Uncategorized

WHICH BIBLE TEACHINGS SHALL WE BELIEVE, OR NOT?

To address this question to people who do not believe the Bible would be meaningless. We address it to those who profess to be Christians in general, and to Lutherans particularly.

The foundation and substance of Christian doctrine is that which was taught by Christ and His apostles. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11), and “…having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). Historically the Lutheran Church dates its origin to the 16th century Reformation (Martin Luther, the Augsburg Confession, the Formula of Concord).

“First then [we receive and embrace with our whole heart] the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and all doctrines are to be judged” (Triglotta FC, Thor. Declaration, p. 851, para.1).

It is to the shame of much of Lutheranism in these waning days of Lutheran confessionalism, that many while claiming the name of “Lutheran” have kicked over the traces that are the mark of the Lutheran Church. Today the standard by which teachers and doctrines are judged is personal opinion, personal whims, societal standards, social agendas, and political correctness.

Today it is not sufficient to respond to an inquiry by saying, “I am a Lutheran.” The name “Lutheran” just as the name “Christian” has lost its distinctive definition.

Especially of those who claim the Lutheran name but who for whatever reason no longer hold to sound Lutheran teaching

We ask

Do you as a Lutheran believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is therefore inerrant and absolute truth? Do you believe that Scripture is the only “true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged?” If not, why not?

Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God? If not, why not?

Do you believe that there are doctrines beyond the grasp of human reason that are to be believed through faith? If not, why not?

Do you believe that the true God is the Triune God and that any other god is an idol? If not, why not?

Do you believe that God created the world in 6 natural days, by the power of His Word? If not, why not?

Do you believe that original and actual sin mark the sinner as worthy of eternal condemnation and death? If not, why not?

Do you believe that Christ (the Messiah) whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament was conceived (according to His humanity) of the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, and as the Son of God and Son of Mary (God-Man) died for the sins of the world? If not, why not?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior and that only those who believe in Him will have eternal life in heaven? If not, why not?

Do you believe that the Law exposes sin and condemns the sinner, and that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes? If not, why not?

Do you believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone, without the deeds of the Law? If not, why not?

Do you believe it is God’s will that we should faithfully and gladly hear and learn the Word of God? If not, why not?

Do you believe that the Means of Grace—the Gospel in Word and Sacrament (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)–are the marks of the Church? If not, why not?

Do you believe that the body and blood of the Lord are truly present sacramentally in the Lord’s Supper? If not why not?

Do you believe that God instituted marriage as the union between one man and one woman? If not. Why not?

Do you believe that God declared the husband to be the head of the wife and that the wife is to submit to him in Christ, and that together they are to love each other as they are loved by the Lord? If not, why not?

Do you believe that children are a gift of God and that life as it begins in the womb is to be protected? If not, why not?

Do you believe that it is the will of God that men serve in the public ministry of the Word in the Church? If not, why not?

Do you believe that the Word of God and only the Word of God is to be taught in the Church? If not, why not?

Do you believe it is God’s will that the churches are to be agreed in what is taught in order to practice fellowship with one another? If not, why not?

Do you believe that upon the established fact that a church or a pastor teaches contrary to the Word of God (the doctrines which we have learned) such are to be avoided? If not, why not?

Do you believe that when the Lord returns believers in Christ will go to heaven, and those who have rejected Christ will go to hell? If not, why not?

Finally, do you believe that the primary commission of the Church is to preach the Gospel of salvation in Christ, and to that end sin and grace (Law and Gospel) are the essential teaching of the Church? If not, why not?

All of the above and more that we have not addressed are historic teachings of Reformation Lutheranism drawn from the Bible, and are set forth in the Confessions of the Book of Concord to which historically every faithful Lutheran pastor has subscribed.

Have you asked your pastor if he stands without reservation upon the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions?

Does your church and church body proclaim the Word of God faithfully?

If you or your pastor believe the Bible is the Word of God, what justifies compromising any of its teachings?

If you or your pastor do not believe the whole Bible is the Word of God, why believe any of it?

If you or your pastor do not believe that the whole Bible is the Word of God, who shall decide what is and what is not to be believed?

