Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I intend to fill in the gaps for Sundays and Feast Days that I have missed on my Devotional Commentaries and then dedicate most of my time to topical issues and book reviews--something that no pastor should ever do. But I'm not a pastor so it's okay. Some of my commentaries are better than others and some could certainly use some improvement but I feel like my personal goal is accomplished and I don't have enough creativity to continue writing them year after year. My own writing helped me understand the one year lectionary better and I hope it provided an example of how easy a Christ-centered interpretation that distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel really is in a very bare bones way. A real sermon in a real church should also apply the law and Gospel personally to the needs of the congregation but unfortunately most don't even get the basic bare bones right and it's really not that hard. Following the lectionary and preaching Christ-crucified is actually easier in my opinion than having to choose a text for yourself and find some random topic to talk about--and it's better for you. It's part of your complete breakfast. It's secretly nutritious and magically delicious but not as fashionable.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist: A Devotional Commentary

Revelation 1:1-6 This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John, who testified to God’s word, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, about everything that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it, for the time is at hand. John, to the seven assemblies that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from God, who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us, and washed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a Kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 John 1:1-10 That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled. This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John 21:19-24 Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” Then Peter, turning around, saw a disciple following. This was the disciple whom Jesus sincerely loved, the one who had also leaned on Jesus’ breast at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is going to betray You?” Peter seeing him, said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I desire that he stay until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” This saying therefore went out among the brothers, that this disciple wouldn’t die. Yet Jesus didn’t say to him that he wouldn’t die, but, “If I desire that he stay until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies about these things, and wrote these things. We know that his witness is true.

Today, we commemorate the disciple whom Jesus loved. According to some traditions he was martyred, according to others he died a natural death. He is one of the sons of thunder who wanted to call down fiery judgment on those who rejected the Gospel. He was a sectarian who wanted to stop those outside of the small band of Apostles that performed miracles in Jesus' name. But in his Gospel he shows the universality of God's love. John came to see his own sinfulness and his own foolish self-righteousness. He came to see that to say you have no sin is to call God a liar.

Your nationality or denominational affiliation will not save you. Only Christ can save you. In the waters of baptism Christ washes you in his blood. If you say you are no longer a sinner because you are a Christian you are a liar. But if you confess that you are a real sinner, God will give you real forgiveness.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Law is the Gospel: My Wife is Food

It's quiz time. Who teaches that "The Law is the Gospel"?
     a. Thomas Aquinas
     b. Herman Hanko
     c. Federal Vision guys
     d. Karl Barth
     e. Mohamed
     f. John Frame
    g. John MacArthur
    h. Jehovah Witnesses
     i. Mormons
     j. The Pope

If you answered "All of the Above" you win. All teach rather explicitly that the law is the Gospel. Some of those of a more Calvinistic bent on the list are often accusing their fellow Calvinists on the list of being heretics of one sort or another but they are agreed that the law is the Gospel. A much longer list could be made of pastors who do not explicitly state that the law is the Gospel but act like it is. Moses is not Jesus.

Both Law and Gospel are good and both are from God but they are not the same thing. Food is a gift from God and so is my wife but my wife is not food and food is not my wife. I can only imagine the horrible results of thinking that my wife is food or that my food is my wife but they would not be as bad as if I were to think that the law is the Gospel.

The majority of the teachers above seem to think that what is most important for the converted Christian to hear is the law. But it is clear from the Scriptures that just like everyone else, the Christian needs both law and Gospel. The fear seems to be that if too much Gospel is given, then the Christian will fall into sin. But these churches still have all the sins found in churches that distinguish between Law and Gospel. According to Paul in Romans 7 and according to all observation, the preaching of the Law makes people sin worse. The Law does not make people better. It's counter intuitive but only the Gospel makes people better. Only the Gospel can heal us.

If the Law were the Gospel, Paul would not be writing to the Galatians and telling them not to return to the Law and speaking of them as being bewitched. Those who say that the Law is the Gospel seem to be acting in the same way that Paul's opponents were. Oh good, you're a Christian now. Enough of the forgiveness stuff, here's a list of rules to follow.

Saying that the Law is the Gospel always results in weakening both the Law and the Gospel. Christ preached the Law in such a way that every person present knew that they were real sinners worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment. Those who say that the Law is the Gospel generally make the Law doable and preach the law unlawfully according to Paul's first letter to Timothy. The Gospel becomes a crutch for when you don't quite get it right. The Gospel turns into something that is not for real sinners but for the righteous. Jesus did not come for the righteous but for sinners.

Often Psalm 19 or 119 are quoted as proof that the Law is the Gospel. In Psalm 19, David says that the "Law" converts the soul. But the Hebrew word Torah has a much wider range of meaning. It more literally means simply "teaching" and refers to the entire body of teaching that the author had access to in what we would call the Old Testament. It would not refer to simply a body of legislation to be obeyed. Those who insist that Psalm 19 is saying that the Law in particular converts the soul are making the same mistake as the Jews. If they are right then there is no need for Jesus at all.

The First Sunday After Christmas: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 11:1-5 A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. His delight will be in the fear of Yahweh. He will not judge by the sight of his eyes, neither decide by the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with equity for the humble of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. Righteousness will be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his waist.

