Friday, June 5, 2015
Anyone can read the Bible. Can anyone receive and understand it’s content? At first, even the skeptic will frown, shake his head, and rant about how many contradictions he sees—between salvation as God’s work (Eph. 2:8-9) and our need to work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:13). She’ll quote endless amount of scholars in support that Genesis 1 tells a different creation narrative than Genesis 2. Even some Christians are baffled by the wrathful display of God as angry in the Old Testament and God’s kindness in the New. Many Christians offer friends this advice: Just give it time. Read the Bible cover to cover. Start with the Gospel of John. Give the Holy Spirit a chance to work on your heart. The Holy Spirit certainly works through the Word He inspired certain apostles, evangelists and prophets to write. (2 Peter 1:21) Even so, He never works apart from that Word—its grammar, syntax, its various historical settings. So, even after some time alone reading the Bible, the skeptic may still see contradictions, historical inaccuracies and consolation that seems too old-fashioned or too simple to be true. How can this book be any more special than the Qur’an or the Vedas or the Book Of Mormon? How can it give me a true picture of Jesus Christ, let alone the true way of eternal life? Before delving into lots of technicalities about God or the Trinity or salvation, let’s remind ourselves that the Bible is a book. It’s a book full of words, sentences, and paragraphs. The rules of grammar, syntax and logic apply. The Lutheran Reformers pointed this out when challenged to prove their teaching on God’s forgiveness/justification came from the Bible. In some places, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession explains, the reader finds the commands of the Law and in others the promises of the Gospel. http:bocl.org?AP+IV+102 Context counts. We can’t usually take in a Bible verse’s meaning just by hearing or reading it by itself. Even John 3:16, the Gospel in a nutshell, sits in the middle of a discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. Whether one interprets John 3:16 as the evangelist’s commentary on Jesus’ words or as the continuation of Jesus conversation, he sees previous verses saying that this same God who sent Jesus for us is He who raised up a bronze serpent in the wilderness to which the people might look if they were bitten by the poisonous snakes sent against them. (John 3:13-15, Num. 21:4-9) In the same way, clearer passages help us understand those which appear obscure to us. Prov. 8 personifies wisdom using feminine pronouns. Yet, wisdom is not a separate deity from the Lord our only, true God. Earlier, the king reminds his son to follow the way of wisdom (4:11), promising that by it he’ll gain understanding. (1:7, 3:5ff) 1 Cor. 1 Cor. 1:18-31 make wisdom clear to us. Even Gentiles seek wisdom—hoping by it to have their own grasp on God. Yet, true wisdom is Jesus Christ. He reveals this not only in His teachings but even more so in His death for us on the cross for our salvation. Likewise, the Old and New Testametn don’t divide God’s disposition or dispensation of His will. Rather, the Old Testament points to Christ who was to come and the New reveals Christ who has come for us. C.F.W. Walther—the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s first president, wrote ““Do not think that the Old Testament reveals a wrathful and the New Testament a gracious God, or that the Old Testament teaches salvation by a person's own works and the New Testament salvation by faith. No. We find both teachings in the Old as well as in the New Testament. But the moment we understand how to distinguish between Law and Gospel, it is as if the sun were rising upon the Scriptures, and we behold all the contents of the Scriptures in the most beautiful harmony. We see that the Law was not revealed to us to put a notion into our heads that we could become righteous by it, but to teach us that we are completely unable to fulfill the Law. Then we will know what a sweet message—what a glorious doctrine—the Gospel is and will receive it with exuberant joy.”” (Walther, LAW AND GOSPEL, p70) Somewhere I’ve heard it said that the Bible is simple enough for a child to get its teaching—Jesus Christ saves us from our sins, death and the devil to everlasting life—yet, it’s depth confounds the most trained theologian. Hence, at the end of his second epistle, Peter encourages us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) While the message of the Bible focuses on Christ Jesus as our Savior, its insight helps us apply this Gospel to many situations in life. That can be tough for ourselves, for our families and anyone else who speaks with us. Walther writes: “Indeed, Luther says that sometimes he had blasphemous thoughts. Suddenly a new light