Archive for the ‘Christian Life’ Category

Aversion to Sanctification?

April 12th, 2012 28 comments

In light of some recent comments I’ve run across again on this issue, it’s time once more for the “Aversion to Sanctification” blog post, since the problem persists and appears to have become part-and-parcel of what some perceive to a confessional Lutheran understanding of God’s Word. More recent examples of this problem in action include a pastor posting a picture of a guy giving “the finger” and claiming there is nothing wrong with that and defending it, continued comments about how no matter what good works are done they are still “sinful,” and the ongoing effort to turn every comment in the Scriptures about the good works to which we are called into a discussion about the second use of the law, virtually laughing off Proverbs 31 and saying that text does not really apply to individuals but is really about Christ and the Church. But, I think the comment that took the prize was posted on my Facebook wall where the text of God’s Word was actually twisted to the point that the that indicates that God has prepared good works for us to walk in, to read “good work upon which God has prepared us to work” thus not about good works, but about Christ. All these things are put forward with the best of intentions, but they betray an unhealthy lack of balance and understanding on these issues. So here’s an oldie but a goodie:

I was just in a conversation with two younger men who were seriously saying that listening to the audio pornography and vile filth of Eminem is appropriate for Christians. One suggested that because only what comes out of a man is what makes him sinful that it matters not what he sees, or hears, as a Christian. These two young men are sadly typical of a poorly formed understanding of the life of good works to which we are called as Christians that seems pandemic in the Christian Church, where apparently some can wax eloquent about how they are striving to be faithful to God’s Word, but then turn right around and wallow in the mire and squalor of sin. This all the more underscores for me the point that we have a serious lack of emphasis on sanctification in our beloved Lutheran church. There is much teaching that is not being done, that must done. Simply repeating formulas and phrases about justification is not teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God. Comforting people with the Gospel when there is no genuine repentance for sin is doing them a disservice. There is a serious “short circuit” here that we need to be mindful of. Let this be clear. Listening to the “music” of swine such as Eminem is sinful and willfully choosing to listen to it is sin that drives out the Holy Spirit. This is deadly serious business. Deadly. Serious.

More recently, I’ve run across pastors laughing and yucking it up about posting the “F” word on their Facebook page and getting huffy when they were admonished about that.

Pastors who wash their hands of this responsibility claiming that they want to avoid interjecting law into their sermons when they have preached the Gospel are simply shirking their duty as preachers and are being unfaithful to God’s Word.

We have done such a fine job explaining that we are not saved by works that we have, I fear, neglected to urge the faithful to lives of good works as faithfully and clearly as we should. This should not be so among us brethren.

I’m growing increasingly concerned that with the necessary distinction between faith and works that we must always maintain, we Lutherans are tempted to speak of good works and the life of sanctification in such a way as to either minimize it, or worse yet, neglect it. I read sermons and hear comments that give me the impression that some Lutherans think that good works are something that “just happen” on some sort of a spiritual auto-pilot. Concern over a person believing their works are meritorious has led to what borders on paranoia to the point that good works are simply not taught or discussed as they should be. It seems some have forgotten that in fact we do confess three uses of the law, not just a first or second use.

The Apostle, St. Paul, never ceases to urge good works on his listeners nad readers. I recall a conversation once with a person who should know better telling me that the exhortations to good works and lengthy discussions of sanctification we find in the New Testament are not a model at all for preaching, since Paul is not “preaching” but rather writing a letter. This is not a good thing.

A number of years ago an article appeared that put matters well and sounded a very important word of warning and caution. It is by Professor Kurt E. Marquart of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I strongly encourage you to give it your most serious attention.

Antinomian Aversion to Sanctification?

An emerited brother writes that he is disturbed by a kind of preaching that avoids sanctification and “seemingly questions the Formula of Concord . . . about the Third Use of the Law.” The odd thing is that this attitude, he writes, is found among would-be confessional pastors, even though it is really akin to the antinomianism of “Seminex”! He asks, “How can one read the Scriptures over and over and not see how much and how often our Lord (in the Gospels) and the Apostles (in the Epistles) call for Christian sanctification, crucifying the flesh, putting down the old man and putting on the new man, abounding in the work of the Lord, provoking to love and good works, being fruitful . . . ?”

