Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Theological Disciplines

"Systematics exists to...demonstrate the inner coherence of revelation, while the exegetical and historical disciplines have the perennial task of restraining the dogmatician from building literary babels."

That's beautifully said! The quote is from John R. Stephenson, p. 282 in the volume "All Theology is Christology: essays in honor of David P. Scaer."

Calvin and Luther on Universal Salvation: 1 Timothy 2:4 (Part 3)

From our exploration of Calvin’s sermon and Luther’s lectures, it is now possible to see both the similarities and the differences in their approach. First of all, it is evident that the question of “Why are some saved and not others?” was a critical issue for each theologian, and did influence their interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:3-5. It does seem that the question weighed more heavily on the mind of Calvin, and was a more explicit factor in driving his interpretation. Yet for both theologians, the fact that all men are not saved in the end, had to be reconciled with the revealed will of God that all men be saved, as it is expressed in this passage of the Bible. Both formulated a solution that “solved” the problem in the mind of each theologian.

Calvin’s solution was to make the universal “all men” into a more generic, qualified “all,” by changing the emphasis to mean “all sorts and kinds of people” rather than all individuals. The problems with this explanation were examined above, but the most significant concern is that Calvin accorded to God a will for some men to be cast away to damnation. This teaching is not found in Scripture, but is the rational formulation of theologians who want to take the next logical step from the clear Scriptural teaching that God predestines some to salvation. Calvin wanted to finish the sentence by saying that God also predestines some to damnation. But 1 Timothy 2:4 clearly says that God desires all men to be saved. Calvin circumvented this by limiting the “all.”

Luther similarly could not reconcile the fact that some are damned, with God’s apparent will for all to be saved, as expressed in 1 Timothy 2:4. Thus he proceeded with an alternate interpretation of what “salvation” meant, reducing it from it’s traditional sense (and that which is most common in Scripture) to a more secular sense of earthly welfare. He focused on the context of prayers being made for all people and rulers in the earthly realm, and posited that therefore the salvation that God desires for all men is simply an earthly matter. He thereby accomplishes the same goal as Calvin, to avoid the possibility that God’s will was averted by man in that some men are not saved eternally. Both understand God as sovereign over salvation, and having an immutable will (although they did not say so in so many words in the respective texts).

However, we saw that this relies on a conception that God’s will by necessity causes whatever it is that He wills. This is true when God is working in the manner of the law or as the omnipotent Lord, but it is not the case when God is working through the Gospel to bring people to Christ. Since in the cross Jesus paid the full atonement for sin, He brings salvation as a gift to mankind, not through coercion, but through grace. All synergism is avoided when it is correctly acknowledged that God works monergistically for our salvation in Christ, even giving faith as a gift. However, this does not preclude the rejection of salvation by unbelievers. For they are able to avert God’s will for their salvation only because He is not acting as sovereign, but through grace and means which can be resisted. In other words, we do not teach “irresistible grace.”

Despite some similarities, there were also clear differences between Luther and Calvin. Luther took this passage as referring to temporal salvation and the knowledge of the truth as a general knowledge. Calvin on the other hand said that the knowledge of the truth cannot be separated from salvation, for God says that when people “come to a knowledge of the truth they shall be saved” (Calvin 6). It appears that Luther’s solution was not even on the radar for Calvin as a possibility. Likewise, Luther avoids the “decretum horrible” by never going so far as to posit a predestination of the damned (Green 72). Ultimately that has remained the key difference between Lutheranism and Calvinism. While “consistent predestination” is maintained by classical Calvinists, Lutherans accept a “broken concept” of predestination only to salvation.

While Calvin answers the question of “Why are some saved and not others?” by double predestination, and degrading the phrase “all men” into “some men,” Luther removes this passage from the debate over universal salvation entirely, by referring it only to temporal salvation. Both interpretations created new problems of their own, and do not satisfy the question. Ultimately we cannot know the answer to the question since the Bible does not seek to answer it. Nevertheless we can speak with the Bible to the fact that believers are saved through Christ by no merits of their own, and are eternally elected to this salvation; whereas unbelievers are damned because of their own rejection of the Gospel. In the end, Calvin and Luther’s conclusions were different regarding 1 Timothy 2, but the effect of both was the same: to attempt an explanation of salvation that neither compromised God’s will, nor freed man’s will.

Works Cited

Calvin, John. “The Salvation of All Men.” Sermon on 1 Timothy 2:3-5. Found on website: http://www.bibleteacher.org/jc_9.htm Pagination given in the citations of this paper is based on the text cut and pasted into Microsoft Word.
Green, Lowell. “Luther's Understanding of the Freedom of God and the Salvation of Man : His Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4.” Archive for Reformation History 87 (1996): 57-73.
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 28. Trans. by Richard J. Dinda, ed. by Hilton C. Oswald. St. Louis, CPH: 1973.