If you do not believe what the Lutheran Church faithful to the Reformation teaches, why do you call yourself a Lutheran?

Finally, if you do not believe the whole Bible, how do you hope to be saved?

Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Jesus also said to the Jews who believed in Him “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…(John 8: 31-32).

“If it is not Scripture, it is not Lutheran.

Advertisements
Morality

Evolving Morals?

EVOLVING MORALS?

Recently another politician said that his position on abortion evolved to where he now accepts it. Frequently one reads how someone’s position on the subject has evolved “At one time I was pro-life, but my position has evolved.” Translation: I now believe that abortion is acceptable. “I used to believe that marriage was a union between a man and a woman, but my position has evolved.” Translation: I no longer believe what I used to believe about marriage.

Politicians are particularly adept at such evolution when circumstances suggest that it is politically advantageous.

According to “The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary” evolve means, among other definitions “to develop by degrees; to develop by a process of growth to a more highly organized condition; evolution.” Another definition, one that would seem to be appropriate for the subject under discussion, is “to give off or emit, as odors or vapors.”

Can one’s position on a subject change? Certainly! We acknowledge that in many areas of secular and societal pursuit change of thought, even evolution of thought, occurs upon consideration of new information. We have all had that experience.

However, to the point we would make consider the subject of morality and practice of morals in light of Scripture.  We conclude that they whose thoughts and principles evolve in the context of morality are people who do not believe Scripture, or do not respect Scripture. If they did respect the Word of God, they would have respect for the moral law written in the Ten Commandments to confirm and reiterate the law originally (before the fall) written in the heart of man.  The Law given by the Lord God through Moses on Sinai is an absolute, and is not subject to private interpretation. In the field of morals one either believes what God has said, or he doesn’t. Obedience to the Law is not optional!

When Paul was confronted with what he did not know, his knowledge concerning covetousness (Romans 7:7) was not a result of an evolving position. It was a result of acquiring knowledge when confronted with the absolutes of the Word.  But as he makes clear, accepting the moral imperatives expressed in the Ten Commandments is not the same as keeping them which no sinner has done or he would not be a sinner.  But what part of “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not” supports evolving moral principles?

Consider the beginning of Article 6 of the Formula of Concord: “[Since] the Law of God is useful “1. Not only to the end that external discipline and decency are maintained by it against wild, disobedient men; 2. Likewise that through it men are brought to a knowledge of their sins…” The Law exposes sin (Romans 3:20) and it condemns (Romans 6:23a).  Neither the substance of the Law nor its punishment (wages) are relative or subject to evolution of thought.

Paul’s life is a demonstration of the fact that wild and disobedient men can be changed and be led to think differently! This occurs under the power of the Holy Spirit, Who crushes the heart by the Law, and rebuilds, remolds, and reconstitutes the heart by the power of the Gospel. The Gospel creates faith and enlightenment by which the regenerate is brought to understanding and “does God’s will from a free spirit.” This is not evolution of thought but a consequence of conversion!

Consequently, the regenerate  “serve God, not according to their own thoughts, but according to His (God’s) written Law and Word, which is a sure rule and standard of a godly life and walk…”

Scripture says “The “Law is not made for the righteous man” (1 Timothy 1:9) but for the unrighteous. This however does not mean that believers in Christ live without law. “Even our first parents before the fall did not live without Law, who had the Law of God written also into their hearts, because they were created in the image of God” (Formula of Concord, Epit. Art VI, 2, Triglot, p. 805).  As much as the post-fall sinful flesh suggests otherwise, it is nevertheless out of place for a believer in Christ to flaunt his freedom from the compulsion and curse of law by living as he pleases outside the Law. When under the influence of the Spirit he understands the substance and purpose of the Law, the matter for him is settled. He accepts what the Law of God says. In his regenerate state the Christian according to the new man believes God’s absolutes. His morals do not evolve, though under the influence of the flesh they may deteriorate. The latter is called sin!

