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Devotion on the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25)

 

Preached on June 8, 2020

 

Audio

 

Readings–Acts 4:23-31; Hebrews 12:1-3; Matthew 10:27-33

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

ACLater this month, on June 25, the church commemorates the presentation of what is considered to be “the principal doctrinal statement of the theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformers”—the Augsburg Confession (June 25, The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession).

This Confession of the faith, written largely by Philip Melanchthon, was formerly presented before Emperor Charles V in 1530, not by the clergy, but by leaders, who feared not the wrath of man, but sought to serve the Lord with their very lives.

At its heart, the Augsburg Confession confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. It centers on the forgiveness of sins won for sinners by Christ’s death on the cross.

Continually does this Confession bear witness and give testimony to the Word of God, which reveals Christ as Savior and neither Church, man, nor any other.

For the pastor and the layman, June 25, 1530 is a date to be remembered.

Men of simple faith gave witness to what they believed according to Holy Scripture, even against the powers that be.  They were not willing to compromise the Good News of salvation, the Gospel, for any worldly type of peace, let alone for the sake of unity against a common enemy.

In that day, that common enemy was the Turk, the Muslim.

Rome sought peace with the Lutherans for the purpose of a united front concerning the advancement of that empire.

Such a peace, however, was not based on the peace that passes all human understanding.

Such a peace hinged on Rome’s set manner of peace, not the peace ordained of God, the peace set forth by God in Jesus Christ according to His Holy Word.

The kind of peace that Rome sought was that peace based on agreement with their teaching, with their doctrine, in submission to the authority of the Pope—the kind of peace that was on their terms, not those of our Lord.

That those presenters of the Augsburg Confession on that day of June 25, 1530 were given the platform for declaring what they believed and confessed is reason for thanksgiving.

Even as the Romish church remained Romish, crystallizing their doctrine in the Council of Trent years later (1546ff), that the Reformers said what they said, declared what they declared, testified of the faith revealed by God, such a work was not merely that of man.

And God’s Word does not return void.

Says God through the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-19 NKJ).

As God gives utterance through the prophets and the apostles, giving the words to say, so also does the Lord continue to do so.

The Lord moved those presenters of the Augsburg Confession to declare words of truth amid error. They were seeking genuine unity based on what God said.

They were not seeking a unity based on ‘agreeing to disagree’ or on the ‘acceptable’ kind of teaching having the most popular votes.

Throughout history, God’s people have rarely, if at all, been in the majority.

God’s Word has not, and does not, enjoy high regard from most of the world.

The truth must be spoken, as difficult as it is to do.

The where and the when have their place, to be sure.

Vocation demands it.

Let the chips fall where they might.

The outcome is the Lord’s, always!

Concerning that presentation of the Augsburg Confession commemorated on the 25th of this month, we are heirs of that Confession.

That Confession is also our own, as are also all statements of faith in the Book of Concord. They are our own because, not “in so far as,” they are correct expositions of Holy Scripture.

These include the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, the latter just confessed this past Holy Trinity Sunday, the most articulate of the Creeds concerning the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

In truth, these creeds of the Western Church express a oneness with the church universal.

The Reformers were not at all seeking to venture off on their own. They only sought to remain with the Church of God according to the Bible.

Such holy desire moved them to present at Augsburg.

Such holy desire moved the Christians before them to bear witness to the truth.

Such holy desire moves Christians today to confess the Name of the crucified and risen Christ, to distinguish Law and Gospel, to be in the Word, to receive the Lord’s proclamation of Command and Promise, to partake of Christ’s body and blood, to remember their Baptism into the Name of the Triune God, to beat down the old man and to put on the new.

Pastors, too, have these desires.

But any strength that they show forth in these matters is not of their own.

Whether clergy or lay, the fruit of the Spirit, the creation of a new heart, gratefulness to the Father—these come from the gracious God who bestows upon us what we don’t deserve.

God reveals that life is in, and only in and through, His Son.

Living by faith in the Word and not according to sight in the world, our attention is drawn to the Messiah, the Christ, Whom the blessed Father sent, not that we have peace in the world, but that we rest fully in Him, sure and certain of what is to come, sure and certain of what is ours even now, whether there be unrest or upheaval, whether there be trouble or difficulty.

St. Paul, in His godly inspired letter to the Christians in Colossae, writes,

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4 NKJ).

