Nov 21, 2013

Not Just Another Blog

Fads are short lived by definition.  They rise and fall according to the amount of internal enthusiasm that causes us to be fixated upon that which our flesh finds exciting.  While there are many who try to chase the ever changing wind of 21st century American fads, tickling the fancy of man's capricious whims, the Church does not.  

Whether it is exciting or mundane, a fad or a boring old fixture, the Church remains ever set upon the firm Word of God.  It's pure doctrine, focused upon the external righteousness of Christ, received by faith, is exactly what the sinner needs, regardless of inclinations of our flesh.  So it is that in a day when most internet blogs have gone the way of the fad, rising in popularity and then dying out, ever foreboding all who would attempt to follow in their footsteps, one blog is just beginning: Alien Righteousness

It's purpose is not to ascend to a greater level of glory than the blogs that have come before (for besides who really reads blogs anymore), rather, the purpose is, well... Alien.  
"This alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone.  Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow."  M. Luther
To think of our righteousness before Christ as being "Alien" is simply to say that we are in complete need of an external source to awaken us from this den of death and to new life. This is Christ, the word made flesh, external grace given for our internal need.  

So as we stand together in the Orthodox Christian faith, formed by God's Word as it is described in the Lutheran Confessions, living in a world that will ever reject this confession of the faith to which we cling, Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, I commend to you

Jun 25, 2013

Two Words

The Lutheran Confessions are made up of two basic statements: 
“We believe, teach, and confess,” & “We reject and condemn.” 
While many today would suggest that anyone who “rejects” or “condemns” someone for their belief is not only mean-spirited and intolerant, but is breaking the 8th commandment, we simply cannot believe truth without rejecting that which contradicts truth.  Paul says in Titus 1:9, speaking of an overseer, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”  

Those who have no concern for rejecting the false teachings that oppose the pure doctrine of the Gospel, also have no concern for the pure doctrine of the Gospel.  For there is no reason to attack false doctrine, or even simply say that what someone is doing is wrong, except for the fact that false teaching in Christianity threatens to usurp the very heart of the Gospel, the justification of sinners by grace through faith according to the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

We only reject and condemn that which endangers salvation, and leads people away from Christ and into apostasy. 

The Same Is True Today

How fitting is it that the last day in which votes are cast for the president of the synod of the Lutheran Church, also happens to be the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  For it was on this day at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 that the Lutheran Reformers unabashedly refused to compromise on God’s eternal truth in Christ even at the risk of their goods, fame, child, and wife.  They confessed before the Roman Emperor Charles V what has become the chief historic jewel of the Church, never withdrawn, refuted, or defeated.  Thus, the Augsburg Confession remains as the statement of true unity in the faith, from which we must not retreat anymore than we do from God’s Word.  As such, the president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, must be committed to pure doctrine, not as the teaching of man over some nostalgic desire for maintaining tradition, but as the Gospel of Christ Jesus for sinners. 
“The orthodox church has not adopted her symbols in order to introduce and even to make doctrine binding which is not based upon Gods’ Word, but, quite to the contrary, in order to mark and separate themselves from those who only fraudulently confessed God’s Word alone, but did not do so honestly but deceptively.” 
C.F.W. Walther, Sermon at Synodical Convention 1877.  Baseley, Joel. Occasional Sermons and Addresses, 156
This is why we continue to confess today.  The Augsburg Confession was written in order to retain the only single rule and norm that is without falsehood, the Word of God.  So it is that when we retain the confessions, we evermore steadfastly retain God’s Word and separate ourselves not from those who reject this confession, but from those who think that it’s nice.  We separate ourselves from those who agree to the Augsburg Confession in theory, those who think it to be quaint, while at the same time ignore its words under the guise of pious mission.  Yet, we cannot retreat from the Augsburg Confession even a hair’s breath, without retreating from Christ, for it is nothing but the Gospel pure and undefiled. 
“Yet, my brothers, we must not only hold fast the confessions of the orthodox church of all times in our own era with steadfast loyalty because, by doing so, we are holding fast to God’s pure Word itself.”  
C.F.W. Walther, Sermon at Synodical Convention 1877.  Baseley, Joel. Occasional Sermons and Addresses, 157
The Confession of the Church, the Ecumenical Creeds as well as the confessional documents of the 16th century, were not written by bored theologians in ivory towers, they were born out of deep controversy and a battle over the Gospel.  Those who retained them did so for the sake of making evident who still confessed the pure Word of God and those who were only sham Christians.  

