Living in this World with the Promises of Christ

By Luke Berntson

Jeremiah 29:11 is quite possibly one of the most famous verses in the Old Testament. It is often quoted, printed on stationary and applied by many to themselves as one of God’s great promises to us.

Today, I would like to look at a few verses leading right up to this famous verse. Continue reading

Be Civil: Christians & Government

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“Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property to take oaths when required by the magistrates, for a man to marry a wife, or a woman to be given in marriage.” -AC, Art. XVI, 1-2

As Christians, how do we relate to society around us, and especially our authorities? How do we respond to an overbearing government and the reality of diminishing religious liberty in the United States? Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession seeks to answer questions like these in the face of sects that falsely taught a Christian has no place in society – that they must in fact withdraw to preserve personal piety and demonstrate their superior spirituality. Continue reading

Vocation: It’s something more

Vocation is more than just the job you have. Vocation is God providing for you and your neighbor.  God provides for his children in two major ways: spiritually and temporally. As Lutherans we often refer to this concept as the Two Kingdoms. The Right Hand Kingdom is the spiritual realm and the Left Hand Kingdom is the temporal or civil realm. God provides for us through both in the vocations He has given us. Continue reading

The Gospel: Hand Delivered

God saves through the foolishness of preaching. 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For since in God’s wisdom the world did not know God through its [own] wisdom, it was his good pleasure to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching.”[1] God has instituted the pastoral office, to do that work.

“To obtain [justifying] faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.” (AC V. Concerning the Office of Preaching).

Preaching Christ Lucas CranachNotice, that nothing is said about preaching the Law in that article. Before you get mad, I’ll say that the pastor should and must preach the Law; however, that is his “alien” work. The preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments (which are pure Gospel) is the pastor’s “proper” work. The pastor’s proper job is removing the burden of sin off of sinners and placing it where God has placed it – on Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).

Everybody knows they are a sinner. Granted, maybe they don’t call it sin, but everyone knows they do things they shouldn’t do and do not do things that they should do. By virtue of their existence, everyone knows that God is not pleased with them (Ro. 1:20-21; 2:1-3). But people fill in their own blanks trying to find a solution their sin: don’t be as bad as ________, do good things to make up for the bad things, sin less than the average person, or altogether ignore the fact that sin is a problem. In this case, it is the pastor’s job to do his “alien” work and proclaim the Law. “You have sinned and deserve God’s wrath.”

But preaching the Law has limits, as Luther says, “The law in the end is not able to say anything else to you than this: ‘You have not fulfilled. You are not able to. Nevertheless you should. Therefore, you are rightly sentenced to eternal death.’”[2] (see Romans 5:20 & 3:20).

The pastor’s job, then, is to bind sin on sinners who feel secure, and to bind sin on Jesus for those who rightly fear God’s wrath because of their sin. The pastor(s) should do the work in his/their congregation(s) of teaching, preaching, and administering the Sacraments (AC XIV). In other words, hand deliver the Gospel. Give it right to that sinner there and that sinner in the back and to each and every sinner in the congregation.

According to AC XV, then, that is done through keeping church regulations and traditions that can be kept “without sin.” These regulations and traditions “keep good order in the church.” It is not done so that individuals “appease God” and “earn grace” because they do those things.

This is why the Lutheran reformers didn’t throw out absolution, why they celebrated the Mass “with greater devotion and earnestness” (AC XXIV) than their opponents. Pastors are to hand deliver the Gospel.

