Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Catholic Priest Reconsiders Luther

Daniel Olivier, a French Catholic Priest, wrote a book reconsidering the Catholic approach to Martin Luther in the late 1970s. His thesis in Luther’s Faith: The Cause of the Gospel of the Church, is that Martin Luther preached the Christian gospel in the 16th century and that it was wrong for the Roman Catholic Church to condemn it. Olivier writes, “Luther appears to me as one of the great theologians of the faith.” Olivier recognizes the unfaithful climate that arose in the Church during the late Middle Ages. He shows that Martin Luther was simply reacting to this climate of salvation by works when he promoted his doctrine of justification by faith. Olivier contends that at the Council of Trent the gospel was condemned, and this was harmful to the Church. The council convened too late and no one was there to defend Lutheran ideas. If a council had convened earlier and invited Luther, the Church could have re-gained the gospel. Instead, the Council sided with scholasticism. Olivier writes, “The Tridentine doctrine of faith is that of scholasticism, which Luther had rejected.” Olivier writes concerning the attitude of Roman Catholics since the Council of Trent:

"The Roman attitude has always been to condemn as a whole without any desire to listen. The proper response is to begin listening, to recognize, from the point of view of the Catholic faith, what Luther brought to Christianity when he first appeared in the life of the church."

Further, Olivier recognizes progress made with Vatican II as movement in a positive direction for Roman Catholicism. But it is clear that he desires to see more progress.

Olivier aims to do two things in his book: 1) He wants all Roman Catholics to embrace the gospel. 2) He seeks for the aim of reuniting visible Christendom, and sees the Augsburg Confession of 1530 as a means to do so. Concerning the Augsburg Confession, he writes, “The Augsburg Confession is the conscientious balance sheet of 10 years of Church reform, in the name of the Gospel.” Doctrines he sees in Protestantism that should be embraced by Roman Catholicism are: 1) The gospel of justification by faith. 2) The authority of the Scriptures. 3) The priesthood of all believers. While this is so, he spends most of his book expounding upon Luther’s doctrine of justification which he believes to be at the heart of the Christian gospel. In order to do this, Olivier uses texts drawn from Luther’s early, middle, and mature years. Olivier’s purpose is to let Luther speak for himself.

In chapters 1 and 2 Olivier shows that faith has been better understood as a result of Luther. By putting faith at the forefront, Olivier upholds the centrality of the work of Christ in apprehending the believer’s personal salvation. Olivier speaks out against medieval superstition and sees Luther’s doctrine of faith resulting in true piety. Olivier describes Luther’s gospel as:

"The Gospel is the good news and preaching the text first of all elucidates the good news of the gift of Christ….But good news is good news only if it is announced….Christ is truly imparted to the reader who welcomes in faith the promise which Luther draws from Scripture."

In chapter 3 Olivier discusses how Luther became a Reformer. He refutes the idea that Luther was ill, mad, or misunderstood Roman Catholic dogma. Rather, he shows that the Catholic climate was truly corrupt, and Luther was one who genuinely desired to be saved. Luther’s concern was with personal salvation, not the authority of the church. By focusing on this concern of Luther, Olivier strategically focuses on the gospel, rather than Luther’s polemics against Rome. However, at the end of the chapter Olivier does discuss briefly Luther’s view of the Pope. He shows that Luther held the papal office to be of human origin, and identifies the Pope as the Antichrist. Although, Olivier contends that the reader should not focus on this aspect of Luther’s teaching.

In chapters 4 and 5, Olivier expounds on Luther’s view of justification. He shows that grace is unconditional and not based on anything within man. Faith receives the promise and the man is forgiven of his sins. While he becomes righteous through Christ, he still sins. Olivier shows that Luther’s doctrine of simultaneously righteous and sinner was Pauline. He writes, “[Luther] challenged Catholicism to be faithful to St. Paul.” Further, Olivier shows that at the heart of Luther’s gospel was the certainty of salvation. And this certainty comes by the preaching of the gospel. Having a Mass without the preaching of the gospel in the language the people could understand was futile at best.

Olivier’s aim and goal is a noble one. By focusing on the gospel, Olivier focuses on what is most necessary to Christianity. By recognizing that the church can err and is always in need of reform, Olivier is able to look critically at the Council of Trent and the decisions of the Pope. Olivier has a strategic approach in focusing on the gospel. If the gospel is embraced by the Pope, then it is possible that Lutherans will remove from him the title of Anti-Christ. The very reason that Lutherans call the Pope the Anti-Christ is because he does not allow the gospel to be preached in the church. Unfortunately, the anathematization of the gospel at the Council of Trent still has not been lifted.

However, there are two short comings with Olivier’s approach in his book. They are his understanding of the doctrine of justification and the nature of the papacy. First, Olivier does not clearly discuss the difference between Luther’s doctrine of justification and Augustine’s. This is why, 21 years later in 1999, liberal Lutherans and Catholics could sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The language in Olivier’s book and the JDDJ is ambiguous enough for an Augustinian and a liberal Lutheran to sign. For Lutherans and Catholics to truly be united on justification, they have to answer the questions: Is justification a process that occurs inside of man? Or is it a declaration made by God and a continuous standing we have before Him?

Olivier does not renounce the Papacy as a divinely instituted office. He actually renounces Protestants who are against the Papal office. However, observing his method, one can see that he rejects the infallibility of the Pope. And he advocates the equality of Bishops rather then a Papal monarchy. The reality is, visible unity between Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox will never occur without the Roman Catholic Church renouncing the divine institution of the Papacy. Eastern Orthodox and Protestants may be willing to recognize the chair in Rome as a place of primacy since Peter and Paul labored there. However, they will never allow for the idea that the Papal office was instituted by Christ in Matthew 16:16-19.

Olivier has a fresh outlook on the relationship between Rome and Luther. However, I do not believe this book will result in visible unity between Catholics and Lutherans of the International Lutheran Council (the main reasons are described above). However, the great contribution of this book is that it may cause Catholics to embrace the gospel of justification by grace through faith, and make it central to their church’s preaching and teaching. In the meantime visible unity will not be achieved until the church reigns triumphantly in heaven with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Theologian of the Cross

What is a theologian of glory? How does a theologian of glory compare to a theologian of the cross? I will examine these questions in the light of the doctrine of salvation, in the light of the problem of tragedy and suffering, and finally in the light of Romans 9:6-24.

A theologian of glory wants to leave room for himself and his action in the doctrine of salvation. In other words, he wants to have at least a little control in his conversion and his salvation. To give an extreme case, the 5th century British monk, Pelagius, denied original sin and believed that one could be converted to God by an act of the will and live a life without sin, without the operation of the Holy Spirit. A less extreme example is the synergist who believes he co-operates with God in his conversion, and during the salvation process.

