Thursday, December 4, 2014

The External Word

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum
The Word of the Lord Remains Forever
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The author of Hebrews tells us here that, what God wanted to communicate to mankind, he has communicated finally and completely through Jesus Christ. In the past, from the Fall of Man until Christ, God the Father used many different ways to communicate with man. In the Garden of Eden he spoke to man directly. He spoke to the patriarchs by appearing to them as the Angel of the Lord. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush, and through a cloud on a mountain. He spoke to the prophets in dreams and visions. The message was always the same throughout all that time: That he would redeem mankind from their fallen state by His grace through faith in Christ, and restore creation. But in these last days, the writer of Hebrews says, he has spoken to us by His Son.

The message of the entire Bible is God saving mankind from sin, death, and devil by the atoning work of Christ. St. Augustine explained, “The New [Testament] is in the Old [Testament] concealed; The Old is in the New revealed.” This is the message God was communicating to man after the Fall in the Garden, and this is the message He communicates to us now.

Whenever God is speaking to us, however, he speaks to us by his external word. What I mean is this: God comes to man “externally,” through means. He communicates to us though words, using human language that men are capable of understanding. He uses physical elements and uses his word to connect his promises to them, and to deliver those promises to man. He does not work in man through “burnings” in the bosom. He does not work redemption in man apart from His word. St. Paul writes in Romans:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” (Romans 10:17).

The burning bush, the visions, all the other means by which God communicated the Gospel to man, were means of delivering to man the external word. And now, in these last days, God has spoken to us through Christ. God’s communication with man has been concentrated down to Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. It is finished, and there is no longer any need to burn bushes or send visions to prophets. God has spoken to us by his Son – the Word incarnate, who bled and died on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of the world. This word, the message of Christ, has been collected for us into the volume of Holy Scripture we call the Bible. When you read the Bible, you hear God's voice. It is God who speaks to you through those words on the page. When you hear faithful preaching, it is God who speaks to you, through the voice of that faithful pastor. When you receive the Sacrament of the Altar you hear God's word of promise - given and shed for you, for the remission of sins - and faith takes hold of that promise, connected with those physical elements of bread and wine.

Martin Luther in his day dealt with “enthusiasts,” or people who believed that they received the Spirit and faith without God’s word, i.e., by some mystical divine “inner revelation.” The world is no less full of people today who deny the efficacy of Holy Scripture, yet claim that God has given them some new revelation or inner illumination allowing them to ignore what Scripture teaches. All you have to do is turn on Trinity Broadcasting Network and you will see a parade of preachers preaching, not the Word of God as delivered to us in Holy Scripture, but a word that they have received from some personal revelation. What Luther had to say about enthusiasts is equally appropriate for us today.

He [the devil] led them [Adam and Eve] from God’s outward word to spiritualizing and self-pride. And yet he did this through outward words. In the same way our enthusiasts today condemn the outward word. Yet they themselves are not silent. They fill the world with their babbling and writings, as if the spirit could not come through the Apostle’s writings and spoken word, but has to come through their writings and worlds. Why don’t they leave out their own sermons and writings and let the Spirit himself come to people without their writings before them, as they boast that He has come into them without the preaching of the Scriptures?[1] (Luther).

The Gospel is the means by which the Holy Spirit offers us all the blessings of Christ and creates faith in people. The written and spoken (preached) word of the Gospel, as well as the sacraments – God’s word of promise connected to bread and wine, and water – are the means of grace.

Lest I be accused of “putting God in a box,” I must clarify that I am not saying it is impossible for God to impart divine revelations today, or that it is impossible for God to convert men apart from his word. I’m simply saying that he does not wish to. God has always dealt with man through means, and he expressly tells us that it is his will to do so. So, while it is indeed possible for God to send man a “burning in the bosom,” we shouldn’t expect him to do so, because he has told us that he doesn’t operate that way. Many mistakenly take their intense feelings, worked up in a religious frenzy, as a way to assure themselves that they are in the faith. Feelings change, however, and should certainly not be used as a basis for assurance of faith. Furthermore, anyone who claims that he has received a divine revelation should be tested against what we know for certain to be divine revelation – Holy Scripture. Whatever is not in accord with Scripture should be soundly rejected. Luther comments:

In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments. For God wished to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word; and no prophet neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments [or spoken Word]. Neither was John the Baptist conceived without the preceding word of Gabriel, nor did he leap in his mother's womb without the voice of Mary. And Peter says: The prophecy came not by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost[2]. Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy, much less would the Holy Ghost have moved them to speak when they still were unholy [or profane]; for they were holy, says he, since the Holy Ghost spake through them (Luther).

