Friday, December 30, 2011

Luther on Examining Ourselves for Communion

My thanks to Scott Diekmann at Stand Firm for this content.  What he posted from Martin Luther (as found in Logia, Vol I, No, 1) was too good not to share.

To examine one’s self means to consider well in what condition we are.  If we find that our hearts are hardened, that we are not willing to refrain from sin, and that we do not fear its presence, then we may well conclude that we should not go to the Sacrament; for we are then no Christians.  The best thing we could do, under such circumstances, would be to put a stop to such wickedness, to repent, to trust faithfully in the promises and mercy of God, and to unite again with Christians in the participation of the Holy Sacrament.  If, however, we are unwilling to do this, we ought not to approach the Lord’s Table; for we would surely eat and drink damnation there.  Let us carefully meditate upon what eternity has in store for us, if we thus fall under the judgment of God.  If we are mindful of this, we will not be slow to repent, to put aside anger and other kinds of wickedness, and to make our peace with God in His Holy Supper.  Again, if our hearts are contrite, if we confess our sins before God and are heartily sorry on account of them, if we believe that God in mercy, for Christ’s sake, will pardon us, then we are well prepared and can confidently say to the Savior: “O Lord, we are poor sinners, and therefore come to Your table to receive consolation.”  If we approach the Sacrament in such a spirit, we shall be truly ready and receive the richest blessings.  In behalf of such contrite and sorrowing souls the Lord’s Table was prepared, so that they might find there consolation and joy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Do You Offer Your Sacrifices?

The New Testament states that Christians are to offer up sacrifices with a spiritual character as acts of worship to God.  Is that we we present our sacrifices?  What is the motive?

Arnobius of Sicca was extremely critical of the sacrificial system set up amongst the pagans for their gods.  Some have already been mentioned (see here and here), but now he asks if there are laws handed down from deities which would tell why and in what manner the sacrificial worship is to be conducted.
But neither do I demand … that I should be told what causes the gods have for their anger against men, that having taken offense they must be soothed.  I do ask, however: did they ever ordain any laws for mortals?  And was it ever settled by them what it was fitting for them to do or not do, what they should pursue, what avoid; or even by what means they wished themselves to be worshiped, so that they might pursue with the vengeance of their wrath what was done otherwise than they had commanded, and might be disposed, if treated contemptuously, to avenge themselves on the presumptuous and transgressors?  As I think, nothing was ever either settled or ordained by them, since neither have they been seen, nor has it been possible for it to be discerned very clearly whether there are any.  What justice is there, then, in the gods of heaven being angry for any reason with those to whom they have neither deigned at any time to show that they existed, nor given nor imposed any laws which they wished to be honored by them and perfectly observed?
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 7

He raises an interesting question: If a deity does not give commands concerning proper conduct or worship, can that one be justly offended for unknown misconduct which would require a propitious sacrifice?  This question has parallels for Christians since the Paul makes a similar argument:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. (Rom 5:12-13)

Though death was a consequence of Adam's sin being meted out through his progeny, sin was not reckoned because no law was established.  Where there is no law, no command statute has been breached, ergo no trespass which should bear the consequence of righteous indignation.  If no offense is rightfully incurred, no propitiating sacrifice can be expected. This leads Arnobius to conclude:
It has been established that sacrifices are offered in vain for this purpose then, viz., that the angry deities may be soothed; since reason has taught us that the gods are not angry at any time, and that they do not wish one thing to be destroyed, to be slain for another, or offenses against themselves to be annulled by the blood of an innocent creature.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 9

This summary may be surprising for in that it appears that the Lord God of heaven and earth was wrong to require any type of sacrifice for sin, whether law was established or not.  Such is not the case.  With the giving of the Law, the Lord our God also gave in great mercy and justice the sacrifices which would atone for sin and transgression.  Every bloody offering had an atoning aspect whether for the inadvertent wrongdoing or given as a freewill offering of worship or fellowship.

