Monday, August 30, 2010

A Bit from Luther Based on Luke 2:42-52

This is a Gospel that presents to us an example of the holy cross, showing us what experiences those who have to pass who are Christians, and how they ought to bear their sorrow. For he who desires to be a Christian must expect to help to bear the cross. For God will place him between the spurs and thoroughly test him that he may be humble and no one will come to Christ without suffering. Of this we have here an example, which we ought to imitate and shall now consider.

Although the holy mother Mary, who was highly blessed and upon whom many favors were bestowed, had undoubtedly the greatest delight in her child, yet the Lord so ruled that that her joy was not without sorrow and like all others she did not attain complete blessedness until she entered heaven. For this reason she had to suffer so much sorrow, pain and anguish on earth. It was her first great sorrow to give birth to her child in Bethlehem, in a strange town, where she found no room with her babe except in a stable. Then her second sad experience was that soon after the six weeks of purification she was compelled to flee with her child into Egypt, a strange country, which was indeed a poor consolation. She undoubtedly experienced many more like trials, which have not been recorded.

One of them is related here, when her Son caused her so much anxiety, by tarrying behind in the temple and letting her seek Him so long, and she could not find Him. This alarmed and grieved her so that she almost despaired, as her words indicate: “Behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing.” For we may well imagine that thoughts like these may have passed through her mind: “Behold this child is only mine, this I know very well, and I know God has entrusted Him to me and has commanded me to take care of Him; why is it then He is taken from me? It is my fault, for I have not sufficiently taken care of Him and guarded Him. Perhaps God does not deem me worthy to watch over this child and will take Him from me again.” She was undoubtedly greatly frightened and her heart trembled and was filled with grief.

Here you see what she experienced. Although she is the mother of a child in whom she might have gloried before all mothers, and although her joy was immeasurably greater than any she had ever felt, yet you perceive how God deprives her of all happiness, in that she can no longer call herself the mother of Jesus. In her great dismay she probably wished she had never known her child and was tempted to greater sins than any mother had ever committed.

In the same manner the Lord our God can take from us our joy and comfort, if He so desires, and cause us the greatest sorrow with the very things that are our greatest joy, and, on the other hand, give us the greatest delight in the things that terrify us the most. For it was the greatest joy of Mary that she was the mother of this child, but now He has become the cause of her greatest sorrow. Thus we are afraid of nothing more than sin and death, yet God can comfort us so that we may boast, as St. Paul says in Rom. 7, that sin served to the end that we became justified and that we longed for death and desire to die.

The great sorrow of the mother of Christ, who was deprived of her child, came upon her in order that even her trust in God might be taken from her. For she had reason to fear that God was angry with her and would no longer have her be the mother of His Son. Nobody will understand what she suffered who has not passed through her experiences. Therefore we should apply this example to ourselves, for it was not recorded for her sake, but for our benefit. She is now at the end of her sorrows; therefore we should profit by her example and be prepared to bear our sorrow if a similar affliction befall us.

When God vouchsafes to us a strong faith and a firm trust in Him, so that we are assured He is our gracious God and we can depend on Him, then we are in paradise. But when God permits our hearts to be discouraged and that He takes from us Christ our Lord; when our conscience feels that we have lost Him amidst trembling and despair our confidence is gone, then we are truly in misery and distress. For even if we are not conscious of any special sin, yet in such a condition we tremble and doubt whether God still cares for us; just as Mary here doubts and knows not whether God still deems her worthy to be the mother of His Son. Our heart thinks in the time of trial thus: God has indeed given me a strong faith, but perhaps He will take it from me and will no longer want me as His child. Only strong minds can endure such temptations and there are not many people whom God tests to this degree. Yet we must be prepared, so that we may not despair if such trials come upon us.

. . . God does all this out of His superabundant grace and goodness in order that we might perceive on every hand how kindly and lovingly the Father deals with us and tries us, so that our faith may be developed and become continually stronger and stronger. And He does this especially so as to guard His children against a twofold danger which might otherwise threaten them. In the first place, being strong in their own mind and arrogant, they might ultimately depend upon themselves and believe they are able to accomplish everything in their own strength. For this reason God sometimes permits their faith to grow weak and to be prostrated, so that they might see who they are and be forced to confess: Even if I would be believe, I cannot. Thus the omnipotent God humbles His saints and keeps them in their true knowledge. For nature and reason will always boast of the gifts of God and depend upon them. Therefore God must lead us to a recognition of the fact that it is He who puts faith in our heart and that we cannot produce it ourselves. Thus the fear of God and trust in Him must not be separated from one another, for we need them both, in order that we not become presumptuous and overconfident depending on ourselves. This is one of the reasons God leads His saints through such great trials.