The concern of the Reformers then, and the concern of the Christian Church and her preachers today, is that such confidence be born of God in Christ Jesus that in life or death, the Christian know the Christ who ever holds him, He Who is faithful to His Word, even when all else appears to the contrary.

Even the disciples of our Lord Christ were distraught upon His death. They thought that all was lost, that Jesus was undone.

Three days later, Jesus disproved their unbelief in His Word.

Jesus confirmed what He said.

Jesus still confirms His Word.

Hidden as such confirmation may be, His Word remains and will remain that to which we cling, that of which we proclaim.

The Christian Church has no other Word to declare.

The Christian Church is not about unity at any cost.

Christ’s body is not about the lowest common denominator.

What God says—God says—all of it—None we can deny.

Any confidence in this is not of our own making.

Any confidence in what God says, in what God reveals—this, too, is of God—in and by whom we stand. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigins with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

Audio

 

 

Luther–Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague

 

In the following letter, here are a few areas Luther addresses:

  • Christians will not all respond in the same manner
  • Vocation and office
  • Prayer
  • Loving neighbor, Caring for the Sick
  • Denouncing the devil
  • Use of God-given reason
  • Hearing God’s Word, Receiving the Sacrament, Confessing one’s sins
  • Contact the pastor for pastoral care

“We here give you our opinion as far as God grants us to understand and perceive. This we would humbly submit to your judgment and to that of all devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion. Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these and many other parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them…” (Luther)

 

Luther-Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasO God, You desire not the death of sinners, but rather that we turn from our wickedness and live. Graciously behold Your people who plead to You and spare us. Withdraw the scourge of Your wrath and be moved in mercy to turn away this pestilence from us; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (LCMS, In Time of Pestilence)

 

 

 

Commemoration of Silas, fellow worker of St. Peter and St. Paul

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Feb 10 is a day commemorating Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul. Of this saint of God, the Commission on Worship on the LCMS website comments,

“Silas, a leader in the church at Jerusalem, was chosen by Paul (Acts 15:40) to accompany him on his second missionary journey from Antioch to Asia Minor and Macedonia. Silas, also known as Silvanus, was imprisoned with Paul in Philippi and experienced the riots in Thessalonica and Berea. After rejoining Paul in Corinth, he apparently remained there for an extended time. Beyond that there is little further mention of Silas and his association with Paul.” (Commemorations, Biography)

Another description, from Treasury of Daily Prayer, offers these additional words,

“Sometime later he (Silas) apparently joined the apostle Peter, likely serving as Peter’s secretary (1 Peter 5:12). Tradition says that Silas was the first bishop at Corinth.”

These words of comment leave us little to go on with reference to Silas.  It is a given that Paul and Peter both knew him, and that he served the Lord with them according to his calling.

We don’t know about his background like we do with Paul, formerly named Saul.

We don’t know his father or mother, his home country, or his occupation, if he had one prior to his conversion or after.

Little is given about this commemorated man of God.

Curiosity here, though, does not lead the faithful to speculations, lofty or not.  What we can know with certainty of any name referenced in the Bible is that which God reveals in that Word.  This alone is the “rule and norm,” our litmus by which all be tested.

Even here, however, we are left with limited knowledge of the man called Silas.

But to end speculation and wandering curiosity, we are simply left to ask, “What does God say?”—and then—“what does this mean?”—a good Lutheran question, to be sure, but qualified with an “according to the Word alone.”

Too often, the meaning of a thing is not left “as-is,” having confidence alone placed on the bare Word of God as given.

Rather, personal assumptions and sinfully contrived notions and “interpretations” are purported to reveal the true meaning, if not definitively, at least partially, “to me.”

Ego-centeredness and self-interest aside, we can only speak with certainty of Silas as given by Holy Scripture, and as mentioned earlier, there is little to go on, or so it would seem.

The name Silas occurs a total of 13 times, and only in the New Testament book of Acts.

That’s it!

Nowhere else does the name Silas occur.

Additionally, however, commentators connect the name Silvanus to Silas, which adds four more hits to the one today commemorated, once in 2 Corinthians, once in each of the two letters of Paul to the Thessalonians, and once in Peter’s first epistle.

This makes for a total of 17 instances where the name Silas, and Silvanus, appear in the New Testament writings.

In the latter four non-Acts occurrences of the name Silvanus, no lengthy narrative accompanies the name.

In Acts, the findings are quite distinct.