The same is true today. 

May 20, 2013

The Church Is Liturgical

Although the Missouri Synod will often look like a room full of angry men (especially in convention), this should not make us think that the Church is some sort of a bipartisan tension between two, or 12, different styles of worship.  She doesn’t bow to appease the preferences and pleasures of the people nor is she trying to transverse the modern era by acting thoroughly inclusive of worship in any and every setting in order to tickle the fancy of those who desire their God to look less “stuffy” and more “hip.”  The Church is Liturgical.  

She cannot find herself worshiping God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit outside of Word and Sacrament, because Word and Sacrament are where she receives God’s gifts (which is the proper understanding of worship cf. Ap V 189).  Thus, the structure of worship as we have it (the liturgy), formed by the Church throughout the centuries and thoroughly informed by Scripture, is built around the proclamation of God’s Holy Word and the delivery of the Sacraments.  It is focused upon the way in which God comes to us, i.e. Word and Sacrament.  And having such a structure to worship has always been important for the Christian faith, not because we desire to retain the minutiae of tradition and formality, but because fallen man always wants to be at the center. 

Our old adam finds the liturgy to be boring and antiquated.  He looks upon the form of worship and, despite the fact that it’s saturated with Scripture and built around the proclamation of the Word, serving to deliver the Gospel to the hearer, nonetheless, the old adam in us finds it repugnant and desires a more creative, inspiring, or energetic form of worship.  We might even confuse the emotional high that we feel while standing in nature or singing loudly in car, with worshiping God, and thus, we place ourselves at the center of worship under the seemingly innocent guise of personal preference.  As if we can worship in any way we want. 

Thankfully, the focus of the liturgy is not on man, but on Christ.  The liturgy places Jesus at the center of worship instead of us.  It is Jesus coming to us, delivering to us forgiveness, life, and salvation in the means of grace, and it is only secondarily that we then in turn respond in thanks and praise.  This is why, even in the days of the 16th c. Reformation, the Confessions state that “we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it” (Ap XXIV 1), for in so doing we are defending the centrality of the Gospel as it comes to us!  We retain the liturgy out of love for the Gospel as the celebration of the Paschal victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over sin, death, and the devil on our behalf. 

In that sense, the Lutheran Church is a Liturgical Church.  She is born of the Gospel received in the Divine Service, and formed by the historic liturgy of the Apostolic Church against the fleeting desires of the flesh.  For the liturgy is not simply ritual.  It is much more than forms and ceremonies which, by themselves, are indifferent and empty.  The liturgy is, rather, filled with the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen for you.  It is jam packed with solid theological content, the center of which is the delivery of God’s grace in Word and Sacrament.  Thus, the Liturgy is nothing but the means of grace delivered, which is exactly what makes us the Church.

Apr 30, 2013

The Pastor's Immunity

“Immunity from the temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.” 
That is what we all need. 

Sadly, however, those words by Dr. Dale Meyer, President of Concordia Seminary St. Louis, are spoken against anyone who wears the clerical collar encouraging pastors to do the same.  The reason given is out of fear that wearing the collar “could easily infer that the collar and office provide some immunity from the temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.”  Concordia Journal vol 39, 1:7.  

While such criticism over the extraneous idea that one finds immunity in a shirt is about as helpful as saying the same (or even the opposite for that matter) of those pastors who wear a suit and tie or shorts and a polo, nonetheless, we might do well to point out that we are not immune to anything by the physical clothing we wear.  However, the need for such immunity is precisely why pastors wear the clerical collar in the first place.  Not because we need the shirt, but because we too need the Office of Christ which the shirt represents.  Not that this should become a law whereby we judge the orthodoxy of our pastor, but that everything in the divine service is preaching Christ to us and teaching us what we truly need, not a pastor who is just like everyone else, but the one who stands in the place of Christ to deliver the absolving words of our Lord.  We vest the pastor not to make the man prominent but to hide the man in order to show forth Christ, in order to draw attention to the only thing we need the pastor to do: give us Christ's Word and Sacrament.  And as the synod’s seminarians are, today and tomorrow, called to be pastors, they will soon find out that they need this Office of Holy Ministry (dare I say) more than those whom they serve. 

