Sunday, November 30, 2008

Missionary Theology of the Holy Spirit

Dr. Sanchez proposes an ecclesial participation in Christ’s mission by anchoring it in the Holy Spirit’s anointing, presence, and activity, in and with Christ. More concretely, he advances constitutive, kerygmatic, and paschal views of the anointing of Christ with the Spirit in order to move us towards a missionary theology of the Holy Spirit. These three views are shown to be superior to three inadequate views of the Spirit, namely: revelatory, idealistic, and apathetic.

First, the revelatory view sees the baptism of Christ as simply a baptism he underwent for others, but had no significance for Himself. This view struggles to understand how the divine Son of God could have received anything more from God the Father at His baptism, since He was already God in the flesh possessing the Spirit from His conception. While this view does take into account the church’s ecclesial participation in the Spirit through Christian baptism, it does not anchor the church’s anointing with the Spirit with Christ’s anointing with the Spirit at His baptism. Second, the idealistic view embraces human openness or the freedom of the will to reach out to God the Father and receive His indwelling grace or Spirit without the means of grace. This view has two problems. Number one, it does not take into account the radical problem of sin in human beings. As people who are dead in trespasses and sins, this view optimistically believes we can raise ourselves from the dead. Number two; by not taking into account the problem of human sin, it views Christ as our example, rather than embracing Him as the only perfect Mediator between God and man. Christ is not simply an example of how we are to get to the Spirit, but rather He is the only Bearer and Giver of the Spirit. Third, the apathetic view sees life in the Spirit as one which guarantees spiritual freedom from sin, guarantees bodily healing, and guarantees business success in life. It is a life in the Spirit with an absence of suffering and the cross.

Do Lutherans suffer from any of these views? Unfortunately, we do. It is true that we are different than prosperity preachers in that we emphasize suffering and the cross. However, we are worldly in other ways. By not embracing constant prayer and spiritual warfare in our ministries we may have anchored ourselves with the apathetic view. One fourth year student told me, “Our theology leads us away from prayer.” He then went on to criticize people who pray before they make decisions. He also began to criticize people who have prayer meetings, as if the prayers would actually guide them in their actions. Where did he receive this understanding of prayer? Additionally, we do have reverence and orthodoxy in our prayers, but perhaps we take away any sense of being truly human by not expressing the emotions related to the words we are saying. Do we have a desire to “appear normal” according to the world’s terms? We often criticize the way people pray because they pray too spontaneously and with too much passion. We sometimes get suspicious of passion during prayer because we fear that it is an attempt by the one praying to manipulate his hearers by his passion. And we judge this by the world’s standards. Additionally, we have such high regard for the kerygmatic view; this is leading us to be apathetic in prayer since we believe that Christ is only going to work by the mere proclamation of the sermon on Sundays. Since the Word and Sacraments are the only means of grace, we Lutherans think that the Word and Sacraments are all we need for a life of intimacy, growth, and communion with God. Additionally, since we hear about forgiveness through the cross so frequently and predictably, we often do not take seriously the problem of sin in our lives. This leads us to see sin as insignificant; this is the same way the world views sin!

We could benefit from a serious look at the paschal view of the anointing of Christ with the Spirit. Right after Christ was baptized He began to fight against the devil. This was real. Christ defeated the devil by preparing for his attacks with prayer and fasting. It is true that Christ is first our redeemer and not merely our example of how to pray and fight the devil. However, his prayer life and war against the devil should also inform the church as she is baptized with the same Spirit in order to pray and fight against the devil in her mission. Christ’s prayer life during his mission should cause us to pray without ceasing during our mission. Christ’s prayer life as he defeated temptation should also cause us to pray that we may defeat temptation and make progress in our fight against sin. During the ministry of Christ we see how much He deplored evil and sin in this world. Consequently, the church should also hate sin rather than see it as insignificant. Additionally, since our Savior had to take upon Himself God’s wrath on the cross, the paschal view should cause us to hate sin all the more considering the penalty it cost our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The constitutive view shows us that Christ truly was anointed with the Spirit at His baptism. He was anointed with the Spirit so that He could be the Mediator of the Spirit to us. When we as Christ’s followers are baptized with water, we are also baptized with the Spirit. Consequently, we become commissioned by Christ to speak Spirit-breathed words that actually communicate and give Christ’s Spirit. We are baptized with the Spirit by the Bearer and Giver of the Spirit (constitutive view) so that we can engage in proclaiming God’s Word to others (kerygmatic view) and fight against the devil (paschal view).

This understanding of mission anchors our mission in the ministry of Christ. As Christ spoke words of judgment and forgiveness, so also the church speaks words of judgment and forgiveness. The church is not free to simply discuss insights for living, or talk exclusively about the end times, or spend all her time figuring out the details of predestination. The church’s message comes from Jesus Christ Himself (kerygmatic view) and is not something we make up. Additionally, we are not to compromise our message to get people in the doors of our churches. The paschal view reminds us that during the ministry of Christ people deserted him and he did not conform to their needs. By becoming too seeker sensitive we are compromising our message as we seek to grow our church. The paschal view shows us that the mission of Christ was anchored with faithfulness to God and did not compromise or change for anyone. Christ was dedicated to do the Father’s will and this should inform us as we seek to do His will faithfully at all times. And finally, with the power of prayer and a fight against the devil (paschal view), the Church anchors herself in the prayer life of Christ as He moves us towards a missionary theology of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Forerunners of the Reformation

The lay Modern Devotion Movement, the Franciscans, and the Mystics all have one thing in common: They sought a religious life apart from the clergy-led local parish. This isolated community ideal which was located apart from the local parish challenged the authority of the church. It meant that the local parish, which was connected to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, was not supplying all that was needed for salvation. Additionally, these movements resulted in the average lay person identifying spiritual communities as superior to the local parish. Lay people flocked to these religious communities in great numbers and this confronted the authority of the church.

