Monday, April 29, 2013

Cantate (Easter 5) Sermon

The Fifth Sunday of Easter
28 April Anno + Domini 2013
John 16:5-15 (Isaiah 12:1-6; James 1:16-21)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

            He Is Risen!  (He Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!)
“You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Is. 12:1-2).
Thus does Isaiah prophesy some seven centuries before the day of which he speaks, for the day of which he speaks is the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is prophesying about you, O Christian. You will say in that day – in this day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ – I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. You will say in that day – in this day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ – Behold, God is my salvation. And you do say this in this day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, precisely because it has been to your advantage that Jesus has gone away and sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to you. For no one says, “Jesus is Lord,” but by the Holy Spirit. No one knows how the Father’s anger toward us for our many sins has been turned away by the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross, but by the Holy Spirit. No one knows how impossible it is for us sinners to save ourselves, but by the Holy Spirit. And no one knows that our Lord Jesus Christ has become our salvation, doing what is impossible for us, fulfilling every perfect command of God’s perfect Law in our place, and paying for our every failure to keep those perfect commands with His precious blood on Mount Calvary, but by the Holy Spirit.
Where the Holy Spirit is lacking, there is no truth. We see this in every other world religion, save Christianity, for every other world religion is a religion of the Law, where the way of salvation, whatever is meant by salvation according to each particular religion, is left to us. Being good, whatever is meant by good, is the way to the afterlife in every religion lacking the Holy Spirit. In these religions, God has not become your salvation, but it is incumbent upon you to save yourselves, to merit favor with God, whoever God might be, that you might gain access through your own works to whatever glory there is in whatever life that follows this one.
Where the Holy Spirit is lacking, there is no truth. That is to say, where the Holy Spirit is lacking, there is no Jesus, for He is the truth. Where there is no Jesus, there is not only no truth, but neither is there any way to salvation nor the possibility of eternal life, for Jesus is not only the truth, but also the way and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Him.
“Sing to the Lord a new song,” O Christian, “for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations” (Ps. 98:1a, 2b). He has revealed His righteousness to you by the Holy Spirit. For He has fulfilled His promise to send the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit has done, and continues to do, in you exactly what Jesus promised He would do. He convicts you of sin, putting the perfect commands of God’s Law before you and showing you how miserably you measure up. You have not loved God as you should. Not even close. And you have not loved your neighbors as you should. Not even close. Confessing this at the beginning of every Divine Service is not just some rote ritual in which you participate, but a confession of the truth. You have sinned. In many and various ways. St. James tells you in the epistle this morning to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).
He’s talking to Christians - to you. He’s telling you what you should be striving for as those who have received the Holy Spirit. And because you have received the Holy Spirit, you not only know that what St. James tells you is good, but you do strive to live as he tells you to live, and you know when you haven’t, for when you haven’t – when you haven’t been quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, but rather short-tempered and quick to hurl angry insults and hold grudges and gossip about “those people” – the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, and then comes the guilt and shame, for you know you ought not behave like that. And when you don’t put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness, but either engage in it or turn a blind eye to it, the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, and then comes the guilt and shame, for you know you ought not do this. And when you do not receive the implanted word, which is Jesus, in meekness and humility, as one who is desperate for salvation, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, but rather come to church to just go through the motions or, worse, skip church altogether to do something else you’d rather be doing, the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, and then comes the guilt and shame, for you know you ought not treat the Gospel so cheaply. Repent!
But, the Holy Spirit is not only sent to you to convict you of sin, but also of righteousness and judgment. When He has convicted you of sin and lead you to repentance, He is quick to direct your attention to Jesus, to remind you of all that He has done, and continues to do, for you; to show you your salvation by taking what belongs to Jesus – holiness and righteousness – and declaring it to you. Your sins are taken away by the Lamb of God, in whose holiness and righteousness you are clothed, not by anything you have done, but by all that Jesus has done, and continues to do, for you. The Holy Spirit convicts you of righteousness, and then the guilt and shame of your sins is taken away, covered by the holiness and righteousness of Jesus. And, as the Holy Spirit convicts you of righteousness, He also convicts you of judgment, for Satan has been defeated and his accusations against you for all your sins have been silenced by the blood of Jesus, who crushed the serpent’s head on the Cross. Satan is defeated, sin is paid for in full, and death is dead, for Jesus lives and reigns and intercedes at the right hand of the Father for you. You have been judged and found not guilty for Jesus’ sake.    
And so, as strange as it seems, it really is to your advantage that Jesus go away, so that He might send the Holy Spirit to you. He goes away to the Cross to win your salvation, and it is from the Cross that He hands over the Spirit of Truth, that is, His own Spirit, for just as Jesus and the Father are One, so Jesus and the Holy Spirit are One. On the Cross, Jesus hands over the Spirit of Truth along with the life-giving and life-sustaining water and blood that pour forth from His pierced side, for it is through that water and blood that the Holy Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to you, clothing you in Jesus’ perfect holiness and righteousness through the water of Holy Baptism and continually cleansing your baptismal robes in the Blood of the Lamb distributed to you in the Holy Supper.
Isaiah prophesied about this, too, dear friends. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Is. 12:3), and so you have, for, by the Holy Spirit’s gracious working, you have drawn water from the wells of Jesus’ side. And, you “shout and sing for you, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 12:6), for, by the Holy Spirit’s gracious working, you believe that the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, is Bodily Present upon the holy altar, giving you to eat and to drink of His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening and preservation of your faith.
What all of this means, of course, is that, while Jesus has departed to ascend to the Father’s right hand to be our Mediator, having finished every last work necessary for your salvation, He is not gone. The Holy Spirit directs you to where He is for you, to where Jesus continues to Tabernacle among us in His very Flesh and Blood, here in His Holy Church, at the font, pulpit, and altar. He is your strength and your song, for He has become your salvation. He is your refuge from the sorrows that inevitably fill your lives in this vale of tears, the sorrows that are brought upon you by other sinners and the sorrows you bring upon yourselves by your own sins. He prepares His Holy Church for you as a blessed oasis in the desert of this sinful world, a sanctuary, a safe-haven, that you might come and be fed upon Him, the Word of God that never passes away.    
Oh yes, O Christian, it is to your advantage that Jesus has gone away, so that He might send the Spirit of Truth to lead you into all Truth, that is, to lead you into Jesus and the wells of salvation that never cease flowing from Him. Come, then, at the gracious invitation of your Savior, which the Holy Spirit opens your ears to hear, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and receive rest for your souls. Receive with meekness and joy the implanted Word, that, filled with Jesus, you might sing the new song of His revealed righteousness not only with your lips, but with your lives, “giving thanks to the Lord, calling upon His Name, making known His deeds among the peoples, proclaiming that His Name is exalted” (Is. 12:4).
Lord, grant this unto us all, in the Name of Jesus, for He Is Risen! (He Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Let Solemn Awe Possess Us

I just finished reading this extraordinary paper, written by Pr. Rick Stuckwisch, which he delivered at the recent ACELC Conference. I have long been an admirer of Pr. Stuckwisch's excellent theological contributions, which I have been blessed to receive in various ways over the years, even in person on a couple of occasions, so I'm used to being wowed by him, but this might be the best thing he's ever written. Simply superb! You should give it a read. Seriously. You should.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A More Perfect Form of Love?

I received the following email four times in the last 24 hours. It seems the LCMS campaign season is now in full swing. Those supporting Rev. David Maier have set up a "Friends of David Maier" FB page and are busy making contacts and sending out emails, like this one. That's fine. They're certainly entitled to campaign for the man they want to be our synodical president. Like it or not, we have a political process in place, and so politics are with us. No use crying about it. It is what it is.

However, that said, I find it very ironic that the supporters of Rev. David Maier believe "we need a more perfect form of love," but then show a less than perfect form of love in their commentary on the two main issues they believe merit the election of a new synodical president. I'm also left to wonder if they are as woefully naive as they appear to be.

