Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A music video about Rahab

A detailed explanation of the assassination of king Eglon

Dressing up as Bible characters for Halloween

As I noted earlier, some folks think the only way to celebrate Halloween is to dress up as a Bible character. So if you're one of these folks, and you didn't quite get around to making your costume until now, it's not too late. Here are 3 characters to choose from.

1. Ehud, famously known as the left-handed judge, was likely more famous among God's people for assassinating the Moabite king Eglon. Judges 3 tells the story, and specifically (3.15) says that Ehud brought a present to king Eglon. And quite a present it was! A cubit long dagger, but Ehud had an interesting way of presenting his gift, and Eglon probably didn't appreciate the gift too much, seeing that Ehud rammed it through Eglon's mid-section. How to dress as Ehud: yard-long (cubit, actually, but close) dagger, hidden on your right side. Use only your left hand, for effect.

2. Jael (from Judges 4), another famous assassin (you can see how my mind operates), killed a general by luring him into her tent to take a nap, and probably faked being a prostitute, as well. Once he went to sleep (Jael helped the sleep along by giving him some milk, most likely a kind of yogurt), she helpfully decapitated him with a tent peg. Costume: tent peg in one hand, milk jug in the other, too much lipstick and too much rouge.

1. Rahab: James 2.25 is quite clear. Jesus' ancestor was a prostitute. (Get the whole story in Joshua 2). Despite the efforts of some to rehabilitate the pre-conversion Rahab, there's no way to pretend she was an innkeeper, or whatever. If the Bible's not ashamed to call her a whore, neither should we. And if I need to explain how a woman should dress up as a prostitute, well, it's just a bit beyond the scope of this blog. : )

Thesis 6: "The pope cannot remit any guilt ... "

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

Why not post the 95 theses in batches of 10?

A friendly reader asks, "Why not post the 95 theses in batches of 10?"

Which is a good question. The gentle reader wonders if I won't drive myself insane. Those with whom I am familiar will suspect that the drive is not a long one.

But enough of that: there's a method to my madness.

As I mentioned when posting the first thesis, almost no one -- including Lutherans -- reads the theses. It's one of those things that we -- especially on Reformation day -- talk about as a concept, but we just don't take the time to read and ponder one of the most important documents in western civilization.

(If I were to guess at documents Luther wrote -- and he wrote a ton -- that would be considered pivotal in world history, I'd guess the theses, his Small Catechism, and Bondage of the Will. It helps that Luther opined that the last 2 were the only things he'd written that were worth reading).

Have you ever had this experience? Been in church, reciting the Creed, and you realize at the end that the entire confession of the catholic faith has emerged from your lips while you were thinking about a football game you were going to later that day? Or prayed the Our Father, and it took the "Amen" to make you realize that it was over? Or made a general confession without realizing what you've said?

I can't count the number of times I've done all 3. So here, I'm making myself read each thesis all by itself. When I think it needs it, I'll comment. But I'm giving myself -- and you -- the chance to read them, a bit each day. May God grant us to ponder them in the coming weeks!

2 Cheers for Halloween

Halloween gets a bum rap in certain circles.

You know the complaint: "Halloween is Satanic." Or that Halloween glorifies the demonic. Or that children should not be dressing up as demonic characters. Or finally, that children should not go door to door, begging.


Do you know why people dress up in Halloween costumes? Oh, I'm not suggesting that you should ask the kids coming to your door tonight. They do it because it's fun. And because people have often enjoyed dressing up in costumes.

But the reason why people began going about in disguise is because they were making fun of Satan. Making light of the demonic. Telling Satan and his minions, "Hey guys, the jigs up. You lost." And they did it because this is All Hallows, the day before All Saints, when we celebrate all the saints who have gone before us, all the saints -- known and unknown -- who provide inspiration and guidance and a good example to us who still plod through here on earth.

Can Halloween be used for bad purposes? Of course. So can wine, Christmas, Easter, chocolate, whatever. That these things are sometimes used wrongly doesn't mean we should get rid of them.

It likewise makes no difference that pagans, Satanists or other pathetic persons like Halloween. Who cares? As with anything else, these sad creatures are doing as Satan himself as always done, and because Satan do nothing without making use of God's creation, these people likewise mis-use Halloween. Just as they forget the birth of Christ at Christmas and just as they concentrate on bunnies for Easter.