We should marvel at how God deals with us. Not only has he redeemed us by His grace, through faith alone in Christ, He has given us his external word, by which we can be certain of God’s promises of forgiveness and eternal life, even when we feel the weight of our sin, and do not feel “saved.” That can sustain and comfort us when our bosoms cease to burn, our inner illumination goes dim, and we remember what kind of rotten sinners we are, undeserving of God’s favor. In those times we can look to God’s external word; whether in Scriptures, in the preaching of a faithful pastor, or in the Lord’s Supper or remembrance of our Baptism, and have assurance that though we are sinners, God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake, and is faithful.

 

 

 

 

 

 



Bibliography


 


Luther, M. (n.d.). The Smalcald Articles. Retrieved December 04, 2014, from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church: http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#confession

 


 




[1] SA III VII 5-6
[2] 2 Peter 1:19-21

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Luther’s Grumpy Best

The Crucifixion
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:16-24).

Of all the confessional writings contained in the Book of Concord, The Smalcald Articles are my favorite. The Smalcald articles are one of three documents contained in the Book of Concord penned by Martin Luther himself (the other two being the Large and Small Catechisms). That fact alone, however, is not the reason for its appeal. In the Smalcald articles, as one theologian recently described, you get Dr. Luther at his “grumpy best”. The reason was simple: Luther thought that he was dying.

In December 1536 Luther was commissioned by elector John Frederick to write a statement of faith (McCain, Baker and Veith). This statement of faith was to contain all of the things in which the Evangelicals absolutely could not yield, and was to be used as a guide for the Lutheran theologians when they eventually met at the council called by the Pope. John Frederick ordered Luther to treat this document as his last will and testament, and he meant it:

It will nevertheless be very necessary for Doctor Martin to prepare his foundation and opinion from the Holy Scriptures, namely, the articles as hitherto taught, preached, and written by him, and which he is determined to adhere to and abide by at the council, as well as upon his departure from this world and before the judgment of Almighty God, and in which we cannot yield without becoming guilty of treason against God, even though property and life, peace or war, are at stake” (McCain, Baker and Veith).

Shortly thereafter Luther became deathly ill. Historians believe that he suffered a heart attack at that time (McCain, Baker and Veith). Luther did not have to pretend that The Smalcald Articles were his last will and testament. He believed that his own death was imminent, and he wrote in such a manner as to fit his circumstances. The language is urgent, to the point, and sometimes terse. He comes right to the point and does not concern himself with the feelings of his theological opponents. No flowery language, just Biblical theology. To me, this comes out most clearly in Luther’s writings about sin, the Law, and repentance.

He wastes no time telling us what sin is:

Here we must confess, as Paul says in Romans 5:12, that sin originated from one man, Adam. By his disobedience, all people were made sinners and became subject to death and the devil[1] (McCain, Baker and Veith).

And what the fruits of sin are:

The fruit of this sin are the evil deeds that are forbidden in the Ten Commandments. These include unbelief, false faith, idolatry, being without the fear of God, pride, despair, utter blindness, and, in short, not knowing or regarding God. Also lying, abusing God’s name, not praying, not calling on God, not regarding God’s Word, being disobedient to parents, murdering, being unchaste, stealing, deceiving, and such. This hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture (McCain, Baker and Veith).

He writes about how the Law shows us our sin:

But the chief office or force of the Law is to reveal original sin with all its fruit. It shows us how very low our nature has fallen, how we have become utterly corrupted[2] (McCain, Baker and Veith).

He writes about how God justifies us sinners, not by the Law, but through faith in Christ:

Allegory of the Old and New Testaments Hans Holbein the Younger
By the Law He strikes down both obvious sinners and false saints. He declares no one to be in the right, but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer. As Jeremiah says, “Is not My word like…a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” This is not active contrition or manufactured repentance. It is passive contrition, true sorrow of heart, suffering, and the sensation of death[3]…but to this office of the Law, the New Testament immediately adds the consoling promise of grace through the Gospel. This must be believed[4]…Whenever the Law alone exercises its office, without the Gospel being added, there is nothing but death and hell, and one must despair, as Saul and Judas did. St. Paul says, through sin the Law kills. On the other hand, the Gospel brings consolation and forgiveness. It does so not just in one way, but through the Word and the Sacraments and the like[5]… (McCain, Baker and Veith).

