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Friday, December 25, 2009

Luke 2,1-5

A translation of a sermon I translated from German that was preached by my friend, Armin Wenz in Germany:

Christmas Eve – 24.12.2008 – Luke 2,1-5 – Oberursel – Armin Wenz

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken throughout the world. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was the governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the family and from the noble house of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and she was pregnant.

Dear congregation!
Christ, the Eternal Son of God, was born under the political laws of our world. These laws of the mighty ones on the Earth are valid. We need governments, which through laws fight against evil and promote the good, that with taxes they look after the streets and build schools.
Admittedly the mighty ones are also always tempted to misuse their power. Jesus had hardly been born, when King Herod attempted to kill Him, because he feared Jesus as a rival. And at the end of His earthly life, Pontius Pilatus handed Christ over to death, even though he had recognized Christ’s innocence.
The wheels of bureaucracy of the Roman Empire included almost the entire known world at the time of Jesus, this bureaucracy frames, so to speak, the life of Jesus of Nazareth. While His mother is pregnant with Him, His parents must travel to their ancestral home of Bethlehem in order to be registered in the census tax. And also the hour of His death is occupied by Roman bureaucrats.
So we see, therefore, that Jesus Christ is not any exception in this point. Also He ends up in the wheels of earthly bureaucracy. Also those who heard about His incarnation also. The Eternal Son of God is also fully whole and truly one of us.
However, dear congregation, solace and help give us this observation only, if we discover, that in reality the emperor in Rome does not pulls the strings, but the Father of Jesus Christ pulls the strings. Yes, in the end it is even so, that the emperor in Rome serves God with his bureaucracy, and also with this census.
And if one viewed the entire history of Jesus, then one notices that God not only put the emperor with his bureaucracy into His service puts, but also the action of the emperor is a parable for what God in Christ is doing for mankind.
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, so the Prophets had proclaimed Him in the Old Testament, is born in Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth.
Long before the decree of the emperor went out, God had already decreed in the Old Testament: The Savior will be born in Bethlehem. And this decree of the emperor in Rome – without knowing it – serves God, in that he ordered the census.
So the imperial heralds are sent out, who requested that the people go to their home towns. Everyone should comprehend, so that the mighty power of the empire is apparent.
The Heavenly Father also sent out heralds. However, He did not send them into all the world, but only to a few chosen people. To the magi, He sent the star. To the shepherds He sent the angel. These heralds also invite the people, to set out for a journey. God’s heralds, however, did not send the people to their earthly, ancestral homes, but they sent them to the Child in the manger.
Fear not! Behold, I proclaim to you a great joy, that will be for all people; for to you, today, the Savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord, in city of David.
The Savior, says the angel, the Savior has been born. The Roman emperor also claimed for himself the title ,,savior“. Yes, he claimed that he had brought peace to the whole world peace, in that he forced all people under his control. If the angels now describe Jesus as the Savior, then put in there that clear indication of God:
Dear shepherds! Dear people of all times! Your Savior doesn’t sit in the palaces of capital cities. These sovereigns are only servants of God who shall provide for it, that it on Earth moderately approaches civilian/civil. However, they are not your savior: they guarantee neither your health nor your life-happiness and certainly not your eternal salvation.
You want to find your Savior, like the magi and the shepherds do, so approach the Child in the manger. And hear, that through this Child you can also be My people. Whoever has been baptized in the Name of this Child, that person is registered in heaven, that person’s name is written into the book of the life. That person gets civil rights with God’s heaven for all eternity.
Therefore Baptism is like that census. The preaching of the gospel and Baptism give Christ and His resurrection a world-wide census. Christ sends out His heralds who preach His Word and baptize in His Name. People become so registered as children of God.
This registration is not the first route of an obligation for people, as the emperor’s census-tax was, but it is a privilege. Has registered us as God’s children, so we have the right to call upon the Heavenly Father directly. So we have the right to receive at any time Jesus Christ’s gifts of salvation, which we get through our faith in Him: to hear His Word and to receive His Sacraments.
This faith is the type and means, how we take our claim in the heavenly civil rights.
Therefore, whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. So says Christ, and He adds: But whoever does not believe will be damned.
Therefore, whoever does not come to Jesus and abide in Him like the shepherds did, that person gives up his civil rights. God does not force us, but He invites us.
And although it was a clear, little flock that assembled themselves around the manger in Bethlehem, this flock continues to grow to the present day, so that they are more numerous than the inhabitants of the Roman Empire ever were.
The Roman Empire goes the way of all empires. The only empire of this world that will not go under, is God’s empire that founded upon and built upon Jesus Christ, this empire, that has called everyone, who hear the Christmas gospel.
Therefore, you dear birthday-guests of the Savior Jesus Christ, if we in our life here and there complain about the many bureaucracies in our land, if we register here and there must report: Lets us not forget that in reality a different regiment is in place that is far better than the power of the politician.
And lets us not forget also that Mary and Joseph and Christ themselves were commissioned to register births and deaths with the earthly authorities.
Also that has however only serve God’s goals in heaven and with also goes, that we
through the work of salvation of the Savior win that heavenly civil rights, that we had lost based on our sin.
Therefore, dear Christian, do it as a grateful, good citizen of the heavenly empire: use the
privileges that bring you to the Child in the manger. The voice of one in that praise of the angel, when the world sings a song of sorrow, the praise the shepherds and the magi.
Then the degree of the emperor put the whole world in motion. For centuries the gospel of Jesus Christ put all people of men in motion. It may that it in these parts there are fewer people, because many people only view Jesus as folklore and ornamentation, but not as
Savior and King, with the gift that they live forever.
But on the whole the Roman Empire does not see, and not even the greatest in Germany or Europe see, that has seen and will see mankind, but that flock of people who are described in the Revelation of John, where he calls out:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! (7,9-10).
But the Lamb of God is He who came to the world in the manger at Bethlehem, who on the cross at Golgotha laid down His life for the sin of the world. He has risen, He lives, and is returning again on the last day, appearing to open the door of heaven.
He is not like folklore and ornament like the Halloween pumpkins or the Easter bunny, that is put up today and tomorrow is cleared away, but He is the Lord and Judge of the world, to those He mercifully meets, who believe in Him.
He alone is the Savior and no one else, He calls you and me to Him. Blessed is everyone, who hears His Name and along with the shepherds adore Him all their life. Amen.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Liturgical Calendar

While doing some research on the German liturgical day "A Day of Repentance and Prayer" I recalled the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bavaria website. They have a well-done liturgical calendar in Adobe Flash Player. It also has some soothing atmospheric music to listen to.

Historic Liturgical Calendar

I've been having an annual Day of Repentance and Prayer for about ten years. Traditionally it is on the Wednesday prior to the Last Sunday of the Church year. I move it to the previous Sunday, using the 2nd to Last Sunday in the Church year as a Day of Repentance and Prayer. The new LSB hymnal has propers for this day, and I have used those in the past, but I usually prefer the historic readings and propers.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Reformation sermon from my friend Rev. Armin Wenz

Reformation Festival - 31.10.2006 - Galatians 5,1-6 - Oberursel- Armin Wenz

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Dear congregation!

,,The Open Society and their Enemies,” is the title of a book by the English philosopher Charles Popper. Inside the scholar sits apart with the enemies of freedom on a political level. Since freedom is a lofty estate, it is necessary, always again to truly engage and repel what endangers freedom.

It is a hallmark of dictators, that they lull the people while they say: ,,Simply trust us with your needs; do not be concerned about the risk to your freedom.” In the Church, one also encounters this under the devout clothing, when the impression is awakened, that whoever shall warn against heresies that alter the gospel must not have any faith in God.

Paul and Martin Luther proceeded differently. For they heard the mission-task of the Lord Christ to His Church to faithfully teach only the gospel. And furthermore Paul and Luther were uncompromising in their quarrels against the enemies of the freedom of the gospel in the Church.

The Reformation thereby came about when Luther, charging through the holy Scriptures, calls out to the Church of his time, about the same sorrowful temptations he had experienced: You have lost Christ. Like Paul, Luther was not arbitrary with his unrelenting criticism, but reminded them about the reason of salvation for the lost: For freedom we have been released by Christ!

Reformation, therefore, means: Discovering again the freedom that we have from Christ as a gift. Reformation means: Discovering again Jesus Christ and His salvation. If the Son now sets you free, then you really are free; so says Jesus in John’s Gospel (8,36).

There rings with that freedom that Christ gives it as a present or gift, and it must not be added to. Freedom is lost to us if we attempt to obtain it through our own mighty works instead of receiving the gift. Whoever the Son has made free, he is really free.

