Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dealing with an Inferiority Complex

I have met—and continue to meet—Christians who feel that they cannot partake of the Lord's Supper because of some weakness in their lives.  They place their inadequacy at the fore and condemn themselves as unworthy.  What these dear saints do not realize is that their desire for perfection will never come to pass, because they are looking to themselves.  The attention should be upon God who has made us worthy in Christ.

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 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 has been especially instituted and appointed.  For Christ says:
  • Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).
  • Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matt. 9:12).
  • God's power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
  • The One who is weak in faith, welcome him … for God has welcomed him (Romans 14:1, 3).
  • For whoever believes in the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith, has eternal life (John 3:15f).
Worthiness does not depend upon greatness or smallness, 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.

Formula of Concord, VII.69-71

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Take Up the Hammer of God

It is folly, therefore, for the servants of the Word to cast about how to reach men’s hearts, how to fill the pews, how to bring people to the fear of the Lord; it is folly to suppose they must discover new powers, find a new content for their sermons, or try this or that new method.

The hammer that breaks the rock in pieces has not been cast aside, it needs only an arm to swing it; the Lord’s fire is still burning, it needs only servants to carry it among men.  Here is God’s plenty, to win men and to hold them.  Ahab puts on sackcloth when Elijah speaks; Josiah rends his garment when the words of the covenant are read; Saul, disconsolate in his darkness, rises and receives his sight when Ananias brings him the Word of the Lord.

This was the “sword of the Spirit” which the great Apostle thereafter never let go out of his hand.  With this Word he founded his congregations, repaired the breaches in the Corinthian Church, and preserved his Galatians from apostasy.  “By the Word the world was made; by the Word the Church was preserved: by it she must also be reformed.” — so Luther writes to Spalatin.

Johann Michael Reu, Homiletics
Posted at The First Premise

Monday, March 25, 2013

I Declare: A Lost Aspect of Baptism

Yesterday, eight people were baptized at our morning services.  While always a joyous occasion, the first person set this one apart.  Neil was asked to share why he wanted to be baptized and replied that he wanted to declare that he was a Christian.  I wanted to stand and cheer.  He got it.

The most common answer to the question of why is because Jesus did it or commanded it.  While those statements are true, they belie a lack of understanding that the person baptized is making a public declaration of allegiance.  The following section of a journal article states this well:
There was a time long ago, after all, when one's baptism was not only one of the most momentous events of one's life—and even perhaps among the the most dramatic, terrifying, and joyous—but also a genuine transformation of everything one was.… It was not merely a symbolic drama marking a casual shift in religious association, like moving from the Methodists to the Episcopalians; it was a change in one's social and spiritual identity, and also—for want of a better word—in one's cosmic station.  The act of becoming a Christian was not only an avowal of faith, but also a profound act of renunciation, a taking leave of much of what one had previously known and been, in order to be joined to a new reality whose demands upon one were absolute.  In entering the body of Christ, one also consciously and irrevocably departed from the world one had inhabited all of one's life, and from the allegiances that had bound one to that world.  It was, in a very real sense, an act of rebellion.*
Baptism marked the individual as one who renounced the idolatry, lasciviousness, debauchery, and disregard for human life in the Roman empire, and as such it automatically brought abuse, condemnation, and death from any who had authority to mete out punishments leveled in order to bring these "atheists" back into proper Roman culture.

Believers in Muslim and Communist countries understand the dangers of following Christ, but we Americans have not yet had to suffer the same outcome.  As a result, we have a view of baptism that is more akin to college graduation or retirement from our occupations to enjoy a new phase of life, than with the consequences of Jesus' clear statements:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.  (Mark 8:34-38)
In his article David Hart posits two likely scenarios for the future.  The first is that society may once again oppose Christianity, and that "the church will increasingly finding itself more and more isolated from the center of civic life, and will increasingly find the circumambient world to be again under the sway of alien power…,"† while the other envisions the blossoming of a better Christian age than the previous.  The former is upon us.  Society will—and has already begun to—marginalize Christians for upholding and living out the truth of scripture.  It will only become worse: those who believe God's word know this.

Does your baptism declare you to be God's own child?  Are you willing to so declare?

