Monday, September 22, 2014

Gnostic America: A Reading of Comtemporary American Culture & Religion according to Christianity's Oldest Heresy – by Rev. Peter M. Burfeind (LCMS)

From the paper,
Why is this Happening to Us? How the culture wars become religious wars among us
delivered at the
2012 Conference of Intrepid Lutherans

“As is continuously the case even in our own age, already before the first generation of post-Apostolic Christianity had come to an end, heterodox interpretations of New Testament teaching were being disseminated by false teachers, along with fraudulent writings purported to be those of the Apostles. Therefore, in addition to preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, the task soon fell upon those descending from direct contact with the Apostles to defend orthodox teaching and differentiate between genuine and false Scriptures. An early example of one such false teacher is Valentinus (d. A.D. 160) – the most influential Gnostic teacher in history, who received his training in Alexandria before coming to Rome. Another early Gnostic teacher, based in Rome, was Cerdon – he was a disciple of Simon Magus (mentioned in Acts 8:9-24).
    When gnosticism came in touch with Christianity, it rapidly adopted the outward garb of the latter (1) by using the Christian forms of thought, (2) by borrowing its nomenclature, (3) by acknowledging Christ dualistically as the Saviour of the world, (4) by simulating the Christian sacraments, (5) by pretending to be an esoteric revelation of Christ and his apostles, (6) by producing a great number of apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelations (apocalypses). Although gnosticism was utterly the opposite of Christianity, it was so well camouflaged by this borrowed garb that it appeared to the unwary as a modification or refinement of Christianity. In fact it soon claimed to be the only true form of Christianity, set apart for the elect, unfit for the vulgar crowd. Gnosticism, highly aggressive, became so widely diffused throughout the Christian churches that for several centuries, especially from the second to the fourth, it threatened to stifle Christianity altogether. Many of the early Church Fathers, especially Irenæus, made great effort to suppress and uproot it. The gnostic leaders were excluded from membership in churches, while gnosticism was denounced as heresy by the Church as a whole.
“However, it was the teaching of Cerdon’s student, Marcion of Pontus (d. A.D. 160), being closely related to that of Gnosticism, which was regarded as enormously and immediately dangerous to Christianity. According to the 4th Century church historian, Eusebius of Cæsarea (d. A.D. 339), Justin Martyr defended against the heresies of Marcion in writing, from which Irenæus (d. A.D. 202), a disciple of Polycarp, quotes in one of his own works, as well. And Polycarp himself was active against the Gnostic heretics. Irenæus recounted the mission of Polycarp to Rome in order to defend orthodoxy in the face of Valentinus and Marcion, as follows:
    But Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth... a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles – that, namely, which he also handed down to the Church.
“And this was the key to maintaining orthodoxy in the face of false teachers, their fraudulent scriptures and their resulting heresy:
  1. validating one’s Scripture sources as having come directly from the apostles, and
  2. validating one’s teaching as descending only from those Scriptures.
“...These works of polemic – defenses of orthodoxy and documentation of the Scripture’s sources – were required of Irenæus, Polycarp and others, as a result of pressure from the world and from worldly heterodox teachers.
    Amid the general confusion ushered in by the gnostics, the Church was obliged to set up certain standards to be acknowledged by anyone who claimed to be Christian. These standards included the Apostles’ Creed, the formation of the New Testament Canon, and the Apostolic Office, or the historic Episcopate... [while] the defense of the Christian faith lead to the formation of Christian dogma...
“So, very early in the life of the New Testament church, in order to protect the Scriptures and the Christian message from corruption, the genuine apostolic writings had to be identified and defended as genuine.”

'Gnostic America' - by Rev. Peter M. BurfeindAs readers of Intrepid Lutherans may be aware, the philosophy of post-Modernism is a relatively frequent topic on these pages. A related, and perhaps more important topic, is the re-emergence of a religious movement which seems to share in some sort of symbiosis with post-Modernism: the rise of Gnosticism in the West. In the words quoted above (and as they were expanded in the footnotes of that paper), the false religion of Gnosticism received brief treatment, and later in that paper, under headings such as “Gnosticism and Pagan Teaching, Monasticism and Aristocratic Merit before God” and “Gnostic Challenges, Pragmatic Issues of Governance, and the Romanization of the Church,” was identified as a primary cause of lasting corruption in the Church. To my knowledge, this is the extent of attention Gnosticism has received from Intrepid Lutherans. But it hasn’t been otherwise unknown to us.

More than once in the recent past has the fact been impressed upon me that the ideal of a secular society – often argued by Christian quietists who’d prefer that Christians squelch their religious convictions and disregard their Christian identity in the public square – is pure myth, long disproven by demographics studies since the early 1980’s, not much more than one decade after Western (and Lutheran) social scientists issued its initial hypothesis. This fact veritably forces one to admit that, like it or not, religious conviction and practice is fundamental to the establishment of any social order, and thus also forces one question: what affirmative and ascendant religious motivation stands behind the radical social changes we witness today, and behind the popular, near-militant anti-Christian sentiment we now experience in Western society? That is, since religion WILL function as a primary ordering force in society, which religion does it look likely to be, going forward? In answer to this, more than once have I heard Lutherans and other Christians forcefully warn of the re-emergence of Gnosticism.

