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We seek to please God, not men

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 1:10

Our Lord Jesus says to his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).

Those who seek to please Christ are those who seek to abide by His Word and remain in it, regardless of the cost involved (John 8:31-32).  Such cost may include the loss of friends, family members, or job.  The hatred of the world may include isolation and persecution.  Collectively, also, for Christ’s Church, for His people gathered around Word and Sacrament, such hatred of the world may present itself in the refusal to hear the Word of God preached by the pastor, the denial of Christ’s absolution, the promotion of schism contrary to the true doctrine, the despising of God’s Means of Grace, and the desire to change the worship service from being that which God works through to deliver His blessed gifts of life and salvation in the hearing of His Word and the distribution of Christ’s body and blood, to what we give to God, without first acknowledging the extent of our sin before Him.

Like the Pharisee, we come to God’s house to tell God what we have done and how we have lived, and thus do we seek His favor based on our work and apart from His mercy in Jesus His beloved Son.  Contrast this pharisaical approach to God based on oneself with the manner that the tax collector approached God.  He could not even look up.  He did not claim any goodness of himself, but simply confessed what was right and true.  He had nothing to give. He had nothing to offer to God-only his sin.  So he says, “God, be merciful to me the sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14, my translation: the definite article is in use here in the Greek text, v13).

This “poor miserable sinner” claimed no merit of his own.  He did not at all trust in himself.  Nor did he look to himself for any “spark of goodness” whereby he might gain God’s favor.  Instead, He trusted only in the mercy of God for help and salvation.  He came expecting to receive from God, not to give.  And Jesus says receive everything, this sinner did, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).

To be justified before God means nothing less than having peace with God (Romans 5:1ff), having your sins forgiven, being unconditionally in God’s favor, and having nothing but God’s compassion and kindness upon you.  On the other hand, to not be justified before God means nothing less than having God’s wrath and judgment upon you and to not at all have God’s favor towards you.

Only in Christ Jesus do you have such true and lasting peace with God!  This is the Christ who God reveals in His Holy Word.  And this is the Christ which God’s Holy Church proclaims and who God’s people unashamedly confess.  This, too, is the same Christ which the world hates, and for which God’s people joyfully suffer. But God’s people suffer for the sake of Christ and for the sake of His Name because He is their Savior, “for there is no other Name, under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  They know no other God, for there is no other God (1 Corinthians 8:6).  All others are nothing but false God’s, man-made, and of the devil (Revelation 9:20).

This is why the world hates Christ, His Church, and His people—they are of God, not of the devil, the world, or of sinful man.  They teach the way of God aright, neither compromising or weakening God’s message.  They boldly confess and unashamedly proclaim the way of God in truth.

God’s people come before God’s throne of grace, not giving to God, but seeking to receive from Him the mercy that God gives through faith in His Son (Hebrews 4:16).  And by God’s mercy, that have it!

This is indeed not a popular message, for many, even within the church, reject it.  But it is only Christ who gives life (John 6:63).  We are lost and condemned in our sin, with nothing to give to God.  But God covers such sinners with Christ’s righteousness (1 John 1:8-9), and we, now, live unto Him, rejoicing in His bountiful goodness and believing His unmerited and undeserved mercy on account of Jesus, His Son and our Savior.  Amen.

Luther

“We do not seek the favor of men by our teaching either, if we may be permitted to say this without boasting.  For we teach that all men are wicked; we done the free will of man, his natural powers, wisdom, righteousness, all self-invented religion, and whatever is best in the world.  In other words, we say that there is nothing in us that can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins.  But we proclaim that we receive this grace solely and altogether by the free mercy of God and His works, universally condemning all men for their works (Ps. 19:1).  This is not preaching that gains favor from men and from the world.  For the world finds nothing more irritating and intolerable than hearing its wisdom, righteousness, religion, and power condemned.  To denounce these might and glorious gifts of the world is not to curry the world’s favor but to go out looking for and quickly to find, hatred and misfortune, as it is called.  For if we denounce men and all their efforts, it is inevitable that we quickly encounter bitter hatred, persecution, excommunication, condemnation, and execution” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p.58).