Galatians 4:1-7 But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a bondservant, though he is lord of all; but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed by the father. So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental principles of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children. And because you are children, God sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Luke 2:33-40 Joseph and his mother were marveling at the things which were spoken concerning him, and Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and she had been a widow for about eighty-four years), who didn’t depart from the temple, worshipping with fastings and petitions night and day. Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem. When they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. The child was growing, and was becoming strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Jesus came to do what you could not do. Jesus came to fulfill the law for you. Even as a baby he fulfilled the law. Simeon's prophecy put to rest any false ideas that Mary and Joseph may have had about their son growing up and establishing an earthly kingdom. Jesus' tiny little baby hands would one day be pierced for you. From the day of his birth the shadow of the cross hangs over Jesus. From the day of His birth, many wanted Him dead. Even as a baby, Jesus is an offense. The fact that God had to become a baby to save you shows how wicked your "righteous" acts really are. Jesus coming means a falling and rising for many. For those who try harder, it means a falling--it means a declaration of judgment. For those see their own utter sinfulness and trust in the righteousness of Christ alone--they will be declared righteous.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Nativity of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38 It happened in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was raised up. Moses raised up the tabernacle, and laid its sockets, and set up its boards, and put in its bars, and raised up its pillars. He spread the covering over the tent, and put the roof of the tabernacle above on it, as Yahweh commanded Moses. He took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the poles on the ark, and put the mercy seat above on the ark. He brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as Yahweh commanded Moses. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Moses wasn’t able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud stayed on it, and Yahweh’s glory filled the tabernacle. When the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys; but if the cloud wasn’t taken up, then they didn’t travel until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of Yahweh was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

Titus 3:4-7 But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Luke 2:15-20 It happened, when the angels went away from them into the sky, that the shepherds said one to another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem, now, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby was lying in the feeding trough. When they saw it, they publicized widely the saying which was spoken to them about this child. All who heard it wondered at the things which were spoken to them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, just as it was told them.

The Shepherds responded in faith the words of the angels and went to Bethlehem to see the Christ. Mary was the ark of the covenant but now the Christ child is born. God came to tabernacle among us. Despite His lowly and fragile appearance, by faith the Shepherds preached the Good News of the birth of the Christ child after visiting Him.

Mary represents the church. In order to find the Christ child, the shepherds had to find Mary. Today, the church is where people must come to find Christ. If the church is doing anything instead of handing out Jesus, it is no longer a Christian church. Do not despise the gathering of the church because where the church is there you will find the Christ. Now, just as then, Christ comes in humility. When the Shepherds went to see Jesus He didn't have a halo over His head, He just looked like an ordinary baby. He certainly didn't look like God. It doesn't appear that Christ is is present in the church today but He certainly is. He comes in the preaching of the Word and is given to us in the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of our sins.

Just as Mary pondered these words in her heart, the Church ponders the Words of Christ and brings them to others. These Words bring life because they are the Words of the Word. They are not just necessary to create some kind of conversion experience, they are our daily food and drink.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Eve of the Nativity: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 9:2-7 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined. You have multiplied the nation. You have increased their joy. They rejoice before you according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as in the day of Midian. For all the armor of the armed man in the noisy battle, and the garments rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time on, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of Armies will perform this.

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works.

Luke 2:1-14 Now it happened in those days, that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being pregnant. It happened, while they were there, that the day had come that she should give birth. She brought forth her firstborn son, and she wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn. There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The world took no notice and had you been there you would have taken no notice either but God was born. God comes to bring salvation to all men but we still take little notice. God comes to bring us salvation in the Divine Service. If we go to the Divine Service we wait for it to be over and think about other things. Some deny that God really comes in the Divine Service just as they deny that He came in the Nativity. They may allow for some spiritual feelings about God but no real presence of God in the sacrament of the altar--that's all just superstition. Some of us pay lip service to real bodily presence but don't act as if He's really there. We think we need more outlandish means of bringing God to people. But still God comes whether we acknowledge Him or not. We still receive the same Jesus that was incarnate and born of the virgin Mary. We receive the same Jesus who created the universe and provides food for us every day lying in a feeding trough. We receive the Jesus who was wrapped in burial cloths on the very day of His birth signifying that He came to die for us.

Our king comes to us whether we like it or not in the Divine Service and He will come again in judgment. The unbeliever can only fear and dread His coming. The unbeliever may deny that He comes but He still comes. His coming is our Blessed Hope. He will resurrect our bodies, He will give us true life. There will be no end to His reign.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle: A Devotional Commentary

Judges 6:36-40 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then shall I know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have spoken.” It was so; for he rose up early on the next day, and pressed the fleece together, and wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. Gideon said to God, “Don’t let your anger be kindled against me, and I will speak but this once. Please let me make a trial just this once with the fleece. Let it now be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” God did so that night: for it was dry on the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.

Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ; even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without blemish before him in love; having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely bestowed favor on us in the Beloved,

John 20:24-31 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn’t with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” After eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace be to you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas. Thomas is often referred to as doubting Thomas but in reality he is unbelieving Thomas. Thomas missed church service one Sunday and missed out on seeing the ressurected Jesus. The other members of the congregation told Thomas about Jesus' appearance but Thomas just thought they were nuts. Thomas demanded physical evidence. The following Sunday Jesus showed up and provided Thomas with that physical evidence. Jesus ignored the Christological concerns who would argue that in order to be truly human He couldn't pass through walls and stood right in their midst. Jesus did not scold Thomas but absolved Thomas before Thomas even had a chance to apologize for his unbelief.

In the Lord's Supper, Jesus gives us His very body to eat and His very blood to drink but they cannot be seen. All we see are bread and wine but Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God is really there. There is great comfort in seeing Jesus' forgiveness of unbelieving Thomas. Some like to boast in their great faith but we all doubt from time to time. Our doubt and unbelief is worthy of God's eternal punishment but instead of condemnation Jesus comes and brings forgiveness.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rorate Coeli: A Devotional Commentary

Deuteronomy 18:15-19 Yahweh your God will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him. This is according to all that you desired of Yahweh your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I not die.” Yahweh said to me, “They have well said that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a prophet from among their brothers, like you; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him. It shall happen, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, “Rejoice!” Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

John 1:19-28 This is John’s testimony, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He declared, and didn’t deny, but he declared, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” They said therefore to him, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” The ones who had been sent were from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know. He is the one who comes after me, who is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to loosen.” These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Faithful ministers point us to Christ just as John the Baptizer did. When a minister pronounces that your sins are forgiven you may be offended. Who gave him the right to do that? He does not do it by his own authority but in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. He baptizes in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. The faithful minister proclaims the coming Christ, not because the minister is special--the minister is not even worthy to take off Jesus' shoes for Him. But the minister proclaims that Jesus comes because he has been commanded by Jesus to do so.

