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Archive for the ‘Evangelization’ Category

“Glorious is God with His saints and angels: Oh, come let us worship Him.”

 

About Ignatius: He was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the supreme authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church.  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

The Apostle Paul was probably martyred between A.D. 64-67. Ignatius became the 2nd Bishop of Antioch in A.D. 69.   Antioch was the city from which Paul and Barnabas began their great missionary journey as recorded in Acts 13-14.  Ignatius is a direct link to the apostles and the apostolic doctrine.  (information from The Apostolic Fathers, edited by Jack Sparks)

Some have written that Christian doctrine evolved from the original sayings of Jesus  into the Christianity we have today. But given the chronological proximity of Ignatius to the Apostolic era, this can not be so and especially when we read his letters.  In them,  it is clear that Ignatius and the earlier Church were continuing the apostolic doctrine as taught verbatim by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, as the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament.

One of first great crises of the earlier Church was when the last of the 12 Apostles died.  Who could ever replace them?  Already the Lord provided the answer: bishops.   When I hear the word “bishop”, visions of church finery come to mind:  croziers, mitres, elaborate vestments and the like.  Not in the 1st  century nor for next 2-3 centuries!  Bishop is the word used  to translate  the New Testament Greek:  episcopos which means “overseer”, one who provides oversight to the doctrine and faith of the congregation.  An “episcopos” preached and administered the Sacraments which means a bishop is  a pastor.  He presided at the Table of the Lord…and he was a target when persecution arose.

In the Roman Empire, there were many gods and goddesses and their temples and shrines were massive and impressive and they held elaborate and overwhelming services in them. A Christian episcopos presided over a simple meal of  bread and wine, announcing this is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  He preached the Word of Law and Gospel to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.  Nothing outwardly impressive, yet by such the Lord spread His Word as He had promised He would “to the ends of the earth”.   The Word of Jesus Christ was so spread against overwhelming odds without gimmicks, strategies, mission models, massive denominational budgets, etc.  (insight courtesy of Rev. Prof. Hermann Sasse)

For Ignatius the central  aspect of the Church was unity with the bishop, the pastor in the preaching and teaching of the Scripture and administration of the Sacraments, according to the Apostolic Doctrine set forth in the Holy Scriptures.:

“…it is fitting for you  run your race together with the bishop’s purpose–as you do.  For your presbytery–worthy of fame, worthy of God–is attuned to the bishop  like strings to a lyre.  Therefore by your unity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.”

The episcopos was to give oversight to the true saving doctrine of justification but not to overlook false doctrine. Case in point:   Ignatius warns the Church in Smyrna about  the docetists. ‘Docetist’  means ‘appearance’ and they said that Jesus only appeared to be a man but was only God  and so they changed the clear meaning of Scripture and they denied the Body and the Blood. And so Ignatius warns the Smyrnaens about them and their teaching on Holy Communion:

“They abstain from Eucharist and prayer because they do not acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised by his goodness. Those who deny God’s gift are dying in their squabbles; it would be better for them to love so that they may rise. It is fitting to keep away from such men and not to speak about them either privately or publicly, but to pay attention to the prophets and especially to the Gospel, in which the passion has been explained to us and the resurrection has been accomplished. Flee from divisions as the beginning of evils.”

What is the Biblical and evangelical understanding of the Lord’s Supper in relation to our lives and souls in His Church?

“Be eager, therefore, to use one Eucharist–for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for union with the blood (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 16), one sanctuary, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow slaves–so that whatever you do, you do in relation to God (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 31;  Col. 3: 17)

Furthermore, the docetists believed Jesus was purely “spiritual” and He could not give us His Body and Blood.  Using an oft-used phrase in our day, they were not religious but ‘spiritual’. Sound familiar? Maybe Ignatius was too negative?  Maybe he should have ‘dialogued’ with them and formed a Bishop’s Study Task Force of Ecumenical Dialogue with Docetism?  Of course not.  Ignatius did a pastor’s work.   The heretics are actually the ones who want Christian doctrine to ‘evolve’: actually devolve into something totally different and more to their liking and their flesh and so it is no longer saving doctrine. Heresy is dividing;  orthodoxy is uniting.  It is as old as Israel finding more suitable deities in the Baals.   This is the devil’s work.   The only conversation is to warn and  call to repentance in the true Faith, clinging to Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father in His Church. As Ignatius wrote to the  Magnesians:

