confusion: Lutherans and Consubstantiation

 

 Undestanding the Lord's SupperJust recently in a Sunday morning Bible class, the question was raised about the doctrine of consubstantiation.  Distinct from transubstantiation, which is the Roman Catholic teaching that the bread and the wine “turn into” Christ’s body and blood, the teaching of consubstantiation is often understood to be the Lutheran position by both Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike.  But is this claim correct?  A brief survey of non-Lutheran material shows that many indeed assume that the Lutheran teaching is, in fact, consubstantiation.  Moreover, even Lutherans themselves will sometimes claim this doctrine as their own.  However, other Lutherans confess differently, and not least of all, Dr. Luther and the reformers themselves.  To attempt to clarify the matter, I will briefly try to distinguish between what consubstantiation is from what it isn’t using various sources.  In doing so, I will show that not all who use the term (even Lutherans) are always consistent.  Because of this inconsistency, misrepresentation abounds and confusion remains.  Following this brief survey, I will speak about the importance of such distinctions and the significance of the Lutheran doctrine and her confession.

Right meaning, wrong word

In his Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine, H. Wayne House clearly characterizes the Lutheran position as that of consubstantiation.[1]  He indicates that Luther was the “founder” of this position, and that the major documents from which this teaching is derived are the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Smaller Catechism.[2]  Interestingly, though, House correctly notes that, concerning the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, “The elements do not change into the presence of Christ,” (as in the Roman Catholic teaching) “but he is actually present in, with, and under the elements” (of bread and wine).[3]

Part of this latter “formula” does come directly from Luther’s Small Catechism, where Luther answers the question “What is the Sacrament of the Altar?” with the words, “It is theAnyQuestions-3 true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”  House is correct in attributing the teaching of Christ’s (“Real”) presence to the Lutheran position.  However, according to others, such a position is not what consubstantiation is.

Rose Publishing, Inc., like House in his Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine, also misrepresents the Lutheran teaching by claiming that it is consubstantiation.  Here is how Rose Publishing describes the teaching of the Lutheran Church, “The Lord’s Supper remains truly bread and wine but also become truly Jesus’ body and blood.”[4]  Rose Publishing calls this teaching consubstantiation.

Thus far, both House and Rose Publishing correctly define the Lutheran position on the Lord’s Supper, but they do so by calling that position consubstantiation.  Likewise, on the back cover of the book, Understanding Four Views on The Lord’s Supper, the Lutheran view is understood to be the same.[5]

For anyone interested in correctly understanding the Lord’s Supper and it’s accompanying terminology, its easy to see how, just from the few examples above, confusion might exist, even among Lutherans.  The term used to describe the teaching of the Lutherans (i.e. consubstantiation) and the actual teaching of the Lutherans are not identical.

Consubstantiation and the actual teaching of the Lutheran Church

According to Dr. Scaer, consubstantiation “etymologically means ‘one substance by the side of another.’”[6]  Lutherans do not teach a “side by side” locale of bread and wine and Christ’s body and blood.  Rather, Lutherans teach what is called the “sacramental union,” which is the “Union of bread and body, wine and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.”[7]  The elements of the Lord’s Table are not side by side.  Instead, Lutherans believe that the recipients of the Lord’s Supper truly receive Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.  Recipients also eat and drink bread and wine.  This includes not only those who believe that they receive Christ’s body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine, but also those who don’t believe it (See 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29).

Lenker defines consubstantiation this way, “View, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form 1 substance (a ‘3rd substance) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present, like bread and wine, in a natural manner.”[8]

YesLutherans do not confess that a “3rd substance” exists.  Nowhere does Christ Himself say this in the institution of this sacred meal (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).  Lutherans do confess, however, that in the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine and Christ’s body and blood are received.  Neither do Lutherans teach that Christ’s body and blood are present in a “natural manner,” but in a supernatural one, according to Christ’s Word and promise.  Yet, Lutherans neither mis-spiritualize the sacrament or claim that bread and the wine only symbolize and represent Christ’s body and blood (both teachings are not according to the very words of Christ, to which we are bound).  Lutherans simply teach that Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper according to His Word, “Real Presence,” that He gives His own body and blood for us to eat and to drink, that we eat bread and drink wine as He instituted, and that by this means of grace (of the Lord’s Supper), Christ forgives sins and gives eternal life, “for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life.”

Formula of Concord, Epitome, VII, “The Holy Supper of Christ”: 15 6. We believe, teach, and confess that with the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ are received not only spiritually, by faith, but also orally — however, not in a Capernaitic manner, but because of the sacramental union in a supernatural and heavenly manner. The words of Christ teach this clearly when they direct us to take, eat, and drink, all of which took place in the case of the apostles, since it is written, “And they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23). Likewise, St. Paul says, “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) — that is, whoever eats this bread eats the body of Christ. This has also been the unanimous teaching of the leading Church Fathers, such as Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine.[9]

Why the big deal?

Such distinctions may sound confusing, and not least of all due to the confusion that alreadGod'sWordMatterswy exists with many a teaching from one church body or denomination to another.  If we all used the same words in the same way, and correctly attributed this and that word with the identical meaning, things would be different.  But regrettably, we do not.  Misrepresentations abound, as do assumptions and presuppositions, which may or may not be accurate.  People often speak past each other for these very reasons.  It is no different in the church.  Yet in the church, one shift in meaning or usage of a word and its meaning can do a great deal of damage (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).  And if the right teaching is just a bit altered, salvation can be lost.

The teaching of consubstantiation is a term that is often used, but more greatly misunderstood and misapplied.  NonLutherans attribute Lutherans as holding this teaching.  Yet, Lutherans themselves, for the most part, do not claim this teaching as their own, at least as I am aware.  Either way, it is important to try to understand how a word is used and its meaning.  Especially when it comes to the Lord’s Word, which alone gives the true doctrine, is this necessary.  To not do so is not only not careful, it is not “rightly handing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  Instead, it is adding to or subtracting from what the Lord has given (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6).


[1] H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 124-125.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.,, 125.

[4] Rose Books of Bible Charts, Maps & Time Lines, “Denominations Comparison” (Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, Inc., 2005), 173.

[5] John H. Armstrong (gen. ed.), Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan , 2007).

[6] Ibid., 87.

[7] Erwin L. Lenker, Lutheran Cyclopedia (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1975, rev.), 691.

[8] Ibid., 198.

[9] Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959.

 

 

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