Archive for March, 2012

ABC Extra – By Scripture Alone

Luther Bible from 1720

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we looked at the life and times of King Josiah.  Following the reigns of two exceedingly wicked kings, his father Amon and his grandfather Manasseh, Josiah was a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The author of Kings can barely contain his delight when he writes, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2).  What was it that made Josiah such a noble king?  Succinctly put, Josiah was a man who followed God’s Word.  To cast Josiah’s piety in Reformation-era lingo, Josiah was a man committed to the principle of sola Scriptura – that Scripture alone should be the norm and guide for righteousness before God in faith and life.  This guiding principle comes out especially clearly when the high priest of Israel at this time, Hilkiah, discovers the Book of the Law (i.e., the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible) tucked away in the dusty recesses of the temple.  Heretofore, this book, with all of its guidelines for righteousness, has been lost to Israel.  When Josiah hears what the Book of the Law teaches, he immediately recognizes it as the word of the Lord and tears his robes in repentance over all the ways in which he and Israel have disobeyed God’s commands in this book.  For Josiah knows that Scripture alone should guide Israel’s life and his life.

Though the principle of sola Scriptura is clearly embraced by Josiah, it is not so eagerly welcomed by many in our day, even by those who claim the name of Christ.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across a quote on Facebook rejecting the principle of sola Scriptura, and one of its creedal texts, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  The quote commented:

The fact is that this passage does not even hint at Scripture being the sole rule of faith. It says that Scripture is inspired and necessary – a rule of faith – but in no way does it teach that Scripture alone is all one needs to determine the truth about faith and morals in the Church.

This quote was written as part of an article by the Roman Catholic apologist Tim Staples and argues that along with Scripture, Church tradition and the ecclesial Magisterium should hold pride of place as sources and norms of doctrine.  A couple of points are necessary.

First, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 makes an explicit claim to sufficiency which, by default, is an implicit claim to sole primacy.  Paul, when describing the benefits of Scripture, notes that it thoroughly equips the Christian for every good work.  Words such as “thoroughly” and “every” leave no remainder.  Thus, Scripture is solely sufficient for teaching us all we need to know about righteousness before God in faith and life.  Second, Scripture is replete with warnings against adding to or subtracting from Holy Writ (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, Proverbs 30:5-6, Revelation 22:18-19).  Such warnings, especially those against adding to Scripture, leave no doubt that Scripture considers itself a sufficient and sole source.

Finally, the difficulty with rejecting the principle of sola Scriptura is one of authority.  If Scripture is not the sole and supreme authority in one’s life, something else will be – whether that “something else” is tradition, another human, or one’s own sensibilities and desires. And these other things, as authorities, will inevitably trump Scriptural authority in some fashion.  For when one has multiple authorities, these authorities inexorably wrestle for primacy.  Thus, to hold to the principle of sola Scriptura is to hold to biblical authority over and against all other sources of authority.  And to hold to biblical authority is to hold to the doctrine of divine inspiration, for the reason Christians believe the Bible is supremely authoritative is because of its supreme and divine author.  And to hold to the doctrine of divine author is to trust in God – in this life…and for the next.

I can’t think of any one and any words I’d rather trust.  How about you?

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March 26, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Whole Christ

"The Crucifixion of Christ" by Gerhard Remisch

The other morning, I was reading 2 John as part of my devotions, when I once again came across a verse I have reflected on many times:  “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.  Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).  Though these words may strike us as harsh, they are true and necessary.  For theology – the study of God – and Christology – the study of Christ – are inextricably connected.  If one has an errant view of Christ, he will inevitably have an errant view of God, for it is precisely through Christ that God is revealed.  This is why, especially in the early centuries of the Christian Church, there were so many creedal formulations concerning Christ.  The early Christians wanted to make sure they accurately and faithfully confessed their Lord and Savior.  Alister McGrath notes, “The history of early Christian doctrine is the basically the emergence of the Christological.”[1]

Martin Luther offers three ways in which Christology can go askew:

The devil has work to do and attacks Christ in three lines of battle. One will not let Him be God, another will not let Him be man, and the third will not let Him do what He has done. Each of the three wants to reduce Christ to nothing. For what does it profit you to confess that He is God, if you do not also believe that He is man? Then you do not have the whole, real Christ with that, but only a phantom of the devil’s. What does it profit you to confess that He is man, if you do not also believe that He is God? What does it profit you to confess that He is God and man, if you do not also believe that He has become everything and done everything for you?[2]