If you refuse to listen to this message given to you by the minister, you refuse Christ Himself. You have lost everything. But by faith you receive everything by the Word spoken through the minister. You receive forgiveness of sins, you receive the very body and blood of Christ through the Word joined with the bread and wine, you receive eternal life. Rejoice! Your king comes!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gaudete: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 40:1-11 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak comfortably to Jerusalem; and call out to her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received of Yahweh’s hand double for all her sins.” The voice of one who calls out, “Prepare the way of Yahweh in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it.” The voice of one saying, “Cry!” One said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because Yahweh’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are like grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.” You who tell good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who tell good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength. Lift it up. Don’t be afraid. Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold, your God!” Behold, the Lord Yahweh will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him. Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom. He will gently lead those who have their young.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 So let a man think of us as Christ’s servants, and stewards of God’s mysteries. Here, moreover, it is required of stewards, that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you, or by man’s judgment. Yes, I don’t judge my own self. For I know nothing against myself. Yet I am not justified by this, but he who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God.

Matthew 11:2-10 Now when John heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in me.” As these went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in king’s houses. But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

You king comes to you! He gives the blind sight, makes the lame to walk, cleanses the lepers, makes the deaf hear, raises the dead brings Good News to the poor. He comes to heal you of your blindness, your lameness, your leprosy, your deafness, your death, and your poverty. Do not deny that you are all of these things. Don't try to pretend you're just fine because you think you're a little better off than the other guy. You are dead! Christ sends forth His ministers to prepare the way. Christ sends forth ministers to raise dead people like you. Christ does not work these things through military might or even great showmanship but through the preaching of the Gospel, baptism, and the Lord's Supper administered through the instrument of humble ministers. If ministers abandon the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments for fads or interesting factoids or a display of their knowledge of the original languages or lectures on theology or just whatever happens to be bugging them that week they will gain worldly success, they will dine in king's houses. But they will not be true prophets of God. A true prophet brings the same Gospel week after week. He brings the Lord's Supper week after week. A true prophet faithfully administers baptism.

None of these things are flashy. None of these things demand the world's attention. In the case of John the Baptizer, he landed himself in prison for being a faithful minister and was eventually killed. But the true prophet knows that even if he is thrown into prison, he has been set free by the Gospel of Christ. Even if they kill him, he has received true life from Christ. The true prophet knows that those who adhere to something other than the Gospel, even though they appear to be living it up, are bringing a message of death. They are only fooling the dead into thinking that they are really alive. Only the true Gospel really brings life. The true Gospel calls us what we are. The true Gospel says you are dead but Christ has died for you and comes to bring you life.

Your king comes to you! Your king resurrects you! Your king gives you life!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who Owns the Bible?: Toward the Recovery of a Christian Hermeneutic by Karl Paul Donfried

I picked up a used copy of Who Owns the Bible? for less than a dollar and it looked promising and it started well but then went South after about 14 pages. The book does a good job of showing the folly of the fundamentalists of the right who do things like try to justify the Iraq war by pointing to Old Testament wars as well as the fundamentalists of the left who create a Jesus that would never have offended anyone. He also shows how mainstream Christianity has neglected the Bible to its own detriment. Then He calls upon us to develop a Trinitarian hermeneutic centered upon the death and resurrection of Christ. At this point I'm standing on my chair and cheering for Karl and then all the goodness comes to a screeching halt with the section on why we still need the historical critical method of interpretation. Up to this point Donfried had been using some of the vocabulary of neo-liberalism but I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Donfried rightly cries out against the church for abdicating its authority to interpret the Scriptures to the academy but doesn't seem to go nearly far enough in his application of this principle. He seems utterly convinced of academies assertions about all the letters and passages that Paul could not possibly have written and seems to buy into one of the New Perspectives on Paul. I felt like I was back at Calvin College. While at Calvin, one of the worst classes I took was on the letters of Paul. We used two textbooks--one was by Stendahl and the other by E.P. Sanders. While reading Donfried, I kept thinking to myself that this guy sounds like some mixture of Stendahl and E.P. Sanders and then the Stendahl and E.P. Sanders quotes started in abundance. I would have expected as much if I just grabbed a random modern book off the shelf about the letters of Paul, but for a book that claims to be critical of abdicating authority to the academy this books spends a lot of time abdicating authority to the academy.

Despite claims made at the beginning of the book, I think that Donfried just thinks that modern liberal scholarship has gone just a bit too far. He stakes out a position but does not stick to it with any consistency.

The bulk of the book deals with morality. Donfried believes that the Sermon on the Mount is a moral lesson and he seems to regard the purpose of Biblical interpretation to extract moral behaviors from the Bible. I wouldn't be too surprised by this except for the fact that Donfried is a "Lutheran" pastor. I'm not sure if he's still in the ELCA or not. I would expect him to at least engage in some kind of argument about the deficiencies of the historic Law/Gospel paradigm but he doesn't even show that he is aware of it. He never even entertains the possibility that Jesus could be crushing the people with the law in the Sermon on the Mount. Donfried is critical of the Theology of Acceptance promoted by liberalism and contrasts it with what he calls a Theology of Redemption but seems completely unaware of Luther's Theology of the Cross.

Although Donfried claims to promote a Trinitarian hermeneutic centered around the death and resurrection of Christ, he seems to regard Christianity as little more than a system of moralities. Donfried's version of the law is a softened one. It does not seem be a law that convicts all of sin but only those involved in gross sins and Christ becomes little more than a moral teacher.

Recovering a Christian Hermeneutic doesn't even seem to be Donfried's real goal. Donfried's real goal seems to be to argue against homosexual ordination. He spends quite a bit of time on it. But his ability to argue against homosexual ordination seems to be severely weakened by the things he wants to retain. He can't really let go of the academy and liberal scholarship and he doesn't want to give up women's ordination. Donfried does not explain why Paul would point to the creation ordinance in 1 Timothy 2 if Paul simply was arguing against women teaching in a particular situation. He just points to some ambiguous passages about women in the church. The Gentiles had priestesses in their pagan temples so the concept of a female pastor would not have seemed offensive to them. Paul was certainly not afraid to break with Jewish conventions when he believed they were wrong. Despite the author's claims to the contrary I think it might actually be easier to make a case for homosexual ordination than it is for women't ordination. Using Donfried's paradigm it seems almost arbitrary. He even acknowledges than in some situations there can be more than one right answer. Donfried even makes the claim that the concept of ordination is not spoken of in the New Testament. I think he's absolutely wrong but if there is no ordination then it wouldn't seem to matter if you ordained a homosexual or bisexual or even a monkey.

