Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The LORD (no longer) Our Righteousness in NIV 2011

I just stumbled across this passage today in the NIV 2011, since we've now entered the Advent season and are considering these Old Testament prophecies of the coming Christ.

Whether you grew up with the KJV or the NIV (1984), you always knew the name by which the coming Christ would be called: "The LORD Our Righteousness" (Jer. 23:6 KJV, NIV).

Not anymore.

Jeremiah 23:6 in the NIV 1984:
    In his days Judah will be saved
    and Israel will live in safety.
    This is the name by which he will be called:
    The LORD Our Righteousness.
Jeremiah 23:6 in the NIV 2011:
    In his days Judah will be saved
    and Israel will live in safety.
    This is the name by which he will be called:
    The LORD Our Righteous Savior.
I can find no textual reason in the Hebrew (or any of its variants) for changing "Our Righteousness" to "Our Righteous Savior." Here are various English translations of this phrase:

    NIV84: The LORD Our Righteousness.


    ESV: The LORD is our righteousness.

    HCSB: Yahweh Our Righteousness.

    NASB: The LORD our righteousness.

    NLT: The LORD Is Our Righteousness.

    GOD's WORD Translation: The LORD Our Righteousness.

    Vulgate: The Lord our righteous one. (Dominus iustus noster)

    Luther: The LORD, who is our Righteousness. (HERR, der unsre Gerechtigkeit ist)

But once again, boldly going where no man (oops, I mean "no one") has gone before...

    NIV 2011: The LORD Our Righteous Savior

Any confessional Lutheran will quickly see the connection between this name for Christ and the doctrine of justification. Christ, the God-Man who was born under Law (Gal. 4:4 NKJV) and fulfilled all righteousness in our place (Matt. 3:15 NKJV), has become for us "wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30 NKJV). Christ is our righteousness before God, and his righteousness is that which is imputed to the one who has faith in Christ (Rom. 4:23-24 NKJV).

But this foundational teaching of Scripture is obscured beyond recognition by the NIV 2011's rendering of Jeremiah 23:6. Worse than that, it is completely removed from the verse.

Someone will argue, "But no false doctrine is being taught in the new NIV's translation!" Really? Is it not a false teaching to remove the true teaching of a divinely inspired verse of Scripture?

WELS, is this really the Bible translation you want to recommend to the saints? (Oops, can't say "saints" anymore in the NIV11. I mean, to "God's people"?)

"Relevance," and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Part 2

Maybe, if the Christians weren't so, you know, weird, maybe if they didn't act so differently, they would fit-in more, and wouldn't attract so much negative attention – maybe more people in the World would like them. Nobody wants to be friends with a weirdo.

Cecil B. DeMille's, The Sign of the Cross, Part 1

FOX'S BOOK OF MARTYRS: The Ten Primitive Persecutions

The First Persecution, Under Nero, A.D. 67

The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities. Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared that 'he wished the ruin of all things before his death.' Besides the noble pile, called the Circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.

This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.

To their names may be added, Erastus, chamberlain of Corinth; Aristarchus, the Macedonian, and Trophimus, an Ephesians, converted by St. Paul, and fellow-laborer with him, Joseph, commonly called Barsabas, and Ananias, bishop of Damascus; each of the Seventy.

"Relevance," and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs – Part 1

The Christian's three great enemies are the devil, the world, and his own flesh. They each work to lure him into sin, in order to separate him from his Saviour, Jesus Christ. The World especially, Jesus tells us, hates us on account of Him (John 15:15-25), therefore, we should not marvel when the World conspires against us to rob us of His sustaining Word (1 John 3:13), which includes all aspects of Scripture: not just every word, as Jesus tells us directly in Matt. 4:4, but the form, or grammar, as well – as St. Paul amply demonstrates, the central teaching of Scripture hinging on a single point of Hebrew grammar (Gal. 3:13-16).

But, as I intimated in Rev. Rydecki's post, The Gender Gutting of the Bible in NIV 2011, when we grow careless in our watchfullness, shallow in our thinking, and find ourselves lured by the Siren calls of the World – "Be friends with us, be relevant to us, then we'll listen to you, respect you, and think well of you. Then you will be effective. And that is what you want. Isn't it?" – we find ourselves taking seriously the ridiculous notions that friendship with the World is love for the Gospel, rather than the enmity of God (James 4:4). No (and continuing with the imagery of mythical Sirens and their beckoning calls, from the myth of Jason and Argonauts), to drown out the allure of Worldly Sirens, lest we go mad for our desire of them, we must sing our own songs more loudly. Only with clear heads, can we thus see that wholesale emasculation of the Scriptures in order to make the Bible "relevant" and more palatable to the unregenerate and pagan sensibilities that surround us – not just in a few verses of the NIV 2011, but in thousands of verses, in both obvious and subtle ways – is utterly foreign to the very Words which proceeded from the mouth of God and to the form in which He breathed them. Such is a Worldly notion, created by the enemies of God's Church on Earth and superimposed on the Scriptures to serve Worldly aims within the Church: to lead us into sin and separation from God.

How easy it would have been for the Blessed Martyrs of the early Church to acquiesce to the World's overtures of friendship, which often meant the difference between life and tortuous death. Yet all the while, theirs was truly a Crisis of the Word, of God's Word, the Bible, which was still in the process of being canonized. Irenæus, Polycarp, Justin and others valiantly fought against the teachers of Gnosticism and the authors of apocryphal and pseudepigraphal Gospels and Epistles, and they along with many others were Martyred in the process. But this was the key to maintaining orthodoxy in the face of false teachers, their fraudulent scriptures and their resulting heresies: validating (a) one’s Scripture sources as having come directly from the apostles, and (b) one’s teaching as having descended only from those very Scripture sources.

They could have made friends with the world, if they weren't so dogmatic. They could have made friends with the world, if only they were willing to overlook some corruption in their Bibles. But they resisted this temptation. They were followers of Christ, hanging on to the very words which proceeded from the mouth of God. And they were hated for it, with a venomous hatred. The Ten Persecutions of the Early Church demonstrate this most ably. And make no mistake, the World has essentially held its venom in store for almost one-and-a-half millenia since – at least in the West – reminding us only every now and then that it still hates us.

Over the next week, we will be telling the story of these persecutions, to remind our fellow Christians what Scripture says regarding the World's true sentiment towards us, and to illustrate for them the realities of true Christian endurance and sacrifice, which have been largely forgotten in Western Christianity. Hopefully this will demonstrate the comparitively trivial nature of our striving for so-called "relevance," and the mockery such priorities make of the sufferings of those who struggled to hold on to the pure Word and its teaching, when it would have been so easy, and so seemingly justifiable, to allow both to become spoiled by the World's influence.
    “[T]he martyrdom of the first three centuries... remains one of the grandest phenomena of history, and an evidence of the indestructible, divine nature of Christianity.

