Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

     Ever since the memorial regarding Time of Grace was sent to the Synod Convention two years ago, I have looked at Time of Grace's Facebook page daily. There have been some extremely concerning posts on there. Here's one from September 16:
"Only the love of Christ heals wounds. Only YOU can decide to let Christ calm your spirit and speak gently about what's hurting you.- PMJ"
Here's another from the day before that:
"Today, focus on letting God work in your heart-and don't be so suspicious of his motives.-PMJ"
Yet another one from September 2:
"Guess what? God guides your daily walk. He cares enough about your life to help you deal with life's toughest questions. Do you feel surrounded by darkness and unsure of what to do? Let him speak to you.- PMJ"
Here's another post from August 13:
"God's there for us when we need him. When we trust in him, we give him the chance to make even an illness work for us and his glory.- PMJ"
And here's another post from August 5:
"When we choose to believe Jesus, we release his blessings into our lives and miracles happen all over again. -PJM"
Here is the most recent one, which is from December 10
"Something to focus on this Christmas season-are you one of the INN crowd or one of the STABLE few? Will you make room for Jesus?"
(The emphasis in the quotes above was added by me and the pictures are from Time of Grace's Facebook page, accessed by my iPod)

Notice something wrong with the underlined words? In every case, there is blatant decision theology. Decision theology is a doctrine that has been condemned by the Lutheran Confessions in the Augsburg Confession article XVIII. It says that "it (man's free will) has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness." The quotes from Time of Grace seem to say the exact opposite! Martin Luther also says in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed that "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him." Since these statements are part of the Confessions with which one must "agree in doctrine and practice" in order to be a member of the WELS, and since Time of Grace's Rev. Mark Jeske is a member of the WELS, shouldn't Time of Grace publications indicate that decision theology is wrong, too?

     Another interesting post has been published on Time of Grace's Facebook page today. This is a link to the Time of Grace blog.  Pastor Jeske posted a list made by Thom Rainer about the top 10 things church members desire in a pastor. The article seems to insinuate that a pastor's success is measured by how well he is "meeting your needs."  The congregation needs to "know" that their pastor "loves" them, otherwise nothing else matters.  But what about preaching the Word of God in its truth and purity? The closest the article comes to expressing this truth is saying that members want their pastors to spend time in the Word, but only in the context of "effective preaching." If he teaches the Word truthfully, isn't that effective? What happened to Isaiah 55:11? God said through Isaiah that "so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."  What if the purpose God desires through a pastor's preaching is to harden sinful hearts?  That probably won't seem very "loving."  Does that make the pastor ineffective?

This article pretty much says a pastor should be charismatic, an "effective" preacher, and love the church.  That's all well and good, but it's not what really matters.  A pastor can love his congregation even when he doesn't seem very "loving" to their sinful, fallen natures.  He can be an effective preacher even if he seems to drone on and on, or sticks to the historic Lectionary rather than following the "real, relevant, and relational" sermon series that are today's hits in American Christianity.  But this article would have us believe that "loving" the congregation and meeting what members feel are their "needs" are the primary goals of a pastor.  That is wrong! The pastor should preach the Word truthfully! It is effective by itself! That is the true and only way that a pastor can be a loving, effective preacher, meeting his congregation's TRUE needs.  In this context, I find it disturbing that Time of Grace would publish this article and find it to be "helpful, fair, and evangelical."

     Does anybody else find this scary?


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Faith is a Cause

There are a multitude of devilish spirits in the Lutheran cyberworld claiming that the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy's opinion concerning faith as a cause or component of justification is, to put it mildly, "incomplete" or "a distortion." Against these pernicious opinions, Pastor Paul Rydecki (of Intrepid Lutherans fame) has offered up a number of citations from the Fathers of the Lutheran Church over at his new(ish) blog, Faith Alone Justifies. I encourage the reader to examine these posts in their entirety, but would specifically like to point out a couple of especially pertinent excerpts.

First, Pr. Rydecki offers an excerpt from The Article of the Gracious Justification of Sinful Man before God, Explained by Means of Questions and Answers by St. Aegidius Hunnius the Elder (1550-1603), one of the chief authors of the Wittenberg Faculty in their campaign against the arch-heretic Samuel Huber and his teaching of Universal Justification.  Hunnius rightly observes:

"How many causes of justification are there?
Three.  First is grace, that is, the gracious favor of God.  Second: The obedience of Christ.  Third: Faith. 
[. . .]
So then, you are making faith a third cause of our justification?
Very much so.  And this together with the Prophets and Apostles, who have set forth that justification of faith illustrated by the example of Abraham (Gen. 15, Rom. 4)."