A true recovery of a Christian hermeneutic would REALLY be Trinitarian and focused on the death and resurrection of Christ and not just pretend to be. Christ-crucified would be the central message. The Bible is all about Jesus, not moral code. The Regula Fidei contained in the ecumenical creeds contain the proper interpretive lens through which to read the Scriptures. The church would seriously consider the interpretations of Scripture put forward by the church fathers. The church would stop abdicating its responsibility to transmit the text to the academy and stop abdicating its authority to translate the text to Bible societies. The church would regard the Bible as the Sacred text and not just as a religious text.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Populus Zion: A Devotional Commentary

Malachi 4:1-6 “For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble; and the day that comes will burn them up,” says Yahweh of Armies, “that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,” says Yahweh of Armies. “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

Romans 15:4-13 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore accept one another, even as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God. Now I say that Christ has been made a servant of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore will I give praise to you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” Again he says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” Again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Let all the peoples praise him.” Again, Isaiah says, “There will be the root of Jesse, he who arises to rule over the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles will hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke 21:25-36 There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and on the earth anxiety of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the waves; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to happen, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” He told them a parable. “See the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see it and know by your own selves that the summer is already near. Even so you also, when you see these things happening, know that the Reign of God is near. Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things are accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away. So be careful, or your hearts will be loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day will come on you suddenly. For it will come like a snare on all those who dwell on the surface of all the earth. Therefore be watchful all the time, praying that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Your King comes to you! The Reign of God is near! There are many who by their plans or through their dreams hope to set the world ablaze or set the world on fire. Why someone would want to do this is beyond my understanding. Melting flesh doesn't sound like a good time to me. But when Christ returns He will set the earth ablaze in judgment!

Remember the law of Moses! If Christ returns and you have not kept the law of Moses you will be found worthy of being set ablaze and burning eternally in the unquenchable fire! Close doesn't cut it and you aren't even close. You can't go an hour without breaking God's law by some ungodly thought. You ought to be trembling in fear at the thought of the coming of Jesus.

But you have been washed in the blood of Jesus. Jesus has kept Moses' law for you. Do not put your hope in good investments or in hopes that the world will get better or in your own moral improvement. Do not put your hope in the religion of "Christian" movies where resurrection occurs without death. Faith in Christ does not give you an automatic ticket to riches and success and might even give you a one way ticket to disaster. In the Scriptures and throughout history faith in Christ has caused marriages to fall apart, lose their jobs, and be killed. Do not put your hope in Christianizing the United States. The United States will fall to pieces along with the rest of the universe. But when you see these things happening, lift up your head because your King comes to you! Jesus clothes you with His own righteousness and you will escape the judgment of the last day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle: A Devotional Commentary

Ezekiel 3:16-21 It happened at the end of seven days, that the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word from my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I tell the wicked, You shall surely die; and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand. Yet if you warn the wicked, and he doesn’t turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Again, when a righteous man does turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because you have not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man, that the righteous not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you have delivered your soul.

Romans 10:8-18 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart”; that is, the word of faith, which we preach: that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they didn’t all listen to the glad news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, didn’t they hear? Yes, most certainly, “Their sound went out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Matthew 4:18-22 Walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men.” They immediately left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them. They immediately left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew. Andrew was a fisherman and brother of Simon Peter and became a fisher or men and the first Apostle called by Jesus. Andrew heard that Jesus was the Messiah from the mouth of John the Baptizer and introduced his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. After Pentecost is believed that Andrew spread the Gospel throughout Greece. But all did not listen to the Good News and eventually Andrew was crucified for preaching the Christ-crucified. According to tradition he was crucified on an X shaped cross. He was bound, not nailed, in order to prolong his suffering. According to some accounts he survived for two days on the cross and preached Christ-crucified while being crucified and then died the third day.

Through the preaching of the Good News the Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe not just that Christ was crucified but that Christ was crucified for us and our salvation. The cross is an offense because it shows how bad our sins really are. They are not just mistakes that God winks at. We are worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment. In the crucified-Christ we see how bad our sins really are. We also see how great God's love is. God's love is so great that He suffered what our sins deserve. God poured out His own blood for you. God gives you that same blood to drink for the forgiveness of your sins in the Sacrament of the Altar. The message of the Good News is far greater than any earthly message of hope or any kingdom. The Good News is worth getting crucified for because without the Good News all you have is your own works. If all you have is your own works then all you have is eternal damnation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ad Te Levavi: A Devotional Commentary

Jeremiah 23:5-8 Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name by which he shall be called: Yahweh our righteousness. Therefore behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that they shall no more say, As Yahweh lives, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, As Yahweh lives, who brought up and who led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries where I had driven them. They shall dwell in their own land.

Romans 13:11-14 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already time for you to awaken out of sleep, for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the works of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and lustful acts, and not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts.

Matthew 21:1-9 When they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethsphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village that is opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them, and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, behold, your King comes to you, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went, and did just as Jesus commanded them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their clothes on them; and he sat on them. A very great multitude spread their clothes on the road. Others cut branches from the trees, and spread them on the road. The multitudes who went before him, and who followed kept shouting, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Your king comes to you! Today the season of Advent begins when we remember the time leading up to the Nativity of our king and look forward to His second Nativity. Your king comes to you!

In the first Nativity our king came in lowliness. For us men and our salvation, He took upon a human nature. Our king was an embryo in the womb of a woman. Our king grew in His mother's womb and was born a helpless baby. Our king took your sins upon Himself and was crucified for you.

