We have met the enemy, and he is us

*Sigh*

Here we go again. I was contacted last week about an article in the Concordia Journal. In a joint issue with Concordia University, Seward Nebraska, there is an article about creation. In it, the author – a science professor at CUNE – attempts to bring together science and religion. I use that phrase advisedly, because “Bringing together science and religion” almost always means rejecting the plain meaning of Holy Scripture in a vain attempt to make the secular materialists hate us less. Or, to put it another way, “But mommy, the big kids on the playground are mean to me!” It is nothing more than a craven attempt to be popular with the culture around us. It does not fool the world. And it makes us look like fools to those who might have listened, if we had stuck to our guns. At a certain point, we need to put on our big boy pants, and “git er done”. At least then, people will see that we have the integrity of our convictions.

As you may have noticed, I don’t have a lot of patience on this topic. To be clear, I am very patient with members of the church that struggle with these issues. The world is very alluring. And the arguments are well crafted to draw in the unaware. For such people, I am patient to the end of time, and will gladly explain, repeatedly if necessary, in a simple way, the importance of the Word of God.

But.

I have zero patience with teachers in the church that teach things they know to be false. The occasional mistake is one thing. But constantly chasing after the approbation of the world, constantly demeaning the integrity of the Word of God by those who should know better just makes me angry. There is scriptural precedent for such anger. When looking at the people, Jesus was filled with compassion, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. When Jesus saw the leaders of the people selling literal sheep in the temple, it was time to make whips and flip tables.

I won’t link to the article in question, but it suggests a compromise position on evolution, one that is neither faithful to the scriptures, nor acceptable to today’s evolutionary community. It has the appearance of splitting the baby. But, as any scholar of Holy Scripture can tell you (so, don’t look to find it in this issue of Concordia Journal) the point of that story is that Solomon did NOT split the baby in half. Here it is:

God created the world. But he took millions of years to do it.

No really. That’s it. God set up creation, nudged it every few million years, but let it go about developing naturally. The word for this is : Theistic Evolution. And it is a threat to the faith as much as secular evolution is. In a forthcoming book (Evolution: A Defense Against) I explain why this fails as theology. At a later point, I explain why this view is not acceptable to evolutionists. My concern today is the former point, and that is what I address in the this brief snippet from the book (For the latter, stay tuned – I am working very hard to have it ready by Christmas.):

But first, a few words about evolution and the church. There are those who think that evolution can be safely imported into the church, as “Theistic evolution.” The Roman Catholic Church takes this view. The problem is that evolution as evolution destroys the teaching of justification. The Lutheran church has claimed since the reformation that justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. Not all Christian churches have agreed with this assessment. But there is little disagreement among Christians that the work of Christ is central to the Christian church. And while Lutherans may frame the discussion in terms of justification, if theistic evolution is accepted, it destroys the work of Christ.

Evolution requires millions of years. The objection of the church is not the years themselves. Ultimately, while I believe that the earth was created in six days, I do not think it would destroy our salvation if the earth was created in six million (or six billion) years. Scripture does not teach that it was, but if God wanted to, he could certainly have taken his time, and scripture would reflect that.

For those who try to align evolution with scripture, the problem is not the timeframe. Theistic evolution teaches that during those “millions of years” evolution is occurring. And evolution requires death. The less fit die; the more fit survive. Scripture is clear. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned ” (Romans 5) Death exists because of sin, and for no other reason. Sin happens after the creation is finished. If there is death before Adam and Eve commit the first sin in the garden, then death must be a part of the creation. If this were true, then God created death; death is good. But if death is a part of the created order itself, then death is not a consequence of sin. Which means that, when Jesus died to take away sin, He could not also take away death. Death is only taken away by Jesus death if it is a result – and only a result – of sin. If death comes into the world any other way, then Jesus death may take away sin, but it can not take away death. This is a problem. The death of Jesus is our life. He is our resurrection. Saint Paul explains it eloquently:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:13-19, ESV)

 

If you want to learn more about what scripture teaches, I recommend Luther’s Large Catechism. And for understanding the Large Catechism, I recommend “What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism.” It’s perfect for a Bible Class, New Member Class, or for personal study. It’s cheap, it’s helpful, and it’s available NOW at Amazon.

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Commentary on “A Filial Correction”

Engraving of Roman Catholic Priest posting “Letter of Filial Correction” when the pope was guilty of propogating heresy.

This past weekend, a group of Romanist priests wrote a letter of correction to the Pope. In it, they said (I’m summarizing) that the pope treats marriage badly, and that the pope is acting too much like Martin Luther. To be clear, they did not say he was himself a heretic, only that he was allowing or propagating heresy because of his failure to speak clearly about the Word of God.

So, now I’m sitting here, pondering if the irony would have been greater if their document was in the form of 95 short statements. And they released it on October 31. By nailing it to the door of a church.

I am pretty sure that if there was a Nobel Prize for irony, they would get it.

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Sermon for Trinity 15

According to yet another false prophet, the world was supposed to end yesterday. It didn’t. Here we still are. Our Lord didn’t return. No one knows the day or hour. Of course, the false prophet will most likely come back in a few months with some new date – Oh, I made a mistake in my calculations. Now I’ve got it right… And, people will believe him again, because it’s easier to believe a lie than the truth. We don’t know when our Lord returns. He doesn’t want us to go into the desert, stand on top of a mountain, and wait for the last trumpet. That’s not seeking after the kingdom of God. When Jesus says seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, he doesn’t mean go into a secret place, and never come back out. He means, we are to love and trust the Lord God, and we are to love and serve our neighbor. That is the work God gives us to do in this world. Continue reading

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Alien Worship

While teaching catechesis yesterday, I realized something. I have heard of people getting “burned out” on worship. It’s actually not an uncommon occurrence in churches that worship according to the American Evangelical style. I’ve heard of it happening in Baptist churches, and in various baptistic churches (non-denom, etc.) I’ve even heard of it happening in Lutheran churches that have traded the birthright of Lutheran worship forms for the pottage of weekly reader contemporvant worship. But I’ve never heard of it happening in Lutheran churches that are actually Lutheran.

Oh, people do leave the church. They may come to despise the substance of Lutheran Worship (For that is what the proponents of “style” actually do). They may reject the doctrine behind it. They may decide that Jesus was not being serious when he said to baptize “all nations” or that he was only kidding when he said “this is my body.” There are many reasons for leaving the Lutheran church – Satan is always at work in our midst. And I have seen Lutherans get burned out on “church” – in the sense of the committees, and boards, and meetings, and activities, and, and, and… But I have never, in almost 25 years as a laymen and 20 years as a pastor, heard of someone getting burned out on the Divine Service itself.

And yet, it happens with startling frequency among the Arminian churches. And today while I was teaching the catechumens, I realized why. Because if we are worshiping according to a baptistic understanding, worship is primarily something we do to please God. We are fulfilling our obligation to serve him. We are fulfilling the great commission. We are, we are, we are. Which is to say, we are worshiping in the way of the Law.  Worship is what we are doing. And, such worship is exhausting. I’ve been to services in Baptistic style Lutheran Churches. I’ve been to services in Baptist churches. And the worship of such churches is exhausting. Firstly, because you have to stay so focused on whatever new thing is being presented that you can never lose yourself in the word and promises of Christ, and in the comfort of the Gospel.

But mostly, such worship is exhausting because there is no rest given. Jesus is never presented as the one who takes your burden. And even when it’s mentioned that Jesus carries our burdens, then the burden is placed on you to give the burden up to him. You need to do that so he can take it. You must turn it over to him. You must decide. You must. I’ve heard sermons that wore me out – not because of their length, but because there was no rest offered for a weary soul. If I only did this, and trusted more, and worked harder. If I, then God can… But the focus was always on me. And I left not only without comfort, but tired. Physically, emotionally, spiritually tired.

And such weariness made me almost angry at God. Where was the promised rest for my soul? Where was the green pasture to lie down in? Certainly not in the church. That was a spiritual aerobics class. Let’s go! One more! One more! One more!

Truly Lutheran worship (Page 15/184) let’s God do the work. “God wishes us to believe Him and receive His gifts, and this He declares to be true worship.” That is so freeing; it does not exhaust; it refreshes.

Oh, the pure word of God certainly offends the old Adam. And Satan stokes that, whispering all manner of lies in our ears. “Not friendly…” “Inward looking…” “Out of date….” “Boring…” Any lie to push us away.  But I’ve been to other services. I’ve talked to people who attend them regularly. And I’ve seen a lot of cases of people just getting burned out on worship. Because they are worshiping under the Law. The Law is God’s Alien work. That means it is an alien worship. And it is all work. Constant pressure to perform.

We can’t live that way. God doesn’t want us to live that way, and he certainly does not want that sort of worship. He wants to be the balm for our wounded soul. He wants to give us rest. Of course, the most important thing about the Divine Service is that forgiveness, life, and salvation are given through the Words. But the restfulness of the Divine Service is also a wonderful gift. That is the comfort of the Gospel. And the Divine Service, that is, the Historic Liturgy, offers it in a way that is unparalleled.