I really have no idea where the anti-sanctification bias comes from. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk over-reaction to “Evangelicalism”: since they stress practical guidance for daily living, we should not! Should we not rather give even more and better practical guidance, just because we distinguish clearly between Law and Gospel? Especially given our anti-sacramental environment, it is of course highly necessary to stress the holy means of grace in our preaching. But we must beware of creating a kind of clericalist caricature that gives the impression that the whole point of the Christian life is to be constantly taking in preaching, absolution and Holy Communion-while ordinary daily life and callings are just humdrum time-fillers in between! That would be like saying that we live to eat, rather than eating to live. The real point of our constant feeding by faith, on the Bread of Life, is that we might gain an ever-firmer hold of Heaven-and meanwhile become ever more useful on earth! We have, after all, been “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Cars, too, are not made to be fueled and oiled forever at service-stations. Rather, they are serviced in order that they might yield useful mileage in getting us where we need to go. Real good works before God are not showy, sanctimonious pomp and circumstance, or liturgical falderal in church, but, for example, “when a poor servant girl takes care of a little child or faithfully does what she is told” (Large Catechism, Ten Commandments, par. 314, Kolb-Wengert, pg. 428).

The royal priesthood of believers needs to recover their sense of joy and high privilege in their daily service to God (1 Pet. 2:9). The “living sacrifice” of bodies, according to their various callings, is the Christian’s “reasonable service” or God-pleasing worship, to which St. Paul exhorts the Romans “by the mercies of God” (Rom. 12:1), which he had set out so forcefully in the preceding eleven chapters! Or, as St. James puts it: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (1:27). Liberal churches tend to stress the one, and conservatives one the other, but the Lord would have us do both!

Antinomianism appeals particularly to the Lutheran flesh. But it cannot claim the great Reformer as patron. On the contrary, he writes:

“That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee s if t were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstance use these or similar words, “Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!” Instead they say, “Listen! Though you are an adultery, a wordmonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all! . . . They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach… “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extol so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, He has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men . . . Christ did not earn only gratia, grace, for us, but also donum, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain fro sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, “Christ! Christ!” He must be damned with this, his new Christ (On the Council and the Church, Luther’s Works, 41:113-114).

Where are the “practical and clear sermons,” which according to the Apology “hold an audience” (XXIV, 50, p. 267). Apology XV, 42-44 (p. 229) explains:

“The chief worship of God is to preach the Gospel…in our churches all the sermons deal with topics like these: repentance, fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, prayer . . . the cross, respect for the magistrates and all civil orders, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love.”

“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, unto Thy Church Thy Holy Spirit, and the wisdom which cometh down from above, that Thy Word, as becometh it, may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, that I steadfast faith we may serve Thee, and in the confession of Thy Name abide unto the end: through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”

Kurt Marquart

Concordia Theological Quarterly

Categories: Christian Life

On Sad Days . . .

March 22nd, 2012 1 comment

My friend Pastor Weedon shared these words on his blog…great stuff, friends, for those sad days.

from Weedon’s Blog

A week of so many sorrows… Joanie’s mom sudden death on Tuesday morning… The funeral for little Lily Ann Haarmann yesterday… Cindi today at the funeral for Dan Kostencki while I finished up homily for Ramona’s service… Death everywhere.  “In the midst of very midst of life snares of death surround us.” (LSB 755).  Or as Bishop Laache said so famously:  “In this life we carry each other to the grave.”

Spent time this morning on the phone with my brother, hospitalized with an infection that may halt his chemo treatments for the time being – he sounded weak, weary, discouraged.  Spent time talking to my sister about how sad conditions are at the VA hospital where Maup is hospitalized.  Spent time in prayer for so many heart-aches of the parish and dear friends going through hellacious times.

In such downer moments, is there any comfort on God’s green earth that comes close to what the Church gives us in her hymnody?  I think not.

Why should cross and trial grieve me?
God is near
With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son
For me won
When His life was given?

When life’s troubles rise to meet me,
Though their weight
May be great
They will not defeat me.
God, my loving Savior, sends them,
He who knows
All my woes
Knows how best to end them.

God gives me my days of gladness,
And I will
Praise Him still
When He sends me sadness.
God is good; His love attend me
Day by day,
Come what may,
Guides me and defends me.

From God’s joy can nothing sever
For I am
His dear lamb,
He, my Shepherd ever.
I am His, because He gave me
His own blood
For my good,
By His death to save me.

Now in Christ death cannot slay me,
Though it might
Day and night
Trouble and dismay me.
Christ has made my death a portal
Through the strife
Of this life
To His joy immortal.

Categories: Christian Life

Fasting from Fasting?

February 13th, 2012 12 comments

I just read a blog site that was sarcastically observing that fasting is nothing but works-righteousness and has no spiritual benefit, at all.

Now, granted, fasting has been turned very much into a “brownie point with God” kind of thing among many who practice it. I was observing recently the horrendously complex regulations, rules, requirements and even food choices that some Eastern Orthodox folks are subjected to by way of fasting. Aside from being entirely ridiculous and absurd, it is downright heretical to lay such a legalistic burden on folks. Why take all the joy out of a blessing by creating codes of canon law about it?