* David Bentley Hart, "Baptism and Cosmic Allegiance: A Brief Observation," Journal of Early Christian Studies 20 (2012): 458-59.
† Ibid, 465.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Who Excels the Radiance of the Sun

Matthew Carver does the Church a service by translating hymns into English.  His latest offering is a Reformation-era Latin work by G. Fabricius, suitable for Good Friday.
Qui Solis Excellit Jubar
1. The light whose brightness passes far
The beauty both of sun and star,
With stripes disfigured, hangs His head
Upon the cross, and God is dead.
6. To Thee, Eternal God, we flee,
Our Seat of Mercy fair and free,
Oh, take the sins which here we own,
And cast them to oblivion.
2. The Lord who gives His creatures breath,
And life to those who lie in death,
With arms the crossbeam spanning wide,
Between the thieves is crucified.
7. By Thee grant us to overthrow
The devil, our salvation’s foe,
The flesh, to stumbling ever prone,
The world, with fruitless pleasures sown.
3. So wracked with wounds and injured sore,
Our wounds and injury He bore:
He took the sins He had not done,
And thus our remedy He won.
8. Reach forth Thy tortured arms to take
The pleas that we Thy mourners make,
And to our faithful pray’rs incline
Thy visage bloody and divine.
4. The Lamb is lifted on the stock,
The Spotless for the spotted flock:
The worthy Victim who alone
With God the Father can atone.
9. O Life and Hope and Strength, to Thee,
Redeemer, Savior, glory be,
With God the Father on His throne,
And Holy Spirit, God alone.
5. O Christ, our true High Priest and Lord,
Upon the Cross’s altar poured,
Who, dying, didst death’s kingdom scour
And lay to waste his tyrant pow’r:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Works Neither Make Nor Keep the Sinner Saved

The sense is not that faith only in the beginning lays hold of righteousness and salvation, and then resigns its office to the works as though thereafter they had to sustain faith, the righteousness received, and salvation.  But in order that the promise, not only of receiving, but also of retaining righteousness and salvation, may be firm and sure to us, St. Paul ascribes to faith not only the entrance to grace, but also that we stand in grace and boast of the future glory, that is, the beginning, middle, and end he ascribes all to faith alone (Rom 5:2).  Likewise: they were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith (Rom 11:20).  He will present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith (Col 1:22).  By the power of God we are kept through faith for a salvation. Likewise: obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:5, 9).

Since, then, it is evident from God's Word that faith is the proper and only means by which righteousness and salvation are not only received, but also preserved by God, … whatever elsewhere is set forth in the same sense, is justly to be rejected: namely, that our good works preserve salvation, or that the righteousness of faith which has been received, or even faith itself, is either entirely or in part kept and preserved by our works.

Formula of Concord IV.34-35

Friday, March 15, 2013

No Amount of Work Earns God's Favor

And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness  (Rom 4:5)

In order, therefore, that troubled hearts may have a firm, sure consolation, also, that due honor be given to the merit of Christ and the grace of God, the Scriptures teach that the righteousness of faith before God consists alone in the gracious reconciliation or the forgiveness of sins, which is presented to us out of pure grace, for the sake of the only merit of the Mediator, Christ, and is received through faith alone in the promise of the Gospel.  In like manner, too, in justification before God faith relies neither upon contrition nor upon love or other virtues, but upon Christ alone, and in Him upon His complete obedience by which He has fulfilled the Law for us, which is imputed to believers for righteousness.

Moreover, neither contrition nor love or any other virtue, but faith alone is the sole means and instrument by which and through which we can receive and accept the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins, which are offered us in the promise of the Gospel.

Formula of Concord, III.30-31

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Real Deal at Work

For this is certainly true that in genuine conversion a change, new emotion, and movement in the intellect, will, and heart must take place, namely, that the heart perceive sin, dread God's wrath, turn from sin, perceive and accept the promise of grace in Christ, have good spiritual thoughts, a Christian purpose and diligence, and strive against the flesh.  For where none of these occurs or is present, there is also no true conversion.  But since the question is about the effective cause, that is, who works this in us, and from where man has this, and how he attains it, this doctrine informs us that, since the natural powers of man cannot do anything or help towards it (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5), God, out of His infinite goodness and mercy, comes first to us.  He causes His holy Gospel to be preached, whereby the Holy Spirit desires to work and accomplish in us this conversion and renewal, and through preaching and meditation upon His Word kindles in us faith and other godly virtues, so that they are gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit alone.  This doctrine, therefore, directs us to the means whereby the Holy Spirit desires to begin and work this.  It also instructs us how those gifts are preserved, strengthened, and increased, and admonishes us that we should not let this grace of God be bestowed on us in vain, but diligently exercise it, and ponder how grievous a sin it is to hinder and resist such operations of the Holy Spirit.

Formula of Concord, II.70-72

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Recycling Program

Somewhat recently, the music leader in our assembly introduced the hymn "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" with a new tune he had composed.  To give due credit, he did a good job reworking the melody, but the entire time we went through this song, I kept thinking, "But I like the old tune.  It's wonderful."  Call me stodgy traditionalist, but the older, seventeenth-century tune has stood the test of time.