    “No other religion could have stood for so long a period the combined opposition of Jewish bigotry, Greek philosophy, and Roman policy and power; no other could have triumphed at last over so many foes by purely moral and spiritual force, without calling any carnal weapons to its aid. This comprehensive and long-continued martyrdom is the peculiar crown and glory of the early church; it pervaded its entire literature and gave it a predominantly apologetic character; it entered deeply into its organization and discipline and the development of Christian doctrine; it affected the public worship and private devotions; it produced a legendary poetry... The sufferings, moreover, of the church during this period are of course not to be measured merely by the number of actual executions, but by the far more numerous insults, slanders, vexations, and tortures, which the cruelty of heartless heathens and barbarians could devise, or any sort of instrument could inflict on the human body, and which were in a thousand cases worse than death.

    “Finally, while the Christian religion, has at all times suffered more or less persecution, bloody or unbloody, from the ungodly world, and always has its witnesses ready for any sacrifice; yet at no period since the first three centuries was the whole church denied the right of a peaceful legal existence, and the profession of Christianity itself universally declared and punished as a political crime. Before Constantine the Christians were a helpless and proscribed minority in an essentially heathen world, and under a heathen government. Then they died not simply for particular doctrines, but for the facts of Christianity. Then it was a conflict, not for a denomination or sect, but for Christianity itself. The importance of ancient martyrdom does not rest so much on the number of victims and the cruelty of their sufferings as on the great antithesis and the ultimate result in saving the Christian religion for all time to come. Hence, the first three centuries are the classical period of heathen persecution and of Christian martyrdom. The martyrs and confessors of the ante-Nicene age suffered for the common cause of all Christian denominations and sects, and hence are justly held in reverence and gratitude by all.”

    Schaff, P. (1996). History of the Christian Church (Vol. 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. (Reprinted from the fifth edition of Volume 2, originally published in 1889). pp. 77-80

This series continues in the following posts:

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Gender Gutting of the Bible in NIV 2011

Disclaimer: Let it be understood from the beginning that nothing that follows is meant to contradict this Scriptural truth: That God loves men and women equally, has given them equal access to his grace as believers in Christ Jesus, equal "sonship" in his house, and an equal inheritance in his kingdom (Gal. 3:26-29), and that God wants men and women to treat each other with love and respect (1 Pet. 3:1-9).

As noted in this well-written open letter by Rev. Robert Koester, one of the biggest problems with the NIV 2011 is its use of gender neutral language. This problem manifests itself in several different ways:
    “Brother” becomes…

      brother or sister” - “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matt. 18:15)

    “Brothers” becomes…

      brothers and sisters” - “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.” (Acts 1:16)

      or “friends” - “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:38)

      or “own people” - “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’” (Acts 7:37)

      or “believers” - In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) (Acts 1:15)

      or “fellow Israelites” - The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deut. 18:15)

    “Man” becomes…

      mankind” - He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created. (Gen. 5:2)

      or “human beings” - Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)

      or “people” - “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matt. 4:19)

      or “person” - How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! (Matt. 12:12)

    “Fathers” becomes…

      ancestors” - to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, (Luke 1:72)

    “He who...” becomes…

      The one who…they” - Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;” (John 11:25)
These changes in gender language affect literally thousands of verses throughout the Bible. While the change to any given verse may appear subtle, when considered from the wider perspective of the whole Bible, the changes are, in reality, monumental. An entirely different cultural context is being superimposed on the context in which the Holy Scriptures were written. The WELS Translation Evaluation Committee recognizes this shift:
    So far as its use of inclusive language is concerned, no participant in the study or member of the committee would quarrel with a judicious use of it where it clarifies the intention of the biblical writer for a contemporary reader. An obvious example would be 1 Timothy 2:4, where the new NIV replaces “men” with “people” in the sentence, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” More troubling are those places where a standardized use of it (i.e. wherever the original has a vocative αδελφοι the NIV routinely translates “brothers and sisters”) seems to go contrary to what Paul meant to say. In 1 Corinthians 7:29, for example, the explicit inclusion of “sisters” seems odd since Paul immediately goes on to speak of “those who have wives.”

    A larger issue, but a more difficult one to get a handle on, is the matter of introducing, by means of a routine use of inclusive language, a subtle cultural distortion into the text. We certainly have a right to expect that a translation will accurately reflect the culture and worldview of the original (see criterion # 3 above). It’s fair to say that in the ancient near east, men were seen as representatives for their entire family, their entire tribe, and their entire people (e.g. “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”—see Exodus 3:6). The language the Bible uses reflects that point of view. When many of these references are absorbed into a more inclusive manner of phrasing, will the reader come to the incorrect conclusion that the ancient near east was culturally very similar in this respect to 21st century America? (Lines 183-199)
Unfortunately, even though they recognize the inaccurate worldview that is being presented by the NIV 2011, the members of the TEC still draw the following conclusion:
    In evaluating this concern, the committee would like everyone to bear in mind that a certain amount of cultural distortion is part and parcel of any translation. After all, neither Moses nor Paul spoke English! Furthermore, a translator as we have already said has to make decisions about what features of the original he will preserve and which he must regretfully let go, since no one translation can do it all. We may disagree with the translator’s choices in this context or in that one. But we do understand that such choices have to be made. Readers also have to consider the importance of this issue relative to all the other matters that need to be weighed in evaluating a translation. So far as the committee is concerned, we remain of the opinion that the respective callings of men and women are clearly and fully taught in the new NIV in those Biblical passages that deal with the doctrine directly. (Lines 200-208)
I would like to point out that there are only a handful of passages in the Bible that “deal with the doctrine” of the different callings of men and women “directly,” and even in some of these cases, the NIV 2011 muddies the waters (cf. 1 Timothy 2:12 NIV). But the doctrine is reflected, reinforced and certainly taught indirectly in thousands of verses of the Bible that present the man as the head of the woman and as the divinely ordained representative of the family, the church and the broader society. (It is not an accident that language itself, and especially the Biblical languages, has reflected the divine arrangement for some six thousand years.)

When the language of those thousands of verses is distorted to remove the male-oriented character of the Scriptures, then we are left with a handful of passages that make a direct distinction between the roles of men and women (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:11-15 NIV, 1 Cor. 11:3-12 NIV, 1 Cor. 14:34-35 NIV). And the result is this: those few passages, although they used to be supported and taught by the whole context of Scripture, now appear to be an anomaly in the Scriptures! With the language of the rest of the Bible neutered, the (mostly Pauline) statements that limit the authority of women seem incoherent and arbitrarily restrictive.