Good stuff, all of it. Then he gets grumpy. The subject of how sinful man is justified is the A-1 topic of the Reformation. In Article III, Section III of the Smalcald Articles Luther discusses what he called the false repentance of the Papists. He writes that his opponents teach incorrectly about repentance because they teach incorrectly about sin. Luther angrily points out that people were being taught that, if they confessed their sins and rendered satisfaction for them, they merited forgiveness. Luther writes:

So even in repentance, they taught people to put confidence in their own works…There was here no mention of Christ and faith. People hoped to overcome and blot out sins before God by their own works. With this intention, we became priests and monks, so we could protect ourselves against sin[6] (McCain, Baker and Veith).

He goes on to describe the attitude of the people toward sin and repentance during his time, If we are honest, we will admit that little has changed in the intervening centuries. People will gladly repent of the sins they consider to be “bad”. The problem arises when we consider the sin “good”. Luther uses the examples of illicit love and vengeful anger. These two particular issues have not changed from the Fall to the time of St. Paul, to the time of Luther, to the present day. 

He who could not have contrition at least ought to have “attrition.” I call that half a contrition, or the beginning of contrition. The fact is, they themselves [Luther’s opponents] do not understand either of these terms, anymore than I do. But such attrition was counted as contrition when a person went to Confession. If anyone said that he could not have contrition or lament his sins (as might be the case with illicit love or the desire for revenge, etc.), they asked whether he wished or desired to have contrition. When one would reply “yes” – for who, save the devil himself, would say “no”? – they accepted this as contrition. They forgave him his sins on account of this good work of his. Here they cited the example of St. Bernard and others[7] (McCain, Baker and Veith).

People were being taught – and were willing to believe – that they could live as they wished, doing as they pleased and, as long as they made the proper penance, they would be justified. How often have the faults of the spouse and the feelings of “love” toward the lover been cited in an effort to justify the dissolution of a marriage? How many times have we justified our ill-treatment or hatred of our enemies based on logical reasons (not to mention emotions that felt so good)? Sure, we recognize that it is sinful to commit adultery, but our case is special. Surely God understands the intricate nuances of our individual situation, and won’t count this particular case of adultery against us. After all, we’re in love.

We understand that Holy Scripture teaches us that to hate our brother is to murder him[8], and we even agree! It’s just that, in the case of our particular enemy, things are different because they are particularly evil. Surely God doesn’t hold us to this standard in our particular case, seeing as he is just, and knows how bad the other person is, and just how terrible the thing is that they have done to anger us.

Luther described how the people would exhibit contrition by basically wishing that they felt bad for the “just” sin that they were committing, but didn’t because they had a good reason for committing it. We are no different today. They, like us and men of all ages, tried to earn their salvation and forgiveness by keeping the law. They realized, however, that they couldn’t, so they set up their own law to keep, much like the Pharisees. The depravity of man is so complete, however, that men cannot even keep their own contrived rules. We are dead in our trespasses. We are utterly lost and cannot reconcile ourselves to God. Worse yet, we don’t want to be reconciled to God. In our unregenerate state we want God to accept us on our own terms. We act as though we have a bargaining position in this situation.

In our baptism we were united with Christ, who died to set us free from sin and the way of the Law (Engelbrecht). Now we should act like it. Eternal life has been promised to the justified. Those who live according to the flesh, as evidenced by their unrepentant continuation of the “works of the flesh” St. Paul describes, retain neither faith nor righteousness[9]. Having been united with Christ in our baptism, we have, as St. Paul says elsewhere, been united with Christ in his death, and we will also be united with him in his resurrection[10].

The Christian freedom which St. Paul describes earlier in his letter to the Galatians means conducting oneself by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (Engelbrecht). So, each day we attempt to walk according to the Spirit as new creatures in Christ. When we inevitably stumble and sin, doing not the good we want to do but the evil we do not want, we come to the cross in penitent faith and receive the forgiveness that Christ won for us there with his holy precious blood and by his innocent suffering and death. This gift is just that – a gift we cannot earn. Any attempt to do so, however small or logical the human requirement may seem, demeans Christ and his sacrifice. There is not room for our penance on Christ’s cross. All Christians should become a little grumpy with whoever attempts to tell us that there is.



Works Cited

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

McCain, Paul Timothy, et al., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Trans. William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.



End Notes

[1] SA III I 1

[2] SA III II 4 

[3] SA III III 2

[4] SA III III 3

[5] SA III III 7-8

[6] SA III III 12, 14

[7] SA III III 16-17

[8] 1 John 3:15

[9] Ap V 227 

[10] Romans 6:5



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"He looks so natural..."

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).