Unlike the Huberian dogma, which asserted that the justification of the sinner exists whether one believes it or not, Hunnius skillfully enumerates that faith is a very cause of justification, just as the Fathers, blessed Apostles, and holy Patriarchs had before him.  And lest one falsely assumes that St. Hunnius was anomalous in his defense of the Orthodox Lutheran view of justification, Pr. Rydecki has today offered up an excerpt from Theological Assertions Concerning the Justification of Man before God by St. Polycarp Leyser the Elder (1552-1610), of which the following is particularly damning to those arguing against Lutheran Orthodoxy:

"The instrumental cause with regard to us is faith, which acknowledges the fullness of the divine promise about Christ, offered in the Word and sealed in the Sacraments; embraces it with firm assent; and rests in it with great confidence that has no doubt concerning its salvation."

It seems clear that the concept of justification without faith is foreign to the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the Confessors.  Regardless, those claiming the Lutheran moniker today would have us believe that these Fathers of our faith were misguided, misled, and unfamiliar with the very teachings they codified in the Book of Concord.  To borrow an analogy, whose interpretation of the United States Constitution would you expect to be more accurate:  Those who signed it in the 18th Century, or those who interpret it in the 21st?  So too, why would you assume that the 19th-20th Century innovations of people like C.F.W. Walther are more accurate than the Fathers who put together the Book of Concord?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Faith and Act

"Crucifixes and altars, surplice and houseling cloth, [...], private confession and absolution, the spiritual office's power of the keys, [...], were regarded by the Reformed as papistic and idolatrous. [...] Against such massive allegations universally levied from the Calvinistic side, the Lutherans reacted with a stronger recourse to ceremonies, among other things. Indeed, ceremonies became the very means for them to ward off (or unmask) Calvinism. [...] Since in fact liturgical traditions, vestments, church vessels, etc., were immediately removed where ever Calvinism infiltrated or Reformed ideas even gained influence in the church's polity, the reaction which it caused in Lutheran areas was a conscious propensity for ceremonies. Henceforth, therefore, the celebration of an emphatically liturgical service was among the visible signs by which the Lutheran character of confession was demonstrated outwardly."
-- Ernst Walter Zeedon, Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation, p. 117

Wow! Talk about not giving a false impression. Talk about AC XXIV and its Apology beautifully tied together with FC Ep: X, 6. This is as much relevant today as was then. It's good to see and hear of liturgical renewal happening today within Lutheranism against the Reformed traditions and ceremonies -- the same traditions which are being dismissed as "adiaphora" by District Presidents, pastors, and parishioners. What puzzles me is when a person or group of persons (think Synods) claim to be confessional, as to holding the Lutheran Confessions as their own confession, but want to pit the Formula of Concord against the Augsburg Confession (which takes precedent). It's the same as contradicting yourself: "I think cats and dogs are profitable for my well-being and wish to maintain them in my home (pointing to AC XXIV). Well, actually I don't want to do that anymore because I don't have to have cats or dogs in my home (pointing to FC X)." Or: "I think healthy eating and exercise are valuable to my health and I vow to maintain them. Actually, no, I can do whatever I want, so I won't maintain my health."

So how can we, while claiming the Book of Concord as our own confession, reconcile these articles and not contradict ourselves? I submit that we must maintain the ceremonies we have received which don't contradict Scripture (AC XXIV) while understanding that we are always in a state of confession today (not just the Leipzig Interim) and always need to distinguish ourselves from the heretical sects. This is what being a part of the Lutheran Church entails. As we know, doctrine and practice are forever linked: faith and act. Let's act like Lutherans.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ad Orientem!

Some time ago over at Weedon’s Blog, Fr. Weedon posted a series of “Patristic Quotes of the Day”  from St. Basil the Great’s work, De Spiritu Sancto (On the Holy Spirit).  I really liked a number of these citations, so I took some time to read the Saint’s words in their fuller context.  Among the many passages that might strike a Confessional Lutheran as pertinent, one citation immediately jumped out at me when I happened upon it:  “We all look to the East at our prayers, but few of us know that we are seeking our own old country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East. Genesis 2:8” (par. 66). 

This quote adds an interesting dimension to the Ad Orientem (“To the East”) and versus populum (“Toward the People”) discussion.  For those unfamiliar with the dichotomy, in Lutheran parlance they are typically used to describe the direction a pastor faces during the Divine Service.  Ad Orientem means that the pastor is facing toward the Altar (“Liturgical East,” the direction that Altars traditionally face).  Versus poplum, then, refers to celebrating the Divine Service while facing the congregation (typically with a free-standing Altar).  Although the dichotomy is usually used in reference to the Consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, there are some pastors who have taken to praying toward the congregation as well.  