Without laboring you with more numbers, references to the man Silas in Acts connect readily to specific narratives and joined with the apostle Paul.

The first reference to Silas in the book of Acts is in relation to the Jerusalem synod of Chapter 15.

This is where “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1 NKJ).

And also, where, “Some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise (the converted Gentiles), and to command them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5 NKJ).

The church came together and definitively said, “No… we believe and confess that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:11).

In other words, not by being circumcised according to the Law of Moses is eternal life, but through faith in the Christ Jesus preached from Holy Scripture, whom Peter and Paul preached.

Silas doesn’t appear a main speaker of the meeting proper, like Peter had.  In fact, Silas doesn’t appear to speak at all there.

Yet, the apostles and elders, with the whole church (Acts 15:12), did send Silas, along with Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Barsabas to Antioch with the letter, crafted to “Not trouble those form the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).

Silas was known among them, among the “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26).

Also, he with Judas were considered by Luke to be “leading men among the brethren” (Acts 15:22 NKJ).

With Judas, Silas was to “Report the same things” of the letter “By word of mouth” (Acts 15:27).

This Silas did.

Judas and Silas “Exhorted the brethren” in Antioch, “With many words and strengthened them,” records Luke, relaying also that both were “leaders” and “themselves prophets” (Acts 15:32).

This meant that Silas spoke. Prophets speak.

Words not spoken by Silas at the Jerusalem synod were spoken elsewhere.

So, God gives His servants to speak as He will, where He will, with the Words to proclaim.

In the same chapter of Acts 15, Silas is the one who Paul chooses over Barnabas, to accompany him in visiting the brethren where they had “preached the word” (Acts 15:36).

This was where Paul and Barnabas contended about John Mark going with them, though he “had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:38).

Paul and Barnabas parted ways, the latter taking John Mark to Cyprus, the former taking Silas, “Being commended by the brethren to the grace of God” (Acts 15:40).

Next, we hear of Paul and Silas imprisoned, for the simple reason that Paul exorcised a demon from a girl, and her masters could no longer profit from her fortune-telling (Acts 16:19).

Of Paul and Silas, their accusers stated, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; “and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe” (Acts 16:20-21 NKJ).

The preaching of Jesus is not politically correct.  Nor is the true doctrine accepted by all, neither is godly work recognized as such by the world.

The devil fights against Christ and seeks to silence and suppress the truth however he might.

Yet, Paul and Silas, in prison, prayed and sang “hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).

In the midst of their ordeal, they blessed God.

And in the midst of their ordeal, a jailer heard, asking, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

The answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

The jailer and his household were baptized.  They believed God.

In two successive chapters, chapters 17 & 18, we find the remaining places where Silas is named in the book of Acts.

In chapter 17, Paul and Silas, still together in accompaniment, traveled to Berea, where the Jews “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11).

And, “Many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men” (Acts 17:12).

In chapter 18, when Paul was in Corinth, it was after “Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia” that Paul “was constrained by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:5).

What the Lord reveals of Silas in these passages is not at all insignificant.  The Lord had Silas right where He wanted him to be.

Silas was God’s servant, a member of the household of God.

It was not Silas who was running the show or plotting out how he would serve.  It was God directing, God leading, God moving, God giving.

In such giving, moving, leading, and directing, so God’s servant served.

Though it is true that we know little of Silas’ background, life, personality, etc., we know what God makes known.  And what God reveals of Silas manifests, not Silas, but God and His work, God’s salvation and redemption.

By God’s grace and work, the Lord grant you the same. Amen.

 

Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, Your servant Silas preached the Gospel alongside the apostles Peter and Paul to the peoples of Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia.  We give you thanks for raising up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of Your kingdom, that the Church may continue to proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Faith is God’s Work

 

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (Jn. 6:29 NKJ).

 

“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

Doing and fulfilling the Law

 

“Accustom yourself, then, to this language, that doing the works of the law and fulfilling the law are two very different things. The work of the law is everything that one does, or can do, toward keeping the law of his own free will or by his own powers. But since in the midst of all these works and along with them there remains in the heart a dislike of the law and compulsion with respect to it, these works are all wasted and have no value. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:20], when he says, “By works of the law will no man be justified in God’s sight.” Hence you see that the wranglers and sophists practice deception when they teach men to prepare themselves for grace by means of works. How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does good works only with aversion and unwillingness in his heart? How shall a work please God if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?

