The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the traitor for the upright. — Proverbs 21:18
Hearing Isaiah 43:1-7 in church several weekends ago, I was struck by the bolded part below:
43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. 5 Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you. 6 I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
Yes, God desires all – without qualifications – to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He really would have his word be preached to all, and means that it would be effective (or efficacious) when and where it pleases Him, as the Book of Concord insists. God gets all the glory for this. That said, not all will be saved, and unsaved persons get all the blame for this. During the course of time, some who resist Him, in fact, will perish that others will live. Salvation and damnation go hand in hand, and one will not be had without the other.
Speaking with my pastor after the service, he noted that throughout the Old Testament, God is often reminding the Israelites that they were saved in part through the loss of the Egyptian’s firstborns. In short, their firstborn children – also unbelievers – were sacrificed that the Israelites might have life.
Now that is not the kind of stuff I think about every day, nor am comfortable thinking about. I do tend to glory not only in the cross, but also in the fact that God does not desire the death of the wicked and would have all be saved (see here). Still, I have gotten somewhat close to this (see this past post), but never connected many of these dots.
Blessing to you this Holy Week, as we remember the Lamb who became sin for us.
What Lutherans say here, based on Augustine, is true. Even if we say someone does the right thing for the right reasons, there is more to be said. For the motives of even the strongest Christian are mixed, as the infection of original sin remains with us until the grave (see Romans 7). And besides this, even Christians…
– do the wrong things for the wrong reasons
– do the right things for the wrong reasons (which we sometimes feel or think are right)
– do the wrong things for the right reasons (though are right reasons are never totally pure)
I recently read The Gift and Task of Lutheran Higher Education (2004) by Tom Christenson. Here are some quotes related to this:
– “[Luther said] there was no part of our human life that was essentially more sinful than another. We cannot avoid sin by beating up on our bodies or by practicing self-denial” (43)
-“Our very intention to be virtuous may be as motivated by our sinfulness as anything is” (111).*
– “For Lutherans… sin is not a moral category but an ontological one. It is how we now are, not what particular thing we have done or not done. We do not avoid sin by being good, because our every effort to be good in itself is sinful” (43)
– “How much evil in the world has been done by people trying desperately to establish their own righteousness!” (44)
– “For Lutherans neither ethics nor religiousness are ways to avoid sin. Both are sin-stained institutions.” (45)
I agree with all of these statements and yet I want more nuance to be introduced. The reason for this is that some want to take statements like these and build on them so that they ultimately can feel justified in saying that there are some things the Bible calls “sin” that we do not need to worry about.
So when Christenson, says:
“We may say about an unmarried couple living together that they are ‘living in sin’. A reflective Lutheran should not talk that way because, from a Lutheran point of view, we are all living in sin, whether we are married, single, sexually active, or celibate. Our sexual situation or orientation or practices do not make us more or less sinful. Any relationship may be self-serving, harmful, abusive, careless, and hateful. We are certainly not rid of all that simply because we have enjoyed a church wedding” (44).
…I need to balk. His point is taken, but it is also easy to see where this road goes, and has gone. Whatever wisdom he may have here, it is what is left unsaid that is the biggest problem. And that is that faith only lives in repentance, and we should fear the effects of all unrepentant sin. To say “we are all sinners” is not to give up on this.
And what this tells us is that we live in sin not only according to our ontological state, but in the “grooves of life” we choose to inhabit (this goes hand in hand with God’s Law “curbing” sin – it is not only about the force of Another’s will). There is something very objective about these matters. You use something in the wrong way, and you get burned.
As I said before:
“The Law of God describes that objective form of life wherein (not whereby) our relationships with God and neighbor are nourished and are brought to fulfillment.”
Update: as my pastor more simply puts all of this: “just because sin taints the thoughts, words and actions demanded by God, a distinction must still be made between such acts and those acts which are by definition sinful. In the former case, we have the New Man at work attempting always to keep the Old Man under control. In the latter case, we have the Old Man firmly in the drivers seat.”
* – Christenson also says “Our own efforts to secure our own sinlessness themselves spring out of pride and are marred by sin” (43) which sounds good on one level, but may cause one to wonder whether there is any genuine “pursuit of holiness”…. I wonder if what he states here goes hand in hand with his anthropology, which, among other places, he addresses on p. 74 of his book:
“But what if Luther was right, that we are simul justus et peccator, not only both saint and sinner but both at the same time and in the same respect? What if, for example, human accomplishments and human destructiveness are not expressions of opposite parts of the human, but expressions of the same thing? What if it is the best part of us that goes wrong? Is Is that the meaning of the story about Adam and even in the garden who ate the fruit from one tree that was the tree of knowledge of both good and evil? (p. 74)
Note that this is not Luther’s view of the same issue. What exactly does Christenson mean by a) “in the same respect;” b) “expressions of the same thing;” and c) “the best part of us”?
