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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/)

Why so many Christian Denominations?

Blankman, Drew & Todd Augustine.  Pocket Dictionary of North American Denominations.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

The preface of this introductory booklet of denominations in North America (which includes such nonChristian groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) states, “There are thousands of denominations in North America” (7).  This is not difficult to imagine, as within most of the mainline denominations, a number of subgroups exist.  Apart from Roman Catholicism, it would appear, the various church bodies subsist under various names and designations.  However, even Roman Catholicism, for its claim to unity, is vastly divided and far from united.

One might wonder why all these categorizations (denominations) exist.  The reality of Christendom today seems to be that of fragmentation, not unity in the confession of the same faith.  The “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” and “one body” of Ephesians 4:4,5 appears nonexistent.

The ecumenical movement strives for the visual demonstration of a united Christendom, albeit in a quite deficient way.  Agreeing to disagree does not work in the realm of God’s revelation in Christ.  Nor does emphasizing only the areas of agreement among Christians offer the solution for uniting the differing church bodies under one umbrella.

The answer to bring about true unity in Christendom is not to minimize the differences and to maximize the agreements.  Neither is the answer to focus only on what might be determined to be the essentials and then allow considerable freedom on “other” teachings deemed by some to be nonessential, even though God has spoken about these very things, too (i.e. the ordination of women, the acceptance of homosexuality, redefining sin, etc.).

The answer for today’s fragmented Christendom is to turn from its departure of Holy Scripture and the doctrine of Jesus Christ to it, and to continually pray and strive for genuine unity—not the sham unity of a false and deceiving ecumenicalism, but the true unity of faith which demonstrates itself in same-saying—that is—confessing together as one—the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture.

Here, however, is right where the problem lies…Not all do or will confess the same thing concerning Christ and concerning the doctrine revealed in the Holy Bible.  This is really the reason why so many different denominations exist today—because not all say (teach) the same thing.

What is the Bible?  Who is Jesus?  Who has the hope of eternal life?  What are the Sacraments?  These are questions that call for answers, and for which various answers will be given.  The fault, however, is not to be found in the Holy Bible.  The fault is to be found in those who disbelieve it and use it contrary to God’s will, which we only know from Holy Scripture itself.

As God says through the prophet Jeremiah, “He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).

And also, as Jesus Himself says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (John 14:23).

So why do all the various denominations exist?  Because they do not all teach the same doctrine.  And because they do not all believe, teach, and confess the same doctrine, they do not consistently all believe, teach, and confess the same Christ.

St. Paul writes, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).  Even a little departure from the Word of God can (and has) led to apostasy from the true and saving faith.

Though one may continue to believe in Jesus for salvation from sin and death, such faith is quite weakened (and weakening) should one also continue to believe in even theistic evolution or deny the miraculous accounts of Jonah, Jesus feeding the 5000, etc.  Really, it is inconsistent to say that one believes in Jesus and His Word and yet to deny the very Word given by our Lord.

Believing in Jesus Christ and denying Holy Scripture is inconsistent for the Christian and for Christianity, for one who truly does believe in Jesus Christ will also hold His Word to be true.

How can one rightly believe in Jesus Christ if that one continues to deny that very Word which testifies of Christ?  Here we are not only talking about the Words themselves, but also about the meaning of the Words—not the meaning which we place on them—but the meaning which God attaches to them, Scripture interpreting Scripture.

By God’s grace, and only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, does anyone have the hope of eternal life.  This means that eternal life is the gift of God and not the work of man (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It is faith in Christ alone that saves.  This is true (John 3:16-18).  And one is saved only as one remains in this true faith.  For this reason is it necessary to continue in the Word of God—that one remain in such faith and thus be made more sure of God’s grace in Christ.

Any other doctrine than God’s will only lead away from and not to, Christ and eternal life.

For this reason, St. Paul writes, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).

The Old Testament and Christ

In St. Luke’s Gospel, the 24th Chapter, Jesus once again links His Word and His work to the Old Testament.  Significantly, Jesus once again confesses and testifies that the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Him.

St. John the Evangelist records Jesus as saying, “You continue to search/examine the Scriptures (Old Testament writings), because you think in them you have eternal life, and those are they which testify about me” (John 5:39, own translation).  Here, Jesus is saying that all the Old Testament is about Him.