In the second Nativity our king will come in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. But do not be mistaken. Do not think that the coming of our king is just some future event. Our king comes to us now. Now is not the time where our king displays His power and glory but our king comes to us through humble means. Our king comes to us through the foolishness of preaching. Our king comes to us in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. It doesn't look like anything special but neither did the first Nativity. Jesus didn't have a halo over His head when He was born. He just looked like a regular baby. It looks like regular bread and wine but our king gives us His very body and blood in the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of our sins.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Colloquy of Montbéliard: Religion and Politics in the Sixteenth Century by Jill Raitt

The Colloquy of Montbéliard: Religion and Politics in the Sixteenth Century by Jill Raitt is about the debate between Calvinists (represented by Theodore Beza) and Lutherans (represented by Jacob Andreae) over the Lord's Supper, the Person of Christ, Baptism, and Predestination. Raitt is a Roman Catholic and does a remarkable job of staying very objective throughout. She has dug deep into the primary source material and as far as historical theology goes it would be hard to imagine somebody doing a better job than she has. The book isn't cheap. It's published by Oxford University Press and retails for $111. However, you can find them going for around $15 used on Amazon.

The first two chapters deal with the political background of the Colloquy. Nobody comes away squeaky clean. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists all end up looking pretty bad at various points throughout the period. Throughout the book both Andreae and Beza appear to be acting dishonestly at different points.

Chapter 3 deals with the debate over the Lord's Supper. Pages 98-99 give a nice summary provided by Beza of the agreements and disagreements between the Calvinists and the Lutherans. The Calvinists are referred to as the Swiss while the Lutherans are referred to as the Württembergers.

Agreements and Disagreements

With regard to the sacramental presence, we agree on the following:
  1. The Lord's Supper is composed of two things, the signs and the signified.
  2. By the Lord's command, the signs are bread and wine and the signified are his body and blood.
  3. Jesus Christ and his benefits are inseparable.
  4. The signs and the signified are joined by a sacramental conjunction.
  5. The signs are not bare and empty but present to both worthy and unworthy what they signify.
  6. The fathers have siad that the body of the Lord is In, Under, and With the bread.
There is disagreement on the following:

The mode of conjunction of the signs and the signified.

  1. The Württembergers teach that there is a real and substantial conjunction of the bread and body so that with the bread, the body is received into the mouth by both the worthy and the unworthy. The Swiss affirm a sacramental conjunction, which they teach is relative so that the body remains in heaven and the bread on earth. The body is therefore not presented in its corporeal essence to the mouth of the worthy and the unworthy.
  2. The Württembergers understand by the words In, With, or Under the bread and wine, the real and sacramental conjunction of substances her on earth. The bread is taken orally, but in an incomprehensible manner that is neither natural nor local. The Swiss teach that these words indicate a relative conjunction or a correspondence between the bread and the body by which the signs are offered to the mouth and the body and blood of the Lord to the soul.
There is agreement on the reception of the sacrament.

  1. All who approach receive the signs orally, but the worthy unto life and the unworthy unto condemnation.
  2. The spiritual reception by faith, proper to those who approach worthily and who alone receive the signified thing (res), is salutary.
  3. The manner of receiving the signified things is incomprehensible and a mystery better adored than too much investigated.
There is disagreement on the mode of manducation.

The Württembergers teach oral manducation of the body of Christ by both the worthy and the unworthy, the former to life and the latter to condemnation. The Swiss teach that the signified things are presented to the soul and so are received spiritually only by the faithful, since only they possess the instrument by which Christ and his benefits may be received. Consequently, the unworthy are culpable of the body and blood of the Lord not because they have taken them unworthily but because they have rejected them by their incredulity and impenitence.
Beza and Andreae both show that they understand the position of the other. But I wasn't very happy with the way the debate went. Both men seemed to be heavily influenced by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and St. John of Damascus (in that order) and much of the debate seemed to be wasted arguing over philosophical points. Andreae showed that he understood Aristotle better than Beza did and Beza proved himself to be the better logician but Luther did a much better job in his debate with Zwingli of sticking to the Biblical text itself in his arguments. The Calvinist position is certainly based upon philosophical presuppositions but the Lutheran view is not so I don't know why Andreae kept arguing like it was. Beza, just like most modern Calvinists, kept insisting that the Lutherans taught consubstantiation despite Andreae's attempts to correct him. Andreae seemed to be obsessed with defending the doctrine of the ubiquity even though not all Lutherans even believe this doctrine. Perhaps Andreae is responsible for modern Calvinists being convinced that if they attack the doctrine of the ubiquity somehow they have attacked the Lutheran position on the Lord's Supper. I wish that Andreae has simply confessed with the Scriptures teach. Jesus said, "This is my body." How can Jesus' body be on altars all over the world? I don't know, I simply trust in His promise. If He says He can do it, He can do it. Jesus all kinds of things with His body that I can't do. I can't pass through walls but He sure did. I'm not going to tell Jesus He can't pass through walls because that would destroy His true human nature.

Beza was hoping that the Lutherans would allow Calvinists to commune which is kind of interesting in itself. In some writings Beza seemed to regard the Lutheran position as idolatry but thought there was enough agreement to commune together. To the Calvinist, the Roman Catholic position was completely unacceptable but the Lutheran position was close enough. To the Lutheran, the Roman Catholic position was far more tolerable.

Chapter 4 deals with the debate between Calvinists and Lutherans over the doctrine of the Person of Christ--dealing mostly with the communication of the attributes. Each side declares the other to be Nestorian.

Chapter 5 deals with Images, Baptism, and Predestination. Beza tried to avoid this debate but Andreae insisted. Andreae brought up the destruction of churches, images, organs and other such things by some Calvinists. Beza claimed that this destruction was done without Calvinist church authority and he disapproved of these actions. I was surprised to read that Beza was not absolutely opposed to images or musical instruments. He believed that they could lead to idolatry but did not consider them to be idolatrous in themselves. He did not believe the 2nd commandment forbade all images and regarded it as a matter of Christian liberty.