You should take a listen to this interview with Dr. Scott Murray, currently the fifth vice-President of the Lutheran Church – MIssouri Synod (LC-MS). It is called Unionism, Syncretism, and Ecumenism, and it is an excellent introduction, both in terms of history and theology.
The only thing in the interview that may be potentially confusing to some is Murray’s mention of the “Kingdom of the Left”. This has nothing to do with the modern political left, but is simply the Lutheran term of designation for one of the two ways that God rules the world. God rules the world through His Church’s use of His Word and Sacraments – particularly through the free forgiveness, life, and salvation given in Jesus Christ – and He rules the world via sword-bearing rulers through the “natural law” in men’s consciences (and, originally, through God’s revealed law as well) – particularly through the binding powers of human reason and the force of law. This distinction arose in the 16th century, as Luther attempted to expand on and further clarify insights that St. Augustine made in his classic work, the City of God.
The best of Issues, Etc. is now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I cannot say enough good things about this show and its host. My time in seminary was valuable but Issues ETC. definitely goes places I never went in seminary. And I am very thankful for where it goes. For the most part, I think it is, by the grace of God, fearless.
Check it out for in-depth series on Reformation Theology, Apologetics, Biblical Interpretation, Christianity & Culture, Church History, Hymn Studies and more.
Of course, it presumes a certain context: that we are talking about forgiveness, life, and salvation for Christ’s sake – peace with God through the crucified and risen Son of God via words from God (so if you are talking about some other kind of salvation, that statement would not necessarily be true)
And if you don’t want forgiveness for sins God has shown you, it seems we are not talking about the same Jesus (see this interesting post to) – even if we are using the same words. If you were baptized into Christ, it would seem that although your baptism was valid, it is not presently efficacious. In other words, maybe you can say “I was baptized”, but can you honestly say “I am baptized”?
But what if you are not sure you don’t need forgiveness for such sins? What if you are struggling – meaning that you are not complacently taking pride in your “noble struggle” – but are truly haunted and bothered by it?
The fact that you have warring motivations does not change the fact that you have eternal life – this war is evidence that you have His Spirit already, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is fighting in and for you. The words of a “Mighty Fortress is our God” come to mind:
…He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit….
He has been reconciled with you and you with Him.
And that doesn’t mean everything is easy! – receiving all the salvation God has for us can be a difficult process to endure.
And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife….
But we must always remember that forgiveness, life and salvation do not just come to us at the beginning of our life with God, but throughout it (listen to this free audio of the Gospel for those broken by the church if this is sounds like something you need to hear more of).
Just remain in Him. Remember Him. Treasure all His words to you – ones that condemn and kill you and ones that comfort and raise you. For he is everything to us and we look nowhere else. In the past, the present and the future His is the only Source of life, love, and light! By His word, He holds all that is good together.
Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.
“Jesus remember me in your Kingdom…” And as I recently read on an E.O. blog, “We are able to say no to God, but God is no longer able to say no to us, for according to St Paul, “there is only yes in God” (2 Cor 1:19), the yes of his Covenant which Christ has given on the Cross….”
Yes in that He is the friend of sinners, of bruised reeds, and smoldering wicks…
In the coming weeks, I hope to do some others posts going into much detail about things like “free will” and “prevenient grace”.
I am a member of the LC-MS, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Like many confessional church bodies, we seem to divide long certain lines. Many in the LC-MS have taken to calling themselves “missional” while others have labeled themselves “confessional”. In practice, this seems to usually come down to churches that use contemporary Christian music and some “church growth” techniques and those that use the Church’s historic liturgy and generally are wary of church growth strategies.
