Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Greetings From The West Pole

It has been a while. It has been a temptation to write about anything other than what I said this blog was about, focus on Christ. I intend to continue to discipline myself to not post things here that do not maintain that focus. That probably means few updates. It is doubtful that it will disappoint anyone but me.

I am reading, along with the other members of the doctrine class I attend, "The Fire and the Staff" by Klemet Preus. He poses the question of whether doctrine saves. The consensus (which I do not share) was that it is a 'trick question', not fully serious. It seems to me that the point was that while 'doctrine' did not die on the cross for my sins, I would not personally benefit from that work of Christ for me unless the Holy Spirit, acting through the Word, taught me the true faith. The Holy Spirit is our first and best teacher of the pure and orthodox faith. We receive that doctrine of Christ through hearing the Word, Baptism and the Eucharist. The Word of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, was applied to me verbally at Baptism and I was saved! No trick, absolutely serious, fully effective. The problem then is sin. The pure and orthodox faith, the doctrine of Christ taught me by the Holy Spirit becomes corrupted when I eventually apply my fallen human intellect. It is inevitable and will inevitably destroy the faith given me if left unchecked. Thanks be to God, I am not abandoned to it. The Holy Spirit strengthens and preserves me in the true faith through faithful preaching of the Word, through the Body and Blood of Christ, the Word become flesh, given for me, and also through the teaching of the Church, which reiterates and reminds me of the pure doctrine originally received. I contend that doctrine does indeed save. It is the Word. It is inseparable from the One who issues it, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chemotherapy For The Soul

Also they teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost. - Augsburg Confession Article 2

Sin is a disease. A nasty, virulent disease that consumes and destroys both body and soul. It is a horrific cancer acquired from the toxic environment of a fallen creation. Everyone is infected and what is worse, nobody can do anything about it. We are done for from the word go. Our bodies, part and parcel of corrupted physical creation, will be destroyed in the cleanup. Our souls, more durable, will go on in their wretched, loathsome state, forever separated from their Creator. This is the miserable natural state of humanity.

In the face of this disease what does the world offer as consolation? Chicken soup. A seemingly endless succession of inspirational anecdotes, feelgood displays of civil righteousness and gentle (or not so gentle) admonitions that we can and should pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. This is perhaps preferable to embracing the gnawing emptiness of postmodernism but the warmth of the chicken soup dissipates quickly. We are still being eaten away from the inside. The "home remedy" doesn't work, no matter how hard we try to pretend.

What we need is real medicine to fight the cancer. We need radiation therapy, the light of the Gospel to penetrate to the darkest recesses of body and soul where sin has taken hold. We need chemotherapy, the body and blood of our Lord, shed for the remission of sins. When the cancer of sin returns, as it always does, Christ has promised us free treatment, Word and Sacrament, as often as needed, to drive the disease back into remission. He has paid for it with His life, to give life and hope to us. Thanks be to God!

The next time you need treatment for disease are you going to the hospital or to the "Umpteen Things I Gotta Do To Live A Better Life" seminar?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lost in the Jungle of Works Righteousness

I was listening to an old favorite song by Leon Russell from Leon Live, "Out in the Woods" a while back and had forgotten about a story he tells during the performance. A friend from South Africa, a Zulu, was in the studio while Russell was recording the song. He told the friend that he wanted to put something in the song about being lost in the jungle and wanted to know how to say it in Zulu. The friend responded that Zulus don't get lost in the jungle. There was no way to say that.

That story reminded me of a comment I saw in another blog about how Lutherans "don't do sanctification well". It is an excellent point. Actually, Lutherans don't "do" sanctification at all. God does sanctification. What Lutherans do is repentance and this Lenten season is especially the time for it. We turn to the cross, fall back to rely on our baptism and keep our focus on Christ and His work of salvation for us.

In short, it is all about Justification. We can never say "I'm past all that salvation stuff. Let's get on with living the Christian life!". The Christian life consists of nothing other than a turning to Christ, to the Gospel message, for comfort and renewal. This is the life of repentance. To whom shall we turn? Not to ourselves. Not to anything of this world. Only to the One who has the words of eternal life.

It isn't that Lutherans think Santification unimportant. It always follows from Justification. The two are distinct but inseparable. You can't have one without the other. We simply take God at His word that this is the case. We focus on the Gospel knowing that good works are the natural result. It is an organic process that doesn't require the intervention of human will or reason. Lutherans don't get lost in that jungle, or at least they shouldn't!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Are We Tempting God?

He who holds fast to the Word alone, trusts and abides in it, does not doubt that what the Word says will come to pass; he who does not dictate aim or time or means and ways, but resigns all freely to God's will and pleasure as to when, how, where, and by whom he will fulfil his Word; he, I say, has a true living faith which does not nor can not tempt God.