How strange that Jesus would allow only men to be his apostles, when, in the language of NIV 2011, God has been addressing men and women equally all along! How out of place that Peter should in one place call upon both men and women to choose the replacement apostle for Judas (Acts 1:16-26 NIV), but then Paul, in another place, forbids women to "assume authority" over men (1 Tim. 2:12 NIV)! How odd that Paul calls on the "brothers and sisters" to be eager to prophesy in the church (1 Cor. 14:39 NIV) immediately after the same Paul just got done commanding women to remain silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34 NIV)!

Doctrine = teaching. And the teaching behind the NIV 2011 can be summarized as follows: In the past 30 years, American society has evolved beyond the male-oriented character of former societies, including those in which the Scriptures were written. Language, too, has evolved to reflect this societal evolution. Therefore, Christians must learn to embrace these societal changes as well as the language that accompanies them, or else Christianity will quickly become incomprehensible and irrelevant.

It saddens me that some of the brightest men in our synod seem to agree with this philosophy. Changes in language may occur over time, many of which are neutral in nature. "Withers" has replaced "withereth" in common speech, and the word "conversation" no longer resembles its former meaning (cf. Eph. 4:22 KJV). But when the changes in language arise out of a pagan, egalitarian worldview, we should not accommodate our Bibles to match it, or gut the male-oriented character out of the language of the Bible because some will be offended by it.
    All flesh (er, "people") is as grass, and all the glory of man (er, "their glory") as the flower of grass. The grass withers and its flower falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Pet. 1:24-25 NKJV)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Little Touch of Marty in the Night #3

As we are on the eve of a new Christian Church Year, one of many questions that can be asked is this: Can we - any of us - be wrong in our thinking, understanding, and speaking, about Christian doctrine and practice?

Nobody likes to be wrong. On the other hand, Christian believers certainly know that they are not perfect, and thus can and do make mistakes. Confessional Lutherans are especially aware of this since we do not look to or trust our own feelings, opinions, knowledge, or decisions for our eternal salvation. We know that God, by the working of the Holy Spirit through the precious Means of Grace, has “decided” for us! This, of course, is great comfort in times of trial, temptation, and doubt, as it allows us to focus on Christ, His work, and the gracious working of God, instead of on our imperfect selves.

Understanding that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes and errors in thinking, speaking, and doing, also means we are always learning, always growing, and always evaluating our thoughts, words, and actions. Indeed, this includes pondering, questioning, and re-learning the great truths of our faith. I believe this is one reason why Martin Luther encouraged people to never stop reading and learning even the simple Small Catechism.

Let’s admit it – who hasn’t had at least a fleeting thought maybe for just a few seconds in their life that maybe, just maybe, Zeus was on some ethereal Mt. Olympus moving people around like chess pieces and capriciously laughing it up with the the other “gods” as we puny humans go about our silly pointless lives, all for their amusement?! Of course, such thinking is absolutely wrong. And such fleeting thoughts do not make us hell-bound pagans. And why do we have such thoughts? Because we are imperfect human beings. But what keeps us from running off a cliff at times likes these? Nothing else than the sure, solid, rock of God’s eternal Word, and the sweet comfort of His Holy Sacraments, that’s what!

And each time we go back to that Word and study it, and perhaps read what others, like Luther, have written about it, we very often learn a new insight, and come away with a better and deeper understanding. This is that Luther did throughout this entire life. In his preface to a later edition of his writings he talks about this learning and growing. He admits freely to having written and said some wrong things earlier in his career. And he begs later readers not to judge him too harshly for these misstatements.

If it can happen to Luther it can happen to any one of us. Most certainly, let us always hang on to the great treasures and truths of our faith. Let us learn them anew and grow in our understanding. But let us also understand that our formulations of these truths can, as even in Luther’s case, sometimes be, let’s say, not completely accurate and as precise as they might be; that sometimes we need to re-state them, improve on them, or even back-track on them in some way. And let us give each other the time and patience to do this work without spite, rancor, or accusations of heresy.

Who knows, someday we may have to ask future generations to excuse our misstatements too. Let’s pray they will be as gentle with us as I’m sure we all are with our dear Father Martin!

Pastor Spencer


Above all things I beseech the Christian reader and beg him for
the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to read my earliest books very
circumspectly and with much pity, knowing that before now I too
was a monk, and one of the right frantic and raving papists. When
I took up this matter against Indulgences, I was so full and
drunken, yea, so besotted in papal doctrine that, out of my great
zeal, I would have been ready to do murder -- at least, I would
have been glad to see and help that murder should be done -- on
all who would not be obedient and subject to the pope, even to
his smallest word.

Such a Saul was I at that time; and I meant it right earnestly;
and there are still many such to-day. In a word, I was not such a
frozen and ice-cold champion of the papacy as Eck and others of
his kind have been and still are. They defend the Roman See more
for the sake of the shameful belly, which is their god, than
because they are really attached to its cause. Indeed I am wholly
of the opinion that like latter-day Epicureans, they only laugh at
the pope. But I verily espoused this cause in deepest earnest and
in all fidelity; the more so because I shrank from the Last Day
with great anxiety and fear and terror, and yet from the depths of
my heart desired to be saved.

Therefore, Christian reader, thou wilt find in my earliest books
and writings how many points of faith I then, with all humility,
yielded and conceded to the pope, which since then I have held and
condemned for the most horrible blasphemy and abomination, and
which I would have to be so held and so condemned forever. Amen.
Thou wilt therefore ascribe this my error, or as my opponents
venomously call it, this inconsistency of mine, to the time, and
to my ignorance and inexperience. At the beginning I was quite
alone and without any helpers, and moreover, to tell the truth,
unskilled in all these things, and far too unlearned to discuss
such high and weighty matters. For it was without any intention,
purpose, or will of mine that I fell, quite unexpectedly, into
this wrangling and contention. This I take God, the Searcher of
hearts, to witness.

I tell these things to the end that, if thou shalt read my books,
thou mayest know and remember that I am one of those who, as St.
Augustine says of himself, have grown by writing and by teaching
others, and not one of those who, starting with nothing, have in a
trice become the most exalted and most learned doctors. We find,
alas! many of these self-grown doctors; who in truth are nothing,
do nothing and accomplish nothing, are moreover untried and
inexperienced, and yet, after a single look at the Scriptures,
think themselves able wholly to exhaust its spirit.

