To be sure the Turkish or Muslim scourge was threatening the church at the time, but it was the abuses of the pope and the Catholic Church that inspired Martin Luther to take a stand. Luther, an instrument in the hand of God, stood up for the purity of the Gospel. Initially he did not nail the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg because he desired to free himself from papal control. His desire was “to liberate the Gospel of free grace in Christ.” He said, “We are asking for nothing more, nor have we ever asked for anything more, than the free Gospel” (WLS, III: 3778, p.1184). It however became clear very quickly that a “free Gospel” was not possible without breaking with the pope. The heavy hand of papal heresy has not changed in our day, but protestant heterodoxy, which reared its head during and shortly after the Reformation, has spread like a ground fire enveloping even the Lutheran Church. It is a threat to us all! The more we try to ignore or deny the possibility of heterodoxy rearing its ugly head among us, the more susceptible we are. Fewer and fewer within Lutheranism can honestly make the claim today as Luther did, “Not from men have I received my Gospel, but from heaven alone, through my Lord Jesus Christ” (III: 3767, p. 1179). Let us in our church state unequivocally today: If we cannot honestly say that, we have no right to call ourselves Lutheran, much less exist. Luther said, “The perfectly pure, the only, and the certain Word of God must be the foundation of our faith” (II: 2693, p. 863). Luther saw already in his day “that as time goes on, more and more sects and erroneous opinions arise and that the frenzy and the fury of the devil knows no end.” He was concerned that during his lifetime and after, some “future heretics” would “assume the sanction of my name and falsely quote my writings in support of their errors” (III: 4436, p.1375). Fortunately he left behind copious writings so that honest students can refute the heretics.
At the center of Scripture and therefore true Lutheran teaching is Jesus Christ and His cross. What does not revolve around Christ and His cross and the central teaching of the cross, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is hay and stubble. How much hay and stubble there is today!
One of the problems within Lutheranism today is that many who decry the slide of their Lutheran church into heterodoxy, themselves cannot take decisive action that is commanded by the Lord through the Apostle (Romans 16:17-18) for the protection of the faith, and the glory of God. Thus while many wring their hands, they stay in their heterodox church and start splinter groups within. We do not know exactly to what they are moving, but the Lutheran Commentator published by a dissident group within the ELCA since 1999 is giving up. In the latest issue we read, “Reform is no longer realistic…Therefore we are moving on… Our next issue, October-December 2005, will be our last issue” (August/September 2005). They have grown weary and discouraged with a church in which a female (!) bishop who led a homosexuality Task Force said that within its report “the ambiguity was intentional, to give discretion to local congregations.” The presiding bishop said, “We can live with ambiguity around these questions…It’s a way not to make sexuality a church dividing issue” (Ibid). Apart from the issue which itself is hay and stubble, the bishops are trying to stave off a split by allowing sin! Luther said at Worms: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” The working principle in the ELCA is ambiguity! This is Lutheran? No. It is unbelief!
The same issue of the Lutheran Commentator suggests the need for a “Centrist Lutheran Future,” whatever that means. In so doing it underscores what is wrong within Lutheranism. For one thing, we of the Church of the Lutheran Confession are too far out for these handwringers. The Lutheran Commentator says, “The ELCA has left the Reformation for unity with the hierarchical, gay Episcopal Church. The Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod is caught in a wooden Biblicism, including among other things refusing to ordain women.” LC-MS, caught in wooden Biblicism? Tell that to the liberals in the LC-MS!
Then it goes on and says, “The US needs a seminary and a church that stands with Luther in the radical center.” May I remind you what Luther said about future heretics assuming the sanction of his name?
The emphasis on all the issues in which the church involves itself today, together with the debates and arguments is itself a clever ploy of the evil one to steer people away from the Gospel, and the message of justification by grace through faith. The devil will not attack Christ and the Gospel directly, but gains his end by introducing hay and stubble into the life of the church. The Church growth movement with all its schemes and programs, the introduction of social programs into churches, the feeling that we have to make church more attractive by introducing gender attractive programs, or more attractive to youth or the elderly by introducing age appropriate programs and enticements – all this carries with it the distinct risk to which many have succumbed: Christ and His cross is no longer the center of the churches teaching. What we have ended up with is an emphasis on emotion, feelings, fun and games – none of which lead people to ask, “How am I saved?” Even less does it answer the question!
The problem within the church in general, and Lutheranism specifically is far deeper than individual errors. The problem lies in the denial of Scripture! Until there is a return to the principle of “What saith the Lord” there can be no change. Jeremiah tells us, “Stand in the way and see, and ask for the old paths where the good way is, and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.” But all indications are today that the response will be the same as Jeremiah heard, “We will not walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16).