So if folks want to have Noah's ark parties, or want to dress up as Bible characters, or want to have a church service tonight, that's perfectly fine. But they just can't make it a law. Because there's nothing wrong with dressing up and going door to door and getting candy tonight. Halloween's good. And I hope that you -- and those you love -- enjoy it. America's almost innate puritanism is always troubled when people have a good time. You're not going to make the puritans happy. If you did, they'd think that, too, was wrong. So just enjoy Halloween, eat too much candy, and remember that Satan lost. That's why we celebrate. God gives us all things richly to enjoy (I Timothy 6.17). So enjoy them.

The remission of penalties for sins: thesis 5

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

I think it's difficult for us to put our minds back into the way folks thought in 1517. (Actually, it's hard to do that for almost any time beyond a few years back). What Luther is bringing up for discussion here is the question of the Pope's remission of penalties for sins, in time and eternity.

Notice that he's not making a charge against the Pope: he says "the pope does not intend to remit." Luther is arguing against claims made in the Pope's name for the remission of sins by the hawkers of indulgences.

Reformation day

Hey, everybody -- it's Reformation day, and while everyone else is putting on costumes (not that there's anything wrong with that -- All Hallows is a holiday, too) take a moment and ponder what began 490 years ago today.

Never mind that the story of the posting of the theses on the door may have been apocryphal (there's no documentary evidence of it); what counts is that an insignificant monk in the (then) backwaters of Europe brought forth statements for disputation, and the disputation that began there has not stopped. Nor should it. We need to keep thinking about the church, about our faith, and about what all this means. Because in the end, it's the most important thing in our lives, because that faith and hope and love will continue for all eternity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

True inward repentance: thesis 4

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Outward manifestations of repentance: thesis 3

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

Repentance and penance: thesis 2

2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

"The whole life of believers should be repentance"

Luther's 95 theses -- arguably one of the most important documents in western civilization -- are often cited, but seldom read. People talk about them, but almost no one -- Lutherans included -- read them. So, in commemoration of Reformation day, I'm going to begin posting them. Here's number 1:

"Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite [that is, "Repent!"], willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The "emergency" office in the LCMS

I'm intrigued by how often the Missouri Synod tends to operate (in ecclesiology) as though it were in an "emergency" mode.

Emergency situations are by definition unusual, unexpected situations, temporary and short-lived in nature. Any discussion of ecclesiology in LCMS circles will inevitably bring up St. Augustine's story of the 2 Christians in a boat, one of whom baptized the other, at which point the baptized one absolved the other, and this is told to illustrate that in an emergency situation, the church may call, ordain, etc. without benefit of bishops and other useful ecclesiological strictures.

All of which is true, and all of which is irrelevant in our lives today. We are not in an emergency. No one -- no one -- in the LCMS lives under emergency situations now, at least not in a churchly sense. So why does the LCMS talk about such emergency situations so frequently?

I wonder if the emergency mode that the LCMS has cultivated for most of her 150 some years is owing to the beginning of the synod, when Lutheran emigrees were here, wondering if -- bereft of church structures in Germany -- they were the church or if they indeed had the church among them.

And one of the great contributions of the LCMS is the realization that the church was indeed among them, that they indeed had God's word, had baptism, had the Supper, and had the word of forgiveness in their midst. But can we acknowledge that contribution and get past it?

The catholic church has historically operated with bishops, defined as ministers of the gospel who often ministered to a number of congregations, shepherding and superintending the gospel ministries in those congregations. Bring up the idea of bishops in the LCMS, and most often we will be tiresomely reminded that the church doesn't "have to have" bishops.

Of course not. But it's irrelevant. The question is whether such bishops would help ensure the free course of the gospel in our midst. And if they would. why are we -- as a church body -- so terrified of such?

Is there abuse of power among some who are named bishops? Of course. Can the church live without bishops? Of course. The church can also live without hymnals, church buildings, and a lot of other things, but when such "unnecessary" things help give out the word of God in our midst, we use them.

Some in the LCMS like to pretend that various synodical officials -- specifically, synodical and district presidents -- are bishops. They are not. They are not by the very definition of the synod (except in the English district), and they are not in reality. We have chosen to call these men "presidents" and in the American context, calling someone "president" makes them into political officials. This is inevitable. Calling someone a president and expecting them to act pastorally is simply not going to happen.