In the debate over baptism Andreae argued on the basis of Scripture that basis is not instituted as a sign of regeneration but to confer regeneration (p. 139) and argued that faith is actually given in baptism. Beza claimed that elect infants are "probably" regenerated at the time of baptism and that infants "probably receive remission of original sin and adoption as long as they do not repudiate these benefits as adults." (p. 139) Beza goes on to argue that infants are incapable of having faith despite Andreae's Scriptural examples. Beza seems to regard cognitive ability as a requirement for faith. I've written about this error elsewhere. Beza sounds more like a Baptist here although I've heard some in the Puritan tradition that sound very similar. I'm thankful that not all Calvinists regard infant faith as an impossibility. Denial of infant faith is the result of a complete misunderstanding of what faith is. Faith is a gift of God. It is trust in God and manifests itself in different ways depending on a person's cognitive ability but lack of cognitive ability does not equal lack of faith.

Unfortunately both Lutherans and Calvinists have adopted practices that deny their confession of infant faith. Children's church jumps to mind but so does the age at which many first commune. Calvin considered age 12 to be the ordinary time at which people start taking communion. Most Reformed churches start giving communion to people at the age of 16 or 18. At the time of the Reformation many Luther taught that children should be taking their first communion between seven or eight years old and yet many Lutheran congregations do not give communion to a child until he is 12. I think there are good arguments on both sides for and against paedocommunion but have not read any good arguments for delaying the sacrament until the age of 12.

Within the context of the debate over baptism, Beza and Andreae argue over whether or not David lost the Holy Spirit which leads to an argument over whether or not there are mortal and venial sins. I found Beza to be more persuasive in this section. We are not specifically told that the Holy Spirit departed from David and the Scriptures do not make the distinction between mortal and venial sins that Andreae wants to make.

Next, they debated the issue of predestination. According to one Calvinist professor, the Lutherans asked the Calvinists what they believed about predestination and they answered, "We stand with Luther" and then the Lutherans said, "Next question." But that doesn't seem to be the case at all. Andreae taught single predestination and an unlimited atonement while Beza taught double predestination and a limited atonement. Beza tried to get out of this debate and first made the claim that there was no real difference in teaching. After he was forced to debate he gave a seven hour long lecture in defense of his position. Andreae spent some time playing on the emotions of his audience and then started quoting the "all" passages in Scripture. Beza claimed that these had reference to the elect while Andreae claimed that these had reference to every single person. It seems that time would have been better spent concentrating on a very small number of passages since the meaning of who or what the "all" is should be determined by the context. 1 Timothy 4:10 seems to say that Jesus died for a larger group than that of believers but this passage does not appear to have been brought up. Calvin explained the passage as teaching that God is a savior in a non-salvific way but that doesn't seem to fit the context. Some time could have been spent on passages like 2 Peter 2:1 where it speaks of those who deny the Lord who bought them.

After a good deal of arguing had already taken place, Beza started quoting from Luther's Bondage of the Will to try to prove that his position was the same as Luther's. Andreae did not respond directly to his Luther quotations (and I really wish he had) but he did continue to argue against Beza's position in general. He certainly did not say, "Next question." In Appendix 3, Jill Raitt seems to think that Beza proved that he took the same position as Luther. The modern Calvinist who is taught to read everything through a Calvinist Vs. Arminian paradigm also tends to think Luther is basically a Calvinist. But I don't think this is exactly true. Luther was addressing a particular issue and writing to a particular audience. Context must always be kept in mind. And although Luther went farther than many modern Lutherans would, there was a very significant difference he had with Beza. Luther may have acknowledged some kind of active reprobation in hidden will of God but he was always directing people away from the hidden will and to the revealed will of God found in Christ crucified. Luther wrote his commentary on Genesis after he wrote The Bondage of the Will and he made some interesting comments about his own teaching on predestination. I suggest clicking on the link and reading the whole thing. But it ends with something that seems to be directly opposed to doing what Beza was doing.

I have wanted to teach and transmit this in such a painstaking and accurate way because after my death many will publish my books and will prove from them errors of every kind and their own delusions. Among other things, however, I have written that everything is absolute and unavoidable; but at the same time I have added that one must look at the revealed God, as we sing in the hymn: Er heist Jesu Christ, der HERR Zebaoth, und ist kein ander Gott, “Jesus Christ is the Lord of hosts, and there is no other God”—and also in very many other places. But they will pass over all these places and take only those that deal with the hidden God. Accordingly, you who are listening to me now should remember that I have taught that one should not inquire into the predestination of the hidden God but should be satisfied with what is revealed through the calling and through the ministry of the Word. For then you can be sure about your faith and salvation and say: “I believe in the Son of God, who said (John 3:36): ‘He who believes in the Son has eternal life.’ ” Hence no condemnation or wrath rests on him, but he enjoys the good pleasure of God the Father. But I have publicly stated these same things elsewhere in my books, and now I am also teaching them by word of mouth. Therefore I am excused.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Last Sunday: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 65:17-25 “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be you glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and there shall be heard in her no more the voice of weeping and the voice of crying. There shall be no more there an infant of days, nor an old man who has not filled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, and the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for calamity; for they are the seed of the blessed of Yahweh, and their offspring with them. It shall happen that, before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,” says Yahweh.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 But concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need that anything be written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. For when they are saying, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction will come on them, like birth pains on a pregnant woman; and they will in no way escape. But you, brothers, aren’t in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief. You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep in the night, and those who are drunk are drunk in the night. But let us, since we belong to the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God didn’t appoint us to wrath, but to the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Therefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as you also do.

Matthew 25:1-13 “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

The virgins that Jesus calls wise in this parable seem rather foolish and the foolish seem wise. Why bring all that oil? The wise seem pretty OCD. It's a wedding and the bridegroom ought to show up in the daytime. If you're invited to a wedding you probably don't bring some pajamas with you to change into.

The "foolish" are reasonable people and by nature we are all "foolish" and act reasonably all the time. And since we are reasonable we expect God to be reasonable and we create Him in our own image. We create a God who is transactional in nature and we even try to read the parable this way. The "oil" becomes something else that we can check off of our list of things we need to do to get to heaven. So we make the oil good works or sincerity or prayer or whatever we think it might be and then pat ourselves on the back for having the oil that the other guy doesn't have. But God does not behave in this reasonable way.