Fasting is fasting. You choose not to eat a meal or two during the day or abstain from something else for a period of time. I’m not a big fan of “fasting” from non-food things. Fasting means not eating. But that’s another discussion. I mean, fine, if you want to “fast” from watching TV, ok, but…don’t think you are actually fasting, you are abstaining from something, not fasting. Here’s a hint. When you fast your stomach will let you know it. If you don’t feel hunger pangs, you aren’t fasting.

It strikes me there are two problems with fasting though.

First, what’s with all this talking about our fasting? When we fast, says Jesus, we are to do so in such a way that nobody can tell we are fasting! But I often read posts from people declaring that they are fasting and from what they are fasting. That’s not right. So, please, when you fast, we don’t have to know about it. It’s between you and God. Talk to Him about it, not us. So, when you fast, anoint your face and do not act like the hypocrites who disfigure their faces to be seen by others. Prayer and fasting have always gone together in the Bible and in historic Christian piety. It’s ok to fast, but just don’t talk a whole lot about your fasting, ok? Talking about fasting is fine, talk about *your* fasting, no-no. Blog posts about the subject of not talking about fasting are ok though. <g>

Secondly, there is another problem. When Lutherans rightly blasted Romanists for their legalistic views of fasting that was very well and very good. But…we have nearly lost sight of an important sentence in the Small Catechism. “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” Read that again. “Certainly fine outward training.” And please note what the Blessed Apostle St. Paul said, But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” 1 Corinthians 9:27.

So, what about fasting? In our haste to avoid any problems with it because of mistaken practices, have we thrown out the baby with the bath water? I sure think so. Let’s get fasting under control, but not by fasting from fasting.

Kudos to What You Do for inspiring these thoughts on fasting.

Categories: Christian Life

What Compromise? Obama Policy Leaves Religious Liberty in Peril and Planned Parenthood Smiling

February 10th, 2012 9 comments

Great column by Dr. Al Mohler:

President Obama walked into the White House Press Room today and attempted to pull a political rabbit out of a hat. Faced with an avalanche of mounting opposition to his administration’s mandate that religious employers provide birth control to all employees, the President announced what his staff characterized as a “compromise.” Was it?

After his opening comments, he President stated his new policy:

Today, we’ve reached a decision on how to move forward.  Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services -– no matter where they work.  So that core principle remains.  But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -– not the hospital, not the charity -– will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.

The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly.  Let me repeat:  These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services.  But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they’ll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.

This means that certain employers who have “a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan” will not fund these services directly. Instead, the insurance plan will cover these services without charge to all women employees.

What does this resolve? Well, to state the matter bluntly, nothing. At the end of the day, this “compromise” will resolve the issue only for those whose conscience can be resolved by an accounting maneuver.

The qualified insurance plans do not print the monies required to cover the birth control services mandated by the Administration. They will obtain these funds through the premiums paid by employers — including those employers with “a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan.”

Will this resolve the issue politically? That remains to be seen. As is often the case, what is presented in Washington as a compromise is really not a compromise i any meaningful sense at all. The very fact that groups like Planned Parenthood celebrated the “compromise” indicates that it was not a compromise at all — just an accounting trick.

There were several very interesting aspects of the President’s remarks that should draw close attention.

First, President Obama said that he had earlier promised that “we would spend the next year working with institutions like Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that every woman has access to the care that she needs.”

Interestingly, that is not at all what Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. In her January 20 statement, she said this:

“Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.”

The Secretary ended that portion of her remarks with a final sentence, in which she stated that her department would “continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.” Secretary Sebelius left no door open for a change in the policy, only a listening ear and “more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.” That is a far cry from what the President described today.

Second, the President steadfastly describes this controversy as a Catholic issue, and this is to his political advantage. He spoke of meeting with Catholic leaders and working with Catholic parishes and Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities. He never even mentioned any other church, denomination, or religious group.

The President wants to frame this as a Catholic issue, but it is not. The Roman Catholic church is the major religious body that maintains teaching against all forms of artificial birth control, but those moral concerns are not limited to the Catholic church. The mandated coverage would violate the conscience and deepest convictions of millions of American evangelical Christians and their hundreds of schools and institutions which, put together, outnumber the Catholic institutions

Third, the Obama Administration continues to frame the controversy as a concern about “contraception.” Millions of Americans naturally think of a contraceptive as a mechanism for preventing the fertilization of the woman’s egg. They are unaware that the word has been redefined in medical, pharmacological, and political contexts to refer to a mechanism for preventing either fertilization or the successful attachment of the fertilized egg to the uterine wall.

This is not merely a matter of semantics. Any intervention that prevents the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine lining is an abortion. The Obama Administration has mandated the inclusion of the so-called “morning after pill” and other forms of “emergency contraception” in qualified plans.

Thus, only an accounting maneuver hides the fact that we will all be paying for chemical abortions under the President’s prized Affordable Care Act. Added to this coverage for sterilizations.