I know that many “missionals” resonate with Pastor Platt (who, in his defense, is probably averse to many church growth practices – and I believe I heard somewhere that his “lifestyle” is quite humble, like the new pope’s). And many “confessionals” resonate with Pastor Fisk.So when Pastor Fisk sees not the Reformation but Rome in Pastor Platt’s trailer for his recent book (here is an interview where he urges “unconverted believers” to “slay themselves”), that is something interesting to ponder. You can see the short trailers for Pastor Fisk’s and Pastor Platt’s recent books here and here respectively, but perhaps you might want to take the time to watch Pastor Fisk’s “take down” of Pastor Platt’s trailer. It does seem to set up a rather stark debate:
The first thing that comes to my mind after seeing this, is a comment I recently came across from an Eastern Orthodox Saint, Mark the Ascetic. From the Philokalia:
“Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commandments and then expect the Kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.”
Serious Lutherans (like Pastor Fisk) can say “Amen!” to this. As a matter of fact, I recently came across a quote from Martin Luther in one of his last sermons where he preached in exactly this way here. It is clear that Luther to was concerned about “unconverted believers”. Check it out:
“Not all are Christians who boast of faith. Christ has shed His blood. We are justified by faith alone without works. You say, “I believe this.” The devil, you say! You have learned the words you have heard the same way mockingbirds learn to repeat things. Where are the fruits demonstrating that you truly believe? You remain in sins; you are a usurer and more. Surely Christ did not die and shed His blood for the sins that you are intent on committing continually, but so that He might destroy the works of the devil [1 John 3:8]. If you were formerly a usurer, say, like Zacchaeus: “I will give half of my goods, and if I have defrauded anyone, I will restore it fourfold.” [Luke 19:8]. The blood of Christ kills sin; it does not make it alive, which is the work of the devil, who inflames the desire that makes human beings murderers and adulterers. Christ did not die so that you might remain that kind of sinner, but so that sin, having been slain, might be blotted out, and you might henceforth love God and your neighbor. Faith takes away sins and puts them to death, so that you might not live in them but in righteousness. Therefore, show by your works and your fruits that there is faith in you. If not, the blood of Christ does not help. If you are a usurer, disobedient, neglectful of your station, then look to see whether you believe. For faith is victorious, triumphant, a conqueror of the world [1 John 5:4]. If you truly believe, you would not commit usury or adultery; you would not be disobedient. Let each one think: I have been made a believer; I have been washed in Baptism with the blood of the Son of God, so that my sins might be dead. [I will] not be disobedient and will declare this with my deeds.” Otherwise, give up the boast of being a believer. You know that you are a disobedient son, an adulterer; do not boast of faith and the blood of Christ. You belong to the devil, the way you are going, etc. You are bringing the name of the Lord into shame and yourself to eternal damnation.”— — Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity on 1 John 4:16-21, preached in St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg, Germany June 7, 1545, Translated by Christopher Boyd Brown. Pr 2002; WA 49:80-87. Copyright Concordia Publishing House, 2011.
Here one can see that Luther is showing those who have true faith are concerned that they demonstrate their faith by works – they realize faith and works go hand and hand and make their confession believable. Those who don’t have true faith don’t have this concern, even if they were at one point baptized. If my bringing baptism into this confuses you, listen to this excellent 1.5 minute clip from a powerful Lutheran preacher.
On the other hand, a few years ago, a great Eastern Orthodox friend of mine, sent me a quote from 5th-century saint John Chrysostom that he thought challenged the Reformation idea of faith alone. Since I know of several quotations from the “Golden Mouth” where he seems to uphold “faith alone” as being sufficient for salvation, I read it with interest. He said:
Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” ( John 17.3 ), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that doth but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing (fn. “i.e. believing”) doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. –Chrysostom, Homily XXXI on John (3: 35, 36). NPNF 1 vol..14. Page 106 (see full sermon here)
Do they disagree?And is Pastor Fisk Luther here while Pastor Platt is John Chrysostom? Or are they saying the same thing?(whether we speak of Luther/Chrysostom and Fisk/Platt)
Sadly, Luther and the Golden Mouth, being separated by chronology (and geography) were never able to get together for a beer and discuss these issues in their broader context. But thankfully the same limitations to not apply to Pastor Fisk and Pastor Platt. I think the idea of preaching the Law radically, and pointing out how our love for the world falls so short of Jesus Christ (see the trailer from Platt’s first book at the end of this post, which at the very least raises some very challenging points), is a superb idea that ought to be put into practice more (see John 16:8-11 here) At the same time though, I think that the more we do this the more we need to also give out God’s grace just as radically. Can we do both at the same time? I think seeing a conversation between these two men would be a great blessing for all Christians.
