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Monthly Archives: February 2019

Announcement: A Congress on the Lutheran Confessions, May 8-10, 2019, in Bloomington, MN.

A Congress on the Lutheran Confessions

May 8 – 10, 2019

Crowne Plaza Aire*

Bloomington, Minnesota

 

THEME

ANTINOMIANISM New & Old:

The Return of Seminex theology in Light of the Lutheran Confessions

 

Presentation Topics:

– The Third Use of the Law: Seminex and Today

– The Atonement: When did Lutherans Start Denying It?

– Gerhard Forde and the Theology of Radical Lutheranism

– Hermeneutics & Textual Criticism: Seminex and Today

– The Death of the Word of God

– Lutheran Pastoral Practice: Avoiding Law-Gospel Reductionism

– Preaching Antinomianism (banquet)

– Gender Theology and the Splitting of the ELCA

– Drums, Saxophones & Bouncing Balls

– Trinity and the Amoral God / and Surviving the Storms

– Drums, Saxophones, and Bouncing Balls

 

Registration Fees:

ACL Member – $80.00 / spouse – $60.00

Banquet: $30.00 ea.

Non-ACL Member – $90.00 / spouse – $70.00

Banquet: $30.00 ea.

 

* The cut-off date for accepting reservations into the special Congress room block is Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The special room rate (single and double) is $125.00 per night (plus tax). To make room reservations, please call the hotel directly at 952-854-9000 or toll-free at 1-800-227-6963 and reference “Congress on the Lutheran Confessions.”

 

Association of Confessional Lutherans:  TheACL.org / TheACL@TheACL.org

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Posted by on February 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Does God Expect Rulers Today to “Kiss the Son, Lest He Be Angry”?

Byzantium icon of Christ, Pantocrator (ruler of the universe)

Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

–Psalm 2

You know, just asking.

Looking at the approaches of most modern Christian theologians when it comes to the issue of religion and politics, one will find that they tend to quite neatly separate church and state.

And it seems these theologians are often holding one another in check. In a recent piece at Patheos, titled “Even a Liberal Theocracy is Still a Theocracy,” Reformed theologian D.G. Hart takes aim at persons on the evangelical Christian left (via his critique of Alan Cross), who, he says, do the same thing as the Christian right by trying to influence government with Christian principles (why, one might wonder, do people only tend to complain about “Christian nationalism” when it comes to the Christian right?)!

Its a smart essay, but the final impression left by Hart is that any legislation done by Christians not under the auspices of reason alone (perhaps by appealing to natural law arguments alone) is suspect and not really in line with “two kingdoms” theology. One reason such efforts are suspect, Hart says, is that Christians today are necessarily selective as they try to legislate God’s moral law (Mormons are in violation of the First Table of the Commandments, for example, but as regards responsibilities towards God, no Christian legislators are looking to strengthen blasphemy laws).

Another word for Hart’s “liberal theocracy” could be “Soft Constantinianism,” a term coined by the evangelical theologian Scot McKnight. This is the label he applies to the “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern,” for example, actually signed in 1973 by evangelicals whose political orientations were across the spectrum (from Carl F. Henry to Vernon Grounds to Jim Wallis to John Howard Yoder).

I find it very interesting that McKnight says that the desire to influence the state in a Christian direction in order to back up the Christian voice necessarily means Christians give final authority to the state (217, Kingdom Conspiracy). What is he getting at?

Scot McKnight says that the desire to influence the state in a Christian direction in order to back up the Christian voice necessarily means Christians give final authority to the state.

Below is this 1973 statement. What do you think of the statement? McKnight’s take on it?

As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm that God lays total claim upon the lives of his people. We cannot, therefore, separate our lives from the situation in which God has placed us in the United States and the world.

We confess that we have not acknowledged the complete claim of God on our lives.

We acknowledge that God requires love. But we have not demonstrated the love of God to those suffering social abuses.

We acknowledge that God requires justice. But we have not proclaimed or demonstrated his justice to an unjust American society. Although the Lord calls us to defend the social and economic rights of the poor and oppressed, we have mostly remained silent. We deplore the historic involvement of the church in America with racism and the conspicuous responsibility of the evangelical community for perpetuating the personal attitudes and institutional structures that have divided the body of Christ along color lines. Further, we have failed to condemn the exploitation of racism at home and abroad by our economic system.

We affirm that God abounds in mercy and that he forgives all who repent and turn from their sins. So we call our fellow evangelical Christians to demonstrate repentance in a Christian discipleship that confronts the social and political injustice of our nation.

We must attack the materialism of our culture and the maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and services. We recognize that as a nation we play a crucial role in the imbalance and injustice of international trade and development. Before God and a billion hungry neighbors, we must rethink our values regarding our present standard of living and promote a more just acquisition and distribution of the world’s resources.