Luther said, “I have lived to see the greatest plague, to wit, the contempt of the Word, the most extreme and godless misdeed of the world, upon which must necessarily follow as punishment whatever is horrible in the world…” (III: 4813, p.1489)
Brethren, we can avoid what is wrong in Lutheranism only if we follow the advice of Luther, who said, “It is the duty both of preachers and of hearers first of all and above all things to see to it that they have clear and sure evidence that their doctrine is really the true word of God, revealed from heaven to the holy, original fathers, the prophets and apostles, and confirmed and commanded to be taught by Christ Himself. For we should by no means ever let doctrine be manhandled according to the pleasure and fancy of the individual who adapts it to human reason and understanding. Nor should we let men toy with Scripture, juggle the Word of God, and make it submit to being explained, twisted, stretched, and revised to suit people or to achieve peace and union. For then there could be no secure or stable foundation on which consciences might rely” (III: 4770, p. 1475), and finally, “Learn, yea, learn, I say, what a treasure you have in the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ: that there is no other help and aid against the devil, sin, and eternal death than to cling to the Word of Christ, that is, to believe His promise and to make bold to take Him at His Word” (III: 4763, p. 1473.).
CHRISTIAN OR LUTHERAN?
Recently an invitation came through e-mail to participate in a Christian website. The information states that this website will be “bringing true, online Biblical community to the web”(sic). It is described as “God’s new tool to spread His kingdom.” The website will offer services to attract and bring Christians together in different activities, all over the web. It even offers sermons.
There is a reason why this writer has not mentioned the website. We appreciate the fact that Christianity is being promoted in this “post-Christian” age. Yet we cannot promote or participate in “Christian” endeavors that themselves promote “an agreement to disagree” mentality toward doctrine. When one looks at the website one finds names such as Colson, Osteen, Swindoll. One can access The Lutheran Hour, as well as Bible churches, and community churches. Sermons are available from men and women of different faiths. One of the sponsors is the Beth Moore Ministries, as well as the ecumenical Promise Keepers. Basically it offers a “Christian” smorgasbord.
We thank the Lord for anyone who is led to confess the Lord Jesus Christ through whatever forum Christ is preached. Nevertheless, we cannot be part of or identify with a Christianity that is so broad based as to include any and all differing definitions of Christianity. Within the broad definition of “Christian” one can find those who deny creation and promote evolution. Inspiration of the Bible is not a universal teaching within Christianity today. There are promoters of and defenders of homosexuality. Abortion is a viable option within some “Christian communities.” In some Christian definitions and practices, ethics has replaced the teaching of justification by grace through faith. Emotion has replaced faith in Christ as the evidence of saving faith. Some who are identified with Christianity in fact teach salvation by works. Some hold that there is a collaborative effort between God and man in conversion. Others will deny the power and efficacy of baptism. Still others do not teach the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament. There are charismatics whose religion is subjective, who in fact are judgmental of such as have never had the “experience.” Millennialism has affected many who call themselves Christian. Most of Christianity today has little if any concept of what Scripture teaches concerning fellowship practice.
So we will not promote or participate in a Christian endeavor on line or off line that breaks down the line of demarcation between truth and error. We know very well that we will be accused of being out of the mainstream, and out on the “far right.” But whose approval do we seek, that of man or that of God? Paul said, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” ( Galatians 1:10).
Over 100 years ago, an eminent Bible student and faithful teacher, Francis Pieper asked in an essay, “What would happen if the Church would identify Christianity with morality and teach salvation by moral conduct instead of salvation by faith” (What is Christianity and other essays, CPH, 1933, p. 12). Certainly Christian teaching promotes morality, but not as the foundational teaching, but as a fruit of Gospel preaching. Sanctification follows on justification. But that is where we are today- the promotion of moral conduct is emphasized at the expense of salvation teaching. Pieper answers his own question: “In that case the Church would lead men to damnation, not to salvation” (ibid). He goes on, “But the greatest fraud in the world is a Church that discards the crucified Christ and proclaims salvation by works in His place; for it robs men of salvation” (p.13). “We must therefore avoid the old, but ever new, error that Christianity is essentially moral conduct. Never! Never! Christianity is faith in the Gospel, faith in the free remission of sins, which Christ has gained for all men. By this preaching of the Gospel, we save souls and so accomplish the primary purpose for which the Christian Church exists” (p.14). Again we reiterate, the Christian life flows out of the regenerate heart as the redeemed child of God lives his salvation-life to the glory of the Savior God.