Certainly, God does make known how He created the world in six days (Genesis 1), how He delivered His enslaved people from bondage in Egypt under Pharaoh to the Promised land (Exodus 5ff), how He sent prophet after prophet to idolatrous Israel that they repent  (2 Chronicles 24:19) , how  Israel divided into two kingdoms (Judah-South; Israel-North) and was later taken over by ungodly nations, and how God promised deliverance to His people (Ezekiel 34:23; 37:23).

Through the Old Testament Scripture, God reveals the history of the world and His people.  However, the Old Testament is not limited to these histories alone.  The three sections of the Old Testament writings, which Jesus also designates as the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings are  all about Him.  They point to Him.  They find their fulfillment in Him.  They have their completion in Him.

The Law of Moses, also known as the Torah and the Pentateuch, consist of the first five books of the Old Testament.  But even beginning in Genesis (3:15), a deliverer and savior is promised and described.  (See also, for example, Genesis 12:3; 17:2 & Exodus 13:2 w/ Luke 2:21, 22-24; Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Exodus 12 w/ Luke 22:1, 7, 14-23).

These books of the Old Testament may  not explicitly name who the coming savior is, but they do indeed make known what He will do and for whom He will speak, albeit partially, though truly.  For the whole picture, we must also look at the other two sections of the Old Testament writings, the Prophets, and the Writings, and then also look throughout the New Testament to see how Jesus speaks of how He fulfills the Old Testament in the Gospels, and then how the apostles in their letters further reveal  these life-saving truths, centering on Jesus Christ as Savior of the world from sin and eternal death.

Especially in the Prophets, God reveals the coming one.  Read Isaiah 53, for example.  Allusions also abound, as in Daniel 3:25.  Jonah, too, in the belly of the fish for three days and for three nights, typifies Jesus death and burial (Jonah 1:17 w/ Matthew 12:40).  I encourage you also to read and study the Old Testament references given in connection to Luke 1:31-33 (i.e. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 16:5; Jeremiah 23:5-6 <also Matthew 1:21-23>Writings—2 Samuel 7:12-13, 15-16; Psalm 132:11).

St. Luke, in writing the Acts of the Apostles, also testifies how Christ fulfills the Old Testament (i.e. Acts 3:18 w/ Isaiah 50:6-7 <Luke 9:51>; Zechariah 13:6.  Hosea also speaks of “the third day” (Hosea 6:2).

The Writings, too, witness the coming One (Messiah).  These include Job (Job 19:25) the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Historical Books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, etc.).  See Psalm 22: 1 w/Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 16:8-11, 68:18, & 110:1 w/ Acts 2:22-36.

The Old Testament together mightily witnesses of the Coming One.  The individual references in the Old Testament do not give the entire picture of the Messiah as do the Gospels, but they do point to Him and in Christ they find their fulfillment.

Both on the road to Emmaus and with His disciples later that Easter Day in Luke 24, Jesus opens the meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures, also to us.  His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection on the third day all are spoken of in the Old Testament.  This does not mean, however, that the three sections, the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings, all speak about Jesus in exactly the same way or give similar testimony.  Far from implying any contradiction, which is not a characteristic of Holy Scripture in any sense, this simply suggests complementary testimony within the text.   Jonah and Hosea, for example, speak of three days, but Moses may not.

I might also add that, when reading the Old Testament, reference to Christ might not be immediately clear from the text itself.  However, Christ and the Apostles, then, point to how they are.  This should not be understood as to suggest that the First Testament is in any way deficient in its witness.   Remember, Christ had not appeared until John the Baptist came on the scene, who is sometimes understood as the last of the Old Testament prophets (Malachi 3:1 & Isaiah 40:3-5 w/ Luke 3:2-6).  Rather ought we to see the Old Testament Scripture pointing to and centered on the Savior to come and finding its fulfillment in Him who died and rose again from the dead on the third day.

Jesus a number of times foretold His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection while He was still with His disciples (i.e. Luke 9:21-22; 43-45; 18:31-34).  In the latter two references, Luke indicates that the disciples had not understood  what Jesus was saying.  Therefore, the sorrow of the two disciples on the third day (Luke 24:17) corresponds with the other disciples who were fearful of the Jews after Jesus’ death.  Their sorrow also demonstrates their unbelief and the unbelief of the other disciples concerning Jesus’ word about His resurrection three days after His death. They still hadn’t gotten it, that is, until Jesus opened their understanding (Luke 24:27, 45).  It is the same way with us.  If we fail to see and believe that the Old and New Testament Scriptures center on Jesus and are about Him and our salvation in Him, the Bible will continue to remain a closed book.

