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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.

Some misrepresentation and confusion: Lutherans and Consubstantiation

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

Right meaning, wrong word

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

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

Rose Publishing, Inc., like House in his Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine, also misrepresents the Lutheran teaching by claiming that it is consubstantiation.  Here is how AnyQuestions-3Rose Publishing describes the teaching of the Lutheran Church, “The Lord’s Supper remains truly bread and wine but also become truly Jesus’ body and blood.”[4]  Rose Publishing calls this teaching consubstantiation.

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

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

Consubstantiation and the actual teaching of the Lutheran Church

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

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

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

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

Why the big deal?

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

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


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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.,, 125.

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

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

[6] Ibid., 87.

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

[8] Ibid., 198.

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

 

 

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

Koinonia

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

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

of Scripture in common English for all to see” (The Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p22, 24).

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

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

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

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


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

Christ is Risen!

ChristIsRisen.Matthew28.6

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope2  in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:12-22)

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

We face a similar challenge to what St. Paul faced in the early church.  Note who Paul is writing to.  He’s not writing to nonbelievers, but to Christians, Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), yet Christians who deny “that there is a resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12).  In Paul’s day, as recorded in the text, there were those who denied that a resurrection of the dead existed.  This would also include the denial, and consequence, of Christ’s resurrection.

Today, there are those in Christendom who deny that Christ bodily rose from the dead.  These will indeed speak of a resurrection, but not a bodily, physical resurrection of our Lord.  As other parts of Holy Scripture are allegorized and considered “not real,” “mythical,” or merely “symbolical,” so it has come to be with the resurrection of Christ.

An examination of even one text, that of St. Luke, however, reveals a far different conclusion.  In Luke 24, Jesus appears to His disciples (after speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (13-35).  In Luke’s account, Jesus says to His disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that I am He; touch and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bone as you see me having” (39).  In addition, Jesus also eats fish in front of them (41-43).  By saying and doing these things, Jesus confirmed what the disciples saw (and had heard), that He was bodily alive, physically risen from the dead; not a ghost, not a phantasm, but truly and really the risen Lord and Christ in flesh and blood.

According to the text of Scripture, one cannot deny the bodily resurrection of our Lord.  To say that Jesus only has “risen in our hearts” or is alive somehow in a metaphysical or non-corporal way is really, to deny what the text says, and to reject the Christian faith, for as Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).

To deny that there is a resurrection of the dead is to deny Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  And to deny Christ’s resurrection is deny the work of God for our salvation.  Faith in Christ would only be delusional and without any foundation whatsoever.  And if this were the case, we would still be lost in our sins, having no hope.  Christians would then be the most foolish of people, believing in something that didn’t happen as if it did.

Yet, as Paul, Peter, and the Evangelists reveal, Christ is risen (bodily) from the dead!  The tomb is empty, only because God the Father raised His Son from the grave (Acts 2:32).  This means that the message of our Lord is true!  Your faith in Christ is not in vain.  It is not useless, nor is it meaningless.  Nor do you remain in your sin.  Christ’s resurrection means that your sin no longer has any say over you (Romans 6:1-14; 8:32-34).  Christ’s resurrection also means that the resurrection of the dead is true.  This also means, your own to come.

Let others say what they will about the resurrection of our Lord, but we declare with Scripture, with the Apostles and Evangelists, and with the whole household of God, that God raised His Son from the dead.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

Prayer: Gracious Lord, grant us faith not to doubt, but to firmly believe in Your resurrection, which means also our own, from the dead.  Raise us to new life in You, that we deny ourselves, forsake our sin, and follow you.  Amen.

The Necessity of True Doctrine

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.

1 Timothy 4:16

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, writes what he writes with a purpose in mind—the purpose of encouraging Timothy to remain in the true doctrine.  Contrary to the world, remaining in the true doctrine is not at all of insignificance.  It does matter, for “doctrine is life.”  I am not talking about man’s doctrine (i.e. Mark 7), for man’s doctrine only alienates from God and hardens the sinner against God.  God’s doctrine, in distinction, does give life, just as Jesus says, “My words are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).  Depart or stray from these, and there is nothing but death.  Continue in the very Word of the Lord Christ, and you are truly His disciples and “will know the truth” and will be set free by that truth” (John 8:31-32).

Such does God’s Word, The Truth (John 14:6), do.  It gives life, raises that which was dead, and also preserves one in the truth by that same truth.

To the Galatians, St. Paul writes, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?  Have you suffered so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain?  Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? — just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Galatians 3:2-6)

Not by man’s doctrine and not by man’s doing were the Galatians being made perfect and complete, but by the hearing of faith (Romans 10:17), by hearing the Word of Christ.

The doctrine/teaching is important.  Get this wrong, and you get Christ wrong.  Getting Christ wrong leads to eternal death, not eternal life, for outside of Christ Jesus, there is no forgiveness and no peace with God.  But in Christ Jesus, there is nothing but forgiveness and the peace that surpasses understanding, which the world cannot ever give (Philippians 4:7)

The world and those of the world will go their own way, claiming that you cannot know the truth or that it is not found in the Bible.  But Christians believe differently, for the Christian faith is not of the world, but of God, revealed through the Holy Scriptures, and centered on Christ, and Christ alone!

 

Luther

‘Let every faithful person work and strive with all his might to learn this doctrine (of the Gospel) and keep it, and for this purpose let him employ humble prayer to God with continual study and meditation on the Word.  Even when we have done ever so much, there will still be much to keep us busy.  For we are involved, not with minor enemies but with strong and powerful ones, who battle against us continually, namely, our own flesh, all the dangers of the world, the Law, sin, death, and the wrath and judgment of God, and the devil h9imself, who never stops tempting us inwardly with his flaming darts (Eph. 6:16) and outwardly with his false apostles, so as to overcome some if not all of us” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p65).

 

Prayer:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your word; Curb those who by deceit or sword

Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son And bring to naught all He has done.

O Comforter of priceless worth, Send peace and unity on earth;

Support us in our final strife And lead us out of death to life.  Amen.

(Lutheran Service Book (2006), “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word” 1, 4)

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).

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.

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