This delivery comes in the preaching of the Gospel. Sasse says about the sermon:

The Gospel is this and nothing else: that in Jesus How to PreachChrist there is forgiveness of sins, in him alone and nowhere else in the world, but also truly in him. A sermon that did not say that, a sermon in which this real Gospel was not mentioned would not be a Christian sermon. Certainly, the sermon should bring the entire riches of the Scriptures into real human life in its entirety and fullness. But the basic melody of the eternal Gospel must ring through the variation and fullness of our preaching with an illustrious consistency.[3]

CommunionIn administering the Sacraments, the pastor walks up to each sinner and says, “Here sinner, I have this package for you. You don’t remember ordering it. Well, it has your name on it. Maybe the Sender is just generous – more generous than you thought. Anyway, here. It’s yours. No I don’t need a signature, I’ve got a whole truck full of this, and the warehouse is full of more packages. Seems like everybody gets one. It’s too bad that some people just leave their package in the street. Sometimes, it’s hard to even give this stuff away. But the Sender always has more to give.”



[1] Translation from Lockwood, Gregory J. 1 Corinthians. Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 2000. Print. Concordia Commentary. See also footnote on the translation of that verse in the ESV.

[2] Paulson, Stephen Lutheran Theology Kindle Ed. Location 922.

[3] Sasse, Hermann (2002-06-24). The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Volume 2 (1941-1976) (Kindle Locations 3513-3516). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

That Ain’t No Church!

check-box-1335487-mDuring the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church defined and recognized the visible church by structure and polity. This made sense to the average churchgoer of the sixteenth-century. If an average churchgoer was asked in the sixteenth-century, “What is the church?” They would commonly reply, “Well, it is that structure, polity, and those Bishop rulers!” However, when Lutherans rejected the authority of bishops, the question was then raised, “Are Lutherans still to be considered a church?” To compound matters even more, the Lutherans rightly rejected many Catholic Rituals as being detrimental to the article of Justification. Thus again, the question was raised, “Are Lutherans still to be considered a church?” Indeed, this was a dilemma for if there is no Bishop and if there is an absence of familiar rituals, what is one to make of the Lutheran Church?

Things were made even more difficult by the accusations of Luther’s biggest opponent, Johann Eck. Johann Eck compiled 404 accusations against the Lutherans, grouping the Lutherans with every other protestant rogue and heretical group of the day; guilt by association, right?

Well, all of this provided a very difficult narrative for the Lutheran Church to overcome. Were they legit? Were they a church? Had they departed and violated their Romans Citizenship, had they violated the Theodosian Edict? Continue reading

“Holier Vocations?”

The Augsburg Confession

XIV. Order in the Church

It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.

XV. Church Usages

1 With regard to church usages that have been established by men, it is taught among us that those usages are to be observed which may be observed without sin and which contribute to peace and good order in the church, among them being certain holy days, festivals, and the like.

2 Yet we accompany these observances with instruction so that consciences may not be burdened by the notion that such things are necessary for salvation.

3 Moreover it is taught that all ordinances and traditions instituted by men for the purpose of propitiating God and earning grace are contrary to the Gospel and the teaching about faith in Christ.

4 Accordingly monastic vows and other traditions concerning distinction of foods, days, etc., by which it is intended to earn grace and make satisfaction for sin, are useless and contrary to the Gospel.[1]

The call to teach or preach or administer the sacraments is a holy vocation. It is one through which Christ delivers His forgiveness and His very self. Though the one called is just a man with no merit or worthiness in him, he is used nonetheless by Christ to speak absolution, setting sinners free from the bondage of sin, and to give the promise of salvation in the Lord’s Supper and the waters of Baptism. It is this Word of promise, the promise of the forgiveness of sins that is spoken by the minister in the stead or place of, and by the command of Christ. (Matthew 6:19 ESV). The minister does not have authority to forgive sins by himself, but he and the Church is given that authority by Christ. The minister is a tool that Christ uses to show mercy to the Church and to the whole world. Even though Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, He is still present through His Church, and through those who go in His stead to proclaim “liberty to the captives…,” (Luke 4:18) to forgive sins with the Gospel which is the “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 ESV).

