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Observations/Reflections on a recent pastor’s conference, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense

 

swd-logoA recent pastor’s conference (Oct 2016) of the South Wisconsin District (a district of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, LCMS) offered participants the opportunity to hear from Dr. Horvath (of Athanatos Christian Ministries) and Dr. Peter Scaer (an Exegetical Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, IN).  Both presenters, in my opinion, offered insightful reflection on numerous challenges currently faced within in our society and by the church.

Dr. Horvath founded Athanatos Christian Ministries (AMC, Inc.) a group “to equip Christians to defend the Christian faith through the arts and literature, in addition to using evidence and argument.”  Much of his presentation consisted of “connecting the dots” for what is currently going in Christendom, with reflection on the rise of the “religiously unaffiliated.”

For example, Dr. Horvath noted that in the early 1990s, the religiously unaffiliated (i.e. those having left the church and not returning) were in the 5% range of the U.S. Population.  Yet, in 2016, that percentage jumped to 25%.  In the span of around 20 years, the number of religiously unaffiliated jumped 20%.  Commenting on a reason for the rise in the number, Dr. Horvath observed a connection between the effects of the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s and the growing divorce rate that followed.  The increasing number of religiously unaffiliated from the early 1990s to 2016 reflect the consequences of acm_1120x198parental divorce and the effects of such divorce on the children, including growing disbelief and disconnection (even atheism) in relation to the Christian faith.

Divorce has consequences.  Sin has consequences.  Horvath suggests that challenges the society and church are now facing have been influenced by actions of the past.

Another insightful connection concerning the direction of our culture is that of information gathered about communications related to the need for population control (i.e. in affiliation with the Center for Family Planning Program Development, 1969 [The Technical Assistance Division of Planned Parenthood-World Population, Frederick S. Jaffe]; Too Many Americans, L. & A. Day; and Public Health & Population Change, Sheps & Ridley, 1967).

Though “dated,” the following (partial list of) “proposed measures to reduce fertility, by universality or selectivity of impact in the U.S.” are eerily being fulfilled, with many, also within the church, oblivious to such an agenda, which is affiliated with Planned Parenthood:

Restructuring of family: a) Postpone or avoid marriage b) alter image of ideal family size (i.e. from greater to lesser)

Compulsory education of children

Encourage increased homosexuality

Encourage women to work

Payments to encourage contraception

Abortion and sterilization on demand

Allow harmless contraceptives to be distributed nonmedically

Make contraceptives truly available and accessible

Improve maternal health care, with family planning a core element

Though many migsin12ht view such occurrences, not as fulfilling an agenda, but simply as our “progression” as a society, recognizing the influences of the past upon our own day can help us in the church to better understand and respond to our current, and continual, challenges, moving us to repentance, also for our silence, and to steadfast faith in our Lord, who is the Head of His Church and faithful, even though we be faithless (Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:13).

God calls His people to wariness and to preparedness (Luke 21:36; 1 Timothy 6:12; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), as well as to boldly confess His Name.

On an information table for Athanatos Christian Ministries at the pastor’s conference was a brief information sheet entitled, “Know thy Enemy,” which consisted of quotes from Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and reference to her book, The Pivot of Civilization and a Plan for Peace (1923). Compare the following quotations:

“The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately.  Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period.  Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives.”

Margaret Sanger, in The Pivot of Civilization, 1923

“…the state must act as the guardian of a millennial future in the face of which the wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit.  It must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge.  It must declare unfit for propagation all who are in any way visibly sick or who have inherited a disease and can therefore pass it on. And put this into actual practice.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925

The above quotes of Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler indicate that both wanted to either segregate or limit certain “types” ofsanger_and_hitler people.  What’s amazing is that Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood, included blacks as those who were “feeble-minded” and “of the moron class.”  Where is the outcry today against such racist and prejudicial comments, even by African Americans, who also make use of and advocate for a group such as Planned Parenthood whose founder sought to limit the population of certain people and groups in order to establish a society based upon her own ideology?

The second presenter, Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary also offered insightful reflection of challenges that we face as Christians and encouragement for the body of Christ.  Similar to Dr. Horvath’s presentation, Dr. Scaer spent some time reminding us of earlier generations and their influences upon us in our day.  He mentioned, for example, Lawrence Lader, who was influenced by Margaret Sanger, who spoke of the need for limiting the size of the family.  Dr. Scaer also mentioned H.G. Wells, whom he referred to as an “eugenicist.”