A theologian of the cross, on the other hand, believes that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the chief article of the Christian faith. In other words, he empties himself of everything, and completely depends on Christ’s righteousness alone in his conversion, justification, and salvation. In his conversion, he believes that he is totally passive because he understands how depraved his sinful nature is. In justification, he leaves no room for his own works since he knows that even his “good” works are plagued by mortal sin. He knows that Christ perfectly fulfilled the law on his behalf and Christ’s righteousness is freely imputed to him. In justification he receives all of Christ’s perfect work, and in sanctification he continues to look to the cross for the assurance of his salvation and never looks to himself.

A theologian of glory is a theologian of prosperity who believes that Christ will bring happiness and a good life. He often will try and sell Christianity to others by emphasizing how happy and good their lives will be if they would just give their life to Christ. When tragedy occurs in a Christian’s life, he rationally tries to explain God’s sovereignty away, or he believes that those who are suffering must not be blessed. The crowds recorded in Luke 13 were examples of theologians of glory. They thought the victims of the tower that fell in Siloam must not have been blessed, but Jesus replied: “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5). Another example would be a theologian of glory that does not understand tragic events like that of September 11th. They would say: “How could a good and gracious God permit this to happen? This is embarrassing and horrible. God was not involved in this. But He knows what it is like to suffer.” A theologian of glory tries to explain everything.

A theologian of the cross, however, knows that Christ did not promise a life of happiness. In fact, Christ told us to expect the opposite. The theologian of the cross does not sell Christianity to others by emphasizing the good life that will occur after conversion. Was the Apostle Peter happy and joyful when he was crucified upside down under Nero? The theologian of the cross knows that Jesus Christ was born into a crap filled manger, was persecuted, scourged, beaten, and crucified. When tragedy occurs, the theologian of the cross suffers with others and assures them of God’s promises in the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He does not try and explain everything, but he simply points people to Jesus.

A theologian of glory will not let God be God and man be man. In Romans 9:6-24, the Apostle illustrates God’s sovereignty in bringing salvation to the Gentiles while being involved in the Jews’ crucifixion and rejection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle shows how this was God’s sovereign plan from the beginning of creation. A theologian of glory would have trouble with this passage because it leaves no control for man. He will likely say that the Jews crucified and rejected Jesus, and God had nothing to do with it. In the supposed unconditional election of the Gentiles, he will say that there must have been something good in them, like faith foreseen, which caused God to elect them. He will not allow for unconditional election. While a theologian of the cross would call unconditional election divine sovereignty, a theologian of glory would call it divine tyranny.

Alternately, a theologian of the cross knows that God was involved in the crucifixion and rejection of His Son. For example, St. Augustine wrote: “It is, therefore, in the power of the wicked to sin; but that in sinning they should do this or that by that wickedness is not in their power, but in God’s, who divides the darkness and regulates it; so that hence even what they do contrary to God’s will is not fulfilled except it be God’s will” (On The Predestination of the Saints, Ch. 33). A theologian of the cross trusts and relies on unconditional election in the light of the gospel. He knows that why God elects one and not another is mystery, and is not offended by his sovereignty. St. Augustine wrote: “The reason why this grace comes upon one man and not on another may be hidden, but it cannot be unjust” (On the Merits of the Forgiveness of Sins, And on the Baptism of Infants, Ch. 29).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Bondage of the Will

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam put out an inquiry in 1524 titled: Diatribe or Discourse Concerning Free Choice (also known as The Freedom of the Will). In it, he attacks Luther’s view of the will’s bound choice. Erasmus believed the Scriptures were obscure regarding the issue of the role of the will in salvation. Consequently, he thought that a theologian should base his teachings on reason and experience. In conclusion, man could make choices for or against God. Men have free will. In this essay I will analyze Luther’s response to Erasmus, De servo arbitrio (On Bound Choice, also known as The Bondage of the Will, 1525), specifically focusing on the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Following this, I will discuss Luther’s views after 1525, and the Lutheran agreement expressed in the Formula of Concord (FC) Article XI after his death (1577). I will seek to answer the following questions: Did Lutherans after Luther’s death diverge from Luther’s teachings in The Bondage of the Will, a work he believed to be one his best? Do confessional Lutherans today subscribe to a confession of faith that Martin Luther would not subscribe to? Is Martin Luther a heretic in the Lutheran Church, as the 20th century Reformed historian, Phillip Schaff has claimed?

First, I will examine The Bondage of the Will. In it, Luther asserts that God foreknows all things by divine necessity. The term by necessity was a scholastic term used by Luther. At the time, he thought it would be an effective way to confess God’s total lordship. After 1525, he abandoned the conception because its meaning was too harsh and suggested compulsion. However, The Bondage of the Will asserts that God is in total control. It is not by chance that events occur the way they do. For Luther there was no distinction between God’s foreknowledge and God’s foreordination of events. What God foreknows, God foreordains because He is in control. With the phrase, by necessity, Luther means that God predetermines all events that happen in time. Luther writes:

"It is, then, fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will."

What Luther does not mean is that God forces man’s will to choose one thing or another in the earthly realm. God is in total control of daily events that occur in time, and because He is omnipotent in relation to them, he predetermines them. He uses the example of Judas Iscariot to illustrate this point. Although Judas became a traitor willingly and not by force, he did betray Jesus Christ at a time predetermined by God. Luther writes,

"Let him who hears me understand that I am speaking of the latter [necessity of infallibility], not the former [necessity of force] discussing whether Judas became a traitor willingly or unwillingly, but whether it was infallibly bound to come to pass that Judas should willingly betray Christ at a time predetermined by God" (brackets added by me).

God predetermines all events, but man is not forced when making choices on a day to day basis. Luther does not want Erasmus or any other reader to think this. Man can make choices on a day to day basis concerning earthly matters, but because God is omnipotent, He is in control and wills these choices.

Concerning spiritual matters, man’s will is totally bound. One could say this is Luther’s main argument of the book. Man cannot choose or reject God. Man cannot choose or reject Satan. Man is like a beast standing between two riders. Luther writes, “If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have hold of it.”

So if God is in total control and can ride the will towards salvation or allow Satan to ride the will towards damnation, then why does He choose to ride some and not others? Luther states that the answer is hidden to us and we should have nothing to do with it. In The Bondage of the Will, Luther makes a distinction between the hidden and revealed God. And while Luther does tell the reader to have nothing to do with the hidden God, he does not follow his own advice. Instead, Luther makes statements concerning the actions of the hidden God. For example, he states that God wills and works the death of sinners according to His inscrutable will. Luther writes,

“God hidden in Majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, and death, and all in all; nor has He set bounds to Himself by His Word, but has kept Himself free over all things.”