Gnostic America
A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion
according to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy

by Rev. Peter M. Burfeind

Rev. Peter M. Burfeind (LCMS) is one of those Lutherans who has personally warned me of this re-emergence. And now he is warning more broadly in his new book, Gnostic America: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion according to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy. An operator of Pax Domini Press, many of our readers may be familiar with his involvement with Sunday School curricula like A.D. The Acceptable Year of the Lord (a curriculum for ages 4-12 on the Gospel texts from the Historic Lectionary) or A New Song unto the Lord (a curriculum on the Biblical texts supporting the liturgy), and several Vacation Bible School programs. Pax Domini Press is one of those publishers that has been on our list of publishers since we first put that list in the column on the right. Having met him personally on a number of occasions, I recall the conversation we had the last time we had met. It was a broad conversation on the topic of gnostic manifestations in the church and in society today, which lasted into the early morning hours. It was during this conversation that he not only made apparent to me his concern, but revealed to me his ongoing research on the topic, mentioning that he had composed some material that he had shown to another pastor, who then encouraged him to continue developing his work into a book. Since then, I’ve thought of our conversation that evening, and as recently as this Summer, wondered if he had continued working or even completed his work. I received an email in late August announcing that his book, Gnostic America, is finally complete. I purchased a copy as soon as it was available on Amazon, and am currently about one-third of the way through it. At 362 pages, 16 chapters and 915 endnotes, one may expect that this book is rendered in painfully academic prose. Quite the opposite, however, being written by a parish pastor with a living concern for the laity (rather than a professional theologian, who daily functions outside of that environment), it is very accessibly written, without also being so “accessible” as to be insulting or condescending to literate adults – Rev. Burfeind is having a very serious conversation with his readers. I can say, even at only one-third through the book, that Gnostic America is a book which every Christian layman in America must read, especially if he wants a fuller understanding of currents in American and Western culture in terms of religious influence. With the influence of Christianity at a sharply contracting ebb, the influence of Gnosticism, which has always been a strong undercurrent, has risen to the surface again, and seems to now be directing the course of society. To give readers of Intrepid Lutherans a brief view into the subtle yet pernicious and pervasive influence that Gnosticism now has in Western Society (and with written permission from Rev. Burfeind), I quote extensively from the Introduction of Gnostic America:
    Spiritual Artifacts of our Times
    “Easter, 2012. The audience gazed on in eager expectation, sitting in the stadium seating at the newest campus of the local mega-church. A giant screen towered over them. It revealed the countdown: four minutes forty-three seconds til the service... People filed in, they moved hastily to their seats ushered by well-trained worship attendants. The feeling was electric... The show began. The praise band stormed on the stage and churned the audience into a clapping, swaying, hand-waving throng... Then came the climax of the service. At the point where Christians have reverently received the Eucharist for two millenia, a song by Contemporary artist Chris Tomlin filled the building... As the singer, an attractive young female, segued into the final phrase of the song, she gave out a long impassioned moan, typical of the pop-vibrato style: ooooo ahhhhhh oooo ooooo ooooo. On cue the audience broke out into clapping and dance. The service ended.

    “Harold Bloom went so far as to call the scene Orphic, referring to the ancient mystery cult where flutists worked initiates into an emotional froth, and then priests leveraged the emotion toward the desired goal, the vision of the mystery... In the history of the church, there is no precedent for this sort of emotion-laden, sacrament-less, erotically-charged religiosity. There is, however, a precedent outside the walls of the Church.

    That tradition is the Gnostic one.

    “...[Drawing from philosophizing comments of a blogger, following the death of J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye] Everyone is fake...the world is a product of the meaning I impose on it...sleep and dreaming is where the real stuff is at...death is release... The blogger asks: Is there anyone who is truly authentic?

    Authentic. The word is everywhere. It’s the new pious , which traditionally was the proper state of mind one should have toward his deity. When God is distinct from me, my state of mind toward this other Being is that of piety. But what happens when my Self is God? Then the goal is authenticity. Being ‘true to my Self’ replaces ‘deny yourself’... Authenticity, or creating one’s Self, is the chief piety [of Existentialism, ‘the atheist's religion’]. Choice is [this religion’s] sacrament. It’s how creation of Self happens. In fact, there is a whole lexicon of words we use – authenticity, choice, freedom, Self, culture, values – whose meanings are shaped by this atheistic philosophy. But we have forgotten the philosophical contexts in which these terms arose, so we don’t question their premises. Why don’t we question their premises? Because that’s how faith works. It’s premises just are.

    Faith is far from on the decline in America. It’s held more fervently than ever, and its premises are more blindly adhered to and more absolutely grounded on thin air than Christianity ever was.

    “A Neo-evangelical praise service, the anticipation of a progressive Utopian Age, the musings of an existentialist/New Age blogger, a young person’s discomfort with his/her gender, these are spiritual artifacts of our times, detritus from the spiritual path our culture is carving out of our age. They don’t stand out because no one notices the smell of the house they live in. They point to a dominant religious footprint so large no one notices it. The argument of this book is that the traits of ancient Gnosticism best explain this religious orientation.”

    Gnosticism 101
    “What is Gnosticism? The Gnosticism 101 answer is, it was an ancient movement centered on esoteric knowledge. It held to a dualistic understanding of the cosmos, in which an evil, lesser god created all things material, and only those who had attained gnosis (knowledge) about their true Source (the higher deity) understood the bodiless Self-ness of their existence. Its salvation program of one of escape, escape of Self from materiality and this oppressive world order.

    “Gnosticism’s major offense to traditional Christianity... is its rejection of nature, nature’s laws, and natures God. The gnostic is ever in rebellion against nature and... natural forms. Such naturally-arising concepts as gender, national boundaries, the cold hard realities of economics, cultural institutions like family and church (especially its rituals), marriage, even language, are deceptive impositions, says that Gnostic, of a foreign God upon which should be the authentic Self liberated from all impositions of form, freed to transcend them altogether.

    The Judeo-Christian orientation [however] centers on created forms. God’s first action was to separate the ‘formless and void’ of creation and bring about the various species ‘each according to its kind.’ After separating the elements he named them, which is to say: language arose out of the creation of forms... Gnostics reject this entire premise. The God who established forms ‘each according to its kind’ they consider an evil usurping god, a false tyrant deceptively thought to be the one true God, the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. The true God, says the Gnostic, transcends all form, all that can be thought, all being, everything. Celebrating formless spirituality, Gnosticism rejects those formal things, peoples, and institutions marking traditional Christianity: the Church, its sacramental life, and its ministry. It despises the Jewish God and its regard for language and grammar, anything mooring spirituality to something so profane as a text.

