Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Freedom of Worship?

"Freedom of Worship" by Norman Rockwell
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus (Acts 5:27-42).

The Daily Signal reported on April 30, 2015 that a Republican senator was up in arms over how the Obama Administration was misrepresenting American’s freedom of religion. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) was upset with the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to use the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” on the test immigrants take to become naturalized US citizens (Harkness 2015).

Senator Lankford isn’t alone in his concern over what he perceives to be the redefining of the First Amendment. Christian leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that those who oppose them are attempting to redefine the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause from an individual protection to an institutional one. Statements such as those from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz are cited as evidence.

In an interview with CBN News, Wasserman-Schultz said that “legitimate religious institutions” shouldn’t be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, but religious business owners should not be legally protected under the Free Exercise Clause for “turn[ing] people away based on who they are” (Howerton 2015).

“You shouldn’t be able to turn people away based on who they are. It’s important that no matter who you are, who you love, what the color of your skin is, what your national origin is, we’re a nation of laws. Yes, the marriage equality decision is settled. Love is love and now everyone in America enjoys the protection of the United States Constitution when it comes to who they choose to marry legally,” Wasserman Schultz said. “That doesn’t mean that churches and religious institutions have to conduct same sex marriages and it doesn’t mean that religious institutions aren’t able to practice their own values…But, in this country, we do not allow people to discriminate and that’s [sic] I think is where the important distinction needs to be drawn” (Howerton 2015).

In the past opponents of religion on the Left have attacked the institutional public exercise of religion, such as the erecting of nativity scenes placed on public property, by citing the “separation of church and state.” Now it appears that the tactics have changed. Some of the more smug enemies of religion, Christianity in particular, would cite Bible passages such as Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your father who sees in secret will reward you,” as did one Facebook friend, attempting to provoke an argument. Far from proving their point, however, this passage from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was making the point to his disciples that, if the motivation for worshiping God is to be recognized as pious by men, then there is no benefit. Jesus calls us to hide our good works, not to flaunt them for recognition. Quite to the contrary, Christians are called to be faithful witnesses to the world and to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). But, I digress…

What Wasserman-Schultz seems to be saying is, sure, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod doesn’t have to perform same-sex marriages. They are a legitimate religious institution protected by the First Amendment. But you, the individual parishioner, you may not live out your faith in the public square. Consequently, if your conscience will not allow you to be the wedding cake baker for a same-sex wedding celebration, too bad. Evidentially the individual is only free to exercise their religion within the walls of their house of worship. 

The US Constitution does not limit the free exercise of religion to the inside of the church building for an hour on Sunday morning. Christians, along with their fellow citizens of other faiths, have the God-given and constitutionally protected right to live out their faith in the world, conducting themselves in public as their consciences dictate, subject only to infringement under special circumstances or where the State can demonstrate a compelling interest.

Much is made of the fact that there is a “separation of church and state” built into the U.S. Constitution. This is not exactly true, at least not in the way left-wing activists believe it to be. The phrase “separation of church and state” appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution, and this wall is certainly not one which was intended to bar individuals who practice a religious faith from entering the public square. The term is an offshoot of the phrase, "wall of separation between church and state," written by Thomas Jefferson in a now famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The original text of President Jefferson’s letter reads, in part: 

"... I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State” (Jefferson 1802). 

The Danbury Baptist Association wrote to Jefferson of their concerns regarding the lack of explicit protection of religious liberty in their own state constitution, and against a government establishment of religion (The Heritage Foundation n.d.). As a religious minority in Connecticut, the Danbury Baptists were concerned that a religious majority might establish a state religion at the cost of the liberties of religious minorities. Jefferson assured them that the U.S. Constitution would in no way permit such an establishment, and that “…religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions…” (Jefferson 1802). This separation of church and state, as understood by Thomas Jefferson at least, had nothing whatsoever to do with public expressions of religion. To Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists, separation of church and state had everything to do with the establishment of a national/state religious body, and avoiding the national/state oppression of religious minorities.

It wasn’t until 1947 that the Supreme Court, albeit nebulously, defined just how the “wall of separation” was to be built. As a result of Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)[1], state or local government can not: 1) set up a church, 2) pass laws that aid one religion, all religions, or favor one religion over another, 3) force a person to attend or stay away from church, or believe in any religion, 4) punish a person for holding or professing religious beliefs, 5) levy a tax, in any amount, to support any religious activities or institutions, 6) openly or secretly participate in the affairs of any religious organization, or vice-versa (Everson v. Board of Education 2015). 

Another test established by the Supreme Court, known as The Lemon Test, is based on the case Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602 (1971)[2]. The test consists of three parts: 1) whether the law or conduct has a secular purpose, 2) whether the law or conduct has as its primary or principle effect advancing or inhibiting religion, and 3) whether it fosters an excessive entanglement of government with religion (Lemon v. Kurtzman 2015). 

Additionally, the Court has ruled that public displays of religious symbols, such as the Christian nativity scene or the Jewish menorah, do not constitute a breach of the Establishment Clause when they are all displayed together, and along with secular holiday symbols, in celebration of the national holiday of Christmas[3]. A good example of this is the Christkindlemarkt (Christ child market) which is set up in Daley Plaza every year in Chicago. The clearly Christian event, complete with nativity scene, is set up each year without incident. Alongside the nativity scene each year is a large Jewish menorah. Any citizen or group who wishes to exercise their freedom of religious expression in this public space may do so, and the event is not in breach of the Establishment Clause. Should any religious or secular group be prohibited by government from exercising that freedom of expression at the Christkindlemarkt, it would then violate the Establishment Clause. 