The great commission of our Lord recorded in Mark says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). In Matthew we read, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). They of ill will may accuse the Gospel and us as the cause for the evils in the world. They err, and must answer to God!
So then are we Christian? Do we identify with that name? Most assuredly! We could not deny that name without denying Christ! Built upon the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), we are Christian!
But in today’s milieu of churches identified as Christian we are Lutheran. “In these days it is not enough to call ourselves Christians in general, if we would candidly and fairly declare our faith. There was a time when it was enough to say: ‘I am a Christian.’ For the first 300 years of the Christian era that expression was sufficient to set forth the peculiar faith of a man’s heart … Since the Christian world is divided into a thousand sects, how can others know what we believe when we only declare: ‘We are Christians?’ Do not now even those want to be called Christians who reject Christ, oppose His Gospel, [and] deny his eternal divinity and perfect atonement? Yes, if all the enemies of Christ and of His Word were honest enough to openly confess their undying animosity to the Crucified One and renounce the name of ‘Christian,’ then there would be no need of any other name than that of Christian by which to express our faith. But as even the enemies of Christ adorn themselves with His name … it must be evident to every one that a time has arrived in which the friend of Christ must more distinctly declare himself, if he would not deny his adorable Redeemer before the world” (What is a Lutheran, 8th edition, undated, p.14)?… “As dear then as the truth is to us, as dear to us as is the glory of God, and our own salvation, so little can we especially in these days of general distraction give up the name ‘Lutheran,’ by which we distinguish ourselves from false believers of every age, and openly confess the truth of every age” (p.20).
Candidly, we must even be more specific of what kind of Lutheran we are in these days. As Lutherans we hold fast to Luther’s doctrine pure without qualification because his doctrine is drawn from Scripture. Be that as it may, and for our purpose now, we are Christians who are Lutheran. If we are truly Lutheran we cannot promote, or participate with, those to whom the name “Christian” is purposely broad to allow and teach whatever one chooses, while covering it in the cloak of Jesus.
Luther said, “The perfectly pure, the only, and certain Word of God must be the foundation of our faith” ( WLS: II, para. 2693, p. 863) We say then that if it is not Scripture it is not Lutheran- or Christian! If we are Christians, we will not deny our Lutheran name, either by omission or by teaching, joining or supporting anyone who teaches contrary to Scripture!
MAINTAINING OUR LUTHERAN HERITAGE:
As Lutherans we claim our heritage from the Reformation, which the Lord of the Church worked through His servant Martin Luther. As time carries new generations further from that event, the appreciation of our heritage wanes. This is evident in the “dumbing down” of biblical confessionalism, and outright rejection of Bible truths within what is known as “mainline Lutheranism.” We are confident that Luther himself would have little to do with the theology and practices that are emanating today from churches, which call themselves by his name. Luther made himself quite clear: “ Luther himself has no desire to be Lutheran except insofar as he teaches the Holy Scripture in purity” (WLS: II, para 2679). CPH Krauth said, “A Lutheran is a Christian whose rule of faith is the Bible and whose creed is the Augsburg Confession” (The Conservative Reformation and its Theology, p. 185).
We are true children of the Reformation. It is our intent, God helping us, to maintain our Lutheran heritage. We do not make this claim on the basis of some personal perfection. We do so on our conviction that the doctrines we teach are those that Martin Luther taught from God’s Holy Word. We believe as someone has said that the Bible determines what the church teaches, not vice versa! With Luther we say, “We teach nothing new. We teach what is old and what the apostles and all godly teachers have taught, inculcated, and established before us” (2689). We believe that it is faith alone in Christ that saves, and that in a confessional sense it is faith in Christ alone that makes a “Lutheran.” Whether we are true to our claim we let our critics determine, asking only that they measure our teaching in the light of Scripture alone.
We feel the burden to stand fast in the faith once delivered to the saints, so much the more as steadfastness to the Word of God is less and less to be found in our “post-Christian” age. We feel the burden from another perspective in that we recognize our inherent weakness and our all too frequent failures to fight the good fight. We are beset by our own flesh as well as by the devil to seek the easy way rather than expose ourselves to the danger to which Luther exposed himself by his steadfast confession at Worms.
In maintaining our Lutheran and therefore our Scriptural heritage, we must be alert to the danger of legalism. To fight against that error, we must continue to be students of the Bible, from the pulpit to the homes. We do not further the cause of truth or our Lutheran faith by ostentatious “pulpit pounding.” Unless we are in the Word of God we are left with nothing more to the maintenance of our Lutheran faith than custom and tradition. While we cherish and respect custom and tradition, to make our case on the basis of custom and tradition is nothing more than a retreat to Rome from which the Lord delivered us through the Reformation! Customs and tradition serve as witness to our faith. They are not the foundation of our faith, nor the guarantee of our faith. God’s Word alone is the foundation and guarantee of faith- and salvation! Paul wrote to Timothy, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14,15).
