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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Augsburg Confession

I just finished translating a sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens on the Commemoration of the Augsburg Confession (June 25, 2008). He had an interesting approach to the Confessions. I print the pertinent paragraph below:

,,And so the Epistle for today’s Feast Day from the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy is an important help. Certainly, the verses, that we have heard in the Epistle, have originally been a reminder of an ordination: Paul reminds his student Timothy about the confession, which he had sworn at his holy Ordination before many witnesses, and about the words, which he had spoken at his Ordination. However in this reminder of ordination, in this encouragement to Timothy, to also live from the gift of his ordination, is that some fundamentals of the Christian confession will also become clear, which can also help us today, when most of us have not had the office transferred to us as Paul had passed on to Timothy. The confession is such that it shows us St. Paul here, always

a disputed confession
an accepted confession
a prayed confession"

He then summarizes each phrase with a short theme:

1. ,,Why does one actually need a confession? To be completely straightforward, you need it because what one confesses there in and with this confession, and has called into question because of this confession, therefore this confession is always a disputed confession."

2. ,,What can I be responsible for before Christ, when He comes? Have I held actually on to His word, or have I believed it, can I change something about it or tone it down, what if I go against the grain? No, our confession shall never become an item of collective bargaining; it is and remains an accepted confession, responsible before none other than to the return of the Lord."

3. ,,The words of St. Paul immediately exhorts his student to praise the living God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords, how Paul formulates it here in deliberate contrast to the claims of the Roman emperor. God is praised and worshipped – that is the last and most sovereign form that the Christian confession has. "

Dr. Martens goes into detail regarding each phrase in his sermon, but I liked how he spoke about our Lutheran Confessions as disputed and prayed Confessions. All to often I think of the Confessions only in terms of accepted Confessions. I bound myself to them as the proper teaching of the holy Scriptures in my ordination vows. Sometimes I view them in terms of dispute, mainly since they challenged Catholic abuses in the 16th century that the Lutherans had reformed. The Confessions shape our debates and theological discourse we have with other Christians. The Confessions also shape how we worship God, by focusing us on the chief article of justification and how all the other articles of faith flow from that main article. Likewise, what we believe, teach, and confess will influence how we worship and pray.

Dr. Martens concluding sentences are very powerful:

,,If in our Divine Service we no longer stand upon what our Lutheran Confessional writings stand, and even the Augsburg Confession stands upon, then we cannot describe ourselves as a very confessional Lutheran Church. Let us continually study anew the Confessions of our Church – not because they are interesting historic documents, but because by them we are trained to pray, to celebrate the Divine service, to worship the Triune God, to which all the Confessions ultimately aim. Yes, to Him, the Triune God, be honor and eternal power! Amen. "

Yes, Amen, indeed!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

While I was going through my internet file that contains a bunch of German-Lutheran websites. One I got around to viewing was for a SELK church in Berlin, Germany. It is Evangelisch-Lutherische St. Mariengemeinde in Berlin-Zehlendorf und -Steglitz (Evangelical-Lutheran Church of St. Mary in Berlin, Zehlendorf, and Steglitz). Zehlendorf and Steglitz are communities in Berlin, both are southwest of the city-center, past Tempelhof. The Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens is the pastor there.

I first heard of Dr. Martens when I read an article of his that was published in LOGIA a few years ago. I found his essay scholarly and theologically inciteful. I was happy to discover his church on the Internet. He posts his sermons online and even has four or five audio sermons available for listening. I am reading and translating his sermon from June 28, 2008.

Check out the church's site at:


Also, The Rev. Armin Wenz is a pastor in the SELK; he is the pastor of Evangelisch-Lutherische St. Johannes-Gemeinde (Evangelical-Lutheran Church of St. John) in Oberursel, Hessen. I have translated some of his sermons.

Check out the church's site at:


Pastor Wenz obtained for me the SELK hymnal, and sent it to me via a professor at Concordia Seminary in Ft. Wayne. I was so happy to receive the hymnal, and I hav enjoyed using it. It is a great hymanl resource for Lutheran pastors to have.

A third SELK church I surf on the web is Trinitatis-Gemeinde (Trinity Church) in München, Bavaria under The Rev. Frank-Christian Schmitt.

Check out the church's site at:


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Heilsgeschichte, Part 3

Heilsgeschichte is the understanding that God does redeeming acts throughout history. Numerous examples could be given, but the two big acts were: the Exodus and Calvary.

S. G. De Graaf writes in his four-volume set, Promise and Deliverance: ,,We must not tell chiefly of people, of their faith as an attracting example and of their sins as a repelling example, but we must tell of the revelation of the grace of God in Christ” (Horton, Modern Reformation May/June Vol. 5 No. 3 1996).