To say that there is no place in American society for public displays of religion or religious symbols, strictly because they are by nature religious, is simply not justified by the U.S. Constitution, or by case law. Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting opinion to the McCreary County, Kentucky, ET. Al. Petitioners v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky ET. Al. case, observed that the same week Congress submitted the Establishment Clause as part of the Bill of Rights for ratification by the States, it enacted legislation providing for paid chaplains in the House and Senate. Justice Scalia goes on to remind his fellow justices that, “The same Congress also reenacted the Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787, 1 Stat. 50, Article II of which provided: ‘Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged’” (Scalia 2005). 

And, it should not be overlooked that the First Amendment itself accords religion – and no other manner of belief – special constitutional protection. I am sure that our friends on the Left would not agree that these early actions of Congress are equally valid today, since they generally consider the U.S. Constitution to be a “living, breathing document”, meaning that its interpretation changes as American society changes, and that moral values simply evolve along with society and culture and are therefore not absolute. 

The views of American citizens, however, have not changed significantly where this issue of public expression of religion is concerned. Justice Scalia rightly points out that our Presidents continue to conclude their oath of office with the words, “So help me God.” The Congress opens each session with a prayer; those prayers are lead by official congressional chaplains. The Supreme Court opens its sessions with the prayer “God save the United States and this Honorable Court”. We have the phrase “In God We Trust” on our currency. When we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States we corporately acknowledge that we are one nation, under God. Justice Scalia finishes his thought thusly:

“As one of our Supreme Court opinions rightly observed, ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952), repeated with approval in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 675 (1984); Marsh, 463 U.S., at 792; Abington Township, supra, at 213” (Scalia 2005).

That is all well and good for the church as an institution, but what about individual people? Traditionally, without a “compelling interest,” the free exercise of religion by individuals could not be infringed, and the Supreme Court has ruled accordingly in the past.

In, Sherbert v. Verner (1963) the Court held that states must have a "compelling interest" to refuse to accommodate religiously motivated conduct (United States Supreme Court 1963). In this case Adele Sherbert was denied unemployment benefits by South Carolina because she refused to work on Saturdays, something forbidden by her Seventh-day Adventist faith. The Court ruled that the denial of Sherbert’s unemployment benefits was an unconstitutional burden on the free exercise of her religion in a 7-2 decision. This decision resulted in what came to be known as the Sherbert Test. 

The Sherbert Test basically says that, if the government has burdened an individual’s free exercise of religion, it must have done so by confronting that person with a choice which pressures him/her to forego a religious practice by imposing a penalty or withholding a benefit etc. The State, however, may be justified in their infringement of the person’s free exercise if they can show 1) a compelling state interest that justifies the infringement, and 2) no other form of regulation can avoid the infringement and still achieve the State’s ends. The Sherbert Test has been limited and modified in recent years but is still applicable in federal statutes and certain other circumstances (Sherbert v. Verner 2015). 

Since the founding of the country, the Court has understood the free exercise of religion – like the other rights protected in the Bill of Rights – to apply to individuals. People, as individuals, do not simply have a “freedom of worship” in the cloister of their religious buildings or homes. Individuals have the right under the US Constitution to bring their religious beliefs with them into the public square as they live out their everyday lives. As Christians, however, we must be prepared to live according to our consciences even if our government ceases to protect that right, and be joyful to be counted worthy to suffer in the name of Jesus.

Works Cited

"Everson v. Board of Education." Wikipedia. January 30, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everson_v._Board_of_Education (accessed August 14, 2015).

Harkness, Kelsey. "US Immigration Exam Replaces 'Freedom of Religion' With 'Freedom of Worship'."

The Daily Signal. April 30, 2015. http://dailysignal.com/2015/04/30/republican-senator-questions-why-immigration-exam-calls-freedom-of-religion-freedom-of-worship/ (accessed August 14, 2015).

Howerton, Jason. "DNC Chair Says This 'Important Distinction' Needs to Be Drawn When It Comes to Religious Freedom." The Blaze. July 8, 2015. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/07/08/dnc-chair-says-this-important-distinction-needs-to-be-drawn-when-it-comes-to-religious-freedom/ (accessed August 14, 2015).

Jefferson, Thomas. "Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists." The Heritage Foundation. January 1, 1802. http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/jefferson-s-letter-to-the-danbury-baptists (accessed August 14, 2015).

"Lemon v. Kurtzman." Wikipedia. July 31, 2015. http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1970/1970_89 (accessed August 14, 2015).

Scalia, Justice Antonin. "MCCREARY COUNTY V. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIESUNION OF KY. (03-1693) 545 U.S. 844 (2005) ." Cornell University Law School. June 27, 2005. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-1693.ZD.html (accessed August 14, 2015).

"Sherbert v. Verner." Wikipedia. August 6, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherbert_v._Verner (accessed August 14, 2015).

Supreme Court of the United States. "Everson v. Board of Education." Oyez. http://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1949/1946/1946_52/ (accessed August 14, 2015).

The Heritage Foundation. "Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists." The Heritage Foundation. http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/jefferson-s-letter-to-the-danbury-baptists (accessed August 2015, 2015).

The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. "Lynch v. Donnelly." Oyez. August 9, 2015. http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1983/1983_82_1256#chicago (accessed August 14, 2015).

United States Supreme Court. "Sherbert v. Werner." FindLaw. June 17, 1963. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/374/398.html (accessed August 14, 2015).

End Notes

[1] Supreme Court of the United States. “Everson v. Board of Education.” Oyez. http://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1949/1946/1946_52/ (accessed August 14, 2015).