Within the pagan cultus, there was no category for atonement.  All was given to try and influence the deities for that day and circumstance with no thought to walking in fellowship with them as a beloved or special people.  Arnobius finally states plainly that the people are doing no more than bribing their gods to gain some selfish favor.
This point, however, because it would require too tedious and prolix discussion, we hurry past unexplained and untouched, content to have stated this alone, that you give to your gods dishonorable reputations if you assert that on no other condition do they bestow blessings and turn away what is injurious, except they have been first bought over with the blood of she-goats and sheep, and with the other things which are put upon their altars.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 12

So I return to my first question.  Why do you and I present our sacrifices to the Lord Almighty?  Are we trying to garner some favor for a business deal, difficult circumstance, wisdom in a decision; or are we humbly offering "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ?" (1 Pet 2:5)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Putting the Lord First in Confession

There is a spectrum of belief concerning the acts of confession and absolution as to who may hear a confession and to what degree absolution may be considered effectual when pronounced in God's stead.  In an article addressing the confidentiality issues when someone hears confessed sin(s), Craig Meissner makes the following points.
If a confessor does not intend to keep the seal absolutely confidential, he is likely weak in faith, or his doctrine of justification is likely inconsistent, and so could easily likewise mislead or harm the faith of any penitent who would approach him.  When a confession is not held in absolute confidentiality, any of the following is suggested to the penitent, however subtle:
    1.The word of absolution is not fully sufficient for forgiveness.
    2.Christ has not necessarily died for or perfectly forgives all sins.
    3.Certain sins and sinners are somehow more or less damnable before God.
    4.There is no authority or office for truly forgiving sins on earth, but that forgiveness is only something for which one may hope to have as a reality before God in heaven.
    5.That the church is made up of and led by only those who are morally superior.
    6.One believes one can and must be the actor in changing his or her own destiny, including his own fate before God eternally.
Similarly, if a penitent is required first to be willing to reveal his sinful intentions or actions to neighbors or other authorities before coming to confession, then confession and absolution is not understood as being the place where the ungodly are justified.  If reporting sins to the government or other earthly authorities is first required before confession, this also suggests to the penitent that the government is a higher authority than Christ’s word and church also in regard to dealing with sin. *
My interest was stimulated by the high regard for the Lord and his word expected of the Christian hearing a confession.  I say this because I know of many instances where absolution or forgiveness was not extended to the penitent until there was full restitution, a period of penance, or both: upon which the matter becomes public without the confessor breaking the trust of confidentiality.  But where is the scriptural precedent for this requirement?  If someone who has sinned makes confession, scripture plainly states that God "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).  Before God the sins are reckoned as forgiven.  Before the wronged parties the same should be said, though we realize this is not always the case.  Either way there should be no man-made precursor.

This does not mean that restitution should not be made or consequences not suffered.  After confession is made before the aggrieved party or parties, the true penitent will set matters right to the best of his ability.  It will be a natural response of the humbled heart before God.  The confessor should instruct that action be taken as quickly as possible and not act as intermediary unless requested—and even then with much wisdom and discretion.

What of the person who admits he or she has sinned but refuses any attempt to make proper restitution and seeks to avoid the consequences?  In this matter the person making an admission was in no way speaking out of a spirit of repentance.  Forgiveness and absolution are neither actually expected by the so-called penitent or given by God.  There is no obligation for the confessor to maintain confidentiality.  The full weight of condemnation should be brought to bear on the matter with the hope that the person will repent and deal justly.

* Craig A. Meissner, "The Seal of the Confessional and Maintenance of Confidentiality in Pastoral Practice," Logia XX, No. 3 (Holy Trinity 2011): 25-33.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On a Personal Note

Some may be wondering where I have been.  Besides December being the busiest month for Sandi and me in social calendar, I have also been working from home each evening—a mixed blessing of the internet age.  Two drafts have been started and others are swirling around in my mind, but there is no time for coherent thought along those lines.

Now if readers would just pay me to stay home and write posts . . .

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rejoicing in God as He Rejoices in Us

Praise is, in fact, one of the sacrifices that please [God] most of all (Heb 13:15-16).  What’s more, he has created the church as his choir to stand before him and praise him. He has appointed us as his praise singers for the good of the world and its people, for through our praise he reveals his glory and his grace to suspicious people in a fallen world.  When we sing our songs of praise in the divine service we preach the gospel with the whole of our being to each other and the world.  Our praises disclose the mystery of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who reaches out to us in word and sacrament, to fill us with the Holy Spirit and give us access to God the Father.  In praise the church not only announces that heaven has come to earth in Jesus; it also receives a foretaste of heaven as it gives thanks and adores the triune God.  So then, by praising God we enjoy him and share our enjoyment of him with others.  That’s why God is so pleased with our orthodoxy, our right praise of him.  We rejoice in him as he rejoices in us.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Praise Transforms the Worshiper