The ones in whom God works death according to His hidden will, Luther calls the reprobate. The reprobates are the ones God purposely leaves and allows to go to hell by His omnipotent will. Luther writes, “It belongs to the same God Incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, though that will of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish.”

According to The Bondage of the Will, the reprobates are damned undeservedly by the power of the omnipotent God who wills their death. By undeserved, Luther means the reprobate did not have the ability to do anything about their sinful condition. Since Luther affirms that it is because of no previous merit or worthiness that God elects sinners, He also affirms that it is because of no previous merit that God damns them as well. That is, there is an unconditional work towards salvation, and an unconditional work towards damnation. God is free and works according to His omnipotent will. Luther realizes that Erasmus is going to be concerned with this teaching and says:

"You may be worried that it is hard to defend the mercy and equity of God in damning the undeserving, that is, ungodly persons, who, being born in ungodliness, can by no means avoid being ungodly, and staying so, and being dammed, but are compelled by natural necessity to sin and perish; as Paul says: ‘We were all the children of wrath, even as others’ (Eph. 2.3), created such by God Himself form a seed that had been corrupted by the sin of the one man, Adam."

The reprobate cannot resist God’s will to work death in them. And the work He does in them is not because they are sinners who deserve it, but because God predetermined their destiny before they were born. Luther bases this doctrine on Romans 9:13ff where Paul quotes Malachi 1:2ff: “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.” Since Paul says that God determined their destiny prior to their birth, Luther concludes that Esau’s predestination to damnation was unconditioned. Erasmus denied this passage was speaking of salvation but only temporal servitude on the basis of Romans 9:12 where Paul quotes Genesis 25:23. Luther responds:

"The question here is not, whether that servitude bears on salvation, but, by what desert was it imposed on him who has not deserved it….Furthermore, proof is derived from the text itself that Moses is not dealing with temporal servitude only, and that Paul is perfectly right in understanding it of eternal salvation."

Erasmus claims that it is absurd to say that God condemns people who cannot avoid deserving damnation. Luther responds by ridiculing Erasmus for imposing man-made reason upon God. Luther affirms that this is Paul’s point and it is the very reason the Romans were grumbling in 9:19. It was by no previous merits that God works faith or unbelief in man. Luther writes, “Paul teaches that faith and unbelief come to us by no work of our own, but through the love and hatred of God.” All things take place by necessity and not by man’s free will. Luther writes,

"And it is just this that compels that conclusion that there is no such thing as ‘free will’: namely, the fact that the love and hate of God towards men is immutable and eternal, existing, not merely before there was nay merit or work of ‘free-will’, but before the world was made; and that all things take place in us of necessity, according as He has from eternity loved or not loved."

Luther is aware that it may look like he is assigning to God responsibility for evil. However, when discussing Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17) he states that God hardened his heart, but it was not as if he was not already sinful. It was not as if God caused someone good to be evil. He caused someone to be evil that was already evil. When God hardens a man’s heart He is the one who keeps all things in motion. But the evil that takes place is the fault of the instruments, not God, for He cannot do evil. By stating this, Luther frees himself from the accusation that he is ascribing evil to God regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

Luther ends the work by telling the reader to keep in the mind three lights: the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory. According to the light of nature it does not make sense that the good should suffer in this life and the bad should prosper. According to the light of grace it does not make sense that God damns sinners who cannot do anything to save themselves. But the light of glory says that God will reveal these answers at His advent, and now we should only trust in his justice.

By teaching that man is damned undeservedly, Luther was not being careful with his words. By using the scholastic category, by divine necessity, Luther attributed to God all things, including damnation. Luther did this not only because of his use of divine necessity but also because he was eager to prove Erasmus wrong. This work was very important to Luther because it dealt with the role of the human will in salvation. For many years as a monk, Luther thought it was up to him to earn his salvation. When he discovered the gospel it gave him certainty that salvation was by grace alone. By asserting the omnipotence and immutability of God’s will, Luther was asserting the certainty of salvation in the promises of the gospel. But in Luther’s zeal to affirm the omnipotence of God who works all things not on the basis of any merit, he consequently affirmed that God damns the undeserved.

In Luther’s defense, The Bondage of the Will is not the place to go to experience a full treatment of Luther’s theology of predestination. God’s predestination was discussed as I have emphasized above, but it was not the focus of his work. Since Erasmus was asserting the freedom of man’s will, Luther primarily approached this work from the standpoint of man. Luther predominantly focuses on anthropology, the doctrine man. So much so, that he does not even mention Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:3-11, texts which are the seats of doctrine (sedas doctrinae) for God’s eternal predestination. Therefore, Luther’s primary objective was to persuade Erasmus that man has no free will (anthropology). His goal was not to exhaust the Scriptures concerning God’s predestination (the doctrine of God).

Every theological work must be understood within its historical context. And every theologian undergoes theological development. So what was Luther’s attitude towards this work later in his life? In 1537, Luther maintained that The Bondage of the Will was one of his best works. This was possibly due to the fact that it was written in excellent Latin, and that Luther refuted a pretty famous humanist scholar using very good argumentation. Three years later, Luther does give a pre-caution to his readers, however. During a lecture on Genesis 26 in 1540, Luther admits that he overemphasized God’s divine will pre-ordaining all things in The Bondage of the Will. In the lecture, Luther desired to maintain the tension between human responsibility and God’s omnipotence while focusing on God’s promises in the gospel. Already, in The Bondage of the Will, he maintained the universality of God’s promises. Afterwards, he continued maintaining the atonement was unlimited. Luther was a man of the gospel, not a man of speculating over the hidden God. Concerning Luther’s theological development concerning predestination, Luther made it clear in a 1539 lecture that that the blame for damnation fell upon human beings. Further, he stated:

"So remember that God the Almighty did not create, predestine, and choose us to perish but to be saved, as Paul gave witness to the Ephesians, and had to begin his discussion not with the law or with reason but with the grace of God and the gospel that is proclaimed to all people."

One can observe Luther’s growth in his understanding of law and gospel. Predestination was gospel not law, promise not threat. It had nothing to do with unbelievers who do not receive the promise. Unbelievers were damned due to their transgression of the law. Reformation Scholar, Dr. Robert Kolb writes, “In a similar letter written in August 18, 1545, Luther affirmed that God’s predestination is found in Jesus Christ alone.”

Taking into account Luther’s corrections and the development of his theology at the University of Wittenberg, the Formula of Concord written after his death made the distinction between the foreknowledge and foreordination of God. God’s foreknowledge simply means that God foresees future events. God’s foreordination describes his actions in human history. His foreordination to election extends only over the elect. Man’s damnation is deserved because of his transgressions of God’s law. God is sovereign over man’s damnation, but He does not cause it. The Formula followed Luther’s advice by not focusing on the hidden God, which perhaps, Luther did a little too much of in The Bondage of the Will.