If you are burned out on church, try a Lutheran service. You will find rest for your soul, as God intended.

 

If you liked this, you will love the devotional nature of Luther’s writings. And with What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism, you can dive right in and enjoy the rest that comes from God’s Promises.

If you’re a pastor, take a look at “Teach These Things: Catechesis for the Lutheran Parish“. It offers a liturgical and prayerful approach to teaching scripture and the Small Catechism.

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Sermon for Midweek Service

I don’t usually post these (because they usually aren’t in manuscript format), but here is the sermon from tonight’s midweeks service. Explaining the Epistle reading from Sunday, Galatians 3:15-22. That’s a lesson that needs some explanation.

***

Some sections of scripture just flow from the tongue. They form beautiful word pictures in our mind that are easy to grab hold of and remember. “The Lord is my shepherd…” “I am the Light of the world…” “You shall not kill” We teach them to children, we remember them our whole lives.

And the Epistle reading this evening is not among them. It is densely packed with wonderful things. But it takes a bit of unpacking to follow what Paul is saying. It’s not easy. But it is worthwhile. Continue reading

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Mocking our Fathers

Yesterday in our circuit Winkel, we were discussing the difference between seminary and pastoral practice. Specifically, the conversation turned to the tendency in seminary to denigrate recent teachers in the church (Walther, Pieper, Kretzmann). And yet, those same men become some of the most useful to the pastor when he arrives in the parish.

In discussing the rationale behind it, a brother pastor mentioned that Pieper was described as “Woodenly Dogmatic” And then he followed up with “But look at the name of the text”.  (Christian Dogmatics, vols. 1-3)

Of course, Dogmatics need not be woodenly dogmatical. One hopes that any theological writing is filled with the lively hope of the Gospel. Certainly a dogmatics text will be a bit more formal, and perhaps less filled with outright songs of praise. In any dogmatics text, you must proceed systematically from topic to topic, explain the correct teaching, show why it is correct, and defend against false teachings. Peiper does this. And he does it well.

There is a new two-volume dogmatic, available after nearly forty years of work. Hopefully, the new book is not “Woodenly dogmatic”. Although, given the time in which it was produced, I would be more concerned that it ends up being a bit more squishy than one would like to see in a dogmatics text. CTCR documents from the same period certainly turned that direction. Early in its history, the CTCR produced  concise statements (like “Gospel and Scripture: Interrelationship of Material & Formal Principles in Lutheran Theology” or “The Inspiration of Scripture”). But at a certain point, things changed. In more recent years, the CTCR has produced statements that recommended against using scriptural language, (“Defending Pre-Implantation Human Life in the Public Square”), statements that disagreed with themselves (“Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events”) and statement that are long (and I mean LOOOOOOONG) on virtue signaling, but short on any practical theology (“Immigrants Among Us: A Lutheran Framework for Addressing Immigration Issues” and “Together With All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth”).

The pastoral theology text from the same period was also… weak. The pastoral approach recommended in that book is largely, “Be nice to everyone, don’t be too concerned about what God says in His Holy Word, and hopefully everyone will like us.” Faithful pastoral practice takes a decided backseat to the synod’s struggle with self esteem in the wake of the seminex era.

I don’t know that the new Dogmatics text does any of the things I’ve mentioned above. But it is telling that early reviews I’ve read have already said, “It would be nice if it went into more detail than it does, like Pieper did.”

For now, I’ll stick with Pieper. It was a masterwork. Only one theologian in the last century could even make a claim to match Pieper’s stature as a theologian. (Robert Preus). But he was humble enough that he would never make such a claim. And those who did all of the planning for the new text were absolutely united in one unshakable dogmatic conviction: They hated Robert Preus. They were theological gnats who could not handle the greatness of his conviction or the clarity of his confession. The one advantage they had over him was that they knew how to play the political game. With his death at their hands, now more than twenty years ago, any thought of producing a dogmatics text that was comparable to Pieper’s has long since disappeared. To be honest, I’m not sure a new one is needed. The doctrine has not changed. The application of it – that is explaining it against the backdrop of our own cultural milieu and refuting current errors – certainly may call for occasional revision. But until God raises up a theologian that has Pieper’s or Preus’s insight into and love for the orthodox theology given in Holy Scripture, we will not see a book that can match the depth or breadth of Pieper.