God invites both the wise and foolish to the wedding feast. God invites everyone to the party. God's invitation to the party goes out continually in the preaching of the Word and He invites us to partake of the wedding feast in the Sacrament of the Altar where we feast upon the Bridegroom. Being the foolish virgins that we are, we neglect these good gifts. We are always asking the question, "How much do I have to do to get to heaven?" or "If I commit this sin will I still get to go to heaven?" Our goal is to have just enough oil to pass the test on judgment day and anyone who wants just enough oil doesn't really know what the oil is. The invitation is not to some examination where we see if we got just enough oil. The invitation is an invitation to a party--the greatest party of all! If someone were handing out free money, you wouldn't start asking them what the bare minimum is that you have to take from them in order to pay off your debt. So why do you act like you already have enough forgiveness of sins? "Forgiveness of sins? Oh, I took care of that at an altar call 20 years ago, I don't need anymore. Why do I need forgiveness of sins every week? Doesn't infrequently receive the forgiveness of sins make it more special?"

Even when we drag ourselves to church each week we tend to treat the forgiveness of sins as if it were a necessary evil. Just give us enough to get by. We doze off or our minds our occupied with other things.

But the oil of forgiveness is not something to be taken upon our lips like some kind of necessary but disgusting medicine. O taste and see that the Lord is delicious! Getting the oil is not something we do but something we receive. The foolish virgins tried to buy some off of the wise when they saw that their oil had run out and went out on a quick trip to purchase more when the wise virgins would not give them any. But it was too late. They didn't miss out because they weren't invited. They missed out because they didn't really like the oil very much and weren't that excited about the party. The party was better than the alternative but the party is also a reminder of our own sinfulness and inability. We could never throw the party. We can never pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and create the feast.

Jesus does it all. Jesus is the bridegroom. Jesus provides the feast. Jesus is the feast. O taste and see that the Lord is delicious!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trinity 26: A Devotional Commentary

Daniel 7:9-14 I saw until thrones were placed, and one who was ancient of days sat: his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I saw at that time because of the voice of the great words which the horn spoke; I saw even until the animal was slain, and its body destroyed, and it was given to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the animals, their dominion was taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

2 Peter 3:3-14 knowing this first, that in the last days mockers will come, walking after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” For this they willfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth formed out of water and amid water, by the word of God; by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. But the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But don’t forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore since all these things will be destroyed like this, what kind of people ought you to be in holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, which will cause the burning heavens to be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found in peace, without blemish and blameless in his sight.

Matthew 25:31-46 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; For I was hungry, and you didn't give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn't take me in; naked, and you didn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me.’ Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn't help you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn't do it to one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

When Jesus returns all the nations will be gathered before Him and Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats. So which are you? Do you spend your time feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and clothing the naked? Do you bring the homeless into your own home and give them shelter? Do you visit those who are sick and in prison? Or do you think that these poor and starving people simply need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Are you too worried about protecting yourself and your home to invite the homeless in and give them a place to sleep and eat? Are you too scared of getting sick yourself to visit the sick? Do you visit those in nursing homes or would you rather avoid being reminded of death? Do you think that those in prison are not worthy of your visit because of what they have done? Do you get angry when the government takes some of your money and gives it to the poor?

If you are honest with yourself, you will see that you do not behave like the sheep that are described here but like the goats. The Shepherd King is hidden in the losers around you. The Shepherd King is hidden in the poor and starving and sick and imprisoned and thirsty and strangers. Your response is probably the same as that of the goats, "If we knew that was you Jesus, we certainly would have done all these things."

Who then can be saved? If you read closely, you will see that the sheep and the goats are not separated based upon what they have done but who they are. The sheep did not even realize that they did any of these good works. The good news is that Jesus accomplished all of these works for you. You become a sheep through the waters of Holy Baptism. You are righteous because you have been given righteousness of the Shepherd. The Shepherd suffered hunger for you and not only feeds you with your daily bread but gives you His very body to eat. The Shepherd suffered thirst for you on the cross and not only gives you your daily drink but gives you His very blood to drink. The Shepherd became a stranger for you and was mocked and ridiculed for you so that you are no longer a stranger to God. The Shepherd hung naked on the cross in order to clothe you in His righteousness. The Shepherd suffered sickness to heal us of our physical and spiritual sickness. The Shepherd was imprisoned to set us free from sin, death and the devil. The Shepherd suffered our punishment so that we will receive eternal life.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Mystical Language of Icons by Solrunn Nes

I received a review copy of The Mystical Language of Icons by Solrunn Nes from the Eerdmans Bookstore. I've read a couple of other books on icons but this one is written by an iconographer and stands out for its abundance of illustrations. The book begins by showing how icons are painted with pictures of the icon at the various stages in production. There is a short history of the emergence of icons and an explanation of their function. There is a section on the characteristics of the form of icons that pointed out the use of inverse perspective in icons. I had never noticed this before. The bulk of the rest of the book contains beautiful full-color icons with commentary. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

This is My Body by Heramann Sasse

Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of This is My Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar by Hermann Sasse. It is truly one of the best books on the Sacrament of the Altar in print. It's not the easiest read but if someone has a serious interest he work his way through it. There are Latin and German footnotes and a little bit of Latin in the main body of the text but knowledge of Latin and German are not required to understand what Sasse is saying. The book is clearly written with the pastor or seminary student in mind but it is not unnecessarily complicated as some books written for that audience are. Sasse is extraordinarily gifted. He is able to take complex theological debates and explain them in relatively simple terms. He gets to the heart of the issues. He honestly represents his theological opponents. He knows the differences between Calvinism and Zwinglianism and what they hold in common. Sasse knows the difference between real and imagined problems with the Roman Catholic teaching on the Sacrament.