As, then, the Lord did nothing apart from the Father [cf. John 5:19; 8:28], either by himself or through the apostles, since he was united with him [cf. John 10:30; 17:11,21,22], so you must do nothing apart from the bishop and the presbyters. Do not try to make anything appear praiseworthy by yourselves, but let there be in common one prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope in love, in blameless joy—which is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better [cf. John 10:16; Eph. 4:3-6]. 2. All of you must run together as to one temple of God, as to one sanctuary, to one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from the one Father and is with the one and departed to the one [cf. John 8:42;14:12,28; 16:10,17

Let us pray…

Almighty God, we praise Your Name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr.  He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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The Prayer of the Day

O  Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son Jesus Christ by the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

The Old Testament Reading for the Day: Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 45: 7-17

The Epistle Reading:  Hebrews 10: 4-10

The Gospel Reading for the DayLuke 1:26-38

The Annunciation of Our Lord:  The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that God has shown her favor and will use her as the means for the Messiah’s birth. So Mary conceives Jesus when the angel says: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). This same Spirit who hovered over the waters and brought forth creation (Genesis 1:2) will now “hover over” the waters of Mary’s womb to conceive the creation’s Redeemer. As the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary, she conceives Jesus “through her ear” (as Martin Luther says). The one who is conceived is called Holy, the Son of God. This is the moment of the incarnation of our Lord. The date of the Annunciation falls on March 25, because the Ancient Church believed the crucifixion occurred on that date. In antiquity, people linked the day of a person’s conception with the day of his or her death. Thus, in the Annunciation, the Church joined together both the incarnation of Jesus and the atonement He accomplished. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Luther preached that the greatest miracle this day was not that the Virgin conceived, but she believed.  The conception was an oral one, through the ear.  “Let it be according to Thy Word” and this Word is the Word of the Lord, the Promise, the Gospel, the Good News.  The Annunciation, or the Announcement, was without fanfare, no media crowding about, no Tweets, no TV cameras in the hick town of Nazareth. This announcement was quiet as a silent night yet spoke and would speak volumes. This announcement is for the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary and this announcement is for the beloved Son’s tomb one day for us to hear another angel’s announcement: He is not here. He is risen!  These annunciations of the Word is for us to hear so that the Lord is conceived in us in the same faith as the Virgin Mary:  “Let it be according to Thy Word”:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10)

This announcement of the free and freeing forgiveness of sinners from the One. 

“…who was
 conceived
 by
 the 
Holy 
Spirit,
born
 of
 the
 virgin
 Mary,
suffered
 under 
Pontius
Pilate,
was
 crucified,
died
 and 
was 
buried.
He
 descended
 into
 hell.
The
 third 
day
 He 
rose
 again
 from 
the
 dead.
”(From the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed)

This Annunciation has gone forth and still is  into the world: through the ear and into the heart, knowing the heart is a rusty tin can of sin,  and  made new in Jesus Christ by His grace alone, faith saving through the Word, taught, preached, administered in the Sacraments.  In the world of grand announcements and annunciation of sin and death, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Virgin Mary and Son of the Father, is for our  renunciation of the world, the flesh and the devil in the Annunciation to the Virgin. As Mary, we with the Virgin Mary,as His Church, share in the same faith as Mary in her Son, our Son as well, that prays: “Let it be according to Your Word”.  

 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9)

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I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

Hymn # 172 from Lutheran Worship

Let us pray… God of grace and might, we praise You for your servant Patrick, to whom You gave gifts to make the good news known to the people of Ireland. Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds and evangelists of Your kingdom, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bio:  Patrick is one of the best-known of the missionary saints. Born to a Christian family in Britain around the year 389, he was captured as a teenager by raiders, taken to Ireland, and forced to serve as a herdsman. After six years he escaped and found his way to a monastery community in France. Ordained a bishop in 432, he made his way back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his long life spreading the Gospel and organizing Christian communities. He strongly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a time when it was not popular to do so. His literary legacy includes his autobiography, Confessio, and several prayers and hymns still used in the church today. Patrick died around the year 466.  Read more about St. Patrick’s biography here, citing quotes from his Confessio.