First, we hear about "fear and suspicion," as we always do when the "silly season" begins. The implication is that electing a new synodical president will alleviate this. It won't. That's because the "fear and suspicion" in our synod does not come from whoever sits on the throne at the IC, but rather from the fact that we have some very real, very serious theological divisions in our synod. Currently, we have a synodical president who recognizes this, and who seeks to lead us in tackling these divisions, so that we might come to greater unity. Prior to him, we had a synodical president who always swept those differences under the synodical carpet, highlighting the fact that he believed we were unified on the things that really mattered, and that all the differences among us were nothing more than differences in practice, which did not affect our unity in doctrine. That dog won't hunt. It never could hunt. It won't start hunting now. You cannot be united in doctrine, but divided in practice. Practice is nothing more than doctrine in action.

But, that really gets at the heart of what Rev. David Maier's supporters want when they speak of our synod needing "a more perfect form of love." They believe that "a more perfect form of love" would come from us ignoring our very real, very serious theological divisions. We should just trust one another, after all (I heard that sentiment often at last summer's Michigan District Convention), and relegate our differences to nothing more than differences in practice. We're all Lutherans, for Pete's sake! We all believe the same thing. I wrote about this in a blog post last year, as I gave my review of the Michigan District Convention

The truth is that we don't all believe the same thing. We're not all Lutherans, just because we all claim the name Lutheran. And, truth be told, that's where the fear and suspicion really originate. I think we all know this, but it is much easier to sweep it under the rug than it is to admit it and work on it. The pastor who leads the "worship experience" in his ripped jeans and t-shirt, removes the altar to make room for the praise band, and preaches self-help, motivational messages does not believe the same thing as this pastor. That should be obvious, and it is obvious. But, what the supporters of Rev. David Maier believe is that me pointing out that obvious fact is the reason that fear and suspicion exists among us. It's not. The reason that fear and suspicion exists among us is that we have pastors doing the things mentioned above. Duh!

Is it really "a more perfect form of love" to turn a blind eye to our very real, very serious theological divisions and pretend that we have unity? Not at all. In fact, the opposite is true. The loving thing is to be honest about these divisions and seek to address them via serious study of Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.

We do need a new Spirit in our synod. Actually, He's not new at all. He's the Holy Spirit, and He's been around since, well, always and eternally. He convicts us of sin, leads us to repentance, and points us to Jesus. He doesn't ever say, "Just trust one another. Ignore your differences. Live and let live." Rather, He directs us to address our differences and strive toward unity around the clear and compelling Word of God.

Besides all of this, when has a pastor ever began statements at pastoral conferences with, "I am not a heretic, but . . ."? I've never once heard such a thing. Of course, I haven't been to every pastoral conference, so it may have happened. But, I find it hard to believe that it happens "too often." This is just a scare tactic used to get people to buy into the "fear and suspicion" stuff. Scare tactics aren't the most loving things to employ. Just saying.

But, far worse than the "fear and suspicion" nonsense is the second issue Rev. David Maier's supporters raise as a reason we should elect a new synodical president. Are they serious?! Do they really not know how the "Sandy Hook Controversy" made it to the mainstream media and brought "embarrassment" upon our synod? Here's a clue: It had nothing at all to do with the very churchman-like way President Harrison handled it. Caleb Bell, the reporter for Religious News Service who broke the story that the mainstream media picked up on, didn't just stumble onto the WMLT blog. He was directed to that blog by someone/some people who deliberately wanted to bring shame to our synodical president and scandal to our synod. It was a political move - a vile, despicable political move, the kind of political move that has no business in the church. How do I know this? Because I'm not an idiot, that's how. Well, that, and the fact that the original story provided very little evidence that Mr. Bell had even actually read the letter President Harrison had posted on the WMLT blog. It read more like an interpretation of the letter he was presented with by whoever it was that tipped him off about it. The whole thing was rather sickening, but it's nice to know that "a more perfect form of love" is one in which we reopen old wounds and pour some salt in them, all in the hope that we can win politically.

Furthermore, it is one thing for the mainstream media to misinterpret things happening in our synod and go nuts about them, frothing at the mouth to accuse us of all sorts of bad things. That happens all the time. If they can sink their teeth into some Christians, they will, since there is hardly anything tastier to them. But, it's quite another for pastors in our own synod to use this as an opportunity to lambaste our synodical president and bring more scandal to our synod - one that was not in any way scandalous to begin with, but was handled in love and faithfulness by those involved.

And, what of the theological issues at play here? Do they matter? Are the "friends of David Maier" suggesting that he would have given the okay for one of our pastors to participate in the unionistic and syncretistic prayer service held in Sandy Hook? Inquiring minds want to know. Perhaps, if Rev. David Maier's friends are going to bring this up as one of two main issues we should consider electing him, he should make his thoughts known on this. If he has, I haven't seen it. Does he think President Harrison erred in how he addressed the situation? He should go on record, I think, and let us know where he stands.

But, the worst of all is this: "Why do we insert ourselves into conversations that aren’t about us? We have done it before, and without different leadership, we will do it again." First, the fact that they can imagine that one of our pastors participating in a unionistic and syncretistic prayer service has nothing to do with "us" reveals a very strange belief on what it means to belong to a synod in which we claim to be "walking together" in fellowship. Secondly, it is precisely the duties of our synodical president to address matters of doctrine and practice among us, as clearly outlined in our synodical constitution. To suggest that President Harrison should have just minded his own business is to misunderstand what it is our synodical president is to do. I guess we need "different leadership," i.e. a different synodical president who will not perform the very duties outlined for him to perform in our synodical constitution. Otherwise, if we stick with President Harrison, he might actually be a synodical president, and we can't have that.

Anyway, if what is revealed in this little political missive is "a more perfect form of love," count me out. I'll stick with the supposedly less perfect form of love we have in President Harrison, who is not afraid to admit that he's a sinner and repent of mistakes made, even when those supposed "mistakes" were brought on by those playing nasty politics (you know, the loving sort among us). President Harrison has shown exemplary leadership among us, displaying not only the theological acumen we should all desire in a synodical president, but a true pastor's heart, full of compassion and love for those he serves, and I hope and pray that we will reelect him to serve this year, and in many elections to come.

Oh, and by the way, St. John means something completely different when he says, "Perfect love drives out all fear," but I'll leave you to study that on your own. 

Here's the email:
Dear Friends:   (Make sure you read down to the action items.)

We have had an EXCELLENT response from the Church to initial efforts to lift up David Maier’s candidacy for Synod President.  The positive response (great Facebook activity, many have passed our letters on to others, many other have contacted us, some have even offered $$ support—so far we have not had to spend any money!) took off quickly and is growing.

All this supports the notion that electing David Maier this summer is possible!  Apathy and inactivity are not allowed.

We need a new spirit in our Synod, a spirit of humility, gentleness, love and faithfulness.  Please consider these two issues.

1.)     The fear and suspicion pastors experience in our circles is ungodly and debilitating.  Too often pastors begin statements at pastoral conferences with, “I am not a heretic, but…”  Is our Church’s culture so filled with fear that every statement must begin with an apology?!?  John writes, “Perfect love drives out all fear.”  We need a more perfect form of love.

2.)    The recent issue with Sandyhook and the apology/non-apology that was in the news is another sad example that we need a new spirit.   There was a profound tragedy in the town of Newtown, Connecticut, and the next thing we know our church body began the predictable internecine squabbles that turned the event into something about us.  Charges were lobbed.  Strident online conversations were conducted.   A faithful local pastor was brought under undo Synodwide scrutiny.  It was never clear who was really apologizing for what.  People throughout our Synod were embarrassed.  AND IT WASN’T ABOUT US!  Why do we insert ourselves into conversations that aren’t about us?   We have done it before, and without different leadership, we will do it again.  We need to break this long standing pattern.  We need a more perfect form of love.

There will always be conflicts in the Church that must be handled.  We believe that David Maier will be a leader who can guide us gently, appropriately, lovingly and faithfully through future conflicts.  We believe David Maier through his leadership, example, team building, faithfulness to the Word and concentration on first things (Great Commission and Great Compassion) will help us develop a new spirit and keep conflicts from becoming problems. 

(For more info about David, please see the attachment.)