Additionally, Dr. Scaer also spent time informing us about the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, whose idolatrous agenda was rebellion against men and against God, who divorced her first husband, was involved in numerous affairs, and ironically, said that women don’t need men.  Dr. Scaer had also observed that Sanger had used (coined) the phrase, “Every child a wanted child” (emphasis mine).

Dr. Scaer’s presentation also included a critique of how the LCMS has responded in the past to Planned Parenthood and abortion, noting that Concordia Publishing House had published a book by Rehwinkel entitled, Planned Parenthood, which essentially “sold” Planned Parenthood to Lutherans.  What was quoted of this work, and others, would be disturbing to those concerned about life in general and about the Christian doctrine in particular, since a great emphasis was placed, not on what God says, and what He says about life (i.e. 5th Commandment, “You shall not murder”), but on the individual circumstances (i.e. of the pregnant woman) and the challenges that she would face if the child was born, or the “solutions” offered if the baby was not born.  In other words, Rehwinkel and others offered the counsel that the life of the baby was ultimately the woman’s choice and that she determined the continued existence or death of another human being.

In contrwhobrokethebaby-gartonast to Rehwinkel and others, Jean Garton, author of Who Broke the Baby, was a healthy critique to the genocide of the unborn, offering insight and commentary on the ideology and practice of abortion, which both run contrary to the Word of God and what God reveals about life and its gift.

Dr. Scaer offered more than commentary reflecting end-of-life issues like abortion.  He also asked the question whether we can talk about marriage (i.e. 4th & 6th Commandments) outside the church?  He answered, “We must!”  Same-sex “marriage” is the great challenge for today’s church, Scaer commented.  As this practice is more greatly accepted, society and the church more greatly suffer.  And, as Dr. Horvath had earlier noted, sin has consequences.  The effects of homosexuality (rebellion against God) destroy society.  This is something that “the left” know, but don’t want to admit.  “Where (natural/traditional) marriage works, society works,” said Scaer.

Rather than retreat to the shadows, claiming that little can be done, Dr. Scaer offers encouragement.  Politically, laws can change, and even little laws can help.  In contrast to the thought, “Laws can’t change,” Scaer responds, “Laws can be changed” and that “Man’s law is changeable.”  “They change all the time.”  In other words, in the secular world, there is still something that concerned citizens can do.

james1-12God calls the church to be faithful to the Lord who bought her, the same Lord Who Himself was “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5, NKJ).  God is God, and Christ is Head of His Church.

This Lord is the same Christ who is the “bridegroom,” (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29) who “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27, NKJ).

Though a “weeding out” take place, the faithful will become more visible.  The Church confesses Christ.  In Him, she lives.

The Bible = God’s Word

14As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

As we reflect on these words of our Lord today through the sainted apostle, I would like to read some words from a document entitled, “Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod.” This document, written and adopted by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the year 1932, might seem a bit dated, and perhaps not well known, but succinctly states what we believe as members of congregations in fellowship with the church body called the LCMS. The document is “still on the books,” and at least deserves our attention and reflection, as well as our agreement.1

Inclusive in this document, often referred to as “The Brief Statement,” are summary statements of what we believe concerning Creation, Conversion, Church and State, and the Millennium, to name a few. But what draws our attention this morning is the first of the sections, “Of the Holy Scriptures.” This part reads:

1. We tebriefstatementofthedoctrinalpositionofthemissourisynodach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called “theological deduction,” but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35; Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:13. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.

2. We furthermore teach regarding the Holy Scriptures that they are given by God to the Christian Church for the foundation of faith, Eph. 2:20. Hence the Holy Scriptures are the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined and judged. – With the Confessions of our Church we teach also that the “rule of faith” (analogia fidei) according to which the Holy Scriptures are to be understood are the clear passages of the Scriptures themselves which set forth the individual doctrines. (Apology. Trig lot p.441, § 60; Mueller, p.284). ‘The rule of faith is not the man-made so-called “totality of Scripture” (Ganzes der Schrift”).

3. We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might, contain error. We reject this erroneous doctrine as horrible and blasphemous, since it flatly contradicts Christ and His holy apostles, sets up men as judges over the Word of God, and thus over-throws the foundation of the Christian Church and its faith.

