Archive for November, 2009

Lutheranism and Calvinism: What and That v. How and Why

November 25th, 2009 36 comments

question-markI grant that generalizations can be unhelpful; namely, they tend to over-simplify what obviously are matters of great nuance and deserving of long and careful study and explanation. It does strike me as I consider much of the conversations I’ve read between Lutherans and Calvinists boils down to a critical distinction between our respective theological points of view, our Weltaunschaung, as it were. And, again, at the considerable risk of over-simplification, it seems to me that it comes down to this: Lutheranism tends to focus on the “what” and “that” of the God’s Word, whereas Calvinism tends to move more toward answers to “how?” and “why?” In a certain sense, Lutheranism is more about declaration and proclamation of what has been revealed by God’s Word, but Calvinism wants always to move into an explanation of the “how?” and “why?” of Scripture, from a metaphysical or philosophical point of view. It strikes me that often Calvinism appears to be more concerned with answering questions posed by finite human understanding, than in asserting the “what” and “that” of Scripture. Add to this a disturbing and disquieting focus more on the “sovereignty of God” and less on the man Christ Jesus, His grace and mercy and you have in place a “system” that appears to me to be more about resolving logical conundra than in asserting the Gospel of Christ. Many former Calvinists have mentioned this to me and all tell a very common story around these points.

Let me illustrate my point and provide some examples.

The doctrine of Election: Lutheranism holds in tension the Bible’s teaching that all who are saved are saved only by grace, alone, apart from any works of the law: no “decisions for Christ” no “acts of will” no “choosing to beleive.” We are saved only and completely by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. We are saved entirely as an act of the merciful God and only through the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all sin. Calvinism wants to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” And, historic/classic “five point” Calvinists answer that the “solution” to this “riddle” is that God, from all eternity, as a sovereign act, chooses some to go to hell and others to be saved and be in heaven. Arminianism, a reaction to Calvinism, went to the other extreme and teaches that God foresaw those who would choose to believe, and so those are they whom God saves. Lutheranism refused to solve the “riddle” and answer the question “Why some, not others.” It holds in tension God’s grace alone and also salvation by means of faith alone.

The doctrine of the Real Presence: Lutheranism asserts that the Word of Christ that “this [bread] is [is] my body [Christ's body]” is a statement of what and that. It is His Body, it is given for us to eat and to drink. Calvinism rejects this believe and predicates its position on trying to answer “how” and “why” type questions about the Lord’s Supper. It anchors its position finally in a philosophical/logical premise that the body of Christ can not be present under bread and wine, and therefore, Christ is not talking about an actual real, physical presence of His resurrection body in the Eucharist, under the elements of bread and wine.

I wonder what you think of this? Here is an older blog post I put up several years ago that speaks to these issues a bit further.

I found the quote that follows these remarks to be a helpful insight into Calvinist thinking on the Lord’s Supper. My quick response to their “how” question about our Lord’s human nature is simply this…how was it possible for the Risen Lord to suddenly “appear in the midst of them” among His disciples on Easter? What was  His human nature doing after the Resurrection? Was it omnipresent with Him? Or was Jesus hiding out until the Ascension? How did His human nature ascend? Or what about the Transfiguration? It seems that was a pretty amazing event for His human nature, a foretaste of what was to come during His glorification? How is God able to create everything out of nothing? How is a Virgin able to conceive? How is that some are saved, and not others? So man “how” questions! Finally, how is it that Christ fills all things, and yet, not, apparently, according to the Calvinists with also His human nature, which is forever joined to the divine nature, see Eph. 4.

A desire to provide a “logical” explanation to these “how” questions is really Calvinism’s downfall. Again, you notice how the “system” is all important for Calvinism. Whatever doesn’t square with it is out.  There is a reason old John Calvin said, “The finite is incapable of the infinite” and by saying that he thereby effectively, if they are going to be consistent, excludes the Incarnation to begin with!

My “exegetical warrant” for the Lutheran confession of the Supper, is, and remains the words that ever stand sure. The words of our dear Lord Christ, “This is my body.”

Link: Triablogue. Here is the quote. By the way, I let them know I’m not a “Dr.” but it is a nice thought. I informed them that I’m waiting for a honorary doctorate, the only really Christian one, received by grace alone, apart from any works:

Can Dr. McCain construct an explanation regarding how exactly the human nature of Christ is present “with, under the bread and wine” of the Lord’s Supper and still be His human nature and fully human? After the Resurrection Christ is depicted as being glorified, able to appear and reappear mysteriously, have an incorruptible body, etc., but there is still continuity with the original body. “Illocality” is not depicted of Him in Scripture. When He is present in the room in His incarnate, resurrected body, He is truly bodily present. Nobody orthodox has ever disputed the notion He is always present in His divinity anyway.

One would have to divinize the human nature in order for his assertion about the elements to be valid. Glorfication is not “divinization.” That is classic Apollinarianism and Monophysitism and Greek piety, not Scripture speaking.

Where does Scripture affirm that Christ’s human nature is present in such a manner? To say that Christ’s humanity is present in the elements divinizes His human nature and further restricts it to the elements at the Lord’s Table, so His humanity shares ubiquity with His divinity with respect to the elements at the Table, yet omnipresence (ubiquity) means God (in all 3 Persons) is present everywhere. Think about that for a moment. How can His human nature be in two places at once, specifically in the elements injested at the Lord’s Table, and Christ be fully human? Approaching this from the other direction, how can His human nature share in the divine ubiquity, which means God is everywhere, and be localized only in the bread and wine? You have to create a special category of ubiquity for Christ’s humanity and the communication of attributes in order to accomodate such a view. I’m sorry Dr. McCain, but you need an exegetical warrant for that.