The ballot for President will have just three nominees.  Biographical information on each candidate will be available in the next Lutheran Witness.    (BE INFORMED)

The voting procedure is described this way on the LCMS website

Four (4) weeks prior to the national convention, the Secretary of the Synod, using lists of delegates in attendance at the prior year’s district conventions as submitted by the secretaries of the districts, shall provide, via a secure and verifiable method, opportunity for two (2) voting delegates from each congregation in attendance at the previous district conventions who remain members of the congregations they represented to vote for one (1) of the three (3) candidates for President.  If no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, another vote will take place.  (For more information on the voting process, see the 2010 Handbook, Bylaw

As you can see in order to vote you:  
1)      had to be a delegate to your 2012 Disctrict Convention.   (make sure you were counted)
2)      need to have your email registered with Synod’s secretary,  Rev Raymond Hartwig (make sure your email works)
3)      need to vote via the prescribed email method when it is available.  ( make sure you vote !!!)

·         If you are an elector, make sure that your email is properly registered with the Synod for voting purposes.
·         Pass this note on to as many people as you can, especially called teachers and official lay electors.
·         Join us on Facebook:
·         Pray for God’s guidance for our Synod.

Friends of David Maier:  Rob Appold, Larry Eckart, David Davis

As the Great Sanctification Debate of 2013 Winds Down . . .

Pr. Mark Surburg has written a blog post theological treatise over at his blog, sharing his final thoughts (at least for now) on the Great Sanctification Debate of 2013. But, don't worry. It's not really over. They'll be another Great Sanctification Debate coming to a blogosphere near you sooner than you think. Lutherans can't help themselves. They love arguing with one another. Especially Lutherans of the more "confessional variety," if you get my drift. But, that's a good thing. They argue because they really do care about this stuff. They argue because they really do want to get this stuff right. And, often, their arguing leads them to sharpen not only how they think about this stuff, but also about how they put this stuff into practice and teach others. Iron sharpens iron, and all that. 

According to Pr. Surburg, the issues in the Great Sanctification Debate of 2013, which seems to be winding down, have been centered around 1) confusion and concerns about nomenclature, 2) arguments about whether the new man cooperates in new obedience, 3) disputes about growth and increase in new obedience, 4) some forcing and imposing an extreme form of Law and Gospel on texts of Scripture, and 5) the ever-popular dust-up regarding the third use of the Law (always my personal favorite, and yours, too - admit it!).

I certainly don't want to make light of Pr. Surburg's fine effort to get to the nitty-gritty here. He has put forth a lot of serious effort in this latest Great Sanctification Debate, and I appreciate his willingness to engage the topic and to identify what he believes to be the points of contention. However, my concern is that he, and others, have chosen to make far more out of all this than is really there. That was my concern in the Great Sanctification Debates of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and it remains my concern again this year. I really think it's always much ado about not much.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe there really are confessional Lutherans among us who really don't believe that the new man cooperates with the Holy Spirit, albeit in great weakness, in new obedience. I've just never met one. Maybe there really are confessional Lutherans who don't believe there is any growth or increase whatsoever in new obedience. I've just never met one. Maybe there are confessional Lutherans who really are too dense to grasp the fact that the apostles of our Lord proclaim the Law not only to convict of sin, but also to encourage holy living. I've just never met one. Maybe there are confessional Lutherans who really don't understand that, for the new man in the Christian, the Law is a good thing in which he delights. I've just never met one.

I have met confessional Lutheran pastors who may give the impression that they might believe some of these things by over-emphasizing a theological point, usually in reaction to other Lutheran pastors over-emphasizing a different theological point, but, lo and behold, when the smoke clears, both of those pastors actually do believe, teach, and confess the same thing. I've also seen some confessional Lutheran pastors make less than salutary comments either out of frustration or to make a point, which leads others to conclude that they're crass antinomians, who must be dealt with expediently. Or, from the other side, a confessional Lutheran pastor says something that causes others to jump on him for being an obvious pietist, who, again, must be dealt with expediently. Sometimes, we confessional Lutherans can be a little childish. Not me, of course. But, others. And, when we fail to see things for what they really are and end up making mountains out of molehills, the terrorists win.

And so, while I appreciate Pr. Surburg's attempt to summarize the issues in this latest Great Sanctification Debate, and add my hearty "Amen" to much of what he has written, I take issue with his assertion that there is a "new Lutheran understanding of new obedience/'sanctification'" out there threatening the "traditional Lutheran view," or as Pr. Jordan Cooper put it on FB last week, a "new school of thought" on sanctification, the proponents/students of which he deemed "Radical Lutherans," providing one of my dear seminary professors, the Reverend Professor John Pless, as an example of such. I'm sorry, but that's just crazy talk if ever there were crazy talk.

None of this is to say that the Great Sanctification Debate of 2013 has been a total waste of time. Some good has come of it. As Pr. Surburg rightly notes, we need to be careful about what nomenclature we employ. When confessional Lutherans start talking about sanctification in a way that doesn't appear all that different from the way in which Americanized Protestants do, other confessional Lutherans are going to get grumpy. Not me, of course. But, others. When confessional Lutherans start talking about "preaching sanctification" as something that Lutheran pastors can deliberately accomplish, other confessional Lutherans are going to lose it. Again, not me, of course. But, others. And, when confessional Lutherans even hint at the suggestion that sanctification is something that comes after Jesus, as if it is not totally wrapped up in Jesus, other confessional Lutherans are going to start throwing things. Not me, of course. But, others.

In this wrap-up post by Pr. Surburg, he is very careful to make clear what he is and is not saying, and he does his best to put forth what he hears his "opponents" saying. But, I think he still has some more listening to do, as he attributes to them positions they simply do not hold (at least, not the "opponents" of whom I'm aware), as I mentioned above. Furthermore, I'm not sure what he's trying to accomplish in his second-to-last paragraph by noting, "it must of course be granted that only the Holy Spirit determines how the Law will actually be applied to the individual. Yet this does [not] remove the fact that the speaker or writer knows the goal he intends to achieve in the hearer or reader." He goes on to give the example of St. Paul exhorting husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:25), stating that St. Paul's intention is clear -  he wants husbands to love their wives. And?

This is Pr. Surburg's response to those pastors, like me, who have contended that only the Holy Spirit determines how the Law will actually be applied, and that, at the end of the day, Law is Law, and it is a dangerous thing for pastors to leave their hearers with the Law. Pr. Surburg jumps to the conclusion that this must mean that we are hesitant, or worse, that we refuse, to speak like St. Paul and the other apostles speak, and that, because of this, our theology might need to be reexamined (does he realize that a) this comes off as very condescending, as if he is the only serious theologian in the room, and b) this is a pretty serious charge, one that should not be made unless it can be clearly backed up with supporting evidence?). Of course, this is nonsense. I don't know of any confessional Lutheran pastors, whose theology Pr. Surburg worries might be in need of reexamination, who hesitate or refuse to speak like St. Paul and the other apostles. We're simply stating the truth, which Pr. Surburg nowhere refutes, that the intention of the speaker/writer/preacher, whatever it may be, does not change the fact that speaking/writing/preaching Law is speaking/writing/preaching Law. When St. Paul exhorts husbands to love their wives, even if he does so with a clear intent and in the most pleasant, lovely, non-threatening voice he could manage, it may, in fact, be heard by some husbands as the harshest, most accusatory Law ever. I think we're on extremely thin ice when we start highlighting intentions in relation to preaching the Law. What's that saying about the road to hell?

I don't think this means that the theology of Pr. Surburg differs from mine, and I'm certainly not going to claim that his theology is in need of reexamination based on this. I think, at the end of the day, we would be in agreement, which leads me back to my assessment above that this is really just another case of different emphases and talking past one another. As I said above, I may be wrong about this. I'm simply basing my assessment on what I've actually seen and heard throughout the various Great Sanctification Debates over the years. I've asked for examples from the confessional Lutherans who make the claims that there is some "new understanding" or "new school of thought" brewing among us, but I've never yet been provided with anything that would lead me to conclude that there actually is. Usually, the examples are nothing more than bad behavior or hyperbolic statements made in response to other hyperbolic statements, and almost always, upon further reflection, the apparent differences turn out to be nothing of the sort (some nuances may remain, but nothing that destroys the confession of the faith both parties hold). Maybe Pr. Surburg will provide some evidence to back up the claims he makes in his post, but until then, I'm inclined to believe that this latest Great Sanctification Debate has really been much ado about not much, as the previous six thousand were. And, I really think we should all try to remember that blog and FB posts are not detailed, theological treatises. They're usually just snippets, and often reactionary. They very rarely reveal the full extent of a pastor's theological understanding of this or that issue, and we should be a little more careful before rushing to conclusions based on them. 