For the blessed yoke the pastor wears does not cause arrogance in the Christian, as so many fear, but humility, as any pastor worth his salt is accused by the very law which he also preaches.  Thus he is constantly in fear of failure.  The pastor spends his days wondering how his sermons are received and trying to sound pious enough to not be discovered as a fake.  He will at times panic over the thought that he doesn’t have all the answers for the questions which arise in bible study.  At any given moment he carries with him the guilt of not visiting his people enough.  He will lie awake at night and mull over his inadequacies and how inept he really is to wear the clerical.

Yet, the answer to his sin is not that he must rid himself of the clerical to make his vocation appear to be that of everyone else, anymore than he must work harder at being a better pastor.  The weight of the office will always bear on him just as the law will always accuse him, and thus infect the pastor with great guilt and shame.  The answer is, instead, for the pastor to find “immunity from the temptations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh,” not in his own person or in the shirt he wears, but in the very Office in which he stands.  He must receive from Christ the same thing he is called to deliver.  He needs forgiveness, life, and salvation from the only place it is received: word, water, bread and wine.  If we cannot take joy over sins forgiven and find refuge over the accuser silenced, given in these means of grace, delivered through the Office of Christ as from Christ Himself, then no amount of false humility or seminary eduction will save us. 

We pastors need this immunity, and thus we take joy in the Office of Christ! 

Apr 29, 2013

The Sweet Labor of Married Life

Most married people do not desire children; in fact, they dislike them and hold that it is better to live without them because they are poor and do not have the wherewithal to support a family.  This is true particularly of those who are given to idleness and laziness and flee from the sweet labor of married life.  But the purpose of marriage is not pleasure and ease but the procreation and education of children and the support of a family.  This is truly an immense burden, full of great cares and labors.  But that is why God created you: to be a husband or a wife and to learn to bear these molestations.  People who do not like children are swine, dunces, and blockheads, not worthy to be called men and women, because they despise the blessing of God, the Creator and Author of marriage.
Luther, Martin. AE 5:362

Apr 22, 2013

Closed Communion

The Sacrament of the Altar is a gift for those who bear the mark of the watery cross upon their foreheads in Baptism.  Which is why refusing to deliver this gift to those outside of our confession appears to be quite unloving, if not completely offensive.  But this is quite the opposite.  Lutherans long to give out Holy Communion.  We confess that 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 drink, and by so doing, we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  Which is why, as Lutherans, we deeply long to give Holy Communion to all for whom it would be a blessing.  Yet, therein lies the problem.

Regardless of one’s confession of faith, we can objectively observe from 1 Corinthians 11:29, that “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself,” and thus each individual is to examine himself of sin (1 Cor. 11:28).  Therefore, it would be extremely unloving for the Pastor, as the steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1), to distribute the Sacrament to those who might receive it to their detriment.

This is not to say that we must approach the rail without sin.  Surely that cannot be done.  On the contrary, our sin is the very reason we need and desire to approach the altar in the first place.  But we approach the altar as those who have confessed our sins and are absolved of them.  Such is not the case for the one who refuses to confess and repent.  In which case, it would be a most unloving response to lead that individual to the Sacrament with unrepentant sin, thus incurring “judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:29). 

That is why we don’t commune with those of a different confession of faith.  For what shall we call the belief that infants shall not be baptized, for example, except that which is contrary to the will of God?  And if contrary to God’s will, it is a sin, unintentional at best, but still a sin and an error within one’s confession of faith. 
Should we administer the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood to those who hold a doctrine that we believe to be contrary to God’s will?  This is not to suggest that we must fully understand the whole counsel of God prior to receiving the Sacrament.  However, our confessions state that we reject those who teach contrary to Scripture (see AC).  Even if someone would agree with us completely on the Sacrament of the Altar the question remains: Shall we welcome to the Sacrament those whose doctrine we also reject (and in some cases condemn)?  No matter how you look at it, someone believes that which is false.  One of us confesses a teaching that is against God’s will, and therefore it would neither be right nor loving for us to commune together.