Fourth, the President’s remarks today do nothing in the least to save the health care plans governed by religious groups. These include those smaller groups that self-cover their employee medical expenses and massive denominational insurance plans that cover hundreds of thousands of ministers, religious workers, and employees of church-related institutions. The current mandates threaten to kill one of the most effective and efficient means of covering the health care needs of millions of Americans.

Fifth, the President’s remarks today betrayed a fundamental problem that lies at the heart of this controversy and his own thinking. He clearly sees the controversy as a matter of balancing a policy goal, on the one hand, and religious liberty, on the other. He even spoke of religious liberty as “an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution.”

But, just to state the obvious, a policy goal and an “inalienable right” are not to be “balanced.” A matter of policy, no matter how urgent or important, must be reconciled to an “inalienable right.” This does not mean that such reconciliations are easy nor that every claim of religious liberty is legitimate. Nevertheless, this controversy concerns the deepest convictions held by millions of Americans, and these convictions are rooted in over two thousand years of religious teaching.The President’s remarks today do nothing of substance to alleviate this crisis.

Lastly, this controversy exposes the most fundamental problem with the inclusion of birth control in the Affordable Care Act, and this problem is not limited to any single government policy. This problem is endemic to our culture. Clearly, the President and his Administration are not alone in defining birth control as a form of “preventive care,” putting the prevention of pregnancy on par with an inoculation against disease. That is the greatest outrage.

The President’s inclusion of birth control as a form of “preventive care” also explains why Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards was so pleased with President Obama’s remarks today. She said: “Planned Parenthood’s priority is increasing access to preventive health care. This birth control coverage benefit does just that.”

So preventing the birth of a child is classified with the polio vaccine. As Cecile Richards declared, the Obama Administration’s policy “does just that.”

Anyone who celebrates this “compromise” as a victory is hiding behind an accounting trick. That accounting trick cannot hide the great moral tragedy at the heart of the President’s policy — a policy that leaves religious liberty in peril and Planned Parenthood smiling.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at Follow regular updates on Twitter at

President Obama’s remarks are available here:

Categories: Christian Life

Why Unbelief is Foolish

December 3rd, 2011 Comments off

St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. AD 315-67):

“All unbelief is foolishness, for
it takes such wisdom as its own finite perception can attain,
and measuring infinity by that petty scale,
concludes that what it cannot understand must be impossible.
Unbelief is the result of incapacity engaged in argument.”

De Trinitate, III.24, cited in Douglas Kelly, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 19.


HT: Justin Taylor

Women: Read This, Please

November 28th, 2011 Comments off

Just read this, ok? This is written by a woman, so, get over it already. Just read it and please listen, carefully. OK?

Dads, I’m sorry, but if you really have such a problem getting your teenager daughter *not* to dress like a street walker when she comes to Divine Service, go see your pastor for some counseling, for yourself and your whole family. OK, enough, let this be sufficient.

This is from Adriane Dorr, of Lutheran Witness managing editor fame. I think she should run this as a column in the WITNESS. Maybe more people would start reading that wonderful magazine with these kinds of dead-on, interesting, and lively articles! Oh, by the way, you should start following and reading Adriane’s blog. Funny. Poignant. What a person who deals with words as a profession should be doing. She does it.


take my jacket by Adriane Dorr

Ladies, we have a real problem. It’s our clothing. And, in particular, it’s the clothing we wear to church.

I get that there are certain kinds of clothes that make us feel better about ourselves, that give us a waist, that show off our curves, that make us feel feminine and confident.

But despite what the culture told you, it’s actually not all about you. There’s these other people in the world (they’re called men), and often times, the clothes we wear doesn’t exactly help them focus. That’s not helpful. In fact, it’s so not helpful, it’s hurtful.

The problem is exacerbated when we show up to church in clothes we shouldn’t. I’m not recommending women button up like we’re Amish or start wearing floor-length jean skirts. That’s not feminine either. But if your skirt is so short that it reveals your gender when you sit down, honey, it’s too short.

And think about your pastor. Young ladies, how’s he supposed to be preaching God’s Word to you when your skirt is so tight you can read its size on the label?

Or nursing moms? Please cover up. No pastor needs to turn around and see you adjusting all your feminine glory for your child. (And honestly, I don’t want to see it either.)

Or middle aged ladies? Put a tank-top on under that blouse. Your pastor has to bend over to give you Holy Communion, and he’s got enough on his mind to not have to deal with seeing all your girl bits too.

Dressing modestly isn’t the same as dressing like a frump from the 1980s. This doesn’t mean that you can’t feel good or look feminine or have a figure.  You don’t have to wear a burqua, and you should never, under any circumstance, take to wearing oversized, lumpy sweaters that make you look like a dude.