If Luther were still alive in 1577, would he have subscribed to FC XI? Obviously, as a 21st century American it is impossible to know for sure. But given the data, it is quite likely Luther would have subscribed since it reflects corrections he had already made during his lifetime. So is Luther a heretic in the Lutheran Church as Schaff maintained? Of course not. Schaff and all of us for that matter, must take into account the context of The Bondage of the Will, and Luther’s theological development on this, and every issue.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bible Study: Exodus 10:21-29

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt." 22So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. 24Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, "Go, serve the LORD; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind." 25But Moses said, "You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. 26Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the LORD our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the LORD until we arrive there." 27But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go. 28Then Pharaoh said to him, "Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die." 29Moses said, "As you say! I will not see your face again." -Exodus 10:21-29

The main theological concept in Exodus 10:21-29 is that God is all-powerful and almighty showing the futility of the Egyptian gods, particularly the sun-god Ra. When the earth was formless, dark, and empty, God said, “Let there be light and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). He is the one who created the sun out of darkness, and He has the power to turn the sun back into darkness. He darkens the sun for three days in order to manifest His grace and presence among His people so that they would worship Him (10:26). In Egyptian polytheism, the sun-god Ra was one of the chief deities. Further, Pharaoh was often confused with the sun-god and was an object of worship for the Egyptians. The reign of Pharaoh was the reign of the sun. The official sun-god pervaded the worship of the palace. By darkening the sun for three days, God showed the Egyptians who is in control of nature and the cosmic realm. The Wisdom of Solomon saw the Egyptian plagues as a mockery of Egyptian polytheism.

For Pharaoh, this event signified chaos in the cosmic realm. According to a cosmogonic myth of the time, the monstrous serpent Apophis represented all that was dreadful. Sarna writes, “The sun’s journey across the sky was thought to involve a mighty struggle between it and Apophis that ceaselessly attempted to destroy it. Each morning’s rising sun represented the defeat of darkness. This plague indicated that Apophis triumphed and also demonic and chaotic powers triumphed” (Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel, 79). For Pharaoh and the Egyptians, cosmic triumph over the sun normally signified demonic activity. This time Pharaoh realized that it was actually the triumph of the God of Moses over himself.

God’s purpose in acting in human history and showing His mighty power is so that He might be worshiped. He does this to redeem His people Israel, but He also does this so the Egyptians might come to know Him as well (Ex. 7:5). While Pharaoh finally does let the Israelites go, unfortunately there is nothing to suggest that He came to possess saving faith in the God of Moses.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

While many want to make the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart the primary theological point of the plague narratives, it is not necessary to do so. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart relates to the primary theological point in that it manifests God’s mighty power and His active presence in human history as God brings about His redemptive plan. Central to the darkness plague, however, is simply that God caused darkness in the land and triumphed over Pharaoh. This was not the first time that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart in 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17. Pharaoh hardened his own heart in 8:15, 32; 9:34. And there are also neutral verses where we do not know who is the subject of the verb (7:13, 14; 8:19; 9:7, 35). In this passage Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by the Lord so that God might bring about His redemptive purpose according to His sovereign will. The Lord’s redemptive purpose was to release the Israelites from the bondage to the Egyptians and bring them the land He promised them. This was the Lord’s purpose and in accomplishing His purpose He acted in judgment over Pharaoh in bringing it about.

This act of God teaches the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone. It was not by any human effort or co-operation that the Israelites were redeemed from bondage to the Egyptians. It was only by God’s grace and His active presence in judging the Egyptians that he redeemed His people Israel. This also has New Testament parallels.
The Apostle Paul teaches the doctrine of salvation by grace alone in Romans chapter 9 when speaking of the election of spiritual Israel (Jew and Gentile Christians). Paul quotes God in Exodus 33:19 saying, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). He continues by using Pharaoh as an example saying, “It does not therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scriptures says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth’ (Ex. 9:16). Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9:16-18). God raised up Pharaoh to display His power. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart to bring about the redemption of His people Israel.

The rational reader will be inclined to ask how it is that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart and does not give him a chance. The answer is that God does not simply make an unconditional decision to harden Pharaoh’s heart. He does it as an act of judgment for his stubbornness, and to manifest His power. This also agrees with St. Augustine who wrote, “[God] has mercy when He gives good things. He hardens when He recompenses what is deserved” (On The Predestination of the Saints, XIV). Pharaoh deserved this punishment for his sin, as Psalm 105:8 declares, “He sent darkness and made the land dark-- for had they not rebelled against his words?”

In the New Testament, Paul says that the Jews deserved their punishment because of their unbelief (Rom. 11:20). Still one might ask how God elects some by grace alone and attributes damnation to man’s sin? Paul answers this question by reminding us not question God’s authority: “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God” (Rom. 9:20)? This is a question that attempts to understand what God has not revealed. Therefore, it is better not to attempt to understand the hidden thoughts of God, since God declares in Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9).

God hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to accomplish His redemptive activity of His people Israel. He released them from bondage to freedom so that they might worship Him. He also opens the door for all people whether Jewish or not to have faith in Him. While the Book of Exodus does not record whether the Egyptians came to possess saving faith in the God of Moses, it is possible that it could have happened. In the same way, God hardened the Jew’s hearts in the first century in order to crucify His Son and raise Him from the dead. Some first century Jews were brought to saving faith in Jesus, the promised Messiah.

Three Days of Darkness

Total darkness covered Egypt for three days as God frustrated Pharaoh and the Egyptians and redeemed His people Israel. In the same way, while Christ was atoning for the sins of the whole world, there was three hours of darkness (Mt. 27:45) as Christ hung on the cross. The darkness at the cross was to fulfill the words of Amos the prophet, “In that day, declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight…I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day’” (8:9, 10). The total darkness in the ninth plague has Christological aspects since it was present during the atonement of Jesus Christ. The darkness in both narratives indicates God’s active presence in redeeming His people from slavery to sin. In the Exodus account, it was redemption from the sins of the Egyptians. In the Gospel accounts, it was redemption from the sin of Adam.

Neither account, however, signifies the completion of God’s redemptive activity. It was not until after the tenth plague on the firstborn that the Israelites were released from slavery. In the same way it was not until the resurrection of Jesus Christ that sin, death, and the devil were ultimately conquered. Paul writes, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man…. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:21, 23). And at His second coming the sun will also be turned into darkness and “then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).