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, preserve us, Your Holy people.  Keep us from compromising Your Holy doctrine or accommodating ourselves to the ways of the world for superficial peace in the world.  Give us strength to endure the temptations that befall us that we not forsake Your Word, but remain steadfastly in it and in the true faith for our salvation.  Amen.

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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 Word of faith which we preach


 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul seems to indicate that there is only genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “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.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a definition does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

    Luther

 

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

We Confess Christ (John 20:19-31)

The confession of Christ is not self-derived.  It is not self-induced, self-revealed, or self-chosen.  Rather, the confession of Christ is God-given, God established, God revealed, God made known.

No one on this earth would know of Christ crucified and resurrected the third day unless had God had made it known to us.  And this, God, in His mercy, has done.  Through the Holy Scriptures, God makes known your salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  Therefore, does St. John write,  “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).

Also, St. Paul writes, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Thus, God gives us His Word, the Bible (and the preaching of that Word), not so you can live a better life or “have a better life now.”  God also does not give you His Word that you might know how to live your life apart from faith in Him.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are indeed commands about how God’s people are to live, but the Bible is not a “rule book” or a book of do’s and don’ts.  The Bible is the book of salvation, and speaks of that salvation which is alone by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As such, the preaching of the apostles following Christ’s ascension was not, “live this way” or “do these things” to get right with God.   Christ’s preaching was not this way either.  Christ’s preaching, and the apostles’ preaching after Him, and the Church’s proclamation today, is Christ crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins.

If the preaching of the church becomes anything else than this, her preaching is false and not to be heeded (i.e. Rick Warren and trying to find a purpose, Joel Osteen and self-help rhetoric) [See Galatians 1:6-10].  Should the church preach this way, she leads the hearers away from the Gospel and away from eternal life to eternal death and hell.

Because Holy Scripture testifies of Christ, so do Christ’s people confess and bear witness to Him who purchased them with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  This is their confession.  And this is the confession of Christ’s body, the Church.

Therefore, with Thomas who went from unbelief to faith by God’s gracious word and work, we too confess and say of and to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Confession & Absolution

Large Catechism (Tappert Edition)

A Brief Exhortation to Confession (28-35)

28 Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the pope’s command at any point, but you will compel yourself and beg me for the privilege of sharing in it. 29 However, if you despise it and proudly stay away from confession, then we must come to the conclusion that you are no Christian and that you ought not receive the sacrament. For you despise what no Christian ought to despise, and you show thereby that you can have no forgiveness of sin. And this is a sure sign that you also despise the Gospel.

30 In short, we approve of no coercion. However, if anyone refuses to hear and heed the warning of our preaching, we shall have nothing to do with him, nor may he have any share in the Gospel. If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it. 31 For here the compulsion must be inverted; we must come under the command and you must come into freedom. We compel no man, but allow ourselves to be compelled, just as we are compelled to preach and administer the sacrament.

32 Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. Those who really want to be good Christians, free from their sins, and happy in their conscience, already have the true hunger and thirst. They snatch at the bread just like a hunted hart, burning with heat and thirst, 33 as Ps. 42:2 says, “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.” That is, as a hart trembles with eagerness for a fresh spring, so I yearn and tremble for God’s Word, absolution, the sacrament, etc. 34 In this way, you see, confession would be rightly taught, and such a desire and love for it would be aroused that people would come running after us to get it, more than we would like. We shall let the papists torment and torture themselves and other people who ignore such a treasure and bar themselves from it. 35 As for ourselves, however, let us lift up our hands in praise and thanks to God that we have attained to this blessed knowledge of confession.