Wakes are curious things, especially the way they are done in America. Rather than being a means to help grieving friends and relatives cope with the death of a loved one, wakes oftentimes become a celebration of the very thing that took their loved one away – death. They end up, rather than comforting people, reminding them of all the good things they have lost to death. Funerals and wakes, generally and without meaning to, put on display all that the deceased was in this life. It generally happens in the form of photographs, bulletin boards, flowers and personal mementos scattered throughout the funeral parlor. All these things, in effect, tell the living who have gathered to mourn, “look what you have lost and will never again experience”. The most heinous part of the entire wake experience is, quite possibly, the corpse itself.

The body of a deceased loved one painted and dressed; face plastered with makeup and frozen in an almost-but-not-quite serene expression, made to appear as if asleep. In the hands of the wrong funeral director, a corpse becomes morbid marionette that serves only to focus attention on the “star” of the hour – death. At a wake, what a victory death seems to have won. And, no more awkward a question has ever been asked than, “Boy, doesn’t he/she look good?”

No, they don’t look good. No one looks good lying in a casket.

Families act brave at the wakes of their loved ones, saying standard, rehearsed lines like, “Death is a part of life,” and “We will all have to face death sometime,” or “I’m just glad to see their suffering is over.” And all the while, friends and relatives help with the charade in order to spare feelings. No one really comforts, no one truly consoles. Standing in the shrine of death, mourners immediately begin to ignore that which they have gathered to view.

It is true that the death rate, as one preacher noted, is still 100%. Everyone will, at some point, die, and there is no escaping it. Death, however, is by no means simply a “part of life”. Death is not good. Death is not even o.k. Death is certainly not our friend nor should we stoically accept it. Death is the enemy of humankind. To put it bluntly, death sucks. We should not act as though it did not.

In order to cope with death, which happens all around us every day, we must understand what it is. We must understand why and how it came to be.

And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Genesis 2:16-18).

Death is the result of sin. In the beginning, when God created man, death was not part of the equation. We were not meant to die. God wanted the beings he created to live forever with him. Of course, scripture tells us why this is no longer the case. Because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, sin and death were introduced into God’s perfect creation, and what God had created was changed utterly. We see the results of sin every day in the world around us, and even in our own selves, and it is not pretty. It is so disgusting, in fact, that many people either choose to ignore it, or blame the Creator for what we brought on ourselves.

Why would God allow this? If he wanted people to live forever with him, why did he not just ignore what Adam and Eve did? Why did he not just forgive them right there in the Garden instead of requiring atonement for sin that man was unable to make for himself, necessitating Messiah do it for him? Surely it would have been much less of a hassle to simply wipe the board clean and start over from scratch…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life...For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (John 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18a).

This side of heaven we will never fully understand God’s motives for creating man in the first place. Some theologians believe that God did it because he wanted to have fellowship with beings who possessed the capacity to reject him, making the relationship, therefore, meaningful. Of course, he could have just needed a cool science fair project…we won’t know until we meet him face to face and ask him. However, anyone who has a child could probably understand, on some level, why God dealt with his disobedient creation as he did.

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? (Hebrews 12:5-7).

Good parents who are effective in disciplining and instructing their children will tell you that abrogating the consequences for exceeding established guidelines is a sure way to create a selfish, disobedient child who is manipulative and tests their parents at every turn. Parents who set limits and enforce them in a loving way stand a better chance of raising respectful, obedient children who understand how to follow rules and get along well with those around them.

Scripture tells us that God is holy and just. In other words, he hates sin, or disobedience, and is fair and impartial. In the Garden of Eden, God set a boundary for Adam and Eve, just like a parent who limits the number of cookies their child may eat. Like a good parent, God set a consequence for violating that boundary (for being disobedient), “…or you will surely die.” Since God hates sin and is just, there is no possible way for him to simply forgo the consequences.

God cannot exist contrary to his nature, just as we cannot.

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."...But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness (Revelation 4:8; Isaiah 5:16).

God is holy, just and righteous. To ignore what Adam and Eve did, God would have had to ignore sin – something which it is his very nature to abhor.

Another attribute of God, though, is mercy. God is gracious and merciful. Scripture describes a God who is full of pity, forgiving; who shows undeserved kindness.

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy...But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Micah 7:18; Ephesians 2:3-5).

God's mercy was good news for Adam and Eve, just as it is for us today. God, though he had to follow through with his punishment, provided a way for his wayward children to be redeemed. For Adam and Eve, and all those who lived during Old Testament times, the way of redemption was faith in God’s promised redeemer. It is the same for we who live under the New Testament. Those who came before us only had God’s promise to hold on to – though that is certainly enough. They did not know the redeemer’s name. We do – Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah, Son of David. He is the Christ, God in human flesh.

He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:16-21).