As to my own “harmony” of faith and works, I offer it here:
“Regarding the final judgment, Christians will judge the world as Jesus says and Paul echoes. That said, prior to the final judgment, Christians of course were to judge as God judges: showing mercy – both pity in the form of physical assistance and the forgiveness of God Himself through Christ – to all, first to the believer and then to the terrified unbeliever. Come the separating of the sheep and the goats, Christ and His Church will show mercy to those who have been merciful. In other words, to those who have shown themselves to be His children (after all, sons of God act like sons of God and it is right that they should be found with their father and brother). This means those who have forgiven much – echoing the forgiveness, or reconciliation of God Himself – will be forgiven. This means that those who opened up the Kingdom of Heaven to others will have the Kingdom of Heaven opened up to them. Like Christ, they eagerly gave the promise of paradise to those enemies of God dying to the left of them (and to the right, if they would only have it) who had nothing to give, and could pay nothing back. God’s people, like God Himself, are profligate with pity, mercy, and grace.”
“consider well that this 30-second ad almost certainly catechizes more effectively than a priest or pastor who has the attention of people for only a few minutes each week, or a parent who is simply going along to get along.”
…Whether you realize it or not, this ad is a big, aggressive shove. If you’re not prepared to shove back, you and your kids are going to get flattened. This ad is the purest expression of the philosophy embedded in our contemporary pop culture, and it is a powerful catechetic. This is what we’re up against.”
If I’d seen this commercial two months ago, it would have led in my series: A Lutheran Anthropology for non-Lutherans. Part I.Part II.Part III.
Maybe I am just naïve and idealistic, but it seems to me that if we would simply say that pastors asked to attend prayer vigils like those in Newton might dare, in Christian freedom, to offer to bring an uncompromisingly clear Gospel message (where Jesus is not a way but they way and others are not)…
a) Luke 13:1-5 (yesterday’s text) is released to speak in contemporary circumstances (relevant!)
b) We might get a chance to help a lot of people in our Synod and culture who are confused about the radical nature of the Gospel’s claims begin to understand them.
c) We could all start to think more critically about what it means to be a courageous witness – which means really loving one’s neighbor.
d) We could get the focus off us poor fighting sinners in the LC-MS…
e) …and we could put the focus on the only message that brings us true life, hope, and comfort throughout our lives…
f) …and get any outsiders interested in our controversy talking about the Gospel which will be power for salvation to some and a message of stumbling to many!
This is a condensed summary of a longer piece I wrote on this issue. See here for the longer version, with more context, explanation, and detail – and attempts to meet anticipated questions and objections.
Warning: the following post is long and detailed (i.e. wordy) – so as to prevent potential misunderstandings. In just a moment, I will be posting a short and simple summary (here it is) which you may want to read first to save your time. UPDATE: the Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler talked about the controversy I refer to below on his 15 minute news program last week. It is worth listening to (near the end):
First, let me possibly offend some on one “side” in the LC-MS. I know some are dismissing the above video produced by the group “Brothers of John the Steadfast” as propaganda. With or without the chanting in the background (taken from the actual service), I say that it is a perspective that we desperately need to understand – and even feel some real affinity with… Taking a step back from the sea of abject horror that was Sandyhook* (and the wave of inexpressible sadness and grief that followed), how can we not clearly see what happened in this “prayer vigil”? If after watching the video you are still not convinced, ask yourself this: what would have needed to occur in order for this to be a joint worship service?
Now let me possibly offend some on the other “side” in the LC-MS.
If you are a steadfast and confessional Lutheran, please bear with me on this. Realize that I think that I have both an extremely realistic side as well as an extremely idealistic one. If anything, I hope to be “sinning boldly” here.
Here’s my thesis:
Being a unionist or syncretist and participating in a unionistic or syncretist worship service are not necessariy the same thing.* One is sin where I think the other may not be, depending on what happens at the service.
What do I mean? First of all, let say that if I were a pastor I do not think that I would ever participate in a service like this (though I think I would talk about the possibility of doing so, as I am now). After all, we in the LC-MS all try to be “synod” which means “walking together” in a certain way. This means that in love we choose to limit our Christian freedom for the sake of one another (just like in a marriage one refrains from doing certain activities that may not necessarily be sinful, but do not contribute to the harmony of the marriage – and may even disrupt it! The Christian loves all, but first and foremost in concerned to show love and concern for the whole family of God [Galatians]). Further, the only way things could change regarding this current understanding about how the Church should act – if it in fact should change – would be for someone to convince others in the body that the current understanding about unionism and syncretism is not necessarily wrong, but is incomplete in that it does not adequately address the issue of the courageous Christian witness that we are free to do in the Gospel.