Calvin and Luther on Universal Salvation: 1 Timothy 2:4 (Part 2)

Martin Luther’s Lectures on 1 Timothy will provide the basis for examining how he interpreted 1 Timothy 2:3-5 in relation to universal salvation. The primary concern that arises in his treatment of this passage is that there is no salvation apart from God in Christ. This is evidenced by Luther’s statements, “He causes all men to be saved, therefore He is the only Savior,” and “outside of God there is no salvation” (Luther 261). Here Luther shows that since God is the one who wills salvation, and there is only one God, then there must not be any other Savior or source of salvation. This affirms what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture (cf. John 14:6, Acts 4:12). While Luther so far has proved that God is the only actor in our salvation, he nevertheless recognizes that all people are not in fact saved. This leads into his second concern.

The critical issue for Luther is not really whether or not “all men” is truly universal, but rather does “salvation” mean temporal or eternal salvation (Luther 261). This is a surprising twist on the interpretation of this passage. First Luther says that the statement can be taken either way, because in both cases it is still God alone who saves (Luther 261). But he proceeds to say that he believes it refers to general salvation, by which he means God’s protection from “the perils of adultery, fornication, poverty, error” and other such things (Luther 261). Why does he interpret it thus? He uses a passage from 1 Timothy 4:10, “He is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe,” to show that Paul distinguishes between “all men” and “those who believe” (Luther 261-2). From this he asserts that God saves the latter eternally, but not the former; and so we should understand Paul as referring only to general salvation for all men (Luther 262).

He expands his argument for temporal salvation by referring to the close context of 1 Timothy 2:1-2 which tells us to pray for all people, for as Luther says “such a prayer for men is acceptable, even if they are wicked” (Luther 262). According to Luther, when Paul says that God desires all men to be saved, Paul truly means “all men,” but only in the sense of offering them temporal salvation such as peace, sun and rain, etc (Luther 262). Certainly we cannot deny that God is the giver of all good things, and that He causes it to rain on the just and on the unjust alike (Mt. 5:45), but does “salvation” really mean that here?

In an article explaining how Luther dealt with this passage, Lowell Green gives further insight to why Luther understood this only as temporal salvation. In other writings, Luther pointed out that the Greek word for salvation in this verse, swthenai (root = swzw), can mean preserving or rescuing from natural dangers and afflictions (Green 59). Luther compared this usage to other passages in the Gospels where the same verb swzw is used in conjunction with healing miracles, like Matthew 9:22, (ESV) “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well (seswken).’ And instantly the woman was made well (eswthe).” However, while it is often used in that sense, the predominant usage of the verb swzw in the New Testament is to refer to eternal salvation—salvation from sin, death, and the devil (cf. Mt. 1:21, 18:11; Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:17; etc). But how do we know which sense is meant? Obviously the context will dictate the interpretation. So has Luther sufficiently proved from the context that temporal salvation rather than eternal salvation is meant in 1 Timothy 2:4?

The whole verse reads, “who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (emphasis mine). The latter half of the verse explains what is meant by “to be saved,” namely that they come to a knowledge of the truth. Throughout the New Testament “truth” is used to refer to divine knowledge, especially saving knowledge (e.g. Jn. 8:32, 14:6; Gal. 2:5, etc.). In the light of this latter portion of verse 4, as well as the statement in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 that there is “One mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,” the case seems strong for understanding salvation as eternal in this context. But here Luther is consistent in following the conclusions of his interpretation, in that he does not refer “knowledge of the truth” to a saving knowledge, but rather a general knowledge, that all men “may know the source from which they receive their blessings” (Luther 263). So in order to be consistent with his interpretation of swthenai as temporal salvation—the providence of God over creation—Luther reads “knowledge of the truth” as a “first article” knowledge of God as creator and giver; not a redemptive “second article” knowledge of Christ as Savior (Green 59).

Interestingly, Lowell Green notes that Luther in practice was inconsistent on this interpretation. For while he spoke of this “knowledge of the truth” as a general knowledge during his lectures on 1 Timothy, when he was in the pulpit he equated truth with the gospel, namely the truth regarding eternal salvation (Green 66). In fact, even in his lectures on 1 Timothy the inconsistency is apparent. He begins by pointing out that Christ gave us the command to “Go and preach to every creature” (Mt. 28:19), because He (God) “exposes to absolutely all men the light or knowledge of the truth” (Luther 263). Here Luther is equating the mission of the Gospel to all nations with the knowledge of the truth, contrary to his earlier (and later) statements about general knowledge. Luther continues in the same passage to say that the Gospel comes so that all men may know it; yet “Many do not know it” (Luther 263). Here Luther encounters the question of why some and not others, and in the next sentence he states, “This relates to His most secret will…These questions are too deep for you to explore…We must think about those matters which have been expounded and given to us” (Luther 263). Thus Luther directs the believer away from such questions, knowing that we cannot understand why not everyone is saved. Luther speaks of a hidden will of God which cannot be grasped, and urges us to focus on and learn from the revealed will of God. But after treating this question as if the passage meant eternal salvation, Luther proceeds to say that the passage is clearly about temporal salvation and welfare, and that people recognize God as the source of such blessings.