Sadly, we don't find this kind of preaching in American churches; Europeans don't find this in their churches either. One of the reasons Europeans have left the churches vacant is because many of the pastors don't preach Christ crucified and risen. Strangely, I've noticed that in America the churches that preach Christ crucified and risen seem to be small and sparsely attended, while churches that preach a different gospel, a gospel of prosperity and positive self-image seem to be large and filled to the max. I know there are churches full of Christians where they hear Christ crucified and risen. I'm not sure why churches that preach a different gospel are so attractive and filled every Sunday. Perhaps American Christians haven't reached the depth of despair that our European brothers and sisters in Christ have reached; or perhaps our general attitude toward ,,me" as the most important person in my life is naturally attracted to the kind of preaching one can find on any Christian TV channel.

I am so glad that Issues, Etc. is back on the air. That show is focused on Christ crucified, and that is nothing other than Heilsgeschichte.

The Bible isn't about me and how I can succeed in life. Yes, there are directives in holy Scripture that tell us to trust in God who will bless us. But the real theme and core of the Bible is about God redeeming His fallen creation from sin. He redeems us in history. The saving acts of God are historical activities; other historians mention them in their histories. The crucifixion of Christ is mentioned by other Roman historians of that era. When we realize that God acts in history (He is immanent in, not transcendant from, our lives and from history), then we realize that He acts in my life. When Christ crucified is preached, then the proper doctrine of the Bible is being proclaimed. God is concerned about me; God died for me; God rose from the dead for me. That's Jesus who did that for me! Christ crucified and risen for my justification is the fulfillment of Heilsgeschichte, and so He is to be the focus of preaching. Jesus just can't be tacked onto a sermon, but Jesus must be permeate the sermon. Walther said that the gospel must predominate the sermon.

I just watched about a half an hour of an American Christian preacher having a crusade in Uppsala, Sweden. I recently read an article that said Sweden is one of the most secularized countries in the world and has the worst church attendance. The Church of Sweden (which is officially Lutheran) has essentially collapsed because Heilsgeschichte is not being preached from the pulpits. Well, this American preacher was going on and on about God. He tacked on the name of Jesus a few times, but he never got down to the real message of Christ crucified. The Swedes don't need a prosperity/positive self image gospel proclaimed to them, but they need a Christ crucified for their sins preached to them. Then, and only then, will the Swedes come to faith and seek out those few churches that actually preach the gospel in all its fullness and sweetness. And when more and more of them clamor for pure gospel preaching, then the Church of Sweden will (hopefully) get back on track and take Heilsgeschichte seriously.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day and Embassy Opening

July 4th is an important holiday in America. We celebrate with cookouts, fireworks, and patriotic music. This is great. I also set aside a few moments every July 4th to read the Declaration of Independence. It is one of the foundational documents for our country.

Today is also a special day for American-German relationships: the newly built American embassy opened today in central Berlin. The embassy has now returned to its old home next to the Brandenburg Gate.

Here's an article from Deutsche Welle: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3461973,00.html

On June 12, 1987, Pres. Ronald Reagan gave his historic speech at the Brandenburg Gate in what was then West Berlin. His most famous line was: ,,Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Reagan's speech captured the heart of July 4th and the Declaration of Independence. He spoke about freedom, a freedom that America desired a divided Germany and a divided Berlin to have. He reminded the Germans: You have a friend in America. They still do; and we still have a friend in Germany. There are many cultural and political ties between our countries, ties that have lead to freedom in Germany and other countries around the world. Reagan said it best in his speech: ,,Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor."
And now there is a U.S. embassy on the site of the previous embassy, next to the Brandenburg Gate, show-casing the friendship and the freedom that German and Americans have long enjoyed together: June 12, 1987; October 3, 1990; July 4, 2008.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Are you supporting Issues, Etc.?

Yesterday afternoon, Issues, Etc. returned to the AM airwaves and the Internet. You can also download episodes from iTunes.

The Issues, Etc. website is http://issuesetc.org/index.html

I had the time to listen to the broadcast live from their website (3-5 p.m. CST). A couple of times I lost the feed, but was able to get it restored a few minutes later each time. I downloaded the episode this morning so I could listen to the parts I missed. The show was excellent, especially the discussion with Dr. Carl Fickenscher, who is a professor of homiletics (preaching) at Ft. Wayne Seminary, on the gospel. I have heard Dr. Fickenscher present several times at different synodical events over the last decade; he has always been a wonderful presenter.

If you are a long-time fan of Issues, Etc. or become a new listener, please consider supporting the show with donations. Issues, Etc. is now completely independent, and self-sufficient from the LCMS, and the show needs the support of churches and individuals to remain on the air and pay the salaries of Todd, Jeff, and other staff.

The postman arrived early today, but later I will walk across the street and mail my donation I have made to Issues, Etc.