The Lord’s Supper is not just a meal only between the individual and God.  While this belief may be popular, there is no Scriptural president for such a statement.  Rather, this Sacrament is a unity between the communicant and God as well as between the communicant and the congregation as the body of Christ.  For “The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).  When we approach an altar we do so as a public proclamation that we believe and confess everything that is taught at that altar.

Thus, to refuse someone from communing is not a judgment of whether or not he is a Christian, nor does such practice suggest that those who are not Lutheran are damned to Hell.  However, if we believe that we should not commune with those who are unrepentant in sin, and that errant doctrine is contrary to God’s will, and thus sin, how can we properly administer what Christ instituted to those of a confession that we reject?  Should we not rather warn such a person that the doctrine they hear in their own congregation from week to week is false, unbiblical, and dangerous?  How can the pastor try to offer Gods’ blessing of the Sacrament to those who reject what God teaches?  Doing so would only be a sinful disregard for Christ’s body and blood and a direct contradiction of the very thing which is suppose to bring unity.  For, those who approach the same rail profess to be one in all points of doctrine and practice.  If that is not the case, then let us examine Scripture together first to create unity, before joining in the action which is an expression of that unity.

This teaching is nothing new.  It has been the practice of the Church from ancient times.  Even the majority (approximately 95%) of all Christians in the world today (Rome, the East, Lutherans) still adhere to what is called “closed communion.”  It is neither prudent nor reasonable to ignore the history of the Church’s confession as well as the biblical witness.

In the end, we do not want to be seen as offensive and unloving, however, we recognize that it is the practice of open communion which “is contrary to both the love of God and love of the neighbor, for it ignores that the Sacrament of the Altar must be properly used, as prescribed in Scripture, and it leads the neighbor to sin by partaking unworthily of the Sacrament.” (Pieper, Francis. Christian Dogmatics III, 385-386).  Here we stand, and we should not be surprised if, by our confession, we are “fools for Christ’s sake,” and “like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor 4:10, 13). 

“The Holy Supper is one of the marks, one of the banners of the church, one of the seals of the church’s doctrine and faith (Rom. 4:11; see 1 Cor. 10:21; Ex. 12:48).  In whichever church one receives the Holy Supper, one is confessing that church and its doctrine.  There cannot be a more inward, brotherly fellowship than that into which one enters with those in whose fellowship he receives the Holy Supper…  Even one who confesses the Real Presence cannot ordinarily… be admitted if he is and wants to remain, not a member of our orthodox church, but rather a Roman Catholic, Reformed, so-called Evangelical or Unionist, Methodist, Baptist, in short, a member of an erring fellowship.  For the Sacrament, as it is a seal of faith, is also the banner of the fellowship in which it is administered” (Walther, C.F.W. Pastoral Theology, 110–111, 149).

Apr 8, 2013

How To Respond To A Pregnancy Announcement

Blessed are you!
God has bestowed upon you another child!  You carry in your womb a child for whom Christ has shed His precious blood, a child who will enter the kingdom of God through the gate of Baptism.  Rejoice and be glad, for you will suffer for this child.  You will give up your time and energy, money and possessions, even your sanity.  You will give up sleep and a clean home, you will toss aside quietness and you will welcome chaos.  In fact, every bit of your life will now revolve even less around you, and more around taking care of the ones God has entrusted to you.  Yet by this pregnancy, God has blessed you with the greatest joy of ushering another person into eternal life, through the blood and water of Christ Jesus, and thus, this is the best thing in married life!
The best thing in married life, for the sake of which everything ought to be suffered and done, is the fact that God gives children and commands us to bring them up to serve Him.  To do this is the noblest and most precious work on earth, because nothing may be done which pleases God more than saving souls.  If the need were to arise, all of us should be ready to die in order to bring a soul to God.  So you see how rich in good works the estate of marriage is.  God lays souls into the lap of married people, souls begotten from their own body, on which they may practice all Christian works.  For when they teach their children the Gospel, parents are certainly their apostles, bishops, and ministers.
Martin Luther, W 10 II 301 (quoted from What Luther Says, 907)

Apr 4, 2013

A Good Chrisitan

Though it is common place in many Christian circles to refer to someone as a “good Christian man/woman,” there is great harm in doing so.  The saying arises in conversation because we want to point out that so-and-so has been a regular church-goer, bible-reader, prayer-warrior, good-work-doer, etc.  But all of these make one fatal mistake: they point to the individual’s doings as the mark of their “Christian” standing. 