The Modern Devotion Movement wanted more than what the church was giving them. They saw clergyman and Bishops who were corrupt and not true followers of Christ. Bishops were elected by political rulers. Family members were elected to be clergyman by family simply because they were family members. It was common for the clergy to have concubines! In response to this, the Modern Devotion Movement sought to live truly Christian lives apart from the local congregation. The institutional church did not like this because it caused skepticism towards the hierarchy of the church.

The Modern Devotion Movement also wanted to take a spiritual stand against the gross materialism of the age as the Pope and Bishops were living in abundant wealth. This was hardly similar to the poverty and persecution experienced by Christ and the Apostles. Popes Alexander III and Innocent III transformed the papacy into a significant commercial power. The Modern Devotion Movement fled from this and created their own religious community without excessive materialism. Many lay people joined this movement and also fled from the local church. Great numbers of lay people flocked to these communities and the integrity of the Roman Catholic hierarchy was defied.

The Franciscans also lived holy lives apart from the clergy led local parish. They preached publicly without being ordained clergyman. People noticed the difference between their preaching and that of the wealthy and worldly clergyman. They wondered if the preaching of the clergyman was even Christian. Conversely, they saw in the Franciscans a lifestyle that conformed to Jesus and His disciples. Additionally, the Franciscans actually cared for people. They heard confession of sin from lay people. This was all occurring without the Franciscans being ordained. Lay people flocked to the Franciscans as a source of their Christian spirituality. They did not flock to the clergy led local congregation. This challenged the authenticity of the clergy, because great numbers of lay people were hearing sermons and confessing their sins to the Franciscans who were not ordained.
The Franciscans also challenged the gross materialism of the clergy. St. Francis promoted a radical poverty ideal based on his individual interpretation of Matthew 10:8-11. In Matthew 10:8-11, Jesus tells his disciples to “receive without pay” and to “give without pay.” Furthermore, Jesus states: “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper, in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff.” Inspired by this, Francis lived an extreme life of poverty and did not allow his followers to own property or touch money except when needed to care for the sick. Against the prevailing nepotism of the day, the Franciscans taught that virtue and deeds—not birth—determined a person’s worth. To make matters worse, St. Francis had a tremendous experience that validated his way of life over and against the institutional church. Ozment writes: “On September 14, 1224, while at the hermitage of the order on Mont La Verna, Francis, climaxing a long prayerful vigil, miraculously received stigmata, that is, wounds in his hands and feet like those of one who had been crucified” (100). The stigmata seemed to validate the poverty ideal of the Franciscans and confronted the lifestyle of the secular, wealthy, and worldly clergy. The clergy did not want to be poor and lose their power. The Franciscans made them uncomfortable because they directly challenged their lifestyle.

The Franciscan ideal became all the more explosive when Joachim of Fiore saw a prophetic-spiritual meaning in passages such as Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 and Revelation 14:6. He interpreted these passages to mean that there would be “a time when the church’s pastors and teachers would be superseded by an eternal gospel addressed to mankind come of age” (104). He believed that this would be a new world order that would go be beyond Judaism and Christianity. Furthermore, Joachim historicized the doctrine of the trinity to express this new world order. The time from Adam to Christ, also known as the Old Testament, was the age of the Father. The time from Christ to Joachim’s lifetime, also known as the New Testament, was the age of the Son. The culture of the age of the Son was led by clergy. Conversely, the age of the Spirit was “to be communitarian, as monastic values penetrate society at large” (105). Many Franciscans believed that Revelation 14:6 referred to St. Francis and he inaugurated this new age of the Spirit. This understanding of history amplified the community ideal apart from the priests by giving it biblical, historical, and dogmatic weight.

The Mystical Tradition also sought a more authentic spirituality away from the local parish. The Mystical Tradition affirmed that people could be one with God apart from the clergy. They believed one could become perfect if they isolated themselves from the world and waited upon God. A spiritual coming of Christ in the soul could occur through prayer and meditation. One could have a mystical union with Christ in isolation apart from the institutional church. This isolationist ideal held that monks and nuns had the most potential to be perfect. This challenged the authority of the church, because if one could find God without the Catholic hierarchy, then what need is there for the local congregation?

More concretely, Bonaventura’s Mysticism asserted that the mind could undergo labor in order to reach communion with God and have mystical peace. Ozment writes: “In the first stage of the journey the mind beholds God through his traces in the world at large” (124). The world is seen as a sacrament where God is present by which man is given to contemplate, reflect upon, and meditate on. After the first stage, the mind is then to “look deep within itself and behold him [God] through his image imprinted on its natural powers of memory, intellect, and will. Like the external world, man himself is a sacrament of God’s power and glory” (125). However, God can only be beheld from within, insofar as the mind is reformed by grace. After following God’s traces in the world and from within the mind is able to “transcend itself and approach God” (126). When the mind beholds the trinity it reaches the “perfection of the mind’s illumination” (126). This understanding challenged the authority of the church because it meant that the mind was able to have communion with God through sacraments which were not dispensed by the local congregation.

The spiritual traditions’ criticism towards the worldliness of the church was a help because it challenged the corruption of the church and prepared the way for the Reformation. Jesus said: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple….any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, 33). This life of renunciation described the authentic Christianity of the spiritual traditions and was antithetical to the secular ambitions of the Roman Catholic Church. The spiritual traditions sought a life of repentance which conformed to the life of Jesus Christ. They truly wanted to live holy lives because they knew it was God’s commandment. They challenged the church to repent from its idolatry and worldliness and return to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. By doing this, the spiritual traditions caused skepticism towards the hierarchy. And when Martin Luther wrote his three great treatises in the early 16th century, the hearts of men and women across Europe were ready for Reformation.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Did Jesus Need the Holy Spirit prior to His Baptism?