(Likewise the Missouri conceit that all parish pastors are bishops is another situation that's true, but irrelevant. Calling them bishop is confusing, and goes against the consensus of the church. It would not -- in one sense -- be wrong to call each pastor "pope" but I don't see any arguments in LCMS blogs for that nomenclature).

A couple of isolated Christians in the gulag in Siberia are in an emergency situation. Isolated Christians shipwrecked onto an island without means of communication are likewise in an emergency. But American Lutherans in 2007 are not in an emergency. Recognizing that, and recognizing what in our history has made us cling to an emergency status would be helpful. And working to restore a pastoral hierarchy -- and calling such men "bishop" -- would be even more helpful.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Review: Edmund Schlink's 'Theology of the Lutheran Confessions'

My review from Amazon:

"A book on the Lutheran confessions (or any confessional corpus) can go wrong in one of 2 directions.

Such a book can be an unvarnished tribute, that sees no difficulties and no challenges in the confessions.

Or a book can be slam on the confessions, a slash and burn coverage.

Schlink walks a via media, managing to provide a critical (in the best sense of the word) overview of the confessions while at the same time standing under the confessions as a faithful student, learning, questioning, and helping the reader to do so at the same time.

This is a challenging, engaging read, and was helpful both personally and ecclesiastically. I highly recommend it.

I'd especially recommend the appendix, where Schlink works through some of the tough questions about the confessions and their engagement with the scriptures and the church fathers."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jesus and Aramaic

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been pondering some of the linguistic issues surrounding modern day Hebrew. I found this article on Wikipedia, and thought it a good overview of Jesus' use of Aramaic, and usage in the greater New Testament:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thanksgiving for rain

It's amazing how much you can miss a simple act such as rain.

Not just needing the water, as we all do, but how much you can miss the simple acts of watching rain through a window, listening to the sound of rain on the roof, and enjoying the freshness it brings to the air.

We're predicted to have an inch today, 1-2 inches tonight, and another inch tomorrow. It's not all that we need, but it's a start. And a cause for thankfulness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

prayers for rain

We -- in North Carolina, and most of the southeast -- could use rain. Lots of rain.

Likewise our countrymen in southern California are engulfed by fires, which would likewise be helped by seasonable rainstorms.

James 5.18, recounting the story of Elijah, reminds us that God gives rain. And God is the one to ask to bring healing, seasonable rains to our land.

Luther's explanation of the Lord's prayer also reminds us that one of the things we pray for in "Give us this day our daily bread" is good weather. In times of extreme drought such as this, we are reminded of God's providential care.

So, a prayer for rain. May we be reminded to pray and seek God's blessings in rain, and be reminded to thank Him for His care in the past, and to be thankful when the rains start again:

"O GOD, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom, and the righteousness thereof, all things necessary to their bodily sustenance; Send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I just think it's a bad idea to name a product 'The Titanic'

OK, so I'm on a roll. Another humorous take on naming. It's the first segment. (I know this initial picture is not the most edifying, but it really has nothing to do with what's on the video. I suspect whoever posted this thought it would get attention. No doubt it does).

How names are a problem

Those old enough will remember a diet product from the early 1980s that was unfortunately named "Ayds" and was pronounced "aids."

When the public health catastrophe with the same sounding name began to grab headlines in 1982 and 1983, the manufacturer of AYDS pulled the plug on the product. Sure, they could have kept the product going, tried to explain what it was, and tried to plug through the laughter that tended to erupt when someone heard the slogan "Lose weight with AYDS."

But they knew it was a lost cause. The name was gone, as far as being something people could use for a product.

I'm not suggesting that the name Lutheran is that far gone. No one laughs when they hear the word. But for us, the bigger problem is that they don't understand what it means. For a church body, that's a bad problem.

The problem with the name "Lutheran"

There's a strain in American religious life that wants to pretend that at some point there were no denominations. And whatever strengths these folks have, this assertion is nonsense.

The Christian faith goes back some 6,000 years, back to when God warned the serpent of a coming Savior who would crush the serpent down. And through some 4,000 years of Old Testament history, there were various "parties" within the faith. The New Testament times were no different: the Pharisees and Sadducees were nothing if not denominational groups. The council in Acts 15 dealt with what would be termed denominational differences, if the event had occurred in 1983. Even that church body (Rome) which is secretly admired by many non-Roman Catholics as being undivided is split on what are most certainly denominational lines: Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.

