Monthly Archives: July 2013

Very Cool Picture

I am a complete geek for all things Synodical Conference history. Give me a week in St. Louis, Milwaukee, or Mankato to sort through historical stuff and I am a very happy man. The more arcane, the better!

A Facebook friend posted a picture the other day that I had never seen. I am about 95% sure it is the aula or auditorium of the old Concordia Seminary building (dedicated in 1883) on South Jefferson Avenue, caddy-corner to Concordia Publishing House. This is where major gatherings of the seminary community would happen. This is where Dr. Walther, of blessed memory, gave his “Luther Hour” lectures, the most famous of them being “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel”. Granted it isn’t a splendid worship space (daily devotional exercises were held there), but it wasn’t designed for worship.

Concordia Aula

Photo courtesy Concordia Historical Institute, of which I am now a member!

Dig the Walther bust on the dais. A nice touch, if not hero worship. At any rate, this is a fascinating picture of a beautiful building that served the Missouri Synod from 1883-1926.

Capon: Faith Is Not A Gadget

Faith doesn’t do anything; it simply enables us to relate ourselves to someone else who has already done whatever needs doing. Illustration: imagine that I am in the hospital, in traction, with casts on both arms and both legs. And imagine further that every time you visit me, I carry on despairingly about the fact that my house, in my absence, is falling apart: the paint is peeling, the sills are rotting, the roof is blowing away in the wind.

But then imagine that one day, after a considerable interval, you come to me and say, “Robert, I have just paid off the contractor I engaged to repair your house. It’s all fixed – a gift from me to you.” What are my choices in the face of such good news? I cannot go out of the hospital to check for myself – I cannot know that you have fixed my house for me. I can only disbelieve you or believe you. If I disbelieve you, I go on being a miserable bore. But if I believe you – if I trust your word that you have done the job for me – I have my first good day in a long while. My faith, you see, accomplishes nothing but my own enjoyment.

Look at it another way. Suppose I had decided, while staring at the hospital ceiling, that if only I could work up enough faith, you would undertake to repair my house. And suppose further that I had grunted and groaned through every waking hour trying to get my faith meter up to red hot. What good would that have done unless you had decided, as a gift to me in response to no activity on my part whatsoever, to do the job for me? No good, that’s what. Faith doesn’t fix houses – carpenters and painters do. And faith doesn’t pay bills, either. Faith, therefore, is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is just trust in a person who actually can work them – and who has promised me he already has.

Robert Farrar Capon, “The Astonished Heart“, pages 40-41

The Context Behind “The Quote”

One of the most often quoted phrases of  Hermann Sasse is in his essay “The Ecumenical Challenge of the Second Vatican Council” (The Lonely Way, Volume Two). Here is the context surrounding “the quote”. I have put “the quote” in bold print for your convenience.

“It is worthwhile to ask whether in this patience does not lie one of the reasons why the Roman Church seems to be much more successful than our Protestant churches in bringing about real and lasting reforms. We are patient where we ought to be impatient, for example, in tolerating all sorts of heresies which are bound to destroy the church. And we are impatient where patience is required…. But the symbol of the ecumenical synods lives and will be the creed of the church until the end of the world. There was only one symbol, the Nicene Creed, and it was even forbidden to make new ones. Up to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 it was confessed in the form of the Council of Nicaea of 325; since Chalcedon, however, it is used in the form of the Council of Constantinople of 381. The idea that the church must again and again produce new confessions was foreign not only to the ancient church, but also to the Reformation.

We have, of course, to rethink and, when necessary, to reformulate our faith. But it would be wise to ask ourselves if we have to do that according to the pattern which Christian youth movements developed at the turn of this century, when everybody believed in conferences as the great means of progress in the church. The conference – with its preparatory committee, plenary sessions, group meetings, reports to the full assembly, and solemn acceptance of a paper in which the results are proclaimed – has become a sort of sacred institution, hallowed by the memories of happy days and spiritual experiences in the past. Meanwhile, we should have learned that the great problems of Christian doctrine are a little more complicated than Christian young men sixty years ago believed. The time has come when our methods of ecumenical work must be overhauled. If we can learn anything from the Roman council, then it is what thorough, patient work means to the church.

We have been too much influenced by a certain type of sectarian Christianity, which for a long time flourished in America. The sect cannot wait; it must have everything at once, for it has no future. The church can wait, for it does have a future. We Lutherans should think of that. What the present council has already achieved in some years, not weeks, has been achieved as the result of the work of decades. The great liturgical reform has been prepared over the course of fifty years of hard work in the center of the Liturgical Movement. The doctrine of Holy Scripture, which will be proclaimed in the last session of the present council, will be the fruit of the labors and controversies of more than seventy years. The great dogmatic reform announced by Pope John in the words quoted above, which amounts to no less than the liberation of Catholic dogma from the fetters of Aristotelian philosophy, will certainly require the work of more than one generation. How do we intend to meet the challenge which this means to the theology of the Lutheran Church? Perhaps by leaving it to the commission on Faith and Order? If so, who gives us the guarantee that this commission will still exist in twenty years’ time?”