Reflection:  Two sayings associated with St. Patrick’s Day in our day: “The wearing of the green”  and“Everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s . 

One of my favorite legends about Pr. Patrick was he was witnessing to a  powerful, pagan tribal chieftain who was stymied over the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  They were standing outside and Patrick bent over and plucked a shamrock and said, “The Trinity is like this shamrock:  3 leaves, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one stem, one plant, one life”.  The color green is very closely associated with Patrick.  “Wearing of the green” reminds us of the color of the paraments  (altar cloths) for most of the Church year, that is, green during the many Sundays after Pentecost, which is during summer in the northern hemisphere.   Along with Patrick, we only come to life in the Lord, in Holy Baptism, in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity.  Faith is the Lord’s utterly gracious gift.  It is evident in his Confessio, Patrick knew his high calling despite his lowly station.  We are green and growing in Christ alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father (see Ephesians 4:12-14), baptized into His Name alone:   “…salvation is of Christ the Lord!” (St. Patrick’s Breastplate, “I Bind Unto Myself Today”, Lutheran Service Book, #604).   We are Irish in so far as a Christian is baptized into Christ Jesus along with our brother in the Lord, Pastor and Bishop Patrick.  Remember that Patrick was not even born in what we call Ireland!  We wear not the green of Ireland, but of our only Homeland coming into the world now by faith, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and when He comes again, then by sight.  Green is possible only because of the purple, the Lent of His sufferings and death, the Seed planted in the ground, see John 12:24 and Mark 4:8.

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Lessons:

The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine 7: 2—17   Psalm 149 1 John 3: 1—3 St.Matthew 5: 1—12

Almighty and everlasting God,  You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About All Saints’ Day: This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ—from every nation, race, culture, and language—who have come “out of the great tribulation … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Ephesians 3:17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Romans 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic—in heaven and on earth, in all times and places—in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatological focus on the life everlasting and a confession that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Reflection:

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and see all the people”

Some of you may remember the child’s rhyme about the Church above.  In The Large Catechism, Dr. Luther explains that when we think of “church”, we usually think of the church building, as “we are going to church”, but he points out that the only reason a sanctuary is called a “church”.  “But the house should not be called a church except for the single reason that the group of people assembles here.”  The people who assemble are the Church, the communion or the community, “the holy Christian Church” (Third Article of the Apostles Creed).  

The rhyme above could be redone:  “Here’s God’s House, here’s the steeple, open the door and see all God’s people.”  We have spent a lot of time of fussing over the church building, instead of concentrating on building up God’s people, His Church.  This is done by preaching, teaching, praying and administering Christ’s Word and Sacraments. As the Apostle Peter wrote:  “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,  you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2: 4-5). 

Further, this building up of Christ’s holy people, His baptized saints, is not according to our building specs, plans and blueprints. We are being built, passive tense. In my cynical moments, I have redone the rhyme above, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and where’s all the people?”.  And sadly stats and surveys have been documenting the downward spiral of church attendance.  Well-meaning Christians cry out: “We’ve got to do something!”   Then come the ways to save the church.  We seen what happens when men and women build the church according to their best laid plans of mice and men: see the Mormons, see the feminist church, e.g. as “womanchurch”.  Those are the more obvious examples of not building according to God’s Word. Over the years, I have seen “models of ministry” paraded before pastors’ groups, and new programs like mega-church.  Remember harvest gold refrigerators, kulats, dickies, and the like?  We most likely want to forget them all! As I do all those programs that steered us away from God’s Word.

 Fads don’t build up His Church, only the labor of love of God’s Word in His saints by faith through His grace alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Roman Catholic G. K. Chesterton wrote that the Church is the democracy of the dead, those saints before us have a vote.  This is what All Saints is also about.  When we gather for Holy Communion, the pastor will pray, “…with angels and archangels, AND ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN…”, even with 2 or 3 gathered together, there are countless more!  The saints before us were built only by one way:  the Word of Law and Grace.  We are called to keep the faith with the dead, who live in Christ waiting together the day of the general resurrection.  