Lutheran theology tries to get around this by saying His human nature is “illocal” in the Eucharist. The problem is this: It’s not really illocal in this view, it is clearly localized in the elements and in heaven; that’s two specific places at a single time, a fly trapped in amber across two levels of existence. Thus, not only is Christ with respect to His human nature in heaven, He is present on earth in the elements in time when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. That makes his human nature subject to time as well as spatial constraints on earth as well as heaven. That’s one reason why Calvin rejected the notion of ubiquity of Christ’s body in the elements; it involves too many equivocations on the nature of time and space and what and does and does not constitute localization that necessitate extra-biblical ideas and doesn’t appear to be supportable from Scripture. Calvin stakes out a position between that of Luther and Zwingli.

When People Say There is Nothing Good on The Internet….

November 25th, 2009 2 comments

YouTube recently added support for full 1080 HD playback….enjoy:

Categories: Internet Resource

Pastors Clowning Around [Add Your Own Punchline]

November 24th, 2009 4 comments

In a discussion about “clown ministry” there was a reference to a Lutheran pastor and somebody explained:

“Besides going to seminary, he also went to the Barnum & Bailey clown school”
[Add your own punchline]

The Manhattan Declaration: We Must Obey God Rather Than Men

November 23rd, 2009 13 comments

manhattan_declaration_hi-res-smallerA significant statement, titled The Manhattan Declaration, has been signed by over 148 prominent leaders across the Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Churches. Now is the time for Christians, and all people of good will, to oppose the embrace of abortion and homosexuality, and consequently a full frontal assault against marriage. While we can quibble over nuance and method and approach of The Manhattan Declaration, how can we not join with others in expressing our opposition to such profound public errors? I urge you to read The Manhattan Declaration and if you feel you are able, to sign it. I have. I hope you do too. In so doing, you commit yourself to acts of civil disobedience. Lutherans, traditionally, have been pacifistic in the face of government actions that run contrary to the will and Word of God. Need we mention but one example? Nazi Germany? I appreciated Dr. Albert Mohler’s blog post explaining why he signed The Manhattan Declaration, perhaps you will too. Here is the conclusion of his explanation, which echo my own reasons for signing The Manhattan Declaration. And, with all due respect, if you think that we are not at a point of cultural crisis over these issues, I would urge you to wake up. Dr. Mohler cites but a couple examples of where, precisely, things are headed for the Church.

I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I believe it is an historic statement of conviction and courage that is both timely and urgent. Over the course of the next few months and years, these issues will be reset in our culture and its laws. These are matters on which the Christian conscience cannot be silent. There are, of course, other issues that demand Christian attention as well. The focus on these three issues is forced by the circumstances of current threats as well as the awareness that the time of decision on these questions has come. Though Christians struggle to understand the extent to which our convictions should be incorporated in the law, we must now recognize that the very respect for these convictions — and the freedom to follow and obey these convictions in our own lives, families, and ministries is now at stake.

I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I lead a theological seminary and college, serve as a teaching pastor in a church, and am engaged in Christian leadership in the public square. Thus I see the threats to Christian liberties that now stare us in the face. The freedom not to perform a same-sex marriage is one thing, but what about the freedom to hire employees according to our Christian convictions? What about the right of Christian ministries to conduct their work according to Christian beliefs? What about the freedom to preach and teach against the grain of the nations laws (for example, after the legalization of same-sex marriage)? When to hate crimes laws slide into definitions of “hate speech?” The threats to our religious liberties are immediate and urgent.

I signed The Manhattan Declaration because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on these three crucial issues, and not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity. I cannot and do not sign documents such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together that attempt to establish common ground on vast theological terrain. I could not sign a statement that purports, for example, to bridge the divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals on the doctrine of justification. The Manhattan Declaration is not a manifesto for united action. It is a statement of urgent concern and common conscience on these three issues — the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the defense of religious liberty.

My beliefs concerning the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches have not changed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches doctrines that I find both unbiblical and abhorrent — and these doctrines define nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But The Manhattan Declaration does not attempt to establish common ground on these doctrines. We remain who we are, and we concede no doctrinal ground.

But when Catholic Charities in Massachusetts must choose to end its historic ministry of placing orphaned children in good homes because the State of Massachusetts required it to place children with same-sex couples, this is not just a Catholic issue. The orphanage could have easily been Baptist. When Belmont Abbey college in North Carolina is told by federal authorities that it must offer abortion services in its insurance plans for employees, this is no longer just a Catholic issue. The next institution to be under attack might well be Presbyterian. We are in this together, and we had better be thankful that, in this case, we are not alone.

Finally, I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I want to put my name on its final pledge — that we will not bend the knee to Caesar. We will not participate in any subversion of life. We will not be forced to accept any other relationship as equal in status or rights to heterosexual marriage. We will not refrain from proclaiming the truth — and we will order our churches and institutions and ministries by Christian conviction.

There will be Christian leaders, pastors, seminaries, colleges, universities, denominations, churches, and organizations that will abandon the faith on these issues. They will bend the knee to Caesar. Far too many already have. The signatories to The Manhattan Declaration pledge that we will not be among them.

I want my name on that list. I surrendered no conviction or confessional integrity to sign that statement. No one asked me to compromise in any manner. I was encouraged that we could stand together to make clear that to come for one of us on these issues is to come for all. At the end of the day, I did not want my name missing from that list when folks look to see just who was willing to be listed.

Categories: Culture

Warning Signs that a Lutheran Pastor or Layperson is Headed Toward Rome

November 21st, 2009 8 comments

600px-Warning.svgSeveral warning signs generally precede a Lutheran pastor or layperson’s move over to Rome.