I understand a musician's desire to energize a song by giving it a contemporary tune and tempo, but why rework the well-known, well-used hymns?  Why not dust off the "antiques" of hymnody?  Polish up those priceless works, and set them out for all to see and use.  As an example, I offer this gem written by Martin Luther.
O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold
1 O Lord, look down from heaven, behold
And let Thy pity waken:
How few are we within Thy Fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith seems quenched on every hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o’ertaken.
4 Therefore saith God, "I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people’s cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending."
2 With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error’s maze astounded.
5 As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God’s Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.
3 May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: "Now, where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master."
6 Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of their way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.
Evangelicals will likely read the words and balk at the notion of introducing this into a contemporary worship service: there is no intimacy or mystical union with Jesus and no bridge with a repetitive phrase to lift up spirit in euphoric desire.  It does not speak of me and my passionate desire to do something.  No, it does none of that.  Instead, it just tells the truth of what God will do for us on account of Christ.  That makes it perfect.

Do we have any takers?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Is the Church called to Evangelize or Disciple?

Tim Gombis has written a post asking an interesting question:
  • In various settings over the years, I’ve heard evangelical leaders and pastors claim that the church’s main task is evangelism.  All sorts of evangelism initiatives have been kicked into gear based on this assumed obvious fact regarding the purpose of the church.… But is it obvious that evangelism is the main task of the church, or even a task of the church?
What makes this such a good question?  According to the author, the example of the apostles—Paul primarily—was
  • that gospel proclamation leads to the establishment of churches.  Once they exist, they should set themselves to doing the sorts of things Paul elaborates in his letters.
He then goes on to give examples from Paul's epistles that his letters to the churches were for the building up of the body.  Certainly, the apostle does not discount or abandon evangelization, but that is not the main task.

If churches want to set something as a focus for their existence, let them use what the Lord Jesus commanded:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Going is assumed, not as a mandate to for door-to-door or open-air evangelism, but as a lifestyle and openness of sharing Christ with others in our daily lives.

Perhaps by making Jesus' priority the assembly's priority, his church can work more effectively.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Missing Body Parts

There are many reasons why a body may be missing a limb or organ, but the reason usually stems involuntary circumstances.  Christ's body is different in that the members regularly employ independent volition from the body.  We are reminded from the early church that one important reason for coming together is to be the member the local assembly needs you to be.

When you instruct the people, O overseer, command and exhort them to come constantly to church morning and evening every day, and by no means to forsake it on any account, but to assemble together continually; neither to diminish the Church by withdrawing themselves, and causing the body of Christ to be without its member.  For it is not only spoken concerning the priests, but let every one of the laity hearken to it as concerning himself, considering that it is said by the Lord: "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."*  Do not therefore scatter yourselves abroad, who are the members of Christ, by not assembling together, since you have Christ your head, according to His promise, present, and communicating to you.†  Do not be careless of yourselves, neither deprive your Savior of His own members, neither divide His body nor disperse His members, neither prefer the occasions of this life to the word of God….  And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent Him to us, and condescended to let Him suffer, and raised Him from the dead.

Didache, 59

* Matthew 12:30
† Matthew 28:20

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Comfort of God's Election

The doctrine of election has been misused and misunderstood, so that some have wandered into a reckless or prodigal lifestyle because their end is secure as one of the elect, while others have despaired because they could not be assured of their election and therefore their salvation.  Instead, the doctrine is meant to give us assurance of what we have believed on and thus rest in Christ's finished work.

Christ calls to Himself all sinners and promises them rest, and He is in earnest that all men should come to Him and allow themselves to be helped, to whom He offers Himself in His Word, and wishes them to hear it and not to stop their ears or despise the Word.  Moreover, He promises the power and working of the Holy Ghost, and divine assistance for perseverance and eternal salvation.

But [the true judgment concerning predestination] must be learned alone from the holy Gospel concerning Christ, in which it is clearly testified that God has consigned them all to unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all, and that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and believe in the Lord Christ.  (Rom 11:32; Ezek 18:23; 33:11; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 John 2:2.)

Whoever, now, is thus concerned about the revealed will of God, and proceeds according to the order which St. Paul has observed in the Epistle to the Romans, who first directs men to repentance, to knowledge of sins, to faith in Christ, to divine obedience, before he speaks of the mystery of the eternal election of God, to him this doctrine is useful and consolatory.

Epitome of the Formula of Concord, XI.7, 9-10