Yet, the saints labor and the saints who have died, “…from their labors rest” but who Thee by faith before the world, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia!”(#677, For All the Saints, Lutheran Service Book). I think we are entering ever darkening days, in which the little flock will be persecuted…but that’s how it’s been in times past.  As in hymn lyrice, the saints confessed Jesus Christ.  This is our calling from the Lord to His Church this day and every day, for every day in Christ is All Saints Day.  I close with this quote from Pr. Bonhoeffer’s sermon from 1933 in Berlin after the Germans under the Nazis voted in “the whore of Babylon” the “German Church” totally compatible with National Socialism, that  is the Nazi ideology.  

it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.
Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Death, the greatest heir of everything that has existence, here meets its end. Close by the precipice of the valley of death, the church is founded, the church which confesses Christ as its life. The church possesses eternal life just where death seeks to take hold of it; and death seeks to take hold of it precisely because it possesses life. The Confessing Church is the eternal church because Christ protects it. Its eternity is not visible in this world. It is unhindered by the world. The waves pass right over it and sometimes it seems to be completely covered and lost. But the victory is its because Christ its Lord is by its side and he has overcome the world of death. Do not ask whether you can see the victory; believe in the victory and it is yours.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

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The Weimar Altarpiece, 1555, by Lucas Cranach the Younger
Please note that Luther and the Reformers wanted to be “seen” in only place at the foot of the Cross in adoration of Jesus Christ as Luther points to the Bible which pointed them and points us to the Lord.

“Some two years ago I wrote a little book on indulgences, which I now deeply regret having published. For at the time I still clung to the Roman tyranny with great superstition and held that indulgences should not be altogether rejected, seeing they were approved by the common consent of men… I beg both booksellers and readers to burn what I have published on that subject.”—Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520

This is the way Martin Luther, a scant 3 years after he posted 95 Theses thought about them.  His 95 Theses were too ROMAN Catholic, not adhering and agreeing to the clear Word of Bible in regards to say, purgatory.  They were not truly catholic which means not Biblical.  “Catholic” literally means “according to whole”, the whole of God’s Holy Word.  It is historically incorrect to say that on October 31st, the Church was reformed.  It may have begun but the real reformation of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church began on June 30th, 1530 when the princes and electors presented to His Serene Majesty, Emperor Charles V, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  They, that is the princes and electors along with the confessors of the Faith, Luther, Melancthon, et. al., did not reform the Church:  The Word of God alone did that, does that and will.  Our calling is to preach and teaching His Word as clearly as possible.

On this day, we celebrate all together too much one man, Martin Luther. If you want a fuller article on my appraisal of this day, please read my article Ad Fontes!  Doctrine at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

What was all the fuss about back in the 16th Century that caused a schism?  Answer: Justification.  On this day, justification by grace had not been spelled out. The Lutheran Confessions is why I am a Lutheran and also a catholic.  The Confessions contain Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms which are to be prayed:  The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion, prayed, meditated upon, taught, in response to Jesus Christ so we may be still and receive His Word for the strengthening of faith.

In my amateur historical understanding, the center of the fuss was over the following article in The Augsburg Confession presented on this day, these 2 sentences caused the furor:

Article IV: Justification.

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God  by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received  into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4).

 The papal theologians had been teaching and preaching for too long:  Christ, yes, faith in Him, yes, but Christ plus something else:  works. “We do our best and God does the rest.”  No, we have not done our best and the Law shows us this.  The Gospel, the Lord’s one work of universal (catholic)  salvation in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ means that the whole papal system of rosaries, pilgrimages, indulgences can not save one.   Christ alone has, by grace alone known by Scripture alone in the life of His Church.  Even the Law of God can not save (see Galatians 2:19 Galatians 2:21, Ephesians 2:6-8 ).