We live in an increasingly illiterate society in which we told of college students who can’t write, much less read. As people cannot read or will not read, they obviously open the Bible less and less. If they care at all what the Lord says, they are left to hear it from someone else, rather than finding out for themselves. By default then, our generation is sliding back to Rome, which at one time forbade the reading of the Bible. Before Luther made the Bible accessible to the common people, they were left to the mercy and whim of the clergy.
There is another danger, to which we are exposed, and by which we are tempted. We are an entertainment generation. Churches in our land are falling into the snare, and in fact are encouraging it. Whether intended or not the Word of God becomes secondary! One premise of the so-called Church Growth Movement (CGM) is to establish “User friendly Churches.” The intent of the CGM is to “build the church.” The standard of success in this movement is statistics. One critique of the CGM written by a pastor in a community church in Sarnia, Ontario (found on line) explained one of the principles of the CGM as the need to “pay attention to what they [the people] want: worship services that are informal and relaxed, music that is contemporary and sermons that are not too long but practical, relevant, interesting, simple, positive and even entertaining. They want drama, skits, dance and other more visual ways of expressing the faith.” He further says that it is important to speak to people’s “felt needs” in an amusing and entertaining way. “Felt needs” leave no room for preaching the Law, an essential to appreciating the Gospel. How does one teach the Law in an amusing way? Another CGM critic wrote, “Bad doctrine is tolerable; a long sermon most certainly is not…long windedness has become a greater sin than heresy.” The aforementioned Ontario pastor correctly said, “When we gather as believers we do not gather to be entertained, but to worship the God who has made us and redeemed us from our sins.”
As Lutherans who appreciate our Lutheran heritage, we are under the gun. Few congregations in our small church body are large. For many years our growth in the Church of the Lutheran Confession has been static. Desperately we would like to see more people in our pews so that we can share with them the means of grace. But therein lies also a temptation. We dare not become so statistically conscious at home or overseas that we seek innovative ways to make our church, our services, and our fellowship more attractive to the masses, or measure success by statistics. The stated goal of the CGM is to “build the church,” or “make disciples.” That expression is as misleading as the goal is wrong. Where did the Lord commission us to “build the church?” First of all what is the church? CGM gurus are not referring to the Holy Christian Church, the spiritual body of Christ, but to the church on the corner! Furthermore, we cannot “build the church.” If that expression makes any sense at all it is the Lord Who builds the church. We can live with the translation of “make disciples,” in Matthew 28, as long as the whole passage is quoted, to wit, “Make disciples of all nations (by) baptizing them, etc….” But even then it is not we who make disciples. We are simply the deliverers of the means of grace through which the Spirit of God creates disciples. On Pentecost, Peter preached the Word, and the Spirit added to the Church.
In defending our Lutheran heritage, we must recognize that emotion is the staple of much religious activity today. The charismatic movement through its music, its body swaying, tongue speaking, hand holding, and subjective experience is predicated on whipping up emotions. We acknowledge that the Gospel of forgiveness through the shed blood of Christ creates emotion in the penitent heart. But the Gospel is not emotional. Further, very little if any emphasis of the charismatic movement is on the cross of Christ. When the day of death arrives there is no comfort in personal subjective feelings and emotion! The comfort and peace of the dying Christ believer is outside of himself - in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ!
This all brings us back to appreciation of our Lutheran heritage. We recognize that rote recital of passages, and empty repetition of our liturgical service week after week is of little value, and in fact can give us a false sense of security. If we will worship the Lord in spirit and in truth we will worship the Lord with our lips and our heart, the essential of the two being the heart! (Romans 10:9,10).
Concerning translations, we recognize that God speaks in every language. Because we have become used to and prefer a particular translation, does not mean we must be wed to that translation as the only way God speaks. Much less dare we insist that everyone bow to our desire, and make judgments on one’s orthodoxy by the translation that is used. To insist on a particular translation as an absolute necessity is another step back to Rome. Our only concern should be that the translation we use is faithful to the original.
