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."

Trinity 24: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 51:9-16 Awake, awake, put on strength, arm of Yahweh; awake, as in the days of old, the generations of ancient times. Isn’t it you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the monster? Isn’t it you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over? The ransomed of Yahweh shall return, and come with singing to Zion; and everlasting joy shall be on their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. “I, even I, am he who comforts you: who are you, that you are afraid of man who shall die, and of the son of man who shall be made as grass; and have forgotten Yahweh your Maker, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and fear continually all the day because of the fury of the oppressor, when he makes ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor? The captive exile shall speedily be freed; and he shall not die and go down into the pit, neither shall his bread fail. For I am Yahweh your God, who stirs up the sea, so that its waves roar: Yahweh of Armies is his name. I have put my words in your mouth, and have covered you in the shadow of my hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and tell Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

Colossians 1:9-14 For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins;

Matthew 9:18-26 While he told these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and followed him, as did his disciples. Behold, a woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years came behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; for she said within herself, “If I just touch his garment, I will be made well.” But Jesus, turning around and seeing her, said, “Daughter, cheer up! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd in noisy disorder, he said to them, “Make room, because the girl isn’t dead, but sleeping.” They were ridiculing him. But when the crowd was put out, he entered in, took her by the hand, and the girl arose. The report of this went out into all that land.

Christ is our only hope. Jesus alone has the power to heal us. Jesus alone has the power to raise us from the dead. Jesus alone has the power to raise our loved ones from the dead. Jesus is the only one who can give life because Jesus is life.

Our own works bring nothing but sin and death. Some of us look like we are doing better than others. Some of us look like we have control but like this ruler we can save noone, only Jesus can save our loved ones. We are all like this woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years. This woman was banned from the temple and the presence of God because of her uncleanness and so have we. Only Jesus blood can save us from our own bloody sinfulness. Like the dead girl, we are all dead in our sin whether we lie dead as the girl.

Just like the crowd we think we are alive, we think we are righteous in ourselves--we think we have life. We look down on the "sinners" around us and laugh at the idea that God could give them life. But we are dead and worse than these "sinners" because we do not even recognize how dead we really are. But Jesus brings us life. Jesus raises the dead. Grasp tightly onto the hem of His garment. Only Jesus gives you life. Everything else brings death. Jesus resurrects you and feeds you with His very body and blood.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints Day: A Devotional Commentary

Revelation 7:9-17 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. They cried with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels were standing around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before his throne, and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might, be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” One of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are arrayed in white robes, who are they, and from where did they come?” I told him, “My lord, you know.” He said to me, “These are those who came out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes, and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. Therefore they are before the throne of God, they serve him day and night in his temple. He who sits on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them. They will never be hungry, neither thirsty any more; neither will the sun beat on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shepherds them, and leads them to springs of waters of life. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Matthew 5:1-12 Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and taught them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and remember all who have died in the faith, especially those who have died in the last year. The requirements for sainthood are found in the Gospel reading. Do you measure up? Have you stopped get angry with your brother? Have you completely stopped thinking evil thoughts? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Have you ceased to sin completely? Are you always merciful? Do you rejoice when people say bad things about you? Was Mother Theresa pure in heart? Are you pure in heart? Was Mother Theresa pure in heart? Absolutely not! Were any of the saints? No. They were all sinners, just like you are a sinner. But they received their righteousness from Jesus, just as you receive your righteousness from Christ. Jesus has kept the Law in the sermon on the mount for you so that you may receive the promises of the Gospel. So rejoice and be exceedingly glad!

The saints in heaven gather around the Lamb and worship Him. Some of the saints are martyrs who have been killed for their confession of the Lamb. They have been taken out of this great tribulation and by being murdered they have been given life. Through their witness and faithful death they bring others to the Lamb's feast. When we meet for worship we join in worship with the saints and the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We partake of the body and blood of the Lamb. We have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. We have no promise that the saints hear our prayers but we know that they pray for us. We feast on the Lamb's body and blood and look forward to the great wedding feast when the Lamb comes for His bride and we enjoy constant communion with all the saints including our loved ones who have died in Christ. And most importantly, we will be in constant communion with the Lamb and sorrow will be no more.