Which brings us to the name Lutheran. "Lutheran" identifies a certain religious party within the Christian faith. How we are identified is worth pondering.

For most Protestants (and most Roman Catholics), Lutherans are simply a Protestant denomination. Nothing more. Some Lutherans like to imagine that our Baptist brethren think we are "too catholic." Maybe a few make that fine distinction, but most don't.

Those who have more opinions about the Lutheran brand identify us in ways I don't completely understand. It's the Garrison Keillor, Lake Woebegone kind of humor. What that is in reality, of course, is identifying Lutherans with a certain variety of Germanic or Scandinavian culture which has become rooted in the American Midwest.

Does "Lutheran" in the end mean anything at all? There are liturgical Lutheran churches, and those that use "Pass it on" as an offertory. Those who subscribe to the Book of Concord, and those (the Lutheran Brethren, among them) who adhere to a vastly smaller confessional corpus. Those who commune with wine, and those who commune with grape juice. Those who believe the Bible, and those who don't.

In North Carolina, saying I'm Lutheran means some explaining. To Baptists (57% of the North Carolina population) I usually have to explain that I'm not ELCA, that my church body doesn't ordain women, and that we take the Bible seriously. Similar, but modified responses are given to Roman Catholics or whatever.

(Such explaining usually causes me to sin, because I end up bragging that I am better than others. See Luke 18.11-13)

Which brings me to the question that I ponder a lot: why do we use the name Lutheran? If the name has no meaning (and I obviously think it doesn't) why not use something more descriptive of the reality going on here? If I make this point, someone's always there to say that "Lutheran" means one who unconditionally subscribes to the Book of Concord, and I'm good with that, but we've got to understand that this distinction is lost on at least 75% (I'm being generous) of folks in Missouri Synod pews, and virtually 100% of everyone else. And if this distinction is lost on all but a tiny group, of what value is it?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Learning theology from non-theologians

Of course, my title isn't entirely accurate. I want to learn theology from the word of God, and from orthodox fathers who have listened to that word without preconceived notions about what the word "should" be saying.

What I like is to do reading that I call "cross-pollenization." So I read lots of stuff by people who aren't orthodox, maybe aren't Christians, in areas I find interesting.

(I don't read much in the way of religious stuff by non-orthodox writers. It's too dangerous. I am serious).

What I look for are people who will cause me to see my blinders, people who will make me think, people who will cause me to look around in the orthodox theology I cherish.

Here's a blog from one such. I've spent a while this morning reading his posts, and he's fascinating and good. I recommend it:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kings and all in authority

This is a post to encourage prayers. Especially prayers for governing authorities.

We are commanded to pray for those in authority: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." (I Timothy 2.1-3)

This applies whether we like the individuals (and it's plural -- for Americans it would include the president, members of congress, senators, judges, governors, mayors, among others) or not. Our preference for one individual is immaterial. God has placed them (per Romans 13) in power, and we should pray that they would do their jobs well, that God would guard them from evil, that He would guard them from bad advisers, and keep them from harm.

This also applies when we think the individual didn't get into the office legitimately. God has His purposes, and we are to pray for them while they are in that authority. If we want them out of office, we should work toward that end. But while they are there, it is a sin to not pray for them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

40 days without water

Ever gone a long time without water?

I haven't. Virtually free, abundant water is one of the blessings of modern civilization that most of us take for granted. If we could bring someone to 2007 from, say, 1300, I suspect that would be one of the things such a one would be most astonished by. But the Israelites knew about the need for water. There's an interesting water parallel to consider.

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses recounts to the people of Israel his (and God's) dealings with them. Twice, Moses mentions that he went 40 days without water (vss. 9 and 18).

Such an event is truly miraculous. Without divine intervention, no one can survive more than a few days without water. It's simply impossible: God has made us as bodies that consist mostly of water, and we will die quickly without it.

Food is another story. That Moses went 40 days without bread would be quite uncomfortable, but do-able. We have examples contemporary to our time of those who have fasted that long. They end up pretty skinny, and ravenous with hunger, but alive.

The parallel to Jesus' time in the wilderness is interesting. Matthew 4.2 recounts that Jesus fasted 40 days, and afterwards was hungry. The first temptation is a food temptation. And while most of us -- who have trouble going for more than a few hours without food -- think that hunger would be the most appealing temptation, if Jesus had been without water, liquid would be vastly more interesting, by comparison.