Because of our disobedient first parents, we have to deal with sin and death. Sin, after the fall, became a part of the human nature. And, while it is true that everyone must die, death does not have the same meaning for those who trust in Christ.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

For those who do not know Jesus Christ, who do not believe and trust in him as their redeemer, the prospect is grim. Death, for these people, remains the victor. Scripture says that they will experience eternal death. In the shadow of this prospect, the wake room becomes an extremely cold, dark and dismal place.

...He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." ( Revelation 21:7-8).

The Christian, however, can look death in the eye unafraid. To the Christian, death is more than a consequence of original sin and a fallen creation; more than the cessation of life. It is the portal to life everlasting and a relationship with the Creator as such a relationship was intended to be. No suffering, no pain; only eternal joy with God and all the saints forever.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true" (Revelation 21:3-5).

For the unbeliever, the traditional wake is appropriate. An entire life summed up by a bulletin board full of old photographs and a coffee room filled with sad, frightened people discussing everything but that which is in the parlor. For the Christian, it is inappropriate, as they have, in their baptism, passed from death to life. By their physical death, the deceased Christian has passed from this life to life eternal. The Christian wake and funeral, though an outlet for grief and mourning is, and rightly should be, also a celebration of Christ’s victory over death and the grave by his resurrection - the anticipation that those who trust in him as the atonement for their sins will live forever as well.

Death is not good. God, however, has taken what is evil and turned it to our benefit, by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of the body and life everlasting are sure and certain to those who trust in him; to those who remain faithful unto death. Therefore, for the Christian, especially when confronting death, the words of St. Paul should provide us strength, consolation and comfort:

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Destruction of Marriage

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:1-10).

Christian advocates for the protection of marriage (marriage between a man and a woman – what the media has dubbed “traditional” marriage) have said for years that the true purpose of the fight for gay marriage was the destruction of the institution of marriage itself. People holding this opinion were, and continue to be, derided as sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, and reactionary. Over the last several years, however, in the wake of unprecedented success in the battle to legalize gay marriage, leaders and militant activists associated with the movement have begun to speak more candidly regarding the marriage fight. It turns out, the sexist, misogynistic, reactionary homophobes on the lunatic right fringe (read “Christians”) may have been right all along, regarding the motives of those fighting for “marriage equality”.

Gay rights activists (or should it be “marriage equality activists”) are fond of saying that they aren’t the ones who are destroying the institution of marriage, but rather straight people are. They cite the 50% divorce rate statistic which is thrown about with reckless abandon by experts. They point to prostitution, rampant infidelity among married couples, spousal abuse, and “loveless” marriages.

While the average supporter of the marriage equality movement may believe they are fighting for the civil rights of homosexuals to marry, those who organize and shape the direction of this movement have been exposing their true agenda as of late. This agenda, surprisingly enough, is the disillusion of marriage as an institution. These radical leftists view marriage as a misogynistic institution developed to oppress women and to facilitate the transfer of property from one male to another. Carina Kolodny, writing for the Huffington Post in February 2014 wrote proudly of the duplicity, and shamed advocates of traditional marriage as the real liars:

I definitely never lied. I am much smarter than that. I didn't perpetuate a fallacy; I just continually failed to correct it. When your chest inflated and your eyes grew wider and you declared that "gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage," I let somebody else tell you that you were wrong. And when that somebody else -- exhausted from having to defend their very personhood, tired from battling for their constitutional right to equality, drained from being persecuted by small men inflating their arrogant chests -- said to you, "No, marriage equality will not change traditional marriage," I didn't have the heart to correct them. For years and years I've strategically bit my tongue (Kolodny).

She goes on to make the case that, because of same-sex marriage, everyone will be forced to re-imagine the tenets of traditional marriage. This will lead to freedom for women, who are oppressed by men through marriage:

As questions continually arise, heterosexual couples will take notice – and be forced to address how much “traditional marriage” is built on gender roles and perpetuates a nauseating inequality that has no place in 2014…I believe that marriage equality will stomp out the remaining misogyny that you call “tradition.” That’s a win, not just for the LGBTQ community but for heterosexual women and the heterosexual men who see them as equals (Kolodny).

I must say, they do have a point. Certainly not about the tired radical feminist rhetoric that has been vomited by those on the left since the beginning of the sexual revolution. I suppose, however, it is not surprising that Ms. Kolodny wouldn’t take us Christians at our word when we support marriage as instituted by God, and deny that it is our intention to use marriage to enslave womyn. I guess if they’re willing to lie about what they believe, they probably figure we are as well.