To fulfil the law, however, is to do its works with pleasure and love, to live a godly and good life of one’s own accord, without the compulsion of the law. This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in chapter 5[:5]. But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says in the introduction. Faith, moreover, comes only through God’s Word or gospel, which preaches Christ, saying that he is God’s Son and a man, and has died and risen again for our sakes, as he says in chapters 3[:25]; 4[:25], and 10[:9].

So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:31]; after he has rejected the works of the law, it sounds as if he would overthrow the law by this faith. “No,” he says, “we uphold the law by faith”; that is, we fulfil it by faith.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

I am not ashamed, Romans 1:16-17

 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

 

Some words of Luther on the Gospel and righteousness…

Let us summarize: The Gospel deals with His Son, who was born of the seed of David but now has been manifested as the Son of God with power over all things through the Holy Spirit, given from the resurrection of the dead, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. See, there you have it: The Gospel is the message concerning Christ, the Son of God, who was first humbled and then glorified through the Holy Spirit. (Luther’s Works vol 25)

In human teachings the righteousness of man is revealed and taught, that is, who is and becomes righteous before himself and before other people and how this takes place. Only in the Gospel is the righteousness of God revealed (that is, who is and becomes righteous before God and how this takes place) by faith alone, by which the Word of God is believed, as it is written in the last chapter of Mark (16:16): “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” For the righteousness of God is the cause of salvation. And here again, by the righteousness of God we must not understand the righteousness by which He is righteous in Himself but the righteousness by which we are made righteous by God. This happens through faith in the Gospel. (Luther’s Works vol 25)

 

 

The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56

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Luke 1:39-56

“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.”

 

“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk. 1:39)

Luther: God is not magnified by us so far as His nature is concerned—He is unchangeable—but He is magnified in our knowledge and experience when we greatly esteem Him and highly regard Him, especially as to His grace and goodness. Therefore the holy mother does not say: “My voice or my mouth, my hand or my thoughts, my reason or my will, magnifies the Lord.” For there are many who praise God with a loud voice, preach about Him with high-sounding words, speak much of Him, dispute and write about Him, and paint His image; whose thoughts dwell often upon Him and who reach out after Him and speculate about Him with their reason; there are also many who exalt Him with false devotion and a false will. But Mary says, “My soul magnifies Him”—that is, my whole life and being, mind and strength, esteem Him highly. She is caught up, as it were, into Him and feels herself lifted up into His good and gracious will, as the following verse shows. It is the same when anyone shows us a signal favor; our whole life seems to incline to him, and we say: “Ah, I esteem him highly”; that is to say, “My soul magnifies him.” How much more will such a lively inclination be awakened in us when we experience the favor of God, which is exceeding great in His works. All words and thoughts fail us, and our whole life and soul must be set in motion, as though all that lived within us wanted to break forth into praise and singing.

But here we find two kinds of false spirits that cannot sing the Magnificat aright. First, there are those who will not praise Him unless He does well to them; as David says (Ps. 49:18): “He will praise Thee when Thou shalt do well to him.” These seem indeed to be greatly praising God; but because they are unwilling to suffer oppression and to be in the depths, they can never experience the proper works of God, and therefore can never truly love or praise Him. The whole world nowadays is filled with praise and service to God, with singing and preaching, with organs and trumpets, and the Magnificat is magnificently sung; but it is regrettable that this precious canticle should be rendered by us so utterly without salt or savor. For we sing only when it fares well with us; as soon as it fares ill, we stop our singing and no longer esteem God highly, but suppose He can or will do nothing for us. Then the Magnificat also must languish.

The other sort are more dangerous still. They err on the opposite side. They magnify themselves by reason of the good gifts of God and do not ascribe them to His goodness alone. They themselves desire to bear a part in them; they want to be honored and set above other men on account of them. When they behold the good things that God has done for them, they fall upon them and appropriate them as their own; they regard themselves as better than others who have no such things. This is really a smooth and slippery position. The good gifts of God will naturally produce proud and self-complacent hearts. Therefore we must here give heed to Mary’s last word, which is “God.” She does not say, “My soul magnifies itself” or “exalts me.” She does not desire herself to be esteemed; she magnifies God alone and gives all glory to Him. She leaves herself out and ascribes everything to God alone, from whom she received it. For though she experienced such an exceeding great work of God within herself, yet she was ever minded not to exalt herself above the humblest mortal living. Had she done so, she would have fallen, like Lucifer, into the abyss of hell (Is. 14:12).