You don’t have wear long dresses Little-House-on-the-Prairie style. It doesn’t mean you can’t go to the swimming pool. It simply means that you don’t have to let all the parts of you that are uniquely feminine cease to be un-unique by showing them . . . constantly . . . to the whole world.

Besides, covering up a bit adds some mystique. Turns out you actually don’t have to give everything away in a guy’s first glance at you.

Lutheran ladies, we can get ourselves back out of this mess. We can work on our wardrobes and choose to wear things, especially to church, more suited to being in the presence of the God of creation who comes to meet us there. And we can choose to think more of our neighbor, of our pastors, of the guys we interact with than we do of ourselves, and then dress in a way that bears witness to the beautiful creations God made us to be.



Let’s get to it.

Categories: Christian Life

Thoughts on the Gifts Given to the Church

November 7th, 2011 Comments off

For many years I’ve received the “Pastoral Ponderings” of Father Patrick Reardon, an Orthodox priest. I find them always thought-provoking. The one I received today struck me as particularly helpful. I thought I’d share it with you.

November 6, 2011
21st Sunday After Pentecost

Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings

Reading Paul’s list of the “gifts” the triumphant Christ confers on the Church (Ephesians 4:11), students of Holy Scripture may profitably compare it to the earlier list in 1 Corinthians. The differences are striking. Let us limit ourselves to two considerations: the content of the two lists and their contextual ascriptions in each case.

First, the content of the two lists: The earlier one, in 1 Corinthians, includes the ministries of Christians endowed with wise counsel, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, charismatic utterance, and the ability to interpret such utterance (12:8-10).

The details of that list—and Paul certainly did not regard it as exhaustive of the Spirit’s generosity—were determined by the immediate pastoral problems of the church at Corinth, chiefly the pretense of superior wisdom on the part of some of its members (cf. 3:18). Consequently, all the gifts listed were marked by a kind of “charismatic” flavor. The question of charism determined the context; they were gifts of “the same Spirit” (12:4,9,11).

In Ephesians 4, on the other hand, the listed gifts may be described as more—for want of a happier adjective—structural. Except for the prophets, the ministers mentioned in the later text seem to have an “official” standing in the Church: apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These vocations, which exercise and oversee the evangelical and teaching ministry, are determined by the Church’s structure, its very constitution. They are more “official” than “charismatic.” For this reason, even the prophets in this list should probably be understood as “those whom the Church recognizes as prophets.”

Second, the contextual ascription of the gifts: Paul began the earlier list by asserting, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). In this text Paul initially ascribes the gifts to each of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Nonetheless, when he treats of the various ministries individually, the Apostle speaks only of the Holy Spirit (five times in 12:8-11).

This pneumatological ascription of the diverse gifts is consonant with Paul’s abiding concern in 1 Corinthians: the unity of believers in Christ. The integrity of the Corinthian church was threatened by all sorts of factions, not the least of which were occasioned by the sheer variety of the gifts. For this reason, Paul insisted that the Holy Spirit was the source of congregational unity, not disunion: “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one unto profit” (12:7).

With respect to the gifts listed in Ephesians 4, their ascription is both similar to, and different from, 1 Corinthians.

The similarity lies in an identical Trinitarian quality; just he did in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Paul begins the list of the gifts in Ephesians 4 with the Persons of the Holy Trinity, speaking of “one Spirit . . . one Lord . . one God and Father (4:4-6).

Then, he narrows the ascription of the gifts, not to the Holy Spirit, but to the triumphant Christ: “to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7). Whereas in 1 Corinthians 12 the accent was pneumatological, here it is entirely Christological: “He Himself gave some as apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (4:11). Indeed, Ephesians 4 does not again speak of the Holy Spirit in the context of the gifts.

Since both 1 Corinthians and Ephesians are concerned with the unity of the Church as the body of Christ—and the spiritual gifts serving that unity certainly come from both Christ and the Holy Spirit—why the shift of emphasis to Christology in the Epistle to the Ephesians?

It is related, I believe, to Paul’s new awareness of Christ as the “head” of the Church. Since we do not find this idea in his thought until the Captivity Epistles—Colossians and Ephesians—I have always believed that the Apostle adopted this image from his discussions with Luke during the period of his imprisonment at Caesarea (cf. Colossians 4:14). From his beloved physician, he learned a new medical discovery: the head is the governing part of the body, the ruling principle of its unified activity.

The gifts listed in Ephesians were given “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (4:12). Through them Christ governs the teaching and pastoring of His people. By reason of His Ascension the Lord not only reigns over the saints in heaven; He also rules over the saints on earth.

Lutheran Mythbusting: “I’m forgiven, it doesn’t matter what I do.”