Disregarding these inconsistencies, is there still a deeper motivation for Martin Luther’s interpretation? The deeper issue for Luther may have to do with the will of God, and is not directly evident from the Lectures on 1 Timothy themselves. Lowell Green explains this critical concern of Luther, and suggests a reason why Luther read this passage in the light of temporal salvation and general knowledge rather than eternal salvation and saving knowledge. Green thinks Luther’s concern was with God’s will, and whether or not it can be averted by the human will. He quotes from one of Luther’s sermons on this text, “If our will hinders God’s will, it must be stronger than God’s will, and that which he wills need not occur, if we are not willing” (Green 63). Consequently, in the pericope under study, if God were to will the eternal salvation of all men, then all men would in fact be saved because our human will cannot hinder or be stronger than God’s will. This is a very forceful conclusion, and firmly denies the free human will, and places salvation completely under God’s sovereignty. This would explain why Luther interpreted this passage as referring to temporal salvation, because if it referred to eternal salvation the fact that some men are damned would seem to contradict the immutable will of God. But taking into consideration some of the inconsistencies of Luther’s understanding of 1 Timothy 2:4, and also that he always emphasized salvation was under Christ’s cross, there is certainly more to the broader picture than we are able to examine here.

But in the lectures here, by applying the distinction between temporal and eternal salvation, Luther appears to have dodged the question of “Why are some saved and not others?”, by removing this text altogether from the debate over eternal salvation. But has he truly guarded the will of God by moving this passage into the realm of temporal salvation? For if it is truly God’s immutable will that all men be saved with a temporal salvation (i.e. have food, health, peace, good fortune), and come to a general knowledge of the truth (that God is the giver of these blessings), has God’s will truly been met? Is it not evident from the world around us that millions of people are starving, impoverished, stricken by war and disease in third-world countries around the planet? Have they received temporal salvation? No, it seems that rather than safeguarding God’s will by changing the realm of salvation to which Paul refers, Luther has only relocated the problem. Just as the fact that God wills all men to be saved eternally, and yet some are not, does not mean that God’s will is too weak to accomplish what He desires—neither does the fact that all people are not saved temporally with peace and welfare, mean that God’s will is weaker than the evil that assaults our daily lives.

The problem is that Luther’s conclusion: “If our will hinders God’s will, it must be stronger than God’s will, and that which he wills need not occur, if we are not willing,” presents God’s will only in the manner of the Law. It is certainly true that God’s will is stronger than ours, but this is not the thrust of 1 Timothy 2:4 in the will of God for all men to be saved. The simple reason is that when God is bringing men to faith in Christ, God works through the Gospel, not through coercion, and thus can be and is resisted. According to Green, Luther also states this, that man has a will to reject salvation and that God does not force them to be saved (Green 64-5). Consequently, although man’s will is certainly not free—as faith in Christ and salvation come completely as a gift—the human will can reject the Gospel which is given, because God does not force salvation upon the unwilling. It must here be asserted for clarity that this does not imply an inherent difference in quality between believers and unbelievers, such that God elected the faithful in view of their faith (intuitu fidei). Rather, salvation for all men is willed by God, and He freely gives out this knowledge of the truth to all who would receive it, and His elect are saved completely by grace, whereas the unbelievers are condemned on their own fault, not because God predestined them for damnation.

Calvin and Luther on Universal Salvation: 1 Timothy 2:4 (Part 1)

One of the most difficult questions that Christianity has faced throughout its history is the inevitable, “Why are some saved and not others?” Some have sought to answer this question by positing the free will of mankind to choose or reject salvation. Yet this apparently simple solution contradicts several Biblical teachings, including predestination or election. But once a person admits that the Bible does not teach a free will for man, but rather that God has predestined believers to belong to Him (Eph. 1:4-5), then the question becomes all the more pointed. If man cannot freely choose salvation, and God must grant it, then why are some people damned if they cannot avoid it? In order to see how Calvin and Luther addressed this vexing question, a crucial passage for this debate will be examined: 1 Timothy 2:3-5 (ESV)

[3] This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, [4] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

In their interpretation of this passage the two reformers faced the question of universal salvation (Was the Gospel given to all men?). While Luther and Calvin dealt with 1 Timothy 2:4 in significantly different ways, their end conclusions, though by no means identical, have more in common than might be expected.