No, Jesus Christ did not need to get more of the Holy Spirit at His baptism. Jesus is fully God and fully man. He had the Spirit from the moment of his conception. He is the Son of God who pre-existed from all eternity.

Conversely, in the early church there was a man who taught that Jesus was not eternal. His name was Paul of Samosata. He taught that at Jesus’ baptism He became anointed with the divine logos. This meant to Paul of Samosata that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. This teaching is also known as adoptionism. Adoptionism teaches that Jesus is not equal to God but became adopted as the Son of God at his baptism. Adoptionism was declared to be a heresy in the early church because it did not do justice to the Scripture’s testimony concerning who Jesus is. Adoptionism is still being taught today. For example, Gene Hutchins at the Unitarian Chapel in St. Louis believes that Jesus is not God and he uses the baptism of Jesus to show that Christ did not have the Holy Spirit prior to His baptism. Unitarians do not believe in the Trinity and also reject the deity of Jesus Christ.

To understand the baptism of Christ it is important to distinguish between two different ways of approaching the person of Christ. One is called a Christology from above and the other is called a Christology from below. Let us start with a Christology from above. A Christology from above approaches Christ from His eternal pre-existence. The Gospel of John approaches the person of Christ this way by stating that Jesus is God who created the world. This approach to Christ begins with Christ’s eternal pre-existence and moves forward. The reason why you and I have difficulty with the baptism of Christ is because we often approach his person from this eternal perspective. We ask: How is it that Jesus is receiving the Spirit when He is God? Didn’t He receive the Spirit in Mary’s womb from conception? Perhaps we need another approach. And that approach is called a Christology from below.

A Christology from below approaches Christ from his life, ministry, and work on this earth. For example, this is how the Apostle Peter described the person of Christ when witnessing to Cornelius. He said: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Notice that Peter affirms that Jesus was anointed. If we only approach the person of Christ from his eternal pre-existence then we may commit the same error as the Docetists who believed that Jesus only seemed to be anointed. The Docetists also believed that Jesus only seemed to die on the cross. What we want to do then when analyzing the baptism of Christ is to approach this event with a Christology from below while also avoiding the adoptionist heresy. This means that we must affirm that something happened at Christ’s baptism while at the same time affirming Jesus was and is fully God prior to His baptism.

In Isaiah 42:1, God the Father says: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” This is the Scripture that is echoed by the Father at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Consequently, we can affirm that Jesus became the Servant of the Father at his baptism. This is confirmed because God the Father’s voice validated and inaugurated His public ministry. After His baptism in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus affirms his anointing with the Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Jesus was anointed at His baptism and this began His ministry. Jesus is then the Bearer or Possessor of the Spirit. However, what significance does the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus have for the church? Let us take a look at the Gospel of John.

John the Baptist in 1:33 declares that God the Father said to him, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” How does this baptism of the Spirit happen? Continuing in John we see John the Baptist testify again: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (3:34). And in John 6:63 after Jesus declares that He is the Bread of Life He says: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.” Imagine Christ speaking His Word to you. As He is speaking, two things are coming out of His mouth: words and breath. His words are God’s Word, and His breath is God’s Spirit. Keep that image in your mind because it will be relevant once we get to the resurrection in John’s Gospel.

Continuing in John’s Gospel we see that Jesus had to be glorified before His Spirit could be given. In John 7:37-39 He said: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Then John, who likes to give us commentary said: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Jesus had not yet been glorified. When does Jesus’ glorification begin in John’s Gospel? Right before Jesus’ death in John 17:1, He says: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” The death of Christ is the beginning of the glorification of Christ. After Jesus died on the cross, John says: “He bowed his head and gave up his Spirit” (19:30). John continues: “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (19:34). In John’s Gospel, blood is Jesus’ death while water is Jesus’ Spirit.

After the resurrection of Christ, Jesus appeared to His disciples and breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (20:23). Remember the image of Jesus speaking and out of His mouth comes words and breath! Christ is not only the Bearer of the Spirit, but He also is the Giver of the Spirit. What Christ experienced in the Spirit so also the Church experiences in the Spirit. Let us go back to the beginning of His public ministry when He was baptized. Just as Christ was baptized and anointed with the Spirit, so also the Church is baptized with water and the Spirit. Just as Christ died and was raised up, so also in our baptisms we were buried and raised as new people in Christ. God adopts us as His sons and daughters of God. Paul says: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father’” (Gal. 4:6)! Jesus gives us His Spirit and adopts us into His family. Additionally, the Scriptures say that we are being “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Just as Christ was holy, so also the Church is holy. Just as Christ prayed in the Spirit, so also the Church prays in the Spirit. Just as Christ fought against Satan, so also the church fights by praying: “Deliver us from the evil one.” And just as Christ proclaimed good news to the poor, so also the Church proclaims the forgiveness of sins to all creation. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so also Jesus sends the Church to proclaim forgiveness. Christ was anointed to be the Servant of God the Father at His baptism. Everything He experienced, so also the Church now experiences. He is the Bearer of the Spirit and He baptizes us with the Spirit so that we might proclaim His forgiveness to a lost world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Jesus said that “all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John” (Matt. 11:13). This means that the age of God revealing His way of salvation in Scripture ended with the coming of His Son Jesus Christ. The 1st century apostles and prophets wrote down the things they had seen and heard. The Christ had come and this meant that redemption had been complete. The Scriptures do not declare that another prophet was still to come. Rather, Jesus Christ warned of false prophets who would come after Him in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Jesus also warned that after his death and resurrection (which Mohammed denied), “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:11). Christians should not be surprised that Mohammed and other so-called prophets have arisen with a new way of gaining salvation. Christians know that Mohammed was a false prophet because He denies what Jesus Christ revealed. Christ revealed that He was God in the flesh and that—by His death and resurrection—He would save the world.