November 4th, 2011 16 comments

Pastor Weedon does a great job refuting a cherished myth among many Christians, unfortunately, too many Lutherans. tonight’s Bible Class. He writes:

We’re in Jeremiah, and did chapter 9 last night.  Eleanor sometimes visits our class.  She had the most disturbing comment to report this evening:  some fellow Lutherans had actually said to her “I’m forgiven so it doesn’t matter what I do.”

THIS IS NOT LUTHERAN.  This is purely devilish.

The first of the 95 must ever be remembered:  When our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to repent, he meant that the entire life of the Christian should be repentance.

Which is to say, the entire life of the Christian, powered by the forgiveness of God, is an ongoing war against the sin that remains in our flesh. There is no peace treaty with that sin because of forgiveness.  The exact opposite.

You have a house infested with poisonous snakes and you make a treaty of peace with them?  Heck no!  You go after them with a vengeance each time one shows its ugly head.  You do so in the joyful confidence that the final victory WILL be yours, not theirs!

It is absolutely true that this battle continues to our grave.  The evil desires continue to pop up from our corrupted flesh and will.  But the grace of the Holy Spirit is given us for this battle to wage on.

Do we do it perfectly?  Of course not!  We literally LIVE from the forgiveness of our sins.  But because we do, we’re snake hunters.  We watch for the wretches to show up and then we attack with a vengeance.  We know they mean us death, and so we bring them to death.  We most certainly do NOT feed them, coddle them, or excuse them with saying:  “But I’m forgiven, so they can stay.”

I had always turned to the Apology’s repeated assertions about the impossibility of faith existing outside of repentance, but Pastor Curtis pointed out that the Smalcald Articles are even clearer.  Read for yourself III:III:40, 43-45.  Luther is utterly clear.

“In Christians, repentance continues until death. For through one’s entire life, repentance contends with the sin remaining in the flesh. Paul testifies that he wars with the law in his own members (Romans 7:14-25) not by his own powers but by the gift of the Holy Spirit that follows the forgiveness of sins [Romans 8:1-17]. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy.  . . . So it is necessary to know and to teach this: When holy people—still having and   p 277  feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it—happen to fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy [2 Samuel 11]), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them. The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants [Psalm 51:11; Romans 6:14]. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. For St. John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning … and he cannot keep on sinning” [1 John 3:9]. And yet it is also true when St. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” [1:8].

Source: Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain, 276-78 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).

Rant over.  And thanks to Eleanor for bringing the matter up – for it surely is a wound that needs addressing on the body of Lutheranism.

Cruise Ship or Battleship?

September 28th, 2011 5 comments

Categories: Christian Life

97 Year Old Pastor Still Walking Through the Doors the Lord Opens to Him

April 18th, 2011 4 comments

KALAMAZOO — Age hasn’t slowed the Rev. Louis Grother. [Source for story here]

Time, in fact, only seems to inspire the Kalamazoo resident to reach out more to the homeless, the poor, the mentally ill and the downtrodden.

“There will always be a need for someone to support the people who many in society have given up on. … I consider it my duty to take the time to listen, to offer prayers and to be a part of the lives of people who don’t have anybody else,” said Grother, who will celebrate his 97th birthday this year.

In recognition of his benevolent manner, dedication to the destitute and commitment to treating all people equal, Grother has earned the lifetime achievement honor in this year’s STAR Awards.

When Pamela Post read the criterion for the Irving S. Gilmore Lifetime Achievement Award, she knew instantly that Grother was more than deserving.

In nominating Grother for the honor, one of several categories in the Sharing Time and Resources Awards, Post said Grother’s greatest gift is “his dedication to the very people that society looks down on or ignores. To these, he touches their weary souls with his love and nurturing.”

Now retired from the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, Post remembers Grother visiting hospital patients and taking the time to talk with them. Grother still conducts a weekly chapel service at the hospital, followed by a post-chapel social event where Grother shares conversation and Scripture with the patients.

“Tuesdays are very special days for me,” Grother said. “I look forward to visiting my friends at the hospital.

“It’s probably fair to say that I get more out of spending time with them than they do with me. … I get a lot of unsolicited care and kindness in return for what I do, and that’s what brings me joy.”

Doing what is right

Although Grother is reluctant to talk about his goodwill gestures, Post is happy to provide examples of kindness and respect she witnessed between Grother and patients at the psychiatric hospital.

“He takes care to greet patients individually, with a handshake and a smile. He listens intently and gives them positive encouragement and hope,” Post wrote. “It’s really a privilege to be a part of it.”

The son of a minister and his wife, Grother was born in Paducah, Ky. He was ordained and installed as assistant pastor at First St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago in 1938. During his 11 years in Chicago, he was a frequent visitor to the sick and dying at Cook County Hospital.