Luther’s insists that, in order to believe in Christ, we must believe in His humanity, His divinity, and His work on the cross.  If we deny one part of this confession, we deny the whole Christ.  Why?  Because the person of Christ as true God and true man cannot be separated from the work of Christ, which is salvation.  Notice how the Nicene Creed confesses Christ’s person and work all together in one eloquently integrated sweep:  “For us men and for our salvation, [Christ] came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.”  Here we read that Christ “came down from heaven,” a reference to His divinity, He was “incarnate,” a reference to His humanity, and “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate,” a reference to His salvific work.  This is Christ.  He can be nothing less and He can do nothing less.

John’s tirade against those who deny “the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” is due to the fact that he cannot bear to think that someone would miss out on all that Christ is and all that He has done.  After all, why would we want something or someone less than the whole Christ?  For the whole Christ is one with God and, at the same time, in solidarity with us.  And whole Christ saves us wholly, without any worth or merit on our parts.  John can’t dream of settling for anyone or anything less.  I can’t either.  How about you?

[1] Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 3rd ed. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2005), 33.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 210.

March 19, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Common Question: What’s up with Lutheran worship?

One of the highlights of my week is weekend worship at Concordia.  It is very moving for me to gather with the people of God and sing praises to God, hear God’s Word, witness a baptism, and receive Christ’s body and blood in Communion.  Lutherans worship in a unique, yet thoroughly theological, way.  In fact, more than one person has asked me, “Why do Lutherans worship the way in which they do?”  It is with this question in mind that I write today’s blog.

First, it is important to understand there are two definitions of worship – one that is broad and one that is narrow.  Worship in the broad sense includes any way which we hail something or someone as god, either implicitly or explicitly.  This definition of worship is part and parcel of the First Commandment:   “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:3-5).  According to this definition of worship, we are all worshipers, whether or not we worship the true God, for we all worship a god.  Everyone has something or someone which holds prime place in their life and, as such, they worship this something or someone, for they hail it as god.

Worship in the narrow sense describes an activity that is distinctly Christian.  Perhaps my favorite definition of worship in this sense comes via the introduction to the hymnal, Lutheran Worship:

Our Lord speaks and we listen.  His Word bestows what it says.  Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise…The rhythm of our worship is from Him to us, and then from us back to Him.  He gifts His gifts, and together we receive and extol them.[1]

With this definition of worship, we learn three important things.  First, we learn that worship begins with what God gives to us and not with what we bring to God.  This is why, for instance, the highest holy day of worship in Israel was the Day of Atonement – a day not about what Israel brought to God, but about the forgiveness God gave to Israel (cf. Leviticus 16).  Second, we learn that after and only after God gives to us His gifts, can we respond to God with thankfulness and praise.  This is why, for instance, psalm after psalm celebrates and extols what God has done for His people (e.g., Psalms  107, 118, 136).  Third, we come to realize that worship can happen anywhere and at any time.  For God continuously bestows His gifts of grace and, as such, we can continuously say, “Thank you.”  Martin Luther colorfully quips:

The worship of God is the praise of God.  This should be free at the table, in private rooms, downstairs, upstairs, at home, abroad, in all places, by all people, at all times.  Whoever tells you anything else is lying as badly as the pope and the devil himself.[2]

The heart and soul of worship, then, is this:  God meets us with His gifts at all times and places and we respond in turn with thanksgiving at all times and places.

The above theology of worship is what guides and informs weekend worship at Concordia Lutheran Church.  It is worth it to briefly outline the shape and scope of a worship service at Concordia and consider how each element in one of our services reflects this broader theology of worship.