Was Jesus God or was He only a prophet who prepared the way for Mohammed? The answer is that Jesus claimed to be God not only by what he said (Jn. 8:58), but also by his actions and works. If he was only a prophet, then how did he have the authority to forgive sins? Only God can forgive sins. The Jews recognized this blasphemy when Jesus forgave the sin of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-11) and the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50). They knew that he was acting as if he was God. Indeed, it was for blasphemy that the council of chief priests, elders, and scribes condemned Jesus as deserving death (Mark 14:64). The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church also confirm that the whole purpose of Christ coming into the world was to bring the forgiveness of sins (Ap, IV, 51). To truly know Christ is to use the benefits of Christ, which is to seek the forgiveness of sins from Him (Ap, IV, 46, 154; XXIV, 72). By forgiving other people their sins He did not leave open the option to identify Him as only a prophet. Jesus was either a false prophet or He was God in the flesh.

If Jesus was not God, but only a prophet, then how could he in good conscience receive worship? God said in Exodus 34:14, “You shall worship no other god.” In spite of this, Jesus received worship. Prophets who receive worship are evil and should be rejected completely. The Apostle John attempted to worship an angel of God when he saw a vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb. But the angel said, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant…” (Rev. 19:10). If Jesus was a prophet then worshipping him is in conflict with Exodus 34:14 which forbids the worship of men. But he did receive worship by the wise men (Matt. 2:11), the disciples (Matt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52), the blind man (John 9:38), and the angels themselves (Heb. 1:6)! Hebrews 1:6 says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be: the one and true God. The Lutheran Confessions also testify that the highest form of worship is to receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ (Ap, IV, 154). That is, one worships Christ by seeking forgiveness of Him because He is the only God who can give it.

Jesus Christ also claimed that He was the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn. 14:6). John the Baptist said: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (Jn. 3:36). The Apostles declared: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Scriptures declare this because Christ died for the sins of the whole world and rose again on the third day conquering death. His is the only perfect atoning sacrifice for sin (AC, XXIV, 25; Ap, XXIV, 21, 53). The Apostle Paul declared: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). At the heart and soul of the work of Christ is his death for sin and his resurrection from the dead. Mohammed denies this, further confirming that he was a false prophet. The Apostle Paul declared: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul knows nothing but the crucifixion of Christ in his preaching because he believed that God put forth Christ as a sacrifice to make propitiation through His blood. Paul declares that Christians are “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). Paul further declares in his letter to the Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Indeed, by the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ the penalty of sin was paid for (Ap, IV, 53). On the cross, Jesus Christ took our guilt and punishment and died in our place. Additionally, Paul says that if Christ has not been raised our faith is futile and we are still in sin (1 Cor. 15:17). Christians confess the resurrection from the dead (Nicene Creed, 10) because Christ’s resurrection makes this possible. Mohammed denies the death and resurrection of Jesus which was necessary for the salvation of the world. By doing this He makes Himself a false prophet and his revelation is counterfeit.

Since Christ has been given as an undeserved sacrifice for sin, the Apostle Paul declares that believers in Christ are justified by God’s free grace through faith and not by works. Paul declares: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Paul also states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift because Christ has come to give it as a gift through His death and resurrection. Paul makes it clear that Christ “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9). The Lutheran Confessions also confirm this in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession:

It is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says.

Islam teaches that salvation is by works and that people cannot have certainty of their salvation. Further, Islam teaches that forgiveness is obtained by earning it which damages the teaching of grace. This teaching conflicts with the whole purpose of Christ coming into the world.

Christian Witness

To the more moderate Muslim who believes in the so-called Injil of Jesus, I would ask the following questions: If your own Scriptures declare that Christ was born of a Virgin, then how is it that you say Mohammed is a greater prophet when he was born naturally? Further, your own Scriptures declare that Jesus was sinless and that Mohammed was sinful. How can Mohammed be a greater prophet if this is true? The concept of being sinless after the Fall is a characteristic that declares Christ’s divinity. How is it that the Koran declares Christ’s sinless life but also denies His divinity? This is not possible.

Additionally, if Christ is said to be sinless in the Koran, then that means He did not need forgiveness. Further, the Koran declares that Jesus was the promised Messiah. What does the word Messiah mean? It means the “Anointed One.” The people of God were awaiting an Anointed One to be their Savior. Since Jesus Christ was sinless, how could He not be the Savior from sin? Your concept of Messiah is mistaken, and it does not do justice to the Old Testament Scriptures. Abraham, Moses, and David foretold the coming of this Messiah who would be the Savior of the world. And since Mohammed believed that Jesus was the Messiah, Mohammed and Muslims should believe in Him for their salvation. How can Muslims declare Jesus as the promised Messiah but reject what He as the Messiah brings? Jesus as the promised Messiah brings salvation. That was His purpose in coming into the world. Why is it that Mohammed began a whole new religion with a completely different direction when the Messiah had already come? This conflicts with the coming of the promised Messiah who was to bring salvation.