As far as the hymnal is concerned, The Lutheran Hymnal is not the last word in hymns. There are many fine hymns (and tunes) that were not included in the hymnal. Some were written after 1941 when the hymnal was published. Nevertheless, one of the strengths of The Lutheran Hymnal is the substantive message and devotion of its hymns. We maintain that if we would lose our catechism, we could teach the whole way of salvation through our hymns. Also, there is no finer book of prayer than our hymnal. Take time on Sunday morning before the service to read some hymns. For different reasons, there is a proliferation of new hymnals within Lutheranism. In use among many of us is the Worship Supplement, produced by one of our own. The strength of it is that it is in language that people speak. It includes some new hymns. In its liturgical services it remains steadfastly faithful to the Scriptures. It is Lutheran! The hymns and music of our church are important expressions of our Lutheran heritage.
There can be no valid objection to consideration of a new hymnal. However, the attitude that drives the consideration is critical. If a new hymnal is published in order to make it politically correct, and gender comfortable there is good reason to view it with suspicion and even reject it. There apparently has been “felt need” to publish new hymnals with hymns that are more socially conscious. We need to be alert to hymns that offer little more than catchy tunes, or others that are high on emotion and short on substance. Hymns should be faithful to Scripture. Music does stir the emotions. As Luther said, it arouses the souls of men. With respect to our hymns we want the message in song to stir godly emotions that redound in praise and thanksgiving to our Lord. Music in the church should be worshipful, solid, and instructional, and obviously glorify God. We should resist hymns and music that is more calculated toward emotion and entertainment than to worship. As important as Luther’s music was to the Reformation, we should be as careful that our heritage is not undone by music!
In contending for our Lutheran heritage, we should be careful before we cast aside that to which we have become accustomed. Changes and practices that might of themselves be acceptable, may on the other hand be unacceptable when confession is called for. What might other wise be acceptable, may be unacceptable if it blurs the distinction between truth and error, or makes our confession (Reformation Lutheranism) indistinguishable from the bland Christianity of our age. We need a better reason than a “felt need” to make our church more attractive, and our worship more palatable to the masses. If we feel compelled to make our worship and worship forms more enticing to such as are excited by entertainment, and turned on by emotion, we will not be speaking to the real need of souls. Sound preaching of Law and Gospel is still the only way to arouse the heart, and create godly excitement, to say nothing of confidence of salvation.
Consider our liturgy. Scripture prescribes no form of liturgy. Therefore it is not contrary to Scripture or our Lutheran faith to use variations of liturgy, so long as the liturgy is faithful to the Scriptures. Having said that, our present liturgy is respectful, worshipful and instructive. It is based soundly on Scripture and is rock solid in its theology. It presents the whole message of salvation. Our liturgy stamps us as thoroughly Lutheran in a day when it is often difficult to determine a Lutheran Church from one that isn’t except in name. The fact that our liturgy has served the church in good stead for many years is not in itself reason to keep it. But in that it has spoken to many hearts and strengthened many people of God with its message and its orderly worship form is good reason to be careful before we discard it as something outdated.
Every congregation has some provision in its constitution declaring that “all hymnals and textbooks for instruction in Christian doctrine used in this congregation are to conform” to sound Christian teaching drawn from the Bible.
This dissertation is not to inveigh against change. It is a plea that we stand against the ill winds that are buffeting the church, and to which many have succumbed. If change is necessary in our form (worship service, liturgy, music) and our forums (our youth camps, adult camps, both of which seem to be increasing among us) then let it be done with caution. We have every confidence that we are all committed to faithful adherence to Scripture. Yet history shows us that what frequently started innocently has led some down a path to where in the name of making the church more attractive and more in touch, the Lutheran heritage has been jettisoned.
Krauth wrote, “Must Lutheranism be shorn of its glory to adapt it to our times or our land? No!” (p. 208). If that was true in 1871, it is even more so today. Our charge is quite simple: Preach God’s Word faithfully! Confess it before the world without shame. The fellowship of like-minded Lutherans gathered around Word and Sacrament creates its own joy. We are so bold to say that it is the only hope for a world spinning out of control, unfortunately abetted by nominal Lutherans who have forsaken their true Lutheran heritage.
THE CHURCH AT WORK
Our Lord God gave the commission to the Church that it should preach the Gospel to every creature. He admonishes us that we teach “them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The Church is made up of individual believers in Christ Jesus. So the commission to share the Gospel – in this is included the whole truth of God’s Holy Word- is the responsibility of each individual. Each of us can share God’s love with our neighbor, a relative, and a friend as opportunity is given to us. Anyone of us who knows and believes in the heart that Jesus has borne our iniquity and sin, died in our place on the cross, and rose again from the dead has all the knowledge that is needed to tell others, “Jesus loves you.” But to expedite this on a broader scale we have joined together in our congregation to worship together in spirit and in truth; we assist one another in our individual calls as we mutually witness in our community. Further, our congregation has been distinctly blessed to have been led to be a member of the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC). With the brethren in the CLC our ability to carry out the Lord’s commission is further enhanced as we pray and participate with our brethren in the mission work of the CLC. Every two years we gather with our brethren in convention of the church body. Between conventions as time and distance allow there are delegate conferences, as well as area pastoral conferences. The purpose of these conferences is to study together and to learn together, as well as mutually encourage one another in the great commission that the Lord has given us.