Eschatological Implications

The darkening of the sun also has eschatological implications. Isaiah prophecies, “See, the day of the LORD is coming -- a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger -- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it….The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Is. 13:9-10). When darkness came over the land of the Egyptians this pointed forward to Christ’s crucifixion as well as to Christ’s second coming. Cosmic disturbance in the Holy Scriptures is associated with the day of the Lord. The prophet Joel prophecies concerning the end times saying, “The sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine….The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Joel 2:10, 31). The darkness shall come before the awesome day of the Lord. Darkness signifies that the day of the Lord is at hand, and that God is about to complete His redemptive activity. It signified that God was about to complete His redemptive activity among the Egyptians. And in the end it will be a sign that Jesus will be coming on the clouds of the sky. Jesus declares, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened… They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:29, 30). Revelation confirms this imagery of Christ in chapter 6:12-13.

Darkness therefore represents judgment as well as redemption. In Exodus, it was judgment upon the Egyptians, and redemption of Israel. At the crucifixion, it was judgment upon the Jews who crucified Christ, and redemption upon those (both Jew and Gentile) who would come to possess faith in Christ. At the last day will come the fulfillment of all things. Judgment will come upon all who are not in Christ, and redemption will come to those who possess faith in Christ.

The plague of darkness eventually led to the Passover. The darkness at the crucifixion of Christ led to the Lord’s Supper. And the darkness at Christ’s second coming will lead to the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Bioethical Dilemma

By Seminarian Dave Larson

Question at hand – How are Christians to view assisted suicide/euthanasia, and similar end of life issues, based upon our baptismal identity?

An elderly woman, who is a member of your congregation, is dying from cancer. The cancer has progressed to the stage where nothing can possibly stop or even slow it. The only thing the doctors can do is prescribe morphine, but even then the pain is unbearable. Her husband, to whom she has been married for fifty-five years, loves her deeply and it is too much for him to see her in such pain. When the pain peaks, she cries out for relief, but her husband is helpless to ease her suffering. One day the husband comes to you and tells you that both he and his wife have had enough of this accursed cancer. They have planned for the husband to provide an overdose of morphine and end his wife’s life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what do you say to this man? How do you respond as a trained theologian and as his spiritual guide? I am sure that every single one of you has dealt with a situation like this. It may not have been an instance that included a plan for euthanasia, but you have all been involved with people dealing with great amounts of pain or other end of life issues. So again, I ask you, what do you say? But before we get to your response, we must know what the world’s response to the man is. After all, this man will hear two things: what the world tells him and what you tell him.

Essentially there are five different arguments for assisted suicide/euthanasia. We will take up each argument on a one-by-one basis. The first argument is the argument of burden. The patient does not want to be a burden to others, whether they be family, friends, hospital, self, society, etc. The patient sees himself as a drain, both financially and emotionally, on those around him. This patient believes that since he no longer contributes to the world in which he lives, but rather takes away from it, he should no longer be in it. With his death there is one less burden for everyone to carry.

The second argument is the right-to-choose argument. This is the argument that Americans have made famous! The patient believes that she has the right to choose what to do with her life. After all, it’s her body and her life, is it not? She has the right to either keep her life or lose it. Therefore, if her life has become unbearable to live, then it is her right to end it.

The third argument is the quality of life argument. This is closely tied into the burden argument. Here the patient believes that since his life is no longer at the level of quality that he desires, it is no longer worth living. So rather than living a life that he has determined to be valueless, he will die. A life without a certain level of quality is a life not worth living.

The fourth argument is the fatalism argument. Here the patient has come to the conclusion that she will die anyway, so why not now? She begs the question that if everyone will die sooner or later, why not simply die now and skip the pain and suffering of the disease.

The fifth, and probably the most popular argument, is the “patient has suffered enough” argument. This is the argument used by the husband in our scenario. Here, the patient has suffered the torments of her disease for far too long and it would be better for her to be dead than to keep on living such an awful life.

As theologians we have been trained to realize that whenever such arguments are made, there is typically a bigger issue lying in the background. The real issue at hand here is concerned with one’s view of the world and oneself. All arguments for euthanasia/assisted suicide are supported by the core presupposition of autonomy. The world will tell the man that people are truly independent, autonomous persons who are subject to no one.

Gilbert Meilaender has this to say concerning autonomy, “We have taken autonomy so for granted, accepted it so much as the natural state of affairs, that we have lost our ability to question it or to see that – every bit as much as religion – it also presupposes a metaphysic and a view of human nature.” Autonomy, in our Orthodox understanding of the world, is an upside-down philosophy. To steal a term from C.S. Lewis, this mode of understanding is “bent.” Autonomy views people as being masters over all things, including themselves. Therefore, people are their own “gods” who are lords over their own lives and can decide whether or not their lives are worth living.

The question is then begged: what is the proper view of the world and of ourselves? This is the question that we must be able to answer not only for ourselves but especially for our parishioners. Remember, they will always hear two things: what you tell them and what the world tells them. We know what the world has to say regarding euthanasia/assisted suicide via an autonomous viewpoint. Now we will discuss what we, as Orthodox Christians, have to say regarding euthanasia/assisted suicide via a dependent viewpoint.

As with all so many scenarios, baptism is central to our framework. AC IX makes this statement concerning baptism, “They are received into the grace of God when they are offered to God through baptism.” Luther also writes in the Large Catechism regarding baptism, “For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but, as the words say, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone well knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with him forever.” Likewise, Paul writes in Romans 6, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

As Lutherans, we tend to focus on certain key aspects of baptism. We focus on the salvific work of Christ in and through baptism. We like to highlight Luther’s words in the Small Catechism regarding the benefits of baptism, “It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe, as the words and promise of God declare.” It is well and good that we should emphasize the salvific benefits that come about through baptism. However, if this is all we stress, then we are cheating our people. In and through baptism we are given a new identity. Before baptism we are completely and utterly dead. Before baptism we belong to Satan and live in his kingdom. However, through baptism Christ makes us alive and gives us his name. Through baptism we belong to Christ and live in His kingdom. Paul makes this point extremely clear in Galatians 2, which is deeply connected to Romans 6, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

To illustrate the connection between baptism and our identity, I point you to the work of C.S. Lewis. In book three of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we are introduced to the character Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Eustace was a wicked little boy and Lewis writes that he deserved to have such an obnoxious name. During his voyage upon the Dawn Treader with Lucy, Edmund, and Caspian, Eustace does nothing but complain and create problems. When they come upon a certain island, Eustace has no desire to do any work so he wanders off. He stumbles upon a cave that is full of treasures and falls asleep on a pile of gold. Well, we all know what happens to a person with dragonish thoughts who falls asleep on a pile of gold: they turn into a dragon! After some time Eustace is sick and tired of being a dragon. This is when Aslan makes his appearance to Eustace. Aslan leads him to a well at the top of a mountain. At the well Aslan strips the dragon skin right off of Eustace, dunks him in the water, and dresses him in new clothes. From this point forward in the book Eustace was a new person. That is to say, he had a new identity. In fact, Lewis writes at the end of the book, “Back in our own world everyone soon started saying how Eustace had improved, and how ‘You’d never know him for the same boy.’”