At this point, it should be noted that the Blessed Reformer himself argued that “the altar should not remain where it is, and the priest should always face the people as Christ doubtlessly did in the Last Supper.”   However, it is also true that Lutheran orthopraxy never adopted this liturgical suggestion.  One can find Lutheran Churches throughout the United States equipped with High Altars so ornate and stunning that they rival and surpass Papist altars.  Even country churches of an otherwise Pietistic bent are found to have traditional, against-the-wall, East-facing Altars.   

However, it will not be surprising to those familiar with contemporary Lutheran architecture and practice that freestanding Altars are commonplace.  This was a result of the liturgical “renewals” of the mid-20th Century, which - clinging to the coattails of the Second Vatican Council - saw a number of changes to traditional Lutheran practices.  Mimicking the papists, a three year lectionary was created for Lutheran use.  A new liturgical translation of the Mass was adopted.  And traditional and overly ornate church furnishings and iconography were stripped and replaced with more “modern” styles.

I for one can appreciate the theology behind Luther’s appeal for freestanding Altars.  His focus on the priest’s words being those of Christ to the people, highlighting the Sacramental nature of the Supper (as opposed to the abomination of the papist mass), make sense.   However, these salutary arguments do not seem to be the impetus behind the contemporary use of freestanding Altars.  Rather, the cause of these and other changes appears to be little more than a shameless mimicking of the papist liturgical innovators of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  I do not think this makes a good standard for Liturgical evolution in the Lutheran Church.  Aside from this, there are good, right, and salutary reasons for Consecrating the Blessed Sacrament Ad Orientem. 

Getting back to the St. Basil quote, facing toward the Altar is in no small part a reminder of our “old country.”  St. Basil references Eden, but understanding Eden as a type of the heavenly Paradise is fundamental.  It reminds us that we are in the world, but not of it.  Our kingdom is not an earthly one.  That Paradise to come is the New Jerusalem, also reminding us that we are God’s beloved people, the true and spiritual Israel.  The Old Testament speaks of the Israelites in captivity and foreign lands praying “toward their land which [God] gave to their fathers, the city which [He had] chosen, and toward the temple which [King Solomon] built for [God’s] name” (2 Chronicles 6:38).  We also pray toward the East in remembrance of the fact that the New Jerusalem is the land God has promised us, that Holy City which needs no earthly temple, for the Lord Himself is her Temple and Light.

When it comes to the Consecration of the Sacrament, it is important to remember that the Holy Supper is truly “Heaven on Earth,”  the moment in which Paradise becomes part of our temporal sphere.  It is a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, a precursor to the Parousia.  In the words of St. Paul, it is the way we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).  Fr. Curtis at Gottesdienst Online has a great take on this:   “The case for facing ad orientem is chiefly that it highlights the eschatological nature of the Lord's Supper - ‘proclaiming His death until He comes.’ The whole congregation faces East - awaiting the Risen Lord's return, especially during that greatest miracle of His presence with us in the Supper. In this understanding, it would be very odd indeed for the celebrant to turn his back to liturgical East at just that moment when the drama of the Supper is highest and we want to express the unity of the presence of our Lord in the Supper with our longing for His coming again in power and glory from the direction of the rising sun.”

The fact of the matter is that the Church has faced Ad Orientem for the majority of her existence, as have those claiming the Lutheran moniker.  While an argument can be made for facing versus populum, as a matter of confession against Romanizing influences I think it is wiser and safer to follow the historic precedent of the Church Catholic in facing East toward our Risen Lord as we wait for Him to come again. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Contraception and the Christian Church

*The content of this article will be controversial.  Reader discretion is advised.*

Contraception, often euphemized as “birth control,” is a fairly common practice in contemporary society. People of all stripes and economic conditions utilize contraceptive and sterilizing methods for the purposes of “family planning.”  The result of this prevailing use is that the average number of children in American families is between one and two.  This made growing up in a family with three children seem “large.”  In a world where commercial “family deals” are geared toward families of four, having that fifth member always made things a bit more challenging (but not overly so). Nonetheless, even the parents of my “large” family practiced “family planning,” making the conscious decision to cap the number of children at three.

Most people claiming to be a part of the Lutheran Church don’t make much of this “planning.” It is just seen as another adiaphoron, something that Scripture neither commands nor forbids - open to the discretion of the parents at hand. In this light, I was shocked to discover that, prior to A.D. 1930, all major Christian groups stood in total agreement in their rejection of artificial contraceptive measures. This was shocking due to the simple fact that very few matters of dogma have favored such universal concord in the history of the Church (after all, even a fairly ubiquitous confession like the Nicene Creed has that pesky Filioque clause, which in no small way contributed to the Great Schism, not to mention the many sects that would likely raise an objection to that “one Baptism for the remission of sins” bit).