Not all believe this truth, though, that Paul in his letter to Timothy writes what is right and true. As it was in Paul’s day, and the days, he says, which were to come, so also in ours.

For example, Paul warns Timothy that “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

To Timothy, Paul also writes “that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, NKJ).

Additionally, in today’s epistle, Paul also writes that “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, ESV).

That time is now. In the 70’s, and in days leading up to that time, our own church body struggled with those in our fellowship, even seminary professors, who minimally cast doubt and at most, denied, that the accounts of the creation, Jonah being swallowed by a fish, and other accounts of both Testaments were historical truths and facts that literally happened.

Uncertainty concerning one account of Holy Scripture, however, puts into question other teachings of Scripture and does not lead to Christ and true, saving faith, but to a Jesus of one’s own making and damning faith.

This is where we find ourselves today. Many simply disbelieve what God’s Word actually says, stating the right to “personal interpretation” and refusing to accept the “interpretation” of others, even if that so-called interpretation is not an interpretation at all, but word for word from the Bible itself.

Unlike Timothy, many of our young and younger people know little about the Bible and its content, let alone what it means. Though olderbible-truth generations might be more familiar with what’s in the Bible, or not, because of the shallow teaching within many congregations and church bodies concerning Christ and His Word, fewer believe according to the true doctrine, picking and choosing what they want to accept and denying that which they don’t.

Such lack of knowledge of what the Bible actually says and teaches is not only the fault of church bodies, congregations, and pastors, however. The blame also falls on parents and heads of households who do not themselves read the Bible, read it with their family, and who ignore Dr. Luther’s instruction at the beginning of each section of his Small Catechism, “As the head of the household should teach his family in a simple way.”

Luther’s headings remain relevant. Though the congregation and pastor care for both young and old and younger and older in catechetical instruction and teaching the Bible, so should heads of households. Children learn both good and bad from their parents. They also learn from the model that their parents, single or together, provide concerning the importance of Holy Scripture and attending God’s house on the Lord’s Day. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to why church attendance is all over on the decline and why the “religiously unaffiliated” (with any church) is on the rise.

Lament the current state of today’s church and speak of possible solutions that “we” could do is a temptation, and many are about just this. Statistic after statistic relay the endless problems of today’s church. Fingers could easily be pointed in all directions. There is plenty of fault to go all around.

Such talk will not solve our predicament, nor will it provide the antidote. Our Lord has not promised a life of peace – until the “Last Day.” Until then, we continue to struggle, and struggle we will, by God’s grace, God helping us, even in Word and Sacrament, that we daily take up our crosses, all of them, and follow Him.

Our Lord does not leave us alone, to either ourselves or to the mercy of world. Nor does the Lord leave us without hope in the midst of a dying world that seeks every other way of peace and salvation than the peace and salvation that God gives in His Son. Jesus Christ we proclaim, even if all turn their back and all close their ears.

This will be so because “There is no other Name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

We learn of this One through the Sacred Scriptures, the Holy Bible, called so on account of whose Word it truly is – God’s, and not man’s.

Such sublime truth is revealed throughout the Scared text of the writings, both Old and New, as well as by today’s epistle from Paul’s letter to Timothy.

The “sacred writing” referred to by Paul which Timothy knew from his grandmother Lois and from his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) is none other than the writing of Genesis through Malachi, the very same writings that testify of Christ our Lord, as Jesus Himself says in John 5, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39, NKJ).

The Word of Jesus we cannot deny nor omit concerning the Old Testament text, which speak of Christ to come, giving the promise of the Savior who “carried our sorrows,” “was wounded for our transgressions,” “by” whose “stripes we are healed,” and upon Whom “the Lord has laid…the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

The Words of our Lord, however, do not only recall the past words of God to His people through the prophets. Jesus also spoke of that which was to come, even the writings of the New Testament.

In what is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, of John 17, our Lord prays, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (Jn. 17:20, NKJ). The “these alone” for whom He prays are His disciples, soon to be apostles. “Those who” would “believe in” Him include also us, who believe on account of the Word which they spoke, the Word which they also wrote.

Of such words, our Lord also promised His disciples the Holy Spirit, to whom He said, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn. 14:26, NKJ).