First Sunday after Epiphany, Wittenberg, 1523

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Timing Among the Non-Peripheral Things

Two years ago this past July a friend of mine opened her house to my granddaughter and me for a couple days. They were on their last leg of a trip to Europe. We were in town for a wedding and the Higher Things Conference. I was busy preparing a welcome home dinner for her when I suddenly had a tightening in my chest and pain in my right jaw. I did what any right thinking person would do. I called the expert, my husband. He advised me to wait it out. If it subsided quickly, all was well. It did, and I went on with my business.

Good thing, too. The timing was all wrong. We were several miles away from a hospital, and hundred miles away from home. I didn’t have time for any serious illness. Higher Things started the next day. I had a presentation to make. I had my granddaughter to care for.

During the next week I proved that all was well with me. I trekked that long walk up and down the hill from our lodging to the chapel services and any sessions, for meals, etc. I was just fine. Nothing even to mention to anyone, so I didn’t.

The Saturday before school opened that year the pain returned. This time John and I went so far as to drive to the hospital, only to decide not to do anything. Our reasoning was simple: I’d be in the hospital over the weekend. No tests would be done until Monday. I’d miss the first day of school. What would that accomplish? Besides, we could talk to a doctor friend in the congregation the next day. He’s a cardiac surgeon.

We did just that. He called me mid morning Monday at school and said I had an appointment with a cardiologist and I wasn’t to miss it. I didn’t. After an EKG the cardiologist wouldn’t let me go home. My heart had tried and might still try to have an attack. That’s just what it had done in July.

The next morning a simple procedure fixed things. He placed a stent in the partially blocked artery. Then he told me what I didn’t want to hear: change your lifestyle.

I don’t like bad news from doctors. I’ve heard it before. I heard it in 1993 when the doctor said, “Malignant? Oh, most definitely.” I don’t suppose he considered whether it was bad timing for me to hear that news or not. Maybe I was too busy with other things going on and didn’t have time for the radiation treatment, and the week long trip the Philadelphia away from my family to receive it. Maybe I didn’t want to be bothered with it at that time. “No thank you, doctor. I’ll deal with this another day. Cancer can wait for me.” Just like that heart attack could wait for my good timing instead of me seeking treatment for it while the warning signs were clearly there!

It's the Felix in us, who when confronted by the Word of God "about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,"--things rightly exercised in and among the community of believers as per 1 Cor. 5:12-13--wants to exercise self-righteousness and control based upon his own personal desires and considerations instead. Felix responded to Paul: “Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you” (Acts 24:25). Putting off medical care is breaking the First and Fifth Commandment. It does harm to ourselves. It is putting ourselves in the place of God, and not allowing others to fulfill their God-given vocations for our sakes. That is what we do when others call us to repentance and we say the timing is not right.

Timing, good timing, bad timing which timing? One of the criticisms leveled against the ACELC is that the timing of their Admonitions is poor, coming so soon after the election of Matt Harrison as president of the LC-MS.

What the ACELC is pointing out are those things that have become matters of unrepentant false practice that have not been admonished. Therefore they have become entrenched in the heart of synod as if they are good and salutary.

It wasn’t that long ago that a man passing through these parts inquired about our communion practice. When the Christ-ordained, church-honored practice of Closed Communion was explained to him, he refused to participate with us. His reasoning was simple: He could not in good conscience practice in one place what his home pastor did not teach and practice in another. He recognized there was no unity where there ought to be, and did not for himself cry peace where there was no peace.

So I ask: How soon is too soon to seek recovery from the illness that pervades our synod? How long is too long to ignore the illness that infests her?

Rather than unhinge ourselves on such peripheral piffle (such as timing), shouldn’t we instead be more mindful of the merits of what the ACELC is saying and doing?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Disclaimers on Altars

A good friend reminded me that this altar does have a disclaimer over it. The last photo didn't reveal it. This one does. Here the "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus" is clearly visible. After all, it doesn't say "Hagios, Hagios, Hagios." (Thanks, Dave.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sitting Solidly on an Inerrant Two-Legged Stool

In a recent entry on his blog, (The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years’ War . . . and Counting) Paul McCain praised the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler, and his blog. McCain urged his readers “I recommend you add [Mohler’s blog] to your regular blog reading.” What apparently excited McCain about this particular blog entry was the topic, inerrancy. Kathy S tried to point out that we ought to be more careful of our reading, being concerned with who we let into our heads. She tried to point out the matter of efficacy, which is missing in the minds of Baptists with regard to the Sacraments, but didn’t gain much traction. McCain’s response was that Good News doesn’t put disclaimers over the artwork it uses, some of which is decidedly non-Lutheran. He wasn’t going to do the same.

On August 13, 2008, Rev. Wm. Weedon gave accolades to the newly dedicated altar at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, MS. While others joined in to praise its design, not everyone was so disposed.

Paul McCain said...
I'm not really comfortable making Lutheran altars look like Eastern altars.

Here's my favorite Lutheran altar!
6:15 PM

Does that mean we at Good Shepherd ought to put up a disclaimer over our altar?