So what happened in 1930 that changed this supposedly unanimous opinion? The Anglican communion, more recently known for approving the consecration of men (and women!) in same-sex relationships as “bishops,” held its Lambeth Conference (a conference of bishops somewhat equivalent to a Synod Convention). At this conference, it passed an unprecedented resolution, stating that: “in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience” (Resolution 15).

While this pronouncement seems innocuous enough, it was the first time that any major Christian group had even hinted at the acceptability of contraception. Soon after, in March of 1931, a committee of the United States Federal Council of Churches, an ecumenical group comprised of a multiplicity of denominations, also issued a report affirming the use of contraception in marriage. By the 1950s and '60s, nearly all Protestant denominations had defected from teaching that it is wrong for married couples to use contraception.

Okay, so suppose one cedes the point and recognizes the 20th Century as the first time that any Christian sect publicly endorsed the use of contraception. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Reformers and Church Fathers prior to the twentieth century really addressed the topic, does it? After all, contraception is really a modern thing, meant for a world that is already full of people, right? To examine the historic counsel of the Church on this topic, let’s begin with the Blessed Reformer himself, the great Doctor of the Lutheran Church. Following the lead of other Church Fathers and Doctors before him, Luther expounded on contraception in the context of the Biblical story of Onan:

“Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him. And Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.’ But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also” (Genesis 38:6-10).

Under Hebrew law, Onan was required to marry his brother’s widow and produce an heir for him in what was known as a “levirate marriage.” However, Onan didn’t want the responsibility or hassle of raising what would be considered his brother’s son. Still, Onan did not seem to shy away from the other gifts of sexual intercourse, namely the pleasure derived therefrom. So he performed a primitive measure of birth control (coitus interruptus) as a means of ensuring the pleasures of sex without the obligations of procreation. As a result of this action, God slew Onan just as He had killed his brother Er.  While historical critics would argue that the displeasure Onan caused the Lord was due to his disobedience and failure to live up to levirate obligations, patristic testimony argues that the Lord was also incensed by Onan’s use of contraception. It is in this context that the Blessed Reformer writes:

"Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred. Therefore he did not allow himself to be compelled to bear that intolerable slavery. Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore God punished him (Luther's Works: Lectures on Genesis, p. 21).

This is pretty heavy stuff. Not only does Dr. Luther condemn contraception, but he calls it a “Sodomitic sin,” placing it in a category even more heinous than adultery and incest.  That sure doesn't sound like the realm of adiaphora.  But let’s be honest: the Blessed Reformer sometimes said things that are less than germane. Surely his views are anomalous among Lutheran theologians.  

In point of fact, Luther was not alone throughout the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy in condemning contraception. Sts. Chemnitz and Gerhard, often lauded as the second and third in that great counsel of Lutheran theologians “of which there is no fourth,” also have interesting things to say on this topic.  In the Second Volume of his Loci Theologici, Chemnitz offers commentary on the fifth commandment, specifically mentioning contraception in his discussion of the evils of abortion:

"In the Decalog it simply says, 'Thou shalt not kill,' without mentioning either the instruments or the circumstances of the crime. In Judg. 20:5 the wife of the Levite who was ravished by a mob of Gibeanites was said to have been murdered. Pertinent here also are those things which hinder conception, Gen. 38:9. Likewise, the matter of destroying the fetus in the womb, Ex. 21:22, 'If a pregnant woman is struck. . . .'”

Likewise, in his commentary on Genesis, St. Gerhard opines:

 “Most Hebrew and Christian Interpreters conclude that the sin of Er was of the same type as the sin of Onan, which they call effeminacy. Augustine in book 22, Against Faust Chap. 84. concluded that this Er had sinned in this offense severely, because that sin impedes conception and destroys the foetus in its own seed. God detests and punishes shameful acts. Shortness-of-life for the wicked is the punishment of sins. The sin of effeminacy and voluntary pouring out of seed is contrary to nature: this in itself is compared by the Hebrews to homicide. Thomas argues that this is more serious than homicide.”

These citations from the three greatest Lutheran theologians seem to unequivocally demonstrate an early Lutheran paradigm that viewed contraception in very sinful terms - as something almost worse than murder.  But the paradigm goes back even further.  The quote from St. Gerhard alludes to the following citation from St. Augustine:

"And why has Paul said: 'If he cannot control himself, let him marry'? Surely, to prevent incontinence from constraining him to adultery. If then, he practices continence, neither let him marry nor beget children. However, if he does not control himself, let him enter into lawful wedlock, so that he may not beget children in disgrace or avoid having offspring by a more degraded form of intercourse. There are some lawfully wedded couples who resort to this last, for intercourse, even with one's lawfully wedded spouse, can take place in an unlwful and shameful manner, whenever the conception of offspring is avoided. Onan, the son of Juda, did this very thing, and the Lord slew him on that account. Therefore, the procreation of children is itself the primary, natural, legitimate purpose of marraige. Whence it follows that those who marry because of their inability to remain continent ought not to so temper their vice that they preclude the good marriage, which is the procreation of children."