 “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31).


If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”

John 8:31

Enthusiasm, in the sense of excitement, can be a good thing.  It gets us moving.  However, enthusiasm can also be a hindrance, for it is often temporary.  It wanes away.  We begin something full of zeal, but then soon lose interest.  We then might begin to even despise what we were once eager about.

This happened during the Reformation concerning the Gospel in Luther’s day.  People were excited about the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  People paid in earnest to the teachings of God.  But shortly thereafter, the heat waned into lukewarmness and even into indifference on the count of many.  People tired of the truth and wanted something new and different to tickle their fancy.

Long before Luther, St. Paul the apostle encountered a similar situation, for to the Christians in Galatia he writes, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-10).

The Galatian Christians were turning from the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to something else, another teaching, a teaching which was not of God.  They were tired, ironically, of the only truth that truly makes alive new.

Christians today are beset by the same temptations.  How easy it is to consider the glorious resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday, and then go into the “ho-humness” of everyday life, including Sunday morning!  How easy it is for us to distance ourselves further and further from the Lord and His saving doctrine and all the while take for granted the Good News of forgiveness in Christ!

Like the Christians in Galatia or the Christians during of the Reformation, we too currently face such trials as the people of God in the year 2012.  The answer, however, is not to be found in trying to solve this problem, trying harder, or in looking for something to bring about the escaping enthusiasm and excitement that we so long for.  The answer, simply, is turn from selfishness to Christ—to not seek what the world and our sinful nature looks for—but to seek Him who alone forgives and saves the ungodly (Psalm 32:1-2).

Enthusiasm goes up and down for this and for that.  It can be sometimes quite hot.  On the other hand, it can also become quite frigid.

God’s love for sinners, for you, in Christ, does not wax or wane.  It is constant.  And in Christ, God’s love for you is sure and certain (Romans 5:8).  Therefore do His people seek to continue in that sure and certain Word and doctrine of Christ, for it is only there that Christ’s disciples remain (John 12:26).

Luther

“Whatever we do, we are always very ardent at the beginning; but when the ardor of our initial feelings is spent, we soon lose our enthusiasm.  We give up on things and completely reject them as a impetuously as we undertake them.  When the light of the Gospel first began to appear after the great darkness of human traditions, many listened eagerly to sermons.   Now that the teaching of religion has been successfully reformed by the great growth of the Word of God, many are joining the sects, to their destruction.  Many despise not only Sacred Scripture but almost all learning.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p47).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for our lack of enthusiasm for Your Holy and life-giving Word.  Keep us from becoming indifferent to Your heavenly doctrine.  Uphold us by Your Word and grant us diligence in its study, that we continue to be Your faithful servants.  In  Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Book Review-Pocket Dictionary of Church History (2008)

 

Feldmeth, Nathan P.   Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.

Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 2008.

“The Pocket Dictionary of Church History is designed to help students identify the people, places, events, movements and ideas that checker the story of the church through the ages” (back cover).   Such a design this booklet does meet.  About a paragraph is given for each of these identifications, with some shorter and some longer.  By no means intended to be exhaustive, this booklet might serve well as an introduction or quick reference to Church History, and may promote an increased desire to study further the history of the Christian Church.

Book Review-Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (1999)

 

 

 

Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.  Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press,  1999.

“This Pocket Dictionary attempts to provide a basic understanding of the three hundred or so significant words and concepts you are most likely to encounter in the theological books and articles you are reading” (p5).   This work has met this attempt.  It is a very “basic understanding” of various words encountered in various theological works or shorter or longer kind.  Though by no means exhaustive, either in the number of terms defined or in the definitions themselves, this work can be helpful to those who wish to have a general meaning of this or that term.

As a Pocket Dictionary, this brief work is an introduction to theological terms and their meanings.  For more in-depth study, it is quite necessary to research further.  It can indeed be profitable as a prelude to continued reading, but its usefulness is limited.  On the back cover, the claim is made that the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms “is the perfect companion to your theological studies.”     Though I would not say of that it is “the perfect companion,” I would say that it is “helpful.”

The books “broadly evangelical, Protestant perspective is clearly evident” and I would say more than from “time to time” (p5).  Such a perspective doesn’t diminish at all its value, but it does suggest reading with a critical eye.