In 1949, Grother accepted the post of reverend at Zion Lutheran Church in Kalamazoo. It was in Kalamazoo, Grother said, that he found his niche in life. In addition to his duties at Zion, Grother served for 20 years as chaplain to the Kalamazoo police and fire departments. He also served as chaplain at Kalamazoo College and initiated a religious education program for Lutheran students at Western Michigan University.


Grother has made his mark in many ways around Kalamazoo, but he is especially proud of his 62-year affiliation with the psychiatric hospital.

“The patients and workers there have been very kind to me and they always make me feel welcome,” Grother said. “I love those people very much. Those patients are very dear to me.”

Grother said he learned kindness from his parents. In addition to his father being a minister, his mother came from a family that included its share of church leaders. Grother acknowledged the Lord has been good to him.

A widower for eight years, Grother has two adopted children and six grandchildren. His children, Bill and Mary, spent their careers as teachers. His son, who is retired, worked with at-risk teens, while his daughter teaches at a reservation in New Mexico.

He beams when talking about his children.

“I can’t take credit for the good choices they made in life, but I’m awfully proud of them,” he said.

Grother said he’s humbled to win the Irving S. Gilmore Lifetime Achievement Award. As a man of the cloth, he said he’s been taught to not perform good deeds for glory or recognition.

“It was very kind of the people who had a part in this honor to think of me,” he said. “But I’d just as soon prefer to go along in life without the hurrahs and fanfare around me. I just did what was right, by going through the doors the Lord opened for me and never turned my back.”


© 2011 All rights reserved.

Categories: Christian Life

No arms, no legs. No worries.

April 17th, 2011 Comments off

Wow. Just. Wow.

I guess I’ve seen this before, but … today I needed to see this and pay attention. Maybe you do too.

This man is simply, amazing, and I was delighted and deeply humbled to find out he comes from a Christian family and it is is precisely his faith in Christ that has sustained him. God is using him to touch millions of people.

Have you seen or heard about him?

Here you go. Amazing. Te Deum laudamus. This is amazing and so humbling.

If and when you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself….bookmark this video and watch it. Again, and again.

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Categories: Christian Life

There is No Room for Despair in the Christian’s Life

March 18th, 2011 9 comments


One of my favorite quotes from the Book of Concord is this one:

We see the infinite dangers that threaten the destruction of the Church. In the Church itself, the number of the wicked who oppress it is too high to count. Therefore, this article in the Creed shows us these consolations in order that we may not despair, but may know that the Church will remain ‹until the end of the world›. No matter how great the multitude of the wicked is, we may know that the Church still exists and Christ provides those gifts He has promised to the Church—to forgive sins, to hear prayer, to give the Holy Spirit.

(Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain, 144 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).

Here is another great quote, in light of the recent debacle with Rob Bell, the disaster in Japan, the unfolding theological meltdown in much of world Lutheranism, with the ELCA leading the way, and in light of whatever challenges we each face in our own individual callings:

“The present is a time not for ease or pleasure, but for earnest and prayerful work. A terrible crisis unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith. And now there are some indications that the fiction of conformity to the past is to be thrown off, and the real meaning of what has been taking place is to be allowed to appear. The Church, it is now apparently supposed, has almost been educated up to the point where the shackles of the Bible can openly be cast away and the doctrine of the Cross of Christ can be relegated to the limbo of discarded subtleties.

“Yet there is in the Christian life no room for despair. Only, our hopefulness should not be founded on the sand. It should be founded, not upon a blind ignorance of the danger, but solely upon the precious promises of God. Laymen, as well as ministers, should return, in these trying days, with new earnestness, to the study of the Word of God.

“If the Word of God be heeded, the Christian battle will be fought both with love and with faithfulness. Party passions and personal animosities will be put away, but on the other hand, even angels from heaven will be rejected if they preach a gospel different from the blessed gospel of the Cross. Every man must decide upon which side he will stand. God grant that we may decide aright!

“What the immediate future may bring we cannot presume to say. The final result indeed is clear. God has not deserted His Church; He has brought her through even darker hours than those which try our courage now, yet the darkest hour has always come before the dawn. We have today the entrance of paganism into the Church in the name of Christianity. But in the second century a similar battle was fought and won. From another point of view, modern liberalism is like the legalism of the middle ages, with its dependence upon the merit of man. And another Reformation in God’s good time will come.

“But meanwhile our souls are tried. We can only try to do our duty in humility and in sole reliance upon the Savior who bought us with His blood. The future is in God’s hand, and we do not know the means that He will use in the accomplishment of His will.”

—J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, (New Edition; Eerdmans, 2009 [orig., 1923), 150. HT: Justin Taylor.

Categories: Christian Life

How Little Can We Believe, and Still be Christian?

March 11th, 2011 2 comments

Pastor Weedon offered these wise words on his blog site. I like how he turns the question on its ear.