When a Lutheran pastor or layperson starts singing the praises of the Tridentine Latin Mass, quoting the Pope or Roman Catholic “saints” frequently, and downplaying the deep differences between Lutheranism and Rome on Justification, or trying to mitigate them, these are “warning signs” of a possible impending swim across the Tiber River. If a Lutheran pastor is heard to be talking more about the saints and putting forward the view that quite possibly one can, and maybe even should, be offering prayers to them, or to St. Mary, this is a warning sign. One chap who abandoned his call and his ordination, spent quite some time overly-fascinated with Roman Catholic doctrines, and finally ended up rejecting the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ, alone.

As I once said to those Lutheran pastors and layman dabbling with Eastern Orthodoxy: if you are not going to stay and remain among us, taking your post on Zion’s wall, then what you must do, do quickly. Stop confusing yourself and your hearers. It is tempting for Lutherans whose church bodies are experiencing serious difficulties to look fondly toward Rome, but it is simply not an option for anyone who wishes to be, and remain, faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are there devout Christians who are Roman Catholics? Of that I have no doubt, at all. That is not the point.

There is a reason why there was a Reformation in the Western Church. And that reason remains today, both within and without, the Lutheran Church. “Going Rome” is not a good alternative.

Categories: Uncategorized

Reason and Faith: Can Anything Be Believed That is Against Reason?

November 20th, 2009 2 comments

faithMore from Blessed Johann Gerhard, from an unpublished translation….in the works at a certain publishing house you know…or should know!

Whether anything should be believed against reason.
§ 252.
Up to this point we have been showing that Bellarmine’s boasting is false when he says that the Roman church teaches no error, and no shamefulness. Now concerning his third boast, that “nothing in it is taught against reason,” we respond: (1) The norm of faith and truth in the Church is not principles of reason or rules of philosophy but Holy Scripture.

(2) What Bellarmine plainly declares here is false, that “the mysteries and articles of faith are merely above reason but not contrary to reason.” Surely, if reason keeps itself within its own sphere and does not meddle in the secrets of the divine mysteries but reverently applies this rule to the highest mysteries of faith: “The things that are placed above my comprehension, concerning them I shall not presume judge on the basis of my principles;” I say, if reason behaves in this way, we admit that the articles and mysteries of faith are not contrary to reason. But if—and this happens often—reason is so presumptuous as to pass judgment on and make declarations about the mysteries of faith on the basis of its own principles and according to the rules of philosophy, if it exalts itself above its lady, theology, <P5:522> like stubborn Hagar; then surely the mysteries of faith are not only above but even contrary to reason. This is very obvious from the article on the Trinity of persons in one divine essence, on the resurrection of the dead, on the presence of Christ’s body in the Supper, etc.

(3) Therefore a distinction must be made between reason left to itself without restriction, which runs about unbridled and is carried around by its reckonings, which judges and decides on the basis of its own principles, which are common notions, perceptions, experience, etc., and reason restrained by God’s Word and kept in obedience to Christ. This judges and decides on the basis of the proper principle of theology, that is, on the basis of God’s Word, which has been set forth in the Holy Scriptures. The mysteries of faith are not contrary to reason considered in the latter respect, but they are contrary to reason considered in the former respect.

(4) Some express this in such a way a distinction is to be made between reborn and unreborn reason. But in order for this distinction to be complete, we must necessarily add that when reborn reason, on the basis of its own principles, assails the articles of faith explicitly handed down in the Scriptures, to that extent it is no longer acting as reborn reason. In the same way, when a reborn man follows the kindred corruption of his flesh and indulges in sin against his conscience, to that extent he is no more acting as a reborn man. In fact, he ceases to be reborn. We have discussed this in greater detail in our On the Interpretation of Scripture ([1610] Loci, vol. 1, [locus 2]), § 174.

(5) Therefore just as reason in the articles of faith can be considered in two ways, so also we can establish two kinds of paradoxical statements opposed to reason. One kind of paradoxical statement is opposed to the reason of an unreborn person judging on the basis of its own principles. In the mysteries of faith we do not need to pay too much attention to this, because in articles of faith one must not depart from the letter for the sake of something paradoxical to human reason. But the other kind of paradoxical statement is opposed to the reason of an unreborn person judging on the basis of the proper principle of theology, that is, on the basis of the Word. We must pay careful attention to this in the mysteries of faith since it is paradoxical with respect to both reason and faith, that is, to reason embracing the principles of faith and clinging to them tightly. The basis for this distinction is taught in the following statements of Scripture: Gen. 18:14: hayippale’ meyhowah dabar “Will anything be hard for the Lord?” as Arias Montanus translates it, or: “Will anything be hidden from the Lord?” as Vatablus renders it, or: “Is anything impossible for God?” as Luther translates it. Pala’ is “separated” and “divided” either from man’s knowledge and intelligence or from his action and strength, so that he cannot attain that by reason nor perform it by strength. Therefore the meaning of the divine oracle is this: Even if something has been placed above the comprehension of human reason and above human powers, yet that is not difficult for God, much less impossible, because God “can do more than we understand” (Eph. 3:20). The word pele’ means “strange” or “secret.” Therefore the meaning is: Even if something may seem strange and paradoxical to men, yet to God it is not strange and secret. Zech. 8:6: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: if it is strange (yipale’) or difficult, if this seems paradoxical and impossible in the eyes of the people, will it also be strange and paradoxical (yipale’) in My eyes?”

In Luke 1:34, Mary the God-bearer [θεοτόκος], full of wonder, asked: “How could a virgin, who does not know a man, become a parent?” The angel then answers her (v. 37): “With God no word will be impossible.” That is to say, although among humans it may seem impossible and incompatible with reason for a virgin to conceive and bear a child without a man’s seed; yet with God, this is not impossible or absurd.

In Matt. 19:26 Christ also makes this distinction, that “among men some things are impossible;” that is, that in their judgment many things are impossible, absurd, and paradoxical, but with God all things are possible.