I could pad this post with paragraph upon paragraph of Church Father after Church Father demonstrating a clear and unabridged condemnation of contraception in the history of the Church, but other sites have done this already. The venerable blog Lutherans and Procreation summarizes a helpful list of Fathers and their works:  “St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (c. 339-397), Hexameron, 5.18.58; Athenagoras of Athens, Letter to Marcus Aurelius in 177, Legatio pro Christianis ("Supplication for the Christians"), page 35; St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430), De Nuptius et Concupiscus ("On Marriage and Concupiscence"), 1.17; Barnabas (c. 70-138), Epistle, Volume II, page 19; St. Basil the Great, First Canonical Letter, Canon 2 (A.D. 374); Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (470-543), Sermons, 1.12; Clement of Alexandria, "The Father of Theologians" (c. 150-220), Christ the Educator, Volume II, page 10. Also see Octavius, c.30, nn. 2-3; Ephraem the Syrian, De Timore Dei, page 10; St. Jerome, Letter to Eustochium, 22.13 (A.D. 396); St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 24 (A.D. 391); Letter of Barnabas 19 (A.D. 74); Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies (A.D. 228); Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6:20 (A.D. 307); Minucius Felix, Octavius, 30 (A.D. 226); Origen of Alexandria (185-254), Against Heresies, page 9; Tertullian, Apology, 9:8 (A.D. 197), and The Soul, 25,27 (A.D. 210).”

One could spend months examining each of these passages and finding others like them, but the point of this post is to simply prove to the reader that the Church - indeed, believers even before the birth of Christ all the way through the Reformation - have always taught against contraception.

This will likely be shocking to individuals raised in a society where contraception is almost as common as chewing gum. After all, how can something be wrong when pastors not only fail to condemn it, but routinely advocate it as “good stewardship” and utilize it themselves?

Ultimately, in this author’s opinion, all of this stems from a societal paradigm that does not value children. We value ease, convenience, comfort, and self-obsession. If having another child means I have to have a few hundred less channels on cable, well, that is just a sacrifice I am unable to make.

Against the philophy, Holy Writ offers plenty of passages highlighting the blessings - and command - of procreation. The most prominent of these is Genesis 1:27-28:

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

The Augsburg Confession tells us that this means "God created man for procreation" (XXIII:5) and, in contrast to the papists who argued that this command is no longer valid since the earth has been “filled,” the Apology contends:
“First, Gen. 1:28 teaches that men were created to be fruitful, and that one sex in a proper way should desire the other. [. . .] The nature of men is so formed by the word of God that it is fruitful not only in the beginning of the creation, but as long as this nature of our bodies will exist [. . .]
Secondly, And because this creation or divine ordinance in man is a natural right, jurists have accordingly said wisely and correctly that the union of male and female belongs to natural right. But since natural right is immutable, the right to contract marriage must always remain. For where nature does not change, that ordinance also with which God has endowed nature does not change, and cannot be removed by human laws. Therefore it is ridiculous for the adversaries to prate that marriage was commanded in the beginning, but is not now" (XXIII:7, 8, 9).

In this light, the first chapter of Genesis marks the beginning of a biblical paradigm that not only promotes procreation, but commands it. The Genesis account shows that procreation was one of the primary purposes of the creation of man and an immutable command given to the same.

Another excellent passage showing the blessings that God ascribes to having children is found in Psalm 127, where the Psalmist writes:
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”

Passages such  as this confirm the Scriptural frame of mind instituted in Genesis, showing that children are one of the greatest blessings that God bestows on marriage. In a society of families with 1.8 children, the Church’s philosophy toward children is less than amicable. I mean, a “quiver full?” I could barely get by growing up with two siblings! What if I had four, or seven, or - heaven forbid! - ten!?

It is easy to point a finger at others. It is easy to recognize the widespread sins that plague other people. Homosexuality, for example, is easy to rally against for those who aren’t tempted by same-sex attractions. With St. Paul we can stand and condemn the sexual perversion and corruption highlighted in Romans 1, which seems almost prophetic in its description of the very sort of reality that exists in our society. But most are not wont to read on through chapter 2, where the Blessed Apostle warns: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?”