If I was speaking to a Muslim that believed the highest virtue in Islam was martyrdom and valued the suicide bombers in the Middle East, I would say this: Jesus Christ has come and has been martyred for you so that you would not have to die for God. God sent Jesus to be the martyr and Savior of the world. By his martyrdom, you no longer have to die for the cause of God. But God is gracious and He has given you Jesus for your salvation. By believing in Him you can have assurance of your salvation because God has given Him as a sacrifice and a free gift. You no longer have to die to get to God. Christ has died in your place.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good News and Good Works

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism (3:22). No too long afterwards, He goes to Nazareth and declares: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” (4:18). Jesus Christ is anointed with the Spirit and then inaugurates His public ministry by declaring that he will bring good news and good works to the poor. Later on in His ministry, Jesus was asked by messengers of John the Baptist if He was the Christ. Jesus replied: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (7:22). The coming of the kingdom of God and the ministry of the Messiah was characterized by good news and good works of healing brought to the sick, poor, and marginalized. Jesus tells John the Baptist that this is the sign that the Messiah had come. And the kingdom of God continues to advance today through His body, the Church. The Church, which is baptized with the same Spirit of Christ, is also called to participate in His Spirit led mission of preaching good news and bringing good works to the poor.

Now one might ask: How can the Church perform exorcisms, bring miraculous healings to the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead? My answer: It is true that some of these extraordinary things were characteristic of Christ’s ministry and may not be as rampant among us. However, can the Church bring good works of healing to the poor in less extraordinary ways? If it does not, how is it participating in the Spirit led mission of Christ? Let us take a look at the Gospel of Luke and see what lessons we can learn for our mission.

On the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (6:20-21). And then Jesus pronounces woes on those who do not think they need anything from God: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (6:24-25). The idolatry of money and possessions is a significant theme in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 12, Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool. In that parable, the rich man’s farm produces an abundance of crops. Instead of helping those who do not have an abundance of anything, he builds bigger barns and boasts: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (12:19). But then God says to him: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (12:20). Again, we see that the rich fool’s problem was idolatry. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus there was rich man who was feasting extravagantly everyday. Outside of his home there was a beggar named Lazarus who was covered with sores and was hungry. The rich man does not feed him but allows him to starve to death. Again, we see the problem is idolatry. The same theme is taught when the rich ruler comes to Jesus and asks what he should do to inherit eternal life. After the rich man declares that he has kept all Ten Commandments, Jesus challenges him in the area of idolatry: “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (18:22). The rich ruler was unable to do this because he found refuge in his money and not in God. He was rich towards himself and was unable to be rich towards others.

What implications do these teachings have for our mission? In our Churches today, we are extravagant in our spending on ourselves, but stingy in the area of social ministry. Additionally, we spend large amounts of money on things that are not essential. We want to build our own kingdoms and forget that we are servants in Christ’s kingdom. He is King and He lives and reigns over the Church. If we create a large budget that is dependent upon voluntary giving, what are we going to do when giving is down? What are we going to do when the economy is bad? Many churches and institutions today are suffering today because like the rich fool, they want to build a building when they already have one. They want to create a staff position when they do not need one and that position could be filled by a volunteer. Whenever we make spending decisions, we must make sure that we are spending on necessities and not luxuries. We must make sure that as we go on with our ministries, we remember whose kingdom it is that we are trying to advance. It is not our own. It is Christ’s.

Once we as the Church repent of idolatry, then we can serve the poor without expecting repayment. Today, we often value church members who are big givers. Conversely, we do not value those who are unable to give because they are poor. It seems that we have forgotten what the ministry of Christ was characterized by. On the Sermon on the Plain Jesus says: “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount” (6:34). The teaching of Christ is that we would serve those who will not serve us. When Jesus was at the Pharisees house he says: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (14:12-14). Jesus teaches us to give and serve the poor who cannot repay us. If we feed the poor and transform our communities we may not grow our church or grow our budget. But the kingdom of God will advance and Christ says we will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (14:14).

It is not the rich who are likely to be responsive to the Gospel message but the poor. We often get down because the Gospel is rejected by our friends and family. However, Jesus tells us that the poor are the ones who are going to be the most responsive to the Gospel. In the Parable of the Great Banquet, many are invited to the eschatological feast with God. Unfortunately, many also reject the invitation because of worldly concerns. So God says: “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (14:21). It is true that the poor, crippled, blind, and lame may not become good tithers or get involved in a lot of church activities. However, at the feast in the kingdom of God they will be the ones who are there.

The challenge for us today is to participate in the Spirit led mission of bringing good news and good works to the poor. We are called not to build our own kingdoms but the kingdom of Christ. We are called not to be internally focused but externally focused. We are called not to serve ourselves but the poor. We are called not to make up our own idea of church and mission, but to participate in the Spirit led mission of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thomas' Confession of Faith

The Gospel of John climaxes with the highest confession of faith made by anyone in the book: Jesus Christ is God (20:28). Following this climax, a blessing is pronounced by Christ to subsequent believers who believe without physically seeing Him (20:29). By culminating this way, John does three things: 1) He demonstrates that Jesus is God 2) He presents Thomas as the first person to explicitly confess that Jesus is God and 3) He elicits faith from the readers who are the ones who might believe that Jesus is God without physically seeing Jesus. By eliciting faith through Thomas’ story, John demonstrates the purpose of the whole Gospel which is to reveal Jesus as the uiou tou theo (Son of God) who by believing in we have zoey (life) in his name (20:31).