What exactly do I mean here? I suggest that it would be good, right and salutary if a Christian pastor, in a time of emergency, when asked to make his services available for such a worship service, would agree to do so – but only by making it clear to the organizers that the message that he would share would be one that would likely offend some persons attending the service (and could get him in a lot of trouble, quite frankly). If asked for further details, these would be forthcoming:
“I will try to present, as kindly yet forcefully as I can, that this disaster is a result of sin in our world and that the only hope in the face of such evil – in spite of all the other things that have been heard here tonight – is the Lord Jesus Christ, the only true God who overcomes sin, death and the devil. Any horrible circumstance in our life is ultimately meant to call us to turn from our sin to Jesus Christ (Luke 13:1-5). He has risen from the dead, carrying hope in His train – and these other “gods” people have invited you to pray to tonight cannot….”
Even if we were only invited to pray at such a service, one might still feel called to go and do something like Jesus did in John 11!: “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
I think this might be what a man like Elijah would do in this New Testament age. Loving confrontation after the manner of Paul in Athens (Acts 17). This is the message that a true teacher and preacher of true religion would bring. This message of eternal life is the only true message of comfort in this life (this is not to say that it is only words that can offer real and true comfort, for Job was comforted by his friends who sat with him in silence – it is simply to say that when words are involved, the content of these words is critical, as Job’s friends found out). Not that “we unite our sorrowful hearts with you tonight as we cry out to the God/gods we know”, but “listen you created in God’s Image…there is only One Answer to this situation….”
I think this is something we should definitely discuss: why should we not at the very least offer to come and preach this message? Is that not a very loving thing to do? (yes I totally understand if you think: “there is no way I would do that well…”). Yes, there is a snowball’s chance in hell we will be invited, but why not make it absolutely clear to one and all that we are more than eager to come and offer hope to devastated sinners – the only real hope anyone can have? (and also that we take no pleasure in being confrontational, but will try to do so in a way that cannot possibly be construed as being angry or fanatical). If we were to come and make good on delivering such a message, at least the Christians present would be both challenged and edified, and perhaps a few non-Christians, seeing their sin of not acknowledging this One True God, might hear and believe.
I think that this is where our discussion needs to go – it seems obvious to me there is clearly something “open” about this question. So what steps should be taken?
First, it makes a lot of sense to me that I should let Matthew Harrison do his job of continuing to interact with pastors Yeadon and Morris as he deems appropriate and we should not “barge into His office”, as one man put it (to be clear I think that Morris “sinned boldly” here in causing his brothers to stumble, but also sinned for lack of boldness in his actual words at the service). Second, men like Yeadon and Morris can be met “in the middle”. Even if I can, for example, agree with Pastor David Benke and former President Kieschnick that in some cases some men may indeed feel called to be at events like this, this would only be acceptable if a) a bold confession is offered (see above) and b) there is also real respect and concern for brothers who disagree (definitely not Pharisees!) who might stumble by their actions (can anyone fail to acknowledge that Todd Wilken was both brilliant and winsome in the way he recently answered a question about unionism on Issues ETC? [from 30:40-39:15]).
That said, the thing that is in the background the most is the following:
The whole point of framing the message this way would be to put both our focus (I do suspect that it would help many laypersons to better understand what is really at issue here) and the world’s focus not on disagreements by sinful persons in the Synod, but the message we proclaim. After all, our theology is built around the importance of the ongoing proclamation of this message – for both the unconverted and the converted. We want that message to be the only possible stumbling block – but even more, we want that to be the only thing that people are thinking and talking about. The one thing that they can’t get out of their minds.
For He is the Faithful Martyr, not us.
Please feel free to engage me here, and to make all the concerns that you have made known. I am indeed open to the possibility that there may indeed be reasons why what I have written here is simply wrong – things I am simply unaware of. I may very well have not been drunk on the Holy Spirit when I wrote this this past weekend…. though of course I am presently convinced that what I am saying is wise, otherwise I would not be bold to share it. I plan on listening right now, and only clarifying if people misunderstand me.
* do words from Jeremiah 7, 8 and 16 have anything to teach us here? It seems to me that in the face of events which are very traumatic and emotional for human beings, God might indeed come off as callous.
** if these terms confuse you, you can check out this video from Pastor Jonathan Fisk of Worldview Everlasting fame: