Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Glory Without the Cross

In his book, Grace upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, Dr. John Kleinig discusses a problem with the Pharisees: 

Their problem was that they put their own brand on their acts of piety; they claimed their achievements for themselves rather than for God. Their righteousness and their holiness, they thought and taught, were self-generated rather than God-given. They were so full of themselves that they displaced God.  They refused to acknowledge their dependence on God and his gracious provisions for them...
We face the same dangers in our spiritual lives. We quite readily imagine that we are actors performing before God to gain His applause rather than beggars receiving His gifts. Nothing excites us more than the desire to do something great, achieve something extraordinary. Of course, we don't do this for ourselves but only for God!  Since we secretly admire those who seem to be spiritual superheroes, devotional highfliers, we focus on our spiritual performance and our religious achievements.  We use God's gifts to gain spiritual kingship, power, and glory for ourselves, though we say we use them for God and the growth of the Church!  We therefore become blind to the depths of our sin and the extent of God's grace. All too quickly our spirituality becomes an exercise in blatant self-deception and glossy self-promotion.  We cover up before God and advertise ourselves as our own creation.  We want the glory without the cross.  We avoid full exposure to the scrutiny of God's Law; we belittle the call to repentance; we protect the old self from demolition and reconstruction by Christ.  And all this because, like the Pharisees, we want to be seen to be holy, approved, admired, and praised by those around us, rather than by God."
This is why preaching that skirts the Law and preaches about the Gospel but does not actually preach the Gospel is disturbing.  Preaching that vaguely alludes to sin but does not horrify us is dangerous. However, it does make sense that if the Law is not preached in its severity, there is no need for the eternal comfort of Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross.

That's why LCMS president, Matthew Harrison's insight on the importance of  Law/Gospel preaching is important. "The Law should be preached like there is no Gospel and the Gospel should be preached like there is no Law."

What is the solution?  Harrison, Kleinig and God's Word proffer the only solution to the damnation of our sin:

President Harrison:
I want to hear declarative application that tells me my sins are forgiven right now and that I am directed to Christ and his comfort.

Dr. Kleing:
God always wants us to start where we are, rather than where we would like to be, on our spiritual journey.  We are justified by God's grace and approved by Him.  That's given! Our justification does not depend on our piety and our spiritual performance but on Christ and His performance.  We can therefore face up to our recurring failure to live as His holy people and people of prayer.  In fact, our failure is meant to teach us to ask for what we lack and receive everything from Christ.

God's Word: 
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
-Romans 5:1-2

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Preaching Law like there is no Gospel. Preaching Gospel Like there is no Law.

Recently Issues, Etc. interviewed President Matthew Harrison concerning the basics of preaching. President Harrison made some excellent points about the basics of preaching. This poor, miserable sinner agrees with President Harrison's points on preaching the severity of the Law and the cleansing assurance of the Gospel.

Here are some of the points President Harrison made in the interview: 
  • I think we are in a preaching crisis.
  • The biggest problems I see is very little dealing with the actual text.
  • I think we have a great challenge because in preaching we hear preaching that talks about Christ, about the Law about people who break the Law, about the Gospel.
  • The sermon is a proclamation
  • I hear very little preaching of the Law that stings or hits home.  They will not hit at the gross sins that adhere in every one of us.
  • Step into the office and say this Christ is for you and for sinners just like you.
  • If I don’t realize the depths of my own sin how do I view people around me when they sin against me?
  • Paraphrasing Luther, President Harrison said, “If the pastor fails to give you the Gospel in a sermon you should on the way out say ‘You are a thief and a liar.  You have robbed Christ from me.’”
  • I want to hear clear Law, clear damning Law in all its severity. The Law should be preached like there is no Gospel and the Gospel should be preached like there is no Law.
  • I want to hear declarative application that tells me my sins are forgiven right now and that I am directed to Christ and his comfort
Listen to the interview and let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Never be thirsty again

This past Sunday the Gospel reading was from John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well.  I've read or heard various sermons on this text and while each pastor's approach differed, each pastor's message was the same: Christ's cleansing water is unconditional, eternally cleansing and eternally satiating.