Throughout his whole Gospel, John demonstrates that Jesus is God. In the prologue of his Gospel, John reveals that Jesus is the logos (Word) who is God (1:1). He was “in the beginning,” echoing the words of Genesis 1:1. Further, John states that Jesus is the Creator and that all things were made through Him (1:3). Jesus is the logos become flesh and He possesses and reveals the glory of God (1:14). The logos becomes flesh and tabernacles among us and the disciples behold His glory (1:14). Additionally, Jesus is the only Son of the Father (1:14) who is at the Father’s side and makes the Father known (1:18). Jesus makes it clear that He has seen the Father (6:46), that He and the Father are one (10:30), and He states: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29, 36). He is the Son of Man (1:51; 3:13, 14; 5:27, 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:34, 13:31), identifying himself with the prophetic figure in Daniel 7:13. He is the Son of God (3:18; 5:25; 20:31) who calls God His own Father, making Himself equal with God (5:18; 10:33; 19:7). He is the light (1:4, 5, 7, 8, 9; 3:19-21, 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35, 46) who brings light into the world. He is the resurrection (11:25) and has the ability to raise the dead now (11:44) and on the Last Day (5:28-29). In the Thomas episode, the Lord shows his divinity by repeating Thomas’ words (20:27) even though he was not physically present when Thomas spoke them (20:25). He miraculously appears to Thomas even while the doors were locked. He calls Thomas to faith and Thomas identifies Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” identifying Jesus as divine (20:28). John’s demonstrating the divinity of Christ throughout his Gospel all leads up to this climax of Thomas’ confession of faith that Jesus is God.

Thomas’ confession of Jesus as God sums up the whole Gospel as it began in the prologue. Thomas first appears in the beginning of the second half of John’s Gospel at the resurrection of Lazarus. He appears in that passage as one who is loyal and has courage. In John 14, Thomas asks about “the way” Jesus was referring to, not knowing that Jesus was Himself the way, the truth, and the life (14:6). Although Thomas witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus he probably did not understand it as a reality. Further, he was slow to comprehend that Jesus was the way at the Last Supper. When the disciples come to Thomas after the death of Christ and say: “We have seen the Lord” (20:25) he rejects their testimony. Yet, Thomas was not the only disciple who was unbelieving after the resurrection (Matt. 28:17; Luke 24:11, 27-28, 41; Mark 16:14) and it is wrong to single out Thomas as “the doubting one.” The Lord appears to Thomas and says: “Bring your finger here, and see my hands; and bring your hand and thrust it into my side, and be not unbelieving, but believing” (20:27). Thomas responds with the greatest confession of faith in the whole Gospel of John when he says: “My Lord and my God” (20:28)!

Thomas’ confession is important in John’s Gospel because it is the first one to explicitly confess Jesus as God. It is true that Nathaneal and John the Baptist call Jesus the Son of God (1:51) and Peter says: “You are the Holy One of God” (6:68). Nicodemus identifies Jesus as one sent from God (3:2). Martha identifies Him as the Son of God and Messiah (11:27). But this does not mean that any of these people truly knew that Jesus is God. The Scriptures declare that the Messiah would be a “son” to God (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:2, 6-7). Therefore, these statements could be nothing more than Messianic titles given to Jesus. Conversely, Thomas’ confession of faith is the highest and most explicit as he directly addresses the resurrected Jesus as God (cf. Culpepper, 243).

Thomas not only confesses Jesus as his God, but also as his Lord (20:28). Jesus as Lord is what John has been demonstrating throughout the Gospel. In the beginning of the Gospel, John tells us that Jesus is the Lord who John the Baptist prepares the way for (1:23), the Lord who brings eternal life (6:68), the Lord who the blind man and Martha believe in (9:38; 11:27), and the Lord who the blind man and Mary worship (9:38; 11:2). Kurios is translated from YHWH in the Septuagint in Isaiah 40:3; 50:1 and Psalm 118:26, which are passages referenced in John 1:23; 12:13; and 12:38, respectively. Therefore, kurios in the Gospel of John can be translated according to the humanity of Christ, “sir” or “master,” but sometimes it refers to the divinity of Christ, “Lord.” In 20:28, Thomas is not confessing Jesus to be his “sir” or “master” but to be his Lord and God.

Thomas not only acknowledges who Jesus is, but receives the eschatological zoey (life), that only Christ can give (1:4; 3:16; 3:36; 4:14; 5:24, 26, 29, 40; 6:27, 33, 40, 47, 51, 53, 54, 68; 8:12; 10:10, 28; 12:25, 14:6; 17:2; 20:31). Indeed, this is the purpose of the Gospel, that the readers would receive zoey (life), just as Thomas received it (20:31). Thomas received this eschatological zoey (life), when he put his faith in the resurrected Lord (20:28). Not only does Jesus give Thomas zoey (life), but he also gives Thomas everything that He had been offering during his earthly ministry. Jesus gives Thomas living water (4:14), the bread of God (6:33), spiritual sight to believe in Him (9:39, 41; 11:9), and gives His Holy Spirit (1:33; 3:34; 6:63; 7:39; 15:26; 20:22). In the beginning of the Gospel, John states that those who receive Jesus become children of God (1:12-13). At the end of Gospel, Thomas receives Him and becomes a child of God. And what happened to him must also happen to the readers of the Gospel, which is the significance of Thomas’ name, “Twin.” Although we do not see Christ physically as Thomas did, as believers who receive Christ, we become children of God just as Thomas. Therefore, Thomas’ post-resurrection confession of faith serves the greater purpose of the whole Gospel, to elicit the same confession of faith as Thomas.

The Ten did not make a confession of faith when they saw the resurrected Lord (20:19-23). As Thomas’ twins they and we are called to make the same confession of faith that Jesus Christ is Lord and God. Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Koester says: “The readers are invited to receive the Gospel’s testimony without making seeing a precondition for faith, and that genuine faith is evoked by words from and about Jesus” (Koester, 73). Jesus prayed during his High Priestly prayer that people would become believers through the word of the apostles (17:20). And His prayer has been realized throughout the church age.