Farewell, dear reader, in the Lord. Pray that the Word may be
further spread abroad, and may be strong against the miserable
devil. For he is mighty and wicked, and just now is raving
everywhere and raging cruelly, like one who well knows and feels
that his time is short, and that the kingdom of his Vicar, the
Antichrist in Rome, is sore beset. But may the God of all grace
and mercy strengthen and complete in us the work He has begun, to
His honor and to the comfort of His little flock. Amen.
Works of Martin Luther, Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds. (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 10-11. This text was converted to ascii format for Project Wittenberg by Allen Mulvey and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or suggestions to: Rev. Robert E. Smith of the Walther Library at Concordia Theological Seminary.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not getting much out of church?

When someone says he's not getting much out of church, the problem could be with the church. The problem is with the church if the church is not doing what Christ gave his churches to do, namely, to preach the pure gospel and to administer the sacraments in accordance with his institution.

By "gospel" I mean the whole counsel of God that invariably centers in the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ Jesus. It's the message that directs hearers to Jesus, not primarily as friend or guidance counselor – and certainly not as buddy!, but to Jesus as the Savior of sinners.

If a church is not preaching the pure gospel and administering the sacraments faithfully "in church" (that is, during the public worship service), if Christ can barely be seen behind the personality of the preacher, if the church is serving a heaping helping of chaff and only the tiniest bit of wheat, then a person who goes to that church may well conclude that he's not getting much out of it. There isn't much of value to be gotten.

But what if the church is preaching the pure gospel and administering the sacraments according to Christ's institution? What if Law and Gospel, rightly divided, fill the service from start to finish and the life of Jesus is being handed out abundantly in the means of grace – and the churchgoer still feels like he's not getting much out of church?

If that is the case, then there's a good answer posted on the WELS Q&A, and we heartily recommend this article to our readers: Feeling Close to God.

Here's a snippet from the end of the article:
    "…the way to enliven worship isn't to repackage it as a pep rally or rock concert. The way to enliven worship is through a lively sense on everybody's part that God is here in the means of grace, offering himself and his pardon to guilty sinners—and we know it, not because we can feel it, but because he promised it."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Some musings on the article on election

Today’s “Writing” from Concordia’s Treasury of Daily Prayer (on sale right now from Concordia Publishing House!) got me thinking about election.
    (from the Saxon Visitation Articles)


    Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God

    The pure and true doctrine of our churches concerning this article:

    1. Christ has died for all people and, as the Lamb of God, has borne the sins of the whole world.

    2. God created no one for condemnation, but wants all people to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Therefore, He commands all to hear His Son Christ in the Gospel. By the Gospel He promises the power and working of the Holy Spirit for conversion and salvation.

    3. Many people are condemned by their own guilt who are either unwilling to hear the Gospel of Christ or later fall from grace. This happens either by error against the foundation of grace or by sins against conscience.

    4. All sinners who repent are received into grace, and no one is excluded, even though his sins were as scarlet. For God’s mercy is much greater than the sins of all the world, and God has compassion on all His works.

    Translation from Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (656). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

As noted in the title of this article from the Saxon Visitation Articles (1592), it was specifically written to summarize (very briefly) the Lutheran teaching on the article of election (predestination). This was necessary because the errors of Calvinism were spreading in Germany at that time, namely, the teaching that God doesn’t want all men to be saved, that Christ only died for the sins of the elect, and that the non-elect, therefore, couldn’t be saved, even if they should hear the Gospel, believe it and be baptized, because Christ had never borne their sins or made satisfaction for them.

The Calvinist doctrine robs Christians of the comfort of the Gospel. All of God’s promises, according to Calvinism, are invalid for the non-elect. God does not desire their salvation. Christ has done nothing to merit their salvation. The promises of mercy through faith in Christ only apply to the elect. So, for the Calvinist, if he wants to be sure that he has a gracious God in Christ, if he wants to be sure that his baptism is valid and that the absolution is valid, he can’t rely on the means of grace. Instead, he first has to somehow try to figure out the unknowable answer to this bottom line question:

    “Am I one of the elect?”

The Lutheran (i.e., Christian) Gospel, on the other hand, offers sure comfort to terrified consciences, because it directs the sorrowful sinner, not to the hidden counsel of God, but to the revealed will of God. Here, all the questions to the sorrowful sinners have objective, knowable answers:

    Am I a sinner who deserves God’s condemnation? (Rom. 3:19-20)

    Did Christ die for the sins of the world (and, therefore, also for my sins)? (John 1:29)

    Has God made Christ into a Throne of Grace in His blood, where God promises to be reconciled to all sinners who look to Christ in faith – to justify and forgive them, to be merciful and gracious to them? (Rom. 3:24-26)

    Has God promised that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved? (Mark 16:16)

The Gospel proclaims an answer of “Yes!” to all of these questions, and through the Yes! of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit works faith when and where it pleases God.

So in the Lutheran Gospel, the bottom line question is not, “Am I one of the elect?” The bottom line question is, “Have I been baptized?” and “Do I trust in Christ as the Throne of Grace? Do I wish to be judged by God through Him alone?”

The one who answers “Yes!” or who even whimpers, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!” is most certainly among the saved.

The Biblical truth is that God started in eternity with election and brought about in time everything necessary for the salvation of the elect, including the incarnation of the Son of God, the perfect obedience of Christ, the preaching of the Gospel reaching their ears and faith being created in their hearts. Election is the cause of faith, just as the Means of Grace is the instrument through which the Holy Spirit creates faith.

So the Lutheran, unlike the Calvinist, isn’t forced to start out by determining his election, nor is the Lutheran forced to seek the certainty of his salvation in his election. The Lutheran begins with the dependable Means of Grace and faith, and then works backward. If the Gospel has reached me and made me a believer in Christ, then I know that I have God’s eternal election to thank for it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On "Emasculated Bibles" and being "Objective"

I spent an evening last week in the company of around fifty WELS laymen and clergy. They had asked me speak to them about the issue of Bible translations, in preparation for the decisions our Synod will be faced with in the very short period of time between now and the 2012 District Conventions. I think I used about two hours of time – I lost track. I first gave a “presentation” – “a little talk”, as I put it to them, rather than a formal lecture or power point entertainment session. I think that lasted around fifty minutes or so, in which I talked a little about the history of Christian education, from Abraham to the Reformation, and the fact that all education over the expanse of time the Church has existed – both the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church – grew from God’s command to read that which was written. That is, our forebears didn’t create for themselves dumbed-down childrens’ Bibles to read. They didn’t produce translations rendered in an artificially reduced grammar and vocabulary for the sake of wider distribution and profit (in the name of “readability,” of course). Instead, they read the Scriptures as they were written, and in the case of the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, Luther’s German Bible, and Tyndale’s English Bible, they read in their own language translations which were honest academic attempts to reproduce in those languages, not just the meaning of the original text, but a grammatical structure and vocabulary that was as nearly parallel to that of the source texts that the target language could accommodate – a parallel grammar and vocabulary in the target language that also carried the meaning of the source. But the Bible, in the source languages, has a lot of complex grammar, and very precise vocabulary! If, as a result, the Bible was hard to read and understand, what was the solution for the Hebrews? The early Christians who read Paul’s letters directly in Greek? The Latin Church? And the Reformers? The solution was not to dumb-down and emasculate the Bible. The solution was to redouble their commitment to educating Christians. All Christian education emanated from this need: to read and understand God’s Word.