Also, I want to make clear that I definitely do understand that there is a very real tension we confessional Lutherans feel when addressing this issue, which comes from our colorful history. We know that both antinomianism and pietism are bad things we need to avoid, and sometimes we might seek so much to avoid one or the other that we come off as falling into the opposite pit, even if we really haven't. That's one of the reasons these arguments are good; they're reminders to all of us that these dangers still exist and still need to be avoided.

For a couple of excellent, easy-to-understand articles which bring some much needed clarity to these Great Sanctification Debates, see Pr. Todd Wilken's:


As for another Great Sanctification Debate coming to an end, my closing thoughts (and by closing thoughts, I mean, maybe my closing thoughts; I reserve the right to have future thoughts), which have always been my closing thoughts whenever one of these Great Sanctification Debates comes to an end, are best expressed by this:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Then, I Shut Up

Yes, the Blessed Apostles of our Lord exhort Christians to holy living. They do. Their epistles are filled with such exhortations. They exhort Christians to deny self and live for God and neighbor, to crucify the flesh and its passions, to be sober-minded and self-controlled, to rid themselves of all malice, deceit, envy, greed, lust, and to be loving and generous and kind and . . .

But, when they do - and this is important, so listen closely - they are proclaiming Law. Not Gospel. Law. Not Sanctification. Law. Not Third Use of the Law. Law.

It's not a different Law than the Law they proclaim when they remind their hearers that they are sinners who deserve God's temporal and eternal wrath and punishment. They do that, too. In the very same epistles. And, when they do, it is the very same Law as when they exhort Christians to holy living. The Law is the Law.

Now, I have nary a problem exhorting Christians to holy living. I do it all the time. Every time I preach. Every sermon. I preach the Law. I don't preach the Law as a curb, then as a mirror, and then as a guide. I haven't a clue how to do that. With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. The Holy Spirit knows how to do that. He takes the Law I preach and applies it when, where, and how He pleases. I just preach the Law. That's all I can do.

Then, I preach the Gospel.

Then, I shut up.

I shut up because I don't have anything else to say. I've said all that's been given me to say. I've preached the Law and the Gospel (repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ's Name). What else is there? I'm done.

Some Lutherans among us seem to be worried about preachers like me shutting up after the Gospel, since they posit that this might lead some people to take the Gospel for granted. It might lead some to treat the Gospel as cheap grace, as it might give the impression that the Gospel gives license to sin boldly and freely and willingly, since, well, they're sinners who are going to sin anyway, so they might as well indulge.

That's all possible, I suppose. But, then, I don't really worry about that. It's not my job to infiltrate the hearts and minds of the people to whom I preach and apply the Gospel rightly. That's the Holy Spirit's job. Just like it's His job to take the Law I preach and apply it when, where, and how He pleases, so it's His job to take the Gospel I preach and apply it when, where, and how He pleases. My job is to preach the Law and the Gospel, and then shut up.

But, there's another aspect to this that I think some are missing. If the preacher has truly preached the Law, he has not lead people to take the Gospel for granted or to treat it as cheap grace or license to sin. People may still do that. Such cannot be controlled by the preacher. But, if people do that, it is not because of what the preacher preached, if the preacher has truly preached the Law.

A preacher who has truly preached the Law has not said, "Don't strive against sin. Live for yourself. Satisfy your desires. Eat, drink, and be merry. You're sinners, after all, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it, so party on. Sin boldly. Be jerks. Jesus will forgive you, so it's all good." On the contrary, a preacher who has truly preached the Law has put forth God's perfect commands before his hearers - the perfect commands that give no points for doing your best or being a little better than "those people"; the perfect commands that must be kept, well, perfectly; the perfect commands which they should be striving to keep, but have not kept. And, because they have not kept those perfect commands of God, they deserve hell. They're doomed on their own. They should be denying themselves and living for God and neighbor, but they've failed to do so in many ways. They should be crucifying their flesh with its passions, but they've failed to do so in many ways. They should be self-controlled and sober-minded, ridding themselves of all malice, deceit, envy, greed, and lust, but they've failed in many ways. They should be loving, generous, kind, etc., but they've failed to be so in many ways. There is only one cure for their ailment, only one solution to their problem, only one Savior who can save them from the hell they deserve. They need Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect life and fulfilled the perfect Law in their place, and who suffered and died on the Cross for all of their sins.

If people can glean from that sort of Law preaching that it's okey-dokey for them to just revel in sin and go on satisfying their every sinful desire without a care in the world, that's on them, not the preacher. The preacher will not prevent this by going on to preach more Law after the Gospel. They've already been told how they should be living as Christians. That was handled in the preaching of the Law. To tell them again now is not only redundant, but it runs the risk of leading them to doubt and despair, the very thing you just saved them from with Jesus.

So, for example, this past Sunday, the Epistle in the historic lectionary was 1 Peter 2:11-20, which begins, "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." St. Peter goes on to say, "Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

Here, St. Peter is proclaiming Law. Not Gospel. Law. Not Sanctification. Law. Not Third Use of the Law. Law. It matters not that St. Peter is writing here to Christians, the "beloved," who are "sojourners and exiles" in this world, "people who are free" in Christ. It's still Law. He's telling Christians how they should be living. That's Law.

I preached my sermon on the Holy Gospel of the day, which was John 16:16-22. But, I didn't ignore St. Peter. I used his very words to preach the Law. I urged my hearers to live as St. Peter says they should be living. They are baptized children of God, living as exiles in this valley of the shadow of death for the "little while" (from the Gospel) of their earthly pilgrimages, and they should live like it, abstaining from the passions of their flesh, keeping their conduct honorable, not using their freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God, honoring everyone, loving the brotherhood, fearing God, honoring their earthly authorities. Then, I exhorted them to repent, for, truth be told, they haven't lived as they should.

Then, I proclaimed to them the One who has lived as they should, who resisted all temptation and abstained from the passions of the flesh in their place; the One who kept His conduct honorable at all times; the One who never had a need to cover up evil, for He was without sin; the One who lived as a servant of God every day of the "little while" of His earthly pilgrimage; the One who honored everyone, loved the brotherhood, feared God, and honored the emperor; the One who went to the Cross to take away the sin of the world - even the sins of Christians, who fail to live as they should be living - by covering up, and burying, all sin and evil in His sacrificial death; the One who appeared again to His disciples after the "little while" between Good Friday and Easter evening, just as He promised; the One who died, but is not dead, for He rose and lives; the One who fulfills His promise "to be with us always" in the Divine Service, where His sheep hear His voice and are fed upon the sweet honey of His Word; the One who is made known to us in "the breaking of the bread," who gives us to eat and to drink of His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins and to strengthen and preserve us in the faith, as we make our way through the wilderness of this sinful world during the "little while" of our earthly pilgrimage, until He brings us home to dwell with Him and all His saints and angels in His kingdom, which has no end; the One who fills us with Himself, that His mercy and love might pour forth from us to others in ways that only He knows. I preached Jesus to them.

Then, I shut up.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

First Communion Pics

We were blessed this morning to welcome five of our children to the holy altar to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Supper for the first time via the Rite of First Communion Prior to Confirmation.

Heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ loved the young and called them to Himself, we ask You to bless Hannah, Noah, Zane, Jack, and Aaron. Strengthen them in the faith through the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, so that they may grow spiritually and bring forth the fruits of faith in a life of love toward others to the praise and honor of Your holy name; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Some pics:

A closer look at the beautiful First Holy Communion crucifix they received:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lunatics - Funniest Book Ever!

Our Peace Book Club met last night. We laughed. Hard. To the point of tears hard. Then, we laughed again. And again. And again. And again. In fact, I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever laughed so much, or so hard, in my life. But, before I explain the laughter, a little background is in order.

