The LCMS announced the candidates nominated for the office of President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod today. The three candidates are the current President, Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, current synod First Vice President, Rev. Dr. Herbert Mueller, and Michigan District President, Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier. The convention this summer should prove interesting.
Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk. The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there. Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically. Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?” And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:
The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.
Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.
Christocentric means Christ centered. Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world. It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood. Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors. It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away. For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior. And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world. Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.
Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians. He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage. This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity. Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:
The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.
The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.
The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality. Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world. He is not merely an idea from a book. Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure. No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever! God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God. Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin. And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way. Claiming to be wise, we become fools. Even in the church. Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest. Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world. Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.
So what is the Question of our time? Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually? Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something? Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today? Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?” What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified? Who is Jesus? My buddy? My friend? My coach? In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples? I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.
I have been basking in the glow of the Ascension of Christ and meditating on the mystery of this God-Man who has received all authority in heaven and in earth from God the Father. He now sits at the right hand of power, and reigns and rules over all creation and heaven as the only begotten Son of the Father. The right hand is not located in time and space, but transcends it. It is a mystery how this right hand of power can be at the same time in heaven, yet everywhere. For Christ cannot be truly God and man if He is limited in time and space. He would not then be part of the economy of the Trinity, being less than the Father and the Spirit. No, he IS truly God and truly Man, fully human. John describes this God Man, the risen and ascended Christ in his vision in the book of Revelation. Christ lives and rules and reigns in through and among us. To Him be all glory and honor and and power forever and ever! Amen!
Vision of the Son of Man
9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16.
The is an absolutely fascinating and thorough review of the effects of post-modernism on the body of Christ and review of the the spiritual, but not religious movement in the church. Carol Geisler does a terrific job of summarizing the theological underpinnings of the so-called “Emerging Church” movement in Christianity. This is the movement that says historical Christianity, grandma and grandpa’s church, Cardinal John Henry Newman’s church, Pope Benedict’s church, Luther’s church, St. Augustine’s church, Christ’s church, is not for today’s modern, spiritual seeker. I may have more on this article after having the opportunity to thoroughly digest it, but for now it has been re-published in its entirety below:
by Carol Geisler
Carol Geisler works at Lutheran Hour Ministries and the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations. A former teacher and principal, she earned the Ph.D. in historical theology from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
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The emergent church movement is by no means a new conversation (the description preferred by its advocates) but the discussion continues to attract mainline denominations searching for practical ideas in ministry. Emergent interests such as social networks, personal stories, and “authentic” spiritual experiences are pursued to reach the unchurched or to encourage a generation of young Christians. Admiration between denominations and emergents is something of a one way street, however, as emergent advocates tend to regard the denominations (sometimes referred to as “tribes” or “villages”) with a certain amount of disdain. There are emergents from many tribes, including Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans, but emergent theologian Tony Jones comments, “In the end, the new definition of ‘Christian’ may not be what particular doctrines one believes or which flavor of church to which one belongs but whether (and how thoroughly) one is woven into the fabric of global Christianity.” The language and practices discussed in the emergent conversation also attract listeners from the Missouri Synod tribe eager for new ideas in evangelism. Before Lutherans join whole-heartedly in the conversation they may want to consider the discussion’s general direction because it is not an open-ended dialogue. What do its leading voices have to say? What will the fabric of global Christianity look like when the conversation ends and the emergent reweaving is complete? Read the rest of this entry
I ran across the nugget below in C. F. W. Walther’s the Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible from Concordia Publishing. How does your preacher measure up?
“The worst fault in modern preaching, my dear friends, is this, that the sermons lack point and purpose; and this fault can be noticed particularly in the sermons of modern preachers who are believers. While unbelieving and fanatical preachers have quite a definite aim, — pity, that it is not the right one! — believing preachers, as a rule, imagine that they have fully discharged their office, provided what they have preached has been the Word of God. That is about as correct a view as when a ranger imagines he has discharged his office by sallying forth with his loaded gun and discharging it into the forest; or as when an artilleryman thinks he has done his duty by taking up his position with his cannon in the line of battle and by discharging his cannon. Just as poor rangers and soldiers as these latter are, just so poor and useless preachers are those who have no plan in mind and take no aim when they are preaching. Granted their sermons contain beautiful thoughts; they do not, for that matter, take effect. They may occasionally make the thunders of the Law roll in their sermons, yet there is no lightning that strikes. Again, they may water the garden assigned to them with the fructifying waters of the Gospel, but they are pouring water on the beds and the paths of the garden indiscriminately, and their labor is lost.
