Monthly Archives: July 2012

What is true and True?

When we are young, the concept of truth is pretty simple.  Things are or they aren’t and how all the truths that we know fit together probably doesn’t occur to us.  Mom and dad love me.  I feel safe around them.  God is Jesus who loves everyone and wants them to go to heaven with Him someday.  Etc, etc.

As we become adults though, things get more complicated.

Recently, I did a presentation for our university’s pre-seminary students called Faith Seeking Truth.  At one point, I did a bit of a summary of why people seek truth:

“From a simple worldly perspective, I can think of a variety of reasons persons might seek truth:

Truth is something we just want to know… 

Truth is valuable in a practical sense….

“Finally, it is good to seek the truth, even if the truth is not always good.  Why do children become so angry when they discover an untruth – a lie?  Even as the nobles/elites of our age talk about how one may seek the truth but cannot be sure we know the truth, their actions betray them, because they are constantly trying to organize and define and state what is true – and even ultimately True (with a big T) – even as they admit to doubts.  Even if some nobles/elites think it may not always be good for the “masses” to know the truth, it is good for them, at least, to do so.

But even if the world strives for a Truth (big T) – which inevitably ties in with how they live their life – we know they don’t have it.  This brings us to this Biblical truth found in Romans 1…  We actually suppress the truth.  And without the power of God to turn us from our sin, we suppress the Truth Himself.”

I had to question myself about this again: How many persons are really looking to organize, define, and state what is True?  Don’t some say that the only truth is that there is no all-encompassing Truth (with a big T)?  Is not this alone True?

I think the point here is that even persons who want to say things like this also ultimately find themselves saying that we can have enough real knowledge about the cosmos we live in to believe that some ways of living are preferable and more responsible than other ways of living.  If they refuse to even admit this, it seems to me they are simply not being honest with themselves.

So what is the practical endgame here?  This I think: even if we insist that others should be able to live the way they want to, what happens when push comes to shove, and reality seems to insist that different viewpoints actually can’t coexist?  Or what happens if the consequences of allowing a view to exist seem too great – how “tolerant” and “accepting” will we really be at that point?

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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


RC convert Jason Stellman’s perception of Lutheranism

There was some big news in the Reformed and Catholic blogosphere a few days ago about Jason Stellman, a well-known Presbyterian Church of America pastor who converted to the Roman Catholic church (see here)

Before the blog post explaining his conversion was taken down for some reason, I had commented:

“It seems to me this verse is pretty key to your argument:

“Necessary” in what sense? In the sense that if you do not submit to this you are in certainly in danger of excluding yourself (or you automatically exclude yourself?) from the Church and Christ? Really? That seems unlikely to me. Or is it more about being respectful of those with Jewish sensibilities so the unity of faith that already had been given and existed between Jewish and Gentile Christians did not get strained (leading first to schism, *then* heresy)? If it was the first option, when were these commands rescinded? To my knowledge, we don’t say all of them must be followed now (or does Rome)? Didn’t Paul say that we could eat food sacrificed to idols but we dare not do so if it means harming a brother who was weak in faith? Where in verse 28 does it say this was an: “authoritative and binding pronouncement that was bound in heaven even as it was on earth”? I understand words like that as regards God’s pastors granting forgiveness or withholding forgiveness based on their evaluation of whether or not a person is penitent, but not in this context.

Jason – I’m curious as to whether or not you considered Confessional Lutheranism (Chemnitz’s view of Sola Scriptura is quite different, and Lutherans do not absolutely insist that the 27 NT books are all of the same authority: for more see “round 1″ referenced here: ) and if not why not?”

Jason was kind enough to respond to me saying the following:

“I will let the actual Catholics here weigh in on the technical distinction between dogmas and disciplines.

I do think the context of Acts 15 indicates that one of the primary concerns was sensitivity to Jewish believers, which is why James points out that “from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (v. 21).”

As to whether or not he had considered Confessional Lutheranism, here is what he said:

“No, I did not consider Lutheranism, since it seems to me to fall prey to the same objections I have to Presbyterianism. We’re talking about big, paradigmatic issues here rather than mere differences over details. If Geneva and Saddleback exist in the same county, then Wittenberg is right next door.”

Interesting that he sees things like this.

For those interested in how I respond to the RC distinction between “dogmas and disciplines”, see “essential and non-essential doctrines” here (it is the last section – part VII – near the end of this very long post).

In sum, I think it is tragic when concessions which were made to preserve unity in the body of Christ (like what happened in Acts 15) become reduced to arguments for the sovereignty of just one part of the body – to whom all other parts must submit or face uncertainty as regards their salvation in Christ.


Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


My issues with Issues ETC.

I love Issues ETC.  Several years ago, it was arguably this show (and Wallace Schulz’s Good News magazine) that solidified me in my Lutheran convictions and kept me from other churches.  The only reason I don’t have an Issues ETC. widget on my blog is because I’ve tried several times but have always been unsuccessful.