[2] Supreme Court of the United States. “Lemon v. Kurtzman.” Oyez. http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1970/1970_89

[3] “The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, annually erected a Christmas display located in the city's shopping district. The display included such objects as a Santa Claus house, a Christmas tree, a banner reading ‘Seasons Greetings,’ and a nativity scene. The creche had been included in the display for over 40 years. Daniel Donnelly objected to the display and took action against Dennis Lynch, the Mayor of Pawtucket…In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that notwithstanding the religious significance of the creche, the city had not violated the Establishment Clause. The Court found that the display, viewed in the context of the holiday season, was not a purposeful or surreptitious effort to advocate a particular religious message. The Court found that the display merely depicted the historical origins of the Holiday and had ‘legitimate secular purposes.’ The Court held that the symbols posed no danger of establishing a state church and that it was ‘far too late in the day to impose a crabbed reading of the [Establishment] Clause on the country’" (The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law 2015).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Replacement Theology

The altar intended for use in a rebuilt Jewish temple.
Photo credit: The Temple Institute.
“Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith’ (Galatians 3:6-9).

In March 2015 a website called Breaking Israel News reported that construction of a stone altar which would berequired for renewed sacrificial service in a rebuilt Jewish temple had been completed. The altar was built by The Temple Institute, a non-profit organization in Jerusalem founded in 1987, “…dedicated to every aspect of the Biblical commandment to build the Holy Temple of G-d on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (The Temple Institute n.d.).” Currently, the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Islamic holy sites, occupy the Temple Mount, where Jews and some Evangelical Christians envision a rebuilt Jewish temple. The Temple Institute, however, has accounted for this by designing the new altar so that it can be taken apart and reassembled, “when circumstances become favorable.”

“One thing that makes this altar unique is that it was designed to be disassembled and quickly reassembled in its correct position on the Temple Mount. According to the Temple Institute, ‘The people of Israel are required to build an altar exclusively on the site of the original altar on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount. When circumstances become favorable, this new altar can be quickly re-assembled on the proper location, enabling the Divine service to be resumed without delay (Balofsky 2015).’”

The Divine Service mentioned in the Temple Institute’s statement is not the communion service with which Confessional Lutherans are familiar. Rather, the phrase refers to the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament.

“The base of the altar contains two portals for collecting the blood poured during animal sacrifices, in accordance with the Torah. It is also crowned with four raised corners, called horns by the Torah (Balofsky 2015).”

Religious Jews are not the only ones working toward the goal of a rebuilt temple on the Temple Mount. Evangelical Dispensational Christians such as Tim LaHaye believe that a rebuilt temple and the physical nation of Israel are integral to the plot of End-Times prophecy. Dispensationalists such as LaHaye believe that “God’s plan for history demands a consistent distinction between national Israel and the church which includes an ongoing plan for national, ethnic Israel that culminates in Christ’s millennial kingdom (Tim LaHaye Ministries n.d.).”

These Christians believe that New Testament prophecies associated with the Jewish Temple, such as Matthew 24–25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12, were not completely fulfilled in 70 AD, when Jerusalem was razed by the Romans. This view is a core part of Dispensationalism, which teaches that the Jews remain God's chosen people. Dispensationalist theologians, such as LaHaye, teach that the Third Temple will be rebuilt when the Antichrist makes peace between the modern nation of Israel and its neighbors after a world war. The Antichrist is often identified as the political leader of a world-wide national alliance, often identified by leaders in the dispensational movement as the European Union or the United Nations. The Antichrist will proclaim himself to be God at the rebuilt temple and demand worship. At some point before, during, or possibly after these events, Christians will be raptured off the earth by Christ. There will be a great tribulation culminating in the battle of Armageddon, the final return of Christ, and the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom on earth (though not necessarily in that order). At some point during these events the physical nation of Israel will be saved – converted to Christ – en masse.

The future salvation of the national Israel will result in much greater blessings to the Gentiles. It is called "life from the dead" (v. 15). This phrase is interpreted in three different ways. First, it can be seen as a literal resurrection, that is, a general resurrection from the dead leading to blessed eternal life. In other words, the conversion of Israel will signal the resurrection of the last day. The restoration of the Jews at once will bring on the end. The dead will be raised and the Messiah's kingdom will be set up glorious and incorruptible. Professor Ernst K√§semann says, "The conversion of Israel is . . . also the last act of salvation history" (Matthew 2011).

This article isn’t meant to be a survey of Dispensational teachings, though it is helpful to be familiar with the landscape of Dispensationalism when navigating through the wilderness of American Evangelicalism. The focus of this article is to examine what popular Evangelical teachers, such as Tim LaHaye, teach about Israel in relation to what the Bible says about Israel. American Evangelicals who are of a Dispensationalist flavor often accuse other confessional Christians of engaging in “replacement” theology. Replacement theology is popularly defined as the teaching that the Christian Church has replaced the Israelites as God's chosen people, and that the Mosaic covenant has been replaced or superseded by the New Covenant (Supersessionism 2015). Opponents of this Replacement Theology charge that this view leads to persecution of Jews by Christians, as they are no longer seen as favored by God. Attempts to cast so-called Replacement Theology in an unflattering light notwithstanding, it is taught in Holy Scripture and stands in direct opposition to what is taught by much of the Christian church in America today.

In Chapters 9-11 in the Book of Romans, St. Paul writes about his anguish concerning his countrymen – his people according to the flesh. St. Paul makes a distinction between the Israel of the flesh, and the Israel of God. Rather than teaching that there are two separate peoples with whom God deals differently and apart from one another, however, St. Paul laments that one group (physical Israel) is lost while the other (spiritual Israel, or the Israel of God) is redeemed through Christ.

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son” (Romans 9:1-9).