shone upon [Luther], showing him the kind of righteousness of which the Gospel is speaking. He relates that from that moment on, he began to run through all of Scripture to get a clear understanding as to which portions of Scripture are Law and which are Gospel. He says that he pried into every book in the Bible, and now all of it became clear to him. Once he understood this distinction, he became the reformer. This is also the reason he was so incredibly successful when he went public with these ideas. With his new insight, Luther freed the poor people from the misery into which the Law-preaching of their priests had driven them (LAW AND GOSPEL, p71).” Of course, we often view our lives in hindsight. Getting up in the morning, sending kids to school, throwing ourselves together for work and pressing on to phone calls, meetings and other business leaves us little time to consider every decision we make ahead of time. That’s why Scripture emphasizes our repentance of sins because we commit so many of them in thought, words and actions every day. (1 John 1:8, Ps. 130:3, Joel 2:13) For the same God who calls us to account also offers His daily forgiveness, His pardon and reprieve. (1 John 1:9, Ps. 130:4, Joel 2:13) God’s Law never stands as an end in and of itself. Instead, it always returns us to the promises and consolation Jesus gives us. He’s the Law’s end, after all (Rom. 10:4). He’s fulfilled the whole thing in His life, suffering, death, and risen as our forever high priest. Every command in Scripture has as its basis God’s gifts—that we either desist from misusing them or that we may be warned against their misuse. That’s why truly keeping God’s commandments involves a fear of God’s wrath along with a love for Him and trust in His Word. Fear of His wrath leads us to daily seek how His wrath is satisfied—in Jesus’ fulfillment of each and every one of the ten commandments and more. (Ex. 20:1-17, Matt. 5:17-20) Jesus shepherds us back to the water and Word of Holy Baptism. For there He marked His with His cross personally. He dressed us in Himself and called us Abraham’s offspring by faith. (Gal. 3:26-29) Maybe, you’ve heard the same objection I have—that Scripture is God’s Word, no matter how you slice it and we need to learn its principles for real life. Yes, advice can be good for us. Fellowship groups can certainly help us find some Biblical statements on money or marriage or raising children. Yet, again, all depends on context. If we mine the Scriptures only seeking such statements, we can number them 1-10 or even more…without fully keeping a single one of them. Our consciences, like the Law we seek, will always accuse us of coming up short of any expectation. Even a well-meaning urge to repentance without the consolation of Jesus’ forgiveness leaves us high, dry and afraid to glimpse our reflection in the mirror. http:bocl.org?EP+V+11 Again, C.F.W. Walther cautions us to regard the distinction between Law/command and Gospel/promise in Holy Scripture as key for our daily comfort and assurance day in and day out .”…so that these two doctrines may not be mingled with each other, or Law be made out of the Gospel. This mingling hides the merit of Christ and robs troubled consciences of their comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and in its purity. The Gospel supports them in their most severe trials against the terrors of the Law.” “If these two doctrines are not kept separate, the merit of Christ is hidden. For if I am afraid of the threats of the Law, I have forgotten Christ, who says to me: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”” (Walther, LAW AND GOSPEL, p73) Because none of us ever will get this distinction right until our Lord takes us through death’s portal to our eternal rest, our Lord Himself never stops bringing us His Word of peace, of absolution. He meets us in daily devotions through the written Word read at home or work or school. He helps us husbands and wives give voice to forgiveness as a flurry of emotions or some miscommunication simmers. Pastors get the joy of preaching sermons with the proper distinction between God’s commands and promises underlying every word they speak from the pulpit. Yes, pastors expect that we’ll come to church each week burdened with some frustration or trouble, a blown relationship, a snit at school, guilt due to lack of effort at work. They face the very same things in their families, in the run-around between parishioner visits and, yes…even at the church. The are called and ordained to be forgiveness men. They get to talk with us in their office privately as if Christ stands before us face to face giving us private absolution. They put His body and blood in our mouths at the altar during the Divine Service or when visiting a shut-in or someone at home. They baptize newborn infants and adults—being the first to