The 2 events are clearly parallels. What intrigues me is that there is no mention of Jesus going without water. Any argument that he did so is an argument from silence. Luke 4.2 specifically says "in those days he did eat nothing," but fails to mention water.

Given the silence here, I have to assume that Jesus drank water during His fast. But I wonder what's the significance of Moses going without it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Negative Evangelism, or, How God's word works in spite of our sins

If you can't do anything else, maybe you can serve as a bad example. Here's a story of a bad example in evangelism.

The Old Testament reading for Pentecost 20 is the introduction to the story of Ruth in Ruth 1. The story introduces us to Jesus' ancestor in the faith, and is also an example of one of the non "physical Israel" saints in the OT. (Ruth was a Moabite. Other examples in the OT are Uriah the Hittite, the faithful general who was murdered by King David, as well as the saints in Ninevah, recounted in Jonah).

What I want to focus on is not Ruth, but Naomi, her mother-in-law. Naomi (whose name means "pleasant") is the bad example. We read of Naomi's very bad times: her husband's death, and the deaths of her 2 sons.

We can look at Naomi from 2 perspectives. First, she deserves genuine sympathy, suffering through what is a horrible situation. But her reaction is not good. I would do no better, but while we are encouraged to patience in such sufferings, Naomi shows none of that. Instead, she whines, complains, and reviles against God, saying that God has "afflicted" her (1.21). She further encourages her 2 daughters-in-law to abandon the true faith, and return to their ancestral idol worship (1.15). Naomi is at least partly "successful" in her negative evangelism: her daughter-in-law Orpah leaves Naomi, and the faith.

But someone has done something right here. Perhaps Naomi or her husband or her sons, but someone has taught her daughters-in-law (especially Ruth) about the true God. Even Naomi here -- in her bitterness -- blesses Orpah and Ruth, asking that the Lord would "deal kindly with you" (1.8).

We sin daily, and our efforts at sharing our faith fail, often miserably. But God's word does not fail. That's the message of Isaiah 55, that God's word does what it sets out to do, in spite of our failures to say the word rightly.

Should we be kind, winsome, patient, longsuffering? Absolutely. And will we fail to do that? Definitely. Like St. Naomi, we will speak the word badly at times. And like her, we live under the forgiveness that the Savior promises.

The second reading for Pentecost 20 is from 2 Timothy 2. That passage closes with this promise that Naomi in glory clings to, even as we do: God abides faithful. He cannot deny Himself. (2.13).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A minyan of lepers?

The gospel reading (Luke 17.11-19)for today (10/14/07, Pentecost 20) is interesting on several levels.

The one I've been pondering is the question of the minyan. The pericope recounts the story of 10 lepers who are cleansed by Jesus. 10 is interesting because this has 10 is traditionally the number needed for a synagogue's minyan, the number of men needed to have proper prayers. The number has not been fixed throughout history; some rabbis argued that only 6 were needed, some 7, etc.

I wonder if this was not in the back of Jesus' mind when he said (Matt. 18.19-20), "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." In other words, when even 2 or 3 are gathered together, Jesus' presence is among them and in their midst.

What I'm wondering is whether the group of lepers were a minyan for prayers. I would appreciate input on these questions:

1. Were lepers given any access to the synagogue services during the time of Christ?

2. If they were not given access to "regular" synagogue services, could they constitute a minyan for prayers?

3. Would a Samaritan have been able to participate in the regular Jewish synagogue services?

4. If so, could the Samaritan have been a part of the minyan for prayers in a Jewish synagogue?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Worthiness in receiving the Supper

from Edmund Schlink's Theology of the Lutheran Confessions (p. 177):

"If faith as trusting reception constitutes worthiness, then worthiness does not consist in the act of receiving but in the treasure received, not in faith as a human act but in faith as in him who is believed."

"At all events, nothing is required of man in the sacrament that God does not himself give to man in the sacrament. That is to say, here God only gives and he requires nothing. Since the Lord's Supper requires faith and gives faith, it is altogether a gift. We need add nothing to God's grace. We need merely accept and receive his gift. It is literally placed into our mouth."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is modern day Hebrew, well, Hebrew?