Emasculated Bibles
From there, I talked a little about the terms Dynamic Equivalence and Formal Equivalence, which readers of Intrepid Lutherans should be familiar with – we wrote a little about these terms in our post The NIV 2011 and the Importance of Translation Ideology, and they come up frequently in discussion concerning the evaluation of modern Bible translations. After that, I spoke a bit about the difference between Complementarianism and Egalitarianism, the militant feminist influence which faces us in Egalitarian teaching, the postmodern devices of language employed by feminism to “cleanse” the English language of masculine forms (read about this, and the recent challenges WELS has faced from Egalitarians, in our recent post on Postmodernism and pop-culture), and the clear connection between emasculation of the Bible in the NIV 2011 and the objectives of Egalitarianism and militant feminism, including confused teaching regarding the roles of men and women, especially in Acts 1 and 1 Cor 14 (for more on this, see NIV 2011: A brotherly debate). I concluded “my little talk” with a dramatic reading of a conversation which covers many of these issues.

Being the first time through these presentation materials in front of a group, it went a little rough. Add to this the fact that I was actively redacting and adding material on the fly, to adjust for my audience. But it went well-enough that nearly an equal amount of time was spent in Q&A following, discussing the material in my presentation, and other various issues related to the decisions we will be facing, the time for which is swiftly bearing down on our Synod. This presentation, and the conversation with followed, was good timing for these men; and the materials I left them with, Rev. Brian Keller's (WELS) excellent essay, Evaluating Bible Translations: Alle Schrift von Gott eingegeben, and Rev. Robert Koester's (WELS) important open letter Thoughts on Gender-Neutral Language in the NIV 2011, will go a long way toward informing their thinking. The fact is, there are many deep issues for the laity to investigate and consider. It would be a pity if they were presented with substantive information to consider only a couple months before District Conventions.

Being “Objective” in matters of consequence
But did I provide them an “objective” presentation? The answer is emphatically, “No, I did not.” I was nice, of course, and non-polemical – I even told a joke or two. I simply provided a positive case for my position. So the next question to ask is “Did my audience know that I was biased, and that my presentation was ‘non-objective’ from a political standpoint?” The answer is emphatically, “Yes, they did.” How do I know? Because I told them so. Here are my words from introductory remarks I prepared and delivered:
    How do you do, gentlemen? My name is Doug Lindee. I’ve been invited here tonight to talk a little bit about Bible Translations. None of you really has any good reason to know who I am, so you may be wondering, “Why was this guy asked to speak here, on this topic?” I am not a pastor. I am a layman. I have no education that would be officially recognized by Synod as qualification for Ministry of any sort among us, nor am I, having no Call from a Congregation, a “Minister of the Word” in any sense. I am a simple layman, and any “ministry” I engage in occurs within the context of Vocation, not in any “special” capacity within the Church. But I have a College Education. Thirteen years of full time, classroom education, 10.5 years straight, including Summers (except two), plus 2.5 years straight beginning about five years later. In this time, I studied Mathematics, Physics, Economics, Computer Science, Education and Philosophy, and Business and Organizational Leadership. In other words, I know how to learn, and using the tools of learning which I obtained through years and years of practice, I have independently pursued study in matters of the greatest consequence: those of my own faith and confession. It was this study which brought me, along with my wife who studied with me, through the Scriptures, to the conclusions of the Lutheran Confession, and which propels us into further study and advocacy of Scripture’s teachings. As a result, I have gained somewhat of a reputation (a good reputation according to some, a not-so-good reputation according to others) for taking and defending positions – more recently, positions related to the ideology of Bible Translation. So, when it was mentioned to an acquaintance of mine that someone was looking, and found it difficult to find, a person who could speak on the issue of translations which is currently facing our Synod, and inquired whether he knew of someone who might be able to discuss this issue with laity, when my name was mentioned as a knowledgeable layman, this person was aware of who I was and what I have written on the subject. Apparently, that was qualification enough to appear here before you tonight...

    Finally, I need to be honest with you and say, I am not objective regarding the issues I will be discussing. I have already drawn conclusions that I am convinced are correct and worth defending. That isn’t to say my mind can’t be changed, but anyone who attempts to do so will have their work cut out for them, as I have been considering and researching these issues for over fifteen years, and my position didn’t just develop overnight. This is important for you to know. For this reason, I am going to stay as far away as I can from characterizing the perspectives of those holding a position opposite to mine. Why? Simply because I know that I will not be able to do so to their satisfaction – I am biased after all. And this should really be the approach taken by anyone discussing these issues who is known to have taken a position regarding them. How disingenuous it would be for me, or for anyone, to claim objectivity in this matter when it is known that I have taken a firm position. You would have every reason to be suspicious of me! I mentioned that I have 13 years of college experience – and this is an absolute fact that I have learned at the feet of countless college professors during that time. The absolute best professors were those with a definite position, who advocated that position in their lectures. I may have disagreed with them from start to finish, but their impassioned defense provided me the opportunity to develop a more refined rebuttal of my own, and more firmly establish my own position. At other times, though I may at first have disagreed with them, I found their impassioned defense to be more valid than my own position, prompting me to change my mind. Yeah, that happens too, and there is nothing wrong with it.

    On the other hand, the absolute worst professors were those who were “objective.” The only way to be truly objective in matters of consequence, without violating your own conscience, is if you actually don’t care. The worst professors were the “objective” professors. Why? Because they actually didn’t care about what they were talking about. In matters of consequence, this was most frustrating, because we had no idea whether we were receiving key information which would determine the issue, or if such information was being deliberately omitted to keep us students from developing a definite position of our own. But the real tricky professors were the ones who “pretended” to be objective. You see, one rule you can always count on is that college professors know far more than what they actually say in lecture. They choose to share certain information, and choose to withhold certain other information, time being the primary criterion, of course, but also usually according to an unspoken agenda. No, they are not actually objective, but when they nevertheless pass themselves off as objective, they are disingenuous. Sometimes, they are under genuine political pressure to publicly lend support to certain viewpoints which are at odds with their own convictions. Other times, perhaps they are required to "objectively" present issues on which they hold definite bias. The result in any case is that they do so in a way which minimizes damage to what they are convinced is true. The kids who pay attention usually have such professors figured out by the end of their Sophomore year, if not before. In either case, such professors, once they are figured out, are not considered reliable.