In and through baptism God gives us a new identity, which is grounded in Him. This baptismal identity then impacts how we view the world and ourselves. For us, the questions of “who are we?” and “whose are we?” are one in the same. Our identities are completely enveloped in the fact that we belong to Christ. Unlike the world, we believe that we are not autonomous peoples. Rather, we are people who are completely and utterly dependent upon God. Meilaender writes, “We do not start with the language of independence. Within the story of my life I have the relative freedom of a creature, but it is not simply ‘my’ life to do with as I please. I am free to end it, of course, but not free to do so without risking something as important to my nature as freedom: namely, the sense of myself as one who always exists in relation to God.”

So then, how do we apply this baptismal identity to euthanasia/assisted suicide and other end of life issues? Dr. Robert Weiss from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis has this to say, “The care of fellow members [is] based on ‘seeing’ them as what they have been given and NOT based on what they have. Therefore, who we are is a work of Whose we are. Our integrity and identity lies in His righteousness, innocence and blessed given to us. Therefore, we ask the question of care: In Christ, who are these persons and who are we showing ourselves to be as we respond to their presence and needs, as fellow members of the body of Christ.”

We believe that our identity is entirely wrapped-up in Christ and, as such, we are wholly dependent upon Him. We are not gods who are masters over life and can decide whether our lives and the lives of others are worth living or not. As Meilaender writes, “For Christians, each person’s life is a divine gift and trust, taken up into God’s own eternal life in Jesus, to be guarded and respected in others and in ourselves.” The act of euthanasia/assisted suicide assumes lordship over our own lives and the lives of others. Such an assumption is diametrically opposed to the reality found in our baptismal identity.

Since we have established the Orthodox view of ourselves and the world, we are easily able to tackle the five arguments for euthanasia/assisted suicide that are mentioned above. The first four arguments require an autonomous viewpoint, which we believe is an erroneous one. For the Christian whose identity and worldview have been shaped by his baptismal identity the arguments based on burden, right-to-choose, quality of life, and fatalism are easily dismissed. However, the fifth argument, which is the one used in our example at the beginning of our discussion, is the hardest one for Christians to dispute. Meilaender makes this point as he writes, “Christians are, I suspect, more likely to be drawn to the argument that describes euthanasia as compassionate relief of suffering. And, to be sure, we all know the fear of suffering and the frustration of being unable to relieve it fully in those whom we love.” As baptized children of God we know that pain and suffering is the result of this broken world. However, to take the step of relieving pain and suffering through euthanasia/assisted suicide is the wrong one. Such a step is a gross denial of our baptismal identity.

At last we return to our scenario. Have you decided what you will say to the man? Obviously such a scenario would be an extremely difficult one that would require a great amount of wisdom and sensitivity. However, in such a situation we must find one way or another to express the Orthodox understanding of our baptismal identity. In this we know that we are not the ones who give life nor are we the ones who take it away. We are members of the body of Christ whose identity and worldview are wrapped up in Christ. We are fully dependent upon God and not autonomous creatures free to do whatever we wish. Therefore, with such an understanding we are able to follow the advice of Meilaender who writes, “The principle that governs Christian compassion, however, is not ‘minimize suffering.’ It is ‘maximize care.’ Were our goal only to minimize suffering, no doubt we could sometimes achieve it most effectively by eliminating sufferers.”

The goal of this paper has not been to provide you with a plug-and-play type of answer. As a matter of fact, in theology such answers rarely exist. Rather, the goal of this paper has been to provide you with a theological framework that you are able to use when dealing with euthanasia/assisted suicide issues along with other end of life issues that you may encounter in your congregations. Your people are the people of God. They have been baptized into Christ and have been given the new identity of children of God. Their selves have been brought up into Christ so that it is not they who live but Christ who lives in them. In this new identity they are creatures fully dependent upon God and not autonomous creatures dependent upon no one but themselves. To say that such a viewpoint will not be easily accepted by Americans is a vast understatement. However, it is our duty to educate our people. We must have patience and tact, but we must lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane so that they too can pray the prayer of Christ, “Not my will, but thy will, be done.”

In closing, we listen to the words of Meilaender, “Understanding care and compassion in this way, we seek to learn to stand with and beside those who suffer – with them as an equal, not as a lord over life and death, but determined not to abandon them as they live out their personal histories up against that limit of death which we all share. For us, the governing imperative should be not ‘minimize suffering,’ but ‘maximize care.’” Thank you.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Lutheran Parents and their Vocation

(The Audience is an LCMS Church Workers conference (Pastors, Director's of Christian Education, Deaconesses, etc.)

Our life on earth is a war. It is a battlefield between God’s angels and Satan’s demons. Of course, in the end God will win. But in the meantime there is a battle. On this earth God and Satan are battling to win people’s hearts, minds, and wills. Either Jesus rules people’s lives or the devil does. There is no middle ground. Many American Christians think they can have a “balance” between God and the world. They do not realize that friendship with the world is hatred towards God. They do not realize that this earth is a battlefield. On this earth, God and Satan use people to have an impact and influence other people. In schools, in friendships, on television, on the radio, in movies, and on the Internet there are people, ideas, and philosophies that are battling to influence people. We are caught up in this war. We are soldiers on the battlefield.

When a child is born into this world, the battle begins to claim the body and soul of that child for heaven or hell. Pastors and leaders of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, we are losing the war when it comes to our young people. Parents are not fulfilling their vocations to raise their children as disciples of Christ. We Pastors baptize many infants and confirm many kids, but then kids fall away from the faith. Families attend our churches for a while, and then they no longer attend. Further, we do not hear that they transferred their membership to another church. In fact, we do not hear from them at all. Others we only see on Christmas and Easter. This is a sad state affairs my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are losing the battle. Where are our swords? Where is our armor? What is the problem?

This is happening because our parents are not raising their kids as Christians. Some do not know how to do this. They remember the way their parents raised them, and plan on doing the same with maybe a few minor changes. Others do not understand why it is important. Still others rely on Sunday school, confirmation, or youth group to take care of Christian education, not realizing what it takes to raise their kids as Christians. Some of the parents are nominal Christians, and others are immature Christians. Overall, our parents are not being equipped for the task of raising their kids as Christians. They are not growing in their knowledge of God or towards faith in Jesus Christ and do not know what it means to be disciples of Christ on this earth.