– The Ecumenical Challenge of the Second Vatican Council, “The Lonely Way, Volume Two”, pages 327-328

Trinity 8 – Matthew 7:15-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            “You find today many people who can let the Gospel be preached, provided that the preacher doesn’t cry out against wolves and preach against prelates.” Martin Luther wrote those words almost five hundred years ago. They still apply today. Faithful watchmen on the walls of Zion are hated by many mollycoddled Christians because they chastise false prophets.

You hear well-meaning Christians bad mouth pastors who speak publicly against other so-called “Gospel preachers” who do not preach the Gospel, but instead preach self-righteousness, self-justification, or even self-improvement. You perhaps might hear: “Pastor, at least that person talks about God. At least that preacher is exciting. Look at how many people attend his church. He’s doing all the right things. You can’t even get a church full. You’re wrong. He’s right. Admit it.”

There is nothing more damaging to a soul than not to warn against false prophets. This is why pastors worth their salt speak out against false doctrine, even when it is not popular. Pastors do so not to insult the person, but to warn his flock against being hurt by the poison of false, perverted teaching.

It is important the you learn to distinguish true and false prophets. Oftentimes true prophets are decried as false prophets. When [King] Ahab saw [the prophet] Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” Even the Light of the World, our Lord Jesus Christ, was declared by the high priests as a messenger of the devil. It is a grave sin to declare a messenger of God as a messenger of Satan, or a heretic, or even a traitor.

Jesus gives you a tidy list of what to look for when distinguishing between true and false prophets. False prophets are not sent from God. They come by themselves. False prophets also do not preach the Word of the Lord. They pervert it and falsify the Word, twisting it into something that scratches itching ears. False prophets are wont to say what they preach is from the Lord. They are pious, perhaps to a fault. People might wish to call them “spiritual” people. False prophets also boast they are Spirit-led. Instead of letting their preaching do the talking, they say what they say comes from the Spirit.

Pay attention to their fruit. You will know if what they teach is true or false by their fruit. Don’t be deceived by how they dress, how they wear their hair, what music they like, or even their favorite beverages. False prophets bear thorns and thistles instead of good fruit.

False prophets water down the Law. They soft pedal sin, especially original sin. They talk about sin as if it was a fly buzzing around your face on a hot summer’s day. It’s nothing. Just wave it off and you’ll be alright. False prophets rob Jesus Christ of His glory and say you can choose whether or not you wish to believe in Christ. Sure, they will preach Christ crucified, but only as an option that you can choose to take or to leave. Jesus did so much, now you need to cast your ballot and make it yours.

False prophets confuse Law and Gospel. They do not make faith easy, but difficult. Yes, they preach faith, but not faith alone. It’s faith and something else. Perhaps they preach faith and works. They direct your conscience to what you are doing and how you are living to see whether or not you really, truly believe Jesus is your Savior. After all, living by faith alone is cheap. It’s easy, foolproof, and takes you out of the equation…just the way our Lord wants it.

False prophets waste away your comfort. You can sing “I Lay My Sins on Jesus”, but false prophets will question whether or not you laid all your sins on Him. You can sing “The kingdom ours remaineth”, but false prophets will question whether or not you are in the kingdom. What is more, false prophets downplay the Means of Grace. They blaspheme Holy Absolution and say it’s not necessary. They say Holy Communion only delivers the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, so it’s not necessary to receive the Supper all that often. They won’t preach Baptism because there’s too much superstition around the water, the candles, the sign of the cross, and the white garment.

Now you see why Jesus had probable cause to warn you against false prophets. They are ravenous wolves who tear sheep to pieces. The false doctrine they preach stings consciences like thorns and thistles. They draw forth all sorts of error, false conceit, desolation, and despair. These are the fruits of false doctrine. The cross proclaimed by false prophets is a question mark. You will never really know whether or not you are saved when you heed false prophets. You will never believe you have a gracious God and the forgiveness of sins.

False prophets also scatter the sheep. They separate Christianity, making one sect after another. I think of the many Christian congregations in my home town that began either by false doctrine or by false prophets. Some did the right thing and ran off the false prophet and his followers. Others separated from the false prophet and went on their own with a new congregation. These disturbances give serious offense to the weak. No wonder being a Christian is such a hard sell in today’s world. So many churches give off the stench of smug self-righteousness that either draws people into the pious lie or away from the Christian faith forever.