welcome the newest members of the kingdom of God. Yet, “the preacher will not rightly proclaim these facts unless the distinction between Law and Gospel is burned into his brain. Only then can the listener lie down and die in peace on his deathbed.” (ibid.) What a blessing for them to proclaim and an equally great joy for us to hear. After all, each sermon a pastor preaches may be the last someone hears before their death. We rejoice in hearing, reading and studying God’s written Word everyday. The Bible remains God’s gift and treasure chest into which we, His saints, get to look. There is the message of salvation by grace through trust in Christ alone. Commands and promises guide us through every literary context, through every book of the Bible that we may be thoroughly equipped in faith toward God and growing love for each other. We pray, then, as Walther encourages us. ““May God, then, who has kindled this light for us, preserve it for us!—through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God our heavenly Father. (Walther, LAW AND GOSPEL, p75)
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
The recent London police mishap concerning street preacher, Robert Hughes, as garnered worldwide attention…and rightly so. No, he wasn’t screaming at the top of his lungs about the end of the world. He wasn’t obstructing a street corner. He wasn’t even passing out subversive tracts with the latest conspiracy theories to hit the prophecy clubs. Robert Hughes, age 38, of Essex was accused by a lesbian passer-by of making homophobic statements during his sermon. The incident happened back in February, 2013. Mr. Hughes’ detension in jail lasted eleven hours. Only now did the falsely accused preacher, whose own recorder proved his innocence, receive 2500 pounds in compensation for his wrongful treatment. The large sum of money will go to pay off legal fees that the unwitting street preacher accumulated. You can read the whole story here, at the DAILY MAIL’s homepage. http://www.dailymail.co.uk Let’s be thankful the London police department came to their senses, checked the recorded evidence and let Mr. Hughes go. It was the right and only thing to do, despite the protests from the lesbian accuser. Where there’s no crime, no one needs to do the time. Yet, amid the fear-mongering of activists in our own country, bakery and flower shop owners are publicly deemed guilty of homophobia even before they turn a single gay couple away from their services. When Indiana passed—and reversed, in part—its religious liberty protection act a few weeks ago, entities as diverse as the NCAA to the ACLU, actors and athletes mustered all their energies to stomp out the bill in the name of civil rights and economic freedom—even before any business had the opportunity to serve or reject someone of an alternate lifestyle. The fervor cause Gov. Mike Pence to back down from his ardent support of the bill in view of business boycotts and a threatened loss of money during the NCAA’s men’s basketball final four weekend held in Indianapolis. The fear factor links these two newsworthy stories. Under the shifting social mores in our 21st century society, government and law enforcement personnel live under the constant pressure of answering to the most active citizens, including vocal minorities. The fear of instigating a riot—as in the racial tensions present in Ferguson Missouri or New York City last year keeps law enforcement officers on their toes protecting groups who voice their apparent oppressed status. Rather than simply calling for equality under the law, gay activists, in particular, seek to use the fear factor to establish a new normal—granting their interests more and heightened protection above and beyond the rights of ordinary citizens. What if street preacher, Robert Hughes, had made Biblically-based statements about the Lord’s displeasure and condemnation of homosexuality? If so, the lesbian passer-by might have had some ground to stand on in the eyes of London’s law enforcement community. This does not mean he needed to stop his preaching. He had the recording to prove that his intent was nowhere to harm one person in particular. But, would he have the freedom of speech to voice his religious descent against a lifestyle? The predicament brings on what conservative commentator and president of Southern Baptist Seminary, Al Mohler, calls the conflict between civic liberty and moral liberty. In the United States, at least on paper, the first amendment to the Constitution resolves this tension in its establishment and free exercise clauses. Yet, even here, freedom of religion has morphed into a freedom of worship. Religion, to many, is good as long as adherents keep moral strictures to themselves. The Christian response takes into account a genuine respect for governing authorities and the desire to honor