Neither Christ nor the holy apostles preached in that fashion. When they had finished preaching, every hearer knew: He meant me, even when the sermon had contained no personal hints or insinuations. For instance, when our Lord Christ had delivered the powerful, awful parable of the murderous vine-dressers, the high priests and scribes confessed to themselves: He means us. When the holy Apostles Paul, on a certain occasion, had preached before the profligate and unjust Governor Felix concerning righteousness, temperance, and the Judgment to come, Felix perceived immediately that Paul was aiming his remarks ant him. He trembled, but being unwilling to be converted, he said to Paul: “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” But he never did call him. He had heard the sermon suited to his spiritual condition, and Paul’s well-aimed remarks had struck home.
The reason, then, my dear friends, why in the Lutheran congregations of our former home country Germany unbelieving preachers are nearly always in the ascendancy is unquestionably this: the sermons of the Christian preachers are aimless efforts. Unbelievers are increasing in the congregations about as fast as the Christian preachers are increasing, of whom there are considerably more now than when I was young. Why do they accomplish nothing? Oh, would to God that these dear men had the humility to sit down at Luther’s feet and study his postils! They would learn how to preach effectively. For the Word of God, when preached as it should be, never returns void.
May God help you in your future ministry not to become aimless prattles, so that you will have to complain that you accomplished so little, when nobody but yourselves is at fault because you have no definite aim when preparing your sermons and do not reflect: To such and such people I want to drive home a lesson, — not this or that person whom I am going to name, but persons in whose condition I know to be such and such.
However, while it is important that your sermons do not lack a special aim, it is equally important that your aim be the right one. If you do not aim properly, your preaching, after all, will be useless, whether you preach the Law or the Gospel.”
CFW Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, Concordia Publishing House, (St. Louis, MO: 2010).
Much of what passes for preaching these days are platitudes, beautiful thoughts with a little Scripture added for good measure. But the message lacks point and punch. Thunder without lightning; tree without fruit; belief without conviction; faith without works. It is grace given out cheaply. The depths of Law and Gospel are not plumbed such that the hearers of the Word are made to realize that the sermon was meant for him or her. When Christ and the apostles preached, the message convicted the sinner secure in his sins, and raised the broken-hearted and despairing. As Walther says, “When they (Christ and the apostles) had finished preaching, every hearer knew: He meant me, even when the sermon had contained no personal hints or insinuations.” The job of a preacher is to deliver the truth of the Law in all its crushing weight, and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in all its purity and sweetness so that the sinner, secure in his sins, feels the condemnation of the law and turns to repent, and the drowntrodden, those without hope are given life through the proclamation of the Gospel. As our Lord told Peter, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep.” Otherwise the sheep are left hungry and will wander looking for greener pastures. There is a hunger, a famine for the Word of the Lord. Where others must wait until the dark of night to turn on a light just to read the Bible, we, in this country have the opportunity to proclaim it in the full light of day. Let us not squander this opportunity. The cross is an offense, a scandal. Foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, the very power of God for eternal life.