Luther has summarized it with the famous solus Christus - Christ alone. He alone is the reason of our salvation and our freedom. However, adversaries surely then arise who endanger this freedom, in that they want to add to the work of Christ.

Against these enemies of freedom, Paul holds firm about a certain salvation, that we can only have salvation in Christ, if He alone comes to us by grace. And secondly he remains firm against the enemies of freedom, that we can receive the salvation in Christ alone by faith. With the Latin phrases it says: The solus Christus is inseparable from the sola gratia, that is: by grace alone, and likewise it is inseparable from the sola fide, that is: faith alone.

We come to the first argument of Paul against the enemies of freedom: Solus Christus stands only if sola gratia stands. That is: The salvation of Jesus Christ for us is grace and nothing but grace. Paul cries out to these same Galatians: You have Christ lost; you have fallen from grace.

What brings the apostle to speak these piercing words? It is the piety of the Galatians that has brought them to this serious danger. The Galatians had not all of a sudden reversed and become atheists. In the end, one must take ,,by faith” seriously.

Christ has released us from the yoke of sin and death. They believed that also. However they experienced just as we do that sin and death are still a painful reality. This is the temptation.

Was the sin really forgiven if you must still ask for forgiveness? Was one now really a child of God with eternal life when you still had to suffer painful sickness and death?

What could be more appropriate than the visible signs of faith which help his own deeds? Jesus, however, had been a Jew. And Christians should nevertheless model their lives after Him. If it was so difficult to live as righteous and holy as He could, then at least one could let himself be circumcised.

Such regulations like the law of the circumcision can at least clearly redeem someone. If one is circumcised, then one has, so to speak, a mark of certainty on his body. What’s the objection? Paul doesn’t exaggerate here, when he exclaims: If you allow yourselves to be circumcised, then Christ will be of no use to you? For Paul, freedom is at stake here. You have lost Christ, if you want to be justified through the law, and you have fallen from grace.

He says that you cannot secure freedom by your own power and discretion. You may not help Christ. Whomever Christ has made free, is completely free; no additional mark of this freedom is needed, for Christ is the proof of this freedom.

Do not put on again the yoke of slavery! What does this mean for us? What does this mean for us, when we waver, become uncertain, and before long we are unsure whether we really belong to God? The question is then: Where do we look for help?

The answer to these questions is clear when Paul says, either you are looking for your salvation in Christ alone, or you have lost Christ. In medicine, many diseases simultaneously need different medications and treatment methods. Not so with freedom.

The answer to the question: ,,Who will I call on to help me when my faith wavers?” is: Christ alone. As soon as we join Christ ,,and” fill-in-the-blank, then we have lost our freedom and will become enslaved. Such examples of this enslavement are: Christ and circumcision or Christ and Buddha, Christ and the Anthroposophy#, Christ and my holiness, Christ and my good works, Christ and my sacrificial life to family and career.

The whole system of relics and the countless works of penance in the Middle Ages go back to this desire of the Christian to reassure himself by imagining that God approves of me, and He does so rightly. Anyone can see it, because I have obtained it.

Luther’s Reformation turned itself against this mania beginning with his 95 Theses against indulgences. Whoever grounds his freedom and Christianity on own performances or on the performances of others, builds on sand. Why must Christ die, if we can achieve freedom with our works? Christ wants to give away His freedom, but if we want to even partially obtain this freedom by our own works, then aren’t we guilty of making Christ a liar?

Grace is not a measurable thing, that we can supplement or multiply. The grace of God in Christ is rather our recent acquittal in the court by virtue of the power of Baptism, because Christ bears eternal death for us and we have been reconciled with God. And that works itself also out of the question, how we properly receive the grace of Christ.

Again, the solus Christus, that is ,,Christ alone” shall not be encroached upon. Therefore, the second argument of the apostle against the enemies of freedom is: Solus Christus stands only if grace alone is received by faith.

For what applies for grace also applies for faith: it is not a work of the people, by which we complete or supplement God’s work or make it valid for us, but faith is entirely and truly a gift of Jesus Christ through the proclamation. In the third chapter Paul asks the Galatians: I just want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the preaching of faith? (3,2) As the acquittal stands by grace alone, so also faith as a gift of the Spirit is contrary to any notion that we are justified by the law.

This justification, which you still miss and cannot see, says Paul, is not fabricated through your chosen works, but by trusting on it, that God will accomplish what He has begun in you, as He has planted the seed of the word God into your hearts. Therefore he says: We wait in a spirit of faith for the justification on which we must hope.

We are completely justified for Christ’s sake, because He has acquitted us from our sin. At the same time, our justification is still hidden, it still waxes, because we repeatedly fall into sin. But in such situations our works don’t compensate, but our only help is that we take refuge in Jesus, receive His Absolution, and strengthen our faith through His holy meal.

The life from the Sacraments and from the proclamation is the only right answer for all temptations and doubts. It is no wonder that when the works of man and the pride in them become important, then one gives little respect to the work of God in preaching and the Sacraments. But this was exactly the situation that Luther interrupts at the end of the Middle Ages. Only in the intense life from God’s Word and Christ’s Sacraments do we remain in freedom, because we only receive Christ’s grace. The freedom must always be received anew and strengthened by the rescuer.

The tension is over now, so that only the right fulfillment of the law in the form of love becomes possible in us. Because if I am exempt from the necessity to achieve my salvation, then Christ makes me free to love the neighbor. I must now no longer devote my life’s strength to the purchase of my salvation. Circumcision is not necessary; an indulgence is not necessary. I must no longer be like a humming-top that is only spinning around for myself. So I find time and freedom in the works of life, that I don’t do so I will be saved, but I do them because I am saved and I want my neighbors to also find and experience this freedom.

Just as by faith, we put our hope in God alone and our relationship to God is repaired, so also faith that is active in love repairs the damage of our relationship to our neighbors.

The soul breathes because it is free from the coercion that it must continually prove something before God and the world, just what it always means, that we believe that we are obedient to God and man. With Christ’s forgiveness and grace, a person therefore also gladly and freely gives to the neighbor so that he can also breathe, in that he grants forgiveness and love to him, he also gladly gives everything as a gift, just as what he has received from God.

Luther had uniquely described this life of Christian freedom as: ,,The Christian lives in Christ by faith, and lives in the neighbor by love. By faith he runs to God, and from God he runs again by love and remains always in God and divine love. This Christian freedom, which makes the heart free, surpasses all other freedoms, just as heaven surpasses the earth.” Amen.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

American commentator re. the recent German elections

The Coalition of the (Sort of) Willing

This is a fine article, but there is more that could be said. It should be noted that the CDU/CSU and the FDP have been coalition partners before over the years, and yes, they are the preferred partners among their parties. This could have been more strongly stated and developed in the article. Also, the left parties, Die Link and the Green Parties, along with the FDP all made sizeable gains in the election and the Bundestag (all getting over 10% of the vote).

Finally, recent European elections should serve as a wake-up call to the United States as we ponder socializing our health care even further. France, Germany, and the European Parliament have moved away from Socialist parties and formed more free market capitalist governments. Although Europe is still quite Socialist, there is a trend to move in a more free market direction (the FDP's centerpiece), especially concerning what to do about socialized health care. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, these countries make regarding reforming their burdensome health care costs. Other observers think Britain may also dump Labour and go with a more conservative/free market party in their next election.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I am from Bavaria!

At last year's Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany this song was a big hit. I hope they sing it again in the Hofbraeuhaus this year. It is quintessentially Bavarian.

Juergen Birlinger and the Bavarian Project presents:

"I am from Bavaria"

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Wiesn in 14 days!

In two weeks, Oktoberfest will be upon us.

Here's a sample of last year's Munich TV's broadcast from under the beer tent.

Funny Oskar and the lovely Marion Schieder at the Wiesn booth. ">

Thursday, August 13, 2009

48 Years Ago

In 1961 the Wall went up. It divided East Berlin from West Berlin. It came to symbolize the Cold War and a divided Germany, East Germany and West Germany. My high school German teacher did not think she would live to see the Wall come down and Germany reunited. But she did, several years after she retired from teaching.

Here is an animated video by Deutsche Welle:

The Berlin Wall

Monday, August 03, 2009

Living by Faith

,,Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification“ is the first book of Oswald Bayer translated into English by Lutheran Quarterly Books. It is a brief book (86 pages) and is a quick and easy read. Overall, it is a good primer to introduce the novice into the theological world of Dr. Bayer, professor emeritus of the University of Tübingen.

There are many gems in this book, and I especially found chapters 3-5 to be theologically rich. Chapter 3 deals with the passive righteousness of faith, chapter 4 deals with faith comes by hearing, and chapter 5 deals with faith and sanctification.