    Anyway, my purpose here isn’t necessarily to change your mind or establish your position, nor is it to “demonize” those holding an opposing position, but is simply to give you information which supports my own position – a position held by quite a number among both laity and clergy in our Synod – knowing that you will be exposed to opposing information. And that’s as it should be. You need to hear information from opposing positions, from those who actually hold those positions, in order to draw your own conclusions. What is my position? I am convinced that adopting the NIV 2011, as our English Language standard of the Holy Scriptures, would be a major mistake; and further, that any alternative ought to favor a Formal Equivalence approach to the translation of the source texts into English.
The laity of our Synod will be presented information regarding Bible Translations. The men of the TEC have been tasked with doing this. They are all known to hold definite positions. This fact, along with their rather staunch defense of NIV 2011 at the 2011 WELS Synod Convention, raised the question of their “objectivity” in this task from the floor of the Convention: “Haven’t they already ‘tipped their hand’?” is the question I recall. This question resonates with me, along with many laymen and clergy I speak to or hear from. The men of the TEC are certainly capable of providing a defense of their own position, which is support for the NIV 2011, and in all fairness I think they ought to continue doing so. But who will speak from an opposing perspective? We at Intrepid Lutherans don’t know. While we assume that they must exist, we know of no man from either the Seminary or MLC who is opposed to the NIV 2011. If such men exist, as we assume, then “they ain’t talkin’”. On the other hand, there are many very knowledgeable parish pastors who are busy talking and writing in defense of something other than the NIV 2011 – but to my knowledge they are not being selected to the invitation-only Symposium in January, from which will proceed positions/materials used to present these issues next Spring. Which raises a second issue regarding the presentation of these issues to the laity: “How much time will the laity have to consider these substantive issues, prior to the time they cast their votes at the District Conventions?” A couple of group meetings a few months before District Convention is insufficient.

For my part, I am convinced that, given the time, regular folks can digest these difficult issues, come to sound conclusions, and act accordingly. I am also convinced that, in the absence of other voices, I am willing, and find it necessary, to speak and write about them as my conscience dictates.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Little Touch of Marty In the Night! (#2)

At a recent conference of WELS Pastors, a committee of Pastors, teachers, and laymen, who were asked to give their recommendations on the application of a church group for membership in the WELS, presented their preliminary report. It contained the following paragraph:

"Of particular concern to this committee, however, is that in many of the sermons we reviewed, the message of the Gospel, while present, did not predominate. Many of these sermons were designed to be practical in nature, but the practice (i.e. sanctification) of the believer was not always clearly connected with the motivation (i.e. justification) of the believer. We find this observation to be a serious concern, because if the Gospel does not predominate during the course of the sermon, there are not enough places in the rest of [the] worship format to make up for that deficit. For a congregation that has defined their target group as the unchurched, this concern is also that much more magnified."

It should be noted that this was not a "charge," or "accusation;" not something that was possibly or even probably true, but an actual "finding," that is, a "conclusion;" in other words, an observable and demonstrable fact, found to be true by fellow Pastors, teachers, and laymen.

What was even more fascinating to this observer was that this particular item, out of four areas of concern, generated the least amount of comment from the other Pastors present. Indeed, while I may have missed a comment or two during the discussion, I can't remember a single other Pastor bringing up this issue.

When I "wondered" this to a fellow Pastor, he suggested that the other Pastors didn't want to comment because they perhaps saw themselves and their own sermons in that finding of that committee! Thus, they were loathe to point a finger at a brother Pastor when they themselves perhaps felt a modicum of guilt on the subject.

This led to me back to Father Martin once again, to see what he had to say on the matter. Of course, he had a lot to say. I have chosen just a couple of sections from only one of his writings that speaks about exactly what Lutheran preachers should be preaching. Please, read on.

Of The Office of Preaching
by Martin Luther (1483-1546)


4. So much for the call into the office. But Christ is not speaking of that here; for something more is required, namely, that no rival or supplementary doctrine be introduced, nor another word be taught than Christ has taught. Christ says in Mt. 23:2-4: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens too grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger." Although these of whom Christ here speaks were regularly appointed, yet they were thieves and murderers; for they taught variations from Christ's teaching. Christ reproves them in another place, in Matthew 15:3, where he holds up before them their traditions and tells them how, through their own inventions, they have transgressed the commandments of God, yea, totally abolished them. We have also many prophets who were regularly appointed and still were misled, like Balaam, of whom we read in Num. 22; also Nathan, described in 2 Sam 7:3. Similarly many bishops have erred.

5. Here Christ says: He who would enter by the door must be ready to speak the Word concerning Christ and his word must center in Christ. Let it be called "coming" when one preaches aright; the approaching is spiritual, and through the Word--upon the ears of his hearers, the preacher comes at last into the sheepfold--the heart of believers. Christ says that the shepherd must enter by the door; that is, preach nothing but Christ, for Christ is the door into the sheepfold.

6. But where there are intruders, who make their own door, their own hole to crawl through, their own addition different from that which Christ taught, they are thieves. Of these Paul says to the Romans (16:17-18): "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent." Paul does not speak of opposing or antagonistic doctrines, but of those placed beside the true doctrine; they are additions, making divisions. Paul calls it a rival doctrine, an addition, an occasion of stumbling, an offense and a byway, when one establishes the conscience upon his own goodness or deeds.

7. Now, the Gospel is sensitive, complete and pre-eminent: it must be intolerant of additions and rival teachings. The doctrine of earning entrance into heaven by virtue of fastings, prayers and penance is a branch road, which the Gospel will not tolerate. But our Church authorities endorse these things,hence they are thieves and murderers; for they do violence to our consciences, which is slaying and destroying the sheep. How is this accomplished? If only I am directed into a branch or parallel road, then my soul is turned from God upon that road, where I must perish. Thus this road is the cause of my death. The conscience and heart of man must be founded upon one single Word or they will come to grief. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field" (Is 40:6).

8. The doctrines of men, however admirable, fall to the ground, and with them the conscience that has built upon them. There is no help nor remedy. But the Word of God is eternal and must endure forever; no devil can overthrow it. The foundation is laid upon which the conscience may be established forever. The words of men must perish and everything that cleaves to them. Those who enter not by the door--that is, those who do not speak the true and pure Word of God, without any addition--do not lay the right foundation; they destroy and torture and slaughter the sheep. Therefore, Christ says further in this Gospel: "But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his Voice."