This we know is wrong, not only because of our staunch rejection of merited salvation (ACIV), but because we know our own sinful state.  For if the measure of our being a “good Christian” is something we do or don’t do, then we have set up a mark we will never reach and a law we cannot fulfill.  Worst of all we have handed Satan an easy target, for he will always be happy to point out where you and I have failed. 

So listen up beloved; Satan cannot harm you!  Not because of your own pious living or good intentions, not because you have met man’s standards of living the life of a “good Christian.”  But because Christ alone has lived the life of a good Christian and He has died for the times you have daily not.  More than that He is arisen!  And by so doing your Lord Christ has tore open the belly of death, muzzled the devil, and drowned your sins in His blood.  They can harm you none!   This is the great joy of Easter, that you may boldly set the suffering, death, and resurrection of the sinless Son of God against your own sin and death, and see that they are no more.

If the devil approaches us and says, “Look here, see how great your sin is; see, too, how bitter, how terrible is the death you must suffer;” then you must counter with, “Devil, don’t you know the power of my Lord Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection?  In Him, there is eternal righteousness and eternal life; His resurrection from the dead is mightier than my sin, death, and hell, greater than heaven and earth.”
Martin Luther, Easter Sermon 1533, House Postils II:15
So point to Christ.  Instead of saying that someone is a “good Christian man/woman,” proudly declare “He/She is a Saint of God, absolved, suppered, and baptized by blood and water, declared to be completely righteous by the Father in heaven for no other reason than the Good Friday death and Easter resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord.”  It may be long, but this is true of every member of Christ’s Church, not just the seemingly good ones.   
“Here the true Paschal Lamb we see, Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree - So strong His love! - to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door; Faith points to it, death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us.  Hallelujah!
TLH 195:3

Mar 30, 2013

What Better Day To be Buried!

Truly, what better day is there to be buried?

With Good Friday's sacrifice complete and the Easter Resurrection on the horizon, the congregation will stare at the casket of a beloved Saint as it reaches the grave on the same day that our Lord Himself rested dead in the grave.  Christ has gone ahead of us into death, wrapping Himself with our burial cloths, and lying breathless in our grave.  

And that is precisely why we can dry our eyes at the casket.  It is why we can rejoice in defiance against our mourning, for those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death.  But not just His death.  The sinless Son of God has risen.   He has gone ahead of us into the resurrection.  That is why when Christians bury their dead, it is as if we are laying a baby down to sleep and the casket becomes nothing more than a second cradle.  This dying in Christ is the joy reserved for the Christian!

To know how to die is reserved for the Christians.  It should be their art to put death out of sight, to learn to despise it in Christ, and to picture nothing to themselves except life alone.  Not one of the wise, learned, and holy is ever able to do this.  In a word, the world will never know and experience it. Nor indeed does the world want to hear or bear it, for it considers it the greatest folly and heresy.  Therefore it is, and no doubt will remain, the art peculiar to Christians.
Luther, Martin W 45, 587

Mar 29, 2013

Christ Prays

Jesus' words, "the Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," are nowhere greater understood than in Holy Week. 

"When Christ prays for those who crucify Him, He is praying for us, who with our sins have caused His cross and death.  Therefore in the cross on which Christ has suffered we should see nothing but an altar on which Christ sacrifices His life and discharges His priestly office also by praying that we may be rid of sins and freed from eternal death."