The papal church knew Article IV meant the undoing of the system.   When the papal theologians responded to the Augsburg Confession with their Confutation, then Melancthon wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession and Melancthon’s apologia (defense) of Article IV, Justification, was the longest. These two sentences summed up, not the faith of the Reformers, but the faith as taught, preached and written in the Bible.  These two sentences undermined the institutional church’s hegemony on the lives of catholics/Christians with a system of works, obligatory works to gain salvation.  

The Reformers presented on this day their Confession, based soundly  upon the Scripture and the 3 Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athansasian), that salvation in Jesus Christ is sheer gift for sinners who can not attain heaven by anything we can ever do.  The Fathers at Augsburg began this Confession of the catholic Church with the Creeds to demonstrate that Justification is the key of Scripture and had been taught and preached and administered since the Apostles through all the ensuing centuries, but lost and forgotten by the papal church.

 Further, the Reformers were as catholic as Augustine was in the teaching of justification in Christ alone.  The Confessors at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” the Church, or leave the Church, but change it back to the way it was according to the Gospel.  It was a conservative reformation. They did not want to start a new church, as did Calvin and Zwingli.  The orthodox confessional Church is catholic.  It was a reformation not a revolution, yet this conservative reformation had revolutionary aspects for a tradition that confused itself as the truth, both Roman Catholic and Protestantism:

The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

This lively iconographic image shows Word and Sacraments, the Preaching of Christ and Him crucified, freely given rein by the Word for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people for their faith and faith active in love.

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

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Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. -Revelation 14: 6

                           A question I have put to Bible study groups is why are you a Christian or a Lutheran?  The answers vary from upbringing to my friends to my family to a pastor.  Very seldom has been the answer:  my baptism.  Baptism, Holy Communion, in fact all of the Bible, all of God’s Word gives us Jesus Christ.  Why am I a Christian? Answer: Jesus Christ.  Christian from the Christ, not Christ from the Christian.  Why am I Lutheran?  Answer: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church: The Book of Concord.   The Confessions of the Lutheran Church are the only ones yes on earth that by God’s grace alone, got it right:  God’s grace in Jesus Christ is His free gift that makes right sinners, not what we do, say or feel, however religious the actions, words or emotions, can save us.  Christ came to die for sinners of whom I am the foremost.

             For what its worth, I have looked into other church bodies and much is commendable about them. I worked 4 years as a youth pastor in a Presbyterian congregation.  I worked for three years as a receptionist at Jesuit Hall at St. Louis University and knew many find Jesuit priests and brothers, and monks and nuns.  I have seriously looked into the Eastern Orthodox theology and practice.  For instance, their purely Scriptural  prayer for meditation, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or the Jesus prayer  Biblically beats out the rosary, the “hail Mary”, except of course in football…and that kind of prayer directed to saint, never gets to the Receiver, the one Mediator, Jesus Christ who alone makes us His saints.  He invites His saints to pray to Him, our Father, not his saints to pray to others.  Several years ago Natalie and I thought seriously of leaving the ELCA and becoming Orthodox.   What stopped me?    Answer: Synergy and hymnody and the two are related.  Synergy, cooperation, having to work together with God for my salvation. Jesus kind of sort of saved us, sort of kind of by faith. So I got to meet halfway…then I am unforgiven and Jesus is no Rock of salvation, more like a pebble,  but that’s not the case for me or for you or your family or your friends.The Lord came to us all the way: to the Cross.  And it was colleague and mentor, Pr. Lou Smith who re-taught me the Lutheran Confessions with every retreat and practically every conversation and the beating heart of the Church, Christ’s body is the justification of the sinner by grace, as a gift, through Faith..  God’s law shows us the depth of sin and the Gospel the greater depths of His love for us all.  And my wife could not leave hymnody as that Lutheran hymnody proclaims the eternal Gospel of God’s grace.     I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:21  Beloved in the Lord, you His purpose.  He pleased to give you His Son.We sing the praises of Him Who died and rose.

  We only know God’s good work in Jesus Christ. “We do not claim that our Confessors were infallible. We do not say they could not fail. We only claim that they did not fail.” (Charles Porterfield Krauth, Lutheran theologian 1823-1883)   They got it right because they knew by Whom they were made right, justified, not by the Law, but by God’s own Son fulfilling every jot and title of the Law, forgiving us upon the Cross.  We know this by the Bible.