That background begins with an admission: We are not the most organized book club. That's okay. We don't have to be. What we do works for us. But, it really is important to note this fact, as it is this fact alone that lead to the laugh-fest we enjoyed last night.

When we met last month, after discussing the novel we had read, we engaged in our usual, disorganized process of deciding upon which book we would read next, which involves us rummaging through our kindles to see what's out there, and what might be of interest to the group. Sometimes, this process takes longer than the discussion we had on the book we just read. Not always, but sometimes. But always, it's disorganized. And, again, that's okay. I'm not complaining. This "fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants" method works for us. It's fine. Yes, it can be a little annoying at times, but you'll never hear me say that out loud. This is the method the group has decided to use. I'm fine with it. Really, I am. The fact that I've made suggestions on how to make our book club more organized, which have always been summarily shot down by the group, should not in any way give the impression that I'm not totally down with the ridiculous, painstakingly disorganized manner our book club uses to determine what to read. I enjoy the hours of not having a clue what we're going to read next. I think it's great to frantically search through our kindles and read summary after summary of prospective books in the hope that one of them will eventually meet the approval of the club members. I mean, what could be better than that?

So, we're not the most organized book club. That's okay. We don't have to be. What we do works for us and, as I've made vividly clear in the preceding paragraph, no one could possibly be a bigger fan of our disorganization than yours truly. It's totally awesome. If there was a time when I didn't think our disorganization was totally awesome, and I'm not saying there ever was, I really, truly do believe in that total awesomeness now.

You see, it was the total awesomeness of our disorganization that led us to choose Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zwiebel as our book this past month, a book we most likely would not have chosen had we been the more organized book club I may have once desired us to be (not that I've ever had such a desire, mind you).

So, there we were last month rummaging through our kindles. "What about this book?" one member asks, and then reads the summary and some of the reviews. "Meh," the group mumbles. "What about this one?" another member asks, and then reads the summary and some of the reviews. "Meh." And on and on we went for about forty-five hours (by hours, I mean minutes), until finally Sharyn says, rather enthusiastically, "Ooh, Dave Barry has a new book. I used to read his column in the paper all the time. He's hilarious."

Hilarious sounded pretty good to the group, since we had just read an action/suspense novel that was neither very action-packed nor suspenseful (which is what happens sometimes with our totally awesome disorganized method, but I digress). So, we all in unison directed our kindles to the new Barry book. Upon reading some of the reviews, we noticed that many were saying that this new book was good, but not quite as funny as his previous book, Lunatics. More funny sounded more better to us, so, after something like sixty hours (again, by hours, I mean minutes), we all said, "Lunatics it is!" (The exclamation point is added not because any of us were overly excited about this book, as none of us had any clue what it was or would be about. The exclamation point is added to note the enthusiasm we all had to pick a dang book and go home, as we had been hemming and hawing about what to read next for going on sixty hours [by that I mean, well, you know] at that point. We're not the most organized book club. Did I already say that?).

So, Lunatics it was. I downloaded the book on my kindle and began reading it a couple days after we had met. Couldn't put the dang thing down. Funniest book I've ever read. By far. In fact, funny seems an inadequate descriptor. To-the-point-of-tears-nearly-pee-your-pants hilarious comes much closer. Barry co-authored this book with Alan Zwiebel, and these two are absolute comic geniuses.

But, here's the thing: It's not exactly the sort of book one would imagine a church book club would have on its docket. In fact, this is what makes the disorganization of our book club totally awesome, since I'm not sure we would have chosen this book had we known that it would be filled from beginning to end with (how shall I put it?) colorful, adult humor. Not that any of us who belong to our book club are prudes or overly pietistic or anything. We're all adults, who live in the real world, but choosing this book would be like us choosing to show The Hangover at one of our Peace Movie Nights. Actually, that comparison is not really all that accurate, since our book club consists of adults only, whereas our Movie Nights are for the whole congregation, but hopefully you're picking up what I'm laying down (oh, and the inaccuracy of that comparison is also seen by the fact that Lunatics is about seventy zillion times more hilarious than The Hangover, which was pretty funny). So, maybe we would have chosen this book to read, after all, but maybe not. Who knows? It's a moot point now. We chose it. We read it. We laughed hysterically. We gave it a 5 on our 1-5 rating, which is the best rating we can give a book. Of all the books we've read to date, this is only the second 5 we've given and, truth be told, it's more of a 5 than the other book we gave a 5, but we don't have any higher rating, and we can't go changing our rating system now. We're far too organized to do such a thing.    

Barry and Zwiebel write Lunatics in an alternating, chapter-by-chapter manner. The book is about two guys. The first guy is Philip Horkman, who is very clean-cut, moral (but not very religious; you know, more spiritual than religious), and full of politeness and tact, almost to a fault. He loves life. He's a quiet guy. He's an optimistic guy. He runs a pet shop, volunteers to referee girls' soccer games, and loves his wife and children. His dream day would consist of nothing more than taking care of the animals in his pet shop, talking to his kids about their day when he returned home from work, capped off by snuggling up with his wife on the couch to enjoy a glass of wine while watching a Bette Midler movie.

The other guy is Jeffrey Peckerman, who is completely rude, lewd, and crude, lacking any semblance of having a moral compass or any tact at all. He may be the most obnoxious scumbag ever to set foot on this planet. He's a forensic plumber and thinks that this makes him the most important person in the world. He hates life, largely because every other person on the planet is an a-hole, which happens to be his favorite word. He's loud. He's pessimistic. He's racist, but not in the usual way ignorant people are racist. His racism is much broader than the racism of most, as his discrimination is not limited to this or that segment of humanity, but rather embraces the entire human race, save himself, of course. He has never met another human being who didn't completely annoy him. His dream day would consist of . . . well, I'd rather not go there.

Horkman meets Peckerman at a soccer field. Horkman is reffing the game in which Peckerman's daughter is playing. Horkman disallows a goal scored by Peckerman's daughter because she was offside. Peckerman screams obscenities at Horkman during and after the game. Horkman takes the criticism in stride and politely responds, acknowledging that he was just calling the play as he saw it. More obscenities from Peckerman.

By happenstance, Peckerman ends up walking into Horkman's pet shop the next day, thinking that he's going to pick up some wine for his wife, since Horkman's pet shop is named, "The Wine Shop" (you gotta read the book), and this is where the outrageous and hilarious adventure begins, an adventure that has these two polar opposite guys joined together in hilarious happening after even more hilarious happening.    

It is the contrast between the two, as they alternate chapter-to-chapter, each recounting for the reader his interpretation of the hilarious and unbelievable events unfolding throughout the book (Zwiebel writing as Horkman, Barry as Peckerman), that cause you to almost pee yourself with laughter. That's all I'm going to say about it. You'll have to read it for yourself to see what I mean.

So it was that last night, as we shared our favorite parts of the book (I think we must have actually re-read at least a quarter of it last night), we laughed. Hard. To the point of tears hard. Then, we laughed again. And again. And again. And again. As I said above, I can't ever remember laughing so much, or so hard, in my life. 

And all this because we're not the most organized book club, which really, truly is a totally awesome thing, as I've always known and totally never, ever doubted. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

When "Preaching Sanctification" Hits the Fan

As part of my Field Work duties during seminary many moons ago, I was called upon to teach public school confirmation classes. As the 8th-graders entered the room on the evening of the first class, one young lady walked in wearing a halter top and short-shorts, much to the delight of the young men in the class, since this young lady had been granted an early and full development, and she was intent on flaunting all that the Lord had given her (technically, I'm not sure if it was a halter top she was wearing, since I'm not sure what a halter top is, but what I do know is that it was mega skimpy, whatever it was).

Realizing right away that this was going to be a severe distraction to the boys, whose ogling eyes were steadfastly fixed upon the young lady's features, and also that, well, young Christian ladies should not be dressing in such a manner (especially during Confirmation Class - does that really need to be said?), I took her out in the hallway before the class began, explained to her that she was dressed inappropriately, and asked her if she had some other clothing in her locker that she could don. She said she didn't. So, I went and retrieved a gown that the acolytes wore at that congregation, had her put it on, told her not to arrive at class in the future dressed in this way, and proceeded with class that evening. The young lady was none too pleased about this.