She had no thought but this: if any other maiden had got such good things from God, she would be just as glad and would not grudge them to her; indeed, she regarded herself alone as unworthy of such honor and all others as worthy of it. She would have been well content had God withdrawn these blessings from her and bestowed them upon another before her very eyes. So little did she lay claim to anything, but left all of God’s gifts freely in His hands, being herself no more than a cheerful guest chamber and willing hostess to so great a Guest. Therefore she also kept all these things forever. That is to magnify God alone, to count only Him great and lay claim to nothing. We see here how strong an incentive she had to fall into sin, so that it is no less a miracle that she refrained from pride and arrogance than that she received the gifts she did. Tell me, was not hers a wondrous soul? She finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and still remains so simple and so calm that she does not think of any poor serving maid as beneath her. Oh, we poor mortals! If we come into a little wealth or might or honor, or even if we are a little prettier than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to anyone beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure. What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?

Therefore God lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled or keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according to how He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary’s heart remains the same at all times; she lets God have His will with her and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy, and trust in God. Thus we too should do; that would be to sing a right Magnificat. [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 307–309.]

 

Prayer: Lord, visit us that we blessed by Your Word through Your Son, believe Your Promises, confess Your Name, live by faith, proclaim Your praises, and entrust ourselves fully into Your blessed care. Amen.

 

 

Martin Luther: Civil Libertarian?

 

Presenters:

Rev. Jeff Pederson, Lutheran Church of Peace (ELCA)-Platteville

Mike Trinklein, Writer and Producer of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World

 

Overview

Rev. Pederson offered a chronological summary of Luther’s life, from birth to death, his education, writings, and interest in finding peace with God, mentioning also Romans 1:16-17, “The just will live by faith” and how these words changed Luther.  The reason for the Reformation, stated Pederson, was the timing, as the times were that of change.

Trinklein, referencing the previous summary of Luther’s life and activity, presented on what I would call the worldly/secular results of Luther and the Reformation. The presentation itself was engaging and drew attention to what Trinklein considered the reasons for a number of the freedoms we have today in the U.S., including especially freedom of speech, free press, minority rights, right to education, separation of church and state (noting, however, that this is not identical with the teaching concerning the “two kingdoms”), and individualism (i.e. of religion).

 

Evaluation of the content

luther1Pederson, in his chronological overview of Luther, noted key events of the Reformation and that which led up to it, including Luther’s vow to become a monk, studies, “tower experience,” 95 theses (referencing their posting, but not stating any, 1517), debates (i.e. Erfurt), Diets of Worms (1521), Marburg (1529) and Augsburg (1530).  Pederson also spoke briefly about the circumstances of that time period, which were that of change.  It is that “time of change,” stated Pederson, that was the reason for the Reformation.

Such a time, I would argue, was not the reason for the Reformation.  The reason for the Reformation was God’s doing, not Luther’s or merely the timing itself.  Luther and time had something to do with it, to be sure, but only on account of God’s working through these for His purposes.

Such a statement is that of faith, recognizing God’s work in the world through the work of man and time for the clear preaching of the Gospel.  Why that time and that place?  God knows. A closer look at Luther’s writings reveal that it was not Luther’s reformation, but God’s, as God’s Word was clearly articulated and made known, in contrast to the corrupted teaching of the Roman church and others (i.e. Zwingli, radical reformers).

The second presenter, Trinklein, had mentioned Luther’s focus as an interest in ‘right relationship with God’ (historically not a Lutheran statement), but he took much greater pains to emphasize, not Luther’s theological endeavor, but the secular results/effects (i.e. changes), even going so far to (immediately/directly?) link Luther and his personality to the freedoms experienced today as we have them in our American context.

Thinking about this, the statement could be made that Luther’s example of how he “stood up” to the ecclesiastical and ruling authorities, his emphasis on education, his use oLuther-God speak.jpgf the media (i.e. printing press), and his forthright speaking to the issues of the day were precursors of our freedoms today, though such freedoms were not in place in Luther’s day as they are ours.

Considering Luther as a precedent for American Freedoms, however, apart from the historical connections, seems a bit presumptuous.  Trinklein offered little or no direct line of historical continuum between Luther and the Reformation to our day (i.e. historical legislation noting that our freedoms were a direct result of Luther).  He had mentioned, though, that the father of Mike King, having learned of Martin Luther while in Germany, changed his son’s name from Mike to Martin Luther as a result of his work in the Reformation.