We acknowledge our Christian responsibilities of citizenship. Therefore, we must challenge the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might – a proud trust that promotes a national pathology of war and violence which victimizes our neighbors at home and abroad. We must resist the temptation to make the nation and its institutions objects of near-religious loyalty.

We acknowledge that we have encouraged men to prideful domination and women to irresponsible passivity. So we call both men and women to mutual submission and active discipleship.

We proclaim no new gospel, but the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, frees people from sin so that they might praise God through works of righteousness.

By this declaration, we endorse no political ideology or party, but call our nation’s leaders and people to that righteousness which exalts a nation.

We make this declaration in the biblical hope that Christ is coming to consummate the Kingdom and we accept his claim on our total discipleship until he comes.

November 25, 1973, Chicago, Illinois

McKnight’s main answer to political activism in his book Kingdom Conspiracy, by the way (whether of the kind from the Christian right or the left), is that generally speaking, Christians should primarily seek to do the will of the Lord among one another, in their local congregations, as opposed to the wider world.

Certainly, McKnight has a point in drawing our attention to this truth (see Galatians 6:10, for example, which he often quotes). And along those lines, here is a short article on “Justice and Poverty” from the Lutheran Study Bible, written by Concordia College New York (Bronxville) President John Nunes (found by looking up “Social Justice” in the index, another “hot topic” these days!):

“The OT contains more legal and prophetic material about the poor and the powerless than any other societal problems. In both narrative and prophetic texts, a strong relationship exists between righteousness — the cornerstone of the Christian doctrine of justification — and justice. In Hebrew and Greek, righteousness and justice share root words. As justified believers — made right with God entirely though Jesus Christ — our attitude toward and treatment of the poor is a fundamental justice question. Questions of justice inevitably flow from the faith of the justified ones. God says to his people, “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land'” (Dt 15:11). When the weak are oppressed and the needs of the poor come to God’s attention, the psalmist writes that God “will now arise.. I will place him in the safety for which he longs” (Ps 12:5).

More than half of Jesus’ parables (17 or 29 in the Synoptic Gospels) concern money. These parables lay out the perils of misplace priorities; they are stories of the disordered, upside-down lives of people whose long term “investments” expire prematurely. Jesus urges his disciples to invest in the Kingdom, in God’s people, in those who are poor and needy in the eyes of the world. Followers of Jesus stock up on true righteousness and justice, rather than on riches that rust or fade away.

God’s Word addresses situations that sound similar to our modern context (cf Dt 15:7;24;14, 17)… In Ps 41:1, we hear a beatitude of brotherly love: “Blessed is the one who considers the poor!” In any society, there will be those who are too weak to “make it” — those who aren’t strong or resilient enough, who aren’t skilled or tough-willed, who lack the “right stuff” to make the right connections. Such individuals often are marginalized. We see, all too clearly, where they stand. The question is Where do we stand? Do we stand with them?

As God’s redeemed people, we have the calling — and opportunity — to be openhanded and tenderhearted toward those in need, not hard-hearted and tightfisted.”

Adapted from John Nunes, Voices from the City (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 34-36.

Anyone these days want to defend any kind of “Constantinianism”?

Is this kind of work, however, something that Lutherans like Nunes believe should only be done by the church, by local congregations, and not the secular (secular meaning “of the earth” or “of the world,” not in any anti-God sense) government?

In other words, are conservative Lutherans (Nunes is LC-MS) necessarily with Hart and McKnight? Today, that does tend to be the case…

That said, not in the past at least, says a friend of mine who knows these issues well. When it comes to the matters discussed by Nunes, for example, he points out how the materially poor and other “socially marginalized groups and their treatment” were core concerns of Martin Luther. And what did Luther suggest was the way to address the problem? The Reformer advised moral exhortation to both the rich and the poor, individual charity, collective / government financial support, and legislative reforms that both freely and reasonably drew from Old Testament examples. Luther, my friend pointed out, thought and wrote about these things before the modern “conservative” / “liberal” divide that so often equips us with blinders… resulting in a narrower set of approaches to what amounts to a big problem.

Luther’s Christian government programs for alleviating poverty?

Still, that was then, this is now, right? Things kept changing…

In America in the 17th century, the famous Rhode Island Baptist Roger Williams argued for “soul liberty” and the idea that the church and state should be very separate because the state was not competent to judge persons by the Scriptures (no promulgating and enforcing the First Table of the Ten Commandments because there were contradictory readings of Scripture).

And yes, even Martin Luther in the 16th century said “the distinction of true from false doctrine is per se no concern of the secular authorities”. Therefore, it seems reasonably to argue that Luther’s logic lead to saying, for example, that there is nothing Christian rulers can do to prevent Christian churches–surely an integral part of the culture they oversee!–from fracturing into pieces (as Constantine, and, perhaps ironically, German princes in the late 16th century appear to have done by making the theologians talk and work out their differences).