In Luke 5:26, when Christ healed the paralytic with a divine miracle, the people said: “Today we have seen strange things [παράδοξα],” that is, things which were placed above the comprehension of reason. The same word is used about divine miracles in Wisdom 16:17 and Sirach 43:30. In Wisdom 5:2 the heavenly glory of the blessed is called the “paradox of salvation” [παράδοξον τῆς σωτηρίας] which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it ascended into the heart of man” (Isa. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9).

Kenyan and Baltic Bishops Speak Up, and Out, Against Ordination of Actively Homosexual Persons

November 20th, 2009 Comments off

Thanks to Pastor Weedon, for passing along the following statements from church leaders in Kenya and the Baltics. Once again, this is how those who serve as overseers are to bear faithful witness. As per the usual, the liberal church news services quote from these statements only very selectively when passing them along.

Kenyan and Baltic Bishops Speak Up

[HT to Dr. Tighe for providing me with these]


This is the statement of the executive committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya that met on the 12th November 2009, on the Apostasy of the church of Sweden to consecrate not just a woman to the office of bishop but a lesbian bishop on the 8th November 2009 in Uppsala cathedral.

We, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, are watching with shock, dismay and disappointment, the news about these recent developments on what we would call “ the mega” Church bodies in the world are up to, when they work so hard and tirelessly to lead the world into religiousless society (leave alone Christianity)

In addition to our statement on what took place in the USA when ELCA in its Church wide Assembly held on 21 August 2009, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, resolved officially to open the door of the office of the public ministry to those who are in “committed” same gender sexual relations, we further state that it beats our logics and saddens us very much that the church of Sweden, which at the reformation was the pillar of Biblical Reformation within Christendom has now decided to go apostate by consecretating a lesbian woman as bishop on the 8th November 2009 and indeed women in the office of the Ministry over and above its earlier decision to allow same sex partners to hold the Sacred office of Word and Sacrament.

We therefore again reiterate as we did in our statement condemning the decision of ELCA issued on the 25th of September 2009;

1. that we condemn in the strongest terms possible this unfortunate and anti-scriptural development in a church body that bears the name of the great reformer, Dr. Martin Luther;
2. that these Church Bodies have rejected the faith of Christendom as have been confessed all along starting with the Apostles and the fathers as is also confessed today in the three ecumenical creeds.
3. that these church bodies have out rightly rejected the Authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God
4. to the Lutherans, Dr. Martin Luther brought the Church from being under the authority of man and speculations of human philosophies to be under the authority of the Scriptures.
5. that we want to remind those Lutheran Churches and others who ordain women into office of the Word and Sacrament that these unfortunate practice is a novelty that just started some fifty year ago and indeed an epicenter of spiritual lesbianism in the Church today.
6. that we condemn sexual perversion in all its manifestations;
7. that same sex marital union is not only contrary to God’s will as clearly expressed in the Holy Scripture, but also repugnant to the natural created social order;
8. that God’s plan and purpose of marriage is fulfilled only in heterosexual (one man – one woman) life long commitment;
9. that this act by the Church of Sweden constitutes a loveless and callous disregard of the spiritual condition of those caught in homosexual bondage; and
10. that, most seriously of all, it is nothing less than a denial of the transformative power of the love we know in our Savior Jesus Christ, Who seeks all sinners in order to restore them to communion with the Father through the ministrations of His Holy Spirit in Word and sacrament.

Therefore, we must confess the Word of God and be faithful to it. In the name of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, we call upon the Church of Sweden to repent of its apostasy from the truth. We feel compassion for those among us who are caught in homosexual bondage and want them to know the transforming power of God’s forgiveness and love. Thus we hereby dedicate ourselves anew into the service of Him Who came to serve us sinners, including those caught in homosexual bondage, and Who by the power of His cross and resurrection creates in us a new will to please Him in patterns of living that are chaste and pure. In saying these things, we are standing with our fellow redeemed in the great consensus of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, particularly with those church bodies in the International Lutheran Council. We want to assure the remnant Church bodies in the world, that as much the apostasy may continue aggressively, we believe the Church will not be defaced from the face of the earth. We therefore want to encourage and stand with the remnant Church bodies in Europe like Mission province in Sweden, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in America, Faithful Lutheran Churches in Africa and the rest of the World to stand up and take the Challenge to remain faithful to the Scriptures – for by the Scripture the Lord will save the Church in the World even unto end of the earth.

Signed this 13th day of November 2009:
Most Rev. Dr. Walter Obare Arch Bishop
Rev. John Halakhe General Secretary

The leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania met in Tallinn on the 3rd and 4th of November, 2009 to strengthen the long experience of unity of the Lutheran churches in the Baltic countries and to pray for the fellowship among Christians of the whole world, recognizing that in our time the ties among and within Christian communities in many places are put to the test. Bishops also discussed tasks and responsibilities of their churches looking for better ways of co-operation in the future. Christian faith means living with Christ and serving one another.

Especially at times of the economic difficulties when so many people have lost their external foothold and inner peace, we invite our compatriots to expand their appreciation of their Christian roots and to utilize all the spiritual wealth that is revealed in the Holy Scripture and offered to everyone who turns to God and puts their trust on Christ. The present crisis in the world economy is a fruit of a long term failure to act accordingly the principles which God has laid in the foundations of His creation. Consumerism and individualism of the modern society have taken their toll. To look for solution only by means of mending economy would mean to repeat the same mistake.

A spiritual renewal must come first, a renewed sense of balance between rights and obligations, communion empathy, solidarity, and mutual support. We believe that the most convincing inner motivation for that change is found in an encounter of a person with the living Christ. To facilitate that encounter by word and deed is the first and foremost calling of the Christian church. Jesus Christ said: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matt.28:19-20)

The Christian community as a part of the society is not separated from issues related to the natural and human environment both locally and globally. Justice in the society and life quality of the people or protection of our Baltic Sea against the state negligence and corporate exploitation are some of the critical examples of this area of concern. As communities gathered around the Word of God and the keepers of Christian ethos our churches must address the spiritual root-causes of the contemporary problems. The churches must remember that the main instrument entrusted to them by God is His word – the law and the gospel – and the service to the neighbour in charity.