They are right that the proponents of “traditional marriage” are responsible for the erosion of marriage as an institution. We should take just as much blame for what has happened to the institution of marriage as the leftist social activists, because we are just as human as they are. While Christians are certainly correct to worry about the erosion of marriage as a social institution, the worrying should be applied retroactively by a period of at least 45 years. And, considering that prostitution has been dubbed the world’s oldest profession, perhaps we should dial that back even a little further.

1969, however, is when California became the first state to enact no-fault divorce. It was at this point, at the height of the sexual revolution, it seems to me, that the Christian church began to seriously flirt with the idea of conforming more closely to the secular world’s view of marriage and sexuality, so as to be more tolerant and loving. Certainly, the other eroding factors mentioned above existed long before liberal wack-a-doo legislators on the left-coast decided that it was ok to dissolve a marriage for any reason, without having to prove wrong-doing on the part of the spouse. I seem to recall a story about an English king and a parade of headless ex-wives. The difference between good ol’ Henry VIII and the 40-year sonic dive into nationwide same-sex marriage in which our society is currently involved, is really one of acceptance of attitude.

Christian society, relying on God’s Law as a curb, refused to accept those things such as infidelity and divorce, even though sinful human beings engaged in those behaviors. What I’m getting at is the difference between living and sinning, and “living in sin”. Or, to put it in the words of St. Paul, it is the difference between walking according to the flesh, and walking according to the spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8: 5-14).

People get all hacked-off when Christians call homosexual behavior sin. Even Christians feel uncomfortable affirming this biblical teaching. This is because, for at least a generation, it has been taught as undeniable truth that sexual orientation is determined by genitics and homosexuals simply "are what they are". Science is even confident, the media tells us, that they have identified a strong genetic component to homosexuality[1]. This argument is somehow supposed to shame the Christian into silence by painting him as a bigot and a bully for picking on a group of people who can't help what they are.

Well, science also says that alcoholism is genetically determined, and alcoholics also can't help what they are[2]. Yet, society recognizes that alcoholism is unnatural and destructive, and supports groups with tax money and tax breaks which council them not to engage in such behavior. Is this cruel and bigoted? Hardly. What the secular world cannot acknowledge is that all of humanity is predisposed toward sinful behaviors. This is because we are all sinners, with a broken and corrupt nature. It doesn't matter in what form your sin manifests - gluttony, greed, sexual immorality, lying, covetousness etc - take your pick. All sin condemns and separates us from God.

The answer to sin is not acceptance, but repentance. If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But, if we confess our sin God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness[3]. There is forgiveness for the world in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Law and Gospel faithfully proclaimed, the waters of Holy Baptism, and the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine of the supper, coupled with God’s promises of redemption, create and sustain faith in us. They kill our corrupt sinful nature – our Old Adam – and make of us a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit.

All of the sinful sexual perversion (along with the dissolution of marriage) that we deal with today was dealt with in ancient times as well; It isn’t as though human beings have changed since the Fall. Israelite husbands were divorcing their wives during the leadership of Moses long before Henry VIII got axe-happy. Jesus tells us, however, that this wasn’t meant to be. He teaches that divorce was only given to the people by Moses because of their stubbornness[4]. To put it another way, they allowed the dissolution of marriage because of sin – their sin. Because our nature is corrupt and sinful, we human beings sin. That doesn’t mean, however, we should accept it and live according to it.

…Jesus allows divorce for one reason only – “immorality,” or illicit sexual intercourse. His thought is plainly that a person dissolves his marriage by creating a sexual union with someone other than the marriage partner…the decree of divorce simply reflects that the marriage has already been broken (Packer and Tenney).

Just because people are sinful doesn’t mean society in general, but the Christian church in particular, should accept and celebrate sinful behavior. That isn’t being inclusive or loving. To hold that attitude is to reject Christ and embrace the world. It is truly loving to tell your neighbor the good news that, while they were dead in trespass and sin, God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross in payment for that sin – whatever particular perversion they may struggle with (or, as is more often the case, be fond of) – and to call them to repent and to believe that this is most certainly true. All of the things St. Paul describes as works of the flesh that we commit are the sins for which Christ died as the atoning sacrifice. And, though Christians will inevitably fall into sin, that does not mean they should give in and gratify the desires of their sinful nature and flesh on purpose – that would be to make sin their way of life. In short, simply because some people will divorce, commit acts of infidelity, or are same-sex attracted does not mean that we should accept those things as a normal, healthy part of human behavior. Having a standard and failing to live up to it is quite a different thing than living as if there was no standard at all.