Luther, Martin W 52, 239

Mar 27, 2013

Traditional Marriage Villains

The leftist agenda of mainstream media, and now anyone with a facebook profile picture and an opinion, has long placed those in support of what is now called, “Traditional Marriage,” alongside the extremist hate-crime oppressors of ages past, be it misogyny, anti-Semitism, or simply any form of racism.  In an attempt to condemn by way of incomplete comparison, the cause of “traditional marriage” is often aligned with those who have, throughout history, operated according to their own emotions and personal desires to intimidate and vilify their opponent (i.e. women, Jews, African Americans, etc.) without any sustainable argument for doing so.

However, when the topic of Marriage is discussed today, rarely do we ever hear anyone presenting an actual argument in support of homosexual marriage and its benefits to society.  They will talk about people they know, stories they’ve heard, how they feel about the issue, all of which is an appeal to their own subjective emotional state without any sustainable argument that isn't based solely on a logical fallacy.  Those who support homosexuality are lauded as public heros of the age of progressivism, while those supporting “traditional marriage” are intimidated and vilified.  So, tell me, who is it exactly that should be placed alongside the extremist hate-crime oppressors of ages past.

Here are some good posts dealing with the failed logic of homosexual marriage.
Homosexual Marriage is an Insult to Homosexuals
Homosexuals and Their Rights

Mar 25, 2013

This Is Abortion

The following contains graphic and disturbing images.   
Viewer discretion is advised especially for young ones. 

The Pictures are gruesome.  They are disgusting and horrific.  The murder of life is a terrible thing to see with our eyes.  Yet when we refuse to look at these pictures for what they are, we sequester the abortion issue to the safety of a theoretical debate.  We allocate the topic under the parameters of being kind to one another, bargaining with our conscience as to how we can keep our church’s pro-life stance and at the same time not have to tell anyone that they are wrong.  

When we fail to see abortion for what it is, we functionally pretend that it’s nothing at all.   Yet, in treating this most horrific of sins lightly, we also treat lightly the only solution to those who repent of it: the Gospel of Jesus Christ who died for those murdered children and for the sin of their parents.  It is because the Church delivers this forgiveness for abortion that we cannot remain silent in the face of those who so desperately need it.  

Thus, today we celebrate The Annunciation.  The day in which the One who came to undo death and render the grave powerless, placed Himself into a womb, dwelling in the flesh of a weak little child in order to save even the littlest and weakest ones among us. 


Mar 22, 2013

Entering Holy Week

As we enter Holy Week, we must not pretend that this week presents to us anything but the greatest offense.  Not simply because the cross is appalling to the eye.  Yes we would rather see our Lord ascended on high, sitting at the right hand of God in majesty and power, not strung up on wood and nails, bleeding from hands, feet, side, naked in shame and contorted in death for the world to see.  But we do not mourn for Jesus.  

We do not step into Holy Week with the goal of conjuring up some emotion of the gut or tear from the eye.  We look upon the dead body of Jesus and take offense, for there you see what your sin has earned.  Thus you cannot escape the reality that His blood was shed because of you. Yet, that image of the crucifix is at the same time the single greatest source of comfort.  For in it you cannot escape the reality that His blood was shed for you.
If you are troubled because of the multitude of your sins, then look upon Christ.  He was given into countless torments, so that sins that are countless can be forgiven.   
If your sins often appear too great for you, them bear in mind how great the One is who suffered for your sins!  He is the Son of God.  Should such blood as his not be sufficient to pay your debt? 
Oh then as we leave this church and our meditation of the passion comes to a close today, let us not depart from Golgotha by doing so.  Let us remain in spirit upon this hill, whether we are awake or asleep, eating or drinking, at work or at rest.  And if we have lapsed back into the world, let us return here again.  If we are tired and downtrodden, let us hurry to the cross and refresh our souls in the five fountains of his holy wounds.  Yet, here let us await death, that we be laid in Christ’s grave and rise with him.”
C.F.W. Walther, “Good Friday,” Tr. Joel R. Baseley, Festive Sounds, by C.F.W. Walther [1811-1887], 96.

Mar 14, 2013

How To Greet The Pope

There is a proper etiquette for addressing Church leaders such as the Supreme Pontiff.  So in light of yesterday's selection of Pope Francis, it behooves us to dutifully prepare ourselves in the slight chance that we might have the opportunity of meeting him someday.  For we do not want to be caught unaware of how to properly greet the Vicar of Christ.  