John 4:16-17
1Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

Why would Christ point out the Samaritan woman's sins?  In his commentary, Dr. Paul Kretzmann insightfully explained:
The Lord told her all this, by His omniscience, for the purpose of making her realize her sinfulness, of making her see the depth to which she had fallen. She must become fully conscious of her guilt against the Sixth Commandment and the entire Law before she would have the proper desire and longing for the riches of Christ's salvation. Note: It is always thus when the Lord converts a sinner. At first there are only a few faint sparks of penitence, which would be extinguished without the aid of the Holy Ghost. But then He deepens the consciousness of transgression and guilt, in order that the longing for salvation may be instilled by the sweet message of salvation, by the Gospel. Very often the real battle in the heart of a person begins only after the desire for salvation has been felt. Then Satan tries to drive the sinner into despair. It is then that grace must much more abound. 
In The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, CFW Walther stated similar truths on the purpose of the Law and the Gospel:
These two points must be made: The Law creates a thirst and leads us to hell; the Gospel, however, satisfies the thirst and leads to heaven.  The Law states what we must do, but that we have fallen short of doing it, no matter how holy we may be.  Thus it produces uncertainty in me and arouses this thirst.
"but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  - John 4:14

If your are thirsty for more sermons on this text read Rev. Charles Henrickson's sermon or listen to Rev. Anthony Voltattorni's sermon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Strenuous attempts to gain adherents...

Always test the spirits

4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  - 1 John 4: 1-6

Dr. Paul Kretzmann's commentary offers worthy insights on why we should always test what is taught us:
Good prophets are preachers through whom the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, teaches and preaches, whether it be by direct inspiration, as in the Old Testament, or whether it be by the teaching of the pure Gospel, as in the case of all true ministers today. In that sense they are spirits. But the Christians are here warned to use all care, to be on the lookout in ceaseless vigilance; for unfortunately not every man that claims to be a true prophet is able to present such credentials as the Word of God demands in such a case. These men, who presume upon the rights and duties of true Christian ministers, go out into the world, they display a remarkable missionary activity, they make the most strenuous attempts to gain adherents for their false tenets. Therefore Christians, as they value their soul’s salvation, must examine, test, such spirits and their doctrines, whether they are of God.
One of the fundamental facts of Christianity is the doctrine that Jesus Christ came into the world, became flesh. That is the touchstone which enables the believers to distinguish between true and false teachers. For in this doctrine is included the confession that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, who, according to the promise given by God, became man, and by His vicarious suffering and death, and by His victorious resurrection and ascension merited our righteousness and salvation. He that accepts and confesses these truths unequivocally, with all that they imply, may be considered a preacher from God. But every professed teacher in the Church or outside of the Church that denies the incarnation of the eternal Son of God; that denies that Jesus Christ is our only righteousness and salvation; every one that teaches that we, in order to be saved, should not trust in Christ and in His merits alone, but also in our own works: such a man is not of God.
The apostle adds another reason for carefully examining the claims and for guarding against the evil influence of the false teachers: They are of the world, therefore they talk as of the world, and the world listens to them. No matter what their pretense and their glamour, the false teachers belong to the world, they have the world’s manner and mind. This is shown also in their talking, in their teaching and preaching, for its substance is not divine and leading to godliness, but it is inspired by the world, by its manner of thinking and acting. False teachers usually have messages that tickle the itching ears of their hearers. The children of the world will gladly hear them, the world receives their doctrines with enthusiasm. It is an almost unfailing criterion: if a certain preacher is widely advertised and acclaimed as a prophet for our times, he has probably managed to accommodate the old Scriptural language to some of his own philosophy in denying the fundamentals of the Bible. Witness the so-called Christianity of the social gospel.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The steady advance of veterans...

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, some more and some more and some more....

While many are snow-weary and snow-spent, I'm just one pull away from firing up my turbo-charged, XLT-Hubba-Hubba SnowThrower Deluxe™.  Bring it, Winter. 
With this recent blast, I've been granted another respite from the academic rigors of high school. Snow Day #8.  

In addition to grading some papers, I began reading Dr. Gregory's book, The Seven Laws of Teaching. When I discovered this literary nugget, I knew I had blog fodder. 