Yes, it is easy to condemn and abhor evil in others, because we think by judging the evil in others we are creating piety in ourselves. It is easy to judge those living in sexual perversions that the majority of people do not have to deal with.  It is easy to stand with the Church Catholic throughout the ages in condemning a sin like homosexuality.  But it's not so easy to stand with the Church Catholic and condemn a sin that far more "normal" people engage in without second thought.  Unfortunately, this kind of self-righteous hypocrisy will not justify us before God, and more often than not it doesn’t do a very good job of making us appear righteous before others either.

The only thing that will justify us before God is faith in the all-atoning life and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He had a human body with human desires and temptations. But He lived a life of perfect chastity in place of our sexual perversions. He lived a perfect life in every way that we could not, keeping the Law in all its finger-pointing totality. And for all His perfection, the sins of the entire world were laid upon Him - ever single act of extramarital sex, every abortion, every murder, every lie, and yes, every intra-marital case of unchastity.

This Great Substitution offers total perfection to those who have faith in Christ and His promises. But the story doesn’t end there. Those who have been justified are also sanctified. We are regenerate. The old has gone, the new has come! Shall those dead to sin live in it any longer?

We need to consider the witness of our Fathers in the faith as they confessed the Sacred Scriptures, the only authority over the Church. Can this authority have spoken one truth for over two thousand years, only to reveal another in the last 80?

Post-Script:  It should be noted, of course, that there are people for whom conceiving children is impossible or highly dangerous to mother and/or child.  This post is not written with the so-called "hard cases" in mind.  For more information concerning these cases, you should seek the counsel of your pastor.  I would also like to recommend to the reader the exceptional work of Fr. Heath R. Curtis, who has written an excellent treatise entitled "Should Christian Couples Use Contraception?", which in no small way provided inspiration for this post.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Elephant in the Room - Romans 4:25

This is the second in a series of posts that seek to present key passages pertaining to the doctrine of Justification by comparing the statements of contemporary authors with the patristic writings of the the Church Catholic. It's by no means exhaustive; if it were, there would be far too many quotations for a simple blog post. But I hope it brings to mind a number of important questions: "Why is there so much disconnect? Why do the interpretations of these passages appear to completely contradict and disagree with one another?" (The first and third posts can be found here and here, respectively)

-- Exegesis of Romans 4:25 by contemporary sources --

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932)

Francis Pieper
"God no longer looks upon sinful man with wrath, but 'before His divine tribunal' forgives the sins of mankind, does not impute their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. 5:19). 'By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life' (Rom. 5:18). And this reconciliation is, as has been shown, complete and perfect, extensively and intensively, for we certainly have no right to restrict the meaning of of either the terms 'world' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'all men' (Rom. 5:18) or the terms 'not imputing their trespasses' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'justification' (Rom. 5:18). Nor do these passages speak merely of a new relation between God and man, but they state definitely that God’s action produced the new relation, God’s action in not imputing their sins unto men, in forgiving them their sins, in justifying men in His heart, this is the meaning of objective reconciliation, as taught in 2 Cor. 5:19, Rom. 5:18; 5:10; 4:25. (CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, by Francis Pieper, Volume 2, pages 398 & 399)

"The resurrection of Christ, is as Holy Writ teaches, the actual absolution of the whole world of sinners. Rom. 4: 25: 'Who was raised for our justification.'”
(CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, by Francis Pieper, Volume 2, page 348)

Siegbert Becker
"...all men were justified when He was justified (Ro 4:25)."
"Universal Justification," p. 5 [A paper delivered at the convention of the Southeast Wisconsin District of the WELS on June 12, 1984 at Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin]

-- Exegesis of Romans 4:25 in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Statements from Orthodox Lutheran Fathers --

St. Augustine
" in His resurrection saves and justifies us. For, If you shall believe, he says, in your heart, that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; and again, Who was delivered, he says, for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

"And in his case the expiation of this was signified by the circumcision of the eighth day, that is, by the sacrament of the Mediator who was to be incarnate. For it was through this same faith in Christ, who was to come in the flesh, and was to die for us, and on the third day (which coming after the seventh or Sabbath day, was to be the eighth) to rise again, that even holy men were saved of old. For He was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. Ever since circumcision was instituted among the people of God, which was at that time the sign of the righteousness of faith, it availed also to signify the cleansing even in infants of the original and primitive sin, just as baptism in like manner from the time of its institution began to be of avail for the renewal of man. Not that there was no justification by faith before circumcision; for even when he was still in uncircumcision, Abraham was himself justified by faith, being the father of those nations which should also imitate his was the self-same faith in the Mediator which saved the saints of old, both small and great....For as we believe that Christ has come in the flesh, so they believed that He was to come; as, again, we believe that He has died, so they believed that He would die; and as we believe that He has risen from the dead, so they believed that He would rise again; while both we and they believe alike, that He will hereafter come to judge the quick and the dead."
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series,Vol. 5. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.<>.