Lenski writes the following, regarding verse 6:

He [Paul] is clearing up what may cause a difficulty for earnest Christians when they look at the position assigned to Israel in God’s Word and yet see that Israel is lost. They may think that the Word of God has dropped away, that the outcome with regard to Israel proves it to be unreliable, non-dependable. Such would be mistaken regarding Israel and regarding the Word: regarding Israel because it does not include all the physical descendants of Abraham; regarding the Word because this is promise and itself excludes unbelief and unbelievers. Not the Word has fallen by the way, ‘it liveth and abideth forever’ (I Peter 1:23); but these Israelites, despite the Word and the promises which they had, have fallen by the way (Lenski 1945).

St. Paul cites all the things God has raised up for the salvation of men through the nation of Israel – the sonship, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promises – culminating in the very Messiah himself. But then he goes on to say that, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” In other words, not every Jew can claim to be an Israelite simply because he is a Jew. St. Paul emphasizes here, as he does in Galatians, that faith in Christ is what saves a person, not their physical lineage. Despite all of the things St. Paul mentions here, because they rejected Christ, they did not belong to God. Jesus makes this point to the Pharisees in a rather more pointed way:

[speaking to the Jews...the Pharisees], "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does." "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God" (John 8:39-47).

The Pharisees are not Abraham’s offspring because they do not have faith in Christ. They have the physical blood line, but they reject the promise. This is what St. Paul is grieving in the opening verses of Romans chapter nine. St. Paul, who loves his fellow Israelites-by-blood, laments the fact that they are lost – cut off from Israel – because they reject God’s promised Messiah and do not repent of their sin.

Israel is the name God gave to Jacob in Genesis 32. This name later expanded from Jacob to all the 12 tribes of people who descended from him. Rev. Alexander Lange, preaching on Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, explains that God shows his love for his people Israel by calling them his “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). Jesus, the Son of God, however, is Israel reduced to one. Israel was to be a light to the nations by living in a special relationship to God. He would be their savior and they would be faithful and obedient. Israel, however, was not faithful and obedient to God and needed a substitute:

John [the Baptist] was calling Israel to repentance. Then God sent Jesus to John with a very special mission — Jesus would become Israel’s substitute. He would become Israel Reduced to One. He would be the Israel that Israel never could be. Jesus would succeed where Israel had failed. Just look at our text and see how Jesus reenacted Israel’s life (Matthew 3:13-17). Like Israel, Jesus passed through water. Having been baptized, he was anointed by the Holy Spirit, just like Israel. God announced that this man is his beloved, firstborn Son, just as he once did with Israel. After his baptism, Jesus wandered in the wilderness...just like Israel. He was tested...just like Israel. Unlike Israel, Jesus withstood all temptations. He did not whine when he grew hungry or worship false gods. He did not grieve God’s Spirit. Unlike Israel, Jesus was a faithful, obedient Son. Jesus carried out God’s mission perfectly. He was the Light of the Word. He drew people to himself and told people about God’s wonderful works and steadfast love. Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of Israel (Lange 2014).

St. Paul expressly teaches that there are not two peoples, Jew and Gentile, with whom God deals separately from one another. On the contrary, Israel is the Body of Christ – all those, Jew or Gentile, who have been brought to penitent faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all one through faith in Christ. To be in Christ is to be a part of Israel.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:24-29).

St. Paul explains that, those who have been connected to Christ through baptism have been connected to his death, and will also be connected to his resurrection.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:3-6).

Finally, Pieper has this to say regarding the physical nation of Israel:

It is the express declaration of the Apostle that the present state of Israel is not one of hardening of the heart, but there is a hardening only of a part of Israel, and Paul’s words (Rom. 11:32): ‘God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all,’ apply to the Jews till the end of the world. Walther says well: ‘True though it be that the Jews have crucified and rejected their own Messiah, still, according to the mystery unfolded by the Apostle, Jews shall be converted as long as Gentiles are converted. Not only will the door of grace remain open till the end, but there shall always be a number of both who actually enter the Kingdom of God’ (Pieper 1953).

Works Cited

Balofsky, Ahuva. "New Details Emerge on Rebuilt Altar of Jewish Temple." Breaking Israel News. March 23, 2015. http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/33583/new-details-emerge-rebuilt-holy-temple-jewish-world/#GuKaMp3WphwdHsCh.97 (accessed July 24, 2015).

Lange, Rev. Alexander J. "Israel Reduced to One." St. John's Lutheran Church - East Moline, IL. January 12, 2014. www.stjohnsem.org/TextSermons/.../Israel%20Reduced%20to%20One.rtf (accessed July 27, 2015).

Lenski, Dr. Richard C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Columbus, Ohio: Wartburg Press, 1945.

Matthew, Rev. P. G. "The Salvation of the Jews." Grace Valley Christian Center. May 29, 2011. http://www.gracevalley.org/sermon_trans/2011/Salvation_of_Jews.html#f1 (accessed July 27, 2015).

Pieper, D.D., Francis. Christian Dogmatics. Vol. III. IV vols. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953.

"Supersessionism." Wikipedia. June 23, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supersessionism (accessed July 24, 2015).

The Temple Institute. "About The Temple Institute." The Temple Institute. https://www.templeinstitute.org/about.htm (accessed July 24, 2015).

Tim LaHaye Ministries. "Pre-Trib Doctrinal Statement." Tim LaHaye Ministries. https://www.timlahaye.com/Home/Content/517 (accessed July 24, 2015).

Friday, July 31, 2015

God Made Them Male and Female

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment [regarding divorce]. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:5-9).