I'm intrigued by a minor-level debate apparently going on in some linguistic circles about what is usually termed modern Hebrew, that being the language now used in the state of Israel.

We're usually told (I was, at Moody Bible Institute) that this language is just an updated version of biblical Hebrew.

Which -- if this story is correct -- makes the modern Hebrew unique. Unique in that it is probably the first time in history that a dead language was revived, and put into common use. And it is in common use: Israel as a state recognizes 2 official languages, Hebrew and Arabic.

(Some would argue that Hebrew was never dead, in that it was a liturgical language in synagogues around the world. Which is correct. However, it was dead in the sense that Latin is dead, that it was used in only one, circumscribed area. In other words, until the Hebrew revival, no one bought groceries, played soccer, or designed software using Hebrew).

But some linguists differ. One in particular, Ghil'ad Zuckermann, argues that the language should properly be called "Israeli," saying that it is not Hebrew, per se, but rather a mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish, with notable Slavic roots. He particularly notes that Israeli Hebrew uses a subject-verb-object sentence structure, reflecting a more European approach that biblical Hebrew.

This article gives a better overview of this than I can.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Jerusalem multitudes and Christ

It's a common myth that somehow Jesus was not received by the crowds in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Mark 12.37 tells us instead that "the common people heard him gladly," and often the gospels speak of "the Jews," those referred to are not the crowds, but the Temple leadership and officials.

On Palm Sunday (the Sunday of the Passion) when Jesus enters the city, the crowd gives what is -- in context -- a clearly Messianic confession: "And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, 'This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.'" (Matt. 21.10-11) Jesus is not only "a" prophet, but "the prophet" of Nazareth, which refers back to Matt. 2.23 (" He shall be called a Nazarene") which in turn refers back to Isaiah 11.1, which St. Jerome saw as the reference cited by St. Matthew.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Forgiveness as law and gospel

Forgiveness encompasses both law and gospel.

Law because we are commanded to forgive others as we are forgiven. Law because we are commanded to have a kind and forgiving heart, even when others don't reciprocate.

Gospel because we are freely forgiven for Christ's sake. Gospel because our sins, though many, are not counted against us when we are joined to Christ.

One of the beautiful things to watch is when a Christian has incorporated that forgiveness into their lives so that forgiveness starts to come almost naturally. In other words, while the Christian knows he is commanded to forgive others, his forgiveness is not just a matter of gritting his teeth and doing what God has commanded, but he forgives just because God has made forgiveness a part of that Christian's being.

In today's gospel read (from Luke 17), the English Standard Version translates the last phrase of 17.4 as "you must forgive him."

In 17.4, our Lord is telling us that if our brother sins against us, we are to forgive him.

The Greek word there, "must," is better translated "shall" in English. We don't use "shall" a lot these days, but it's one of those words that conveys a subtle meaning, such as if I said, "If I drop you off a mountain, you shall fall to the ground." Shall meaning, "it's going to happen, whether you want it or not."

In other words, I think our Lord is giving us a gospel sense of forgiveness. "If your brothers sins against you, you're naturally going to forgive him because you have been forgiven." "Must" (in the ESV) puts a law twist on it, so that this is something you have to do.

You are freely forgiven for Christ's sake. When we are given the grace to treasure that forgiveness, our brother's wrongs against us pale in comparison, and our forgiving him -- though it's certainly commanded by God -- becomes a light and easy burden to bear.

Lutheran Lecture Series, Newton, NC

Coming up on Oct. 20, starting at 11 a.m.: an incredible series of theology lectures.

This is the Lutheran lecture series, and it's being held at Mt. Oliver Lutheran Church, in Newton, NC. (That's the NC foothills. Their address is 2103 Mt. Olive Church Rd., Newton NC 28658. The church is about 5 minutes off of I-40, and is easily found on Google. If for some reason, you can't get directions, email me, and I'll get them for you. Their phone number is 828-464-2407).

Now, a "lecture" has gotten a bad rap in recent years. We hear lecture, and think boring, not fun, whatever. But a lecture is simply a reading, and this is a place where you can come apart, and hear some of the best minds in confessional Lutheran theology speak. This year's speakers include David Scaer, of CTS-FW,
Ronald Feuerhahn, of CTS-SL, and Gene Veith, of Patrick Henry College. This year's theme for the lectures is the office of the public ministry.