Bayer’s passive righteousness of faith is a concise summary of what can be read in his ,,Theology the Lutheran Way“ book that is also translated into English. He also lays down some basic groundwork on the three estates (Church, household, and government) as places where God sanctifies us and uses us to sanctify others.

Bayer exhorts the power of God’s proclaimed Word. ,,Faith comes by listening to preaching. It derives from the Word of God, the external verbal Word. The passive righteousness of faith takes place only in virtue of the Word“ (Bayer 42). He does mention from time to time the Sacraments: ,,The future of the world derives from the present-day newness of the presence of God; the new creation now disclosed in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper turns the old perverted world into the past and restores the original world as creation“ (Bayer 65).

On page 50, Bayer challenges the formal and material principles of Protestant theology: ,,For many years Protestant theology has inappropriately distinguished between its formal principle (the authority of the Bible) and its material principle (the doctrine of justification)”. He counters with a quote from Luther’s preface to the Bible, “All the true and proper sacred writings agree on one point. They all preach and promote Christ. The proper touchstone for evaluation the books is whether we find that they truly promote Christ on not, for all scripture bears witness to Christ“ (Bayer 50).

Overall, Bayer’s book is a very sound treatment of Lutheran theology, especially as it relates to justification and the proclamation of the gospel.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Critical-destructive and critical-restorative

Dr. Armin Wenz puts forth the following one-two theme toward the end of his EXCELLENT essay entitled, "The Holy Scriptures as foundation and means of grace for the Church":

1. The chief relationship between Scripture and tradition can be described as critical-destructive (Wenz).

2. The second relationship between Scripture and tradition can be described as critical-restorative (Wenz).

While I was taught this and believe this, I have never seen these Reformation truths set forth with such powerful words. Wenz goes on to describe each relationship: "The rediscovery of Scripture and justification led the Reformers to the understanding that many traditions in the Church act contrary to the Scriptural message and had often replaced central aspects of the gospel. The second relationship between Scripture and tradition ... is indicated that Scripture has an effect on tradition and the work of Christians and that is salutary for the Church to build upon" (Wenz).

Wenz concisely and theologically puts forward the Holy Scripture and tradition, and does so in the appropriate order. Some traditions are detrimental, but others are salutary. The judge of traditions is Holy Scripture. If a particular tradition is detrimental to or according to the Holy Scriptures, then that tradition must be either reformed or removed. If a particular tradition is salutary, then that tradition should remain and be encouraged.

This sound Reformation approach is found throughout Wenz's essay, and there are many other beautiful gems in that essay as well.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Oswald Bayer and the proclaimed Word

The following is a compilation of one of Bayer's themes in ,,Theology the Lutheran Way":

God is in relation, in us, by speaking to us and addressing us. He addresses us in the word of promise, so that we can answer Him in faith (Bayer 20). The notes to Luther’s 1531 Lectures on Galatians say: God’s justification by humans in faith and the condemnation and denial of God through unbelief (Bayer 20). It is Christ’s office and work to put an end to the conflict between the naked God (deus nudus) and sinful humans (homo nudus) and to overcome such a fatal confrontation so that God can speak to sinners and mercifully rescue them (Bayer 21). He saves them from death and from being curved in on themselves (Bayer 21). God does not deal [act] with us, nor has He ever dealt [acted] with us otherwise than through the word of promise (Bayer 21). We in turn cannot deal with God otherwise than through faith in His word of promise” (Bayer 21). Everything depends on God’s performative word for the enactment of the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the healing of our ingratitude towards the Creator (Bayer 88). The performative word derives its competence, it’s authority, from the resurrection of the crucified Christ (Bayer 90). For Luther, worship has to do with the enactment of the word and faith, of promissio and fides (Bayer 89). For God does not deal, nor has He ever dealt, with us except through the word of promise (Bayer 89). We, in turn, cannot deal with God except through faith in the word of His promise (Bayer 89).

Gottesdienst (Divine Service) is first and last God’s service to us, the sacrifice He made for us in Christ, which He distributes to us in the particular Divine Service: ,,Take and eat! I am here for you!“ (Bayer 90). We misunderstand this Divine Service, which is meant to delight us, if we want to give as a work what we are meant to take and receive as a gift (Bayer 90). We receive through the ,,priest,“ as the servant of the divine Word, ,,the promise and the sign, and we receive the Lord’s Supper passively“ (Bayer 90). The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice we offer, but something we passively receive (Bayer 90). The Words of Institution are performative words that give what they say (Bayer 91). God’s giving leads to us loving others (Bayer 91).

Luther speaks of the Word and the Sacraments as performative words that are active and effective words (verbum efficax) (Bayer 130). We can call the gospel in the Sacraments as the ,,embodied word“ (Bayer 139). Theology then does not refer primarily to a ,,doing“ or ,,knowing“ or ,,feeling,“ but to a word, a particular word. For what we can say of the word we can say also of faith (Bayer 139). Only if the word is promise (promissio) is faith really faith (Bayer 139).

Theology focuses on the speech used in the Divine Service, namely, promise and faith (law and gospel) (Bayer 94). Theology is a doctrine of forms and as such it preserves the findings of form analysis (Formgeschichte) (Bayer 94). Theology also studies history in light of the promise (Bayer 95). The dependence of faith on the Word is to be recognized, objectively and concretely, as history (Geschichte), and not, subjectively and abstractly, as historicity (Geschichtlichkeit) (Bayer 100). Theology is a theology of Anfechtung: it involves trial, testing, and spiritual attack (Bayer 95). Theology is Christological: it can only speak of the God who speaks to us through the history of Christ (Bayer 95). God’s wrath and judgment are forms of His love (Bayer 96). Theology is practical and experience: God is active; we are passive (Bayer 96). Unfortunately, people of modernity understand themselves primarily as doers and actors (Bayer 111). The human heart is an ,,idol factory“ (fabrica idolorum) (Bayer 190). The other gods have their reality in their promises and enticements, as either something fascinating (fascinosum) or frightening (tremendum), in the sense of a power that is given to them by the human fabricating heart (cor fingens) (Bayer 198). The passivity associated with the political use of the law (usus politicus legis) should be understood differently than the other three passivities (Bayer 114). For when God works through His law to preserve His creation, the human agent (homo agens) works with Him (Bayer 114).

The word always comes first and faith follows the word; this is the criterion of the true Divine Service (Bayer 89). Religion is not a private matter (Bayer 89). Faith is nothing but ,,a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God“ (Bayer 92). God, and God alone, does His work in us (Bayer 92). Faith is primarily a receptive life (vita passiva) (Bayer 93). Faith kills not only works if they are misused for self-justification, faith also kills reason if it is wrongly used for the purposes of self-justification (Bayer 110). God’s unity can only be confessed and believed (Bayer 198).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Theology the Lutheran Way

I just finished reading the translation of Oswald Bayer's ,,Theologie" which in English is entitled ,,Theology the Lutheran Way". The book is a solid presentation of Luther's theological approach. The first part deals with Luther, and Bayer presents his text via two methods: 1. we passively receive Christ's gifts, and 2. theology is undertaken by Scriptural study, trials, and prayers. Bayer also puts forward the thesis that theology is both academic and liturgical, and therefore both sides of theology must remain together, even if they do so in tension. That is a classic Lutheran approach.

The translation of this work is exceptional. The German language can be verbose (by American English standards), but the translator has treated us to a smooth and easy to read translation of Bayer's text. I highly recommend it.

Two other books written by Bayer have been translated into English: ,,Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification," and ,,Martin Luther's Theology". I have both of these books as well, and I am in the process of reading his ,,Living by Faith".

Check out this link on Bayer's biography.

Also see the website for the University of Tübingen. Bayer was a professor of systematic theology for many years at Tübingen.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Philosphy of Identity

While reading through Oswald Bayer's book, ,,Theology the Lutheran Way", I came across this interesting quote:

,,In this sense, the modern philosophy of identity has altogether perverted the promise [the gospel] and made it into a form of self-referentiality [favoredness], directed back reflexively to the human ego, which thus claims to be able to verify itself But this philosophy is pure atheism.... People want to speak the truth about themselves but in the process they make God into a liar: Homo verax -- deus mendax [Humans speak the truth – God lies] (see, on the other hand, Romans 3,4)" (BaYer 133). [»Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true« (Romans 3,4)].

Essentially, Bayer is saying that the modern philosophy of the ego is nothing else than a philosophy that usurps the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods except Me. Bayer calls this atheism; we can also call it idolatry, for to say there is no God is essentially idolatry, for then the god that really exists is one's self. And that is nothing more than the first temptation into sin that we find in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent to take and eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. That tree had been forbidden to them, and it was enforced with the threat of death. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve to become like God, in essence, to take God's place and put themselves as the center of the universe and the lords of what is right and wrong.