Our district pastoral conference (2005) was such an opportunity. What a blessing we have in the CLC! We did not get together to discuss the political scene in the world. We did not get together to debate how homosexuals can be incorporated into the ministry of the church, or what our stance should be about homosexual and lesbian “marriages.” We did not promote programs or discuss how to make our churches grow faster. We were not engaged in church politics, and all the other extracurricular “monkey” business that dominates so many church meetings today. We had a study from Colossians. We studied and reviewed the biblical principles of the women’s role in the church. Next year’s agenda includes a study of the biblical principles of the male role in the church, the home, and in society. All our essays and discussions are studied with the intent of inquiring, “What saith the Lord?” We discussed matters related to the work of the church and its application as we addressed a matter in the constitution. We also discussed how and what we can do in balancing our opportunities with our financial and manpower capabilities. We heard a report from the foreign mission field. We had a worship service in which in unity of heart and mind we mutually confessed our sins before the Lord, and from His gracious hand received the absolution of all sins through the Sacrament of His body and blood.
In today’s scene the church has taken on to its discredit and the harm of souls many different tasks. It has become a political pressure group. It has degenerated into social engineering. It has become a promoter of aberrant behavior. It has largely become a social club. Having left the Word of God behind, emotions and feelings dominate today’s religious world. Many who still claim to be concerned for doctrine cannot find the strength to stand fast in the unity of faith, and have in many cases spawned splinter groups within their church body. The church in the world is in a sad state because it has forgotten, or worse, rejected the purpose to which it was assigned by the Lord when He said in Matthew 28: “ Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”
We thank God that in our church yet – may God preserve it among us- there is still a spirit of listening to God’s Word, and all its work is predicated on setting forth the Gospel of salvation – salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. We believe that from the power of the Gospel in our hearts flow the fruits of sanctification. “God, daily make us sanctified Christians! “
As Lutherans we are specifically reminded each Reformation season of our heritage. Luther said, “The only mark of the Christian Church is following and obeying the Word, When that is gone, let men boast as much as they please: Church! Church!… There is nothing to their boasting anyway. Therefore you should say: Do the people have the Word of God…(WLS, I: 780, p. 264)? He said again, “The true treasure of the church is the holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God” (I: 812, p. 276).
The Church is truly at work to the glory of God when it pursues the Lord’s agenda, not its own!
PUMPKINS UNDER THE CROSS
Frequently we come across scenes and activities in the church that while in and of themselves are harmless, none the less are suggestive of an ill conceived emphasis and direction of the church in our day. For example, it is not uncommon to see a “church carnival.” Obviously the purpose is to entertain children of the congregation, and attract others who are not of the congregation. In an increasingly distant past, parents brought their children to Sunday School while they themselves attended Bible Class. By parental word and example children were taught that an active worship life was part of family life, and that church centered on the Word of God. Efforts were made by the church to invite adults and children to “visit our church” to hear the Word and the message of the Savior. Our grandparents and parents, and the older among us probably were not attracted to church by a carnival. However in our increasingly shallow religious generation, there is reason to believe that many youth leave a confessional church because it is not exciting enough. Further, we regretfully have to accept the reality that one of the questions inquiring parents frequently ask if they are looking for a church is, “What do you have for children?” Few are impressed if they are told, “We will teach your children about the love of God, and teach them how and why Jesus died for them. We will teach them the Bible through which the Spirit of God establishes in them an appreciation of God’s Word and truth.”
“ Thank you, but do you have a carnival?”
We are not insensitive to the fact that children react to different stimuli. There is nothing wrong with crafts in Vacation Bible School for example, if they serve an instructional purpose. However, even among us if we want to attract children (and their parents to VBS), it seems we have to be sure to make an attractive brochure emphasizing crafts. Is it not sad if and when fun and games replace the stimulus of the Word? In the week of Reformation we drove by a church in front of which are the traditional three crosses of Calvary. We witnessed children meandering through a path of pumpkins piled and scattered in front of the cross. The thought occurred, “Would children not be blessed if instead of walking through pumpkins at the foot of the cross, they were seated in front of the cross while a parent, or pastor, or teacher explained the significance of the cross?” We like to believe that this is done inside the walls, but nevertheless the visual image of pumpkins beneath the cross was disconcerting.