The Lutheran Church is not smug when it proclaims the true faith drawn from the Holy Scriptures and confessed in her Symbolic Books. We preach Christ crucified. We preach salvation is achieved by Jesus alone. This salvation is yours by God’s grace, by faith alone in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world. We do not preach faith and something. We do not treat Jesus’ victory over death and hell as an assumption that everyone knows. We do not preach a higher evolution of sanctity that permits everything and tolerates nothing. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The Lord will bring to an end false prophets and false doctrine when He casts them into the burning lake of fire on Judgment Day. Until then, we remain vigilant against a gospel that is not a gospel. We examine the fruits of our preachers to see whether or not they preach Christ crucified with no mixture of man’s folly. We teach the faith using Luther’s Small Catechism. We eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ. We rejoice in our Baptism. We despise the cancer of false prophets and false doctrine and cling to the Scriptures as our great heritage. In them is life and salvation. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Nothing But the Forgiveness of Sins Through Word and Signs

Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered to the end that we shall daily obtain there nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. Thus, although we have sins, the [grace of the] Holy Ghost does not allow them to injure us, because we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but [continuous, uninterrupted] forgiveness of sin, both in that God forgives us, and in that we forgive, bear with, and help each other. But outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness [sanctification]. Therefore all who seek and wish to merit holiness [sanctification], not through the Gospel and forgiveness of sin, but by their works, have expelled and severed themselves [from this Church].

Meanwhile, however, while sanctification has begun and is growing daily, we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously, and arise to entire and perfect holiness in a new eternal life. For now we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever [some reason why] to continue His work in us through the Word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body.

Behold, all this is to be the office and work of the Holy Ghost, that He begin and daily increase holiness upon earth by means of these two things, the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our dissolution He will accomplish it altogether in an instant, and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts.

But the term Auferstehung des Fleisches (resurrection of the flesh) here employed is not according to good German idiom. For when we Germans hear the word Fleisch (flesh), we think no farther than of the shambles. But in good German idiom we would say Auferstehung des Leibes, or Leichnams (resurrection of the body). However, it is not a matter of much moment, if we only understand the words aright.

This, now, is the article which must ever be and remain in operation. For creation we have received; redemption, too, is finished But the Holy Ghost carries on His work without ceasing to the last day. And for that purpose He has appointed a congregation upon earth by which He speaks and does everything. For He has not yet brought together all His Christian Church nor dispensed forgiveness. Therefore we believe in Him who through the Word daily brings us into the fellowship of this Christian Church, and through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins bestows, increases, and strengthens faith, in order that when He has accomplished it all, and we abide therein, and die to the world and to all evil, He may finally make us perfectly and forever holy; which now we expect in faith through the Word.

Behold, here you have the entire divine essence, will, and work depicted most exquisitely in quite short and yet rich words, wherein consists all our wisdom, which surpasses and exceeds the wisdom, mind, and reason of all men. For although the whole world with all diligence has endeavored to ascertain what God is, what He has in mind and does, yet has she never been able to attain to [the knowledge and understanding of] any of these things. But here we have everything in richest measure; for here in all three articles He has Himself revealed and opened the deepest abyss of his paternal heart and of His pure unutterable love. For He has created us for this very object, that He might redeem and sanctify us; and in addition to giving and imparting to us everything in heaven and upon earth, He has given to us even His Son and the Holy Ghost, by whom to bring us to Himself. For (as explained above) we could never attain to the knowledge of the grace and favor of the Father except through the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the paternal heart, outside of whom we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But of Christ we could know nothing either, unless it had been revealed by the Holy Ghost.

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and separate us Christians from all other people upon earth. For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.

From this you perceive that the Creed is a doctrine quite different from the Ten Commandments; for the latter teaches indeed what we ought to do, but the former tells what God does for us and gives to us. Moreover, apart from this, the Ten Commandments are written in the hearts of all men; the Creed, however, no human wisdom can comprehend, but it must be taught by the Holy Ghost alone.

– Large Catechism, Part Two, paragraphs 55-67

Walther von Loewenich: Luther on the “Hidden” God

The hidden God is none other than the revealed God. God is hidden for the sake of revelation. Revelation is possible only in concealment, the revealed God must as such be hidden…. The proper place for this concealment of God – which takes place for the sake of the revelation, indeed is revelation in precisely that way – is the cross of Christ…. The hidden God is none other than the crucified God. Who is a theologian of the cross? A theologian of the cross is one who speaks of the crucified and hidden God. A theologian of glory is one who does not recognize, along with the Apostle [Paul], the crucified and hidden God alone. “Crucified and hidden alone” makes thoroughly clear that the hidden God cannot be a hypostasis in or behind God, but is the one living God who is manifest as he is concealed in the cross of Christ.