    “Thus the Gnosticism 101 summary, but where things get interesting (and pernicious) is where the Gnostic movement works its program through culture, politics and religion. Precisely because Gnosticism doesn’t have marked doctrines or creedal statements, being more a ‘spiritual orientation,’ it can easily be co-opted in non-religious arenas – in politics, marketing and media – without fear of being accused of religious imposition, when in fact this is exactly what it is.”

    Irony & Nihilism
    De-constructing Western mores & institutions; Re-constructing with the religion of Gnosticism
    “Gnosticism naturally rises out of nihilism, and ours is a nihilistic age. Nihilism is the view that nothing matters... [it] is the wrecking ball of society, an iconoclastic force tearing down traditional institutions, traditional moralities, traditional rituals, traditional habits, traditional customs, traditional grammar, traditional language and traditional reasoning. Nihilism begins in despair and cynicism, despair because these traditions seemed to fail human aspiration, cynicism that they could have ever satisfied it in the first place. To the nihilist, every institution is run by the ‘powers that be,’ or the ‘rulers of the universe,’ by people who only concern is control: power for its own sake.

    Nihilism often masquerades as a bitter sense of irony. Irony fits nihilism because it discharges any challenge to nihilism. Irony can cut anything good and beautiful down to size. It also raises the bad and ugly just enough to prove the high and great weren’t that high or great in the first place. Irony levels everything so that nothing has meaning.

    “...Why is this sort of irony necessary? Because nihilism has taken root in the American mind. The moment any traditional institution or form or convention or custom – the nation, marriage, the Church, gender roles, freedom, the free market – is seen to have some worth or beauty or goodness (to say nothing of basic truth) attached to it, the demon of nihilism has a ready quip to deflate its pretenses. Hence the modern iconoclasm toward these institutions, their sentenced de-construction.

    “But the human soul cannot tolerate such emptiness, the vacuum created by nihilism. Something must fill the vacated domain. Something must be re-constructed. Hollywood understands this. At the same time they manufacture irony toward traditional notions, they craft new fantastical realities... [But] irony, though fun and funny, is ultimately jejune and doesn’t satisfy. Hollywood cannot end with irony; it must offer new, transcendent realities... [which suggest that one has] tapped into something more real than life. The soul enters into the dark tunnel of nihilism, but finds a light at the end of the tunnel, on ...projection screens, ...television commercials, ...the internet, and in the other accepted conduits of reconstructed truth.

    “The path from nihilism to meaning has a parallel in the history of philosophy. The most virulent, anti-Christian, atheist philosophers almost always ended up with some sort of spirituality. They must make some appeal to the transcendent, else they’d have no reason to lay down their philosophies in the first place. What is the transcendent, after all, but whatever I believe it true for more than just myself? That transcendency, then, soon takes on the characteristics of spirituality.

    “Some simply end at irony, like philosopher Richard Rorty. But even Nietzsche, as ‘he assails the reason he will be enlisting,’ at the same time ‘ironizes a discourse that at the same time struggles beyond irony’... The quest for truth cannot end at irony; there must be something beyond.

    “Heidegger displays the same tension between nihilism and transcendence. He too, like Nietzsche, saw the West coming to a nihilistic end because being, as understood in the Western philosophical heritage, disintegrated when the Christian and classical traditions propelling that heritage ran out of steam. Heidegger also didn’t leave it at that, at nihilism. In the words of political philosopher Michael Gillespie, ‘he believes he discerns in its depths the dawning light of a new revelation of Being.’ Nihilism, rather, is the ‘dawning recognition of Being.’ We must go through nihilism before getting to the new understanding of Being. At the same time, we face both ‘utter degradation and the possibility of salvation in a new revelation of Being.’ In other words, it’s as we’ve been contemplating: the point of nihilistic breakdown is also the point of new possibilities.”

    The Structure of this Book
    “This book is divided into four parts... The first part [being four chapters] introduces the basics of Gnosticism, with a brief outline of its mythologies, teachings and practices. These might be interesting on an academic level, to some, but far more interesting and important is how Gnosticism works through modern spirituality, how the Gnostic traits in its ancient version echo yet today. Considerable space, then, is devoted to the Gnostic traits. Finally, a history of Gnostic movements is given, taking us from the ancient world to today... The second part [being three chapters] explores Gnosticism in culture. It begins with the Existentialist understanding of the Self and goes on to the role media and music play in the development of Self... The third part [also being three chapters] tackles Gnostic politic, finding common themes in the totalitarian movements of the modern era. The central thesis driving this part is that a specific theological outlook of the Middle Ages – millenarian, Anabaptist, Pietist and Puritan – has laid the foundation for modern progressive politics... [and] the fourth part [being six chapters] deals with Gnosticism in religion, discussing how the Neo-evangelical movement has essential become the New Age wing of the Christian church.”
An important work on a subject little understood in our era, and almost never mentioned, I encourage our readers to purchase and read it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Published: Gerhard's Commentary on Romans 1-6

It has been almost two years since I began translating and posting excerpts here on Intrepid Lutherans from Johann Gerhard's much-quoted (and oft misquoted) commentary on Romans. The entire work has finally been translated and edited, and is now available from Amazon, published by Repristination Press.