We are transformed as we praise the triune God.  As sinners we are turned in on ourselves and seek our own glory.  Like Narcissus we admire ourselves and boast of our achievements.  But praise of God changes our orientation, the idolization of ourselves.  It takes us out of ourselves and opens us up to the glory of God.  As we contemplate and glorify our Lord Jesus, we too are glorified (2 Cor 3:18).  We become what we are meant to be, people who reflect the glory of our Creator.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Friday, December 9, 2011

No Contribution Possible

Justification takes place by grace through faith—not because of any good qualities inherent in faith.  In justification, it is not the person's faith that is taken into consideration, but the fact that Jesus Christ has redeemed the entire world.  Justification is based on the fact that Jesus has already done what was necessary as has suffered all that mankind ought to have done and suffered, and that people merely have to accept this.  Therefore, the way to salvation is this: We contribute nothing—absolutely nothing—toward our salvation.  Rather, Christ has already done everything for us, and we must merely cling to what he has done, drawing consolation from His finished work of redemption and trusting in it for our salvation.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 244

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Judging the Judge

Americans have a love-hate relationship with those who are called to adjudicate between competing factions whether on a sports field, stage, courtroom, etc.  When a decision is made correctly, nothing is said because the person is acting according to the position of authority.  However, if a decision or action goes awry from the expected, howls go up calling into question the arbiter's eyesight and/or intelligence.  This is most often true of those who are removed spatially and chronologically from the action: the further removed from the decision, the greater the misunderstanding of facts and context resulting in negative criticism.  Christians are not exempt from this behavior.  Over the years, I have noted many comments about the failings of those mentioned in the Bible who purport to represent Almighty God in an official capacity.  The further from an idealized conception of what that person should be and do, the more condemnation is poured on the target.

One of the most common recipients of misinformed assault is the judge Samson.  Israel's downward spiral of decline – oppression – supplication – deliverance brought the nation lower and lower with each cycle, but God was always faithful to aid when the people cried out to him.  Philistines had been oppressing the people forty years when the Lord visited Manoah and his barren wife and promised that a son would be born with two main distinguishing characteristics.

The first distinctive is that the boy would be a Nazirite* from birth.  Normally, such a vow was intended to be temporary in nature, however in this case, Samson would be set apart until his death (Jud 13:7).  He would never be released from this vow set upon him.  In addition, Manoah's wife was to prepare for this future life and work by abstaining from appropriate foods while pregnant.

The second distinctive is his life mission: he will "begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (Jud 13:5).  Samson was to begin the liberation process from his countrymen's oppressors.  Notice that the Lord did not say that Samson would completely save Israel.  This was never his to accomplish, which was borne out in the historical record.  God had different timing involving other men.

Upon reaching adulthood, Samson began to be stirred by the Spirit of the Lord (Jud 3:25).  He traveled to a neighboring city of the Philistines, saw a good-looking woman, and requested that his parents get her for his wife.  His parents questioned why an Israelite woman was not good enough but relented.†  God was using Samson's infatuation to provoke an altercation (Jud 14:4) resulting in the death of 30 from Ashkelon (Jud 14:19).  Samson had violated his Nazirite lifestyle in eating honey from the lion carcass, but the Lord used it for deliverance.

When Samson later discovered that his fiancée had been given to his best man, he took vengeance by catching 300 foxes, tying torches to pairs of tails, and set them running through the standing grain and olive orchards (Jud 15:5).  When the Philistines reacted by burning her and her father, Samson once again acts against the Philistines (Jud 15:8).  Then when men of Judah came to deliver Samson over, he struck down 1,000 Philistines with a donkey's jawbone (Jud 15:14-15).  After this he went to Gaza where an ambush was set, but he carried off the gate of the city (Jud 16:3).

Lastly, Samson was addled by his infatuation with Delilah, gave away the secret of his strength, and was enslaved.  As a last act of mercy, the Lord allowed Samson to bring down the house upon the Philistine leaders so that "the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life" (16:30).