“Is Christ divided?” I  n his book Defending Constantine, Peter Leithart shares Constantine’s writings which express fear of God’s wrath if His One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church were to break apart.

More on the “First use of law” (i.e. the “political use of the law” — for Calvinists this is the “second use” of the law) in the “Kingdom of the Left” (no, that’s not the modern left and/or the Democrats!) in my next post here.

FIN

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Can Unbelievers Seek God? And What is the Best Reason for Them to Go to Church?

“I am the Lord your God…” “You belong to me…” Bad news or good news?

 

First question: “Can unbelievers seek God?”

Udo Middlemann, in his book The Innocence of God, says that many Christians give this impression to unbelievers: “their search [for God] is hopeless, they are unable even to seek; it is all a matter of predestination from God alone.” (63).

Is Middlemann correct?

After all, the Lord’s Apostles do say:

  • For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Cor. 1:18).
  • The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness… (I Cor. 2:14).
  • That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6).
  • All of us [Christians] also lived among [the unbelievers] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath (Eph. 2:3).
  • No one understands; no one seeks for God (Rom. 3:11).

How can one change one’s very nature or essence? How can one even seek to changes one’s very nature or essence? Evidently, there is only so much those captive to the devil’s will (see 2 Tim. 2: 24-26) can do here!

Even if I am “dead in sin”? (Eph. 2:1)

 

That said, given that elsewhere the Apostle Paul encourages non-Christians to seek God (Acts 17:27), the real point is this: unbelievers do seek wrongly, but even wrong seeking can nevertheless be beneficial when it leads to hearing God’s Word!

Second question: “What is the best reason for them to go to church?”

To start to address this second question, let’s begin by asking the following:

“Is attending a worship service, for example, where the Scriptures are read and preached, better than not attending at all?”

The answer to this question is definitely yes! Strive to enter God’s Kingdom by the narrow gate – with all your wrong reasons in tow!

So, who, for example, attends a Christian worship service for the wrong reasons? Well, a number of persons do.

Remember from our first question above that the Lord’s apostles give the impression that unbelievers can’t even begin to read the Word of God or attend Christian worship for the right reasons – even if they want to do these things![i]

“…whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away…” — the Apostle Paul

 

So what in the world is happening here? Well, all of the following—which is by no means an extensive list—might be one’s overriding reasons for reading the Bible or attending worship, and none of them should ever be the main reason:

  • To please a family member
  • Because you live in “Christendom,” and that is what the baptized citizen does (oops – wrong century!)
  • To be seen as a person who upholds traditional values (wrong century again?)
  • To get connected with the Big Sugar Daddy in the clouds
  • To get on the Big Man’s good side.
  • Assuming “knowledge is power,” to become a more well-informed and intelligent person
  • To make connections with those in a community
  • To join in acts of social justice with others from a community
  • To learn more about the topic ; to get information (for whatever reason)
  • Simple curiosity!
  • To confirm one’s biases against the faith and its followers
  • That one may boast of one’s extensive knowledge of the Scriptures ; to satisfy one’s own pride
  • To be a better person than my neighbor
  • To find support for one’s sectarian or heretical opinions
  • Because one likes to listen to the preacher, like Herod did John the Baptist, or St. Augustine did St. Ambrose
  • To find meaning, direction, and growth in life
  • The idea that one ought to do something like this in order to be a good person
  • Guilt, underlying fear of judgment and punishment
  • Terror of the possibility of the God who just might judge the world, as evidenced from His raising Jesus from the dead (see Acts 17:30-31)

“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead….” — The Apostle Paul

 

A couple comments.

First of all, some of those reasons given above are not just about unbelievers but common to Christians as well! The fact of the matter is that while we are new creations we will struggle our whole life long with what the Bible calls our “old Adam” or nature (see Romans 7). This church thing is often not easy for Christians either!

Second, some of you may be wondering what is particularly wrong with those last four options?

It is because they have nothing to do with Christian faith per se.

 

Christians attend worship services because they have been incorporated into God’s people by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light!” (I Pet. 2:9) This in turn has caused in them a desire to trust, love, and revere and honor the Triune God. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which gives them forgiveness, life, and salvation, they are those who now give God their primary attention.

They, along with their brethren, come to sit at His feet and be blessed.[ii]

OK – but let’s get back to the person who comes for all the wrong reasons. If they come for those last three reasons in particular, might that be better than coming for the other reasons?

Yes.

In fact, if a person is an unbeliever, there is only one thing they can do in regards to God internally that is “salutary”… beneficial (its only “good” — note the quotes — in a fallen world)…

Be terrified.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. – Proverbs 9:10

 

Why?