Supporters of same-sex marriage took quite the arrogant victory lap on social media last month when the Supreme Court handed down their decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Two major focuses of the assault seemed to be 1) Christians shouldn’t judge homosexuals because their holy book tells them not to judge, and 2) Christians are just haters and homophobes, because Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. In a previous article I examined one of the memes prevalent in my Facebook news feed, which I referred to collectively as the “Judge not…” meme. This article will focus on a rather irritating, though clever, little meme featuring Stephen Colbert, which asserts that Jesus never had anything to say about homosexuality.

Fellow Christians, I hate to admit it, but Jesus never said the word, “Homosexual.” He never explicitly said anywhere in the New Testament, “Don’t go around having sexual intercourse with other people who are the same sex as you.” I’ve searched the New Testament front to back and still can’t find a passage where Jesus denounces legislation legalizing gay marriage. I guess that the “marriage equality” crowd has got us on this one, and we need to fall into line with the rest of main-line liberal Protestantism, and a big chunk of American Evangelicalism.

Before we go painting #LoveWins on our LCMS churches in rainbow colors and ordaining transgender pastors, perhaps we should go back and take one last look at the things Jesus did say regarding marriage, men, and women. After all, just because the word “homosexual” wasn’t uttered by Jesus, doesn’t necessarily mean that he condones the lifestyle. If that were the proper method for interpreting the Scriptures, we could do away with the doctrine of the Trinity, as that word is also MIA from the pages of the Bible.

When asked by the Pharisees about divorce, Jesus appeals to the beginning of creation. He points out to them that, “God made them male and female,” a fact which was obvious to his audience. Jesus is saying here, however, that the estate of marriage was intended by God from the beginning to be comprised of a man and a woman. It is the natural created order. Or, if you are a Darwinian Naturalist, it is the natural law produced through “millions” of years of “evolution.”

In this passage, Jesus defines what marriage is, and his definition makes it clear that gender is essential to it. He doesn’t have to continue on and say, “But God did not make them male and male; neither did He make them female and female, nor male and female and female, or…” All other combinations are excluded by the example which Jesus gives. Societies can pass laws legalizing whatever type of relationships they wish, but no human law can negate the natural law God has built into his creation. God made them male and female and, for this reason a man leaves his father and his mother and becomes “one flesh” with his wife.

But what about polygamy in the Bible? What about adultery? Jesus can’t mean that marriage is supposed to be exclusively between one man and one woman, because the Bible is full of polygamy, adultery, and all other manner of what up-tight confessional types call “sin.” Yes, the Bible does record many instances of polygamy. I am well aware of Abraham and Solomon. The Bible also records many murders, thefts, and other felonies, but this does not mean that God is giving mankind Carte Blanche to commit these acts. The Bible records that Cain murdered Abel, yet we don’t call for the legalization of murder because it’s “in the Bible.” The Bible records David’s adultery with Bathsheba, yet we do not claim that it is sanctioning such behavior by us in the present day. The Bible isn’t even sanctioning such behavior by the people about whom it reports, contrary to what the liberal Bible scholars and social activists would have people believe. God specifically judges the actions of David, Solomon, and many others by commanding, “You shall not murder,” and “You shall not commit adultery.” Likewise, the Bible records at least one instance of homosexual behavior in the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18 and 19 recounts the destruction of Sodom because of its wickedness:

Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know,” (Genesis 18:20-21).

What was the sin of Sodom? Homosexual lust.

But before they [the two angels] lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them,” (Genesis 19:4-5).

Lot’s plan to avert the assault of the townspeople on his angelic visitors was less than noble. He offers his daughters to the crowd as a substitute, perhaps rationalizing that heterosexual rape of his virgin daughters would be less wicked than the homosexual rape of guests under the protection of his roof. Yet, no one in their right mind would suggest that the Bible condones fathers handing their daughters over to be raped. Nevertheless it’s recorded in the Bible. 

Those passages about Sodom and Gomorrah are from the Old Testament though! They don’t apply, and that still doesn’t negate the fact that Jesus never said anything condemning homosexuality. Checkmate! Well, not so fast…

In the passage cited above Jesus quotes the Old Testament, specifically Genesis 2:24, by which he calls to mind the passage read at many a Lutheran wedding:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:18-25).

Jesus Christ is Immanuel – God, with us, God incarnate. He is the image of the invisible God, by whom all things were created.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

Jesus is the very God who created and sustains the world. He told the Jews this and, when they heard him assert that he was the great I AM who had told Moses his name through the burning bush, the God who spoke to Abraham, they were ready to stone him for blasphemy. The Jesus speaking to the Pharisees in Mark 10:7 is the same person speaking the words recorded in Genesis two. 

That also makes him the God who spoke the words recorded in Leviticus 20:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (Leviticus 20:13).

While Jesus in the Gospels does not use the word homosexual, the Apostle Paul does, offering the negative argument concerning the practice. St. Paul explicitly states that men who practice homosexuality with not inherit the kingdom of God.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Did you also notice how St. Paul singled out homosexuality? Quite to the contrary, St. Paul records a list of sinful behaviors, including homosexuality, which does not leave out one person. It’s like a buffet of sinfulness – everyone can find something that they like. St. Paul continues, however, reminding the Corinthians that, despite having once been sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, etc., they have been redeemed by Christ.