"Therefore we observe Easter in such a manner as not only to recall the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ to remembrance, but also to find a place for all the other things which, in connection with these events, give evidence as to the import of the sacrament. For since, as the apostle wrote, He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification, Romans 4:25 a certain transition from death to life has been consecrated in that Passion and Resurrection of the Lord....This passing from death to life is meanwhile wrought in us by faith, which we have for the pardon of our sins and the hope of eternal life..."
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

"...according to the prophetic declaration quoted by Paul, "The just shall live by faith." This is our justification. Even Pagans believe that Christ died. But only Christians believe that Christ rose again. "If you confess with your mouth," says the apostle, "that Jesus is the Lord, and believest in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." Romans 10:9 Again, because we are justified by faith in Christ's resurrection, the apostle says, "He died for our offenses, and rose again for our justification." Romans 4:25 And because this resurrection by faith in which we are justified was prefigured by the circumcision of the eighth day, the apostle says of Abraham, with whom the observance began, "He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith." Romans 4:11"
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

Luther's Commentary on Romans
"Who was delivered for our offences (4:25). Christ's death is the death of sin, and His resurrection is the raising up of righteousness. For by His death Christ has atoned for our sins, and through His resurrection He has procured for us righteousness."
Luther, Martin, and John Theodore Mueller. Commentary on Romans. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1976. 87. Print.

Luther as found in the Lutheran Confessions
"That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25....Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us..."
(SA, II, 1)

Philip Melanchthon as quoted in Chemnitz's Loci Theologici
"...the Gospel everywhere orders us to believe that the Son of God died for our sins, as it says [in] Rom. 4:24-25, so we must consider also this: Through the Son is access to God, Rom. 5:2.
Chemnitz, Martin. Chemnitz's Works. Vol. 8. Saint Louis: Concordia Publ. House, 2007. 904. Print.

Martin Chemnitz
"Here belong the passages of Scripture which clearly speak of merit, such as Rom. 4:25: 'He was put to death for our sins and raised for our righteousness'...We have cited these testimonies to demonstrate that Christ alone has made satisfaction for all our sins, for guilt and for punishment, so that there is nothing remaining for us to suffer or to make satisfaction for in expiating our sins....Here are pertinent those passages which say that the Father justifies believers for the sake of His Son the Mediator, e.g., 2 Cor. 5:18: 'He has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ'..."
Chemnitz, Martin. Chemnitz's Works. Vol. 8. Saint Louis: Concordia Publ. House, 2007. 1027-028. Print.

"In what, then, does justification of man the sinner before God consist according to the statement of the Gospel?This very thing, that God imputes to us the righteousness of the obedience and death of Christ the Mediator and thus justifies us freely out of grace, without our works or merits, alone by faith that apprehends the grace of God the Father and the merit of Christ; that is, He forgives us [our] sins, receives [us] into grace, adopts [us] as [His] sons, and receives [us] to the inheritance of life eternal. Ro 4:24-25, 28; 4:5; 10:4; Gl 3:24; Eph 2:8-9; Tts 3:5-7."
Chemnitz, Martin. Chemnitz's Works. Vol. 5. Saint Louis: Concordia Publ. House, 2007. 72-73. Print.

"Therefore righteousness and salvation is not of our works, but of the merit of Christ alone. Ro 3:24; 4:25; 10:4. Likewise it is the grace and free gift of God. Ro 6:23. But the means or instrument of apprehension and application is faith alone. Ro 3:22, 28; 4:5."
Chemnitz, Martin. Chemnitz's Works. Vol. 5. Saint Louis: Concordia Publ. House, 2007. 82. Print.

"Since, then, faith instructed by the Word of God knows that it cannot find such righteousness—either in the nature or in any of the most sanctified life of any man, or in any other creature—by which a man might be justified before God, it therefore apprehends, in the Word and the Sacraments, Christ the Mediator with His most holy obedience and most innocent death, by which He satisfied the Law for us, having formed the resolute conviction that this is the true and only righteousness that avails and stands before God. And faith meets the judgment of God with this righteousness, wishing, desiring, praying, and in true confidence believing that because of it a sinner is justified by God, that is, absolved of sins, received into grace, and given life eternal. And since this righteousness of Christ, rendered for us, is perfect, sufficient and abundant and can stand before the judgment seat of God, therefore God has promised that He would impute it to believers just as if they rendered it themselves. Ro 3:22; 4:23–25; 5:18. And thus believers absolutely have, not indeed in themselves, but in Christ, true and genuine righteousness, through which they are justified before God."
Chemnitz, Martin. Chemnitz's Works. Vol. 5. Saint Louis: Concordia Publ. House, 2007. 74. Print.