That said, the other day I was really surprised at a show they had.  The guest, Pastor Tim Lorenz, was talking about the Substitutionary Death of Christ in the story of David and Bathsheba which was based on an article he had written for the Lutheran youth magazine Higher Things. Some of what he had to say was very in insightful, for example, comparing Uriah to a type of Christ (the makers of this excellent video should update it with this info!).

On the other hand, there was also what I can only call a blatant assertion of error – though unintentional I am sure.  The guest asserted that God was not actually punishing David by taking the life of his son, because he had been forgiven!  Of course, I agree that we can’t assume that if bad things happen God is punishing us, but in David’s case did he not tell him that this was the case?  I checked.  He did so explicitly (all this reminded me of this excellent post I saw years ago: Vengeance is mine, but I will not repay!)

I emailed the Issues ETC folks a couple times about it, but haven’t heard back.  So I thought I’d blog about it instead.  I hope that this is not a violation of the eighth commandment, but my excuse is that when I requested the new Issues ETC. Journal with the Pastor Wilken’s article “My Problem with the eighth commandment” they never sent it to me (as they say they will here – minor gripe! : ) )

Which brings me to my last issue, a bigger one.  They had the well-known Pastor, Bill Cwirla on, to talk about Simultaneously Saint and Sinner (also based on a Higher Things article – I’d include them in the title to if I had journal complaints about them!) the other day (7/23/12) and he said that there is no progress (growth) in the Christian life!  I was surprised to learn that the only progress we can speak of is the progressive death of old Adam.  He says we are supposed to “catch up with the death certificate” which ultimately happens when we die – but I guess not “catch up to ourselves in Christ” in the life we live in the body?  I mean, I might not feel like I see growth in my life, but I know Scripture says that I (there is an “I”, right? – or is Jesus alone the “New Man”?), working with the Holy Spirit, can and should grow (see here)

Now let’s say that in this post I have indeed committed a particular sin.  If I have, I should repent of it, correct?  Well, another thing Pastor Cwirla said is that we should stop focusing on ourselves and our sin and focus on Jesus.  I agree!  But I think it looks like this: call what you know God calls sin “sin”, and *immediately move on to call grace “grace”.  Pastor Cwirla may believe that is a good way of putting it, but that’s not what he said.  I’m afraid what he said potentially gives comfort to persons who reason in the following fashion: since even all my good works are sinful (true), then there is no need to ever repent of specific particular sins (false), so I should just get on with (false) serving my neighbor who really needs my good works (true).

Sadly, more and more persons in the LC-MS are thinking this way today.

This is especially important since individuals like Pastor Cwirla evidently do not understand something like marriage in a Gospel-sense at all!  (see comment # 196 here)  I always thought that marriage was a picture of God’s love not just for fallen human beings but for humanity period.  In other words, it was a free gift which brought intimacy, pleasure, and procreation between men and women and was a joyful “get to” right from the start – in an environment where there were *no* negative prohibitions, save that one…. (in other words, only later, post-fall, does marriage also function as a curb).

Therefore, I think Issues ETC. needs to ask harder questions.


Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


Consumed by the Personal (Lutheran mysticism?)

Once in a while, lovers lose themselves in the other personThey are consumed*.  In a like manner, there are times that children desperately want to be embraced, surrounded and smothered by a parent’s love.  This is a normal part of the human experience.

There also is a Divine corollary.  This morning, as I was listening to the book of Ephesians, I was again struck by the immense meaning in words like these:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe… I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Eph. 1:17-19a, 3:16-20, NIV)

Huh.  Do I have any clue what Paul is talking about?  Note that Paul is writing this to Christians, so Christ already does dwell in their hearts by faith.  He is praying that they would know more of what they, in a very real sense, already have.  My mind was brought back to a 1998 song by the popular CCM group (heyday in 90s), DC Talk, called “Consume Me” (above, see the lyrics here).   Many years ago, and again this morning, I felt though the message in this song was my highest desire, and that which I hoped and longed for…

Are such thoughts really Christian?  What would Luther say?  Interestingly, near the beginning of his career as a Reformer, Martin Luther reprinted a couple of classical “mystical works”, one by Johannes Tauler (1300-1361) and another mid-14th century work that came to be known as the German Theology Before this second book was adopted by the Radical Reformers and the Pietists, Luther – even after publishing his 95 theses – said of it: “Next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book has ever come into my hands from which I have learned more of God and Christ, and man and all things that are.”

If there is a valid expression of Christian mysticism though, what is its opposite?  It is to be consumed by the teachings of the one who comes disguised as an Angel of Light, who insists that we are consumed by the impersonal Reality that is Divine – that we are Divine.  Persons who believe this need to know the right teaching: man does not ascend to realize his Divine nature, but the Creator-God rather descends into His creatures in love, and this is clearly revealed in His Son and the words He speaks, which are spirit and life.