So, ultimately, the issue regarding the deterioration of marriage and sexuality has nothing to do with marriage equality being a civil right or whether or not “being gay” equates to a separate gender and needs to be a federally-protected group. It is even irrelevant to the discussion whether or not homosexuality is genetic, because all mankind is already predisposed toward evil and away from God. It’s not same-sex marriage that is destroying marriage; it isn’t divorce, or infidelity that is destroying marriage. The sinfulness of mankind is at the root of the deterioration of marriage. All of these things – homosexuality, adultery, divorce etc – are different manifestations of sin. The issue is, as always, Christ and him crucified. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. The Father gave the Son to ransom mankind from sin – all sin. Repent, and believe the Gospel. Marriage will then take care of itself.



Works Cited

Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Alcohol Addiction, High Anxiety Linked to Same Gene." 26 05 2004. WebMD. 12 06 2014. <http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20040526/researchers-identify-alcoholism-gene>.

Knapton, Sarah. "Being homosexual is only partly due to gay gene, research finds." 13 02 2014. The Telegraph. 12 06 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10637532/Being-homosexual-is-only-partly-due-to-gay-gene-research-finds.html>.

Kolodny, Carina. "Marriage Equality Is Destroying 'Traditional Marriage,' and Why That's a Good Thing (An Open Letter)." 20 02 2014. The Huffington Post. 12 06 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carina-kolodny/marriage-equality-is-dest_b_4823812.html?view=print&comm_ref=false>.

Packer, J. I. and M. C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980.



End Notes

[1] A study found that, while gay men shared similar genetic make-up, it only accounted for 40 per cent of the chance of a man being homosexual. But scientists say it could still be possible to develop a test to find out if a baby was more likely to be gay (Knapton).

[2] Both the CREB gene and the central amygdala have been linked with withdrawal and anxiety. When there is less CREB in the central amygdala, rats show increased anxiety-like behaviors and preference for alcohol. Pandey's newest study puts it all together: It is "the first direct evidence that a deficiency in the CREB gene is associated with anxiety and alcohol-drinking behavior," Pandey writes (Davis).

[3] 1 John 1: 8-10

[4] Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-10


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book Review - Heaven is For Real

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Note: This is a review, or rather an opinion piece, on the book, "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo. I do not go into terribly great detail describing the visions of Colton Burpo, who allegedly went to heaven. If, however, you don't want to know what he allegedly saw before you read the book, skip to paragraph five of this article, where my opinion begins. - THL

In 2003, three year old Colton Burpo suffered from undiagnosed appendicitis. He and his family were traveling from Imperial, NE to Greely CO. Colton’s father, Todd, is a pastor at a Wesleyan Church in Imperial, and the family was accompanying him to Greely on a church-related trip. Colton became ill and, rather than taking him to the local emergency room, the family decided to take him to their own doctor in Imperial; they believed that he simply had the stomach flu, which had been going around. Colton’s condition continued to worsen after seeing the doctor. After much discussion and prayer the family took Colton to North Platte Medical Center for treatment, where he was finally properly diagnosed. Colton underwent an emergency appendectomy, and a further surgery to clean out abscesses[1] (Burpo and Vincent).

Several months after the surgery, Colton began speaking about strange things which he experienced, such as angels singing to him while he was in the hospital. Colton’s father, suspecting that his son may have had a spiritual experience of some kind, carefully probed him with questions, careful, as he put it, not to put ideas into his son’s head[2] (Burpo and Vincent). Over the next several years Colton would go on to describe how, during his surgery, he was taken to Heaven. Colton explained how he met Jesus, John the Baptist, his grandfather “Pop” (who died before he was born), and his sister, who had been lost to miscarriage, also prior to Colton’s birth. Colton’s father describes his son’s reported visions with breathless wonder. Colton reported that, in heaven, no one is old or wears glasses. Colton also told his father that everyone in Heaven has wings. Colton even had a vision of the battle of Armageddon. According to Colton, his father will be involved in the fighting of monsters, using either a sword or a bow[3] (Burpo and Vincent). Colton also described how the angels in heaven have swords to keep Satan out of heaven[4] (Burpo and Vincent). Todd Burpo also included other descriptions and “insights” given to him by Colton, who sat on Jesus’ lap during his visit to Heaven.

Summarizing Todd and Colton’s answer to the question, “Why do you think Colton was allowed to see Heaven?” the two say: 1) God wants people to know that he is big and loves them a lot, 2) God wants to comfort those who believe, 3) God wanted to give a confirmation that Heaven is “for real”[5].  The overall purpose of the book is geared to conveying this three-fold message.