We also invite our political powers to realize more clearly the spiritual dimension of the human life and the good fruits of a positive co-operation between state, municipalities, schools and the church. Teaching and implementing Christian principles strenghthen the family as well as the whole community. Liberty of conscience and freedom of speech belong to the values of society defining religious life not only as a private but also as a public social right which has to be fostered. Religious education and religious studies form an inseparable part of this right.

At the present time a common witness of churches is vitally important, therefore we express our deepest concern about modern tendencies that weaken the fellowship among Christians and cause divisions in and among churches. The recent decisions made by some member churches of the Lutheran World Federation to approve of religious matrimony for couples of the same gender and to equate such conjugal life with marriage or to ordain non celibate homosexual persons for pastoral or episcopal office epitomize these tendencies that are tearing apart fellowhip among Christians. We affirm that the marriage is the conjugal life between a man and a woman and that a homosexual activity is incompatible with the discipleship of Christ. We believe that in following the modern trends, churches are departing from the apostolic doctrine of human sexuality and marriage. We see the Lutheran communion and eccumenical efforts endangered by such decisions and actions because they lead to a situation where the Lutheran churches, members of the Lutheran World Federation are not able to fully recognize each others ecclesiastical offices, to exchange the ministries and to participate together in preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments.

We call upon our Lutheran sisters and brothers to unity and co-operation based upon the foundation of Holy Scripture and loyalty to the Lutheran confessions. Contemporary challenges demand a firm stand based upon timeless truths and values. The common understanding of the Gospel by churches is a treasure we cannot afford to lose and it needs to be passed on to the current and future generations. Our mission is to be faithful in that which we have received, God’s mercy. We are to serve our Lord and our neighbours thus until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:13)

Archbishop of Riga Janis Vanags Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia
Bishop of Daugavpils Einars Alpe Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia
Bishop of Liepaja Pavils Bruvers Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia
Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania
Archbishop Andres Põder Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Archbishop emeritus Kuno Pajula Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Bishop Einar Soone Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Categories: Uncategorized

An Opportunity for Faithful Clarity: The Diverging Paths in American Lutheranism

November 18th, 2009 5 comments

lutherroseI have been enjoying looking through older articles and essays in my files, and the other day ran across a copy of President A. L. Barry’s President’s Newsletter, from February 1997, more than twelve years ago. As I reflect on recent events in the Lutheran Church here in the United States, I was struck by the poignant relevancy of President Barry’s remarks. I thought I’d pass along an article he wrote calling for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to take up the opportunity presented for faithful clarity. Here is what President Barry wrote:

An Opportunity for Faithful Clarity:

The Diverging Paths of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Introducing the Opportunity

Over the past few months I have received any number of letters asking me two questions. The first question: “What is th e Missouri Synod’s response to the ELCA’s consideration of full communion with the Episcopalians and three Reformed Churches, and the lifting of the Reformation condemnations over against the Roman Catholic Church?” Following this question, the second generally is: “What are the key theological differences between the LCMS and the ELCA?”

Understandably, when Missouri Synod Lutheran laymen and laywomen hear about the proposals the ELCA is considering, they are led to wonder what our Synod thinks about thi s, and how one should respond to them. Often our church workers are asked about these matters. And so, I felt that it was both appropriate and necessary for me to share the following thoughts and observations in regard to these two important questions.

I would like to begin first by indicating that I approach this task with some very genuine pastoral concerns. The last thing I want to do is to stir up feelings of hurt and anger between our two church bodies or cause consternation in families that have per sons who are members in the LCMS and the ELCA. Many in our Synod enjoy long and close associations and friendships with individuals who belong to the ELCA, particularly since we were once in fellowship with groups that now belong to the ELCA, for instance the American Lutheran Church. Understandably, these issues can generate strong emotions as we find ourselves expressing heart-felt concerns to our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ELCA.

It is important for us to recognize that for the sake of our co nfession of the truths of God’s Word and in line with our commitment to the Lutheran Confessions, we must speak a word of faithful clarity and express our genuine concerns. Rather than being something negative, I believe that our Synod has a very good opportunity clearly to affirm the truth of God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. In love, we need to say, “This we believe, teach, confess and practice.”

In the paragraphs that follow I would like first to summarize briefly the ecumenical proposals being considered by the ELCA; secondly, offer a critique of these proposals, and then thirdly, discuss some of the important differences between our two churches.

Read more…

Here’s How a Lutheran Bishop Should Speak About Ordaining Actively Homosexual Persons

November 17th, 2009 1 comment

Kenyan Lutheran bishop rebukes Swedish church on lesbian bishop

By Fredrick Nzwili
Nairobi, 16 November (ENI)–The executive committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya has expressed shock, dismay and disappointment at the consecration of the Rev. Eva Brune, a lesbian who lives with her partner, as a bishop in the Church of Sweden.

“We condemn in the strongest terms possible this unfortunate and anti-scriptural development in a church body that bears the name of the great reformer, Dr Martin Luther,” said Archbishop Walter Obare, the leader of the ELCK in a statement on 13 November, after the church’s executive committee meeting in Nairobi.

Brune, aged 55, who lives in a legal relationship with her partner, was consecrated as the bishop of Stockholm in a ceremony at Uppsala cathedral on 8 November. The Rev. Tuulikki Koivunen Bylund, a female pastor, was consecrated as the bishop of Harnosand in northern Sweden, alongside Brune.

Obare said that at the time of Martin Luther, the church in Sweden was a pillar of the “Biblical Reformation” but it had “now decided to go apostate by consecrating a lesbian woman” and he described the action by the church as a “rejection of Christendom”.