Bayer argues that if we get caught up in this modern philosophy of identity, then we will become obsessed with the gift of our individuality and freedom. What then happens is that we end up losing the gift of the gospel and the giver of this gift, namely, God Himself (Bayer 134). Bayer argues that it is the responsibility of theology to challenge such athieistic and idolatrous philosophies and their attack on religion (Bayer 133).

The central object of theology is the gospel, and this is located in the promise that gives freedom (Bayer 134). The subject of theology is the performative word (Bayer 134). The gospel does what it promises and gives what it promises. The Holy Spirit uses the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for us and our sins to give us the forgiveness of our sins and our sinfulness. The gospel is a powerful word of God that performs what it promises. In this gospel we find true freedom: freedom from our sin and freedom to live as God's children who love our neighbors and help them.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Two Commissions

Pirate Christian Radio recently aired a sermon preached by Pastor Gervase Charmley entitled ,,The Two Commissions". You can listen to it here. The sermon is the last 50 minutes or so of the podcast.

If you like this sermon, check out Pr. Charmley's blogs:

Free St. Georges
Strict and Particular

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Germans not flocking to church this Easter

Deutsche Welle has a brief article on Germany and Easter.

I am sure pastors and churches in Germany would like to see church attendance rise, especially at Easter. Here in the American northeast, it seems as if Christians are of the same mindset as those mentioned in the DW article, with the same percentages even.

I have been told and taught that we are now living in a post-modern Western society. I am not so sure about that. There certainly seems to be a strong modern ideal in my corner of the American northeast. Post-modernism, while it claims to be a return to things spiritual as an essential part of the human experience, does not necessarily translate to higher attendance at religious festivals or even in an interest in faith or God.

We do seem to be living in a post-Constantinian Christian world and living more in a first century world, as far as the Church is concerned. That is not necessarily a bad thing. To be sure, it is certainly a more challenging environment where Christianity is one of many religious possibilities for people to believe. It is also an exciting time, where each challenge also brings with it God's blessings. Hopefully, it will be a time of less obession with numbers, attendance, and finances, and more attention and delight in people and relationships: people with one another and people with Christ.

Time will certainly tell the tale. Perhaps the classic Devo song from the very early 1980s sums it up best: We're all living in a post-post-modern world.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

Christos aneste! Alethos aneste. Hallelujah!

Christus ist auferstanden! Er ist auferstanden ist. Hallelujah!

Kristus er oppstått! Han er steget virkelig. Halleluja!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Battlestar Sonatica - Baltar's Theme

This piece was written for BSG to musically score Baltar's experiences on the Cylon basestar. It has a classical sound to it, but when paired with Baltar it has a requiem-like tone in regards to who he is and what he has done.

It is interesting that the official title of this is "Battlestar Sonatica" and that it was written specifically for Baltar's character. In an earlier blog I noted that BSG seems to focus on Baltar's fall from grace and his redemption.

A couple of weeks ago I watched some of the original BSG episodes from 1978. The original Baltar character is similar to the reimaged character. Both fall from grace and both are redeemed, although in the original series Baltar's redemption is not fleshed out completely or satisfactorily.

"Battlestar Sonatica" has a somber and sad mood. This fits Baltar perfectly because, although he is directly linked to the annihilation of the colonies and also responsible for signing (at gunpoint) the authorization fo the Cylons to round up and execute Human resistance fighters on New Caprica, Baltar experiences extreme angst and Anfechtung throughout the series. This occurs all the while when he is receiving visions from God. BSG did an excellent job keeping this tension, especially when Baltar (and we the viewers) were not sure if he was only a con-man, delusional, suffering a nervous breakdown, or really chosen to be an intregal part of God's plan for Humans and Cylons. "Daybreak" finally settled the issue: he was really getting guidiance and visions from God; he really was an agent in God's plan.

The weakness of the BSG series regarding Baltar's redemption is that there was no real, specific person who took upon him or herself Baltar's guilt and paid the price for his freedom. The closest we get is when he is on trial and Lee Adama becomes his lawyer. Lee's passionate arguments persuaded the jury to find Baltar "not guilty" of his crimes against humanity on New Caprica. The deciding vote on this verdict was Adm. Adama.

No human ever tried to save Baltar out of the pure goodness of his or her heart. Lee came the closest, but his reasoning for defending Baltar was not out of kindness or love, but because he believed everyone deserved a fair trial. Lee probably wouldn't have been too heart-broken had Baltar been found "guilty" because, after all, he got a fair trial.

In a small way, Baltar and Caprica Six are BSG's Abraham and Sarah characters. Yes, they imperfectly fit that description, but both Baltar and Caprica Six believe in a monotheistic God. In Baltar's case, he, like Abraham, left a polytheistic culture and embraced the one God. Baltar's farm on Earth is akin to Abraham's settling in Canaan -- the future promised land. If we play this theme out, then Baltar and Caprica Six are the forerunners in the BSG universe for monotheism. Like Abraham, Baltar is still a sinner while also a saint, albeit in Baltar's case his sins make Abraham's pale in comparison. Nevertheless, Baltar seems to embody the monotheistic concept, faith, and justification by faith when he deserved nothing but a sack over his head and a firing squad.

Baltar, then, becomes the character who embodies hope and deliverance from God. He becomes the character who embodies hope for all people. I read one blog where the person was upset that after all Baltar and Caprica Six had done, they get to enjoy a lush piece of land on Earth. Well, that's what happens to those who are redeemed and delivered -- they get what their actions don't deserve, they get grace instead of condemnation. This is the whole point of justification -- someone else merits our salvation. There was no mediator and propitiator for Baltar, but we have one who is called Jesus Christ. He suffered, died, and rose again for us. Praise God for His great gift.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Struggle to Keep Justification Pure

The Harrowing of Hell as depicted by Fra Angelico

I was re-reading a LOGIA article written by Armin Wenz entitled ,,Justification and Holy Scripture: Sola fide et sola Scriptura" (LOGIA, Vol. XIV, No. 2 [Eastertide 2005]).

Two points (among many) struck me as very pertinent:

1. The principles of Scripture alone and faith alone are inseparably connected, and justification must be reflected in these distinctions concerning holy Scripture (Wenz 5).

2. Every approach to holy Scripture which emancipates itself from the christological approach would be nothing less than a relapse into a humanist, rationalist, or works-righteous approach (Wenz 6). These three approaches strike against justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Humanism wasn't always against the article of justification. In the 14th century, European universities (starting in Italy) began stressing humanism over the traditional scholasticism. The Reformation began at a time in the Middle Ages when the Renaissance and humanism were blooming. Humanism sought to return to the classical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and going back to the original texts. Humanism soon influenced concepts of freedom, religion, history, science, and other academic disciplines. Humanism helped further things like the Textus Receptus (the Received Text, which was the first compilation of the Greek New Testament that was the forefather of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testaments that pastors and theologians use today). The University of Wittenberg was established as a humanistic university. Philip Melanchthon was a humanist scholar and he was the first Greek professor at the University of Wittenberg.

Rationalism grew out of humanist philosophy. Reason reigns supreme in rationalsim, and as such, miracles and the supernatural tend to be downplayed or rejected. Rationalism lead to the Enlightenment (examples of Enlightenment thought can be seen in the writings of the early American founders, like Washinton, Jefferson, and Madison, etc.). Rationalism lead to the 19th and 20th centuries fascination with historical criticism, which is a Biblical exegetical process that attempts to critique the holy Scriptures using a variety of source theories. Unfortunately, historical criticism leads to the denial of Christ.

Strictly speaking, humanism and rationalism are not antithetical to the article of justification. They are merely tools that theologians have used to mine the depths of holy Scripture. However, when humanism and rationalism are allowed to run amok, the article of justification suffers. This occurs when humanism and rationalism focus solely inward on the mind and intellect of human beings as the answers to all things.

Works-righteousness is the exact opposite of justification by faith. Works-righteousness is the approach that by our works we can merit or help merit our justification before God. As such, works-righteousness is a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian heresy whereby we do our part in meriting justification.

Unfortunately, our sinful human flesh is drawn to our own reason and works to merit or help merit our justification before God. Justificaiton, therefore, is revealed in the written Scriptures, and justificaiton must be received by faith.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I Like the BSG Character Gaius Baltar

Since the Battlestar Galactica finale on 20. March, I have read a number of blogs where fans complained about the final hour of the episode. I think some aspects were hastily brought to a conclusion, and other plots were left unanswered. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-hour finale.