In Bible Class last Sunday: can a person who denies a specific part of the Creed still be regarded as a Christian? I thought immediately of how the Methodists (at least, last time I checked) dropped “He descended into hell” from the Apostles’ Creed, and I said: Yes. Yes, but…

And the but is this: the Creeds hand over the faith as a whole body. Can you still live, if you chop off your hand or your leg? Yes, but living becomes that more difficult, and the danger of infection runs rife – zeroing in on the beating heart. Can a person be healed and learn to get along without some piece of the Creed’s confession of the faith? Yes, but if they suggest then that hopping around on a single foot is actually all one needs, and a whole body isn’t that important and they wish to stop chopping off our feet…well, you can see where I’m headed. Luther famously said: Lass das Sakrament ganz bleiben – let the Sacrament remain whole. Same for the Creeds that express the faith of the Holy Church. Let them remain whole. They hand over to us the faith of our fathers to us not in pieces, but in whole.

It becomes a deadly game to play: how much can I chop out and still remain alive? Rather we should ask: why settle for anything less than the fullness, the whole corpus of the faith, that the Creeds witness to and confess?

The Audience Chats Loudly Until the Lights Come Down and the Show Starts . . . in Church

February 1st, 2011 17 comments

The other Sunday I was sitting, as is my habit, in church looking through the lectionary readings, looking up the hymns and reflecting/pondering their words and praying, using the prayers in the inside cover of Lutheran Service Book. Behind me I heard an ever growing level of chatter and conversation, some of which I could hear. It was not conversation about the worship service about to begin, but chatter about a whole host of wholly irrelevant things. It is a shame that a long practice in the church of reverent silence before the Divine Service begins has fallen so far out of use. Frankly, in many congregations, the time before the service begins sounds more like what you experience before a live show begins in a theater, conversation and so forth. Even when the prelude begins, this does not apparently give people a clue that something special is about to happen, it only encourages them to talk more loudly. Not good. I would encourage folks to consider changing their habits.

Categories: Christian Life

How to Get God to Talk to You

January 31st, 2011 1 comment

OK, so I gave this post a provocative title to get your attention. Did it work? Good!

But admit it, it worked because you would love to know how to get God to talk to you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if He did? What would He say? Would you want to hear what He has to say to you? You think you do, don’t you. But think with me for a moment. Do we really want to know what God has to say to us? Really? Are we ready to hear it? I’m not so sure. There is a plague going around in Christianity these days, but it is not really anything so new. People claim they want to hear what God has to say, but they don’t. Not really. Why? Because God usually has something to say that we really would rather not hear. God will tell us precisely how, why, when and where we are mucking everything up in our lives. And that’s the bit we would rather not have God talk to us about.

It seems God is not really all that great a conversationalist. He is kind of a fanatic, and that’s the sort of person who won’t stop talking and won’t change the subject. And that’s pretty much what God is like when He talks to us. He just won’t change the subject, no matter how much we wish He would. There are a lot of people who turn to false gods and false hopes and false religions precisely because they talk about things that interest them. And nothing is of more interest to you than you, right? You would rather have God talk about you, but even then, to talk about you in a very certain way: positively. God, please assure me once more what a basically wonderful person I am, that I’m not really all that bad.

Well, the bad news is that God does not talk to you, and me, the way we would prefer, but in the way He chooses to talk to us. But wait. How do we get God to talk to us at all?

The answer is really quite simple and it is not one people stop and think about enough.

God talks to you, and to me, through His Word. When you pick up your Bible, you must understand that when you meditate piously on God’s Word, it is God speaking directly to you through that Word and He is always going to be speaking to you either in the way of the Law, or the Gospel. When you read God’s word openly, honestly and prayerfully, you will hear God speaking and you will hear Him pointing out, first, your sin, the fact that you are indeed, at the heart of it all, a poor miserable wretch. There’s nothing “good enough” about you to make God love you. There’s only sin and death, but it is precisely as you once more realize this reality, when God’s Word holds God’s perfection in front of you and you realize you don’t measure up, that you are ready, no, hungry, famished for the Gospel.

God loves to talk to you about His Gospel, in fact, this is his “native tongue” — the language of the good news. And what makes it such good news is that it is the news that you are forgiven, you are loved, you are called, you are redeemed. God does not attach conditions to the Gospel. You do not have to prove you are worthy of His mercy (you aren’t!). You don’t have to show God how much you have earned it (you haven’t!). No strings attached to the Gospel. It is purely a gift of God’s love, the news of this love that caused God to send to this world His own dear Son to live, suffer, die and rise again, for you.

So,if you want to get God to talk to you, open your Bible. Pray and meditate on it. It is God who is speaking to you. In ways that may shock you, may surprise you, but will always lead you once more directly to your Savior, Jesus.

Categories: Christian Life