St. Paul also takes Jesus’ thread from Mark 10:7 regarding the one-flesh union and explains it further, calling the Corinthians – and us today – to repent of our sins, flee from sexual immorality of all kinds, and glorify God in our bodies:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

It is clear, even to someone who is not a Christian, that the male body was not designed (or did not “evolve,” if you want to appeal to the secular Darwinist) to mate with another male body; Likewise with two female bodies. The fact that people crave such relationships proves that something has gone terribly wrong with creation (Engelbrecht 2009). That thing is sin, and no human being since The Fall has been immune to it. In fact, we have all been utterly corrupted by sin from the time of our conception. That corruption may not manifest itself as a desire to fornicate with people of the same gender in some, but it does in many. And, those who do not struggle with homosexual desire most certainly struggle with something else. We are all in the same boat when it comes to sin, and our complete inability to overcome it.

The problem is that liberal Bible “scholars” and social activists don’t believe that Jesus is God. They don’t believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God. They don’t believe that St. Paul is an Apostle. They believe in moral relativism because that gratifies their flesh. Nothing, short of God changing their hearts, will change their darkened minds.

As Christians we are called, as St. Paul called the Corinthians, to abhor the sin of homosexuality – and all sin – and to flee from it. We must also bear in mind that Christ shed his blood and died for all men – for the homosexual, the idolater, the adulterer, the thief, the hypocrite, the murderer, the liar – no matter in what particular ugliness their sin might manifest. A homosexual, like any other sinner, needs to hear God’s word of Law and Gospel applied to their life with the goal of repentance and faith (Engelbrecht 2009).

Works Cited

Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Judge not...

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye,” (Matthew 7:1-5).

In the wake of the same-sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court, Facebook was deluged with memes celebrating the victory. Two of the most common memes I encountered were 1) of Stephen Colbert wanting to read what Jesus said about homosexuality in the Bible, but not being able to because he never said anything about it, and 2) some clever picture of Jesus reminding Christians to, “Judge not…” Christians may have allowed the secular society to legally redefine marriage, but we should not allow the secular, unbelieving world to misuse God’s word as a weapon against his Church. After all, when Our Lord was tempted in the wilderness, and Satan attempted to use Scripture to trap Jesus, Jesus answered right back with Scripture. So, in response to the “Judge not…” meme, here is some Scripture which I hope will put the opening of Matthew chapter seven into some context.

At first glance, this opening passage of Matthew chapter seven looks like it is telling Christians never, under any circumstances, to judge anyone else, or those same standards of judgment will be applied to them. In a way that is true. Because this passage is used to bludgeon Christians into remaining silent in the face of sin, however, one must look a little deeper into the context to find out whether or not this is what Jesus was really saying. After all, this is the same Jesus who called the Pharisees vipers and turned over the money-changer’s tables in the temple. Jesus clearly teaches his disciples to judge. The issue is that we must judge properly, using God’s Word as the standard for our judgment, rather than our own personal morality or behavior. 

Generally speaking, people are only familiar with the, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” part of this passage. What people often fail to recognize is that Jesus, in the same paragraph, called his disciples to “take the log out of your own eye,” so that they could see clearly to “take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus did not forbid his followers from judging sin. He called them to judge the sin of others (the specks) in the light of their own sin (the logs), only after proper self-examination and repentance.

The “Judge not…” passage comes at the climax of what theologians have come to call the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:27). Most people, even if they aren’t church-goers, are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the Beatitudes:

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Matthew 5:2-12).

Throughout the secular world, not to mention American Evangelicalism, the Beatitudes are often understood as a quid pro quo. If you are poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours, so work really hard to be as poor in spirit as you can. If you do this, then you get that, or this thing will happen to you. Jesus, however, is not declaring here an ethical demand of his followers by laying out a law of behavior or attitude. The Beatitudes are not so much a mountain of law which one is to climb to be a better Christian, but rather it can be seen – particularly by your “old” man – as a mountain of law under which one is to be totally crushed.

Make no mistake, Jesus is certainly also assuring his disciples of God’s goodness, and the future blessings in store for them. The crushing weight of the law, however, must first bring us to see our sin and to repent of it. This repentance and forgiveness comes as the gracious gift of God through the Gospel. The Christian is simul justus et peccator – simultaneously justified and sinner. My new man hears in the Beatitudes assurance of God’s goodness and future blessing; my old man hears law and judgment. When we recognize our own spiritual poverty, when the Lord leads us to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, when He makes us pure in heart so that we seek to worship only the true God, then we are blessed, now and forever (Engelbrecht 2009).

Jesus goes on from here and continues with this theme. He tells his disciples that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them[1]. In other words, man is still responsible for keeping the law. He tells them that unless their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, they will never enter the kingdom of heaven[2]. At this point, I imagine the disciples would have been shocked. Who could be more righteous than the Pharisees? The Pharisees were the very definition of righteous. If, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, I must be more righteous than the Pharisees, I must be utterly lost. For whom is there any hope then? I may not be perfect, but surely I’m at least a little better than people who commit all kinds of terrible sins! With that bouncing around in their heads, Jesus goes on to talk about sin.

Anger, lust, divorce, you think you know what those things are? Feeling superior to the man imprisoned for murder? You’re a murderer to, Jesus says, because, “…everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment[3];” Feeling proud that you have never committed adultery like your scum-bag neighbor down the street? Think again. Jesus says, “…everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart[4].” Jesus continues on, truly defining sin as God sees it, building to the climax of this section where he says we should, contrary to our feelings, love our enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust[5].” He concludes this section with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect[6].” If there were left any doubt as to whether or not we are sinners, or whether or not we could keep the law and earn the kingdom of heaven, Jesus’ teachings here on sin should have put that doubt to bed. He has brought all of us to the same level – we are all poor, miserable sinners, condemned under the law.