The book traces the history of the theology of the Sacrament through the middle ages and through the time of Luther. The Marburg Colloquoy makes up the biggest section of the book and this is perhaps the book's most unique feature. Sasse provides the reader with an English reconstruction of the debate based on the various sources available. This section should be required reading for seminary students in the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Zwinglian traditions. It would clear up many of the misconceptions being taught today and perhaps could lead to a modern debate. Sasse's book is cited in some books on the Sacrament written from a Calvinist perspective but based on how these other books understand the Lutheran teaching I have to wonder if these people have actually read Sasse's book. Most of the Calvinist books that I've read attack the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament by attacking consubstantiation but Sasse makes it abundantly clear that Lutherans do not teach consubstantiation.

Sasse's book is full of theological insight on every page. Just read the footnote 10 on page 21:

It is noteworthy that the Reformed confessions used to have an article on the Sacraments before dealing with the individual sacraments. The Lutheran Church has no dogma de sacramentis. In the Augsburg Confession an article on the use (or purpose) of the Sacraments follows the articles on Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Confession and Penance. At any rate, the attempts to understand the Sacrament of the Altar from the general concept of a sacrament should be abandoned; they have no biblical foundation. It is really astonishing that the churches which claim the sola Scriptura so emphatically, as e.g. the Calvinistic churches, have accepted so much from Augustine without asking whether or not these doctrines are truly scriptural. How amazing is the power of tradition in the church!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Given For You by Keith Mathison

Back when I was a Calvinist, I read Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper by Keith Mathison. At the time I was convinced of Mathison's position and disturbed by all the Zwinglianism I saw around me. Since I've become a Lutheran, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit this work.

Given For You is probably the best defense of the Calvinist position on the Lord's Supper. It does a good job of accurately and honestly representing Calvin's position and tracing position of Calvinist and Reformed churches throughout history.

However, exegetically the book is very weak and very complicated. The reader is left with the impression that unless he has PhD there is no possibility that he could ever interpret the Scriptures for himself. If Mathison is correct in his teachings then the doctrine of perspicuity must be nonexistent. The book makes it apparent that Calvin's position is not based upon the clear teachings of the Scriptures but upon philosophical speculation. Calvin teaches that in the Lord's Supper the Holy Spirit lifts us up to heaven to spiritually receive Christ's body and blood but the Bible never says anything like this.

What I find the most disturbing in the book is the author's lack of understanding of other positions--especially the Lutheran position. Throughout the book, the author does make reference to what he believe is the Lutheran position but most of the time it is some kind of strange Calvinist caricature of the Lutheran position. The author lists some good Lutheran books in his bibliography but I get the impression that he has never actually read them. He seems to be repeating some of the same old misconceptions about Lutherans found in Hodge and other writers.

The most concentrated critique of Lutheranism is found on pp. 256-260 under the heading "Consubstantiation." The very presence of the title shows that the author is attacking a straw man. Neither Luther nor the Book of Concord teach consubstantiation. Luther and the Lutheran confessions refuse to adopt a philosophical position when it comes to the Lord's Supper and refuse to try to describe how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ since the Scriptures do not offer an explanation, they simply confess it to be true.

Pages 257 says, "Because his doctrine of the Eucharist demands the simultaneous presence of Christ's human body in numerous locations, Martin Luther formulated the doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's human body." Luther did not invent the doctrine of ubiquity. Medieval theologians such as Guitmond and Alger had already taught this doctrine. The doctrine of ubiquity never made it into the Lutheran confessions. Luther simply offered it as a possibility. Some prominent Lutheran theologians promoted the doctrine of ubiquity while other equally prominent theologians such as Martin Chemnitz taught something different. Mathison believes that the teaching of the communication of the attributes distorts orthodox Christology. This objection has been answered rather thoroughly by Martin Chemnitz who shows that the church fathers who defended the orthodox position also taught the communication of the attributes and demonstrated that the original intent of the ecumenical creeds included the communication of the attributes. As far as I know, no Calvinist has disproved Chemnitz in this regard.

On page 259, Mathison claims that "Luther did not teach that the bread is Christ's body. He insists that the bread remains bread and that Christ's body is present simultaneously with the bread." But this is most certainly not true. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 10:16 in 1528, Luther says, "...it not only says, 'This is Christ's body,' as we read in the Lord's Supper, but mentions the bread which was so broken and says, 'The bread is Christ's body,' indeed, 'The bread which we break is not only the body of Christ but the distributed body of Christ.' The fact that bread is also present does not negate the fact that this is His body.

On pages 259-260, Mathison says that the Lutheran insistence on a corporeal presence requires a redefinition of what a body is. But Lutherans do not attempt to define it and so redefinition is not necessary. As Luther himself pointed out, Jesus did things with His human body that ordinary people cannot do. Jesus passed through walls. I can't pass through a wall. But it would be wrong to conclude that Jesus didn't really have a body just because He was able to do things we cannot do. The demand for a Jesus whose human body can only do things that other people's bodies can do requires a different Jesus from the one found in the Scriptures.

I don't expect everyone to convert to Lutheranism but it would be nice if people writing these books took the time to really understand opposing positions and were able to honestly represent them. From reading their writings, I think Luther and Zwingli understood what the other's position was. Beza and Andreas seemed to understand each other's position. I'm not convinced that Calvin understood Luther's position and perhaps is to blame for the long history of Calvinists who don't understand the Lutheran position. It seems so very strange to me. In many ways the Calvinist position seems to be the most difficult to understand--you have the Holy Spirit lifting people's spirits to heaven to feast on Jesus body and blood and all kinds of arguments from philosophy. The Lutheran position is simple and shouldn't be so misunderstood. This is My body. This is My blood. I have some books on my shelf written by recent Lutheran theologians on the Eucharist and they honestly represent the Calvinist position. One of them goes on at length to describe the slightly different views of different Calvinist groups throughout history. But of the Calvinist books written on the Eucharist that I've read, I can't find a single one that honestly represents the Lutheran position.

Luther's argument against Zwingli was rather simple. Luther's position came straight from the words of institution. In This is My Body Sasse summarizes Luther's four arguments against Zwingli on p. 340: "the article of the Christian faith that Jesus is perfect God and man in one person, undivided and inseparable; that God's right hand is everywhere; that God's Word is not false and cannot deceive; that God has and knows of various modes of being in any place, and not only the one which the philosopher calls local."