Dare we hope that as our young people grow older, they will remember that in the church of their youth they sat at the feet of Jesus and His cross, and consequently learned the way of salvation? Or will their fondest memory of church be carnivals, and pumpkins under the cross?!
“Seek ye the Lord while He maybe found, call ye upon Him while He is near” Isaiah 55:6.
STRICT, or FAITHFUL?
In course of our history as a church body, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, or of our individual congregations, it has been suggested by some from the outside that we are too strict. In the context of this characterization the meaning is that we are a church that is against everything. At the risk of sounding presumptuous to some, we emphatically declare that if we are “against” something, it is because we are “for” Christ. The fact is that if we say what we are for it is implicit that we are against the opposite. In response to those who think we are too strict we are not going to apologize for what we are and what we teach. Nevertheless we are ourselves going to ask a few questions.
If God says that He is triune, and we insist on confessing that to the exclusion of identifying with those who deny the Trinity, are we too strict?
If the Bible is the Word of God, and we believe the Bible are we too strict if we will not identify with those who do not know what the Bible is, or even worse, who reject its claim for itself?
If we believe that the Word is eternal and is therefore timely in every age, are we too strict when we reject the idea that God’s word changes with the times?
If we believe that going beyond Scripture is as wicked as denying any part of Scripture, is that being too strict?
If the Bible says that God created the world in 6 days, are we being too strict when we deny evolution in whole or in part?
If God calls a certain thought, word, or deed, sin are we too strict to call sin what God calls sin?
If we believe from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, miraculously conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, are we being too strict when we insist on believing and teaching what Scripture teaches?
If we believe that all people are born in sin and are under the wrath of God unless delivered from death by the merits and substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, are we too strict?
If we believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ without works as Scripture teaches, are we too strict in calling the teaching of salvation by grace through faith plus works contrary to Scripture?
If we believe that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved and he who does not believe shall be damned, are we beyond Scripture?
If we believe what Scripture teaches when we believe that there will be one judgment at the end at which time God will separate the believers in Christ from the unbelievers, are we too strict?
If we believe that we are to live as people transformed by the Gospel rather than being conformed to the world are we too strict?
If we believe that we are not to sit at the feet of false teachers, or that we are not to join in worship with, study with, or prayer with those who teach contrary to Scripture whether in the church or outside of it, in other words if we believe that we are to “avoid” false teachers and that we are not to lend credence or support to those who teach falsely, are we too strict?
If we believe that we cannot be neutral in what we believe as compared to those who believe that compromise of faith is an acceptable way of life, are we too strict?
Enough! Finally, we will not be dissuaded by what people think. Rather, let those who think we are too strict prove their assertion from Scripture! We maintain and shall continue to do so that as Christ believers it is our duty, yea, our privilege to speak up in defense of what we believe. With the exception of those who know nothing for sure, no one is to be pitied more than those who once knowing the truth have lost it, and who in their loss equate faithfulness to the Word with being too strict!
Ø “ Luther himself has no desire to be Lutheran except insofar as he teaches the Holy Scriptures in purity” (2679).
Ø “… Nothing is to be done, taught, or believed except what is commanded by a very definite Word of God” (2681).
Ø “ ‘We conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law’ (Romans 3:28). But we teach that this faith is a gift of God, created in our heart by the Holy Spirit, not fashioned or formed by our own acts…” (2684).
Ø “We teach nothing new” (2689).
Ø “The perfectly pure, the only, and the certain Word of God must be the foundation of our faith” (2693)
(Quotes from “What Luther Says,” Vol. II under “Lutheran Church)
Ø “Faith is an unceasing and constant looking which turns the eyes upon nothing but Christ, the Victor over sin and death and the Giver of righteousness, salvation and life eternal” (1374).
Ø “But if faith is real, it is a sure confidence of the heart and a firm assent, by which Christ is apprehended in such a way that He is the object of faith” (1386).