9. The porter here is the preacher who rightly teaches the Law--shows that the Law exists and must reveal to us our helplessness; that the works of the Law do not help us, and yet they are insistent. He then opens to the shepherd, that is, to Christ the Lord, and lets him alone feed the sheep. For the office of the Law is at an end; it has accomplished its mission of revealing to the heart its sins until it is completely humbled. Then Christ comes and makes a lamb out of the sheep--feeds it with his Gospel and directs it how to regain cheer for the heart so hopelessly troubled and crushed by the Law.

10. The lamb then hears Christ's voice and follows it. It has the choicest of pastures, and knows the voice of the shepherd. But the voice of a stranger it never hears and never follows. Just as soon as one preaches to it about works, it is worried and its heart cannot receive the teaching with joy. It knows very well that nothing is accomplished by means of works; for one may do as much as he will, still he carries a heavy spirit and he thinks he has not done enough, nor done rightly. But when the Gospel comes--the voice of the shepherd--it says: God gave to the world his only Son, that all who believe on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Then is the heart happy; it feeds upon these words and finds them good. The lamb has found its satisfying pasture; it wants none other. Yea, when it is given other pasture, it flees from it and will not feed therein. This pasture always attracts the sheep, and the sheep also find it. God says in the prophecy of Isaiah: "So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish all in the things whereto, I sent it" (Is 55:11).

The portions of the sermon above are taken from volume III of, The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1907 in English by Lutherans In All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), in a series titled The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 12. The original title of this sermon appears below (preached by Luther in 1522 and 1523). This e-text was scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal for Reformation Ink ; it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction. Original pagination from the Baker edition has been kept intact for purposes of reference.

So, my friends - how is the preaching at your church; or, brother Pastors - how are your sermons? Do they focus on the Word of Christ, and especially the Gospel? Is the law used properly; that is, to drive people to repentance and to Christ's work and mercy? Is the Gospel there, clearly and predominately, to comfort despairing souls, and lead believers into lives of thanks and praise? Or are they mostly "how to" sermons - how to live a better, easier, more prosperous, more tranquil, more pleasant life? Or do they perhaps focus a great deal on what's wrong with all the "other" churches, including some in our own fellowship; or what's wrong with the world; or how pure, noble, and untainted "we" are, etc....? Indeed, what IS going on out there with preaching these days?

Members - ask yourselves the simple question: Does the Gospel predominate in the sermons I hear? Also, ask your Pastors if they begin their sermon work in the original languages of the Bible, and how much time and effort and planning they put in to their sermons. Pastors - ask yourselves the same questions.

Again, and as always, comments and questions are invited and encouraged.

Pastor Spencer

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Little Touch of Marty In the Night

(My apologies to the immortal Bard. I hope to make this a regular feature on IL, and that you find it interesting and edifying, and that it might generate fruitful discussion.)

From the Large Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther, comments on the Third Commandment, beginning at paragraph 87, from the online edition of the Book of Concord:

Accordingly, when asked, What is meant by the commandment: Thou shalt sanctify
the holy day? answer: To sanctify the holy day is the same as to keep it holy.
But what is meant by keeping it holy? Nothing else than to be occupied in holy
words, works, and life. For the day needs no sanctification for itself; for in
itself it has been created holy [from the beginning of the creation it was
sanctified by its Creator]. But God desires it to be holy to you. Therefore it
becomes holy or unholy on your account, according as you are occupied on the
same with things that are holy or unholy.
How, then, does such sanctification take place? Not in this manner, that [with
folded hands] we sit behind the stove and do no rough [external] work, or deck
ourselves with a wreath and put on our best clothes, but (as has been said)
that we occupy ourselves with God's Word, and exercise ourselves therein.
And, indeed we Christians ought always to keep such a holy day, and be occupied
with nothing but holy things, i.e., daily be engaged upon God's Word, and carry
it in our hearts and upon our lips. But (as has been said) since we do not at
all times have leisure, we must devote several hours a week for the sake of the
young, or at least a day for the sake of the entire multitude, to being
concerned about this alone, and especially urge the Ten Commandments, the
Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, and thus direct our whole life and being
according to God's Word. 90] At
whatever time, then, this is being observed and practised, there a true holy
day is being kept; otherwise it shall not be called a Christians' holy day.
For, indeed, non-Christians can also cease from work and be idle, just as the
entire swarm of our ecclesiastics, who stand daily in the churches, singing,
and ringing bells but keeping no holy day holy, because they neither preach nor
practise God's Word, but teach and live contrary to it.
91] For
the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yea, the only one which
we Christians know and have. For though we had the bones of all the saints or
all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would help us
nothing; for all that is a dead thing which can sanctify nobody. But God's Word
is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints
themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God's Word is taught,
preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are
sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word,
which makes saints of us all. 92]
Therefore I constantly say that all our life and work must be ordered according
to God's Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this
commandment is in force and being fulfilled.
93] On
the contrary, any observance or work that is practised without God's Word is
unholy before God, no matter how brilliantly it may shine, even though it be
covered with relics, such as the fictitious spiritual orders, which know
nothing of God's Word and seek holiness in their own works.
Note, therefore, that the force and power of this commandment lies not in the
resting, but in the sanctifying, so that to this day belongs a special holy
exercise. For other works and occupations are not properly called holy
exercises, unless the man himself be first holy. But here a work is to be done
by which man is himself made holy, which is done (as we have heard) alone
through God's Word. For this, then, fixed places, times, persons, and the
entire external order of worship have been created and appointed, so that it
may be publicly in operation.
Since, therefore, so much depends upon God's Word that without it no holy day
can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of
this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing
to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose.
Therefore not only those sin against this commandment who grossly misuse and
desecrate the holy day, as those who on account of their greed or frivolity
neglect to hear God's Word or lie in taverns and are dead drunk like swine; but
also that other crowd, who listen to God's Word as to any other trifle, and
only from custom come to preaching, and go away again, and at the end of the
year know as little of it as at the beginning. 97] For
hitherto the opinion prevailed that you had properly hallowed Sunday when you
had heard a mass or the Gospel read; but no one cared for God's Word, as also
no one taught it. Now, while we have God's Word, we nevertheless do not correct
the abuse; we suffer ourselves to be preached to and admonished, but we listen
without seriousness and care.
Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also
about learning and retaining it in memory, and do not think that it is optional
with you or of no great importance, but that it is God's commandment, who will
require of you how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word.
Likewise those fastidious spirits are to be reproved who, when they have heard
a sermon or two, find it tedious and dull, thinking that they know all that
well enough, and need no more instruction. For just that is the sin which has
been hitherto reckoned among mortal sins, and is called torpor or satiety, a
malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the
hearts of many, that he may surprise us and secretly withdraw God's Word from
For let me tell you this, even though you know it perfectly and be already
master in all things, still you are daily in the dominion of the devil, who
ceases neither day nor night to steal unawares upon you, to kindle in your
heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against the foregoing and all the
commandments. Therefore you must always have God's Word in your heart, upon
your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle, and the Word does not
sound, he breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware. 101]
On the other hand, such is the efficacy of the Word, whenever it is seriously
contemplated, heard, and used, that it is bound never to be without fruit, but
always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness, and produces a pure
heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not inoperative or dead, but
creative, living words. 102]
And even though no other interest or necessity impel us, yet this ought to urge
every one thereunto, because thereby the devil is put to Right and driven away,
and, besides, this commandment is fulfilled, and [this exercise in the Word] is
more pleasing to God than any work of hypocrisy, however brilliant.

