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Monthly Archives: May 2009

From my mother’s womb you have been my God

Found here:

“You showed Your mercy before I could perceive it. You came to me with Your Kindness before I could long for it. Your generosity encompassed me before I could offer thanks for it. You not only marvelously formed me in my mother’s womb, but also drew me out from the womb. You have been my hope since I was at my mother’s breast. I was cast on you from birth. From my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

— Johann Gerhard, “Thanksgiving for Life and Birth,” Meditations on Divine Mercy

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Posted by on May 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Babies in Church (part III): The unattractive body

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.—Isaiah 53:2, NASB

No one comes to the Father except through the visible, concrete, enfleshed person named Jesus Christ.  Likewise no one comes to the Father except through the visible, concrete, enfleshed body of Christ, His Church. 

With Jesus, there was nothing about Him, externally at least, that should have attracted us to Him.  He was rather unspectacular, ordinary, simple – just like the Church.  It was not His physical appearance, “ancient historical feel”, relevance, ability to capture and keep great numbers, aesthetic beauty, etc. that drew the sheep to Him.  Likewise for His body, the Church.    

What was and is it then that drew and draws people to Jesus, and into Jesus – and by extension, His body?  Perhaps the miracles?  It was not these, but rather what those things pointed towards.  It was who He was – and the overflow of who He was – in His words and deeds – that drew persons to follow Christ.  In Him, the sheep found not a deceiver, liar, or thief, but the One who in words and deeds fulfilled the narrative of the Divine Drama (hat tip: Harry Wendt) of God’s chosen people, and their mission to the world. 

It is only the words that Christ spoke and lived out by which the faithful “word-treasuring” sheep identified their shepherd – and by which they themselves – by remembering and keeping such words – are identified as the Church.

Put simply, the eyes of child-faith see the visible, concrete, enfleshed Church wherever it is, although it is simultaneously “hidden” under the cross (i.e. it is unspectacular, ordinary, simple).  Faith sees this Church as God’s people worship, pray, and meditate on the Scriptures, saying “Amen” and confessing the words that have been put on their lips from above.  Faith also sees that these gather around Jesus’ body and blood (by which the one Church is made one by the One) which is also visible, concrete, enfleshed – though hidden much like the Church itself.

It is true though, that even the eyes of those in the world, from the outside, notice one “Christian Church” (probably often with Rome and the Pope in the forefront of the minds of those most worldly wise), albeit in a less deep, but nevertheless truly discernible, sense: namely, a community gathered together to worship the historical person named Jesus Christ (and no other earthly characters) who they say brings forgiveness, life, and salvation (among other things, depending on the emphases of the groups). It is something like this truth (i.e. about the visible nature of Christendom) I believe, along with strong religious, cultural, and national feelings, that often gives more Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox conceptions of the visible Church their power in the minds of their many adherents.  

But really, in the end, it is all so simple, so ordinary, so unspectacularso Lutheran.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Love like a child

Last night at our congregation’s Thursday night service, a young mother was eager to share a story with our pastor.  She taked about how her 2.5 year old daughter had a keen eye for the books in their house about Jesus, and that every time she would come across a picture of our Lord she would say, “I love you Jesus”, “I love you Jesus”…

As her mother told our pastor this and he looked for confirmation from the child, she shyly smiled.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Babies in Church (part II): Word or the Church?

Does everything – creation and salvation – start with the Word of God or the Church?  False dichotomy.

Insofar as Jesus is the Word of God in human flesh, things clearly start with the Word, since we are created beings.  On the other hand, the Word certainly used those united with Him in faith to proclaim His words and to write the Scriptures which God’s people recognize and assent to – so it also starts with the Church.

Yet on the other hand again, the Holy Scriptures, breathed by God’s own breath, cannot be set against the Church as a source of authority, for they were created by this very Church, and God’s loving intentions do not change.  Of course, there is the matter of interpretation: the Scriptures, read apart from the “rule of faith”, can be, and surely are, often mangled.  However, Lutherans have never claimed that the rule of faith is unimportant – for “the rule of faith”, actually, is created by, is comprehended by, and in fact is the Gospel itself, imparted to living persons who pass it on, or “tradition” it (they pass on “faith” and “the faith”).  This is the primary and foundational hermeneutical principle. In fact, it is this very rule of faith that drives us back to the voices of the earliest prophets, priests and teachers of the Church preserved in the Scriptures.

And what is this Gospel?  It is the fact that God promised to (O.T.), and now in these last days has, *reconciled the world to Himself*: it is His victory in the crucified and risen God-man Jesus Christ over the enemies of sin, death, and the devil.

The infant, who does not rationalize, freely receives this powerful Gospel – the forgiveness, life, and salvation won in Christ Jesus, who is the Logos, the Light, the Bread, the Life, the Lamb – slain from the foundation of the world. It freely receives the Word of God that creates new life in Christ and His Church. The infant, though sinful, freely trusts when the faith-creating Word is heard. The “rule of faith” lives, and grows, as it is nurtured within from without.