* “sin is about consumption, in which the good of life is taken and hoarded. The first sin, which was one of consumption, created a situation in which man could be restored to communion with God only by a different kind of consumption [i.e. Holy Communion]” – quote found here.

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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


Confession: I am narrowminded

And contrary to the words in this first picture, that is a good thing.  Confession not as in “mea culpa” but as in “believe, teach, and confess”.

What do I mean specifically?  Well, not that pursuing knowledge in areas such as modern science, the liberal arts, or philosophy is a bad thing (otherwise I would not have this blog, neglected though it is) – these are of the things mentioned in Philippians 4:8.

I mean this: narrow gates (Matt 7:14) require appropriately narrow minds.

These minds know this by faith: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I.e. Jesus, the most inclusive yet exclusive man who ever existed – the God-Man and Savior of the whole world.

Not only this, but I’ve noticed something in some of my blog conversations with others who claim Christ.  With Luther, they are more than eager to call themselves sinners when it comes to their original sin, or sin nature.  From the Smalcald Articles:

36]This repentance is not piecemeal [partial] and beggarly [fragmentary], like that which does penance for actual sins, nor is it uncertain like that. For it does not debate what is or is not sin, but hurls everything on a heap, and says: All in us is nothing but sin [affirms that, with respect to us, all is simply sin (and there is nothing in us that is not sin and guilt)]. What is the use of [For why do we wish] investigating, dividing, or distinguishing a long time? For this reason, too, this contrition is not [doubtful or] uncertain. For there is nothing left with which we can think of any good thing to pay for sin, but there is only a sure despairing concerning all that we are, think, speak, or do [all hope must be cast aside in respect of everything], etc.

37] In like manner confession, too, cannot be false, uncertain, or piecemeal [mutilated or fragmentary]. For he who confesses that all in him is nothing but sin comprehends all sins, excludes none, forgets none. 38] Neither can the satisfaction be uncertain, because it is not our uncertain, sinful work, but it is the suffering and blood of the [spotless and] innocent Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.

39] Of this repentance John preaches, and afterwards Christ in the Gospel, and we also. By this [preaching of] repentance we dash to the ground the Pope and everything that is built upon our good works. For all is built upon a rotten and vain foundation, which is called a good work or law, even though no good work is there, but only wicked works, and no one does the Law (as Christ, John 7:19, says), but all transgress it. Therefore the building [that is raised upon it] is nothing but falsehood and hypocrisy, even [in the part] where it is most holy and beautiful.

All well and good.  But note what directly follows:

40] And in Christians this repentance continues until death, because, through the entire life it contends with sin remaining in the flesh, as Paul, Rom. 7:14-25, [shows] testifies that he wars with the law in his members, etc.; and that, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Ghost that follows the remission of sins. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins, and works so as to render man truly pure and holy.

This part dealing with actual sins evidently does not grab them so much (this part is actually quoted in full in the Formula of Concord as well: Solid Declaration, part 2, On Free Will)

The Apostle Paul, as we might recall, had quite grave things to say in relation to this (see Gal. 5:19-21, I Cor. 6:9-11, and Eph. 5:3-7).  Do not be deceived indeed!  If God makes you aware of these sins in your life, agree with and believe His word – and do so with His forgiveness even more! (or, hopefully, you will be loved enough for this to happen!)

Finally, this is how Luther closes this part of the Smalcald Articles (Part III, Article III, Penitence):

43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, … and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Deliver us from our sin and sins, O Christ.  If we fail, may this (see #69) be true of us.

Make our minds narrow in You.


(for more narrowmindedness as regards the Law of God, see here, here, and here)

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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


Luther on the rearing and education of children

“…Luther makes no allowance for a ‘self-made’ man as did contemporary pedagogues like Erasmus.  Any hope for transformation and improvement could come only from the gift of faith and the righteousness of God.

Yet Luther’s understanding of a child as simultaneously sinner and saint marked a divergence from Augustinian thought.  While Luther, like Augustine, believed in children’s inherited sinfulness, he also praised children as the very model of a pure and simple faith.  The sinner in a child deserved the hand of sharp discipline but the saint in the child merited words of highest praise.  This is not to say that there was a perfect balance between discipline and praise.  By modern standards, discipline was indeed severe, but the Evangelicals believed that overindulging a child was worse: it would result in the child’s sinful self having free reign and would produce a self-centered individual who was unwilling to submit to authority.  Luther believed that young children had a certain spiritual advantage over adults in that they had not yet begun to rationalize their sin and were therefore more receptive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, it was important that, early on, parents impress upon their children a proper understanding of the Law and the Gospel.”

(pp. 67,68 in Korcok, Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future, italics mine


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Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Uncategorized