Now, dear Readers, considering what Father Martin says here about the importance of focusing the worship service on Christ, His holy Word, and His Sacraments, and the fact that many erroneously labeled "contemporary" church services have so little Scripture in them - perhaps one reading at most, and that often quite short - and the Sacrament seldom to be seen, what might be said about such modern erstwhile worship gatherings? Comments anyone?

Pastor Spencer

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

Revelation 7:9-17 (NASB)

9) After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10) and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11) And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12) saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 13) Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14) I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15) For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. 16) They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17) for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

You may have heard it said often enough that there are two kinds of people in the world. Sometimes they're described as "saints and sinners." Perhaps a better description would be sinners that think they are saints, and saints that know they are sinners. Sinners it seems often shy away from claiming the title "saint." Yet today we are remembering the saints who lived among us, and though we may not yet think of ourselves as saints, I would like each one of us to leave here today feeling like saints. But in order to do that, we need to know where we fit in. Are we saint or sinner? St. John gives us a good description of saints so that we can answer the question:


I. They Are People Whose Sins Have Been Washed Clean by the Blood of Christ, and

II. Whose Faith Brings Them Through Tribulation Into Heavenly Bliss.

Before we look to see what a saint is, it would be good to see what a saint is not. A few days ago Pope John Paul II elevated a dead person to within one step of being a saint in the Roman church. She was a nun who had lived in a poor Spanish town, and dedicated her life to helping the poor. This is all fine and good, but the question then becomes, is a saint a person in a special class of Christians, living in a special way, and in special places? That's not the picture we get from St. John. He writes, "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'"

Notice that John points out no particular nation or class of people or any particular occupation. Saints then are not simply especially good Christians, or those who live a certain way or in a certain place but they are from all over the world and from every walk of life, and indeed every level of sanctification.

Already we are getting a clearer picture of what a saint is; he can be anyone, anywhere, and any time. The reason is just as clear. Simply put, before one is a saint he is a sinner, and that covers everyone. Everyone is a potential saint because everyone is already a sinner. But John calls those people saints who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." You see, Jesus, with His death on the cross, paid the price for all the sins ever committed by anyone, anywhere, of all time. Those that believe this fact have then washed their sin-stained lives in Jesus' holy blood so to speak, and that blood has made them perfect in God's eyes. It's as if we come into the world with a dingy, dirty robe stained by original sin, then we add the mud, and grease, and grime of daily sinning to it until it becomes completely black and filthy. By faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, given to us by God through His Means of Grace, we give that robe to Him, and using His blood which coved the sins of the whole world, He makes that robe white as snow. Now we can stand before God our maker as His own perfect children - saints of God!

God's saints are those that He has chosen, not decided on by any man, not even a Pope. Any and all can be saints, but only those who have faith are washed completely clean and are perfect in God's eyes. Those alone He calls saints. And we can too! I am a saint by faith in Jesus, and so are you by that same faith, as are all those who have gone before us in faith.

II. This brings up another part of what it means to be a saint of God. Saints are those whose faith brings them through tribulation into heavenly bliss. This means that those who have believed in the cleansing power of Jesus' blood retain that saving faith throughout their entire lives, or at the very least they have it when they die. That faith must endure because without it no one will or can be saved. As Jesus says, ". . . but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."(Mark 16:16 NASB)

And faith is a living and growing thing. It either lives or is dead; either grows or it dies. God sees to it that our faith grows by sending us challenges, trials, problems, and sometimes even pain and sorrow. But these are merely tests to temper our faith, to point us back to God, to force us to lean on Him for our salvation – and for everything else for that matter!

God is not trying to destroy our faith, for He wants us to be saved. But to do that our faith must be strong. Be assured that God will never test you beyond what your faith can stand, and that He will always provide a way out, through His Word and Sacraments, and through fervent prayer (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB). Remember that St. John describes saints as, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation."

So far we've seen that saints are first of all sinners, then they are believers of all kinds, in all places, of all occupations and times; also that they have their faith tested throughout their lives. So what is the outcome? St. John now gives us his great "THEREFORE" that is, the result of remaining faithful, he writes, "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."

In other words, finally the faithful are taken to heaven. This is proper and fitting, for God created them to be with Him forever, and now they will be. And what an existence it will be! Look again at that description. We will be always in front of God. No longer will He be only the God above us, but the God before us. We will see God, and speak with Him. We will serve Him, saying an everlasting "Thank-you!" for saving us from Hell. He will protect us; nothing bad will ever happen to us again, not even anything unpleasant will come near us. Jesus Himself will guide us in the joyful study of His Word, and all God's marvelous works. We will spend eternity learning the riddles and wonders of the universe, knowing things that only God can tell us and marveling at His power and glory. Finally, we will not even remember the bad things that happened to us. The best thing is that we will not even remember the sins we committed. There will be no need to remember sin, it will be forgotten once and for all, not only forgiven but never brought to mind. Oh, what peace and comfort!! Surely this is a place for saints. This is where God's saints are right now. This is where we are heading!

We know what God says about us. We know we are sinners. We also know we are saints – right now. But we are saints with only one foot in heaven, the other foot still in a sinful world. Let us give thanks to God for all those who have made it with both feet. Be joyful at their memory. Pray that you will be among them someday. Let us also pray that our one foot in heaven will never slip! The way to be sure of that is to look to Jesus for salvation, faith, and the strength to keep it. Then we too will be those for whom a congregation in the future will sing:
    For all the saints who from their labors rest,
    Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
    Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
    Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
    (TLH #463)
Pastor Spencer

[Preached at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Brodhead, WI, November 7th, 1982]

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