Annotations on the First Six Chapters of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans
Amazon's summary:

Romans 1:16—For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (KJV)

“The ‘power of God’ is the divine and efficacious means which God uses to save men, (1) because in it the benefits obtained by the suffering and death of Christ are offered, among which are also life and eternal salvation; (2) because through the preaching of the Gospel, God works the faith in hearts through which they embrace the good things offered in the Gospel and apply them to themselves; (3) because through the Gospel faith is preserved and increased, so that we are thus ‘guarded for salvation by the power of God, through faith’ (1 Pet. 1:5); (4) because, in all adversities and temptations, it furnishes a life-giving consolation, so that we may be preserved to eternal life under the weight of the cross.”

Gerhard's Annotations were incomplete at the time of his death; his son, Johann Ernst Gerhard, published them several years after his death. However, the Annotations are of enduring value and significance to the Church because in these first six chapters, Gerhard gives a clear treatment of the doctrine of Justification, and a model of Lutheran exegesis. Modern students of Holy Scripture will benefit from Gerhard's scholarship.

Honestly, the book is full of memorable quotations. In this one Gerhard summarizes the main theme that runs through the entire Epistle to the Romans:

“[Romans 1:17] explains the principal proposition of the entire Epistle, as a favorable opportunity presents itself at the end of the introduction. This principal proposition is that there is no other way to be justified before God except by faith in Christ, whom the Gospel sets before us, as confirmed by the prophetic testimony.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dr. Martin Luther: God’s Curse of Eternal and Temporal Calamity is Upon the People who, though they had been Given the Gospel, have Rejected it.

September 11, 2001 - New York, New YorkBlessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for his own inheritance... There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the Lord: He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in Thee.” (Psalm 33:12,16-22)

Lutherans are not unique in teaching that these words from Psalm 33 apply to an invisible ‘spiritual nation’ of true believers, to the Holy Nation – the people who have been made holy by God. There is great comfort in this fact, for individual believers, who know that there is no earthly nation which is holy before God, but who, through the Holy Spirit's gift of faith, have themselves been forgiven and stand before God in the righteousness of Christ. They, along with all true believers, and they alone, stand holy and righteous before God on the basis Christ’s full blood and merit, they alone stand in the company of the holy, and thus they alone can derive comfort from this text.

The following sermon, preached by Dr. Martin Luther in 1525, however, teaches not only the spiritual, but the temporal calamity brought upon a real people, a real nation, to whom has been brought the Gospel, but who reject it. God had visited the Jews with the Gospel, to their eternal and spiritual benefit. Their collective rejection of the Gospel, however, brought upon them a calamity which was not only spiritual, but which was also directed at them, collectively, in their physical earthly lives.

The text Luther preaches from is Luke 19:41-48, and the subject is Christ’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s physical destruction. God had visited them with the Gospel – Jesus Christ, the Living Word Himself! – that through it He would make them an Holy Nation (1 Pet. 2:9); but they, “knowing not the time of their visitation,” rejected Him. The consequence was His curse of national calamity, the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in A.D. 70 and was followed by their dispersal throughout Europe and persecution for the following two millenia.

But Luther does not limit the application of this text to the Jewish nation. In his own time, Germany had been visited with the Gospel, but, he feared, had rejected it. Luther applies Christ’s prophecy of national calamity to the Germany of his own day in a most remarkable way, indeed, to any people of whom it can be collectively said: “They have rejected the Gospel. God had given them the Gospel, but they no longer believe it” – as, it seems, can be said of Western Civilization, and specifically, America, today. Indeed, many of the political, social and religious circumstances he recounts should sound very familiar to us in our own time.

So, today, as we remember the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, thirteen years ago, by the arch-enemies of Christianity and of the West, let us consider Luther’s understanding of Christ’s prophecy: is there a genuine connection between the rapid decline of the Church in the West and the correlating escalation of strife that we face today? Is God warning us? Are these a harbinger, or “a foretaste of things to come,” as Luther puts it? If so, is there any avoiding it? How?

Dr. Martin Luther’s Sermon on Luke 19:41-48
The Gospel Lesson for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 19:41-48: And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. And He went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. And He taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy Him, and could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.


THIS Gospel presents that which took place on Palm Sunday, when Christ rode into Jerusalem. On this occasion, He preached two or three days in the temple, which was more than He ever did before at one time. The sum and substance of this Gospel is, that Christ grieves and laments over the afflictions of those who despise God’s Word.

Now you have often heard what the Word of God is, what it brings us, and what kind of scholars it has. Of all this nothing is said here. Only the punishment and distress which shall come upon the Jews because they would not recognize the time of their visitation, are here described. And let us well consider this, because the time of their visitation also deeply concerns us. If they who do not know the time of their visitation are punished, what will be done to those who maliciously persecute, blaspheme and disgrace the Gospel and the Word of God? However, here Jesus only speaks of those who do not know it.

There are two methods of preaching against the despisers of God’s Word. The first is by threats, as Christ threatens them in Matthew 11:21-24: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum (which was His own city, where He performed most of His mighty works), shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto hell; for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” With such threatening words He would frighten them to their senses, not to cast to the wind the Word which God sends them.

The other method the Lord gives here when He weeps, and shows His sympathy for the poor blinded people, rebuking and threatening them, not as He does the hardened and stubbornly blind, but melting in love and compassion over His enemies, and with great heart-rending cries of pity, telling them what shall befall them, which He would gladly prevent – but knowing it is all in vain. In the passage just quoted, where He rebukes those who despise God’s Word, He does not treat them in love, but with severity. However here, in our Gospel text, it is all sincere love and mercy. This is worthy of our consideration.