The Kenyan archbishop’s letter on behalf of the executive committee of the church was co-signed by the general secretary of the denomination, the Rev. John Halakhe.

“We … are watching with shock, dismay and disappointment these recent developments on what we would call ‘the mega’ church bodies in the world, when they work so hard and tirelessly to lead the world into religious-less society,” said Obare.

He referred also to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s decision in August to allow homosexuals to serve as pastors in the church.

The Church of Sweden, with 6.9 million members is the largest single church belonging to the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation, while ELCK has 100 000 members.

“This act by the Church of Sweden constitutes a loveless and callous disregard of the spiritual condition of those caught in homosexual bondage,” said Obare. He termed women’s ordinations into church service as a recent and unfortunate innovation that is at the “epicentre of spiritual lesbianism in the church today”.

The Kenyan bishop noted, “We feel compassion for those among us who are caught in homosexual bondage and want them to know the transforming power of God’s forgiveness and love.”

The Rev.Halakhe said the acceptance of homosexuality in Europe and North America is causing discomfort among some LWF members ahead of the body’s once-every-seven-years assembly to be held in Stuttgart, Germany in 2010.

“Churches in Africa and Asia will bring it up in the assembly. We feel this time it has gone too far [with the ordinations],” he told Ecumenical News International on 15 November.

Asked if the ELCK would leave the LWF if actions such as those by the Church of Sweden continue, Halakhe said, “We have not been pushed by anybody, but if we are, we will definitely leave.” [495 words]

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Categories: Homosexuality

What Happens to Us When We Die?

November 17th, 2009 9 comments


I would like to float something out to you folks. Several times, in the past few months, I’ve bumped into comments from folks talking about what happens after we die that are confusing, misleading, and doctrinally vague. In one case, a person teaching a Bible class offended it deeply when he left them with the impression that at death our souls are asleep and are unaware of being with the Lord, until the Day of Resurrection. I understand the need to teach what “the Resurrection of all flesh” is all about, and that in our zeal to comfort those who mourn, we not give the impression that their loved one is just kind of “translated,” body and soul, to heaven and that the Resurrection is but an afterthought, but it has seemed to me, again, lately, via several comments I’ve read here and there, that it seems some are under the impression that the Scriptures teach a kind of “soul sleep.” Has anyone else heard this? Where do you think it is coming from?

Here is why we Lutherans absolutely reject and condemn any notion that at death our souls are “asleep” and unaware of heaven until the Day of Resurrection. This is how Francis Pieper handles this issue in his Christian Dogmatics, [also available in a digital edition] which remains to this day one of the very finest explanations of Lutheran theology available in English. If it is not required reading of all who aspire to the office of the ministry, it surely should be. This is from Volume 3, p. 511 and following:

The State of Souls Between Death and Resurrection
Holy Writ reveals but little of the state of the souls between death and the resurrection. In speaking of the last things, it directs our gaze primarily to Judgment Day and the events clustering around it. With their coming to faith, the blessedness of the Corinthians was complete except for the bliss awaiting them at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” on Judgment Day (1 Cor. 1:7). And with Paul the Philippians and all Christians confess: “We look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body” (Phil. 3:20–21). See also Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13 ff.; 2 Tim. 4:7–9; Titus 2:13. Great significance the Day of Judgment and its sequels have also for unbelievers. They “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power when He shall come” (2 Thess. 1:9–10). But what meanwhile becomes of the soul? What is the state of the souls between death and the resurrection?

Of the souls of the unbelievers (ἀπειθήσαντες) Scripture declares that they are kept ἐν φυλακῇ, “in prison,” a place of punishment [Vol. 3, Page 512] (1 Pet. 3:19–20).16 Of the souls of the believers we are told not merely in general that they are in God’s hand (Acts 7:59; Luke 23:46), but also in particular that they dwell with Christ and in Paradise, Phil. 1:23; “I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better.” (Luke 23:43)17 The “being with Christ” or “in Paradise” of the departed believing souls must certainly be an augmentation of the communion with Christ which Christians enjoy here on earth, because Paul adds: “which is far better,” πολλῷ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον, better than his communion with Christ here on earth. Moreover, the life “in Paradise,” which Christ promised the soul of the believing malefactor, certainly bespeaks a blissful state of the soul after death.18 These texts surely make it evident that the departed souls of the believers are in a state of blessed enjoyment of God, even though we know nothing further as to the manner of their blessed communion with God. Deductions from the nature of the soul, e. g., that it cannot be inactive,19 are uncertain and therefore not to be urged in theology. A soul sleep which excludes a blessed enjoyment of God [psychopannychism]20 must be definitely rejected on the basis of Phil. 1:23 and Luke 23:43. A sleep of the soul which includes enjoyment of God (says Luther) cannot be called a false doctrine. …

Men have also dreamt of an intermediate body for departed souls. Kahnis reports: “Theologians (Schleiermacher) and philosophers (Fichte, Weisse, Goeschel) have come to the conviction that without a material foundation the survival of the soul is inconceivable” (Dogm., 2d ed., II, 522). This idea appeals to Kahnis himself. Likewise to Macpherson, who reasons: “It may fairly be assumed that during the period that elapses between the death of an individual and the coming of Christ, which brings with it the general resurrection, he wears a body suitable to his condition during that period, which in the resurrection to judgment is changed for that spiritual body which he will wear throughout eternity” (Christ. Dogm., 1898, p. 453). He adds: “Schleiermacher, in particular, has dwelt upon the impossibility of our conceiving or imagining a human spirit unassociated with a body.” But this idea of an intermediate body is foreign to Scripture. [Vol. 3, Page 515] Schleiermacher’s inability to conceive of a human spirit unassociated with a body does not warrant the adoption of this notion. Schleiermacher would not have had to worry about a bodiless soul had he borne in mind that there is a personal and omnipotent Spirit, fully able to keep a soul in existence without its body.