Standard practice indicates that, regardless of one’s religion, the proper salutation is "Your Holiness," "Most Holy Father," "Holy Father," or “My Gracious Lord.”  It is then required that one make a low bow, or go down to one knee, kissing the ring on his right hand if one is a Roman Catholic or shaking his right hand if not.

However, while this is the commonly acceptable etiquette for greeting the Pope, we might also want to learn from Martin Luther’s instruction on the matter.   For Luther had once directed all Christians on how to greet the Pope in his Smalcald Articles (Part II, Article IV 16).  He says:

We should not here kiss his feet, or say, “you are my gracious lord.”  Rather, we should say as the angel of the Lord in Zechariah 3:2 said to the devil, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan!”
While I’m not exactly sure if the name "Francis" is to be added to the beginning or the end of such a greeting, nevertheless “the papacy is nothing else than the devil himself, because above and against God the pope pushes his falsehoods about Masses, purgatory, the monastic life, one’s own works, and false worship.  (This, in fact, is the papacy.) He also condemns, murders, and tortures all Christians who do not exalt and honor his abominations above al things. Therefore, just as we cannot worship the devil himself as Lord and God, so we cannot endure his apostle - the pope or Antichrist - in his rule as head or lord. For what his papal government really consists of (as I have very clearly shown in many books) is to lie and kill and destroy body and soul eternally.”
SA II, IV, 14

Feb 9, 2013

"You Are Legalisitc!"

Sinners hate rules.  Well, we hate God’s rules.  We actually love rules as long as they are the rules we make up, because those rules make sense to us and they are easy to follow.  We can keep those rules and feel good about ourselves.  And in that way, we are all, in some sense, legalists.

For Legalism depends upon a moral adherence to the law for redemption, and at this we Humans excel.  We invent rules and convince ourselves that we are making all the right decisions under the guise of loving our neighbor and fulfilling the Great Commission, no matter what commandment we break in the process.

And then we accuse those who refuse to budge from Scripture and the Confessions, as being legalistic.  Thus it becomes the go-to accusation of our offended conscience, in an attempt to decisively condemn the actions of the Church, to declare “You are legalistic.”

We must repent. 

The creation of, and adherence to rules within the Church is not Legalism, unless it is taught that by doing so one is meriting grace or making satisfaction for sins.  The Law is good and wise.  Rules like the First Commandment are good and wise, no matter how repugnant they may be to this fallen world.  Thus, we hold to God’s rules, though they do not bring faith.  This is why we need the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners.  This is why, especially in the public square, we must not confuse the Gospel with the syncretistic civil religion of the law, but continually point offended consciences to the redemption of sinners in the one who keeps the law perfectly in our place.  For Jesus saves even legalists.  Thanks be to God for men like Rev. Matthew Harrison who know the difference and are willing to lead us steadily through the very divisions Christ forewarned.  


Dec 24, 2012

The Christmas Martyrology

        Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, unknown ages from the time  when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image. Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant. Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel. In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.  Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus T Christ according to the flesh.

Born To You

“Behold, I proclaim to you great joy, which will be for all people.  For a Savior is born to you today, who is Christ, the Lord, in the city of David.” Luke 2:10,11

Clearly you see in these Words that he is born to us.  He doesn’t only say, “Christ is born”; but rather: “to you,” “to you, he is born.”  And he doesn’t say, “I proclaim a great joy”; but, “to you”; “to you I proclaim a great joy.”  This joy does not remain in Christ, but it will be to all people.

Martin Luther, Baseley, Joel, Luther’s Family Devotions; For Every Day of the Church Year, 2nd ed., 2010, 38

Dec 19, 2012

Called to Zion Marshall

I have accepted a divine call to serve as Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, in Marshall MI. This brings much rejoicing and delight for me and my family as we make this transition, that I might serve God's people in Marshall in the delivery of the means of grace to hungry sinners.  Yet this leaves my current congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Standish, MI, without a regular Pastor to do the same.  I dearly love the people of Bethlehem and have enjoyed my time with them.  We will miss them greatly even as we look forward to joining the people of God at Zion.