              Yes, Lutherans believe in Scripture but so do other Christians.  In this we rejoice. However, the Reformation was not about reforming a few bad morals and a proper cleanup of the papacy, or a new kind of church government and a polishing up of a few doctrines according to the Bible.  All of that had been done prior to Luther and for quite a time and after 1517.  They all look at the Bible as laws to be followed for a reformation.   In fact, in many ways, the Lutheran Confessors did not want to reform the Church, it was the Lord by His Word and Sacraments reforms the Church, us, you, making us His own in Holy Baptism.  Everyone wants to see something great, but the Word of God is best thing anyone can hear. 

              Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, read  the New Testament and  thought Jesus’ word,” turn the other cheek” as a way to reform society…and he went along way with it and India was better for him.  All sorts of people have seen the Bible as source of good advice, and there has been no end of advice, but good advice does not forgive, good advice will not bring us into the Kingdom.  The Bible is something else than a rule book of reforming zeal. What Jesus Christ said is apropos here: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me.”John 5:39   The Key to understanding the Bible is not reforming according to the law but being reformed, renewed by the forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners by Jesus Christ. Jesus said the Scriptures bear witness to Him. The Key is Jesus Christ who unlocks the door to paradise is His crucifixion and resurrection, justification by grace through faith, freely given, no if, ands or buts, who alone frees.  Yes, Jesus but if you make your decision for him.  Jesus and your good works will get you in.  Jesus but you have to be good.  If it is “if, ands and buts”, more Law, then Christ died for nothing.   By faith through grace He made us good, makes us good as His son,as His daughter. 

 We have Bibles in which Jesus’ words are printed in red. A great and humble Lutheran pastor and professor, Johann Gerhard (1582-1537) said the Bible is read as if it were printed with ink that is the very blood of Jesus.  The key to the Bible is not only Scripture alone but from the Lord’s Word and the Word made flesh grace alone received by faith alone.  All add another condition to grace and then it’s not grace, which is free and frees, You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 It has. I am a Lutheran because of the Confessions as true exposition of the Word of God. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to join the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in order to be saved, that would be adding a condition!  I think,…I know that the LCMS is one of the few church bodies in North America  which adheres to the public doctrine of the Scripture and the Confessions faithfully.  But it is not the alone saving church. All who know by grace they are saved are my brother and sister.  There is only one Church, Christ’s bride and He is no bigamist.  “For, thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy[catholic or] Christian Church.” As Luther wrote in the Lutheran Confessions, the Smalcald Article.   

 In a favorite episode of sitcom “Everyone Loves Raymond”, the entire family goes to church except for Ray who doesn’t go at all.   Ray’s wife, Debra asks Ray why don’t you go to Mass?  After being embarrassed Ray tells some story about a repairman who comes over to fix something, and he had a lazy eye, and how Ray was so good not to be seen to notice it…Ray concludes, I’m good…that’s why I really don’t need to go.  So, says his wife, on a Sunday morning, Ray, we should just all come over and gather around you?  A pastor in the LCMS, Daniel Preus wrote a little book, Why I am Lutheran:  Jesus in the center. Not Ray, not you, not me.  “For the Church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins.” (Hermann Sasse, Lutheran Professor, Pastor and theologian,  1895-1976).  We don’t gather around ourselves and our fine Christian principles, then that’s club.  The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her united in Jesus Christ, Luther taught on the 3rd article. The Church is Christ’ body. 

             The angel had the eternal Gospel, good news to proclaim…not temporal time conditioned good news, like TV commercials.  Commercials which tell you your outsides aren’t too good and if you just had fill-in-the-blank, there product is good news.  Or the time-conditioned temporal gospels of denominations and their programs. We can do an extreme makeover but our souls remained untouched and the Lord is clear, it’s there, in your, heart soul and mind I have come to be your Lord with every Word from My Book, My Sacraments, My people, My pastors to make alive your Faith holding on to Me as I hold on to you.  We are gathered in the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:7

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Lessons:  Acts 16: 11-40;  Acts 9: 36-43;  Romans 16: 1-2

Prayer 

 Filled with thy Holy Spirit, gracious God, thine earliest disciples served Thee with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deaconess who served many. Inspire us today to build up Thy Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ;  who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydda for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41). Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40). Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).