Before leaving the subject of the souls of the departed, we record the following facts: 1. Departed souls do not return to this world. This is a standing rule and divine arrangement (Luke 16:27–31). Moses and Elias, who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration and spoke with Christ (Matt. 17:3), are to be counted with the risen.26a 2. There is no Scripture warrant for attributing to the souls of the departed a direct knowledge of particular things and happenings on earth (Is. 63:16: “though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not”). To invoke the departed saints for their intercession and help, as Rome enjoins,26b is not only idolatry, but also folly.27 3. Scripture offers no hope for the conversion of departed souls. Such wishful thinking rests entirely on human speculation. In 1 Pet. 3:18–19 a preaching of judgment, and not a preaching of the Gospel, is meant. See Vol. II, 315 f., for details.

Source: Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, electronic ed., 3:511-515 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1950, c1951, c1953).

Categories: Death and Dying

What, Really, Is A Lutheran?

November 16th, 2009 2 comments

luther-sealWith all the news lately about decisions made by Lutherans in convention, with Lutherans always lumped a single group, it is good to remind ourselves what a Lutheran really is. Here is a helpful short summary by Rev. Dr. Robert Preus, one of the most articulate and knowledgeable LCMS Lutheran theologians from the previous century. If you do not know who Robert Preus is, I urge you to acquaint yourself with his many books. The best place to start is with his little masterpiece Getting into the Theology of Concord. Here is an excerpt:

What Really is a Lutheran?

What really is a Lutheran? This is a question which has not only perplexed non-Lutherans who have observed Lutherans in our country and all over the world split into a confusing plethora of territorial churches and synods; but the question is asked, and very sincerely, by more and more Lutherans who are distressed over the disunity so apparent the world over. It is surely a valid question, and vital for millions who studied and believe Luther’s Small Catechism and wish to remain faithful to its teachings and to their confirmation vow. And it is a question, ironically, which is really quite simple to answer.

This is a question that is of importance for Lutheran lay people and anyone else who is interested in understanding better what, exactly, a Lutheran is.

The answer is simple because we Lutherans for over 400 years have been guided in our belief and teaching and preaching by a number of Confessions which are collected together in one volume called the Book of Concord.

This Book of Concord contains a quite divergent assortment of creeds and formal confessions which have one thing in common, a doctrinal unity, a united commitment to the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this book are the ecumenical creeds, developed and written from the second to the sixth century, long before the Reformation. Included also are Luther’s Small Catechism and his Large Catechism (1529),which were not originally intended to be confessions at all in the usual sense, but were written for children and ordinary adults to summarize the Christian faith and the way of salvation for them. Perhaps the most important confession included in our Book of Concord is the Augsburg Confession (1530), written by Philip Melanchthon and presented on behalf of the Lutheran princes of the day at a very important meeting with the emperor to testify to the world exactly what the Protestant churches in their lands taught about the Christian religion and the Gospel. A year later (1531), Melanchthon wrote a defense of this great confession called the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, a very lengthy treatise in which he defends the theology of the Augsburg Confession, especially on such crucial issues of the Reformation as justification by faith, the importance of good works, the work of Christ, repentance, and the like.

In 1537, Luther was asked to write a confession for a church council the pope suggested he might hold but which never came about. It was written at a little town called Smalcald and is called the Smalcald Articles. It is a bold and militant document, but at the same time exhibits Luther’s great heart and concern for the Gospel and for the church, and it wins the reader by its sincerity and conviction. Later in the same year Melanchthon wrote a short Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope because Luther had seemingly not said enough about this in his Smalcald Articles. This too was included in our Book of Concord.

After Luther died in 1546, all kinds of controversies and misunderstandings broke out among the Lutherans in Germany. After years of debate and monumental attempts at settling the doctrinal issues the Formula of Concord was written in 1577. This was a joint undertaking of a great many Lutheran theologians who wanted only to settle the disputes and remain faithful to their Lutheran heritage. They were eminently successful. The Formula of Concord was signed by thousands of Lutheran pastors in the German empire; at a later date the Lutheran Church in Sweden and in Hungary also signed this document. Now peace (concordia) was established. The Reformation and the cause of the Gospel went on, uninhibited by doctrinal controversy.

In 1580 all these creeds and confessions were incorporated into the Book of Concord, which Lutheran pastors subscribe and pledge themselves today because they are a pure exposition of the Word of God. Although the Book of Concord contains documents written over 400 years ago, what is taught in these documents is precisely, or ought to be, what is believed and taught and confessed by every Lutheran pastor, and layman today.

No collection of books or statement has so adequately, so accurately, so comfortingly reflected and exhibited the Biblical Gospel as do the Lutheran Confessions.

Soli Deo gloria: to God alone the glory!


Getting into The Theology of Concord by Robert D. Preus

(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), pgs.7-10.

To order a copy of this book call 800-325-3040

Ways Social Networking Benefits Pastors and Congregations

November 15th, 2009 3 comments

Interesting post from Paul Steinbruck at The Alva Review-Courier, based in the megalopolis of Alva, OK (pop 4,848) published an article today entitled Social Networking Sites Benefit Pastors, Congregations in Many Ways. The author if the piece, Kathleen Lourde, interviewed several pastors in Alva as well as some guy with the same name as me. ;)

The article explains many of the benefits to pastors using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Twitter.  Those benefits include:

  1. Helps the pastor listen – So he knows more about what’s going on the lives of the people of his church.
  2. Humanizes the pastor – “it makes [him] seem like a regular person rather than a person who’s super-holy” (Did I really say “super-holy?” LOL)
  3. Helps church members feel more connected.
  4. In particular helps students who go away to college to stay connected to the pastor and church.
  5. Enables the pastor to quickly get a message out to many people in the congregation.
  6. The pastor can initiate spiritual conversations among members during the week.
  7. Helps the pastor connect with other pastors to encourage & pray for one another.
  8. A pastor can counsel people immediately online.