That is why I ask for your prayers.  Not just for me and my family in the next month as we move and transition from one place to the next, but for these two congregations.  Both have felt the sting of vacancy and the struggles that come with not having a full-time shepherd to deliver the assurance of the Gospel.  Pray for these brothers and sister in Christ for the sake of Christ our Lord, the One to whom we credit the Office of the Ministry.
To what are we to credit the Gospel and the office of the ministry except to the blood and sweat of our Lord?  As is well known, He won them by His anguished, bloody sweat, earned them by His blood and cross and gave them to us.  We have them without any cost whatsoever to us; we have done and given nothing for them.  Ah, Lord God, how very bitter and sour the labor was for Him; and yet how kindly and gladly He did it! 
M. Luther, W 30 II, 583f

Dec 6, 2012

Listening To Seasonal Sermons

Advent and Christmastime invariably become the seasons in which the Church raises her “Keep CHRIST in Christmas” flag.  It’s an attempt to cross the sea of this world’s materialistic, consumer-driven holiday, without letting its waves fill the boat of the Church.  Thus, we preemptively ready ourselves to bail water from the hull and honorably fulfill the cliche of keeping CHRIST in Christmas.  But we fail in this way.  Along with all the culture’s superficial hype of the holiday we unintentionally try to hype up the Divine Service.  Maybe we won’t go as far as showing skits or liturgical dance or the dreaded Christmas silhouette performance, but we do tend to expect more from the sermon.

Parishioners want to hear something spectacular, something they haven’t heard before, some nugget of interest to take home.  And pastors want to give it.  Pastors want to become fine pulpit-princes.  To deliver sermons that will woo the masses and be remembered by the flock for years to come.  Yet, this high esteem which we inwardly crave, is contrary to the very One whom we are there to receive in worship, the One who was humbly born of a betrothed virgin and laid into a poor manger, the One who rode into Jerusalem as a beggarly King seated on a beast of burden, the One who offered up Himself to the chastisement and humiliation of the cross, and the One who now delivers His own blood-bought salvation by the remarkably humble means of Word and Sacrament.  

Should then the pastor, who brings the poverty of Christ to the people, be honored and valued as the highest good and the greatest Advent/Christmastime preacher?  No.  We are but poor parish pastors and beggarly clerics.  For we are Christ-preachers. 
“The rejection of Christ does not happen only with the Jews, but also among us, for the high and mighty scorn us because of our gospel and sacraments.  What folly, they say, that I should let myself be baptized with water poured on my head, supposedly to be saved thereby; or that some poor parish preacher, barely able to put a coat on his back, should pronounce forgiveness and absolve me from my sins; or that by receiving bread and wine in the Sacrament I should be saved.  On that basis they despise a Christ-preacher.  For it goes with the territory to be despised by reason of Christ’s poverty.  As a result, when a man becomes a preacher he is more despised than some lowly knave of no reputation.  There is no station in life quite as scorned and humble as that of a preacher.  That happens not because of us or the preacher, but because Christ is despised on all sides in the world.  No wonder that the aristocrats and plutocrats say, Why should we believe some tramp-like, beggarly cleric?  Why doesn’t our Lord God send us a fine pulpit-prince to preach to us?  Him we would believe.  However, just as Christ’s preachers are despised, so people also despise his baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  Virtually no peasant retains respect for them, let alone burghers or nobles.  Under the papacy people mocked at indulgences and pilgrimages, and yet they were highly regarded.  Now, however, the prevailing word is, Huh, if all you can do is preach about Christ and faith, I’m fed up with that already, I’ve heard it all many times before.”
Luther, Martin.  “First Sunday in Advent; Third Sermon, 1534.”  Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils, vol. I, 35
Pastors need not give in to the desire to be anything more than those who preach about Christ, those who, even during the holiday season, occupy themselves with nothing other than delivering Christ from the pulpit.  Not something new, not something creative or terribly spectacular, just Jesus.  Born-dead-and-risen-for-you Jesus.  And in that way, parishioners must expect only to receive the same thing from the pulpit during Advent and Christmastime that they get the rest of the year.  For this season marks the time of the year that we receive Christ Crucified for sinners.  Just like every season.