Consider these divine absolutes (Exodus 20)

1 You shall have no other gods

  1. You shall not misuse or abuse the name of God
  2. You shall gladly hear and learn the Word of God
  3. You shall honor parents and superiors
  4. You shall do no murder (abortion ends a life)
  5. You shall commit no adultery (God defines marriage as one   man and one woman)
  6. You shall not steal
  7. You shall not bear false witness (lie, slander, defame)

9-10. You shall not covet.

The thoughts of the ungodly or of those to whom truth is relative and subject to personal whim may change to suit their purpose. But can one who professes to believe the Word of God and who once believed that it was wrong or sin to destroy a life in the womb now decide that to do so is acceptable? How can one who once believed that God instituted marriage as one man and one woman now decide that definition of marriage is passé?  Sinful man may wish a moral principle were different, but God’s Law and will are immutable; therefore man cannot justly decide that what once was moral is now immoral or what was immoral is now moral.

In matters of morality as well as doctrine established by the Lord God and recorded in the Scriptures, it is not possible to defend a change of heart by saying MY POSITION HAS EVOLVED to where what I believed from Scripture, or on right and wrong, I no longer believe. The ungodly may speak in that fashion because they never bowed to the authority of the Word!  We conclude that those who claim evolving moral positions never knew what they believed, do not know what God said, do not care what God said, or think themselves wiser than God. Such a position is truly odoriferous and at worst inviting divine judgment. Casting aside the absolutes God has recorded in His Word—be it Law imperative or the blessed message of the Gospel–is not a consequence of evolving thought. It is unbelief.

While the Law cannot save us in any way, it nevertheless behooves us to receive the moral law in its absolute sense and reject the rationale that understanding of morals evolves lest we errantly claim license to do what God says absolutely is sin! We did not by our own reason or strength arrive at confidence of faith by evolving thoughts, but hold our faith on the basis of and by the power of God’s sure and absolute Word.

Cognizant of our own sins “for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment (5th Petition), we thank the gracious Lord for His steadfast love and His unchangeable Word which are as sure as He Who changes not. He promised a Savior, and He sent Him. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, and in due time Christ died for us. The Father has reconciled us to Himself in and through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank the Lord for the new life He gives us through His indwelling Spirit, as well as for the  grace of forgiveness! We pray the Lord for the strength to reflect His love and steadfastness in all we say and all we do!

Uncategorized

Liberal or Conservative?

LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE?

“Liberal” and “conservative” are two terms used liberally in political speech. It is difficult to define the terms in any meaningful fashion because the words mean different things to different people. Then also frequently they are used simply to denounce a person who thinks differently than the individual speaking, or to denounce a position with which one disagrees.

The terms are also used in the church. But what do they mean in this context? Again it is difficult to define the terms because someone may use them simply to describe or malign people or theological tenets with whom and/or with which one disagrees. Then again someone may use the descriptions because  they don’t have enough grasp of the issues. Perhaps they don’t want to take the time to address an issue or identify differences more definitively. “They belong to a liberal church,” or “We belong to a conservative Lutheran Church.” What does that mean?

Someone shared an interesting perspective.  “How conservative were Jesus’ mortal enemies, the Pharisees?” They were after all very rigid and openly promoted their brand of conservatism.  “How ‘conservative’ was Jesus, declaring that no jot or tittle of the Word would pass away.” To the same Pharisees Jesus was too liberal because He did what they would not! Jesus interacted with lepers, and went into the home of sinners!  “How conservative was Paul, declaring that there is no other Name (Jesus) under heaven whereby we might be saved.  How liberal was Paul becoming all things unto all men, that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:20)?”  Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees at one point in his life, later counseled standing in the liberty wherewith God has made us free (Galatians 5:1). So he took Timothy whose father was a Greek (a Gentile) and “had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in that region” (Acts 16:3). Titus, on the other hand, was not compelled to be circumcised (Galatians 2:8).