In all this Samson is usually portrayed as a ladies' man who scorned his life mission.  There is no denying his conduct—going after Philistine women, one of whom was a prostitute, and breaking the Nazirite vow at least twice.  He was a sinner who was used mightily by the Lord.  Could he have done more by being obedient, or been more productive in how he judged Israel those 20 years (Jud 15:20)?  Perhaps, but he accomplished all that the Angel of the Lord had promised—the beginning of deliverance.

What we know for certain is that this flawed man is given a brief mention as one who acted in faith (Heb 11:32).  This surprises us because our heroes are not supposed to be flawed.  They are to be inhumanly perfect, so that we can dream of emulating though falling short.  We cannot bear our heroes to be normal because their shortcomings become apparent and remind us of our own fallen humanity.

Maybe our heroes need to change.  Notice those who are mentioned with Samson in Hebrews 11—Gideon, Barak, Jephthah.  This is hardly a Who's Who list by any worldly standard, yet all are regarded by the author of Hebrews the same way.  They acted in faith as witnesses to God's faithfulness, but they are not the epitome.  Only Christ is the one suitable for following.  He, who knew no sin, bore our sin on the cross.  That is true heroism.  That is true victory over an enemy.  We can never accomplish the like, but we can with other sinners saved by grace "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14).

* See Numbers 6:1-8 for laws concerning the Nazirite vow.
† There was no direct prohibition against this union: Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, et al were under God's ban, though a case can be made that Philistines were as wicked as can be seen with what happens to Samson's betrothed (Jud 14:20; 15:6).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holy Spirit: Equal in Power and Counsel

Today the church remembers Ambrose.

For the Spirit Himself is Power, as you read: “The Spirit of Counsel and might” (Isa. 11:2).  And as the Son is the Angel of great counsel, so, too, is the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Counsel, that you may know that the Counsel of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is One. Counsel, not concerning any doubtful matters, but concerning those foreknown and determined. … And that we may know more completely that the Spirit is Power, we ought to know that He was promised when the Lord said: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28).  He, then, Who was promised to us is Himself Power, as in the Gospel the same Son of God declared when He said: “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, II.20-22

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Adoration of God Gives Us a Foretaste of Heaven

All thanksgiving ultimately leads to adoration of God (2 Cor 4:15).  When we stand before him and discover what he is like, we cannot but adore him.  That’s what the angels do as they surround him and serve him in heaven (Rev 4:11; 5:12; 7:11-12).  They sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).  As they stand before him and see the glory of his Son, they sing: “Glory” (Ps 29:9; Rev 5:13).  Ever since the incarnation of our Lord they invite us to stand with them before God the Father in the divine service and join with them in giving glory to him (Luke 2:13).  Our adoration of God therefore gives us a foretaste of heaven.  As we adore the triune God we begin to do on earth what we will do forever in heaven; we begin to enjoy our God who is so good and great that we never come to the end of our enjoyment of him.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Angels Assist Us in Praising the Triune God

Since Christ has become incarnate and is now present with us to bring us peace and make us holy, we adore him, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, by singing these songs together with the angels and the whole communion of saints.  The angels, who have been appointed as liturgising spirits to serve us, assist us in our adoration of the Triune God (Heb 1:14; 12:22).

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Praise Plants God's Word Deeper So To Praise Him More

Paul speaks about this kind of praise-full proclamation [of God's goodness] in Colossians 3:16 and explains how it functions in the church.  He says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you and hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  The last clause could also be translated: “as you sing about God with Spirit-produced psalms and hymns and songs with grace in your hearts.”  Praise begins with Christ himself.  Through his word, the message of the gospel, he teaches us God’s grace and speaks that grace to us.  By his word he gives us the reason for our praise and its content.  And more than that, he actually produces our praise by giving us his Holy Spirit through his word.  So then, the more Christ’s word dwells in a congregation, the richer and fuller its praise.  This affects us corporately and personally.  On the one hand, by the use of songs that are inspired by God’s word and full of the gospel we teach and admonish each other to take in God’s grace and to praise him for his grace.  We therefore proclaim the gospel to each other in our songs of praise.  On the other hand, as we sing the psalms and hymns and songs that the Holy Spirit generates, Christ plants his word deeper and deeper into the hearts of each person.  The sung word imbeds God’s grace there, so that it can bear its full fruit in our lives.  That grace produces thankfulness, a sense of overwhelming gratitude at the generosity of God.  That, in turn, issues in greater praise.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Praise Communicates God's Goodness