Each service opens with the name of God:  “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  This Invocation is meant to orient us around the reality that worship does not begin with us, but with God.  Indeed, our whole life in Christ begins with God, for the same name that marks the beginning of worship also marked us in our baptisms.  This is why we baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Further, this name reminds us that we are bound together in Christ, for we call upon “one Lord” and share together “one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6).  Luther Reed sums up the beauty of the Invocation nicely when he writes:

[With the Invocation], we formally express our “awareness” of the Presence of God, we place ourselves in that Presence, and invoke the Divine blessing upon the service which is to follow.  We confess our faith in the Holy Trinity, for whose worship we are assembled.  We solemnly call God to witness that we are “gathered together” in His name (Matthew 18:20) and in that name offer all our prayer, praise, and thanksgiving (John 16:23).[3]

Confession and Absolution

Part of the reason worship must begin with God is because we would be hopelessly lost if worship began with us, for we are sinners, completely unworthy to somehow storm the gates of God’s presence.  Confession reminds us of this.  It calls us to believe that, in light of the sin which we admit to in Confession, if we are to be in God’s presence in worship, God must come to us!  We cannot go to God.  Absolution, then, provides us with the assurance that God has indeed come to us in the person and work of Christ and still dwells with us according to His promise: “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).


Luther famously says of music:

I am not satisfied with him who despised music, as all fanatics do; for music is an endowment and a gift of God, not a gift of men.  It also drives away the devil and makes people cheerful; one forgets all anger, unchasteness, pride, and other vices.  I place music next to theology and give it the highest praise.[4]

Throughout a worship service, we sing.  We sing because we believe music is a gift from God.  We sing because many fine hymns and songs have been written which confess the gospel of God and express our praise and thanksgiving.  In these ways, God gives to us through music.

Scripture Reading

As the Introduction to Lutheran Worship says, “Our Lord speaks and we listen.”  Worship would be void and tragic if we did not hear from God!  Because Scripture is God’s Word, we can be fully assured that when we hear Scripture, we hear God.  This is why, at Concordia, we place such an emphasis on being in God’s Word.  From our Word for Today Bible reading program to our Memorize His Word Bible memory program, we want people to listen to the Lord!  And we know people can and will hear from God wherever and whenever Scripture is read.

Apostles’ Creed

The Introduction to Lutheran Worship says, “Saying back to God what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure.”  The recitation of the Apostles’ Creed allows us an opportunity to do just this.  Because this creed is thoroughly biblical, we can be assured that we are confessing what God has first said to us.  Because this creed is blessedly universal and historical, we can revel in the fact that we join a chorus of Christians all over the world and throughout the ages who confess this same true, holy Christian and apostolic faith.

Children’s Message

The Scriptures are clear on the responsibility we have to share with the next generation the works of the Lord: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, His power, and the wonders He has done” (Psalm 78:4).  In one of Israel’s creedal biblical chapters, we read, “These commandments…are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).  The goal of a children’s message is to take seriously Scripture’s call to share the gospel with all – old and young alike.  The children’s message, then, is catechetical in nature, teaching children the basic tenets of the Christian faith.


One of my favorite hymns declares:

We give Thee but Thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.[5]

This is a wonderfully succinct synopsis of the Christian doctrine of stewardship.  God is the owner of everything, even as the Psalmist declares, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).  Out of His grace, however, God graciously shares what is His with us.  The Offering, therefore, is a time to give thanks to God for what He has given us by offering it to Him, for it belongs to Him in the first place.

Prayers and Lord’s Prayer

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians prayed.  Talking to God is part and parcel of being a Christian.  At Concordia, we include with our prayers the Lord’s Prayer because we believe it to be the perfect prayer.  After all, it was taught by our perfect Lord!  One of the beauties of the Lord’s Prayer is that it is a prayer God is guaranteed to answer with a “Yes!” for the prayer is based on God’s promises.  For instance, when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we know that Scripture promises, “God does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13).  Thus, we know God will gladly not lead us into temptation, for this is His very promise!


The Lord’s Supper is a weighty moment.  Indeed, it is so weighty that Paul rails against the Church at Corinth when they misuse and abuse this precious meal from God (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).  Communion calls for both repentance and faith.  As Scripture directs, we are to “examine ourselves” (1 Corinthians 11:28) before partaking of the Lord’s Supper and repent of our sins.  We are also to believe that, in the Supper, Christ offers the remedy for our sins as He gives to us His own body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins (cf. Matthew 26:26-28).  Christ’s presence in this meal is His simple, yet profound, promise.