From beginning to end, this show was about the characters. While I enjoyed most of the characters, my favorite is Gaius Baltar (wonderfully acted by James Callis, I might add). Here's why:

Baltar is an intelligent, egotistical, selfish man who is responsible for the destruction of Caprica. He allowed the Cylon Caprica Six access to the planet's defense mainframe, and she used it to let the Cylon sneak attack annihilate the colonies. Right there, the man is a traitor to humanity ... because he is selfish.

And yet, God uses him to unveil and unfold His plan to save both the humans and the Cylons from extinction. This is why I really like his character, because he is so much like many of the men and women that God used in the Bible to save humanity. People like Jacob and Samson come to mind, who when you read about their exploits in the Bible you scratch your head wondering why on Earth is God using people with such horrible personality traits, faults, and down-right sinful behavior.

Baltar is not perfect. He doesn't try to be perfect. Even though he thinks He is doing God's will, he still goes around using circumstances to further his own self-interests. He is like me and every other sinner on this planet. We often tend to hide those aspects of our nature from other people; Baltar didn't, and he was the most despised human in the Colonial fleet because of it.

As the seasons wore on, I kept cheering for Baltar to finally get it. Slowly he did, but he never got it perfectly nor did he act like a pious saint. He remained and acted like a fallen sinner. Again, he acted like all the saints in the Bible.

Finally, when ,,Daybreak" began, he had his last chance. Lee Adama challenged him to name one time when he did something that was not in his own self-interest. Baltar admitted that he could think of no instance. And then when he had a chance to join the mission under Adm. Adama, he chose to stay with the fleet ... until at the last moment he changed his mind. This action put him in the right place and the right time that God had been preparing him for from the very first episode. He was there to save humanity and the Cylons by rescuing the little girl, Hera.

I often wondered if BSG was really about the fall and redemption of Gaius Baltar, much like Babylon 5 was about the fall and redemption of Londo Mollari. It seems to me that Baltar is one of the main figures in the whole BSG storyline; I think it really was all about his fall and redemption, for he is the Everyman. If God can redeem Baltar and use him for His plan, then God can redeem me and everyone else, too. That is really what the Bible's salvation history is all about: God redeeming us and using us in His plan; Jesus Christ came to make it so.

The best part of the finale is one of the last scenes with Baltar and Caprica Six. He tells her that he's found a nice plot of land on Earth that looks suitable for farming. ,,You know, I know about farming" he tells her. And then he breaks down because his whole life had been one of denying his past, despising his father who was an overbearing father and farmer, so much so that Baltar studied science and changed his accent so no one would know his roots. But at the end, he has come full circle. He can embrace his past, his father, his despised roots, and he realizes that he can stop being a scientist and enjoy being a farmer. Why? Because God redeemed him and showed him that he has value. God did not give up on him when everyone else did. God loved him when everyone else despised and hated him.

Okay, BSG wasn't the greatest at portraying such ideas in pure Christian language (and I wouldn't expect it to because it is science fiction, not Biblical theology), but enough gospel handels snuck through so that any Christian could read into the plot and see salvation being played out upon the least deserving. And just like Baltar, God so loved us and sent His only Son to suffer, die, and rise again for us so that we would have peace with Him forever.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Last night I watched the series finale of the reimaged TV show ,,Battlestar Galactica". Overall, I thought it was a good finale. I pondered some of the lukewarm Christian themes that ran throughout the series.

I thought the title ,,Daybreak" was very fitting for the last episode. Throughout much of the series, the characters experienced one challenge after another, one heartbreak after another, and seemed to always be on the verge of complete annihilation. ,,Daybreak" brought some much needed hope and grace upon a group of people who were so overwhelmed by the law, sin, and death.

Daybreak has a strong element of resurrection theology. The rising of the sun each day in the east is symbolic of Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday. We also have the promise that on the last day we will receive a daybreak -- a rising up of our own dead bodies to everlasting life.

BSG had a theme of cycles: all this has happened before and will happen again. This is very common in Eastern philosophy and culture. While Buddihsm and Hinduism have strong strains of cycles, so also Christianity. Ecclesiastes laments that there is nothing new under the sun, implying that sin and the world continues ever onward in a series of cycles. Nothing ever really changes, sin and death still swing around and snatch away happiness and life. Someone must show up to break the cycle and restore hope. Christians see that occur in Jesus Christ.

And in the midst of this, God sends other people to touch our daily lives and remind us of the hope we have in Christ. The original series had the angels of light: advanced beings who flew around space in ships of light. It was tacky and very 1970s-ish. Ron Moore took a more human approach and had these guides appear as ordinary people in cognito. We never really discovered that three of these angels were guiding the Colonial Fleet until the last few episodes. It worked well, because there was an air of mystery of who these beings really were and more importantly for me, these beings were very subdued and working simply and behind the scenes. That is how the angels often operate in the Bible. The Scriptures talk about entertaining angels unaware.

The finale had a few illogical flaws, like why would everyone gladly give up all their technology, especially medicine? The show's answer was to break the cycle of violence between the humans and the cylons. Unfortunately, another cycle of sin and destruction would quickly arise and dominate the people. Our history proves that.

I would also would have liked to have some more explanation about the Lords of Kobol and the 13th tribe. There was not much closure there.

The best scene was with Baltar and Caprica. Baltar was such a despised individual, the worst of the worst. He always did things in his self interests and gladly endulged in all sorts of vices. He represented us, the worst parts of our fallen nature. I always liked the Baltar character (and the fact that all the characters were realistically human, making all sort of mistakes and doing things out of selfishness), knowing that but for the grace of God I would be like Baltar. Baltar finally gets grace and redemption as the series closed. He didn't deserve it, but that's what makes grace grace. We don't deserve God's love and forgiveness, yet we have them nonetheless. If that's the highpoint of the series, then I rejoice at being reminded that we are redeemed by grace and resurrection will also be ours, too, and that by Jesus alone.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Miracles and Prophecies

Wilhelm Loehe has a chapter in his book, Three Books Concerning the Church, entitled ,,Miracles and Prophecies are not a Mark of the Church". Loehe writes,

,,IT is certainly true that the miracles and prophecies of the prophets and apostles of the Truth have helped to show the poor children of men the way in which they ought to go. Of course, the Truth stood in no need of miracles and prophecies; it is superior to both; and eyes that are open recognize it in its proper being and in the mode of speech, which belongs to it alone, even without knowing it. But the simple, the prejudiced, the indolent and weak, do not lend their ear to the Truth unless they be aroused in some way. Such miracles and prophecies are especial gifts of the grace of God, and therefore we admit with the old Church-Fathers that the rapid progress of the Gospel without the signs and wonders that accompanied it would be impossible, except by a miracle which would have surpassed all other miracles.

,,After the Truth and the Church of the Truth had once been introduced into the world and had so demonstrated its truth to men for eighteen hundred years, neither miracles nor prophecies were needed any more; therefore miracles and prophecies have become less frequent. The preservation of the Church in spite the attacks of the devil and all his hordes, her un-weakened, fresh and ever-youthful continuance these eighteen hundred years, is miracle enough, if anyone were to think that the voice of the Truth in and for itself were not impressive and convincing enough. We must ever guard ourselves against being too easy misled by miracles, for there are Occurrences which happen quite like miracles and yet are not miracles, and therefore we must be able to distinguish miracles from wonderful and inexplicable events. Miracles in the proper sense are done by God only, either immediately, or mediately through His servants: Blessed is the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who alone does wondrous things (Psalm 72:18). On the other hand, false prophets, Antichrist, the beast, do wonderful things that resemble miracles and are called miracles in a wider sense (Matthew 24:24 ss; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13). If we admit that the arm of the Lord is not shortened; that He, wherever He sees best, in order to establish His heavenly Truth, can still do wonders; if we admit that there is nothing in Holy Scripture which says that miracles no longer can happen; yet it is very necessary to try the things which happen before our eyes, and to hold the universal rule that true miracles can occur only in the service of the true doctrine, and that without the true doctrine of God’s Word which is well known to us, they prove nothing at all (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

,,And it is so with prophecies. We do not deny that the spirit of prophecy still lives, that He rules and works, that the gift of prophecy is still in the Church; but we hold that all prophecy must be according to the analogy of faith,—namely, in the New Testament, must be related to the Word of the Lord as the particular to the universal, as the conclusion to the proposition, as the bud to the plant. A prophecy that does not confirm the true doctrine, or that is not in connection with it, is empty and worthless (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Further, a prophecy that rests on merely human foundations, or does not proceed from the Holy Spirit, even though it be ever so correct a conjecture, is not a prophecy; as, for instance, Balaam’s, Numbers 24, or Caiaphas’s, John 11:51, is no testimony to the man that said it. Therefore we must be just as critical of prophecies as of miracles, and must hold firmly that all prophecies must accord with the faith once delivered to the saints (Romans 12:7).