First, as He approached the city, the people went before Him, and also followed Him, with songs of great joy, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David,” spreading their garments and cutting branches from the trees to strew them in the way; the whole scene was most glorious. But in the midst of all this joy He begins to weep. He permits all the world to be joyful, while He Himself was bowed with grief, when He beheld the city and said:
    If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things that belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
As though He would say: Oh, if you only knew what belongs to your peace, that you might not be destroyed, but be preserved with both temporal and eternal peace, you would yet this day consider, and redeem the time! And now it is high time for you to know what is for your highest welfare. But you are blind, and will neglect the opportunity, until there shall be neither help nor counsel. As though to say: Here you stand, firmly built, and within you are strong and mighty men, who, secure and happy, think there is no danger! Yet, about forty years more, and you shall be utterly destroyed. The Lord plainly says this in these words:
    For the days shall come upon thee, when thy enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation.
But the Jews were stubborn, and depended on God’s promises, which they thought meant nothing else than that they should continue forever. They were secure, and vainly thought: God will not do such things to us. We own the temple; here God Himself dwells; besides we have mighty men, money and treasures enough to defy all our enemies! For even the Romans, and the emperor after he had conquered the city, confessed that the city was so well and firmly built, that it would have been impossible to take it, had God not especially willed it. Therefore they trusted in their own glory, and built their confidence on a false delusion, which finally deceived them.

The Lord, however, saw deeper into the future than they when He said: O, Jerusalem! if thou hadst known what I know, thou wouldst seek thy peace. “Peace” in the Scriptures means, when all things go well with us. You now think you have pleasant days, but if you knew how your enemies will encamp round about you, compass you about and hedge you in on every side, crush you to the ground and demolish all your beautiful buildings, and leave not one stone upon another; you would eagerly accept the Word, which brings to you solid peace and every blessing.

God caused His threats to be executed even thus, that the city was besieged at the time of the Easter festival, when the Jews were assembled within the walls of Jerusalem from every land, and as the historian Josephus writes, there were together at that time about three million people. This was an enormous multitude. Only one hundred thousand people would have been enough to crowd the city. But all this great multitude God in His wrath intended to bake, melt and weld together into one mass of ruin. Yet, the Apostles and Christians were all out of the city, they had withdrawn into the land of Herod, Samaria, Galilee, and were scattered among the heathen. Thus God separated and saved the good grain and poured the chaff into one place. There was such an immense multitude of Jews present, that they were sufficient to devour a whole kingdom, to say nothing of only one city. They also fell into such distress and famine, that they devoured everything and had nothing left, until they were at last compelled to eat their leather bow-strings, shoe latchets and shoe leather; and finally mothers moved by their distress butchered their own children, which the soldiers snatched from them, for they smelt the odor of the boiling meat through the squares of the city. They used dove’s dung for salt, which commanded a high price. In short, there was distress and bloodshed enough to melt a rock to tears; so that no one could have believed that God’s wrath could be so horrible and that He would so unmercifully martyr a people. The buildings and the streets were piled full of the dead, who perished from starvation, and yet the Jews were so raging that they defied God and refused to yield, until the emperor was compelled to use force and capture the city, when they could no longer maintain their ground (Josephus, History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, Books 5 & 6, A.D. 75).

And as some Jews were such rogues as to swallow their money so that it could not be taken from them, the soldiers thought that they all had swallowed their money; therefore they cut them open by the thousands, hunting for it. The slaughter and destruction were so great, that even the heathen were moved to compassion, and the emperor was forced to give orders no longer to destroy them, but to take them prisoners and sell them as slaves. The Jews then became so cheap, that thirty were sold for a penny; and thus they were scattered throughout the whole world, and were everywhere despised as the vilest people on earth, and thus they are everywhere regarded at the present day, everywhere dispersed, without a city or a country of their own, and they can never meet again as they vainly believe to establish their priesthood and kingdom. Thus God avenged the death of Christ and all his prophets, and paid them back because they knew not the day of their visitation.

[And, remarkably to the United States of America, and the West itself, in this, our own time of the early 21st Century]

Here let us learn a lesson, for this concerns us, not us alone who are here present, but the whole nation. It is not a mere jest, nor should we think that it will go different with us. The Jews would not believe until they experienced it and became conscious of it. God has now also visited us, and has opened the precious treasures of His holy Gospel unto us, by which we can learn God’s will, and see how we were held by the power of the devil. Yet no one will earnestly believe it, yea, we much more despise it and make light of it. No city, no officer of the government is thankful for the Gospel; and what is still worse the great majority persecute and blaspheme it. God has great patience; He waits to see how we will deal with His Gospel; but when we once let the opportunity slip, He will take His Word from us, and then the wrath which consumed the Jews will also consume us. For it is one and the selfsame Word, the very same God, and the identical Christ, that the Jews themselves had; therefore the punishment in body and soul will also most certainly be the same. We, of course, regard it as mockery, and care nothing for it. This is only an evidence of our own blindness. We ought to perceive that God is hardening us; for there is not a single city that is concerned about it; no officer of the law shows any zeal in its favor. It is most deplorable. And I fear the time will yet come when our country will lay in a heap of ruins. The evil winds have already begun to blow destruction in our Peasant War (1525). We have already lost many people. Nearly one hundred thousand men, only between Easter and Pentecost! It is an awful work of God, and I fear it will not stop at this. It is only a foretaste of a threat to frighten us, that we may prepare ourselves for the coming ordeal. So far it is but a fox’s tail, but God will soon come with a terrible scourge, and lash us to pieces.

But we will act just like the Jews, and care nothing for it, until all help and counsel are lost forever. Now we might check it, for now it is high time for us to know what is best for us, and accept the Gospel in peace, while grace is brought, and peace is offered unto us. But we permit one day after another, one year after another to pass, and do even less than formerly. No one prays now, no one is in earnest. When the time is past, prayers will be of no avail. We do not lay it to heart, and think we are safe, and do not see the awful calamity which has already begun, and are not aware that God so dreadfully punishes us with false prophets and sects, which He sends to us everywhere, and who preach so securely as though they had swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all. Those whom we had thought were the very best among us, go to work and lead the people astray, until they scarcely know what to do or leave undone.