Just as Thomas confessed Jesus as Lord, so the first creed in the Christian Church was “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3). Further, the hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, which contains this confession, is one that will be made by all people on the Last Day echoing Thomas’ confession. The Lord’s Day is when Jesus appeared and when Thomas made his confession of faith. Now, on the Lord’s Day, we too make our confession of Thomas’ faith in the words of the Nicene Creed: I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Divorce & Remarriage

Marriage is the living union between one man and one woman and it symbolizes the union between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:28-32; SC, Marriage Booklet, 16). God created marriage to be honored by men and women as a relationship where intimacy, love, and nurture are given and received. Consequently, God makes it clear in His word that He hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Yet, divorce and remarriage is rampant among Christians. If the divorce rate among Christians is the same as that of non-Christians, then what does that say about the name and honor of Jesus Christ? As pastors we encounter many people who want to get divorced and we often sympathize with them and do not challenge them for fear of offending them. We encounter people who want to get remarried while they are divorced for unbiblical reasons. Further, we marry them, not understanding that we are often blessing adulterous relationships. God has called us to be faithful to his design and plan for marriage. My prayer is that this paper will guide and strengthen us in order that our pastoral ministries would be pleasing to our God and Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The most common misunderstanding of Scripture I encounter is that Jesus commanded things in the Gospels that are not applicable to us today. They are merely there to show us our sin, and are not to be instructive guidelines for us to attempt to follow. Further, these brothers believe that if someone is sorry for their divorce, they can remarry someone else. They state that the Gospel should dominate our pastoral ministries. My brothers, this is a misapplication of Law and Gospel. God has standards for people when it comes to salvation— namely repentance and faith. Anyone who repents and believes receives the free forgiveness of sins and the promise of the Holy Spirit. If someone confesses their sin to us we are called to give them Absolution. However, God also has standards for marriage and after His resurrection He commanded the apostles “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). If we do not say or do anything about divorce in our congregations and we remarry divorced people to someone else simply because they said they were sorry, are we really being faithful to God’s plan and design for marriage? If pastors are remarrying people who should be seeking to be reconciled with their husbands or wives are they not blessing adulterous relationships? Let me give a few more examples: If someone confesses their sin of fornication to us, would it be okay for us to bless cohabitation before marriage simply because they said sorry? If someone confesses their sin of homosexuality to us are we to bless the cohabitation of same sex couples? Further, when someone is divorced from their spouse for unbiblical reasons, God has not called us to bless remarriage to another person. Jesus states that this is adultery (Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18). Rather, God calls on us to promote repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness whenever and wherever possible. If we remarry people under the guise of forgiveness we are not properly applying Law and Gospel.

Let us begin with what we know about marriage. God created marriage when He created Adam and Eve to commit to one another and become one flesh (Gen. 2:18-25; Ap, XIII, 14). Therefore, marriage is for one woman and one man and it occurs when two people commit to one another and become one. God also designed marriage to be a permanent union that is not to be broken (Matt. 19:6; LC, Ten Commandments, 306). When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, He cited Genesis 2 and stated: “They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). Through living together as one and through sexual union, two people become “one flesh.” Since God ratifies marriage and brings two people together, no one is to separate the marriage. Additionally marriage is a covenant (Mal. 2:14). Genesis 2:24 says that “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This particular word, translated as "hold fast" is the language of covenant commitment and is used when describing the covenant commitment of the Israelites to God (Deut. 4:4; 10:20; 11:22; 13:4; 30:20). Marriage is a covenant (Mal. 2:14) which is comprised of a man and a woman declaring their devotion to one another by binding themselves together through vows before God, family, and friends. A man and a woman enter into this covenant agreeing with God that it is to be a lifelong loyal union to which God is witness (Mal. 2:14). Consequently, because God binds two people together and witnesses the covenant man and woman make with Him and each other, He is opposed to divorce (Mal. 2:16). The principle is that when divorce and remarriage occurs there is a disruption of God’s design and plan for marriage.

Another reason God created marriage is to prevent sexual immorality (1 Cor. 7:2-9; AC, XXIII). This purpose of marriage is cited frequently in our Confessions to persuade the Roman Catholic Church to allow priests to be married. Just as in our day, a life of celibacy can often amplify sexual immorality among clergy. Marriage is the rule while the gift of celibacy should be considered rare. People are to marry and use the gift of sex in marriage according to God’s design. Finally, Scripture teaches that the death of a spouse terminates the marriage covenant (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).

Are there other legitimate reasons for terminating a marriage other than the death of a spouse? The answer is yes. Jesus said: “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality (pornei,a), makes her commit adultery” (Matt. 5:32). The word pornei,a is used in the New Testament to describe various kinds of sexual immorality. Therefore, the ESV renders the word “sexual immorality” as it could include illicit sexual intercourse, adultery, fornication (sexual activity before marriage), homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals, and incest. Therefore, sexual immorality, or infidelity, breaks the marriage covenant and is a legitimate reason for the offended spouse to seek a divorce. However, even in this case, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation is preferable, as it is God’s will that a husband and wife remain together permanently. Consequently, we as pastors should always seek to reconcile husband and wife even in the case of sexual immorality. Nevertheless, Jesus calls on us to permit our members to divorce when sexual immorality is involved.

Another situation where the Apostle Paul permits divorce is when a non-believer deserts a believer. 1 Cor. 7:15 says: “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” Intimacy in its deepest dimension can only occur when husband and wife are united in faith. Therefore, when a couple seeks a divorce and it involves the unbelieving partner desiring separation, God’s will is that the brother or sister in Christ not be “enslaved.” It may be permissible in this case to accept a divorce. However, even in this case, marriage is intended to be permanent and Paul exhorts the believing husband or wife to live with their partner if they will allow it (1 Cor. 7:10-13). The Confessions condemn the Anabaptists because they were encouraging believers to divorce their non-believing partners (Ep, XII, 19).