Ø “Not for the sake of our faith but for Christ’s sake faith and salvation are given to us” (1456)
(WLS Vol. 1 under “Faith”)
Ø “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Romans 3 and 4
(Augsburg Confession, Article IV)
I am a Lutheran because by the Spirit of God I am convinced of the Reformation principle:
WHY RESURRECTION LUTHERAN CHURCH IS A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSION
Our Synod or church body, Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC), is only one of many Lutheran bodies in the world. We made a conscious choice to be a member of this church body. We are members for the following reasons:
Ø Because calling oneself a Lutheran does not make one Lutheran
Ø Christ Jesus and His Holy Word is the norm and source of all teaching and practice in this church
Ø In this church the Law is proclaimed according to its divine purpose-to expose sin and our unworthiness before God, and the Gospel is proclaimed according to its divine purpose -- to bring forgiveness, and peace, and the confidence of salvation to the troubled heart
Ø In this church the heart and core of teaching is the cardinal doctrine of justification before God though faith in our Lord Jesus Christ
Ø Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8) is proclaimed
Ø Sanctification is a result of the Gospel, manifested in the life of the Christian. It is not the cause of salvation.
Ø This church retains and maintains the doctrines of Holy Scripture as set forth by God’s grace through His servant, Martin Luther
Ø This church recognizes that according to the Heavenly Father’s will true unity is achieved only through agreement in the doctrines of Scripture
Ø The church subscribes to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church as found in the Book of Concord of 1580 because they are a true setting forth of the Word of God
Ø Because our Lord is glorified by faithful confession of His Word, not by compromise of it for personal glory or aggrandizement
Resurrection is a member of the Church of the Lutheran Confession because its members believe
IF IT IS NOT SCRIPTURE, IT IS NOT LUTHERAN.
This little unpretentious booklet is a compilation of some of 100s of bulletin articles that I have written for the bulletin of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The churches of our land have degenerated into a bland Christianity, which in fact is an affront to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today people are content to be religious without concern for substance. Politics, social agendas, and self-promotion have replaced the Word as the staple of most of Christian teaching. One finds, if one pays attention, that “how to be a Christian” has replaced Law and Gospel preaching. Emotion is equated with substance, and feelings with faith. Recently, one “church growth” proponent lamented that he was not addressing some of the social issues of the day because he had been “too busy growing the church.”
The state of Lutheranism in our country is, in my humble opinion, in a serious state of decline. Even formerly staunch Reformation heirs have kicked over the traces. When news articles appear reporting the activities of the Lutheran Church in the public press, faithful Lutherans can hardly recognize it as the same church to which Luther permitted the use of his name provided the church by his name remained faithful to the Scriptures.
As one who has been richly blessed to have his immediate family –children, their spouses, and grandchildren- active in a confessional Lutheran Church – the Church of the Lutheran Confession – concern grows as to what kind of Lutheran Church there will be when the grandchildren are adults, and hopefully active in the church. Will there be a church such as that in which they are now growing up? It behooves us of this generation to stand fast in the Gospel, and to stand fast in the whole truth of God’s Word. We ought not be ashamed of the fathers and of their convictions. If their convictions were established from Scripture, and were Lutheran in the real sense of the Word, we should make no apology for them, or reject them, and much less feel the need to accommodate ourselves to the times in which we live.
Scripture establishes our doctrine! We are not free to change any of it! We are not to entertain even the thought of changing any part of God’s Word! At the same time, Scripture does not establish customs, traditions, and forms. They may change over the years. Obviously in this electronic age there are advances that affect the way we carry on our work. Nevertheless, whatever changes we feel necessary to make, or want to make we should ask, “For what purpose?” Another question that we should ask is, “What does change contribute to our proclamation of the cardinal doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ?” Change to make us attractive to the masses is not reason for change, and in fact, as history shows, may sound the death knell of confessional Lutheranism!
The old Synodical Conference, which itself fell victim to liberal theology and no longer exists was formed in 1872. At that conference the participating members “pledged one another their sacred word of honor that they would fight shoulder to shoulder contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints be their enemy “’Rationalism, Unionism, Indifferentism, or Sentimentalism’” (Madson: Preaching to Preachers , page 197, from a sermon delivered to the Synodical Conference in 1948). In his address to the Synodical Conference Convention CFW Walther said: “Not rest and peace in this world, but struggle and strife, not honor and glory, but disgrace and abuse await us from all sides, not only from the unbelieving world, from the heretical and fanatical sects and from the anti-Christian papacy, but even from many who are the children with us of a common mother, who bear our name, and have a like confessional banner floating over them” (Preaching to Preachers, p. 208).
The same is true today. Are we up to the challenge? By ourselves we are not. But by the grace of God, as we hold fast to the faithful Word, and cling to Scripture and to our Lord Jesus we will be able to pass on to my grandchildren – AND YOURS – God’s Word, and Luther’s teaching pure.
When all is said and done, it will not be enemies from the outside that will rob us of our faith in Christ, or of our Lutheran confession. Our greatest danger is neglect and indifference on our part! God forbid!
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20,21).
Daniel Fleischer, 2005
Corpus Christi, Texas