A “regular call” is simply an official, public and orderly call. This is to humble the minister as a servant of Christ, the Gospel, and the Church. It is also to protect the Gospel from corruption and the Church from harm. This eliminates a “mystical call” in which the “minister” believes he has authority in the Church apart from the Word of Christ and the call of the Church. No inner feeling or conviction will do for this true and regular call. It must come in accordance with the command of Christ and His Word (the Bible), and the public call of the church. Ordaining a minister, if you have heard that term used, is most simply a public installation, by the Church, of the called man into the office of minister. The apostles were chosen and publicly installed by Christ Himself, and these apostles have taught us to keep with the Word, the one true Gospel, and to follow their patterns in the ministry. This particular call and ordination is what distinguishes someone in the teaching, preaching, or administration office of the sacraments from the office that is held by the Priesthood of All Believers. Each believer is a Priest, and holds the authority of “the office of the keys” that Christ gave. The believer is tasked with the responsibility to forgive others, that they may be forgiven for eternity. The called and ordained minister differs in that he is called additionally to give this forgiveness publicly and regularly. This ensures that the church will receive it and that it is available to all.

So is the call to teach or preach or administer the sacraments a holier calling than other callings? It may be considered holier in the sense that the Gospel is more precious than anything in this world and God has set apart (made holy) some for the giving of this Gospel. Yet, it is not holier in the sense that the people who God calls are not any more holy than any other believer. In other words they are not called because they are better people. Also, it is a vocation like any other vocation. God uses people in the ministry vocation just as He uses mothers, Presidents, janitors and electricians. We see throughout Scripture that God uses sinful people in all walks of life from Kings to beggars, from Priests to slaves. What I am trying to say is, whatever vocation you are in, it is a holy vocation. God has called you to it and is using you in it.

Below is a brief commentary on the meaning of the Augsburg Confession Articles XIV and XV.

XV. 1: Some people misunderstand Luther’s intentions in the Reformation. Luther was not trying to begin a new church, nor even a separate denomination. In this Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon (Luther’s associate) and the other reformers were attempting to bring greater unity in the Church. As they considered some of the differences, they understood that some of the Church practices were adiaphora (meaning they were not commanded or condemned in Scripture) and were thus likely to vary. This was not troublesome to them, or a matter of salvation. In these things “all things are permissible, but not all are beneficial” to quote St. Paul. It is clear that sin should be avoided, including false doctrines. Slightly less clear, but still important is the matter of good order. St. Paul states that worship ought to be kept in good order (I Corinthians 14:26, 40), and order and peace should characterize our gatherings “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (I Cor. 14:33a).” Rather than separating from the Catholic Church, the goal was to rid the Church of error, sin and things that were not beneficial while uniting on the clear teachings of Scripture in brotherly love and common faith. This was not a rebellion, but an attempt at reformation with hopes of unity in the truth.

XV.2: This is not because one is saved by keeping good order, but because it is beneficial to all to avoid chaos, sin, and unhelpful practices, and to be unified in things that bring “peace and good order.”

XV.3: Here it is stated all the more clearly that we cannot earn God’s favor or our salvation by our good works, clever church programs, and events, or by some church practice that supposedly works as some sort of magical rite (see Sacraments ≠ Magic). When it refers to “propitiating God” it speaks of an attempt to buy God’s favor or earn it by giving Him good works or something to satisfy Him. This is impossible for us to do, but was already done by Jesus as He lived the perfectly obedient and sinless life (active righteousness) and paid our debt to God in His death on the cross (passive righteousness).

 

 


[1] Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 36–37.

Buried in Water (Romans 6:1-4)

6 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  ~Romans 6:1-4

I am a naturally systematic thinker.  I read one thing and immediately a dozen other things can jump in my mind weaving a web of connections and inferences.  So my first temptation in talking about Romans 6 is to leave Romans 6 and go to Colossians 2:8-15, or Titus 3:4-8, or I Peter 3:13-22 or pretty much anywhere else other than Romans 6.  Not because Romans 6 is bad.  In fact if the content of this article had been Colossians 2, I would likely have spent it talking about Romans 6.  That is the downside to a systematic mind, rather like someone with ADD, we struggle to stay focused on what is directly in front of us.