The next week, this same young lady entered the classroom dressed in the same manner as the previous week, much to my amazement. Before I could approach her, she came up to me and said, rather snottily, "If you have a problem with how I'm dressed, my mom's in the hallway." So, I proceeded to the hallway to chat with mom, the young lady following me with a "Now you're gonna get it!" smirk on her face. In the hallway, there was the angry mom, dressed in the same manner as her snarky daughter (go figure!), ready to give me what for.

"How dare you embarrass my daughter like you did last week! Who the hell do you think you are telling her how she should or should not dress?!" And on and on she went ranting and raving at me, her daughter standing beside her with a big grin (if there was a picture for the phrase, "grinning from ear to ear," this would have been that picture). When she finished her rant, I said, "She's not attending confirmation class dressed as she is. If she wants to come to class, she'll either have to dress appropriately or put on an acolyte gown like she did last week."

"We'll see about that!" she yelled. Then, she and her daughter stormed out of the building, the mother spewing a continuous flow of less-than-desirable comments in my direction. I went back into the classroom and proceeded to teach that evening.

The next day, I was called by my Field Work supervisor (the Administrative Pastor at this congregation), who asked me to come talk with him. I did. Much to my surprise, he told me that my job was simply to teach the catechism, not to play "wardrobe police." He went on to explain how I would learn with experience in the pastoral office which battles were worth fighting, etc. Evidently, this was a battle not worth fighting, since this young lady belonged to a prominent family in the congregation, whose roots went back to the congregation's founding.

After listening to his lengthy lecture, I said, "You began by telling me that my job is to teach the catechism, not to play 'wardrobe police.' I'm confused. I thought I was teaching the catechism by explaining to this young lady that she was dressed inappropriately and that she wasn't going to attend class dressed as she was."

That was a mistake. I know that now. What made it a mistake is that this led to me having to listen to another fifteen-minute lecture about how much I need to learn, and how years of pastoral experience would train me in how to properly deal with these "delicate parish matters." I wanted to interrupt on several occasions and say, "Are you kidding me?!" (actually, truth be told, my word choice would have been to replace "kidding" with a different, more forceful word, but that's neither here nor there). But, I didn't interrupt. I'm a fast learner. Interrupting would have just prolonged the lecture, and you can't have no idea how much I didn't want that. So, I bit my tongue and took the chastisement, which, very interestingly to me, never once addressed the actual issue at hand.

When this second lecture had come to its end, I so wanted to say, "So, what you're saying is that this young lady can dress however she pleases, because this is a 'delicate parish matter' that involves a prominent family in the congregation, and you don't want to do anything to upset that family." But, I didn't. That would have been stupid, and would have negated my statement above about me being a fast learner.

What I did say is this, "I've heard all that you had to say, and I agree that I have much to learn about being a pastor, but I cannot, in good conscience, continue to teach the class if I'm not permitted to address behavior from the catechumens that conflicts with the catechism's teachings. Not only can I not, in good conscience, continue to teach the class, but I will not do so, and I will be more than happy to explain myself to the Field Work Director at the seminary."  

"Oh, there's no need for that," he responded. "I've already decided that you're not going to continue teaching that class. We'll find something else for you to do."

In the words of the Church Lady, "Weeeelll, isn't that special?!"

So, the halter-top, short-shorts wearing mom and daughter team won the day, much to their delight (and much to the delight of the young men in that class, I'm sure). I imagine they were all singing, "Ding dong, the wardrobe p'lice, the wardrobe p'lice, the wardrobe p'lice, ding dong, the wardrobe p'lice is gone!"

At this point, should you be wondering what in the world any of this has to do with the title for this blog post, and I would not blame you at all for wondering such, it is this:

This same Field Work supervisor (the Administrative Pastor at this congregation) often lectured me (and other Field Workers) on how the seminary was doing a great disservice to the synod, because they weren't doing a good enough job of teaching our future pastors how to "preach sanctification." He cited how the last half of the apostles' epistles in the New Testament were about "living the Christian life," and complained that the Law-Gospel preaching formula being taught at the seminary was insufficient and producing antinomian preachers, since it supposedly went out of its way to avoid teaching the Third Use of the Law. If I had a nickel for every time he ranted about this, I'd still have massive student loan debt, but you get my point.

And, he practiced what he thought he preached. In every sermon I heard him preach over the two years of my Field Work, he robbed us of what little Gospel he preached by always giving us lists of what we should be doing as Christians. He even included an outline in the bulletin each time he preached, so that we could write down his pearls of wisdom and work on those things throughout the upcoming week. His preaching was really no different than what one might hear from Joyce Meyer, which, as it turns out, is no coincidence, since he once told me that he thought she was "doing great work for the kingdom" and that "we could learn a lot from her on how to preach sanctification" (this was prior to the "delicate parish matter" mentioned above, so the fact that I spoke up when he said this, which resulted in a fifteen minute lecture about how we shouldn't "throw the baby out with the bath water," does not negate my claim of being a fast learner).

But, here's the deal. For all his efforts to deliberately preach the Third Use of the Law, all he ever really did was preach a watered-down, cheesy version of the Law, which was really no preaching of the Law at all. His preaching formula was supposed to be a sort of "Gospel-Holy Living" formula, but how it played in the pews was "Jesus As Example-Be Like Jesus." His favorite phrase in his preaching was, "We are blessed to be a blessing" (if I had a nickel for every time he uttered that phrase in his preaching, I'd still have massive student loan debt, but, again, you get the point). 

Now, there's certainly nothing inherently wrong with that phrase. We are indeed "blessed to be a blessing." However, "preaching sanctification hits the fan" when the whole point of the sermon is to show us how to be the blessing we are blessed to be, especially when this includes a list of things for us to work on accomplishing throughout the week, until we can get another list of further "how-to-be-the-blessing-we-are-blessed-to-be" things to work on the following week.

What makes this attempt to deliberately preach sanctification worse among Lutherans, no matter how well intentioned it may be, is that we really do know better. Even those among us whose preaching results in nothing more than motivational messages or self-help pep talks still feel the need to try to cram the Gospel into the sermon somewhere (as this preacher did). We gotta say something about what Jesus has done for us, after all. We're Lutherans. A sermon without some reference to the Gospel simply will not do. But, when the Gospel is something that has to be crammed in somewhere, the preaching is not Lutheran at all. Even Joel Osteen will cram the Gospel into his motivational, self-help talks every once in a blue moon.

If preaching is to be Lutheran preaching, the Gospel will not be crammed into a sermon, but will predominate every sermon. And, it will only predominate if the Law is preached in its full sternness. The Gospel is always to be applied as the sweet, healing balm it is to sinners crushed by the Law. This has nothing at all to do with giving more time to the Gospel in the sermon. What is preached determines whether or not the Gospel predominates. The Gospel may still predominate a sermon even if it consists of only two minutes out of a fifteen minute sermon.

Here's the other thing: If you have preached the Law, you have preached the Law. I really don't know what to make of all this talk about deliberately preaching sanctification, by which many seem to mean that we have to make sure to include the preaching of the Third Use of the Law, i.e. the Law as a guide for the Christian. The Law cannot be deliberately compartmentalized and distributed by the preacher, even though the preacher is fully aware of the Law's three Uses. The preacher does not get to decide which Use of the Law he's preaching. He can only preach the Law. If the preacher accuses sinners, he's preached the Law. If the preacher exhorts Christians to holy living, he's preached the Law. The preacher does not preach this or that Use of the Law. He simply preaches the Law. We cannot grab the Holy Spirit by His feathers and manipulate Him as we see fit. All we can do is preach the Law and preach the Gospel. He takes it from there. And, if we have preached the Law and the Gospel, we have preached justification and sanctification. There is not some third thing (or category) we need to preach in order to cram a little sanctification into our sermons. This is as bad, and as ineffectual, I might add, as trying to cram a little Gospel into a motivational, self-help talk.