Excerpt from Sermon for the Epiphany; Matthew 2:1-12 - A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1522.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Spirit of Eutyches

Eutyches had no idea how he ought to think about the
Incarnation of the Word of God; and he had no desire
to acquire the light of understanding by working through
the length and breadth of the Holy Scriptures. So at least
he should have listened carefully and accepted the
common and undivided creed by which the whole body
of the faithful confess that they believe in God the
Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our
Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.

- Pope Leo the Great

Eutyches was a monk with good intentions. He just wasn't a theologian. Unfortunately that didn't prevent him from dabbling in theology, specifically Christology. He was able to correctly determine that the Christology promoted by Nestorius was severely off track. So far, so good. As Leo the Great pointed out, though, the common teaching of the Church, the creed confessed throughout the body of the faithful was sufficient for this. Eutyches couldn't leave well enough alone and went too far, fleshing out a flawed Christology from his own reason in reaction to Nestorius.

My point is not to discuss Eutychian or Nestorian heresy but to emphasize the importance of the creeds and confessions of the Church that have stood the test of time and scriptural review. In this modern era of "Deeds, not creeds" (as if they were mutually exclusive) the very idea of attempting to provide the average Christian with a basic exposure to sound doctrine is under assault. The goal of common confession of the Church is lost in the individualism and isolationism of American Evangelical practice in which every Pastor is a "little Pope", the final authority on scriptural truth. This is carried to its logical extreme in the Emergent movement, attempting to place a Pope in every parlor, if not every lounge chair.

The problem with all this is that most of us are not theologians. Even Pastors are not all theologians, despite their theological training. Inexplicably, some even boast of it. In the end though, not being a theologian is OK. Our faith is not an intellectual exercise. Not all of us are inclined to "working through the length and breadth of the Holy Scriptures". That being the case it is of utmost importance for us to have "listened carefully and accepted the common and undivided creed by which the whole body of the faithful confess". Being a Christian is a group enterprise and the group extends into eternity, supporting the faith we receive in Word and Sacrament with the united confession of all Christians, past, present and future. It's not just "Jesus and me".

Even in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, notorious for paying attention to creeds and confessions, this exposure to sound doctrine, to the common confession is being lost. A disturbing number of Lutherans have not been taught from the Small Catechism and are barely aware of its existence. The creeds are often modified, replaced with "paraphrased versions" or not used at all. I have experienced an LCMS Pastor who refused to use the Athanasian Creed (my personal favorite) because he didn't like its tone. I have heard an LCMS Pastor declare that doctrine scares people away from the Church. When we abandon these things we place ourselves at risk for what happened to Eutyches.

I don't think Eutyches was bent on destroying the Church, nor do I believe his modern counterparts intend to do so. The intentions are good. What is not understood is that Christ and His Church do not need to be defended by innovative thought and practice. They in fact cannot be defended in this way. Most of us are not called to be theologians. We are called to be faithful to the confession of the whole body of believers. We must not lose our grip on it. We cling to it, as we cling to Christ, lest we lose Him.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

...On Whom His Favor Rests

As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.
All have turned away, they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one."
"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit."
"The poison of vipers is on their lips."
"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know."- Rom 3:9-17

Who wants to hear that at Christmas? Pretty bleak. Hopeless. And yet Heaven opens up and angels declare to us just the opposite. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to men, on whom His favor rests. But we don't know the way of peace. How can God have goodwill and rest His favor on us, having accurately described us through Paul in Romans, quoting various Old Testament sources. Did God change His mind about how awful we really are?

Easy answer: Nope.

Only God can fix this problem and He does:

Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell,rose again the third day from the dead; - Athansian Creed

This "taking of that manhood into God" is the occasion for the Angelic announcement. Now "God With Us" can be seen and touched. While that is certainly a comfort to a person of faith it is purely an act of mercy toward toward mankind. He had to come and save us, take that which was created into the Eternal, Suffer and die to set things right. Extreme measures. Not normally how one has to deal with those in favor, those with whom one is pleased.

That is because there is only One with whom God is pleased, who has His favor. The standard for pleasing God is perfection. Scripture describes the One who has accomplished this:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations. - Isaiah 42:1

And behold, a voice out of the heavens said,
"This is My beloved Son,in whom I am well- pleased." - Matt 3:17

God can be pleased with us, delight in us, through Him. Our life is in Him. In Baptism we are covered with His righteousness. In Christ we now know the way of peace. Gods favor rests on us. And now the angels declare that He is with us.

Glory to God in the highest!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Occidental Tourists

I remember listening to an album of music from the early 20th century that included a song commemorating Adm. Byrd and his polar flyovers. One of the lines from that song went something like :

"Over the North and the South Poles you flew, if there were East and West Poles you'd conquer them too!"

The idea of East and West Poles seemed ridiculous at the time. Not so these days. It is probably fairly obvious from the title of this blog what I would consider to be the East Pole. The West Pole might be a little harder to define. Perhaps it is simply 'everything else'. Whatever turns us away from Christ. The things of this world. Our Humanist/Postmodernist culture. Our own nature. We are pilgrims here in the 'West', making our way to our home in the East through Gods Grace.