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
I do not believe that Colton experienced an actual vision of Heaven from God. The only other options remaining are: 1) he lied about his experience, 2) he experienced some kind of hallucination brought about by some physical cause, such as his serious illness or anesthesia, 3) he experienced a counterfeit miracle.  Taking the things Colton said at face value – and there is no reason not to do so – I do not believe that he was lying. After all, he was only three years old. On the other hand, he seems to have provided details about the goings-on in the hospital while he was unconscious that he could not have known[6]. That leaves only one possibility – demonic vision.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (Jude 1:3).
I think that he may have actually had a real experience; I tend to think it was satanic. I do not believe that God speaks to us other than through his word[7]. Even St. Paul, who saw things inexpressible, resolved to know nothing but Christ crucified among the Corinthians[8]. If there ever was someone who could claim his vision of heaven as proof of its existence and a reason for people to believe the things he said, surely it would be Paul. I mean, if Colton really saw the resurrected Christ, wouldn't that make him an Apostle? Should his words not be recorded and be considered Holy Scripture? This idea that men should seek special revelations apart from God’s word was called “enthusiasm” by the Reformers. In the Smalcald Articles, Luther wrote this about Enthusiasm:

In a word, enthusiasm dwells in Adam and his children from the beginning to the end of the world. Its venom has been implanted and infused into them by the old serpent. It is the origin, power, and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the papacy and Muhammad. Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit – without the Word and Sacraments – is the devil himself. God wanted to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word (Exodus 3:2-15). No prophet, neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments or the spoken Word. John the Baptist was not conceived without the word of Gabriel coming first, nor did he leap in his mother’s womb without Mary’s voice (Luke 1:11-20, 41). Peter says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy. Much less would the Holy Spirit have moved them to speak when they were still unholy. They were holy, says he, since the Holy Spirit spoke through them[9] (McCain, Baker and Veith).
I believe that this book is dangerous to faith in Christ because it encourages people to look for and trust in a revelation from God apart from his word. Our attitude, when confronted with alleged divine revelation, should be one of, “I don’t know…but what I DO know is this: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” We should, as the Bereans did with the Gospel message proclaimed to them by St. Paul, test everything by God’s Word[10].

While Christ features prominently in Colton’s vision, and it is even said at one point that a person must “have Jesus in your heart” to get to heaven, the reason why is never clearly stated. In other words, the Gospel is absent, but in the most subtle way. Consequently, this book could have the effect of confirming unrepentant people in their current situation as lost and condemned sinner. Those who are searching for any antidote to the feelings of guilt for their sin, brought upon them by the preaching of the law, will find false comfort in the message extended in this book – the half-gospel that God loves them – and assume that all is well just the way things are. There is no talk of sin, or repentance, or need for a savior. There is no mention of Christ crucified, except to say, "Jesus died on the cross so that we could go see his dad[11]."

This type of confirming vision strikes me as unscriptural, not to mention unnecessary. If you are a believer in Christ, you don't need a vision of Heaven to prove to you that it is real; Christians already believe that it is real. If you're not a believer, this does not tell you how to get to heaven, other than to have Jesus in your heart, and that could mean different things to different people. To an unregenerate person, inclined away from God and toward evil, this is hardly preaching law and gospel.

Scripture is quite clear that we human beings are lost and condemned. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, and there is nothing we can do to rectify the situation. Scripture is also clear that Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, paid the penalty for our sin. This is the word of Christ through which faith comes. In the words of Luther’s Small Catechism:

…[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation).
This is most certainly true.






Works Cited


Burpo, Todd and Lynn Vincent. Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip To Heaven and Back. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010. iBook Edition.

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

Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986.

McCain, Paul Timothy, et al., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Trans. William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.





[1] Heaven is For Real, p. 137
[2] Ibid, p. 149
[3] Ibid, p. 221
[4] Ibid, p.216-17
[5] Ibid, p. 169, 243-48
[6] Explaining everything in the kindest way, I choose not to entertain the idea that Colton was coached by his father, and accept the account as it is given.
[7] Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Romans 10:17).
[8] 1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10: The heart of the Gospel is Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. In his second letter to the Corinthians, regarding the “man in Christ”, clearly Paul is speaking of himself. Paul is absolutely passive; the Lord alone is doing and giving…Paul uses terminology typical of intertestamental Judaism, but he shows no interest in its details. His spiritual faculties were alert, but Paul’s total focus on the Lord and complete forgetfulness of self made him unaware of how his body related to this experience. He may have had the experience as a vision, or he may have been physically taken to heaven (Engelbrecht).
[9] SA VIII 9-13.
[10] Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11).
[11] Ibid, p. 184-85