The Importance of Useful Preaching

The first reason why parents in our churches are not being equipped to disciple their children is because of the lack of instruction and useful teaching in sermons. Now I know some of you here who do not preach from the pulpit are wondering what this part has to do with me. But do not worry. I will address your role in this dilemma soon. As Pastors, we say something at baptisms concerning raising the kids as Christians, but the parents do not hear from us afterwards concerning this task. Why is it that parents do not hear about their vocations after their children’s baptisms? Are we afraid of teaching people how to live from the pulpit? If we do not teach them, then who is going to? We are not being aggressive in this war. We need to be bolder witnesses to gain people for the Lord. In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism it says: “Let all people know that it is their chief duty – at the risk of losing divine grace – first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God…(LC, The Ten Commandments, 174).” Wow. When is the last time you have heard that in a sermon? The great thing about Luther is he didn’t just write the catechism and leave it at that. He knew that the Word of God needed to be heard, read, and meditated upon frequently because there was a war in this world. So he preached on the catechism as well. In his sermon on the 4th commandment he gets straight to the point. He says, “Listen! This commandment is for you. If you are not diligently concerned that your children and servants learn piety, then it serves you right if your children are disobedient…(4th Sermon on the Catechism (1528)).” He then devotes the entire sermon to the parents. It is as if he is having a conversation with them about their roles as parents. In another sermon on the catechism he says, “Every father of a family is a bishop in his house and the wife a bishopess. Therefore remember that you in your homes are to help us carry on the ministry as we do in the church (1st Sermon on the Catechism (1528)).” When was the last time you heard a preacher tell the parents in the crowd that they were bishop and bishopess to their kids? Are we informing them of their roles in this battle? Today in the LCMS, many of our parents think that it is the church’s job to teach their children the faith. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

If the sermon is not a fountain of life which thirsty people come to drink from, then there will be no growth in people’s lives. If God’s Word is not changing the way people think and the way they approach life, then they will drink from different fountains this world has to offer. They will be influenced by the culture, rather then be influenced by God’s Word. C.F.W. Walther said,

"Among the various functions and official acts of a servant of the church the most important of all, my friends, is preaching. Since there is no substitute for preaching, a minister who accomplishes little or nothing by preaching will accomplish little or nothing by anything else that he may do" (Law and Gospel, 248).

Many Pastors in our synod do not believe that teaching or instruction has a place in the sermon. Some are antinomians who think that preaching the law will offend people. For those of you who do not know, antinomian is a word that means anti law. Nomos is the Greek word for law. Antinomians today are worried that preaching the law will turn people away. Others are working with a law gospel polarity where the law has no positive effect in the Christian life. The antinomian preachers do not want to address people the way Luther did in his sermon. Unfortunately, they do not have an application for the law in the Christian life. Those who are working with a law and gospel polarity see the law as bad and negative, and see the gospel as good and positive. With this polarity the law is reduced to having only a negative use, rather then a positive use that is beneficial to the Christian life. The law shows a person their sins and the gospel their Savior. Some sermons I have heard have been structured this way: first half law, second half gospel. This gives people no instructions on how they are going to live their lives as Christians. This is a denial of the third use, or instructive use of the law.

A better paradigm that was also at the heart of the Lutheran Reformation is called the two kinds of righteousness. In Luther’s theology, the two kinds of righteousness did not mean an abandonment of law and gospel. I do not want you to think that. Rather, the two kinds of righteousness approached things from a different perspective and showed how the law can have a good, positive effect in the Christian life. The first righteousness is the Christian’s passive righteousness before God. This is a justifying righteousness which comes by grace through faith in Christ alone and not by works. This righteousness before God is governed by the gospel. The second righteousness is the Christian’s active righteousness in relationship to people. This righteousness is a sanctifying righteousness that comes by loving people. This righteousness in relationship to people is governed by the law. We joyfully receive the gospel by faith. And we joyfully are obedient to the law because it is God’s will.

The first thing that we have to understand is that the law is good. It is sin that is bad, not the law of God. His will is flawless. Psalm 119 says: “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches….I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (v. 1, 14-16). The Confessions reference this passage of Scripture affirmatively in the Article titled: The Third Use of the Law in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, 2. Then in the third affirmative theses of that same article it says,

"In order that people do not resolve to perform service to God on the basis of their pious imagination in an arbitrary way of their own choosing, it is necessary for the law of God constantly to light their way" (FC, VI, 4).

That is, the law of God gives instruction on living a godly life. It has a positive use because as Paul says, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12).

Some think that you have to end your sermons with gospel or you are being unfaithful. Others think that you should not have instructions on Christian living from the pulpit. But the Apostle Paul thought differently. We know that Paul spoke his letters orally while Tertius (Rom. 16:22) or another brother dictated them (Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philemon 1:19). Therefore, his letters can be viewed as sermons. At the end of his letters he often concludes with exhortations towards godly living (Rom. 12:1-15:13; Gal. 5:1-6:10; Eph. 4:1-6:20; Phil. 4:2-9; Col. 3:1-4:6; 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22). 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians are instructive from beginning to end. So, the thought that you have to end with gospel or you cannot teach people how to live from the pulpit is futile and not apostolic.

Our Reformation heritage also prided itself on how useful and practical their teaching was from the pulpit. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV says:

"And if we must speak of the outward appearance, attendance upon church is better among us than among the adversaries. For the audiences are held by useful and clear sermons…. There is nothing that so attaches people to the church as good preaching."

A brief summary of these practical teachings are found in the Apology, XV, 43. Melanchthon writes:

"On the contrary, in our churches all the sermons are occupied with such topics as these: of repentance; of the fear of God; of faith in Christ, of the righteousness of faith, of the consolation of consciences by faith, of the exercises of faith; of prayer, what its nature should be, and that we should be fully confident that it is efficacious, that it is heard; of the cross; of the authority of magistrates and all civil ordinances [likewise, how each one in his station should live in a Christian manner, and, out of obedience to the command of the Lord God, should conduct himself in reference to every worldly ordinance and law]; of the distinction between the kingdom of Christ, or the spiritual kingdom, and political affairs; of marriage; of the education and instruction of children; of chastity; of all the offices of love."

Many of these are sanctification topics or to put it in our new terminology, active righteousness topics. The Reformers were not afraid to give people instruction on how to live their life.

Some of you might say that there is not enough time to give extensive teaching and instruction from the pulpit. But I think this shows the sad state of affairs we are in. The culture is dictating the amount of time we think we should put into something. There is twenty-four hours in a day and seven days in a week and we are moving towards preaching twelve to fifteen minutes in each sermon. How are people’s minds going to be renewed by the Word of God in this short amount of time? How are we going to win the war against the flesh, devil and the world? In the fifth century, John Chrysostom, the golden mouthed preacher, used to preach for two hours. Martin Luther used to preach for around one hour. Now we have moved to twelve to fifteen minutes! Does not our Reformation heritage hold the preaching of the Word of God in higher esteem? The Confessions say:

"For of all acts of worship that is the greatest, most holy, most necessary, and highest, which God has required as the highest in the First and the Second Commandment, namely, to preach the Word of God. For the ministry is the highest office in the Church. Now, if this worship is omitted, how can there be knowledge of God, the doctrine of Christ, or the Gospel? But the chief service of God is to teach the Gospel" (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XV, 42).