Confession & Absolution

Large Catechism (Tappert Edition)

A Brief Exhortation to Confession (20-27)

20 Further, no one dare oppress you with requirements. Rather, whoever is a Christian, or would like to be one, has here the faithful advice to go and obtain this precious treasure. If you are no Christian, and desire no such comfort, we shall leave you to another’s power. 21 Hereby we abolish the pope’s tyranny, commandments, and coercion since we have no need of them. For our teaching, as I have said, is this: If anybody does not go to confession willingly and for the sake of absolution, let him just forget about it. Yes, and if anybody goes about relying on the purity of his confession, let him just stay away from it. 22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

23 If all this were clearly explained, and meanwhile if the needs which ought to move and induce us to confession were clearly indicated, there would be no need of coercion and force. A man’s own conscience would impel him and make him so anxious that he would rejoice and act like a poor miserable beggar who hears that a rich gift, of money or clothes, is to be given out at a certain place; he would need no bailiff to drive and beat him but would run there as fast as he could so as not to miss the gift. 24 Suppose, now, that the invitation were changed into a command that all beggars should run to the place, no reason being given and no mention of what they were to look for or receive. How else would the beggar go but with repugnance, not expecting to receive anything but just letting everyone see how poor and miserable he is? Not much joy or comfort would come from this, but only a greater hostility to the command.

25 In the same way the pope’s preachers have in the past kept silence about this wonderful, rich alms and this indescribable treasure; they have simply driven men together in hordes just to show what impure and filthy people they were. Who could thus go to confession willingly? 26 We, on the contrary, do not say that men should look to see how full of filthiness you are, making of you a mirror for contemplating themselves. Rather we advise: If you are poor and miserable, then go and make use of the healing medicine. 27 He who feels his misery and need will develop such a desire for confession that he will run toward it with joy. But those who ignore it and do not come of their own accord, we let go their way. However, they ought to know that we do not regard them as Christians.

Confession & Absolution

Large Catechism (Tappert Edition)

A Brief Exhortation to Confession (8-14)

8 To begin with, I have said that in addition to the confession which we are discussing here there are two other kinds, which have an even greater right to be called the Christians’ common confession. I refer to the practice of confessing to God alone or to our neighbor alone, begging for forgiveness. These two kinds are expressed in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” etc. 9 Indeed, the whole Lord’s Prayer is nothing else than such a confession. For what is our prayer but a confession that we neither have nor do what we ought and a plea for grace and a happy conscience? This kind of confession should and must take place incessantly as long as we live. For this is the essence of a genuinely Christian life, to acknowledge that we are sinners and to pray for grace.

10 Similarly the second confession, which each Christian makes toward his neighbor, is included in the Lord’s prayer. We are to confess our guilt before one another and forgive one another before we come into God’s presence to beg for forgiveness. Now, all of us are debtors one to another, therefore we should and we may confess publicly in everyone’s presence, no one being afraid of anyone else. 11 For it is true, as the proverb says, “If one man is upright, so are they all”; no one does to God or his neighbor what he ought. However, besides our universal guilt there is also a particular one, when a person has provoked another to anger and needs to beg his pardon. 12 Thus we have in the Lord’s Prayer a twofold absolution: our debts both to God and to our neighbor are forgiven when we forgive our neighbor and become reconciled with him.

13 Besides this public, daily, and necessary confession, there is also the secret confession which takes place privately before a single brother. When some problem or quarrel sets us at one another’s throats and we cannot settle it, and yet we do not find ourselves sufficiently strong in faith, we may at any time and as often as we wish lay our complaint before a brother, seeking his advice, comfort, and strength. 14 This kind of confession is not included in the commandment like the other two but is left to everyone to use whenever he needs it. Thus by divine ordinance Christ himself has entrusted absolution to his Christian church and commanded us to absolve one another from sins.7 So if there is a heart that feels its sin and desires consolation, it has here a sure refuge when it hears in God’s Word that through a man God looses and absolves him from his sins.


7 Matt. 18:15-19.

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