Theologically, it perhaps may be easier to describe a liberal than to describe a conservative. A liberal may be defined as one who rejects Scripture, though that does not truly describe him. Such an one is an unbeliever! Generally “liberal” is descriptive of one who in spite of what he may personally believe or claim to believe tolerates different opinions regarding the Word of God, and the doctrines of Scripture. In teaching and practice (life) he may tolerate, if not promote, departures from Scripture. Though he may even call himself Lutheran he may compromise Scripture and deny the Lutheran Confessions drawn from Scripture, fashioning himself as tolerant and couching his toleration under cover of “love” for others.

As within Lutheranism, there are other fellowships, e.g. Baptist, Presbyterian (and others) who have among them those they identify as liberal(s) who in fact may be socially conservative. By that is meant, they reject abortion, and same sex unions, and are very family oriented.  While not identifying with them theologically, we might identify with them in a social sense. So when liberal or conservative is used as descriptive of a church or an individual, what is meant?

A theological conservative is everything that a theological liberal is not. But here is a problem also as far as description. Among conservatives who profess to be bound by Scripture are those who while theoretically not subtracting from Scripture, add to it, insisting for example on the old ceremonial Sabbath laws. As part of their teaching on sanctification it is wrong to play certain games, wrong to have an alcoholic beverage. While we as Lutherans may acknowledge that they claim to respect Scripture—“We go only by the Bible”—we cannot identify with their interpretation of Scripture. In a purely theological sense, for example, we may acknowledge that Baptists speak well of Scripture as God’s Word, but we are poles apart on the means of grace—the Sacraments, or end time teaching.

So what does the term conservative mean? What are we saying to those who ask us about our church when we respond, “We belong to a conservative Lutheran Church.”  Since the term means different things to different people, they may suggest that since they and we reject abortion and same sex unions, and are family oriented, we ought to forget any doctrinal differences and exercise church fellowship with each other.  Or another example: Is someone or a church liberal because they use a modern Bible translation? Or are they conservative because they use the  King James Version? Is the Bible version in use the identifying mark of a liberal or a conservative or of of the unity of faith, or of what separates Christians? So again, liberal or conservative–what do the terms mean?

But what then what shall we do? The best scenario is to know what we believe, and then take the time to carefully delineate what we believe, starting not with defining differences but by clearly and carefully sharing the substance of the Word of God, emphasizing the Gospel message. (Here is another subject on which to write or think:  We should not speak or preach about Christ. But we should speak or preach Christ, assuring the listener of the personal nature of Christ’s love for the listener).

But since there is a place and necessity for defining the differences within Christendom generally, and since differences exist also within Lutheranism, we do have to be prepared to speak about them. Lutheran is not what Lutheran thinks, but what it confesses from Scripture.

So is there a word that defines who we are?  We could use the term “Reformation Lutherans.” If nothing else that term could be a conversation starter. But then we ourselves need to know what it means. We are Christians first, Christians who believe and confess the whole Bible as the inspired Word of God from which we can subtract nothing, and to which we dare add nothing. We believe that Scripture interprets itself. We believe to the praise of the grace of God that we are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Alone). We confess without reservation the Apostolic Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. We hold and treasure the pure doctrine set forth from Scripture at the time of the Reformation.

Or we could say that we are “Confessional Lutherans.” That expression is also a conversation starter. Confession here is not confession of guilt or sin, though confession of sin and guilt before God is part of the confessional Lutheran’s confession as well is also his confidence of forgiveness and salvation through Christ. To be a confessional Lutheran means that we accept Scripture alone as the ground and source of faith and of the sanctified life, as well as the heavenly hope. By Scripture alone all teaching and life is to be measured. Without qualification, we accept the Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord of 1580 because they are faithful to Scripture. Any interpretation by word or in practice that is contrary to the Word of God is rejected. If it is not Scripture, it is not Lutheran. When all is said and done a confessional Lutheran is the same as being a Reformation Lutheran. We are bound by apostolic doctrine and desire to reflect the mind and love of Christ, and the love for souls as manifested by Paul (1 Corinthians 9:20).

Liberal or Conservative? Those expressions will live on.  But as a confessional Lutheran, be discerning! Study and abide in Scripture letting  “your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6), always “ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Labels are quite meaningless. What is important in our own life, and in identifying others is not the label that is used, but what is actually believed and confessed!

Uncategorized

SEEING AND BELIEVING—OR NOT?