God does not need us to flatter him, but he does want us to tell others about his goodness, so that they too will put their trust in him and enjoy his good gifts.  And that is what we do when we praise him in songs that proclaim his goodness.  In fact, most psalms of praise do just that.  They do not address the Lord, but address the congregation and anyone else who cares to listen.  They sing about God and his goodness.  These psalms have three main parts to them.  First, they name the Lord and announce his presence in the divine service.  Second, they praise his goodness and speak about the good things that he has done.  Third, they invite their hearers to join with his people in receiving his gifts and praising him for his generosity.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Faith Naturally Produces Fruit

A fruitful tree does not produce fruit because someone ordered it to grow fruit but because, as long as there is still some life in it and it is not dried up, it cannot help but produce fruit spontaneously.  Faith is like that tree.  If it fails to bring forth fruit, it is obviously withered.  In the same way, the sun does not need to be told to shine.  It will continue shining until the Last Day—without anyone commanding it to do so.  Faith is like the sun.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 231

Jesus Leads in Songs of Praise

Jesus leads the church in its songs of praise.  He does not just proclaim his Father’s name to those who are his brothers and sisters; he invites them to join with him as their lead singer. He teaches them to praise by giving them his word (Col 3:16) and his Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18-20).  The church then sings its songs of praise together with Jesus.  This amazing result of the incarnation is expressed in a number of different ways in the New Testament.  Both individuals (Rom 1:8) and the church (Rom 7:25; Col 3:17) give thanks to God the Father through Jesus. They give thanks to him in the name of Jesus (Eph 5:20).  Jesus is also the leader of the church in its performance of doxology.  As people who serve with Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary we give glory to God through Jesus (Rom 16:27; 1 Pet 4:11; Jude 25) and in Christ Jesus (Eph 3:21).  So, since we have Jesus as our great high priest who is physically related to us and able to stand in for us physically with his heavenly Father, we are to offer a sacrifice of praise to God through Jesus (Heb 13:15).

The church then follows Jesus in singing its songs and in performing its praises.  It does not, however, sing its own song; it sings the song that it receives from him.  Nor does it sing that song by itself with its own instruments.  The vision of St John in Revelation 15:2-4 shows how the saints hold ‘the harps of God’ in their hands as they sing ‘the song of the Lamb’.  The song of the Lamb is the song of Jesus, the song that he sings as he adores his divine Father.  Jesus does not copyright that song, but he makes it freely available to us.  We can sing it with him because he sings it for us, like a mother teaching her child to sing.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our Vocation As Praise-Singers

St Paul explores the implications of [a new song of praise sung by a new human/angelic choir] in Ephesians 1:3-14.  As he writes this extravagant sentence, he contrasts the new choir created by Christ with the old choir at the temple.  The temple choir had been appointed to praise God for the blessings that the Israelites had received from him here on earth.  Each of the musicians had been given their allotted place at the temple before the Lord.  Their vocation from God was to praise him whenever they were rostered for duty there at the temple.  But now Christ has created a new cosmic choir.  The church is that choir.  By his incarnation he has united earthlings with angels, just as he has united Jews and Gentiles by his death on the cross.  Both human beings and angels are now subject to his headship.  He has redeemed people and made them holy by their union with him.  They now have the same status as Jesus.  They share in his sonship and have every blessing that belongs to him as God’s Son.  They join the angels in a single choir that spans heaven and earth.  That choir consists of both Jews and Gentiles.  Through the incarnation of Jesus, human beings have access to the heavenly realm as they continue to live on earth.  Both angels and people have the same vocation as praise singers.  Those who have been redeemed by Christ have been appointed as praise-singers for God the Father here on planet earth.  They are called to live for the praise of God’s glory (Eph 1:6,12,14).

They cannot do this in his absence.  In and through Jesus they praise God the Father as those who stand ‘holy and blameless before him’ (Eph 1:4), for Christ has united them bodily with himself and has taken them bodily with himself into the Godhead.  As recipients of God’s grace they sing the song of God’s amazing grace to the world.  In fact, God is so utterly good and gracious, so much more generous, philanthropic, and loving than the best human being, that they can only communicate something of that grace by wholehearted, full-bodied praise.  The praises of the church then are full of wonder and amazement at the great mystery of the incarnation, by which the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus, so that we humans can come to fullness of life in and through him.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)