I found this Pocket Dictionary to be a quite accessible reminder of the numerous words used in the area of theology and philosophy and to what they referred, albeit in a very cursory manner.  The writer’s intention was not to offer an exhaustive tome of theological vocabulary, and this is why I found it beneficial.  Its brevity I also found appealing.

Having read it, I seek further engagement with theological works and clearer understanding of the same.  The book has flamed the spark to continue the study of theology and Holy Scripture in answer to life’s most fundamental and crucial questions.

 ———————————————————————————

 On a concluding note, Intervarsity Press offers a few other works with the prefatory title, Pocket Dictionary of…, including Church History, Denominationalism, and Biblical Studies.  In a similar format, these works also serve as “companions” for their respective areas.

 

 

Book Review-The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (2008)

Hindson, Ed & Ergun Caner  (general eds.), The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (2008) [Harvest House]

In the introduction, Edward Hinson and Ergun Caner write, “We wanted to place in your hands a tool that will enable you to both defend you faith and answer the major objections to Christianity.  More specifically, we wanted to provide a resource that is accessible to every Christian—a popular encyclopedia that avoids the technical jargon of specialists while cogently presenting a Christian response to skeptics and cynics” (11).

With more than 60 authors, many affiliated with Liberty University and Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia, and about 180 articles, this book is indeed a tool to help answer some of the major objections of Christianity.  Though not exhaustive, it is a very helpful introduction to some of the names, teachings, movements, philosophies, and theologies antagonistic to the Christian faith.  From abortion to Zoroastrianism, this book covers, in a very readable and understandable way, that which is beneficial for the Christian who seeks to further answer arguments of the naysayers.

Throughout the book, one will cannot help but notice its evangelical bent.  Every now and then, for example, various articles contain the assumption that even nonChristians can make decisions and choices for Christ.   Also, the erroneous teaching sometimes explained in this manner as, “once saved always saved” seems to be held.

In the article, “Sin,” Caner writes, for example, that the categories of venial and mortal sin within the Roman Catholic Church, “demands that a person can become a Christian and receive grace and forgiveness and then possibly lose that salvation again” (453).

Properly understood, in distinction from the teaching of the Church of Rome, these categories of venial and mortal sin can actually magnify the grace of God in Christ Jesus and give the Christian greater confidence of that unmerited grace and favor of God that the Christian seeks all the more to amend his/her sinful life.  And, the Bible does in fact indicate that salvation can be lost (i.e. 2 Timothy 2:17-18; Hebrews 6:4-6).

In addition, the book’s evangelical flavor can be recognized by a number of the articles which deny baptismal regeneration and emphasize that “man must repent of his sins”, implying that salvation is somehow dependent on our repenting (255-256, italics mine).

Interestingly, in the article, “Reason and Faith,” Shawn Hayes concludes the article under the section, “The Place of Faith” with these words, “By faith we know some things are true because God said them.  In the case of faith, our certainty does not rest on our reasons, but rather, on our faith in God” (412).  However, faith does not rest on our faith (a near kin to fideism), but on the very Word of God in Christ (Romans 10:17).

The section, “Grace,” seems a bit overextended and straining, except for clarifying the evangelical understanding of grace, as Breidenbaugh describes grace as “one of God’s many communicable attributes” (254), and speaks of  two kinds of grace: 1) common (general, universal) and 2) elective (special, saving, regenerating).  Under the first kind of grace, he includes as headings physical provision, intelligence, society, and Christian events.  Under the second kind, elective grace, he includes as headings prevenient grace, efficacious grace, irresistible grace, and sufficient grace (255-257).  Not surprisingly, Breidenbaugh also includes “the divine sovereignty involved in salvation” (257).

Though I would recommend the book as at least an introduction to Christian apologetics and for many of the arguments contained therein, I would also encourage caution and discernment.  There is certainly an “evangelical ring” to the articles and to some extent, an inconsistency due to the various authors.  Generally, however, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics is a helpful resource to have in one’s library.  The reasoning in the articles is, for the most part, sound and certainly understandable.  Yet reasoning and argumentation alone are not the last word—God’s Word is.  Knowing His Word, one will be quite prepared to proclaim the truth of the Christian religion.

Lutheranism 101

This book is worth checking out: Lutheranism 101

Resources from Concordia Seminary & Concordia Theological Seminary

ResourcesFromCSL&CTS.pdf

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