So it is that there is no such preaching formula as "Law-Gospel-Third Use of the Law." That preaching formula is simply "Law-Gospel-Law." Really. It is. And, when the preacher is so intent on following this preaching formula in a deliberate and intentional manner, because he imagines that doing so will ensure that he has preached sanctification, that's when preaching sanctification hits the fan. Such a preacher is so concerned that he avoid having his hearers treat the Gospel as cheap grace that he runs the risk of robbing them of the Gospel altogether. As someone who has had to suffer through several preachers who had jumped on the "preaching sanctification as Third Use of the Law" bandwagon over the years, I just want to scream: "You had me at the Law and the Gospel! I know you feel this dire need to talk about holy living here at the end, but, as crazy as it seems, you done preached holy living to me when you preached the Law and the Gospel. Really. You did. You were done. That last five minutes about all the things I need to work on was redundant. Not only that, but now the Old Adam in me, which you had successfully slain, has again reared his ugly head and is arguing with the New Man in me, which you had successfully raised, over whether or not the Gospel you preached was really for me, since I'm not so sure the Gospel is shining forth in my life the way you just said the Gospel should be shining forth in my life as a Christian. So, now I'm left crying out to the Lord for mercy, but you're done with the sermon. Bummer, that."

But, you know, maybe that's just me. Maybe I haven't grown in sanctification enough to appreciate a good dose of post-Law-and-Gospel-holy-living-exhortation. What I am pretty sure of, though, is that, if you're going to lecture me about the great need for Lutherans to preach sanctification as some third thing in addition to the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, you would probably be more convincing if you a) didn't act like such an unsanctified puke while doing so, and b) stopped talking about sanctification in a way that isn't totally wrapped up in Jesus.

It would also help if you avoided using Joyce Meyer as an example of how to preach sanctification, and if you didn't turn a blind eye to sin in the name of handling "delicate parish matters." 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What Now? Jesus. That's What.

It's time to dust off the old blog.

Over the past several months, I've started many posts here, but lacked the the desire and stamina to finish and post them. Call it a pessimistic laziness; a combination of "Who cares?" mixed with a heavy dose of "Why bother?"

But, enough of that. I can think of few things more boorish than explanations from a blogger about why he hasn't been blogging. Let's just say that I took a long break, and leave it at that.

This morning, I read a couple of recently posted reviews of Pr. Jonathan Fisk's excellent book, Broken. The first was written by David Snyder, a Southern Baptist. Not surprisingly, Snyder is not a big fan. Besides the obvious, namely that he doesn't "believe in baptismal regeneration, a 'true presence' in the Lord's Supper, or a hard dichotomy between law and gospel," Snyder believes that Fisk fails to develop three topics throughout the book: 1) Empowering Grace, 2) Obedience to Christ, and 3) The Local Church. Um, no. Fisk doesn't fail to develop these topics. He writes against the false understandings people like Synder have of them. It's kind of what the whole book is about. Each of these topics is thoroughly covered in the book.

What Snyder sees as "empowering grace" is mysticism, since he views grace as some sort of infused mystical power in the Christian to stop sinning. He acknowledges that the Christian will always struggle with "indwelling sin" in this life, but God's grace empowers the Christian to grow and give glory to God by exercising his power to refrain from sinning (or, at least, to keep the sin dwelling within to come out). Thus, for Snyder, growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ is measured by the Christian's growing ability to keep himself from sinning in this life. Good luck with that!

This mystical and false idea of grace naturally leads Snyder to moralism, which is really what he means by "obedience to Christ." Snyder sees the Christian's obedience to the "moral imperatives" put forth by the apostles as the very mark of being a Christian. When you treat grace as a mystical infused power, this makes perfect sense, of course. Grace supplies the power to obey, and obedience to Christ means one can be sure he is a Christian. The real point, goal, and purpose of the Gospel, then, is to empower Christians to obey. That's Moralism 101 stuff.

Snyder's third criticism, namely that Fisk failed to develop the importance of the "local church," is as silly as it is absurd. I think Synder needs to read again what Fisk wrote. Never does he disparage the local congregation in order to elevate some sort of "nuanced spiritual individualism," as Snyder suggests. I almost spit my coffee out when I read that. Talk about totally missing the point! What Fisk is addressing is the never-ending search for the "Real Church;" the false belief many have that the real, true, authentic Church is lost, but out there somewhere, and, if we can just find her, we'll be unable to handle the innumerable blessings that would flow our way. He's right to address this, since it is this faulty view that dominates most of Americanized Christianity, which is always coming out with the new and greatest claims to have finally found the real Church, only to come out with new and greater claims months later. Fisk's point is that the real, true, authentic Church is not lost, but is readily found, and always present, wherever the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered to Christ's institution. Far from suggesting some sort of "nuanced spiritual individualism," Fisk directs the reader to the font, pulpit, and altar of local congregations, which bear the marks of the Church. Of course, all of this is lost on Snyder, who doesn't believe in those marks, but, in true Southern Baptist fashion, sees the very organization and structure (polity) of the local congregation as something commanded in Scripture and, thus, to be obeyed. It always comes back to obedience, which leads me to ask: From whence comes this infused mystical power of grace that enables the Christian to stop sinning and to start obeying?

I would imagine that Snyder would answer this question by saying, "The Bible, silly man." As a Southern Baptist, he believes that the Bible is a guidebook, or instruction manual, given to Christians by God Himself to show them how they are to live and obey, i.e. be Christians. And, to be Christians is to be like Christ. Christians are changed people, after all. They have the power of grace now to stop sinning and start obeying. Jesus becomes an example to follow. He did His part; now it's up to you to do yours.

Snyder ends his review by stating, "Broken does a great job of exposing false gospels, but also tends to underestimate the power of the true one." It's sad, really. The poor guy doesn't realize that what he believes to be the true Gospel has been exposed by Fisk in Broken to be a false gospel. His false gospel is a mixture of mysticism, moralism, and pragmatism, all of which flow from his false understanding of grace. Grace is not a mystical infused power; grace is the undeserved favor of God imputed to sinners for the sake of Christ. Grace is the Gospel, not the power to obey. Grace is a Divine Gift, not a Holy Spark to ignite the flame of obedience. Grace is forgiveness, life, and salvation. Grace is undeserving sinners being clothed in the perfect holiness and righteousness of Christ.

From whence does true grace come? From the very means of grace God Himself has established, namely His Holy Word and Sacraments. God delivers His grace to sinners through Holy Baptism, where He washes away all our sin, gives us faith in Christ, adopts us as children into His Divine Family, and clothes us in Christ's perfect holiness and righteousness. That baptismal grace continues to flow from God to us via Holy Absolution, Holy Preaching, and the Holy Supper, as He continually feeds and nourishes us with Christ Himself, that we remain clothed in His holiness and righteousness. Grace is never, ever - no, not ever! - a power infused into us, but always an undeserved gift given to us by God. Grace never stops being grace. It is not as though grace starts out being undeserved favor, but then becomes deserved power. Grace is always grace, and grace is always needed by the Christian this side of glory. Thus, Christian obedience is not the mark of a Christian; Jesus is. A Christian is one who has been, and remains, marked by the sign of the holy cross as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified; one who has received the Seal of the Holy Spirit and remains clothed in Christ.

But, the Gospel is radical stuff. It flies in the face of everything we have come to believe through our sinful human reason and our experience of living in this sinful world. The Old Adam in us hates the Gospel, and is always trying to get in on the act when it comes to our salvation. The Old Adam wants to play a role. He'll settle for a small role, but he will not be shut out completely. So it is that even Lutherans, who should know better, struggle with the Gospel, which brings me to the second review of Fisk's Broken I read this morning, a review written by Anthony Sacramone here.
I like funny, and I certainly enjoy a well written anything, what with all the poorly written everything out there today, but Sacramone's humor and writing skills, exemplary as they are, cannot save him from inadvertently expressing his dissatisfaction with the Gospel. Sacramone hones in on what he perceives to be the main deficiency in Broken, namely Fisk's failure to answer the question, "What now?" In fact, he finds merit in the criticisms lobbed at Fisk by Snyder.

Sacramone initially reviewed Snyder's review here, before going on to provide his own review of Fisk's book. In both of these posts, he is very sympathetic to Snyder's discomfort over the radical nature of the Gospel, and uses Synder's conclusions as a spring board to express his own discomfort. Sad, that. I can certainly understand why a Southern Baptist would cringe at our Lutheran understanding of the Gospel (which is the Biblical understanding, by the way), but it is disheartening when I see Lutherans cringing at the same.