the Lord whose moral law remains in effect. Christians recognize the authority vested in governing officials, teachers and parents. (Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13ff) Yet, even governments established by God can and do err in judgment. Hence, when the Christian comes before a court or other governing body, he follows the psalmist’s example of telling God’s statutes before kings without being put to shame. (Ps. 119:46) Willing to obey God rather than man in situations where moral concerns trump contemporaneous social constructs. (Acts 5:29) Always seeking to be prepared to make a defense of our hope in Jesus Christ, we Christians have no need to hide Scripture’s plain moral teaching—whether it concern homosexuality, abortion, adultery, etc. Whether testifying on behalf of someone else or pleading our case, we desire our words to leave no doubt that we would rather face any measure of punishment and/or persecution than to hand over our trust in our perfect, living Lord and Savior who has bought us back from sin’s control with the price of His shed blood. For with that blood, our Lord has sprinkled His Church clean, a bride adorned for her husband. (Eph. 5:25-27) Bought by the price of Jesus’ blood, we take heart in upholding moral and ethical standards which accord with God’s will. Using rational thought and natural law, we can explain how male and female lifelong monogamy provides the healthiest and most secure option for families to pursue. While observing the increased acceptance of sex-change operations and transgender behavior, we look for opportunities to expose the emotional instability such life changes might bring about. Ultimately, we do bear the responsibility of showing how any moral failing, left unchecked and unrepented of leads someone to eternal punishment in hell. On the other hand, Christ Jesus reconciles us with the Father and sends us into the public square as ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) that people may be convicted by the law and brought the forgiving freedom that the promise of eternal life by grace through faith in Christ Jesus affords us. While society balks under pressure of the fear factor, we, too, voice our concern. Our prayers fill heaven with our own anxiety and frustration with adjusting to our postmodern society. Beset with this concern, we desire to keep our eyes fixed forward, to the prize that leads us heavenward. Through our careful study and application of His Word in view of the chaotic circumstances around us, the Holy Spirit promises to give us the words to speak. Maybe, we may face governing or law enforcement authorities because of something we’ve said. Perhaps, our business faces pressure to include abortifacients in an employee’s medical coverage. We stare economic insecurity in the face when charges of discriminating against homosexuals wishing to use our services keep us up at night. “God” remains our “refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1)
Monday, June 1, 2015
In its May 31 edition, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH of London reported how calls have reached upper level authorities in the Church of England to change its masculine references to God in THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. Following the ordination of Libby Lane, its first female bishop, the Church of England recognizes a growing sensitivity toward more inclusive understandings of the divine. While support grows for this shift, the Transformations Steering Group acknowledges how changes already taken hold in pursuit of gender equality in the liturgy. Some bishops, like Lane, agree with these changes and say no more needs done. She even goes as far as to say, “We are doing God a disservice…” by not making such adaptations to include all sensitivities. Of course, more conservative elements remind bishops that Jesus always prayed to God as Father. Still, advocates of transforming language for both worship and instruction speak to passages which ascribe feminine characteristics to God and that God is, in nature spirit—jneither male nor female. Of course, one need only guess what bias the TELEGRAPH takes on this issue. Rather than consulting a substantial opposing viewpoint, it simply states how some conservatives wish to retain the masculine language. True enough, a growing secularism has seeped inthrough the doors of Lambeth Palace. Nonetheless, the urge to take sides on this hot button issue led the paper to quote only supporters of gender equalization and inclusive language. It’s really a slippery slope—as we have witnessed in American mainline church bodies. The Episcopal’s ordination of Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop and of, Catherine Jefferts-Schory as its presiding bishop shows a trend tilting far left of center when reflecting social