,,This distinction, which has to be made with reference to miracles and prophecies, shows that they cannot be characteristic marks of the Church. They need to be sifted and tried by the pure Word and the Scriptural Confession of the Church; they do not give a clear testimony; they, according to their nature, call to inquiry,—and this so much the more because it is not the Church only that has these uncertain witnesses; but heretics too, heathen, and Antichrist, boast and will boast of them" (Three Books 146-49).

The Lutheran Confessions in Augsburg Confession VII and VIII list the following as the true marks of the Church:

Preaching of the gospel (which is Christ crucified for us and our sins)

The Sacraments (which are Baptism and the Lord's Supper, but the Apology also allows for Absolution (Apology XIII.4) and Ordination (Apology XIII.11) to be acknowledged as sacraments).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Practice of Weekly Communion

I was quickly browsing an article on Lutherische Beitraege last night (and wondering if my copy was in the mail -- today it arrived from Germany with a bonus: a copy of Martti Vaahtoranta's ,,Mission der Liebe" [Mission of Love]). The article is by Gottfried Martens and is called ,,The Practice of Weekly Communionion in the SELK". Here is a link the the original German and a Google translation into English. The english translation is not great, but it allows you to get the basic gist of Martens' essay.

Martens' second through fourth paragraphs focus on a practical issue regarding the Lord's Supper. How does a Lutheran pastor/church bring communion frequency into compliance with Apology XXIV.1 (For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.)? Martens notes that in the SELK there are a number of Lutheran churches which only offer the Lord's Supper once a month, usually on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday of the month. I find the same in the LCMS: many churches do not offer the Lord's Supper each Sunday.

It is a long and patient process to move a congregation from its current practice to the confessional practice of every Sunday communion. At my church, the process has been going on for at least twenty years and by three different pastors. It involves lots of teaching and dealing with misconceptions and straw men arguments.

I suspect that the modern disdain for every Sunday communion comes from a latent Pietism among Lutherans. Most, but not all, pietistic Lutherans emphasized a knowledge of Jesus based on subjective experiences over objective doctrine and tended to demphasize the Sacraments, especially the Lord's Supper. As such, Pietism encouraged infrequent communion. This lead to some churches only celebrating the Sacrament at Christmas and Easter, while others celebrated it quarterly or once a month. The one person who bucked this trend was The Rev. Wilhelm Loehe. He held Pietism and Confessional Lutheranism in balance. He probably isn't the only Lutheran to have done so, and I suspect it was not an easy balance to maintain at times.

In the LCMS, pastors, theologians, and lay people have been trying for the past 30 years to steer attitudes back to the proper and confessional understanding of the frequency of the Lord's Supper. At times it seems to be like molasses rolling up a hill in January, but it is a task that is worth undertaking. Like the SELK, previous LCMS conventions have passed resolutions that commend congregations to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday. I commend Dr. Martens for his insightful and hard-hitting article about the frequency of the Lord's Supper.

For more, check out:

St. James the Hoosier

The Blessings of Weekly Communion, The Rev. James Woelmer

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bo Giertz

Paul McCain has a good blog on Bo Giertz's book ,,The Hammer of God" (in the original Swedish, ,,Stengrunden" which means ,,the stone ground" or ,,the rock foundation") and a concise summary of the book.

Lutheran Visuals offers a 50-minute DVD on chapter one of Giertz's book. The DVD was filmed in Sweden, and thus is in Swedish, but there are English subtitles. This DVD (entitled ,,The Hammer of God") is faithfully and powerfully captures part one of Giertz's book. The scene with Savonius, Katrina, and Johannes is wonderfully done and well-acted. Click here for a 12-minute preview of the movie from Lutheran Visuals.

Henric Schartau (1757-1825) features prominently in chapter six of Giertz's book, when a young pastor preaches one of Schartau's sermons on Transfiguration Sunday. Here is the entire translation of Schartau's sermon.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pick Me

Here's a neat NFL reel of their fantasy league commercials. It seems to me some of it is camera tricks and fx, I mean, seriously, would you want your mega-million star doing some of these stunts? Anyway, it's fun to watch and enjoy.

My personal favorite is the bell tower.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Fortunate and the Unfortunate

I was skimming through a few pages of Wilhelm Loehe's Three Books Concerning the Church (which, btw, Concordia Fort Wayne sells an English translation). I have Edward T. Horn's 1908 translation. His profound words on pages 120-21 are just as insightful today as they were 150 years ago. Loehe writes:

"The extension of the Church is just like everything that is spoken of as either fortunate or unfortunate. What man of experience, what man who ever has read the thirty-seventh or seventy-third Psalms, what Christian who, ripening under the Cross, has learned to understand the trials of Job and the words of Ecclesiastes, would ever draw a conclusion as to the worth or unworthiness of a man, a people, or a Church from their good or bad fortune? In that way he would condemn all the children of God from the beginning of the world. The Ever-blessed One upon the Cross and the Emperor Augustus of Rome, the martyrs and their tyrants,—these would have to change places with each other in the estimation of the world! The righteousness of God goes through life, and at the end His sentence is declared concerning everyone; but what man ever makes a completely right judgment here upon earth?—To have the majority of voices is accounted fortunate; to be in the minority, is considered a misfortune but both are in the hand of the Lord;—or should we not rather say, a wide extension of the Church is a gift of God’s grace to the world,—a decrease of her numbers is a misfortune to the world? The way of the Lord is to us dark, but His judgments are at the same time just and inscrutable; it is in His power to give to His Church in our days again victory and hosts of evangelists and confessors; He can lift up His lonely and lowly followers whom He has chastened and humbled, so that they can join in the song of the Mother of God. “Who is like unto the Lord our God Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raises up the poor out of the dust and lifts the needy out of the dunghill; that He may set him with princes, even the princes of His people; He makes the barren woman to keep house and to be a joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!” (Psalm 113:5 ss.) “He is a God Who sets the solitary in families: He brings out those who are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” (Psalm 68:6) Who knows whether He has not already girded His sword upon His thigh with His glory and majesty? In His majesty will He ride prosperously, because of truth and meekness and righteousness, and His right hand shall teach us terrible things.” (Psalm 45:3,4.)"

Here are a few Loehe links you might find interesting:



Project Wittenberg

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Wintry Scene

This photo was taken in Germany's Black Forest at the beginning of February. It looks very peaceful ... I am just glad I don't have to shovel that snow.

My high school German teacher used to tell us about the Black Forest. She said her family used to take picnics there, and those cuckoo birds that thrived there were very noisy and agressive fowl. She had all kinds of stories to tell about Berlin, too. Great times those many years ago in high school German class.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Video of a recent German-Norway friendly on Feb. 12

The German and Norwegian national teams recently played a friendly. Norway shocked the Germans (who were jeered off their home pitch at half-time!).

Bayern takes one on the chin

Recap from the pitch.

Ouch! Tough loss for Bayern, but it allows Hertha Berlin to take the top spot in the Bundesliga.

Global warming is a real threat for these little guys!

More than 32,000 scientists have signed a formal statement, prepared by a past president of the National Academy of Sciences and co-authored by an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University, saying there is no global warming crisis.

Check Global Warming Facts to read more about a less-hyped global warming outlook.

$400 MILLION dollars is scheduled to go to a Global Warming research in the new Economic Stimulus Package. Is this supposed to stimulate our economy or add more fatty pork to it?

Here's what the Germans and the Norwegians are currently doing about global warming research.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Korskirken Panorama View

Here is a neat Panorama view inside Korskiren in Bergen, Norway. Just use the Quicktime controls to pan up, down, and around the church. There's lots of Christian artwork and symbolism throughout the church. Very cool.

Btw, does anyone in Norway have any information about the life of The Rev. Alf Andersen? He was a pastor at Korskirken for many years; I believed he died in the mid-1980s.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Merkel criticizes Benedict XVI

When German and Vatican politics collide, normally stoic Germans speak out. That's what happened yesterday when the pope removed the excommunication of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X. Unfortunately, one of these bishops denies that the Holocaust happened, and that is against the law in Germany.

One person asked, ,,How could the pope do this, knowing the bishop's denial of the Holocaust"? Simple answer: Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II, is an avowed ecumenist. One of his primary goals is to bring all the small fractioned groups estranged in the Roman Catholic Church back under the papal umbrella. A few years ago the pope was willing to drop one of the many papal titles to ease the way for closer ecumenism with the Orthodox Church. Bringing all Christian churches back under the papal banner is the goal of the popes.