The Holy Spirit has done so, having inspired the Apostles, as also the Prophets, to write what He gave them to write, “for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, NKJ).

St. Peter reminds us that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The soundness and validity of the Scriptural text is not the product of your belief or confidence in the text itself. This would make man the Bible’s foundation and not God, nor His Son.

bible-word-of-god1Instead of man’s conclusions, hypotheses, theories, or thoughts, we believe the Holy Bible to be God’s Word, not because man or the church says that this is so, but because God has, even through that very same Word which proclaims Christ, Christ to come, Christ having fulfilled, and Christ coming again.

Jesus says, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (Jn. 8:47, NKJ).

God’s words are those found within the pages of Scripture. The two are the same. Holy Scripture is God’s Word. This we confess. But such confession doesn’t save.

Thus does John write in His first epistle, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJ).

At the conclusion of his Gospel, St. John also wrote, “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” (Jn. 20:31 NKJ)

The Holy Scriptures, the sacred writings of both Testaments, testify and point to Jesus Christ, their center, the Jesus whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension give life to sinners. They reveal the glory of God the Father in the crucified and risen Son, whose blood cleanses you from all sin and by whom you have life and salvation.

The Bible is more than just a book of do’s and don’ts. If this is all it is to you, you still don’t have faith in the One thing needful, which is Christ. He is your life and your standing before God, He, and He alone. The Bible does contain do’s and don’ts, but knowing what to do and what not to do doesn’t save.

Through these come the knowledge of sin, for “By the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in God’s sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). bible-cross1

What shows us our Savior is the Gospel. And it is by the Gospel, the free forgiveness of sins by means of Christ’s death, that you live, by which God reveals this truth, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14, NKJ), not an excuse to sin, but reason to rejoice in the grace God freely bestows and to live by faith in that Word through which God makes your salvation known. Amen.

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.

 

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.

Recent LCMS stats

2012-2013

 

The LCMS at a Glance

Category

2012

2013

Members
     Baptized

2,310,235

2,231,258

     Confirmed

1,782,673

1,731,050

Congregations

6,196

6,153

Clergy

9,420

     Serving a parish

5,404

5,734

Missionaries (FT/PT)

829

150/590

Educators

16,758

     Preschool-12

16,019

     CUS (FT/PT)

759/2,101

     Seminary (FT/PT)

59/30

Chaplains/Pastoral Counselors

675

623

Campus Ministries

242

248

Schools

     Preschools

1,295

1,376

     Elementary

923

871

     High Schools

102

88

     Colleges

10

10

     Seminaries

2

2

Each year, I receive a little card from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod entitled, “The LCMS at a Glance.”  I’ve compared the 2012 card with the 2013.

Following is a very brief breakdown of some of the categories, numbers, and some thoughts.

1) Members, Congregations: The numbers in the categories of both Baptized and Confirmed have decreased.  This could be for any number of reasons.  However, attendance and membership in Christian congregations (at least in America), generally, are decreasing.  Fewer people today recognize their need for the Gospel.  It seems as if faithfulness to the Word is not the determining factor for numerical growth or decline. Though faithful congregations and pastors might be suffering losses, heretical congregations and pastors may be experiencing gains.  Yet, our Lord does say, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

2) Clergy: The number of total clergy for 2013 is ominously missing, though the number of clergy serving a parish has increased from 2012.  This is encouraging, yet I wonder how many clergy are serving in district and synodical offices.  What might be helpful is to categorize the number of part-time and full-time pastors, too, as a growing number of clergy in the LCMS are becoming part-time pastors due to congregational circumstances.

3) Missionaries: The number of total missionaries has also decreased somewhat in 2013 from 2012.  What is not noted here are the changes which have taken place in the LCMS regarding full-time missionaries.  Currently, certain full-time international missionaries are in need of raising their own funds, before serving in their positions overseas.  These missionaries have, in some cases, resigned their call of the congregation to which they were serving, and then received a call from the LCMS Board for Missions to serve as missionaries.  Such circumstances place a great burden on clergy who desire to serve as missionaries, as many (most/all) have families to support, and they have to raise enough money even to begin serving.  At the same time, however, they and their families need support, too.  Interestingly, the numbers of converts to Christianity are much higher overseas (i.e. Africa, China) than in the United States, even where great persecution of Christians exist.