SEEING AND BELIEVING—OR NOT?

Traveling we have taken a picture of scenery that has attracted us for its beauty, beauty that causes us to say, “I can’t believe what I see.” Upon seeing the picture we are frequently disappointed because while the picture serves as a reminder, it falls short of capturing what we remember.

“I can’t believe what I see,” is true in another sense today. With modern technology one can put into a picture something or someone who was not there for the photo. Or perhaps someone who was there has been erased from the picture. Pictures can be altered to brush out the ugly warts, or add a cheery smile or physical enhancements. Pictures are no longer a guarantee of the way it was, but frequently a statement of the way we wish it were. Pictures can lie through no fault of the camera, but because of the machinations of the photographer—the fish that is twice as big as the real thing—or the bias of the developer.

On another level we frequently say, “I cannot believe what I am seeing.” We are not ignorant concerning what Scripture says of the wickedness of fallen man and how the Lord described it when He said that it was expressive of the “intent” of man’s heart which “was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5) and how He says that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Jeremiah records how the Lord issued a solemn call to repentance to Judah. Judah rejected the call and declared what is still the godless mentality of those caught in Satan’s web. Judah responded, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will everyone obey the dictates of his evil heart” (Jeremiah 18:12). In that response we are hearing what we can hardly believe, but are faced by reality to acknowledge. Judah consciously chose, as the ungodly choose today, to treat the Lord with contempt!

Given what Scripture says of the fallen human nature we understand, yet from a purely human perspective we still find it hard to believe what we are seeing—the rampant, rampaging and breathlessly quick descent of this nation into the morass of wickedness, particularly as it is countenanced from the highest echelons of government as well as within the church. From murder of children within the womb, homosexual (lesbian) unions, unmitigated greed, unabashed hypocrisy, to whatever it is that man plots against the Lord, there is nothing new under the sun—certainly not evil. Yet the quickness and boldness with which it is happening leads us to say, “I can hardly believe what I am seeing (and hearing).”

But then we look at Scripture again. The Lord though the apostle told us it would happen in the waning ages of this world (2 Timothy 3). From Scripture we also know why it is happening. “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land…the more they increased, the more they sinned against Me…” (Hosea 4: 1, 7). “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight…they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people” (Isaiah 5). The words of the Lord through Isaiah were spoken against those the Lord called “His people.” If God speaks wrath against His own people who reject His counsel, what shall happen to the godless who hold contempt for the Lord? What havoc was caused when Adam and Eve forsook the truth of God and listened to a lie!

This leads to another wonderment. “I can hardly believe that the Lord is so patient, and that He has not yet rained final destruction upon the evil world.” But for this incredulousness there is an assuring answer. The Lord God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy (Psalm 103:8). He does not desire the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live (Ezekiel 33:11).

In His patience He calls out to all, yes, to you and me: Repent!

If we cannot believe what we see of present things happening around us, we can by the power of the Spirit believe what we cannot see. “Faith is being sure of the things we hope for, being convinced of the things we can’t see” (Hebrews 11:1 [AAT-Beck]).

In faith, penitent sinners wait for deliverance from the shackles of this sinful flesh, and the evil world. We live in confident hope of the better city in the better country (Hebrews 11:16). We wait with confident hope. Such hope is established upon the sure and certain Word and promise of God, and upon the seal of God rooted in the resurrection of our Savior from the dead. As by faith in Christ Jesus you are His dear children, you can rest confidently in these words, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His’…”(2 Timothy 2:19). In the light of God’s promise we are convinced of the things we cannot see. The dealing of God with man through the whole Old Testament, as well as the fulfillment of His promise in sending the Lord Jesus as our debt-payer give the Christ-believer good hope for “Beloved, now are we children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be [we can’t see it], but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is [we shall see])” (1 John 3:2).

Therefore, in the confusion of this present world in which we cannot always believe what we see because what we see has been altered, or because what we see is so disturbing, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4).

The essence of faith–the generator of which and the substance of which is the gracious God who cannot lie— is certainty of things hoped for, the conviction of things we cannot see, but know we will!