God's Service, Our Service, or Our Own Entertainment?

The following is part of what my response was going to be to a series of comments where a video was linked. It is apparently a clip from a WELS church's Easter service. The partial comment is as follows:

That video is absolutely disgusting. There's no altar so I'm assuming (I could be wrong) that there was no Sacrament of the Altar on Easter. If you're going to have the Sacrament of the Altar at all, the most perfect time to have it would be on Easter -- wow. The clapping at the end just solidifies the whole reason they're there. Now yes, I already know what you (plural) are thinking -- I don't know their hearts. But based off of the confession that they gave, i.e. clapping after that amazing guitar rift and rock out, they show that they are there to listen to the music; I mean why else would they leave their "traditional" churches for the "relevant" ones (statistically speaking)? They are there for the music and in the process they lose focus on the Sacraments and what they deliver -- just what the devil wants. It's thoroughly saddening. That pastor needs to reconsider what he is doing; he is misleading sheep whether he knows it or not -- putting an emphasis on their praise, what they do, rather than letting God feed His sheep.

I also find it bittersweet that they have the Lutheran Confessions linked on their "What We Believe" page of their website. It's awesome, I love it, and quite frankly it's rare for a WELS church's website (especially ones like this church). But what's foul is the thought of what they'd do when someone actually reads AC XXIV of the Lutheran Confessions and asks the pastor why they are the opposite from that. Or even worse, read Ap IV, 49 and realize they don't reflect that. What does the pastor say then? It's truly sad watching such a thing especially because most are now taught that doctrine and practice aren't related. I would never recommend such a church to anyone. It is soul destroying. I know too many people (WELS mostly) who are burnt out thinking worship is all about their praise. What these people really need is the forgiveness delivered to them through the Sacraments on a very regular basis. Let Christ come to you! Let Him forgive you! Let Him be in control! He's always been in control of your salvation. He has called you, enlightened you, and wishes to sanctify you! Let Him forgive and sustain you at worship (hence the fitting term "Divine Service" or "God's Service" [German: Gottesdienst])! He doesn't want or need your works of praise (Ap IV, 49). They're like filthy rags anyway (Isaiah 64:6). Let Him cleanse you and sustain you with his Life giving Word and Sacraments and let us humbly and reverently receive Him while He does (Hebrews 12:28). Run from churches that are focused on your praise and discipleship and flee to churches that reverently focus on and receive Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, Sunday to Sunday -- Christ for you, not you for Christ.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Walking Together?

I think that yesterday, January 15, had one of the most pathetic chapel services I have seen in my short time in high school. The entire 16 minutes consisted of watching the December edition of the WELS Connection and hearing the presenter talk about the great fellowship we have in the WELS. It's nice to think we have perfect fellowship in the WELS, but do we really have such a thing?

I think that all the blogs in our synod are just one proof that we really don't have that amazing fellowship. There have been references to them in synod papers and conventions, and they haven't been good references either. This blog has even seen an author been threatened because his name was listed on it! It seems as if there are two completely different sides. One side supports blogs such as Ecclesia Augustana, while the other condemns it!

Another obvious flaw in this supposedly perfect fellowship is worship. On one side is the historical, liturgical, Confessional Lutheran service with the grand music of the organ. The flip side embraces the carefree, let's-all-be-happy-and-feel-good "worship experiences" with praise bands. One example of the huge differences can be found in just one city! If you were to go to Appleton, Wisconsin, you would find one WELS church using a confessional service with an organ, while one just down the street would have a praise band and popcorn! In the WELS we seem to try and think both are completely fine. Apparently they are just "different ways of doing the same thing." I think that is a false statement. We can't say that we are Confessional Lutherans while holding "worship experiences" that are the same as those found at the local Baptist or Televangelist church!

Of course, there are many other examples demonstrating how the WELS is not in complete fellowship. I think we should stop kidding ourselves. There is no synod-wide fellowship. There may be fellowships between individual churches, but to say every church in the synod is in complete agreement in doctrine and practice is ridiculous. There never will be any perfect fellowship because we are sinful. According to the character Camerlengo in the fictional work Angels and Demons, "Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed." I think this applies to fellowship as well as religion. It is nice to think that the WELS enjoys perfect fellowship between every church in the synod, but I hope that this article has shown you that this is not the case.

--------------ABOUT THE AUTHOR--------

My name is Bryan Lidtke, and I am a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. I am currently a sophomore in high school, and as such, the youngest writer on this blog. I am an avid baseball fan and plan to pursue a career in baseball (not as a player). I am also a Confessional Lutheran, and I will do my best to write truthfully. Please correct me, according to Scripture, if I am ever wrong on something!