Now if it were just a matter of the lectures, this series would be worth the trip. But it's a great time to fellowship with like-minded folks from other congregations all around the southeast. Not to mention that a youth group from one of the local congregations provides a free lunch for all participants.

So if you can, set the 20th aside. The series begins at 11 a.m., and ends around 4:30, with closing prayers. I've been attending these for years, and I've never failed to leave refreshed and knowing lots of wonderful stuff about our Savior that I didn't know before. Come and join us there.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The false accusations of the law

God's law always accuses us. Even when we are trying to obey God's commandments and keep His word, the law is always there reminding us that we are obeying imperfectly, that our motives are not pure, our desires not clean.

Numbers 32 is an example of when the law falsely accuses. The Reubenites and the Gaddites, being cattle ranchers, found good grazing land across the river Jordan, and asked that they be allowed to settle in that land.

Moses is the quintessential lawgiver (John 1.17). And Moses here accuses the brethren of being unwilling to go to war against their enemies, of being slackers, and of discouraging the people of Israel.

But Moses was wrong. And this is one of the messages of Numbers 32. The law was accusing, but the accusations were false. The Reubenites and Gaddites explain their reasons, and offer to go to war.

When the law is plain, it's not wise to argue. If I hate someone, the law rightly accuses me with "Thou shalt not kill." But if there is no plain commandment, and I'm guilty, I might be dealing with a false accusation.

If I drink a beer, and feel guilty, that's a false accusation. If I think it's wrong to dance, it's a false accusation. There's a multitude of such guilt, and it's not wrong (as we see in Numbers 32) to argue back against the accusation, against the false guilt.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Morning, Evening, and Commending

It's no accident that people have viewed sleep as a picture of death. At first glance, the sleeper looks dead, and the use of "sleeping" as a euphemism for death is common, so common that even the disciples were confused when Jesus spoke of Lazarus so in John 11.11-13.

Sleep does picture death, and each day is bracketed by sleep.

It's no surprise, then, that what we usually think of as a morning hymn would have within it a precursor of sleep (a usually evening activity) and death. What I've got in mind is "With the Lord Begin Your Task" (LSB 869, LW 483, and TLH 540). The first verse:

With the Lord begin your task;
Jesus will direct it.
For his aid and counsel ask;
Jesus will perfect it.
Every morn with Jesus rise,
And when day is ended,
In his name then close your eyes;
Be to him commended.

What's beautiful here is that even as we begin our day's activities, we look to the end, both of the day and of time, the closing of our eyes, both in sleep, and in death.

Such commending is a good way to end our day. I don't suggest heavy duty praying while trying to go to sleep, unless there's good reason for it: sleep is resting, and heavy duty praying is hard work. But "commending" -- leaving those we love into God's care -- is a good thing, and allows us to drift off into the rest that God provides (Psalm 127.2). Such commending doesn't need to be long petitions, just perhaps asking God's mercy on those whom we love and asking God to provide them rest and peace while they sleep. (Luther's evening prayer contains similar wording: "Into Your hands I commend myself, my body, and soul, and all things. Let Your Holy Angel be with me, that the wicked foe have no power over me.")

I also find it helpful to commend enemies at such a time. I don't mean national enemies, though any such would certainly be included. I mean personal enemies, whom God brings into your life to give you a chance to love them, even when they might hate you, and when you might have reasons for hating them. Instead, name them, asking that God would have pity on them, grant them peace, and forgive their sins, as we plea for God's forgiveness for our own sins.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The doctrine of the Lord's supper and the doctrine of the church

It can be confusing reading about the Lord's supper.

Confusing because we are taught by scripture that we eat the body of Christ, while at the same time the church is the body of Christ. How can both be true?

I think the easiest way to sort these statements out is to realize that we become the body of Christ because we eat the body of Christ.

Which brings us back to the question I've been pondering yesterday and today about Luther's explanation of the Supper.

If I put a rock under a cloth, the rock is hidden.

But if somehow the rock is in the cloth, with the cloth and under the cloth, then the rock is no longer hidden: it is invisible.

Describing the church as "invisible" is very popular in some Lutheran circles. In fact, there are folks who become angry when this is denied. Well, I'm one of those deniers. I think that describing the church as invisible -- something taught in neither the Bible nor the confessions -- is wrong, plain and simple. I'll deal with that more later, but let me suggest that maybe this less than precise way of explaining the Lord's supper has led us to the doctrine of an invisible church.