Check out today's article about the flap at Deutsche Welle.

DW also has two concise videos:

Catholics React

Concerns Grow

Here's a recent commentary by German journalist Felix Steiner.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gospel words from The Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel

“The generation that was delivered out of Egypt all died in the wilderness, though the Lord gave them bread from heaven. Repeatedly in John, Jesus fulfills and bursts what is told us in the Old Testament. Jesus is bread from heaven of which a man may eat and not die. Here death is ultimate death and its counterpart is ultimate life. Jesus said, “I am the living Bread” (John 6.51), What could be a more “I am” statement of life? But there is more. There is life through and beyond the furthest reach of death. Death can reach no further than Calvary. That there was death in Calvary is shown by the fact that flesh and blood are spoken of separately. But they are Jesus’ flesh and blood, so there is life with them beyond the furthest reacth of death—life indestructible, life forever.” (Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel 56).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wise Words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

,,Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more nor less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. Because the Son of God became Man, because He is the Mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with Him is to follow Him. Discipleship is bound to Christ as the Mediator, and where it is properly understood, it necessarily implies faith in the Son of God as the Mediator. Only the Mediator, the God-Man, can call men to follow Him“ (The Cost of Discipleship 64).

These were not merely words for Bonhoeffer, as he was a young Lutheran pastor and theologian who was arrested by the Nazi regime and executed just days before American forces liberated the city where he was in prison. Yes, sometimes Christian discipleship leads making difficult choices and dying for Jesus Christ as a martyr to the Christian faith.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bishop Jakes Preaches at St. John's Church

Bishop T. D. Jakes, a Pentecostal pastor of a 30,000 megachurch in Dallas, was invited to preach to President-elect Obama and other dignitaries at St. John's Church in Washington, D.C. St. John's is an Episcopal church.

Here is another example of a poor choice of pastors. Now, I do not expect President Obama to be a theologian; he is our president and I expect him to make presidential decisions. But who advised him to invite Bishop Jakes? My issue with Jakes is that his view of the Trinity borders on the heretical. Many times, he has made statements that smack of Sabellianism, which was an early second century heresy also known as Modalism because Sabellius viewed God as one who has manifested Himself in three modes: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christian doctrine on the Godhead confesses that God is one God, and this oneness is comprised of three separate, distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every time Jakes has explained his belief, he does not use the traditional language of Christianity, but consistently uses wishy-washy language that leaves room for doubt whether he actually believes God is comprised of three Persons.

So on Inauguration Weekend we have been subjected to:

an Episcopal bishop who is unrepentant in his homosexual sin, and refused to pray a Christian prayer;

a Pentecostal pastor who does not give a definitive confession about the holy Trinity; and

an Evangelical pastor who routinely confuses law and gospel, often preaching the law while believing it is the gospel.

The state of American civil religion is horrendous. In fact, it rarely has been unashamedly Christian. Too often it is headlined with prominent pastors who have serious doctrinal issues, issues that are at odds with the doctrine passed on by the prophets and the apostles in holy Scripture.

Now you may ask, is there anyone who would satisfy my strict criticism. Answer: yes; pastors who are sincere and bold in their confession of Jesus Christ, preach Him crucified and risen from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins, and take seriously the doctrines of the one, holy Christian and apostolic Church. Unfortunately, such pastors are not going to be chosen for such public ceremonies like a presidential inauguration, because they are little fish in a big pond that is filled with mammoth fish who get all the spotlight. Such is, and has been, the state of American civil religion.

I think President Obama deserves better than the pastors who surrounded him this inauguration. He has somber and serious responsibilities, and he deserves pastors who are less inclined to preach in their prayers but who will simply and shortly pray for him, his family, and his cabinet for wisdom, safety, and divine guidance. I am sure many faithful pastors and Christians have prayed this way for him in recent days, and for that we can take hope regarding the state of American Christianity.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Proper Evangelical Lutheran Prayer for the President

O merciful heavenly Father, from You comes all rule and authority over the nations of the world for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of all who do well. Graciously regard Your servants, those who make, administer, and judge the laws of this nation, and look in mercy upon all the rulers of the earth. We thank You for President George Bush, his staff and cabinet, the Congress, and the Supreme Court who have faithfully held office and have publically served our country. We ask You to bless President Barack Obama, his staff and cabinet, the new Congress, and the Supreme Court as they take office and publically serve our country. Grant health and prosperity to them, and grant them wisdom and understanding to rule according to Your good pleasure for the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, so that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness, honesty, and prosperity; through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Given the choices President-elect Obama has selected for the prayers for his inaugeration, I felt it important to offer up a proper Christian prayer for him and our government. While Rick Warren tacks Evangelical right, he is so engrossed with preaching the law as gospel that even if he mentions the name of Jesus, I wonder what the actual text of his prayer will be and whether it will truly lift up our leaders to God for wisdom and good governance. Bishop Gene Robinson tacks Episcopal left, and he has publically stated that he will not offer up a Christian prayer for Mr. Obama, but will instead say some sort of generic, non-offending prayer. Here's the video of the bishop's prayer; the text is further down in the article.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Comment on Christian Preaching

Here's something my friend Kelly wrote on his blogsite Helmets Required II in response to my blog ,,Evangelical Preaching?". He is right on target.

Kelly writes:

,,A friend and former classmate at St. Louis Seminary penned a piece about the state of Evangelical preaching today. The assessment that he made is no different than that which I perceive.

,,All too often the call is for "relevant preaching". You know how to be a Christian parent, how to balance your checkbook like a Christian, how one may open a Christian business, and others ad nauseum. Please understand the role of the Holy Scripture is to give voice and view to the heart of God toward us as revealed in Jesus Christ.
The use of the LAW (after all that is what "how to..." sermons are) is as St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit put it - "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." Romans 3:20

,,I know of no more relevant topic than that of a God who can and does forgive. The stresses and strains of life will never be overcome by simple cosmetic applications to our finances, or social interactions...becasue the problem of a broken heart still remains. The means by which we, who are broken, may be bound and healed is the power of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

,,Here is a fine example of a Evangelical Christian sermon proclaimed by the Christ Himself. "And he (Jesus) said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."

,,The Holy Spirit fill all Christian sermons - those you preach and those you may hear with the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Rev. Dr. Zieroth: Men and the Church

Zieroth interview.

Pastor Zieroth recently finished his Doctor of Ministry in Christian parenting. Bound up with this is a focus on catechesis and the duties of parents in the catechesis of their children. (I think that's an old picture, because the last time I saw him he still had a beard.)

I highly recommend listening to this interview that Issues, etc. did a few days ago. It is very sound and practical. Pastor Zieroth has devoted much study and attention to the issues of Christian parenting, men and the church, and sound catechesis in the church. St. Paul's, Kingsville.

Pastor Zieroth is a wonderful pastor, and so is his colleague at St. Paul's, The Rev. Michael Wollman. Pastor Wollman was my physical education teacher and track coach in high school.

St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kingsville, MD was my home church until I was ordained. Pastor Wollman preached at my ordination, and Pastor Zieroth preached when I was installed at my second call.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Epiphany of Our Lord: 6. January

In the Name of Jesus

Matthew 2.1-12
The Epiphany of our Lord, A
6. January 2008

Our sermon text for this morning, dear brothers and sisters, is from St. Matthew’s Gospel where the holy evangelist writes: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying: ,,Where is he having been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and gathering together all the high priests and scribes of the people, he was asking them where the Christ is to be born. Then they told him: ,,In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ,And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the princes of Judah; for from you will come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called the magi and ascertained precisely from them the time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying: ,,Go and search diligently for the child, and as soon as you shall find him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they left and behold, the star which they saw when it rose was going before them until it stood still above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they went into the house and saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped him and opened their treasures, and presented him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being directed in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their own country by another way. This is our text.

It’s Epiphany, and the magi from the east have arrived in Bethlehem to worship the newborn king. These eastern sages were more than mere ,,wise men”; they were astronomers and astrologers; they interpreted dreams for kings and princes; they counseled the rulers when to go to war and when to settle for peace; they studied religion and prophecies.

Yahweh got their attention. Since their focus was always in the heavens, God gave them the sign of a star. The Greek word translated as ,,star” can also refer to a planet or other astronomical bodies in the heavens, such as a comet, a meteorite, or a nova. Shortly before Jesus was born, Jupiter and Saturn conjoined in the constellation of Pisces. A year later Mars joined Jupiter and Saturn in a conjunction that – after the Moon – was the brightest object in the night sky.