But this is only a beginning, although it is frightful and terrible enough. For there is no greater distress and calamity than when God sends us sects and false spirits, because they are so impudent and daringly bold, that they are really to be pitied. On the other hand the Word of God is such a great treasure, that no one can sufficiently comprehend its worth. For God Himself considers His treasure immensely great, and when He visits us with His grace, He earnestly desires that we should gladly and freely accept it, and does not compel us as He is able to do, but it is His will that we should gladly obey it from choice and love. For He does not wait until we come to Him, but He comes first to us. He comes into the world, becomes man, serves us, dies for us, rises again from the dead, sends us His Holy Spirit, gives us His Word, and opens heaven so wide that all men can enter; besides He gives us rich promises and assurances that He will care for us in time and in eternity, here and there, and pours out into our bosoms all the fullness of His grace. Therefore the acceptable time of grace is now at hand. Yet, we neglect it, and cast it to the winds, so that He will not and cannot give it to us.

For when we fall and sin in other ways, He can better spare us and be lenient, He of course will spare us and forgive; but when we despise His Word, it calls for punishment, and He will also punish us, even if He delays a hundred years. But He will not wait that long. And the clearer the Word is preached the greater the punishment will be. I fear it will be the entire destruction of our nation. Would to God I were a false prophet in this matter. Yet it will most certainly take place. God cannot permit this shameful disregard of His Word to go unpunished, nor will He wait long, for the Gospel is so abundantly proclaimed that it has never been as plainly and clearly taught since the days of the Apostles, as it is at present. God be praised! Hence it applies to Germany, as I fear it will be destroyed, unless we act differently.

We, who have heard the Gospel for a long time, ought earnestly to pray God that He continue to grant us peace. The princes and officers want to settle everything with the sword, and too impudently interfere with God’s office, until God Himself shall smite them down. So it is high time faithfully to beseech God to permit His Gospel to be further spread through Germany, to those who have not yet heard it. For if the punishment came suddenly upon us, all will be lost, and many souls will be taken before the Gospel comes to them. Therefore I wish that we would not so terribly despise the Gospel, the costly treasure, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of those who have not yet heard it. It has, presently, become more quiet; God grant that it may so continue, and that both the princes and the citizens may become more sane; for if it should begin afresh, I fear it would have no end.

But we act just like the Jews did, who cared more for the belly than for God. They were more concerned how to fill their stomachs than how to be saved. For this reason they have lost both. They immediately put forth the excuse, just as our own people do today: We would of course gladly accept the Gospel, if it would not place our bodies and property in jeopardy, and if thereby we would not hazard the loss of our wives and children. For the Jews said, if we believe in him, the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation (Jn. 11:48). Yet, nothing will happen sooner than what the wicked fear, as Solomon says: “The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him” (Pr. 10:24).

This prevented the Jews from believing God, so they did not consider the great and rich promises God bestowed upon them. And so we also pass them by, and are not aware of the all powerful and comfortable promises Christ gives when He says: Ye shall receive an hundredfold here, and there ye shall inherit eternal life. Let wife and child go, I will care for them, and restore them again to you. Only courageously trust in Me. [Do you not think that I can build you another house? Do you regard Me as being a hard man: Yet I will give you heaven; will you not risk it on My Word?] If you are robbed of your treasures, blessed are ye, heaven and earth are mine, I will reward you an hundredfold (Mt. 19:29).

We pass over these and many like passages, and despise them besides, and depend only on what we have in our banks and how we may keep our purses filled, not considering that God has also given us what we have, and will still give us more; nor do we consider that when we lose God, the stomach will also be lost. Therefore we are served just right in losing both the Creator and the creature besides.

But believers in God risk all in Him and transfer all things into His care, for Him to do according to His pleasure, and think thus: God has given you your home and wife, you have not produced them yourself; now because they are God’s, I will entrust them all to His care, He will keep them from all harm. I must otherwise leave all at any rate, therefore I will bravely trust Him with them, and for His sake give up all I have. If God wants me here, He will give me other treasures, for He has promised to give enough for this life and for the life to come. If He does not want me here, I owe Him a death, which will bring me into eternal life; when He calls me, I will go trusting in His Word.

Whoever is not thus disposed, denies God, and must at the same time lose both the present and the eternal life. The belly with its foul odors is our god, and prevents us from clinging to God’s Word. First, I will be certain how I shall feed, and where my supplies are. The Gospel says: Trust in God; and your stomach shall most certainly be provided for, and have enough (without believing or trusting in it). But if I have only five dollars, it gives me so much courage that I think I have enough food for ten days, so that I trust in such limited provisions and do not trust God who has fed me hitherto, and that He will care for me tomorrow.

Is it not a shameful vexation or calamity that I trust in a penny to provide something to eat tomorrow? How contemptible this carcass of mine! Shall a penny have more weight in my heart and give me more courage than God Himself, who holds heaven and earth in His power, who gives us the air we breathe and the water we drink, who makes our corn to grow and gives us all things? It is so scandalous that it cannot be uttered, that God should not amount to as much with us as an hundred guilders. Why not think that God, who has created me, will surely feed me, if He wants me to live? If He does not want this, very well, I shall be satisfied.

Yes, says the stomach, I find no God in my chest! You silly ass, who assures you that you will live tomorrow? You are not certain whether you will have a belly to-morrow, and you want to know where to find the bread and the food! Yes, you have a fine assurance! When our hearts are thus prompted, we see what a government of hell there would be on earth; yes, it would be the devil himself. Is it not a thing most abominable, that God who feeds such ninny mouths, should be held in such low esteem by me, that I will not trust Him to feed me? Yea, that a guilder, thirty-eight cents, should be valued more highly than God, who pours out His treasures everywhere in rich profusion? For the world is full of God and His works, He is everywhere present with His gifts, and yet we will not trust in Him, nor accept His visitation! Shame on thee, thou accursed world! What kind of a child is that, who cannot trust in God for a single day, but trusts in a guilder?