It follows that the hidden God is no product of speculation. On this point the antispeculative tendency of Luther’s early theology reaches its climax. If we may put it thus, the concept of the hidden God must be construed in a strict Christological sense. Affirming omnipresence and omnipotence of God is very pointedly described as characteristic of the theology of glory. On the contrary, the hidden God is the crucified God. There on the cross, at this one place and cloaked in deepest weakness, God becomes visible. For that reason Luther cannot warn enough against the “flighty thought” of seeking God anywhere else than in the depths of God in reality places itself above God; it is obvious that it must be rejected from the perspective of the revelation idea of the theology of the cross.

Walther von Loewenich, “Luther’s Theology of the Cross”, pages 30-31

Luther: No Hypocrites in God’s Kingdom

Hence, our dear Lord wants no hypocrites in his kingdom; he wants his disciples and followers to practice true Christian love. But the whole world is mired deeply in this evil, which is denominated murdering the brother. The average person is a murderer and a thief. Yes, not only people in general, but also princes, lords, nobles, burghers, peasants, clergymen, and the worldly-minded. All classes of society, from the highest to the lowest, grievously sin against this commandment. For we see that they all have abandoned the brother. Many were the occasions when the needy could have been helped, had the desire been there. But just the opposite happens. People scrape and gather for themselves, unwilling to share a penny with anyone; and yet they wish to be called Christians.

For this reason Christ teaches us in this Gospel to take a hard look at ourselves, that we might endeavor to be and remain true Christians who affectionately love each other. The world thinks like this: Ab amico reconciliato, a muliere barbata libera me, Domine, “God shield me from a placated friend, and from a bearded (domineering) wife.” But we Christians should with all our hearts be reconciled one to another. This reconciliation occurs when I say, If my brother has provoked me, he has done more harm to himself than to me; I want wholeheartedly to forgive him and become completely reconciled to him. That is living like a Christian. It may be that I will reprimand and rebuke my brother, but I will not be antagonistic toward him. When out of brotherly love I say to him, “You fool,” as Christ says to his disciples, “O fools and slow of heart”; and St. Paul to the Galatians, “O foolish Galatians,” then I am not expressing anger, but tender love. I would remain silent and let my brother go his way, were it not that I want to benefit him. but in speaking up and rebuking him, it is because I love him and have his best interest at heart. For it is also a token of anger when I neither counsel nor admonish my brother. A Christian admonishes the one he loves, just as the heavenly Father disciplines and rebukes the one he loves (Proverbs 3:13; Hebrews 12:6).

Therefore, we ought to be so minded toward the brother that we think: When my brother is at enmity with me, what harm can he do me? If he irritates me, it’s all right. If he does not change his attitude for the better, I, notwithstanding, want to be at peace with and do good to him. Only Christians act like this. The worldling takes revenge. Vindictiveness in innate in all human beings. And although vindictiveness at times lies quiet, it loses no time when opportunity knocks. There are still such people in the world, and I have seen many who do indeed forgive; but when it comes to assisting the one they have forgiven, they are like stones that are buried so solidly and deeply that no one is able to lift them. This is the duplicity about which Christ is speaking in the Gospel.

Christ adds just a little bit more to this, placing a barrier before the door, so that such people will not enter the kingdom of heaven. For not to love one’s brother is an indication that a person doesn’t love Christ, or God, either, as St. John says (1 John 4:20): “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” This succinctly sums up the matter.

However, you must put things in their proper perspective here and realize that this is all said about private, personal anger and killing and not about anger and killing that are official functions. For the powers that be, father and mother, and whoever else is in authority, must register anger and punish. For this reason princes and temporal government are called agents of God’s anger, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 13:4: “[Government] is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” For government does not punish on behalf of the person in office, but on behalf of the office. However, government must take care that such official anger and punishment are not nurtured on behalf of the person in authority, who by a show of right pretends that it is in behalf of the office, shielding the fact that it was done in behalf of his person, in that way screening personal anger by official anger. one who does this will soon discover whom he has deceived. It is all a matter of the heart; otherwise anger puts itself in the best light and would deceive our Lord God.

Therefore, let us learn from this Gospel that everyone is to be guided by love. Or should he become angry, he ought to be sure that he is acting not on behalf of his person, but on behalf of his office. For it is natural for anger to follow the wrong trace, unless the Holy Spirit changes our hearts. May our dear Lord God and Father grant us his grace so that we grow and increase in true Christian love and keep the exercise of official anger within proper hands. Amen.

– First House Postil for Trinity 6 (Matthew 5:20-26)