And again – since this treasure passed on to us in the Church’s historical voices is so important, it is right for persons to be instinctively driven back to the Scriptures time and again to test all things.  These are those who are truly driven by the rule of faith – which often has been formed and grown in them from their infancy.  Such are the Church, whether or not they are recognized as being so, and the Kingdom of God is theirs in Christ.

Pastor Will Weedon: “It was because she clung to Him who alone is truth, allowed His Word to judge everything she taught and submitted herself to Him, Truth Incarnate, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is not that her saying so makes things so; it is that she speaks the words of God faithfully.”

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Babies in Church (part I): can adults be saved?

The real question is not whether infants can have faith, but whether “rational” adults can.  All that we receive in our lives is, in the final analysis, a freely given gift from above – whether we recognize this truth or not.  Infants receive the gift.  Further, our ability to use language – even creating new language – to do the *necessary task* of describing as best we can the growth in our lives with the Triune God and His people is also a gift – albeit a limited one that never allows us to simply “fossilize” our talk.    

“I believe in one God…”.  The defining and primary experience of Christians is this: “I am Jesus’ little lamb, for God is reconciling the world to Himself though Christ”.  To say this does not exclude but necessarily includes realizing that one is among the Church, i.e. those who have also had this life-transforming truth imparted to them through precious flesh and blood.  And this truth about who we are – which brings confidence in its life-defining and ambiguity-dispelling words – can only be received like a child in faith, as faith “comes by hearing the Word of God”.    

A wise friend recently said: “Children ask much more interesting questions, the kind we cannot answer, right?” (with us, it is more often “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer”, he reminded me).

Indeed.  So, what is the Church?  Well, as Luther said in the Smalcald Articles, “thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy [catholic or] Christian Church (Article XII)”

Such an answer seems to me appropriately child-like, rather than childish.  After all, besides asserting that it *is* the body of Christ (chew on that), of whom He is the head, the Scriptures do not spend much time on this question of exactly what the Church is, how it is constructed on the ground, or indeed where one can find it. (they spend quite a bit more time on justification by faith actually).  Surely, we assert there is a glorified “Church triumphant”, made up of those true believers who have gone before us as well as an earthly “Church militant” that still struggles, and yet – among Christians today, many, sensing a lack of deep and meaningful experience, are asking “Where is the Church?” 

Lutherans further define:  Since God’s word are Spirit, and “where the Spirit is there is the Church” (Irenaeus), the Church is where the word is rightly preached and where the sacraments are rightly administered (linger on that second point a bit: I think the sheep know the most profound, great, and intimate expression of their Shepherd’s voice to be that which He speaks and freely gives in the world’s one Eucharistic fellowship, which will reach its apex at the Final Appearing and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb).

But what does this mean?  I think the thesis of a recent book “The Great Jesus Debates” by Douglas W. Johnson that “Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is at the heart of all the great controversies that shook the Early church as it tried to work out its own self-understanding”, gives us a good idea.  Should the question, “Where is the Church?”, not be thought of primarily in this context?

Discussions about the boundaries the visible Church are surely very important.  The Church is, after all, a fleshly and organic institution, much like a marriage, and the Church’s ordained leaders must therefore make difficult doctrinal and practical (as in practice) decisions in triage-fashion – often in the midst of the ambiguities of Christian experience.  But finally, I believe serious Lutherans must say: “We know with confidence where the Church is not (for example, it is *not* where the words “Jesus did not come in the flesh” are confessed, taught, and freely received [believed] without exception), but not where it is”.  I think that what is of greatest importance is that our confidence, surety, and hope is primarily derived from the explicit Gospel message that brings peace (Rom 5:1) and knowledge of salvation (I John 5:13) – or as Luther would say, “forgiveness, life, and salvation” – not from whether we are “in the right Church”.  The Church may be infallible in some sense, as it is surely pure and holy, but our definitions of it are all too fallible. 

Is there a danger here that puts the individual’s private judgment first (“I believe…”) – over and above the very Church (“we believe, teach, and confess…) – God’s chosen instrument – to bring life to the world?  I think it depends.  Surely, the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant (who fused rationalist and empiricist ideas, while de-emphasizing experience, tradition, and language) was wrong when he said “have courage to use your own understanding” – for he did not have in mind a properly-formed “rule-of-faith” understanding.  Only this understanding, formed by the Word of God, could both embrace his motto and yet also say with a holy vigor, “lean not on your own understanding…”

For it seems to me that the faithful follower of Christ has the courage to understand that these words “lean not on your own understanding” are most certainly true, as they are constantly reduced to the child-like faith that can only freely receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.  As Luther repeatedly emphasized, we can be glad our salvation does not depend on us.  That, surely, is something an infant can understand.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2009 in Uncategorized

 
 
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