Faithful Pastors Preach Christ and His Word

 

Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the church body now know as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in an 1848 presidential address, addressed the synod in convention, which included these words concerning the relationship between pastor and congregation:

“Only such a preacher is a servant of men as does not serve Christ faithfully because of fear of men or because of desire to please men, departs from God’s Word in doctrine or practice, and preaches for the itching ears of his audience.  But where the pastor is given only the power of the Word, but its full power, where the congregation, as often as it hears Chris’s Word from the mouth of the preacher, receives it as the Word of God, there the proper relationship between pastor and congregation exists; he stands in their midst not as a hired mercenary but as an ambassador of the Most High God; not as a servant of men but as a servant of Christ, who in Christ’s stead teaches, admonishes, and reproves…The more a congregation sees that he who has the rule over them in the Lord desires nothing but that the congregation be subject to Christ and His Word; the more it sees that he does not desire to dominate them, yes, indeed, that he himself with a jealous eye guards the liberty of the congregation, the more willing the congregation will become to hear his salutary recommendations also in matters which God has not prescribed; it will follow him in these matters not as a taskmaster because it must, but as their father in Christ, because they wish to do it for their own advantage.”[1]

These words of Walther are nearly forgotten in many an LCMS congregation today, both by pastor and people.  Pastors lord over the people, and people lord over the pastor, contrary to the words of our Lord where He admonishes His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

The rule or authority of the pastor is none other than the Word of God itself.  In this way the pastor is to serve the congregation—preaching and teaching the very Word of Christ in all its truth and purity.  Where a pastor neglects doing so, he is doing nothing but neglecting His calling by God through the congregation.  The pastor is not to add to or subtract from the Word.[2]  Nor is he a people pleaser, compromising for the sake of peace.  If he is to stand and remain a faithful preacher, he must “abide in Christ.”[3]

All pastors who do not do this do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but another.[4]  These are false preachers and teachers, who teach what men want to hear or how men want to hear it.  But to be a servant of God, the pastor preaches according to Holy Scripture—nothing more and nothing less.  This is what God gives pastors to do.  Therefore, the congregation is to help and support them in doing so, even encouraging them with the Word and by praying for them in their solemn servitude.

Whereas the responsibility of the pastor is to be a faithful servant of God and a faithful servant to God’s people, “rightly dividing the Word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15) the responsibility of the congregation is to hear the pastor and honor him as one whom God has sent, for so God has.  Not doing so, that is, refusing to hear the pastor, is as not hearing God, just as Jesus says to His disciples, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16).

Far from this being a novel invention or “lifting up the pastor” to a godly like status, this is the way of God and His blessed Word for the sake of His beloved people.  Remember, the authority of the pastor is not that of himself, all that he says, or all that he does.  The authority of the pastor is that of the Word.  Where he speaks beyond the Word, there ears can truly be shut.  But as he proclaims and speaks the Word, there the ears are to be nothing but open—because it is not the pastor’s words, but God’s.

Thus does Holy Scripture in many places speak of the relationship, even the duty (and vocation) of pastors to their congregation and congregation to their pastor(s).  The following words are found under “The Table of Duties” in The Small Catechism of sainted Dr. Martin Luther:

To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers

The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 1 Tim. 3:2-4

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 1 Tim. 3:6

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Titus 1:9

What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors

The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 1 Cor. 9:14

Anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal. 6:6-7

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim. 5:17-18.

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 1 Thess. 5:12-13

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17

As you can see, neither pastor or hearer is free to forsake the Word or invent new ways of serving God.  Rather, it is in doing what God has commanded, having faith in Christ, that we rightly please God and rightly serve Him.  For Lutheran pastors and Lutheran congregations, the Word is front and center.  The church is not centered on either pastor or people.  It is centered on Christ.  And where Christ is truly the center, both pastor and people rightly recognize their place and give glory, thanks, and praise to God.  Pastors diligently serve God’s people; and God’s people readily hear the preached Word, and give thanks for it.


[1] Carl S. Meyer (ed.), Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 175-176.

[2] “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.  Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).

[3] “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.  And you will know the truth and the truth will free you.” (John 8:31-32)

[4] Deuteronomy 18:20;  Isaiah 5:20; Jeremiah 23:1; Matthew 7:15-23; 15:9; Romans 16:17-18; Colossians 2:6-9, 18-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 4:1-4; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6

 

 

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