But there is also an advantage to this spider-webbing.  You are perhaps familiar with the maxim “Scripture interprets Scripture.”  Which means passages like Romans 6 are best understood not as an isolated passage but both in the Context of Romans and the whole of scripture.  I once heard someone say “just because a verse ‘could’ mean something, doesn’t mean it does mean that.”

So what might we learn when comparing the various passages above regarding baptism?  I would like to point out three common threads. Continue reading

Luke 22:7-23

            The Augsburg Confession has earlier discussed the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper specifically. Now in Article XIII we are instructed in a general way that the Sacraments are not magic (see Sacrament ≠ Magic) but connected to God’s Word and faith. These Sacraments are Christ’s promises, His Word, connected with the physical elements. When we speak of the Lord’s Supper we are able to look to the Bible’s record of Christ’s institution of this Sacrament. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record clearly this institution. In 1 Corinthians we also have Paul’s record of the Institution that He received from the Lord (11:23). Continue reading

Sacrament ≠ Magic

If you are a regular, you know that we at Ad Crucem have been absent for some time.  We apologize.  We are excited to be returning with a new line-up of articles to close out our series around the Augsburg Confession and hope to have some other projects in the works over the next couple years.  But for now, here is our newest Article, Enjoy!

 

In considering how to begin, I imagined walking through how Lutherans are not as strange in their sacramental theology as some American Christians view us.  An early draft of this article talked through the vast similarities between sacramental practices that exist between Lutheran, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and some Calvinist/Reformed bodies.  And then on to historical evidence of our practices, both in terms of infant baptism as well as baptismal regeneration, found in the early church fathers.  But I soon realized that opening up the door to similarities would inevitably lead people to cry out about how different we are–which is true, but I was concerned the effect of this article would be lost in historical and theological discussions beyond the intent of my writing now.

So I deleted everything and began again.  The theme of the article is supposed to be around Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession on the use of the sacraments:

Continue reading

The Good News That Christmas Is For Sinners

christmas-lights-bokeh-1-1409737-mGrace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our readings for this evening are from this past Sunday’s Divine Service. As you can recall from this past Sunday we looked at Jesus as the one who was born into humanity and then journeyed towards our sin on the cross. On Sunday we heard that Jesus is the sinless Lamb of God who was born into this world for sinners. Indeed, we heard that two-thousand years ago Jesus approached your sin in His birth and He approached your sin on the donkey as He rode into Jerusalem towards the Cross. Upon that Cross-a cross that should’ve been for you and me, a Cross where you and I are not only unable to pay for our sin but a Cross that we are totally and utterly afraid of—Jesus encountered your sin and mine, bore it upon Himself, was forsaken by the Father, endured hell, and then said, “It is finished.” In summary, the very sin that causes us to step back from is the sin that Jesus stepped towards and into when He was born in the manger. The very sin that we try not to own is the sin that Jesus owned is the sin that Jesus owned, as His own, on the Cross.

Now, with all of that said, let us take a step backwards. We spent time this past weekend talking about this Advent and Christmas Season from the perspective of Christ. Tonight, I would like to briefly look at the Advent and Christmas Season from our perspective. In other words, we spent time talking about Christ’s actions, but now I want to focus on you and me and our relationship to Christmas itself. (When I say “Christmas,” I am referring to this whole season; the season of Christ coming to mankind and His very birth.)

Many years ago my family and I had a wonderful time giving my grandfather a lump of coal for Christmas. Yes, that is all he got. No shiny present and no Christmas card. A lump of coal in a cardboard box! While he took it well and we all enjoyed the laugh, the idea of giving a lump of coal to someone for Christmas clearly shows that they are not deserving of Christmas; that they don’t qualify as a worthy recipient of Christmas.

Continue reading