Any other benefits you can think of?  I’d say the article makes a pretty compelling case for pastors to use social networking tools.  What do you think?

Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation

November 14th, 2009 4 comments

Picture 2There is a great new book out by Dr. Christopher Boyd Brown titled Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation. In this book, which began as his dissertation for his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University, Dr. Brown offers a new appraisal of the Reformation and its popular appeal, based on the place of German hymns in the sixteenth century and in the lives of the early Lutherans. He focuses on the Bohemian mining town of Joachimsthal, where pastors, musicians, and laity forged an enduring and influential union of Lutheranism, music, and culture as the “test case” for his research.

The Lutheran hymns, sung in the streets and homes as well as in the churches and schools of Joachimsthal, were central instruments of a Lutheran pedagogy that sought to convey the Gospel to laymen and women in a form that they could remember and apply for themselves. Townspeople and miners sang the hymns, in their home, they taught their children, counseled one another, and consoled themselves hen death came near.

Shaped and nourised by the theology of the hymns, the laity of Joachimsthal maintained this Lutheran piety in their homes for a generation after Evangelical pastors had been expelled from their city during the Counter-Reformation. They finally chose to leaqve their homeland rather than submit to the demands of their Catholic church and political rulers. Singing the Gospel challenges the prevailing view that Lutheranism failed to transform the homes and harts of sixteenth-century Germany.

Dr. Brown is Assistant Professor of Church History, Boston University School of Theology. He is also the General Editor of Luther’s Works: American Edition, New Series. It is published by Harvard University Press.

“The End” is Coming! Prepare for More False Teaching on the End Times

November 13th, 2009 5 comments

End-TimesThis is quite a weekend. The movie “2012″ is in opening in theaters, a special-effects extravaganza, premised on a thoroughly nonsensical view of Mayan prophecy, which even NASA has refuted handily. But I received news today that is far more insidious and dangerous. Via Publisher’s Weekly, I learned that Tim LaHaye, co-author of the mega-selling Left Behind series, is switching publishers and in a partnership with lawyer-author, Craig Parshall, is now working on a new apocalyptic series of books. Zondervan has signed the pair to produce The End, described as “a series set in the near future chronicling political events leading up to the end times.” The first volume in the series will be titled The Edge of the Apocalypse, and will be releasing on April 20, 2010, with a first print run of 500,000 copies. LayHaye is quoted in the story as saying: “While my past works have piqued interest in biblical prophecy on a global level, The End series includes many prophecies that were not covered in Left Behind.” Please be aware and be warned that we can expect this series to repeat all the same millennialistic false doctrine the first series did. This is not Christian teaching, this is all false teaching, dangerous to souls and should be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17). It is good to remind our folks of what the Bible actually does teach about the End Times, and you can do that briefly, with the What About pamphlet on the End Times, or in more depth with the excellent study on End Times put out by The LCMS’ Commission on Theology and Church Theology a number of years ago. The announcement of this new series, today, comes at a perfect time for many of us who will be hearing our Lord’s warning about false teaching about the End Times in this Sunday’s appointed Gospel reading in the three-year lectionary series used in congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The two helpful documents I mentioned are available below as PDF files.

The End Times: LCMS CTCR Document


The What About pamphlet on End Times


Refuting the Claim that Calvinism and Lutheranism Differ Only Over the Mode of How Christ is Present in the Lord’s Supper

November 13th, 2009 16 comments

Sacrament-altar1It is very common for Calvinists and those who follow in his general school of thought, such as Baptists, that they do not reject the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but it is all really a matter of disagreeing how Jesus is present. Often I have watched Baptist bloggers and others swat down any conversation about the Real Presence by saying, “We are not going to get into an argument about how Jesus is present, we’ll just agree that he is in some way that none of us can adequately describe.” That rings with just enough of the truth as to mislead a great many people.

In fact, Calvinism clearly rejects that there is a real, actual presence of Christ under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Let this much be clear. Hermann Sasse put matters well when he wrote, many years ago:

For Calvin, the body of Christ as a truly human body exists in finite form and must, therefore, after the exaltation, be as far removed from us as heaven is from earth. The Lord’s body thus cannot simultaneously be present in heaven and on earth, and in multiple locations on earth. Calvin is not in a position to substantiate these assertions from the Bible, for he did not derive them from the Bible. These are metaphysical statements and ideological presuppositions that he uses to explain the Supper texts. No sign testifies with such infallible certainty the death throes of a congregation, or a whole church, as the decline and decay of the celebration of the Eucharist. This is, however, the deadly serious situation in which a very large segment of these Protestant churches of the world finds itself. This refusal on Calvin’s part to concede the presence of the body and blood of Christ under the bread and wine made clear to the Lutherans that the point at issue was not a mere question de modo praesentiae, [the mode of the Lord's presence] involving just “the how” of the presence. Against this understanding of the dispute, they always objected that this method would permit any theological controversy to be dismissed as a tempest in a teapot. Even Arius and Athanasius were agreed that “God was in Christ” and that “in Him the whole fullness of Godhead dwells bodily.” They only disagreed de modo praesentiae, that is, on the question of how the whole fullness of Godhead might be in Christ.

Now, here’s a thought, one that will be the subject of a blog post in the future. If we, as Lutherans, do confess that our Lord Christ is present under the bread and wine in His Supper, how does that give shape, form and definition to our celebration of the Supper? Will we look, to outside observers, not very dissimilar from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who confess the actual presence of Christ under the Eucharistic host? And what does it mean about our confession of the Supper, when we do not? But, can we, in zeal to affirm these realities, take matters too far? Yes, we can. Some do.