Such a connection, if used to link Luther to current civil rights issues, is misplaced, as the father of Mike King, as presented, took to Luther on account of the freedoms derived from the movement rather than on account of what Luther was actually preaching, teaching, and writing according to the Word.

This was the grand omission of Trinklein’s presentation and to a large degree, the deficiency of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World.”

Minimizing the very words that Luther spoke and wrote in order to draw attention to the “bigger picture” of societal change, or to see Luther primarily as the catalyst and example for change, is to misunderstood Luther and to present a caricature of Luther that is not accurate. Though Trinklein (and others) see Luther primarily as one who “set in motion societal change” and some current American civil liberties, such a limited view not only distorts the contribution of the Reformer, but gives precedent to the worldly while giving lip service to the heavenly.

LutherPreachingLuther’s interest was that of the Gospel.  What was opposed to it in the church, Luther wanted reformed.  Luther hadn’t set out to “change the world.”  His interests were theological.  His oral and written words derived from this interest, and such was the foundation for what he wrote and spoke.

To relegate Luther and His interest in God’s Word and the very Gospel itself to mention, while at the same time emphasizing the possible results of such work, societally and secularly, but not theologically, is to use Luther as a means to one’s desired end.

Rather than champion Luther as a “civil libertarian,” read his writings.  The freedom that the Gospel speaks of is not temporal liberty from worldly oppression and peace in the world.  More significantly, and eternally, the Gospel revealed in the Bible, and that which Luther proclaimed, frees the conscience and declares peace with God and freedom from sin’s penalty, which is eternal death, through the death of Jesus Christ.

Whether freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to education, etc. exist or not, the Gospel cannot and will not be silenced.  American Christians do not rejoice for primarily the freedoms of this world.  They rejoiromans 1-16ce in sins forgiven through Christ and the certainty of their eternal inheritance.

Emphasizing the freedoms of this world and downplaying the true freedom of and in the Gospel (before God and man) is the way of the world.  It is not the way of the Lord Christ. Nor was it the concern of Luther.

 

Link to presentation on the campus of UW-Platteville

Synod president responds to SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling | LCMS News & Information

GCF-SCOTUS

 

Synod president responds to SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling | LCMS News & Information.

Words out of place for today’s church?

False Prophets“Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the LORD.”

Jeremiah 23:31-32

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  To many, even in the church today, these words from Jeremiah the prophet seem out of place.  “They are too rigid, too condemnatory, too judgmental.  They are words from an historical narrative, an unenlightened past, and don’t deserve our hearing.”

Though many in the church in today’s Christendom would immediately dismiss these words of our Lord through the prophet as irrelevant, irrelevant these words certainly are not!  To say that they are irrelevant to our day is essentially to declare that God’s Word for God’s people is only applicable for a certain time, place, and locale.  But a closer look at what God says reveals the truth far differently than that of today’s “enlightened” and “advanced” “Christianity.”

A closer look at Holy Scripture reveals that God’s people today face the similar temptations of those who have come before us in the faith, to deny the truth and to go after their own gods, even while claiming faith in the true God.  Today’s church faces the same struggles as the people of God in the Old and New Testaments and throughout the history of the Church, to compromise the faith, to follow the popular and “acceptable” way, and to live by sight (and experience) and not by faith in what the Lord says.

In Jeremiah’s day, prophets preached, not according to the Word that God had given them to preach, but according to the content of their own heart and that which the people wanted to hear. This was the easier way to go.  Just look at Jeremiah!  Look what his preaching got him—thrown into a pit, ridiculed, despised, rejected by the people.  Who wants that?  I know that I don’t.

Jeremiah didn’t have an easy time with the people, for they didn’t listen.  Yet his calling was not to please people or to say what they wanted to hear (Ephesians 6:6).  His calling was to speak the truth, the very words that God gave him to speak:  “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

Jeremiah’s words were not to be his own, but God’s.  The same applies to those who preach with the name clergy today.  However, as in JerNo Compromiseemiah’s day, so today, there are those who say that the Lord says where the Lord has not said.  Today, there are those who say what people want to hear, who compromise the truth for acceptance by the world, and who condemn those who speak the truth as unloving, intolerant, and hate-mongers, even though they are simply making the same distinctions that God Himself makes in Holy Scripture.