In chapter six Jesus talks about good works and religious practice. He tells his disciples not to do good works as a show to earn praise from other men, but rather that good works should flow from them naturally[7]. He teaches them how to pray[8] and, not ostentatiously to be viewed and praised by others, but in secret, as an outgrowth of their faith[9]. And finally living outwardly as they have internal faith, he teaches them to entrust their daily lives to God’s care[10]. It is only after this foundation is laid that Jesus utters the phrase, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Far from forbidding his disciples to judge other people’s sinful acts, Jesus is telling his disciples to judge by the proper standard and not as hypocrites. Kretzmann writes that the word used by Jesus in Matthew 7:1, which we render as “judge,” in the Greek implies personal, unkind uncharitable, unauthorized, condemnatory judgment (Kretzmann 1921). Christians must practice self-examination, and use God’s standard, rather than their own to judge the words and deeds of others.

If you do not realize your own sins and faults, you cannot offer admonition to a fellow Christian. One who assumes the task of taking the speck out of his brother’s eye must do so with sincere love, deep humility, and the prayer “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors[11]” (Engelbrecht 2009).

Jesus judged plenty but, being God, he did it in the proper context. In fact, the entire Sermon on the Mount is a judgment of sin, and the practices of the Pharisees. This is what he calls us to do as well. Jesus says so in as many words in the Gospel of St. John:

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well[12]? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment,” (John 7:14-24).

What is right judgment? What is our standard for judgment? It is God’s Word. St. Paul writes to Timothy the following, regarding the power and usefulness of Holy Scripture:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

To whom is this standard applied? Everyone. St. Paul, writing to the Romans has this to say regarding God’s righteous judgment, and how all men, standing on their own, would fare:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:1-5).

The secular world will always react to the judgment of its sin with hostility – just as we Christians often do when a brother rebukes us. We cannot expect the pagan world to live as though they were Christians. Moral criticism is necessary and religious teaching cannot be discarded, but it would be the height of folly to unload one’s religious beliefs and experiences, tender sentiments, and moral convictions on anyone that comes along, no matter in what condition he might be (Kretzmann 1921). We can, however, use God’s law to make men aware of their sin in all humbleness, knowing all the while that we are sinful human beings as well. We may not be guilty of some of the specific acts described by St. Paul in his build up to Romans chapter two, but we have all exchanged God’s truth for human foolishness (Engelbrecht 2009). When we see sin, whether it is the sin of another or our own, we should respond in penitent faith, confessing our sin, knowing that God is faithful and just, and that he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.

Works Cited

Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Kretzmann, Paul E. Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament. Vol. 1. 2 vols. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1921.

End Notes

[1] Matthew 5:17 
[2] Matthew 5:20 
[3] Matthew 5:22 
[4] Matthew 5:28 
[5] Matthew 5:45 
[6] Matthew 5:48 
[7] Matthew 6:1-4 
[8] Matthew 6:5-15 
[9] Matthew 6:16-24 
[10] Matthew 6:25-34 
[11] Matthew 6:12 
[12] Jesus is here referring to his healing of an invalid at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-17).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Losing Faith and Falling Away

This is kind of an addendum to “Three Examples of How Lutherans Deny Justification by Faith Alone: A Response, Part Two of Two.” Here are a couple other verses I thought were good examples of how 1) conversion is entirely God’s work, 2) faith comes to us a gift from God through the Word, and 3) that faith can be lost by a person’s rejection. - THL

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter [whether it was necessary for Gentile believers to keep the Law of Moses]. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:6-11).

What do we learn from Peter’s address to the council? First, faith is created by means of the Gospel (v. 7). Second, the Holy Spirit is, “given by God,” working when and where He will, not according to the will of man (v. 8). Third, Peter says that God cleansed the hearts of the Gentile believers by faith, showing that faith is a gift from God (v. 9), rather than through works of the law (or by any other work, including “deciding” to believe by reason), which is impossible to achieve (v. 10). Fourth, this faith is given out of his unmerited good disposition toward those on whom he bestows this gift – i.e. out of his grace – and everyone who is saved, is being saved this way (v. 11). Whew!

And you [the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae], who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:21-23).

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Paul is writing to believers at Colossae. He tells these people, whom he counts as believers, that they have been reconciled in Christ’s body of flesh by his death, “…if indeed [they] continue in the faith…” He continues on, warning them not to shift from the hope of the gospel of which he was a minister, because if they shift from that hope, if they do not remain stable and steadfast in that hope, they will no longer be reconciled. They will go back to being alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. They will no longer be able to be presented as holy and blameless and above reproach before Christ because they will have no faith. They will have fallen away. Faith in Christ must continue, just as it began – by hearing the Gospel[1].

[1] Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Three Examples of How Lutherans Deny Justification by Faith Alone: A Response – Part Two of Two

Rev. Dr. Robert Preus

3) Loss of Salvation: Lutherans do not believe in eternal security. They correctly read the warning passage of Scripture as being addressed to believers, but they incorrectly believe that those warnings concern the possibility of losing our eternal salvation. If Lutherans held consistently to faith alone in Christ alone, they would know that losing our salvation is impossible. The fact that they teach eternal salvation can be lost, shows that Lutherans do not really believe in salvation by faith alone apart from works.


The fact that confessional Lutherans teach that believers can fall away from the faith, while at the same time teaching that God earnestly desires all men to be saved, shows that confessional Lutherans confess what the Bible teaches, even when we cannot reconcile those teachings through the use of our human reason. Holy Scripture most assuredly teaches that God wants all men to be saved:

I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live… [God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth…The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

Holy Scripture also makes it abundantly clear that not all men will be saved. To add another wrinkle, the Bible also teaches that those who are saved are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith (not, as the author repeatedly writes, by “faith alone”). We return once again to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Those who are lost, however, are lost through their own doing. I suppose one could think of it as Salvation by grace, through faith; Damnation by will, through works:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing…You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit (Matthew 23:37; Acts 7:51)!