The best part of Fisk's book is the way he ends it. What now? Jesus. That's what. End of story. Period. Satis est. Fin.

This longing desire for more than Jesus reveals itself in the various "rules" Fisk does a superb job of tackling throughout the book, all of which are just different guises the devil uses to peddle the same old lie he's been telling since Eden. The old evil foe wants us to want more than Jesus. He knows that, if he can distract our attention away from Jesus and get us to focus on ourselves, we'll start believing that there is something more than Jesus. We'll start believing that the mark of a Christian is obedience. We'll start believing that Jesus did His part and now it's up to us to do our part. We'll start believing that Jesus is nothing more than a mere example to follow, or a life coach or cheerleade rooting us on in our quest to live the truly Christian life.

Sacramone longs for a sequel to Broken. He imagines that Fisk has left us hanging. What now? What comes after the Gospel? He even suggests a title for a sequel: Risen: Living the Gospel Life Like Only a Lutheran Can. Cute and clever (it would have been cuter and cleverer to have "Fixed," instead of "Risen," but I digress), but, given his review, I shudder to think of what one might find in this longed-for sequel. What comes after Jesus? Is there something more?

But, Sacramone is not alone. There are lots of Lutherans today struggling with trying to answer the question, "What now?" There are charges of antinomianism and legalism being hurled to and fro in the never-ending debate of how to deal with this question. Justification and sanctification are pitted against each other in a wrestling match akin to Jacob wrestling the Lord. Dead Lutherans are quoted ad nauseum (and almost always completely out of context) to suggest that our understanding of the Gospel does not match theirs, that when we preach Christ and Him Crucified for sinners, but fail to spur Christians on to holy living through the follow-up of moral imperatives, we are robbing them of the Gospel (or, at least of Gospel living). There is a very real fear that we have an aversion to good works or sanctification, and that many of us are so in love with Romans 7 that we completely ignore Romans 6 and 8. Jesus is not enough for some, it seems. There must be more. We've heard the Gospel. Now what?

Jesus. That's what. More Jesus. Jesus now and always. Only Jesus. Nothing more. Jesus fulfilling the Law and living the perfect life in our place. Jesus bearing our sins all the way to the Cross. Jesus Crucified to pay the full price for all of our sins and finish the work of our salvation. Jesus Resurrected as validation of the victory He won for us on the Cross and as proof positive that He has opened to us the way to everlasting life. Jesus Ascended to be our Mediator, constantly interceding for us before the Father, bearing before Him the holy scars of our salvation. Jesus fulfilling His promise to be with us always in the Divine Service, where the water and blood that poured forth from His pierced side fills our baptismal fonts and chalices. Jesus forgiving our sins in the Holy Absolution. Jesus preaching to us from our pulpits, where His sheep hear the voice of their Good Shepherd. Jesus bestowing His peace and blessing upon us. Jesus strengthening and preserving us through His divine gifts to sustain us as we make our way through the wilderness of this sinful world. Jesus, our holiness and righteousness. Jesus, our justification. Jesus, our sanctification. Jesus, our forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Jesus. He's what sinners need. To preach Jesus rightly is to preach the Law in its full sternness and the Gospel in its epic sweetness. To preach Jesus rightly is to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name. To preach Jesus rightly is to preach repentance and faith into sinners. We do not preach about repentance or about faith - we preach repentance and faith.

But, what about the the Christian life? Silly goose, repentance and faith IS the Christian life.

But, don't Christians need to know how to live? Yeah. Repent and believe. Abide in Jesus. He's your only hope.

But, won't Christians become comfortable and lazy if we don't encourage them to holy living? Um, preaching repentance and faith in Christ's Name is holy living encouragement.

Look, I get it. The Gospel is radical stuff. It's downright scandalous. It makes no sense to our sinful human reason. It's completely backwards from our way of thinking, and from the way things work in this sinful world. And, as I mentioned above, the Old Adam in us hates the Gospel. The Gospel is too good to be true. There must be something more. But, there isn't. Adding anything more is a departure from the Gospel. Jesus really has done everything necessary for your salvation. Everything. Not one jot or tittle of anything is left undone. What's more, He does everything necessary to apply the salvation He won to you. It's all His work. You get none of the credit. Sorry. He baptizes you. He absolves you. He feeds you. He blesses you. He brought you into His kingdom and He keeps you in His kingdom. He creates and sustains faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through His means of grace. The Gospel is all about Jesus. He is your justification, and He is your sanctification.

Whoah, whoah, whoah! What about the fact that, after conversion, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification? Yo do. You heed the Holy Spirit's prodding to return to Jesus. You know where to find Him. You know where His voice is heard, where His gifts are distributed, where your faith is sustained and preserved. However, this cooperation comes only through the power of the Holy Spirit, and only as He rules, guides, and leads you to . . . wait for it . . . Jesus. So, yeah, you cooperate with the Holy Spirit after conversion, but you do so in great weakness, because, while you now have a New Man in you, the Old Adam remains. It is no mistake that our Lutheran fathers were sure to include Romans 7 as part of their discussion on cooperating with the Holy Spirit in sanctification. No amoung of "holy living preaching" will ever change the fact that you are, and will remain, at one and the same time, a sinner and saint (sinful and righteous) this side of glory. In fact, "holy living preaching" will always land you back in Romans 7, because the fact is, you both never and always live a holy life. Makes no sense, I know, but 'tis true. The Old Adam in you is 100% sinner. He always hates the Gospel. He wants nothing at all to do with Jesus. He is in constant rebellion, always seeking to rebel against God. The New Man in you is 100% righteous. He loves the Gospel. He wants everything to do with Jesus. He is holy through and through, always seeking to please God. You can tell the Old Adam what to do and what not to do until you're blue in the face. He's not listening. He doesn't care. He's gonna do what he wants to do, and it ain't what you want him to do. He needs to be killed, not coerced. At the same time, you need not tell the New Man what to do and what not to do; he already knows and already does it. He is in Christ, united to Him in a perfect communion.

Your problem is not that you don't know what you should or shouldn't do. Your problem is that you remain infected with sin, so that you do what you know you shouldn't and don't do what you know you should. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. You need Jesus. You needed Jesus before the Holy Spirit worked faith in you, and you need Jesus to sustain you in that faith. Growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ is not some sort of progressive growth in sanctification, so that you gradually become less and less sinful and more and more obedient. It is, rather, remaining aware of your sinfulness and need of a Savior through the ongoing preaching of Law and Gospel, rightly divided and proclaimed. A steady diet of slaying your Old Adam and enlivening your New Man keeps you hungering and thirsting for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes only through the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus. But, even this growth is not measured in some progressive way, as if you will gradually become more and more dependent upon Jesus from infancy to your departure from this veil of tears. You dwell in the valley of the shadow of death, after all. You will experience times of tribulation and times of prosperity, periods of suffering and periods of blessing, defeats and victories, sadness and happiness, etc. So, you will wax and wane. The irony is that when you are weakest, then you are strongest in Christ. When you are brought low, then you are exalted in Christ. It seems backwards, but everything seems backwards in Christ's kingdom, where the first are last and the last are first, the mighty are humbled and the humble are exalted, the wise are foolish and the foolish are wise, the weak are strong and the strong are weak, and so forth. Suffering precedes glory in Christ's kingdom, which is established by a King who wears a crown of thorns and is enthroned on a Cross.

So, what you need, O sinner, now, and for as long as you remain in this sinful world, is Jesus. Do not long for something more. Do not seek after instructions on how to live the Christian life. You already know. Go to where Jesus has promised to be for you. Go to hear your Good Shepherd's voice declare your sins forgiven. Go to hear Him preach His Word to you. Go to where He restores and renews you in the grace you received at Baptism. Go to the Table He has prepared for you and feast on His very Body and Blood, which He Himself distributes to you. This, my friends, is holy living - returning continuously to where Jesus is for you, that you abide in Him and He in you.

What now? Jesus. That's what. Fisk nails it! If he wants to write another book, great. But, he need not write a sequel to Broken. He ends it with Jesus. It is finished.