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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Speratus and Augsburg Confession, Art. 4

For a number of months now, our Bible study class has been reading through the Augsburg Confession. We have spent several months reading the Apology's article 4. We'll be spending at least a couple of months continuing to plow through that lengthy, but essential, article.

Paul Speratus wrote a hymn in the 16th century entitled ,,Salvation unto Us Has Come." The LSB has 10 verses of this wonderful hymn. The German version has 14 verses. If you can read German, I encourage you to read this hymn in the original German -- it is simply a wonderfully written hymn.

Speratus' hymn is an excellent summary of Augsburg Confession, Article 4 (Justification): ,,Also our churches teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4."

Verse 9 (verse 8 in the German) of Speratus' hymn captures the Lutheran position and Melancthon's well-crafted article:

Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living (LSB 555).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Christ Alone

The Pharisees believed that a person was declared by God to be righteous based on his obedience to the Commandments, and they didn’t believe they were sinners in need of repentance because of their often sincere zeal in obeying those Commandments.

Christianity remains infected with the Pharisees’ attitude, especially the first part. Many think that they can or must do something to earn forgiveness and eternal life. The flagrant manifestation of this error occurs when Christ is represented as a new Moses or lawgiver, and the gospel is turned into a doctrine of meritorious works (Walther's Law and Gospel, Thesis 5). This error is further compounded with the theory that Matthew’s Gospel actually portrays Jesus as a new Moses.

I was actually taught in college that Matthew's Gospel portrays Jesus as a new Moses. I really didn't give it much thought back then in the late '80s and early '90s. However, over the years, I realize how that teaching can completely undo the gospel that we are saved on account of Christ alone. Matthew does not teach Jesus as a new Moses who gives us new laws -- to do so would smack of Pharisee-ism, and the temptation to fall into the pharisaical error would be too great.

Matthew's Gospel focuses on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus who saves us from sin, death, and the devil. "If we did not know Jesus' death, we would not know Jesus. Any account of Jesus that does not collapse with the removal of the passion is not an account of Jesus" (Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, 77).

But how does this square with Christianity today? How many churches teach a passionless Christ, or merely give it lip service, in their quest to preach something else. It's easy to point out how the televangelists preach a Christless and a Crossless Christianity, but how about our own Lutheran churches?

The gospel is such a precious jewel, and we must ensure that it is preached properly and purely. Pastors must be vigilant in holding the bright light of the gospel of Christ crucified front and center before the churches and the people. We are not redeemed by obeying the Ten Commandments, not even a little bit. We are so corrupt inside and out; even one single sin condemns us to hell, let alone the fact that we are born sinful; we can't do anything about that. From the moment we are born we are sinners who deserve hell.

The gospel tells us that we are redeemed by Christ alone who goes to the cross alone. Salvation is not our doing, but Christ's. His merit is given to us as a free gift. We don't have to do anything to earn this gift (because then it would cease to be a gift). We don't have to do anything pay for this gift.

Chrisianity has a great gift, the only gift, to share with the world. If you want to know what to do, how to live your life, then look to Moses and the Old Testament. If you want to know how to obtain eternal life and the forgiveness of sins, then look to Christ alone. He is our Savior; He did it all for us; He gives us salvation freely. He is the only means of obtaining salvation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cross-less Christianity

Cross-less Christianity seems to be the norm for American Christianity. The Apostle Paul said he only wanted to preach Christ and Him having been crucified. That is the very message I preach each Sunday. Christ suffered, died, and rose again for our forgiveness: this is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe.


I hear talk about programs to revitalize churches. There is a bunch of discussion in these programs about things to do: evangelism, outreach programs, care for the elderly, children, and the like. This is all social gospel stuff. This is really diaconal stuff (aside from evangelism). It is good for churches to be involved in diaconal work among the community.


But where is the talk about the gospel? Why aren't there initiatives to encourage people in the study of the Word and the Sacraments? Why aren't there programs to revitalize preaching and teaching? I admit, I can be a better preacher; my constant goal is to become better and better as a preacher.


It seems we have really separated ourselves from history. The great movements in the Church didn't come about through programs, but through preaching Christ crucified. This should be our number one priority. If the Holy Spirit doesn't grow the church through the gospel, then no program devised by men and women will grow it.


Well, we can see numerical growth apart from the gospel. But is it really about numbers and statisitics? Shouldn't it really be about Christ crucified being preached? Shouldn't it really be about people hearing the law and the gospel: being told they have sinned and rejoicing in the fact that God has forgiven them on account of Christ? Is the gospel any less effective because 5 people hear it in church rather than 500?


Last Easter I watched several televangist programs. Mind you, this was ON Easter Sunday. Not one of the preachers mentioned Christ's death or resurrection. Only one mentioned Christ. What kind of preaching is that? That's certainly not the gospel! And yet, in American Christianity, such things are upheld as the standard because there is flash, entertainment, and large numbers.


The Word and the Sacraments are despised throughout American Christianity. The gospel is foolishness to many. Some want wisdom, others morality, still others profits and large numbers; but God wants the GOSPEL preached. God sent His only Son into the world in order to save the world. Christ suffered and died; He was the propitiation for our sins; He redeemed us back to God with His own shed blood. There is nothing we need to do to earn our forgiveness. Christ has done it all; we need only believe it. Christ rose from the dead; we are united to Him in our Baptism, and so on the last day Christ will raise us up and we will enjoy all eternity in our body and soul.


Christ crucified: that's the gospel that saves people. The Holy Spirit grows His Church throught the proclamation of the gospel. His time table is not our time table; His understanding of success is not our understanding of success. When we have Christ right, then the other things will simply fall into place. "Christ on the cross for me" is getting Christ right. It's the message that ought to be preached across America from the pulpits.