Most certainly, there are those who do say what they say in spite or in anger.  There are those, too, who speak uncharitably and not out of love for neighbor.  Yet how something is said should not take precedence over what is said.

The litmus test for the truth is not how we sinners view or respond to the message.  Just because we get excited about the preaching because of the dynamism of the preacher, or “get into the service” because of the beat of the music, these don’t immediately translate into “God at work.”  In contrast, just because the preaching is unappealing and the service slow or dull doesn’t mean that God is not at work.

The true litmus test for cross1true preaching and the faithful worship service is not how you feel during or afterwards or what you get out of the sermon, how moving the message was, or how people react.  The true litmus test is simply this, the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments administered according to the Lord’s institution.  The music, hymns, responses, etc. should all point to Christ and what God has done in Him.  Where they do not, be on guard, and closely examine Scripture.  Yet, even where the preaching is right, and the congregation seeks to be faithful, and the worship is Christ-centered, continue to examine Scripture, for those who are of God hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).  They continue in His Word (John 8:31-32), and they know Him and His ways, not according to what they see, feel, or experience, but according to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

Also to remember is this, as St. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  We remain sober and vigilant as we look to the Lord and His Word (See also Ephesians 6:10ff).

We most certainly have the devil to contend with throughout our earthly lives, as well as the world and our sinful flesh.  Therefore, does our Lord give us His Word, that we remain in the faith.  He gives us prayer, that we call upon Him in every trouble (Psalm 50:15).  He joins us together with others that we encourage one another in the faith (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:23-25).  In effect, God doesn’t leave us alone, but gives us what He would to keep us in the faith.

The reality is, in Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, not all preachers preach the truth.  False preachers and false preaching continue.  Falsehood, however, is not of the truth.  And false gospels, though appealing and man-centered, do not confess the truth, nor do they lead to heaven.  False gospels, essentially, teach salvation apart from faith in Christ alone.  They teach another way to heaven than the way God has already given (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

It is necessary, therefore, to make distinctions, to clarify, and to avoid that which is false, according to the Word of our Lord.  Not doinWalther's-L&Gg so leads away from Christ and His Word.  It also leads to self-security or despair.  Either direction does not lead to heaven, but to eternal death.

God’s people do make such distinctions between truth and falsehood, and they long to abide where Christ is.  Indeed, where Christ is, there also are they (John 12:26).  They forsake the false, even denying themselves, and follow Christ, carrying their crosses and burdens, and rest only in Christ, where true rest and genuine peace are found (Matthew 11:28; Romans 5:1-5)

Luther

Now when Paul speaks of “the truth of the Gospel,” he shows that there are two uses of the Gospel, a true one and a false one, or a true and a false gospel. It is as though he were saying: “The false apostles proclaim a faith and a gospel too, but their gospel is a false gospel. Hence my stubbornness and refusal to yield. I did this in order that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved among you.” Thus in our day the pope and the sectarians brag that they proclaim the Gospel and faith in Christ. Yes, they do, but with the same results that the false apostles once had, those whom Paul (Gal. 1:7) calls troublers of the churches and perverters of the Gospel of Christ. By contrast he says that he is teaching “the truth of the Gospel,” the pure and true Gospel, as though he were saying: “Everything else is a lie masquerading as the Gospel.” For all the heretics lay claim to the names of God, of Christ, of the church, etc.; and they pretend that they want to teach, not errors but the most certain truth and the purest Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it. The scholastics do the same thing in our day. They say that we must believe in Christ and that faith is the foundation of salvation, but they say that this faith does not justify unless it is “formed by love.”7 This is not the truth of the Gospel; it is falsehood and pretense. The true Gospel, however, is this: Works or love are not the ornament or perfection of faith; but faith itself is a gift of God, a work of God in our hearts, which justifies us because it takes hold of Christ as the Savior. Human reason has the Law as its object. It says to itself: “This I have done; this I have not done.” But faith in its proper function has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world. It does not look at its love and say: “What have I done? Where have I sinned? What have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has He deserved?” And here the truth of the Gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” Therefore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whoever diverts his gaze from this object does not have true faith; he has a fantasy and a vain opinion. He looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87-88)

Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive us for turning from you to our own way.  Continue to have mercy on us, through Your only Son, Jesus Christ, that we remain steadfast in the true faith, and denying all others, boldly confess Your Holy Name.  In Your Name we pray, Amen.

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