Luther certainly understood this concept. 

He [Erasmus] argues that there is something in men that responds to the gospel. But this will not do, because even if God shows the gift of his own Son to ungodly men, they don’t respond unless he works within them. Indeed, without the Father’s inward working, men are more likely to persecute his Son rather than follow him (Luther and Pond 1984).

So, there you have it. The Holy Spirit wants to convert all people and bring them to salvation and everlasting life, but many reject the Word and resist the Holy Spirit. They, therefore, remain in unbelief and under Gods’ judgment by their own fault (Concordia Publishing House 1991). God gets the credit for the saving; man gets the blame for the damning.

This very issue comes into play when St. Paul discusses with Timothy the case of Hymenaeus and Alexander.

This charge [Timothy’s duty to order certain teachers not stray from pure doctrinal teaching] I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:18-20).

St. Paul is not saying here that Hymenaeus and Alexander will be judged in the temporal realm, by dying or some such thing, and suffer a loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day, but still march into the New Heavens and New Earth, “as through fire[1].” He is saying that the very thing through which they would be saved, their faith, has been “shipwrecked.” It has been destroyed. The faith, which they once had as members of the Ephesian congregation, is no more. They have passed from life to death, so to speak. 

Hymenaeus and Alexander rejected this precious gift of faith graciously given to them by God the Father, through the Word, by the power of God the Holy Spirit. St. Paul recognized this and disciplined them by, “handing them over to Satan,” or as we would say today – they were excommunicated. They were expelled from the fellowship of the Christian congregation so that they would, “learn not to blaspheme.” In other words, the goal of their excommunication was not punitive punishment, but rather proper exercise of the Law, the function of which is to show men their sin. St. Paul wanted them to be led to repentance and be restored to the faith they previously confessed (Engelbrecht 2009). The beauty of the Gospel is that Christ died even for the sin of Hymenaeus and Alexander. We are not told what happened to them in Scripture. If they repented of their sin God, who is faithful and just, forgave them and cleansed them of all unrighteousness. St. Paul similarly warns the Corinthians not to fall away from their faith into idolatry.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The, “therefore…” at the beginning of the verse indicates that St. Paul just finished explaining some really important concept to the Corinthians. In verses 1-11 his entire point can be summed up in one statement – You shall have no other gods. St. Paul makes the comparison between the people of Israel leaving Egypt and wandering for 40 years in the desert, and the congregation at Corinth. Just as the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” by passing through the water of the Red Sea and coming out a new, free people on the other side, so have the Corinthian believers been baptized into Christ and his death, and are a new creation. St. Paul, however, goes on to explain that, “…with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness[2].” The reason St. Paul gives for God’s displeasure is idolatry. They did not fear, love, and trust in God, who had delivered them, above all things. Rather than repenting of this breach of the First Commandment, they continued in unbelief, and were lost:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:6-11).

It is revealing that St. Paul uses the words “fell” and “destroyed” when describing what happened to those who continued in their unbelief. Again, he is not describing merely a temporal consequence of sin. Scripture tells us that these people, who were graciously delivered from bondage, persisted in unbelief. They resisted the working of God the Holy Spirit and eventually fell from the faith they had been given and were destroyed. Why does St. Paul recount this to the Corinthians? It is to be an example to them so that they do not similarly fall into sin, away from God, and be destroyed. Knowing our hearts as only we can, it may seem impossible for any one of us to remain in the faith. As Christ told his disciples, however, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

It isn’t that Hymenaeus and Alexander, or the Israelites who died in the wilderness, committed the “wrong” sin, or too many sins, and were ultimately rejected by God as the author claims Lutherans teach. Rather, it is that they rejected the faith they had been given, and persisted in unbelief and unrepentance. Luther makes this observation regarding repentance, and in so doing demonstrates just how Law and Gospel work:

When holy people – still having and feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it – happen to fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy [2 Samuel 11]), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them. The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so that it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants[3]. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. For St. John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning…and he cannot keep on sinning[4].” And yet it is also true when St. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us[5]…We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world[6]. This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, “Where two or three are gathered[7]” and other such verses, especially Romans 1:12 (McCain, et al. 2005)[8].

Confessing my sin, I say along with the father of the demon-possessed child, “I believe; Help my unbelief[9]!” I know that, even as I now believe in Christ my Savior, I also know that I have been chosen to eternal life out of pure grace in Christ without any merit of my own and that no one can pluck me out of His hand (Concordia Publishing House 1991). When the Devil calls my sin to mind and shows me how unworthy I am to enter into eternal life, I can point to God’s promise which he delivered to me in my baptism and say, “I am baptized.” I can receive the pardon and peace which Christ delivers to me in His Supper when I eat His body and drink His blood which was given and shed for me on the cross, since His body is true food, and His blood is true drink[10]. From these places, the means of God’s grace – Word and Sacrament – come my assurance as a believer and not from any decision I make, or any other work I do. Thanks be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that I am saved by His grace, through faith in Christ Jesus.

Works Cited

Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Luther, Martin, and Clifford Pond. Born Slaves. Edited by J. P. Arthur M.A. and H. J. Appleby. London: Grace Publications Trust, 1984.

McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, . Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

End Notes

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:15 
[2] 1 Corinthians 10:5 
[3] Psalm 51:11; Romans 6:14 
[4] 1 John 3:9 
[5] 1 John 1:8 
[6] Luke 24:45-47 
[7] Matthew 18:20 
[8] SA III III 43 - IV 
[9] Mark 9:24 
[10] John 6:55