sensitivities. In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America churchwide assembly voted to ordain monogamous homosexual men and women to its pastorate. In 2013, it elected Elizabeth Eaton of the Ohio Synod to be its first female presiding bishop. How, then, do we who hold Scripture to be inerrant and verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit react? Pressure mounts against synods and congregations who regard God’s gifting men to be pastors as authoritative. Even in the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, women sometimes serve as lay readers during the Divine Service and as congregational presidents overseeing the business affairs those entities face on a day-to-day basis. This follows just decades after a resolution in the LCMS’s 1969 convention led to women gaining voting rights in congregational affairs. Holy Scripture allows no such slippage in the downward slope of moral decline. Nowhere in its pages do we read concrete references to God as female, though itascribes characteristics such as caring and nurturing to Him which many think reflect feminine qualities. (cf. Matt. 23:37, Ps. 93:10) Proverbs 8 personifies wisdom in feminine pronouns while remaining void of time, spatial or locative qualities. Hence, reading the Holy Scriptures as our Lord intended them, we dare not second guess the concrete language describing God—Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Rather, Scripture interprets itself—clearer passages explaining the more obscure. 1 Cor. 1:30 reveals that Jesus Christ—begotten of the Father from all eternity—has become wisdom for us. Verses such as Ps. 93:10 and Matt. 23:37 comparing the Lord’s care for His people with the motherly protection of a hen over her chicks in no way ascribes a gender characteristic to God. Rather they emphasize how Jesus’ tending nature would drive Him beyond anything mortal men and women can do. He laid down His life for His sheep. The vocation of every Christian is that of repentance. Where a congregation or church body recognizes its error in matters of God’s created and redemptive ordering, she does well to make corrections. Yet, this does not mean adopting new measures in liturgy and practice to reflect society’s moral decay. Neither becoming all things to all people to win some nor a zealous appeal to attract the unchurched justifies a callous abandonment of language that God has ordained for our use by His inerrant, written Word. Gender specific, concrete references for God, Christ, man and woman speak to the distinctions present in heaven and earth. The Athanasian Creed confesses that the Son of God is equal to the Father with respect to His deity and lesser with respect to His assumed humanity. Man is given headship which complements the woman’s helpfulness. In her administrative functions and social offices, the Church seeks to employ discernment. How aught a woman not be given to teach or have authority in the Church? (1 Tim. 2:11-14) Many theologians have interpreted Paul’s injunction to mean headship in spiritual/teaching matters only. Others have shown plausible evidence for the creative order to extend over civic responsibilities as in the home (1 Cor. 11:2-9, Eph. 5:22-27, 1 Peter 3:1, 7) To shortchange the language taught in Scripture regarding the Lord and references to Him does a disservice to us who bear witness to His salvation during His Divine Service when gathering us around Word and Sacraments and in the world at large in our daily vocations. Since, in the realm of salvation by Christ alone—neither male nor female receive higher nor lower rank, our Lord reveals Himself for our good. The oft quoted liturgical maxim proves true here—Lex orundi lex credundi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. The vice versa rings true. If liturgical formularies change for the sake of adapting to cultural sensitivities not warranted in Holy Scripture, the agents behind that change will inevitably jettison Holy Scripture’s relevance before giving an inch in working out their agenda. As with all articles of Christian belief and practice, this one reveals the heart and core issue at hand—a denial of faith alone in Christ alone which justifies us before our heavenly Father. Being the sure confidence in things hoped for (Heb. 11:1), faith/trust is no shot in the dark or a blind leap into the milieu of current fads. Instead, it clings to Christ Jesus’ certain salvation. It rests on Him in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. (Col. 2:9) With the Small Catechism, we confess, “I believe that, with my own reason or strength, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him…” but He has gathered us under His protection, care and salvation in His Church wherein He bestows His rich and daily forgiveness of our sins which He purchased for us once for us on Calvary’s cross.