Now, I think, we see what the world is, how on account of the belly the world despises God, and yet must lose the belly together with body and soul. Oh, what godless people we are. If one would consider that he is such a godless wretch, that he cannot trust in God, then he would not wish to live, but only choke away. The world is hell in prospect, yea, the real kingdom of Satan, a courtyard in hell, except that the body is still here, otherwise it is true hell.

For this reason Christ admonishes us with tears to know our salvation and accept His visitation, that the calamity may not follow, which will surely come upon those who do not accept it, who are secure, until swift and sudden destruction comes upon them. May God give us grace, that we may know ourselves!

The Gospel further reads:
    “And He entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold, saying unto them: It is written, ‘And my house shall be a house of prayer’; but ye have made it a den of robbers.


This is the second part of our Gospel, where the Lord takes hold of matters in earnest with His powerful hand, when He goes into the temple and casts out those who bought and sold there. For the first part was nothing but an admonition and incentive unto faith. Here the Lord now tells us what the temple of God is, and quotes passages from the Scriptures, and especially from the prophet Isaiah, where God says: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7). You, however, have made it a house of merchandise. This is a strong passage which the prophet utters: “for all peoples, for all Gentiles,” is against the Jews, who trusted in the temple of God at Jerusalem, and thought that this material house in Jerusalem would stand forever, and that it was impossible for God to demolish this temple or destroy this city. The Word of God does not lie. For this reason they also murdered Stephen, because he spoke against that holy place and said: “Jesus shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us” (Ac. 6:14). And they said: have not the prophets praised this house, and Christ Himself says here, that it is “a house of prayer,” and you Apostles say, He will destroy it?

But we must rightly understand this expression, that the city of Jerusalem, the temple and the people, should remain until the time of Christ. With this agree all the prophets, who have given all things into the hands of Christ; as He would then dispose of it, so it should be and remain. Hence the passage in Isaiah goes no further than unto the times of Christ, as also all the prophets say, that after that there shall come a kingdom extending over the whole world: “For from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same My name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the Gentiles, saith Jehovah of hosts” (Mt. 1:10-11). Here the prophet speaks of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, who shall build Himself a house of prayer as extensive as the whole world.

It is true that God Himself has established the temple at Jerusalem, not because it consisted of beautiful stones and costly buildings, or because it was consecrated by bishops, as at present men employ such foolery and juggling tricks; but God Himself had consecrated and sanctified it with his Word, when He said: This house is My house: for His Word was preached in it. Now, wherever God’s Word is preached, there is God’s own true house, there God most certainly dwells with His grace. Wherever His Gospel is, there is a house of prayer, there men shall and may truly pray, and God will also hear their prayer, as Christ says: “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in My name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be made full” (Jn. 16:23-24). Here again, where the Word is not found, there the devil has full sway.

That we have imitated the Jews and built so many churches, would be well enough, if we had done it in order that the Word of God might be preached there; for where the Word goes there God is present, and looks down from heaven and pours out His grace. Therefore He says to the Jews here: It is not My will that you should make out of My house a den of robbers. For there were money changers in it who sold sheep and oxen, that strangers might buy them for their offerings in divine service. Why then does He call it a den of robbers? Surely, He gives it a scandalous name. He does it however because they no longer appreciate the house as the house of God, but as a market house; that is, the priests did not inquire how the Word of God was preached in it, although they sang, they babbled and read the prophets and Moses; but God cares nothing for such a murmuring of Psalms; for such belongs to children.

They did just as our priests and monks do now, who have also made of our churches and cloisters dens of robbers, and have preached poison, and held Masses only that the people might give them money and presents for holding them, that they might thus fill their stomachs. They made the church a market house, in which they carried on their idle talk, corrupted and destroyed the sheep of God’s pastures by their scandalous false doctrine, that it may well be called a robber’s den for the soul. This title we should write on all churches in which the Gospel is not preached, for there they mock God, destroy souls, banish the pure Word and establish dens of murder; for he who listens to their words must die. Oh, how shamefully we have been deceived! Now, however, we should praise God, that this Word again brings us life, drives out the murderers of souls, and teaches us how to pray aright; for an honest heart must pray, not with the mouth, but with the heart.


Thus we have heard the second part of our Gospel, how Christ drove out the merchants that pandered to base appetites, and made room for His Word. It would be a good thing, in this same way to cleanse our cloisters, and turn them into schools or preaching places; if this is not done they will be, and continue to be nothing but dens of robbers; for if Christ calls His own house a den of robbers, how much more will our churches and temples, not consecrated by God, be so called?

I have often requested that you to pray God to turn His wrath and restrain the devil now in the world. For you have undoubtedly heard of the great calamity, how many have been slain in the insurrection (the Peasants War). We fear they have all been lost, for God requires obedience, and has Himself pronounced the sentence: “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Mt. 26:52). The devil has taken possession of the world, so who knows when our turn will come? Therefore let us pray that God’s kingdom may come and Christians may be multiplied, that He would send wise and intelligent ministers to care for the people and listen to their wants and needs. He who knows the gift of God prays for others who have not yet heard the Word; it is high time to do so.

Well, wherever this calamity begins and prevails, that the people maliciously despise the day God visits us with His Word and grace, for the sake of the belly and a little temporal benefit and advantage; there must follow as a consequence of such treatment the final punishment and wrath of God, who will utterly destroy them, remove the foundation of their trust, and overthrow the country and the people, so that both temporal and eternal interests go down together. For how shall He otherwise treat us, because of our scandalous ingratitude for His great love and mercy which He publicly declared unto us by His gracious visitation? How shall or can He do more for us, while we with wantonness and defiance spurn His help, and ever struggle and strive after wrath and destruction? For if they are not free of punishment who transgress the law and sin against the Ten Commandments, how much less will He permit those to go unpunished who blaspheme and despise the Gospel of His grace, seeing as the Law by far does not bring as many good things as the Gospel?