The sermon serves four main functions:  to convict, to comfort, to call, and to catechize.  In a sermon, first and foremost, we ought to be convicted of our sins and comforted by the gospel.  The sermon also ought to call us to walk according to God’s way of righteousness as well as catechize us in, or teach to us, Christian doctrine and biblical theology.  In this way, we can “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).


Just as the service begins with the name of God, the service ends with the blessing of God.  After all, after being forgiven for our sins, hearing God’s Word in Scripture and sermon, approaching God through prayer, thanking God for what He has given us, and receiving Christ’s body and blood in Communion, how could we not be blessed?  The Benediction, then, is an affirmation of everything that has taken place in the worship service.  We have been blessed by the Lord, and as we go forth from weekend worship, we will continue to be blessed by the Lord.  At Concordia, we include with the Benediction a Commissioning, drawn from Philippians 2:15-16, where we exhort worshipers to “shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”  As we have been blessed in worship by God’s gifts, our call is to be a blessing to others by sharing with them these same gifts.  As God says to Abraham:  “I will bless you…and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).

So there it is.  This is the shape and scope of a worship service at Concordia.  As the service moves from element to element, two things are clear.  First, it is clear that God is meeting His people with His gifts.  Second, the only appropriate response to such a monumental meeting is, “Thank you!”  May you offer God a “thank you” today – and every day – in worship!

[1] Lutheran Worship, Prepared by the Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1982) 6.

[2] What Luther Says, Ewald Plass, ed. (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 1546.

[3] Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy (Philadelphia:  Muhlenberg Press, 1947) 241.

[4] What Luther Says, 980.

[5] Lutheran Service Book, Prepared by the Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006) 781.

March 12, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments

ABC Extra – Hey, Jealousy!

One of the things I’ve always wished for is more hand-eye coordination.  From the time I was a child, I have never been particularly adept at doing anything that required my hands and eyes to work coordinately.  This comes out especially in the arena of sports.  A baseball – I cannot hit it.  A basketball – I cannot dribble it.  A football – I cannot catch it.  This is why, to stay fit, I run and lift weights.  There is no hand eye coordination required.

I have always marveled at those who could crush a baseball or swish a basketball or catch a football.  After all, these athletes can do things I could never hope to do.  Honestly, I am more than a little jealous of some of these folks.

Jealousy is a strange emotion.  We usually think of jealousy as a strident yearning of the heart after something someone else has.  We can be jealous of someone else’s talent.  Or we can be jealous of someone else’s wealth.  We can even be jealous of someone else’s piety – his self-control, her gentle spirit, his ability to be content rather than jealous!

In the Bible, the word “jealousy” has both a positive and a negative use.  In its negative sense, it describes “envy.”  Solomon warns, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).  In its positive sense, jealousy describes “zeal.”  As Isaiah famously prophesies concerning the birth of the Messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).  So what is the difference between sinful envy and holy zeal?  Envy is jealousy of someone while zeal is jealousy for someone.

Envy sees something someone else has and says, “I want it,” and either seethes with resentment because what is desired cannot be had, or uses dishonest or even diabolical means to attain what is desired.  King Ahab is the poster child for this kind of jealousy.  When the king tries to cut a deal with one of his subjects, Naboth, to purchase from him a vineyard, Naboth refuses.  When he is turned down, the story says Ahab “lay on his bed sulking” (1 Kings 21:5).  So Ahab hatches a plan.  He has Naboth stoned and commandeers his vineyard.  Ahab’s envy knows no bounds.

Zeal, on the other hand, is a deep desire and affection for something with which God has entrusted you.  As such, you are jealous for it, desiring to protect it and keep it from harm.  In Numbers 5, the law speaks of the jealousy a man has for his wife.  And indeed, a man should be jealous for his wife.  For God has given a man a great gift in a wife – and he should honor and protect her.  As Solomon says, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).

Jealousy is not all bad.  When God prohibits all forms of idolatry in the First Commandment, He explains His reasoning thusly:  “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).  God is jealous for us.  Beautifully, this simply means He loves us.

What kind of jealousy marks your life – jealousy for someone or jealousy of someone?  Do you seek to honor and protect those you love or do you seek to take that which you do not have?  One kind of jealousy flows from love.  The other flows from greed.  May you, as God’s child, be jealous with a “godly jealousy” (2 Corinthians 11:2).

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March 5, 2012 at 5:15 am 5 comments

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