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Posts Tagged ‘Lutheranism’

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Aside from Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz (1522-86) is regarded as the most important theologian in the history of the Lutheran Church. Chemnitz combined a penetrating intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and the Church Fathers with a genuine love for the Church. When various doctrinal disagreements broke out after Luther’s death in 1546, Chemnitz determined to give himself fully to the restoration of unity in the Lutheran Church. He became the leading spirit and principal author of the 1577 Formula of Concord, which settled the doctrinal disputes on the basis of Scripture and largely succeeded in restoring unity among Lutherans. Chemnitz also authored the four-volume Examination of the Council of Trent (1565-73), in which he rigorously subjected the teachings of this Roman Catholic Council to the judgment of Scripture and the ancient Church Fathers. The Examination became the definitive Lutheran answer to the Council of Trent, as well as a thorough exposition of the faith of the Augsburg Confession. A theologian and a churchman, Chemnitz was truly a gift of God to the Church. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Pastor Chemnitz has been called “The Second Martin”, in terms of his importance in the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church.  He is the principal author of The Formula of Concord, the last of the Confessions in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of Lutheran Church.  The Formula has two parts the Epitome and the Solid Declaration.  The Epitome is like that word, it is the epitome,the summation, kind of a Reader’s Digest of the confession.  The Solid Declaration is the unedited document. 8,188 theologians, ministers and teachers signed the Solid Declaration.  On June 25, 1580, the complete Book of Concord was put on sale:  exactly 50 years after the Presentation and reading  of the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V. The Book of Concord was complete and it is still the complete and correct exposition of the Word of God.

A Lutheran pastor vows to teach, preach and administer in accordance with The Confessions as they are the true exposition of the Scriptures, the Word of God.  A repeated phrase throughout the Formula is:  “We believe, teach and confess…”   This begins the affirmative theses.  Then there are the negative theses in which the Confessors condemn false doctrine. Post-moderns do not like this.  Post-moderns base their understanding of truth on what they experience and feel, our ‘free’ will…and such is a slippery slope, a Gadarene slide into the abyss ( Matthew 8:  28-31).  Saving faith is based upon sound doctrine.  “This doctrine is founded upon the Word of God…” (Solid Declaration , Article II, Free Will, paragraph 28, Tappert). 

An example from the Formula by Martin Chemnitz on the ‘we believe, teach and confess” is on Holy Communion based upon the Word of God. I have heard  many a person and have read many a book asserting  that they teach is “Biblical, nondenominational, non-sectarian Christianity” and then go on to  deny the Sacraments, such as Holy Communion as mere memorial, the Sacrament of the ‘divine absence’, not Presence.  His Body and Blood is for the weak and the trembling in faith to be strengthened as we repent, and turn toward the Lord and not ourselves!   Here is a quote from  The Formula of Concord, authored by Pr. Chemnitz on the Lord’s Supper for the strengthening of the true Faith:

“…it must [also] be carefully explained who are the unworthy guests of this Supper, namely, those who go to this Sacrament without true repentance and sorrow for their sins, and without true faith and the good intention of amending their lives, and by their unworthy oral eating of the body of Christ load themselves with damnation, that is, with temporal and eternal punishments, and become guilty of the body and blood of Christ.

69] For Christians who are of weak faith, diffident, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the greatness and number of their sins, and think that in this their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and the benefits of Christ, and who feel and lament their weakness of faith, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience, they are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament [and sacred feast] has been especially instituted and appointed; 70] as Christ says, Matt. 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Also Matt. 9:12: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that be sick. Also [ 2 Cor. 12:9 ]: God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Also [ Rom. 14:1 ]: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye [ Rom 14:3 ], for God hath received him. For whosoever believeth in the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith, has eternal life [ John 3:15f. ].

71] And worthiness does not depend upon great or small weakness or strength of faith, but upon the merit of Christ, which the distressed father of little faith [ Mark 9:24 ] enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith.”

 Let us pray…

Lord, God heavenly Father, through the teaching of Martin Chemnitz, You prepare us for the coming of Your Son to lead home His Bride, the Church, that with all the company of the redeemed we may finally enter in to His eternal wedding feast; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Revelation 7

6 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. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The photo is of the pulpit above the Altar (!)  in the city of  Erlangen‘s Neustaedter-Kirche.  The first time I saw a similar pulpit suspended above an Altar was in a mid 20th century Lutheran sanctuary in Berlin.  I worshiped in a late 20th Century Lutheran sanctuary in the USA in which  the pulpit, altar and font are all connected,  As the pastor in Berlin commented:  They wanted to emphasize the centrality of the Word of God!  Yes, Amen!  Orthodox priest and professor, Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote the Word is sacramental as the sacraments are of the Word.  I think that is a very orthodox Lutheran understanding of Word and Sacrament.  Tomorrow is All Saints Sunday and the Gospel is the beginning of  the Lord’s  Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.  Where Christ is proclaimed for the blessing of the poor  in spirit, and His Sacraments for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. There is Mount Zion and the angels support the Word for us, for faith to take hold of again, for our salvation.  Give thanks for all His saints in your lives tomorrow,  in joyful remembrance of those who have died who shared the pilgrimage.

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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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Here  is an excellent article A Journey to Lutheranism by L. Koch, posted at The Lutheran Forum that is witness to the true preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

This reminds me of one the videos on the page above:   Concordia Lutheran Mission:  About the Faith.  This video was done for The Wittenberg Trail:

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Richard John Neuhaus (a Lutheran pastor who later became a Roman Catholic priest) made popular the notion in Lutheran theological circles that the Lutheran Church is a “reforming movement” within the Catholic Church.  Pr Lou Smith of blessed memory, once said to me in response, “Mark, I was not baptized into a ‘movement’, but into the one holy, catholic and apostolic church”.  His comment turned me around the right way.

In a similar vein, I have an almost visceral reaction to the word “Lutheranism”.  Many good pastors and theologians will write about “Lutheranism” with great eloquence.  But we were not baptized into an “ism”, but the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, always being reformed by the Scriptures and within the written Word, His Law and Gospel. We are not merely adherents to a ‘system’, but baptized into Christ’s own body where Justification by grace through Faith in Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone.  The photo above on this blog is not of either an “ism” or a movement.  Yes, those who speak of the Church in those terms are well-meaning but it is not Biblical.   One famous evangelical said the Church was like a hospital.  Folks can nod their head in assent.  After all Jesus Himself compared Himself to a physician ( Matthew 9:11-13).   But I don’t know about you:  when you’re in a hospital, what’s the one thing you want to do?  Not be there!  Go home! Not once in the Bible is there that comparison.  When we are part of His Church we are home.  As one pastor said in a different context that it does not do well to import into the Church and theology other images and pictures besides the Biblical metaphors and similes.  By such importation, we can get way off the mark, even to remaking His Body into our own preferred picture:  see Liberal ProtestantISM.  And we can wander into abstractions, or church as partisan politics, instead of the  real picture. But indeed, to those who have been washed and believe, by the work of the Holy Spirit,  are part of Christ Jesus’ Body, with all it’s pain and joy, the real picture, icon:

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12)

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