If we will not wish to enjoy this happy day which He gives us unto grace and our salvation, He can instead permit us to see and experience nothing but the dark and terrible night of all affliction and misfortune. And since we will not hear this precious Word and the proclamation of peace, we will be forced to hear the devil’s cry of murder ring in our ears from every direction. Now is the time for us to know the day, and well employ the rich and golden year, while the annual fair is before our very doors, and acknowledge that He has severely punished us. If we neglect it and allow it to pass, we can never hope for a better day or expect any peace; for the Lord, who is the Lord of peace, will be with us no longer.

But if Christ be no longer with us, our hope will vanish; and wherever this beloved Guest is rejected, and His Christians no longer tolerated, government, peace and everything shall perish, for He too desires to eat with us, to rule and to provide bountifully. However, He desires also to be known as such a Lord, in order that we may be thankful to Him, and also permit this Guest and His Christians to eat with us, and give Him His due tribute; if not, we will then be forced to give it to another, who will so thank and reward us for it, that we shall not be able to retain a bite of bread or a penny in peace. But the world will not believe this, just as the Jews also would not believe it, until they experienced it, and faith came to their assistance. For God has ordained that this Christ shall be Lord and King upon the earth, under whose feet He has put all things, and whoever would have peace and good days, must be kind and obedient to Him, or he will be dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2:9). Amen.

Preached by Dr. Martin Luther, ~1525
From the English translation of his Church Postils by J.N. Lenker (Lenker Edition, 1909).


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bible Readers Prefer ‘Sacred Dialect’ Over ‘Contemporary Language’

Bible Readers Prefer ‘Sacred Dialect’ Over ‘Contemporary Language’
by Mr. Vernon Kneprath

The WELS Translation Evaluation Committee (TEC) put a lot of emphasis on “readability” in their advocacy of the 2011 New International Version Bible translation (NIV). In Forward in Christ, “Evaluating Translations”1, Professor Wendland made the following statements:
    We expect, with Luther, that a translation will communicate in the language of the people, using idioms and expressions that are understandable and in common, current use.

    We expect that the translation will be aimed at native English speakers who can handle Standard American English at a late primary school or early high school level, people who are neither professional theologians nor biblical illiterates.

    We believe that a translation should sound good when read aloud.
In Forward in Christ, “Translation Evaluation Committee Present Two Options”2:
    The NIV 2011 was frequently mentioned as the most polished of the three translations, the one that communicates in the smoothest and clearest way.
According to the Christian Booksellers Association, the NIV translation continues to hold the #1 position on their CBA Best Sellers list for Bible Translations3. Interestingly, the dated King James Version Bible translation (KJV) continues to be a consistent #2 on the list, and the New King James Version Bible translation (NKJV) is frequently #3. But does the #1 top seller status of a Bible translation identify a translation that people actually read? Two recent reports, “The Bible in American Life4 and “The State of the Bible, 20135 suggest otherwise.

Consider first “The Bible in American Life.”6 Here it was found that among self-identified Bible readers, 55% used the KJV, while 19% used the NIV. Some conclusions regarding the KJV in this report:
    Although the bookstores are now crowded with alternative versions, and although several different translations are now widely used in church services and for preaching, the large presence of the KJV testifies to the extraordinary power of this one classic English text, Professor Noll commented. It also raises most interesting questions about the role of religious and linguistic tradition in the make-up of contemporary American culture. Project advisor Sylvester Johnson also remarked on the peculiar cultural power of the King James Bible, noting that its language seems to function for many Americans as “a type of lingua sacra or sacred dialect.
The State of the Bible, 20137 reported similar findings. Of adults who read the Bible at least 3-4 times a year, the KJV was the translation of choice by 38%, the NKJV was selected by 14%, and the NIV was third at 11%.

These findings, relating to a translation 400 years old, belie the claims that a 30-year-old translation is too outdated to be useful.

In Christianity Today, Zylstra8, discussed these findings, and reported yet another interesting piece of information regarding the KJV vs. the NIV:
    The KJV also received almost 45 percent of the Bible translation-related searches on Google, compared with almost 24 percent for the NIV, according to Bible Gateway's Stephen Smith.

    In fact, searches for the KJV seem to be rising distinctly since 2005, while most other English translations are staying flat or are declining, according to Smith's Google research.
In light of this information, it is unfortunate that the WELS TEC didn’t include the KJV for consideration as the translation for use in WELS publications. The TEC’s great concern with “readability” biased them toward the NIV translation, a translation respectful of human concerns such as gender neutrality. But most Bible readers express a different preference in their choice of a translation that they actually read. In the KJV they have a translation that has stood the test of time for centuries. In the KJV they find a translation with a language that communicates a respect for God and His Word. And finally, but most importantly, with the Holy Spirit working faith through reading of God’s Word, readers of the Bible become mindful that they are reading God’s Word, not the daily edition of a current newspaper.

  1. Paul O. Wendland, “Evaluating Translations,” Forward in Christ, Volume 98, Number 12, December 2011.
  2. Translation Evaluation Committee Present Two Options,” Forward in Christ, Volume 100, Number 3, March 2013.
  3. CBA Best Sellers list for Bible translations” at the hyperlink
  4. Philip Goff, Arthur E. Farnsley II, Peter J. Thuesen, “The Bible in American Life”, The Center for Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University, March 6, 2014.
  5. The Barna Group, “The State of the Bible, 2013”, American Bible Society, 2013.
  6. Goff, Farnsley, Thuesen, p. 12-14.
  7. The Barna Group, p. 17.
  8. Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “The Most Popular and Fastest Growing Bible Translation Isn't What You Think It Is”, Christianity Today, posted 3/13/2014 11:17AM

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