The Body of Christ is hidden from our eyes in the Supper, but it is not invisible. It's real, glorified, and not some ghost (cf. Luke 24.37-39).

More about the "in, with, and under" question

A thoughtful reader suggests that "in, with, and under" is a good way of describing Luther's biblical doctrine of the Supper, that it especially deals well with the erring Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches (stemming from St. Thomas, and back further to Aristotle's theory of substance and accidents) that we eat only the Body and Blood: that the appearance of bread and wine become -- after the words of institution -- merely "accidents" of the reality there.

(To me, the most persuasive argument against Rome is I Cor. 10.16: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" In other words, St. Paul states plainly that the cup (meaning the wine) is a "communion" (Greek: koininia) of the blood of Christ, and the bread is likewise a communion of the body of Christ. So we have both wine and blood, both bread and body).

"In, with, and under" may be a good explanation of Luther's doctrine. I'm still not persuaded that our current usage is necessarily bad. But a couple of things come to mind.

The first is to ask why -- if a good explanation -- did Luther himself not describe it that way? Obviously, he used all three terms in the text of the Small Catechism; why not all 3 together here in the explanation of the Supper?

The other is to question if Luther's explanation was solely directed against Rome's errors. Hermann Sasse used the phrase "the lonely path" to describe the fine line that Luther had to walk between Rome's error on one hand and Protestant errors on the other. Zwingli (and less directly, Calvin) argued strongly against Luther's teaching on the Supper. In writing the Catechism, Luther no doubt had these errors in mind as well.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Here's an interesting problem for me.

Ask a non-Lutheran theologian what a Lutheran understanding of the Lord's supper is, and you will usually get the phrase that "in, with, and under" the elements, Christ's Body and Blood are offered, given, and received.

Actually, this is often the explanation given by Lutherans as well.

But it's not correct. Or it's at least misleading.

The Small Catechism is very plain: "It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself."

Under. Not "in," and not "with."

I suspect that we have morphed 2 parts of the catechism together, because in the explanation of baptism, we confess "It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water."

Am I being overly picky on this? I don't know. But when we confuse these explanations, I suspect at the very least that we are being sloppy theologically. And when we are sloppy theologically, it is very easy to slip into some serious error.

Especially since these are not obscure parts of doctrine, but at the very heart and soul of our faith: the means of grace by which God grants us forgiveness of sins.

Words are important: "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 1.13) And when we talk "differently" about the Lord's supper, I wonder if we are thereby confessing something different about that supper.

3rd in the series of clips about Luther

Why the rich man was in hell: some thoughts on Luke 16

The secret to understanding this pericope is to hear it in the context of all the scriptures.

There are always those who want to condemn the rich on the basis of this. Of course, the rich are sinners (like every other man) but Abraham was rich (Gen. 13.2), as was David (I Chron. 29.28) and Lydia (Acts 16.14) was a prosperous merchant. The problem is not that the rich man was rich; the problem was that he did not love God.

We know this because of his failure to love Lazarus. He did not heed the 5th commandment, understood from the catechism: "We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need."

Of course, that was not his only sin: he disobeyed the first commandment, making money his god.

Both of these (along with all others) are forgivable sins, sins covered by the mercies and merits of Christ. But the rich man's actions are described to show us that he did not love God, and did not rest on God's riches, but rather on his own.

Notice the contrast in vs. 22: Lazarus dies and is carried to Abraham's bosom. The rich man dies and is buried. This is a picture for us that while the Christian dies, death is a temporary stop. Our ultimate destination is there with the faithful, Abraham being the prominent man of faith.

Note vs. 24: the rich man finally begins to pray! But even his prayers are self-serving. He shows no remorse for his lack of love toward others, Lazarus being the named example. He likewise continues to treat the now exalted Lazarus as one of the hired help: "Abraham, send him!" Instead of begging God's mercy, he dictates to God what and how God shall do His business.

The dictating to God continues. His 5 brothers are -- like us -- to hear God's word, and not expect religious tricks and gimmickry. But the rich man is there to command God as to how and when He should preach His word. The rich man deems God's word insufficient and inadequate, and believes that if a gimmick came along -- a man risen from the dead -- they would believe. Abraham correctly notes that those who will not hear God's word won't believe, even when the gimmicks and tricks come along.