Because then such a person might find himself in His Presence and really care to hear what He has to say to him.

And how can we hear what God has to say to us?

In these last days, by listening to His Son (Heb. 1:2), whom He not only raised from the dead to demand our attention, but that we might have new life.

Yes, 3 Trinity Baptist Church signs in a row. Nice work guys!

 

You’ll hear about Him in a faithful church — one that takes the Bible seriously. And, one hopes, where there is a great concern that His Word and Sacraments are administered in their truth and purity.

Go – and listen attentively. Seek the Lord while He may be found![iii]

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation! — The Apostle Paul

 

If this doesn’t describe your current situation, I hope this link might prove helpful to you.

See you there!

Amen! “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin…”

 

+++

And, by the way, if you are a Christian reading this, I should add one more key reason people darken the door of a church: because you, their friend, their neighbor, their co-worker, invite them!

FIN

 

Notes

[i] Francis Pieper: “Calovius before others gives luminous and clear-cut expression to the truth that before a person’s conversion is accomplished for the first time, no spiritual motions can be ascribed to him. He says: “Though unconverted persons at times gladly hear the messengers of the Word, this is because of the outward talents of the latter, or from some other carnal desire (ob aliam quamvis cupiditatem carnalem), as in the case of Herod. [[Mark 6, 7 >> Mk 6.7]], and is not due to an inclination for the Word of God (ob affectum erga Dei verbam), since such inclination is a product of faith (e fide redandat), which originates only from hearing the Word, [[Rom. 10, 17 >> Rom 10.17]]. Before conversion there is no such spiritual desire (desiderium spirituale) nor any such inclination towards the divine Word, because the Word is foolishness to natural man, and meets with his resistance, [[1 Cor. 2, 14 >> 1 Cor 2.14]]; [[Rom. 8, 7 >> Rom 8.7]].”[i]) And again: “If in the unconverted man pious motions, holy thoughts, beginnings of faith, a struggle of the spirit against the flesh are imagined (finguntur), this involves a self-contradiction; for where such motions occur, man is awakened from death and already lives through spiritual life. …” p. 112, Conversion and Election, 1913.

[ii] Pastor Todd Wilken, in his article “Why Do You Go to Church?” has said that we go to church to get the forgiveness of sins.

I think his article can basically give us this important message: “This is where you can positively, definitively, find forgiveness of sins and peace with God! This is where He has promised to be, to chase out all your uncertainty!” Yes indeed! It is there, after all, that you can find the authoritative pronouncement of the same by ministers trained and authorized to carry out His commission and administer His “means of grace”.

On the other hand, I also think I go to church precisely because I’ve been taught that God’s mercy and compassion precedes my ongoing repentance. I’ve been taught—and I believe the Bible confirms—that God forgives those sins I’ve committed even without my awareness. Therefore, the forgiveness that happens in worship is really the very public (and authoritative!) “tip of the iceberg,” if you will. So I would also say, in general, we go to church to get forgiven because we are people who have been formed by Christ’s forgiveness by virtue of continually hearing His Word, the most important public example of this being the public worship service.

By the way, these worship services might be more or less “public” (the early Christians worshipped in the homes of wealthier believers). Nevertheless, Christians are told to continually gather with one another and do, for “no man is an island” – much less a man on an island with just His Bible!—and we are no doubt formed by others in Christian community. We also offer the “right hand of fellowship” to other believers. The more the merrier, even as at some point we might think either that we are getting to big or that it would not be a bad idea to split up and have more “cells” where others can also find and worship Jesus.

[iii] “Lucas Osiander, commenting on [[Is. 55, 6 >> Is 55.6]], says: Tum Dominus prope est et inveniri potest, cum per evangelii praedicationem nobis salutem offert. Cum autem verbum suum aufert, ut non amplius recte agnoscatur, tunc nec inveniri neque recte invocari potest. Quare grata mente occasionem, qua Dominus ad nos clementer accedit, arripiamus. That is to say: “The Lord is near and can be found when through the preaching of the Gospel He offers salvation to us. But when He takes away His Word, so that it no longer is correctly understood, He can be neither found nor properly worshiped. Let us, then, gratefully seize the opportunity by means of which the Lord in His grace approaches us.” This manner of speaking has found its way into our Confession, where we read: “Such calling through the preaching of the Word we ought not to regard as a delusion, but know that God thereby reveals His will, that He would, by means of the Word, work upon those whom He thus calls, that they might be enlightened, converted, and saved.”[iii]) The expressions, “possibility of conversion,” “opportunity” of conversion, “possibility of being converted,” should, then, be retained in this sense, viz., that the saving grace of God comprises all men, that the Holy Spirit operates in all hearers unto conversion, and that the cause of non-conversion is to be sought solely in man’s resistance.” (Pieper, 119, 120).

 

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2019 in Uncategorized