So Many Books
So many books, so little time
So many hunger, so many blind
Starving for words they must wait in the night
To open a Bible and turn to the Light
There is a hunger, a longing for bread
And so comes the call for the poor to be fed
More hungry by far are a billion and more
Who wait for the bread of the Word of the Lord
There’ll come a time the prophet would say
When the joy of mankind will be withered away
A want not for water, but a hunger for more
A famine for hearing the words of the Lord
The Word won’t go out
Except it return
And so we must learn
Michael Card, 1992 The Word: Recapturing the Imagination
This past Sunday we remembered the Reformation, triggered by Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. At certain times in history, God has intervened in tremendous ways to accomplish His purposes on earth. In no way is this more clearly demonstrated to us than in the person and work of Jesus Christ. For in Him, God became man. He lived with us, walked with us, talked with us. In some ways God became our friend in and through Christ. But from what we have seen He was much more than a friend. Christ is the LEADER — there was none other like Him before, and none have been like Him since. He is COMPASSIONATE. Always taking time to speak with those around Him; healing the sick, the lame, and the blind. He is SELFLESS SERVANT. Always concerned with the well-being of His flock, our Lord takes the time to prepare a meal. He feeds His children with the bread of life. None go away hungry. All are satisfied. And the baskets that are collected are overflowing with the abundant blessings He bestows on His people. Christ is the TEACHER of TRUTH. Never missing a moment to teach, Jesus enters the synagogues to read and expound upon Scripture. Each moment with His disciples is a moment in which He is constantly molding and shaping their faith. Time and time again, people walk away from Jesus, marveling at His teaching. No matter how hard they tried, His enemies could not argue with His doctrine. He taught what was unpopular, and challenged his people’s notions of love, mercy, compassion, and ethics. No one was spared, not even His family or His closest disciples. Jesus is COURAGE. In the face of fierce opposition from the ruling priests, the scribes, the pharisees, and the supporters of Herod, Christ took His Gospel, the Gospel of God, directly to all people — to Jews, pharisees, tax collectors, Samaritans, and to Gentiles. He took the Gospel into the heart of Israel, the Temple, to cleanse us and to make us holy. We sought ways to kill Him, to put out the fire of the Gospel. Jesus did not stop preaching, teaching, and healing. The devil sought to tempt him. He sent demons to confront Christ. Yet our Savior did not stop preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus continued to do that which He had been sent to do by the Father. He forgave sins. He became angry and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. He ate in the homes of tax collectors. He spoke with women. In public. He touched lepers, and was touched by unclean women. All of these things Jesus did until the very end. Until He was arrested. Betrayed. Beaten. Tried and convicted. Beaten again. And then nailed to a tree, to die the death of a common criminal. And while all these things happened, Jesus continued to serve us. Taking the time to arrange for a room to meet with His disciples one last time. A meal was prepared and He fed His disciples in a way that would change our lives forever. For it was their that Christ gifted to us forgiveness and life which He sealed with His death.
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” (Luther’s Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.). This statement speaks of COURAGE. And yet, as Dr. Luther points out, we flinch, we blink, we fold, and like the disciples we turn tail and run. Yet, at the appointed time, Christ remained obedient to the Will of the Father which meant His own death. I imagine that Lucifer stood in the courts of Heaven at the time of Christ’s trial, and conviction, accusing Him of not being worthy to sit at the right hand of God. See Jesus was just like us — those sinful creatures. Despicable. So much so that he was betrayed for the price of a slave. The Son of God convicted as a common criminal. Unable to make His own defense. He shows His weakness, does the Savior, by speaking the truth to the end. He cannot even convince the chosen people of God that He is the Son of God! Seeking all the while, Lucifer does, to unseat Christ, and usurp the throne of God. In the face of such audacity, Jesus did not flinch. He did not blink. He did not back down. His weakness, is our strength. His death, our life. His faith He gives to us. And in His death, are we made right before God. Satan is cast down from Heaven and bound in chains. This is a cosmic story, of which we get a glimpse as Chapter 14 of Mark unfolds for us.
It is the Courage of Christ that we need now in this world.
These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydda for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41).
Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40).
Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was adeaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).
From Commemoration Biographies.
Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome…
This week’s Sunday School Lesson: Noah and the Flood. Interview with Deaconess Pam Nielson of Concordia Publishing House. Continue Reading
We Were Born to Live in this World — The Wisdom of Charlie Brown — Readings for Wednesday September 29, 2010
Today’s Peanuts cartoon is probably one of the most profound I have seen in a long time. Charlie Brown laments that he does not fit in, that the world is just passing him by. Lucy, in her inimitable way, shows him the vastness of this world, the only one out there, and blasts him with, “WELL, LIVE IN IT, THEN!” In the sequence in Mark 11 that we have been going over, Jesus gives us a similar admonition in the example of the fig tree. Continue Reading