One can say that in Christianity the extraordinary has become ordinary, but also the ordinary has become extraordinary, usual unusual, the common uncommon,that what all do has been transformed into priestly work and to a sacrifice that is offered to the most high God…. [T]he Lord Jesus was followed by a number of women whose names have come down to us. Kings are forgotten, emperors have fallen into the dust and there is no one to remember them; the names of these women, however, are still being mentioned. There are only a few things we know about them, and what is said seems insignificant to us. They made offerings  to the Son of Man from what they had …provided such little services, as he deserved before all others.  But because the common uncommon, thus these names are written in the Book of books.

…I said that because of Christianity uncommon has become common and the common uncommon the Spirit and the purpose and way it was done…. I point to Matthew 25. What does he say there by separating the sheep from the goats? Whom does he praise? Whom does He reproach? Whom does he call to inherit the kingdom of his Father? Does he call the heroes, who accomplished great things, the kings with their crowns and those who struck with their great swords and brought about great changes upon earth? What does He do? He names and praises the same common things that I have said Christianity has made uncommon. He says: “I was hungry” and so forth—”come, you blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34)…. Thus, he asks for the food, for the drink, for the gift of oil and wine. He asks for all these common things, which I have said have become uncommon through his Spirit.—J. K. Wilhelm Loehe  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

One More Reflection:  Do great things.  America will be number one again.  Be a winner.  This is the way the world thinks and we do as well.  Serving is not natural, that is, according to fallen human nature which is self-centered and ego driven, damaged in the Fall, damaged beyond all human repair. When I re-read Pr. Loehe’s reflection above, this is not the Christianity I want. I want successful and powerful Christianity especially in our mission here.  I think all the lamentation, “America is no longer a Christian nation”,  is the lament over lost power.  The Church had no political power and authority when Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe lived upon this old earth. When it does boast political power, then the dangers abound.  As our Lord said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from this world.”  The Church did have power, though:  the Word and Deed of Jesus Christ in the lives of His faithful people.  Kings and the mighty change the world according to their will and things get worse. They make news but it is really as “old as Adam”.  The faithful women did good things in Christ Jesus and Faith, and things were better, you know, salt of the earth, and people believed in the Lord.  We think our smartphones are just wonderful and adorable, the gadgets of power and we listen to them.  We need to listen to our Lord in His Word Who alone can change our souls day by day  to love as He first loved us.  

These holy women, who were made holy by Faith in Jesus, are acknowledged in the prayer above in their various vocations:  business woman and steward, charitable worker and deacon or deaconess, that is one who serves. Lydia was the first convert to the Faith in Europe.  And as a business woman who sold the dye of Royalty purple (BTW:  that’s why purple is the color used in Advent and Lent), she might have been quite well-to-do.   I am struck by the non-judgmental listing of “business’  alongside with a “churchy”  sounding word, “deaconess”.  These are all vocations from the Lord, yes, even business!   If it weren’t for business, there would be no jobs.  There is no occupation that is displeasing to the Lord, except those occupied with evil…or vocations used for ignoble ends with sinful means.  Even a ‘churchy’ vocation can be used to serve self and not the Lord.  And business men and women can serve the Lord and His people, and not the self,  as can being a deacon or deaconess.  Daily repentance is turning toward the Lord our whole lives to serve Him and His people.  It is in our daily vocations that we can serve and love our neighbors as to Christ Himself, not to save ourselves, Jesus has already done that, but that our neighbor be served and be pointed to the Savior.  Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe did so by charity, hospitality and serving, not waiting for suspect government to help the poor, the stranger, the widow, but actual acts of of corporate mercy.  

Almighty God, You stirred to compassion the hearts of Your dear servants Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe to uphold and sustain Your Church by their devoted and charitable deeds. Give us the same will to love You, open our eyes to see You in the least ones, and strengthen our hands to serve You in others, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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