In other words, McCain was really making the same assertion about our altar that Kathy was trying to make about Mohler’s piece. According to McCain, Orthodox art doesn’t speak the same language as Western art. And, as Kathy tried to point out, Mohler does not mean inerrancy the same way we Lutherans do—especially, as she pointed out, when inerrancy and inspiration are absent efficacy.

That doesn’t mean Lutherans can’t use Orthodox art. Catechized Lutherans can “handle” altars with icons because they have been taught that the art is merely an earthly reminder of heavenly things. Nothing more. An icon is not the thing itself. It is no more to be worshiped and adored than one having this on it.

And in Good News magazine, the art is used as a jumping off point to explain a theological point. It never stands alone. Selection of pieces is so careful that art is rejected if even the title is inappropriate to the theological point being made to the reader. The reader is not left to his subjective opinion. A decidedly Lutheran catechesis is drawn from every piece of artwork used in Good News.

So in truth, the argument about the use of Orthodox art vs. Western art is actually a weak one. Orthodox art and Western art have their well known connotations for use in worship, and they are known to be different. Art is received subjectively. It can mean different things to different viewers. This is not so easily true with words. Words mean things, generally the same thing time and again. The inerrancy of scripture is a word known by theologians to mean the scriptures are without errors because they are God’s words breathed by the Holy Spirit into human authors to be written down for our sakes (2Ti 3:16). This carries with it certain implications with what the word actually is and does for our sakes (Is 55:11). When any part of that that is denied, then inerrancy takes a huge hit. How can inerrancy stand when its very usefulness as God intended it is denied because the men who handle it say, “That’s impossible!”? At that point a different connotation of the word inerrancy—perhaps it could be said even a whole other word being named “inerrancy”—is being used. One thing is certain; we aren’t speaking with the same terminology. To not deal with the text as it is given for our sakes is an indication that one is rejecting inerrancy at that point. Thus, inspiration and efficacy are sacrificed as well.

Inerrancy and inspiration absent efficacy is like a two-legged stool: just try to sit on it. But Baptist inerrancy is just that, a two-legged stool. They’ll tout inerrancy because of inspiration and shout out a good belief in creation or the flood story. Then they’ll look you straight in the eye and swear “Yes, ma’am, you and I, we believe the same thing.”

That’s when it’s time to get down to where things really count. Now it’s time to set that stool on the floor and see if she’ll set still and hold a body up. “Do you baptize babies? Do you believe what 1Peter 3:21 says?” Simply put, deal with the text: Does Baptism save now?

And that’s where the derrier hits the dust. That’s where inerrency is shown to be just another pretty word batted ‘round. Baptists deny baptismal regeneration. That kicks the stuffing out of inerrancy. Inerrency is certain because God inspired (God breathed) the word to His authors, therefore it does what He says it will do; it is efficacious.

But get a Baptist to grasp that when it comes time to baptize an infant; or set out wine for the Lord’s Supper; or even agree what’s in that Precious Water or Meal. It’s not happening without some very, very careful catechesis and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Most of the children enrolled in our school are non-Lutheran. Yet it is not uncommon a number of these children to come to desire Baptism for themselves. They hear of their Lord’s desire of it for them and its benefits daily in chapel.

One of my students waged an ongoing battle with his mother and grandparents for a good two years before he was given permission by them to go to the font and receive what our Lord would give him, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It was a respectful battle, to be sure. He was armed only with God’s word. For every one of their protests he simply pointed to one of any several texts and said, now what do you have to say? He was told he didn’t need baptism because he wasn’t of the age of accountability; well, babies die don’t they, proving Paul correct, Rom 6:23. And then there is Ps 51:5. Heaven must be filled with a lot of sinners, those babies who die without baptism. He was told baptism doesn’t save. So he’d point to 1Pe 3:21. Get around that one, he’d reply. That’s God talking. God says baptism saves now. They’d have to deny God was talking through Peter, thus sacrificing their own belief in the inerrancy of scripture, in order to deny that baptism doesn’t save now.

He’s not alone. Our students, either those of the school or those of the congregation find they must be prepared to defend their Baptism against the onslaughts of their neighbors and friends. This is Baptist Country. Inerrancy only goes so far in the mind of a Baptist. That’s because efficacy has no place in their thinking with regard to the Sacraments Christ instituted for their sakes.

Mohler is a great read, up only to a point. Kathy would agree to that, I am certain. But he’s to be read critically, with Lutheran sensibilities. We do this with the Fathers. We do read them not as is if we are idle-minded sponges. We read as if in dialogue with them, saying “Amen” here, and rejecting what is written there.

Mohler simply doesn’t mean inerrancy the same way we mean inerrancy. If he did, he would agree to baptismal regeneration, and Christ’s very real body and blood presence in the bread and wine at the Holy Supper. But then he’d be a Lutheran, not a Baptist, wouldn’t he?