"Unreflecting superintendents and school boards often prefer enthusiastic teachers to those who are simply well educated or experienced. They believe, not without reason, that enthusiasm will accomplish more with inadequate learning and little skill than the best-trained and erudite teacher wholly lacking in zeal.  But why choose either the ignorant enthusiast or the educated sluggard?  Enthusiasm is not confined to the unskilled and the ignorant, nor are all calm, cool men idlers.  There is an enthusiasm born of skill – a joy in doing what one can do well – that is far more effective, where art is involved, than the enthusiasm born in vivid feeling.  The steady advance of veterans is more powerful than the mad rush of raw recruits.  The world’s best work, in the schools as in the shops, is done by the calm, steady, and persistent efforts of skilled workmen who know how to keep their tools sharp, and to make every effort reach its mark."   
-Dr. John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching published in 1884.

Oh, this is going to be a good day and an even better read.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Retaining and defending the confession

As in war the banner and the one who carries it draws all the enemy fire - for when the flag falls the enemy cries victory - , so in the great church battle of our day everything is also directed at the flag of the confessions and against those who carry it. Oh, so let us, then, raise that flag of our pure confession that much higher, even as we are all the more reviled for it, courageously battle under it, boldly proclaim it, and, when it is necessary and possible, die a thousand deaths rather than to shamefully and cowardly concede even the most insignificant part of the same to the enemy. “Hold fast,” the apostle declares to our synod, “to the pattern of sound Words that you have heard from me by the faith and the love in Christ Jesus. Guard this good deposit through the Holy Ghost, who dwells in us.” Oh that our beloved Synod would not finally grow weary in her retaining and defending the confession, but that she might become ever more zealous and bold in doing so! So will she progress even further in her victories, in all of her battles, which are appointed her in these last times, that, finally, she be brought into the ranks of the eternal triumphant host of God in heaven, as victorious warriors. To this end, may we be helped by the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ, who is worship, loved and praised to all eternity. Amen.”                  
 -From CFW Walther’s 1877 Synodical Convention sermon

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A little Drano never hurt anyone.

Rev. Matt Richard posted this on The Brothers of John the Steadfast blog. Rev. Richard's essay is an excellent read.  If you think just a little Beth Moore, just a dash of Rick Warren, just a weekend youth retreat to SpringHill, just a one-week VBS program from reformed denominations, or just a simple SpringHill week-long summer camp for our young lambs isn't harmful, then you need to read the article.