Because of the serious nature of marriage which is intended to be a life-long union, God’s will is that believers only marry believers (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14; Ezra 9; 10; Neh. 13:23-27). It is so much God’s will that believers only marry believers that God’s word permits divorce when an unbelieving partner separates. Therefore, we as pastors should not bless the union of a believer and a non-believer. Light has nothing in common with darkness and by marrying couples as such we are putting both partners in a situation that permits divorce.

Are there other reasons besides sexual immorality and non-Christian desertion that may permit a divorce? The answer is no. There are no other legitimate reasons. Divorce causes adultery and is a serious sin and should be treated as such. All other reasons for divorce have imbedded in them hardness of heart in one or both of the parties (Matt. 19:8). Therefore, when Christians who are members of our congregations desire to get a divorce because they are not happy anymore, or they do not agree on how money should be spent, or they do not feel in love anymore, or they feel they are now incompatible, or they have grown apart, pastors should not accept divorce. Rather, the pastor should immediately initiate church discipline, for divorce is adultery and is a serious public sin among God’s people. God’s word says: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Eph. 5:3). God’s word also says: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4). Luther says that divorce is not permissible in the New Covenant God has made with His people (LC, Ten Commandments, 306) and pastors are called to be faithful to this covenant. Some pastors initiate church discipline in the case of adultery, homosexuality, or fornication but they do not in the case of divorce. This is not consistent since Jesus considers divorce to be adultery. When one party comes to us and says that they want a divorce for unbiblical reasons then counseling and a mitigation process should be initiated to bring about repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. If reconciliation is not achievable because of the hardness of heart of a spouse, then each spouse is expected to remain single until reconciliation is achieved or until the other spouse remarries or dies.

Some commonly ask: Does this mean that a wife must endure an abusive relationship? The answer is no. Husbands are called to love, protect, take care, and nurture their wives just as Christ does the church (Eph. 5:22-31). They are not free to beat their wives as if this were condoned by Scripture. Wives are called to submit to their husbands, but this does not mean they are to submit to being beaten. This is one area that often comes up that may be legitimate grounds for the abused spouse to remove herself from an abusive environment. Although the Scriptures do not discuss physical abuse, abuse is a serious breach of the covenant husband and wife made with one another at the time of marriage. Marriage was created for oneness and abuse damages the oneness that God intends for marriage. Further, domestic violence is prohibited according to state law, and we as pastors are called to honor the law of the land (cf. Rom. 13). Therefore, a pastor may support the abused wife’s decision to remove herself from an abusive relationship. Husband and wife should meet with the pastor for marital counseling with the hope of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. However, if the husband shows an unrepentant pattern of abusive behavior for a long period of time, pastors may allow for divorce.

In the case of sexual immorality is the offended party free to remarry? The implied answer according to Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is yes, although this is not directly proscribed. The church fathers and Gratian (d. before 1159), who was the author of the canon law for the Roman Catholic Church, forbade the offended spouse from remarriage. However, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope considered this position unjust (Tr, 78). Because Jesus Christ makes sexual immorality an exception to the rule, those who are victims of sexual immorality are free to divorce. This implies they can remarry another person. Therefore, if a divorced man or woman who was the offended party in a previous marriage relationship comes to you with their fiancé, Jesus allows you as pastors to marry them. However, on the basis of Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18, the sexual immoral offender is committing themselves to a life of singleness. Their options are to repent and hope that their spouse forgives them or remain single. The offenders are not free to divorce and marry the person they were committing adultery with. Sometimes, pastors in the LCMS remarry the sexually immoral offender to the person they were committing adultery with. How can we remarry them and give them our blessing in the Christian Church when we are blessing an adulterous relationship? Jesus says: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her” (Mark 10:11). Surely, it would not be God’s will for us to bless an adulterous marriage relationship.

In the case of a Christian who was deserted by their non-Christian partner, is it permissible for them to remarry? On the basis of 1 Cor. 7:15 the implied answer is yes. The Christian is not enslaved to the non-believer who divorces them. They are free to remarry so long as the believer marries a Christian (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14; Ezra 9; 10; Neh. 13:23-27) and does not put themselves in the same situation they were in before.

What about someone who had been previously divorced when they were a non-believer? When they become a believer are they free to remarry someone else? Still, even in this case the divorced person is called to seek reconciliation with their husband or wife. If their husband or wife does not want to reconcile or has already married someone else, then the believer is free to remarry. As non-believers we cannot expect them to live lives under the authority of God’s word. When they become believers they are free to remarry so long as they marry a Christian (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14; Ezra 9; 10; Neh. 13:23-27).

What about if someone desires to get remarried because they divorced their spouse for domestic violence, or abuse? Again, reconciliation is to be sought and there should be given time for the offender to repent and change his life. However, if the offender will not change and reconciliation is not possible, then remarriage may be permissible.

In conclusion, there are many different situations that we as pastors will encounter in our pastoral ministries. People are always looking to justify sin and are good at making pastors feel sympathetic to their situations. As pastors, we are called to seek wisdom, guidance, and strength from the Holy Scriptures and one another in our application of pastoral theology. I realize that this paper does not discuss every situation that may come our way. However, my hope is that it gives us a framework to work with and to discuss. My hope is that it shows the seriousness of the sin of unbiblical divorce and remarriage among God’s people. My prayer is that we would together seek to be faithful to God’s word so that our pastoral ministries may be pleasing to our God and Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.