We may mock him, we may think he is outdated, or too stark in his presentation. But Pieper does correctly lay out the theology of scripture – in a detailed and systematic way unmatched by any other available text in English. He also warns against false teaching – in a way that is winsome but never yields. And if you’re looking for a text that does that – as faithful pastors must do – it’s still the best out there. I would recommend it to any seminarian or young pastor. And I hope the seminaries continue to require it, even if they say mean things about it.

 

If you like Pieper, you may like this little biography of Luther. Short, clear, and with a great explanation of the place of the Gospel in the life of the church, it really is a Reformation 500 classic!

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Humiliation: Not a Bad idea

First a disclaimer: I don’t think (Hurricane/Fire/Earthquake/whatever) is a punishment for the specific sin of (electing Donald Trump/Repealing DACA/Raising the Debt Ceiling/etc.) it is true that in the Old Testament, there were specific punishments for specific national sins. But He sent prophets to identify the specific sins and corresponding punishments. Lacking that, it’s dangerous to guess at the motivations of the Living God. Ok, with that out of the way…

A while back, I commented that our current hymnal seems more fitting for a comfortable middle class church than a church suffering under the cross. (TLH 260, where are you?) You can argue about this or that aspect of the hymnal, but a church that has two prayers for going on vacation and one for persecution is not exactly a “take up your cross daily and follow me” sort of hymnal.

The last month or so has seen some dramatic events in our nation: The Northwest third is covered in smoke and fire, the southeast third is covered in wind and water. The President called for prayer for the nation. In the past, the proper term for such a day was “Day of Humiliation and Prayer”. The new hymnal has “Day of Supplication and Prayer.”

That’s a significant difference. In days past, the church understood that, if some calamity befell the people, it was a time to rend garments, to sit in sackcloth and ashes, and to hear the word of the Lord regarding our sin. It was an opportunity to repent and return to the Lord God. No judgment was made regarding general sins committed by the nation. Individuals have enough specific sins that any one person is worthy of judgment. Times of tragedy are times to consider our own black hearts and turn away from our own sins. Not as self-improvement, but as the proper response of the heart to God’s work in and through the things of this world. In times of plenty, we give thanks and remember how merciful God is. In times of want, we repent of our sin and trust in the mercy of God.

But the new hymnal has “Day of Supplication and Prayer.” No longer do we humiliate ourselves before God. Of course, the meaning of “humiliate” has changed. In the past, to humiliate was to humbly bow before another greater than yourself. Perhaps “Day of Humility and Prayer” would better convey the old meaning. (And Four exegetes just started typing angry responses…)

But the modern tendency to ignore the need for repentance comes through loud and clear in the new title. I haven’t counted words, but posts from national church bodies I respect have been more “pray for mercy” in a generic way than “repent and pray for deliverance.” That’s not a good thing. It’s always a good idea to look at our own conduct in light of God’s Law. Our hearts – even renewed by the spirit – are wayward blackened things. To steal an analogy, it isn’t that the ground of our hearts contains some rocks we must remove to be perfect. It’s that a thin veneer of dirt is on a layer of rock that will grow nothing. Only God can make our hearts able to bear fruit. And the more we look at our conduct honestly in the light of God’s Law, the more and clearer we see our sin.

Prayer does nothing if it is merely a facebook meme. Typing Amen does not equal 1 prayer. Prayer is the earnest and sincere heart laid bare before God. The prayer of the righteous man is effective because God looks favorably on those prayers. But they are effective because of the one we pray to, not because of the prayer itself. I see a lot of people who say they are sending out prayers for those who are suffering. That’s a good thing, assuming the prayers are not offered to idols, and assuming they are actual prayers, not just a click of the “like” button.

But I don’t see anyone suggesting godly repentance. During these trying times, it may be a good idea to consider not only prayer for our neighbors in need, but repentance in our own hearts and lives. Oh, celebrities have foolishly suggested that the Atlantic Ocean is unhappy with the results of last year’s electoral college contest. That’s the sort of shallow worldliness one expects from those who spend their lives chasing fame and glory. But even in their self-delusion, there is a hint of a deeper truth. We could all stand to consider our place in life according to the ten commandments. Repentance of that sort would be a good idea for each of us individually.

Then maybe our churches would not be bashful about a “day of humiliation and prayer” as we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may lift us up in due time.

 

If you liked this post, you might like “What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism.” Pastors and lay people have been telling me it really helps them to read the Large Catechism. The Large Catechism is a series of sermons –  some of the best ever written. And now, you can read them with deeper understanding.

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