Just Relax, A Little Liquid Drano Won’t Hurt Anyone

March 7th, 2014Post by 
gas-mask-pictogram-5-1102838-mI can recall hearing, as a first year seminarian, one of my professors criticize Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. Upon hearing this critical assessment, I was deeply angered. I thought that his actions were severely inappropriate and that it was not proper to disparage another fellow Christian who was simply attempting to promote the Christian faith. From my reasoning, the presence of a Christian voice was better than the absence of a Christian voice and it was certainly better than a voice speaking contrary to Christian truths. Even though my professor took the time to show me the countless errors in Warren’s book, I still concluded that a faulty Christian voice was better than no Christian voice at all. Besides, I felt that is was rude, insincere, and un-ecumenical to criticize those within the Christian sphere; we are all on the same team after all trying to do our best for God.
The problem with my rationalization was that I believed that a Christian voice with small and subtle doctrinal errors was more advantageous and less of a concern than a voice that was obviously unchristian or a message that lacked a Christian message altogether. To me, subtle and small errors were less of a concern than obvious and blatant errors. I said to myself, “Why sweat the small stuff; why fuss over small errors that might upset the unity of a Christian community? Why quibble over every pixel of God’s excellent picture?”
It was not until several years later that my faulty view was finally exposed and reversed. I can remember it so vividly. I had graduated from seminary and had taken several church youth to a conference. At the conference, the speaker gave a lesson while he baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. In his presentation he had several youth add flour, vanilla, chocolate, and eggs into a mixing bowl. Right before they were going to mix the ingredients together, the speaker subtly announced that he was going to add a teaspoon of drain cleaning Liquid Drano to the ingredients in the bowl. He said it quietly, did it quickly, and kept talking. Surprisingly, several of the youth sitting in the pews really did not even catch it. At the end of his session, he wrapped up his teaching from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and invited all the youth to partake of freshly baked cookies. Some revolted! Others were enticed! The point had been made. The point being, what is worse than Liquid Drano in a batch of cookies? Answer, a ‘little’ Liquid Drano in a batch of cookies. Otherwise stated, it is the trivial comma placed after Jesus that should concern us; it is the small footnote attached to the doctrine of justification that should alarm us. Yes, there is tremendous subtle corrupting power in small errors.
Martin Luther captures this theme in his book, Bondage of the Will. To summarize his thoughts on this subject, let me phrase his assessment in the form of a question and answer.[1]
Question: What is worse than Pelagianism?
Answer: Semi-Pelagianism.
In other words, what is worse than a heretic? Answer, a subtle or crafty heretic. Indeed this is true. The reason why? A Pelagian, one holding to the heresy of Pelagius, generally tends to confess and assert their beliefs candidly. They call a spade a spade. They teach openly what they believe. However, a Semi-Pelagian is a bit trickier. A Semi-Pelagian is indeed heretical; however, the emphasis of Pelagian theology is less candid, which results in people being more easily conned. Otherwise stated, Semi-Pelagianism is toned down Pelagianism, which results in the same theological ethos being purported, but it tends to be more palatable because of the de-emphasis of the outright heresy.
Is this not the same tactic of the evil one that we see in the scriptures? Keep in mind that the scriptures say that the devil disguises himself as an angel of light (See: 2 Corinthians 11:14). Furthermore, in Luke chapter 4 and Genesis chapter 3 we clearly see that the devil’s scheme is not to entirely eliminate scripture (i.e., God’s Word), but to twist it ever so slightly. Did God really say?
What we learn from Luther and the scriptures is that it is not the blatant lies that are of extreme danger, though they are dangerous, rather, it is the subtle lies that should be of great concern.
Looking back to my old professor from seminary, I now realize that this professor was not being divisive, insincere, or inappropriate. Rather, he was demonstrating love and pastoral care by attempting to protect me from elements of false truth. While I was ignorant to these errors, he was not. While I was metaphorically eating cookies with Liquid Drano, he was fighting to keep me from ingesting poison. You see, my old professor knew that these false truths would act like yeast and would spread through the whole batch of dough. He knew the danger of a small teaspoon of heresy; that a small error can corrupt and erode a Christian’s theological framework.
cookie-782729-mI now regret how I branded this professor as an unloving, divisive, anti-chocolate chip cookie grouch. This could not be further from the truth. Metaphorically speaking, my professor did enjoy chocolate chip cookies, but he hated Liquid Drano and he hated the adverse effects of the poison upon the church. Frankly, he loved me enough to disrupt my enjoyment of Liquid Drano cookies and he was courageous enough to criticize those who baked these corrupted cookies for me, even though these actions would earn him the stigma as being unloving, nitpicky, and an anti-cookie grouch.
Honestly, I believe that what we need most in the church today is more anti-chocolate chip cookie grouches, for there are indeed a lot of individuals cooking up and distributing Liquid Drano cookies in our post-modern pluralistic context. Furthermore, I believe that it is truly dangerous and foolish when we rationalize in our minds that a little poison won’t hurt anyone and when we attempt to preserve tranquility within a community by applying ad hominem stigmas to those who are attempting to expose stealthy poison.
Rather than na├»vely consuming the plethora of ideologies in our world, may we hold steadfast to sound doctrine as Paul instructs Timothy and Titus in the Pastoral Epistles (See 2 Timothy 1:13and Titus 2:1). May we also recognize that it is truly good, right, and salutary when false doctrines are refuted, exposed, and laid bare (See Titus 1:9). Indeed, it is good when poison is exposed; it is good when yeast is prevented from fermenting the whole dough; it is good when the twisted-ness of the evil one is uncovered; it is good when God’s people are not tossed to and fro, blown about by every wind of doctrine; it is good when the church recognizes the trickery and deceitful scheming of man; and it is good for Baptized Saints to know what they believe and why, so that they are not a reed shaken by the wind.
[1] Martin Luther. Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation. ed. E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia, PA; The Westminster Press, 1969), 311.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Widow Bumbleshire is not smiling

While the Widow Bumbleshire might not approve, I think this video by Hans Fiene is spot on. Ryan Biese crafted this brief explanation:

A superb little satirical ditty that hits the nail on the head squarely for why so many of the youth have abandoned the church: many ministers do not preach the gospel AND many parents do not train their children in the way of Christ. It's much easier to turn worship into a concert than go about the hard work of proclaiming the unfathomable riches of God in Christ.