We have demythologized the heavens in our pursuit of scientific knowledge, but to the ancients, and especially the Persian magi, events in the heavens meant something. Jupiter was the king’s planet, and Saturn represented the defender of Palestine. Mars was the bringer of change. Pisces represented Syria and Palestine. The magi saw this conjunction and realize that a king has been born in Judah, and not just any ordinary king, but a king of kings, on the scale of Alexander the Great or George Washington.

How did these magi know about the promised messiah? When Daniel was part of the Jewish Exile to Babylon in 587 B.C., he and other Jewish men eventually joined the caste of the magi; Daniel soon became Nebuchadnezzar’s most trusted advisor. Daniel taught the other magi the messianic prophecies from Moses and the Prophets, including the star as the symbol of the Messiah: ,,A star will rise from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel” (Numbers 24,17). When they arrived in Jerusalem, they learn from King Herod and the scribes that the messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem.

The political and religious elite in Judah failed to honor and worship the fulfillment of God’s holy word, while the magi – known for their paganism and idolatry faithfully – journey to where Jesus is, worship Him, and give Him presents. Luke also reminds us that the first to pay homage to the newborn Christ were the shepherds – men and boys who were not the most respected members of Judean society.

The liturgical season of Epiphany reveals the ways in which God’s glory manifested itself through Jesus. Matthew shows us that even the Gentiles are blessed by the arrival of the Christ. The Prophet Isaiah says that the Christ is for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles: nations will walk in your light, and kings in the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60,3).

But how will this divine blessing be received? Will we receive it like Herod and the chief priests who rejected God’s savior? Will we receive it like the shepherds and the magi who received and believed in God’s savior? Knowing the holy Scriptures is not enough. The priests and the scribes knew the Scriptures; they knew the prophecies about the Christ. They knew, but they did not believe. The holy Scriptures, the star, the magi, and countless other signs that heralded the birth of God’s Christ should have given King Herod, the chief priests, and the scribes’ great joy and an earnest desire to go to Bethlehem and see the King of kings.

The magi and the shepherds heard the proclamation and received God’s word with gladness; they went and saw the newborn king. The magi even brought gifts for the King of kings. We know the Scriptures; we come and worship Christ each week; but what gifts will we bring to Jesus? Our King of kings deserves our very best – the first fruits of our talents and possessions. He doesn’t want us to be merely religious or spiritual – the priests and the scribes were certainly that! – but Jesus also wants us to honor Him, bow down before Him, worship Him, and give Him our very best whether that be worship, stewardship, or helping a neighbor in need.

In the science-fiction TV show ,,Babylon 5", this question is asked to each of the major characters early in the first season: ,,,Will you follow me into fire, into storm, into darkness, into death?’” (Straczynski 22:01). In a similar way, Christ asks the same of each of His disciples. If we say ,,yes”, then know that Christ brings life, couched in the promise of death, and salvation, disguised as defeat. Jesus promised His disciples that He was on the path to suffering and the cross, and that through this death He would bring eternal life to the world. The death and burial of Jesus looked like a defeat, but the empty tomb proclaimed it to be our salvation. The King of kings is the First and the Last, the living one; He died, and behold He is alive forever more, and Jesus now holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1,18).

Jesus is much brighter and more spectacular than the ,,star” that heralded His birth. He is the Light to the nations and the Glory of Israel.

The shepherds came first and paid homage to Jesus. God shows us that His salvation is for the poor as well as the powerful. Economic or social status won’t bar us from God’s salvation. Then the magi arrive and worship Jesus. God shows us that His salvation is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Ethnicity or nationality won’t bar us from God’s salvation. The magi were among the first of many people who would come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and worship Christ the newborn king. They were the first to give Him gifts, but they were not the last. So we gather each week and give gifts to Jesus, and much more do we do for our neighbors during the week in the name of Christ.

We’ve been drawn by the star. Not some celestial object in the nighttime sky, but the Star of David who is Jesus the Christ. He has drawn us to Himself, and once we have been captured by the gravity of His divine love and salvation we continue to revolve around Him, soaking up the warmth of His forgiveness and grace. All that goodness and mercy is packed into a little human body not more than two years old. ,,There is one Lord, one Christ, one Israel, one Church, and one plan of God for our rescue and completion” (Nagel 42). That Christ is Jesus, the firstborn son of Mary, and the glorious light of salvation for the entire world. Amen.

Let us pray. O Holy Spirit, Your word is our light and guide, which draws us to Christ the King of kings. He is not a king of sin, death, and hellish fire, but a King of righteousness, life, heaven, and salvation. For we need a King who is able to make us, lost and condemned creatures, righteous again, redeem us from sin, death, and the devil, and bring us to heaven and everlasting life (Luther 207). Amen.

One Message—Christ!

All Scriptural quotations are translations done by The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind using the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 4th Edition © 1990 by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart and the New Testament Greek Manuscripts, Luke © 1995 by Reuben Joseph Swanson.
All quotations from the Book of Concord are translations done by The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind using Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 12th Edition © 1998 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Luther, Martin. The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 5. Eugene F. A. Klug, Ed. Copyright © 2000 Baker Book House Company.
Nagel, Norman. Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis. Frederick W. Baue, Ed. Copyright © 2004 Concordia Publishing House.
Straczynski, J. Michael. Babylon 5. ,,Parliament of Dreams”. Copyright © 1993 PTN Consortium and Warner Bros. Television.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Prayer and Politics

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Deutsche Welle has a succinct article about the Leipzig pastor who organized peaceful prayer gatherings at the time. This event showcases the two kingdoms of God and how He uses both to accomplish His means. A book entitled ,,Rebuilding a House Divided" by Hans-Dietrich Genscher looks at how the U.S. Secretary of State and the European Foreign Ministers helped bring about the reunification of Germany. It's a good book; I read it about ten years ago.

Here's the DW article.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Evangelical Preaching?

I take great pride in preaching each Sunday. I spend a lot of time in preparation and study, including translating the text.

So, as I drove to my parents on Christmas Eve, I heard two Christmas sermons on the radio. I hesitate to call them ,,Christmas" or ,,sermons". The name of Jesus was used, but the content of the sermons (I seemed to think they were really pep talks) did not focus on: the gospel or the meaning of Jesus being born as our Savior. What has happened to the state of Christian preaching in America?

It used to be that Evangelical churches prided themselves in preaching about the pure gospel of Christ crucified. There are still some that take this preaching seriously. I heard a Baptist friend preach over the summer, and he did an good job of preaching the gospel. The Baptist church also seemed very committed to remaining faithful in really preaching the gospel. In this respect they were very evangelical and Lutheran.

However, what passes as Evangelical preaching in the 21st century leaves a lot to be desired. I perceive that part of this dilemma is based on the whole church growth methodology that is focused on mere statistics and numbers rather than faithful preaching of the gospel. Too many churches are obsessed with being a business and pursuing commerical avenues of success. It reminds me of the 16th century Catholic Church. In many ways the modern Evangelical Church is similar to 16th century Catholicism.

Evangelical preaching, true evangelical preaching that is concerned about Christ crucified and risen for us sinners is always going to be small potatoes compared to what we are shown on TV with a slick presentation and polished delivery. If the message isn't focused on Christ crucified, then it isn't evangelical. If the message isn't focused on the gospel, then it isn't preaching.

Preaching isn't easy. It takes a good deal of preparation. But the underlying foundation is not rocket science: it's proclaiming Christ crucified and what that means for us. There are so many ways to proclaim this. Lutherans are fond of the forensic method, namely, that justification is described in legal terms of guilt and forgiveness. Jack Preus III wrote a book several years back that looked at other ways to preach evangelically that did not rely solely on a forensic approach.

I view preaching as an art. True masters are rare, but I have read and heard many who are quite good. Unfortunately, modern Evangelical preachers rarely fall into those categories. Much of what I read and hear from them can best be described as children finger painting.

Honestly, we don't need all sorts of gimmicks, jokes, object lessons, etc. What we need to be doing is preaching the pure gospel. If you are consistent with this, over time you will become rather good at preaching Christ crucified.

Our market-engineered society wants fancy presentations. But one of the best preachers I have been blessed to hear and read is Dr. Norman Nagel. He read from his manuscript (this is very much contrary to what we were taught in preaching classes!), but His preaching dripped with the gospel. That's the kind of passion we need: gospel overflowing. Another wonderful preacher is Dr. Rossow. He is very polished, and is a master at using language and imagery to soak you with the gospel. Walter Keller is another great preacher who is a master of Pauline preaching. There are countless other examples.

Evangelical preachers need to get back to really preaching the pure gospel. Americans need to really, really hear the proclamation that Christ died for their sins.