The Reformers believed that the main reason for assembling and having a service was to teach people about Jesus Christ (Ap, XXIV, 3). C.F.W. Walther believed that the sermon was central to the divine service (Law and Gospel, 248). Now, I am not suggesting that we move towards two hour sermons like Chrysostom, or even one hour sermons like Luther. But I know we can give people more then twelve to fifteen minutes. If you are worried about your church not growing with long sermons, I refer you to a Reformed church in Seattle called Mars Hill that was planted in 1996, and now has grown to over 5,000 people in church attendance. Their converts are primarily former non-believers from the ages of eighteen to thirty-five years of age. The Pastor, Mark Driscoll, preaches for 60-70 minutes every Sunday. Now he is definitely a gifted preacher, but I would encourage you to preach as long as you can keep people’s attention. In conclusion, our preaching ought to have instruction to the parents concerning new life and godly living in Christ. If the parents are not growing and learning from the sermon, it is likely they will not be inspired to raise their kids as Christians.


Now I am going to switch gears and hit on something a little different then preaching. We preach the word, baptize infants, and think confirmation is going to ensure the baptized remain Christians. But confirmation is not going to take care of the job the way we do it. In many churches, confirmation is celebrated like it is graduation from church. After confirmation, the kids begin to make decisions concerning whether or not they want to attend church with their parents!

Many of us teach kids the Small Catechism when they come in for confirmation. But this shows that parents are not fulfilling their vocations. Why am I teaching other people’s kids the Small Catechism? They should already know the Small Catechism! Luther wrote the catechism in a simple way so that the head of a household could present it to his family. The catechism was supposed to be a devotional and catechetical tool for use in people’s homes. It was not supposed to be a holy book that sat on a shelf only for the Pastor to touch and use. By the time they come to me I should be able to teach them the Large Catechism. We need to partner and equip families to have home devotions. And the small catechism is a great way to set them out on that path.

Parenting Classes

We rely on confirmation to win the battle. However, parents must be teaching their children the Word of God and not rely on the church to do their job. In order to teach parents how to raise their kids as Christians we must equip them to do so and cannot rely only on confirmation to win this war. One way to equip parents for their vocations is to have parenting classes at church. One objection to this idea at my former congregation when I was an elder was that this would be too “in your face.” But I don’t see it that way. I think parents would rejoice if their churches equipped and partnered with them in such an important task. Further, remember that we are in a war, my friends. If we do not teach them, who is going to? Oprah? Donahue?

There are three aspects of parenting that must be emphasized in these classes. They are: 1) Home devotionals are necessary. 2) The Christian life must be modeled. 3) Bring your children to church. Concerning home devotionals, parents need to know the basis and importance for this. They need to understand that every person their children encounters, every movie, every song, every teacher, and every television show they encounter could potentially influence them away from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Parents must approach the Christian life with this awareness. If parents do not want to teach their children concerning life, then the world will. Show them these passages of Scripture so they know God’s will for their lives. Deuteronomy 6:7 says: “You shall teach them [the commandments] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Do you see the urgency here? God knows that the world, the flesh, and the devil are on the attack. His Word must be a lamp to His people’s feet or the darkness will overcome them. Psalm 78:5 says: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children.” The Apostle Paul says to the Christian fathers in Ephesus, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Indeed, God calls us to follow the example of Paul and exhort and teach fathers and mothers to do this. Timothy was acquainted with the Scriptures from childhood because his mother taught him (2 Tim. 3:15). We can give parents materials so that they can teach their children the Word of God. Further, at the time of the Reformation in Germany after Luther’s death, it was expected that the parents would go over the sermon with their children. This can still happen today, if we can get the parents to be hungry for the Word, and see the importance of keeping their children in the faith.

Concerning modeling the Christian life, parents will not be able to do this if they are not Christians themselves. They have to be fed with the word of God from the pulpit every Sunday. They have to be attending Bible studies where they can grow in their knowledge of the Word of God. They need to be taught the importance of modeling the Christian life. Jesus said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). Are parents causing their little ones to sin by sinning in front of them? Surely, they are called to model the Christian life in front of them and not lead them astray. We as Pastors and church leaders are only with these kids for a few hours every week. Parents are with them throughout the week. If parents are not in regular prayer with their kids and modeling the Christian life, there is a good chance they will learn about life from the culture and not the Word of God.

Concerning taking children to church, many parents already do this. This is necessary, but what we give them at church and what is expected of them must change. We must give them practical and clear sermons. At times we should have exhortations to the kids themselves concerning drinking, sex outside of marriage, pornography, and teaching concerning the importance of friendships with other Christians for fellowship. Our Sunday school curriculum should show the practical relevance and application of God’s law to the Christian life. The two kinds of righteousness paradigm could be taught in a simple way to them. We do not want the Ten Commandments to be simply a list of “thou shall nots” that are ancient and distant from their lives.

Youth Group

When I was at the seminary, I was a high school leader at a local St. Louis church. When it came time to talk about sexuality, drinking, and salvation in Jesus Christ alone, the teenagers were offended. They had never heard teaching on these things before. Sex before marriage is something accepted in our culture. There are keg parties every weekend. To them, it was narrow minded and irrational to think that all non-Christians are going to hell. These kids were influenced by the culture and not by the Word of God. Although this group of teenagers was very active in the church, they never heard about these things in the sermons. In addition, their parents were not teaching them about new life in Jesus Christ. I was the first to bring up these issues with them. We cannot put the burden on youth leaders my friends. The sermon, classes, and Bible studies must be constantly enforcing the need to grow together as families in Christ. Youth groups should be a place where Christians can relate and identify with other Christians. If not, then they will make friends with non-believers in the culture.


In conclusion, the leadership of the church must see the need to focus on the family. We must see the need for instruction in the Christian faith. I have not discussed Lutheran schools which would be beyond the scope of this presentation. But I hope that I have laid a foundation concerning how to approach this challenging aspect of ministry. If any of you here feel burdened by this because your children have strayed from the Lord, do not think you are not fit to teach others. Simply confess your sins to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness. And go on to share with others the challenges that come with such a difficult task.

During the fall of 1617, the churches in the southern Germany city of Ulm marked the 100th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. At one of the services the pastors questioned boys and girls from the city’s schools on Luther’s Small Catechism in the presence of the entire congregation. They had a catechetical drill and celebrated their children’s knowledge of God’s Word. This is how the early Lutherans celebrated the Reformation. They prided themselves on the instruction of children and parents fulfilling their vocations as Christian parents. My prayer is that we would reclaim that great Reformation legacy for our generation. I pray this in the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.