John Calvin’s sermon on 1 Timothy 2:3-5 reveals the essentials of his theology concerning universal salvation. In this sermon Calvin exposes several of the issues at stake for him in interpreting this passage, and how he handles the interpretation will be critiqued here. First of the issues that Calvin faces in this passage is the fact that not all people are saved. Although he recognized that this passage teaches “that God will have all the world to be saved,” he must reconcile this with the fact that all people are not saved (Calvin 1). Thus he states that when Paul wrote “all men,” he “speaketh not of every particular man, but of all sorts of men, and of all people” (Calvin 1). This is a very slippery way of speaking, suggesting that God does not want all individuals to be saved—which negates the universal “all.” The sentence then becomes contorted, to explain how God wants all groups of people to be saved without desiring the salvation of all particular individuals. Why not just say God desires “some men” or “certain men” to be saved? Despite frequent statements to the effect that salvation is for all, it must be kept in mind that for Calvin “all” does not mean “all.” In fact he contradicts himself when he first says that God’s grace is only for His chosen, but soon after says that “His grace is poured out upon all the world” (Calvin 5). Unless “world” is redefined to mean only the chosen, he has just stated that grace is poured out on the non-elect also.

Calvin expounds further about what “all men” means. According to him it shows that while in the past (Old Testament era) God chose Israel, now He has expanded His promises to all races of men (Calvin 1). Calvin considered this a new thing, that the Gospel was to be spread to the whole earth. For proof of this, he cites Acts 14(:16), which says that “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways (or ‘ignorance’ as Calvin puts it)” (Calvin 3). This verse seems to support his statement that God’s will is consistent and that God did not want everyone to be saved in the Old Testament. However, the following verse in Acts shows this is simply false: “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven,” etc (Acts 14:17). This together with Romans 1:19-21 shows that the Gentiles unbelievers were without excuse, for they knew God but did not honor Him.

Thus, while the New Testament definitely does witness a broadening of the Gospel call to all nations, it does not fit with the Biblical data to claim that God did not will salvation for Gentiles. He did leave them a witness, and so they are without excuse. Fortunately, though, Calvin does not allow this belief to restrict his understanding of missions. He repeatedly emphasizes that
"God will have His grace made known to all the world, and His Gospel preached to all creatures. Therefore we must endeavor, as much as possible, to persuade those who are strangers to the faith, and seem to be utterly deprived of the goodness of God, to accept of salvation (Calvin 6)."

The felicitous inconsistency in his theology is that although he does not believe God actually desires every person to be saved by the Gospel, he does believe that the Gospel should be preached to them all, especially those who seem “banished from the kingdom of God”(Calvin1).

Related to this mission concern is another pertinent hermeneutical issue for Calvin in 1 Timothy 2:4. His interpretation separates an undefined group of people whom God does not actually will to be saved, out of the phrase “all men to be saved,” thus creating the appearance of two wills in God. Calvin acknowledges that this seems to be so, yet he maintains that in fact God does not have two wills, but Scripture only speaks that way to accommodate to “our grossness and want of understanding” (Calvin 3). However, the enigma that Calvin runs into is not necessary. Although Calvin rightly notes that 1 Timothy 2 does not teach about God’s election (Calvin 3), one might also add that neither does it speak of God’s foreknowledge. It simply shows that it is His will that all be saved. Thus there are not contradicting wills in God—He wills that all be saved; yet according to His foreknowledge He knows that some will not be saved. But to this Calvin adds that if God knew they would not be saved, then He must will to damn them.
Two other closely-related issues for Calvin are that the doctrine of election be maintained, and that it be asserted that our depraved sinful nature does not have a free will (Calvin 2). These are both teachings that Luther also desired to maintain. Calvin correctly states that “We are so contrary in our nature, and such enemies to God, that we cannot but resist Him,” and that we cannot come to salvation in the Gospel “unless God draw us to it by His Holy Spirit” (Calvin 2). Luther would heartily agree, and assert that man has no free will in matters of salvation. Calvin is also right to state that God does not draw everyone, but only those whom He pleases (Calvin 2). When Calvin notes that God offers His Gospel to all, he then queries if it therefore profits all men—to which he answers no (Calvin 5). Here again Calvin and Luther agree—the Bible does not teach universalism. However, when Calvin concludes that those who are not saved must have been predestined by God to that fate, the critical difference arises.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A thought on Objective Justification

In an article about the state of confessional Lutheranism, I read this interesting quote today: (the quote is speaking of the difference between the Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic understanding of the atonement)

"The Tridentine paradigm has Christ earning not the free gift of salvation as such, but only the opportunity to earn salvation with the aid of divine grace! In other words, the classic Roman Catholic paradigm denies the intensive perfection of Christ's saving work. Calvinism on the other hand affirms the intensive, but denies the extensive perfection of that work. In that view Christ won full and free salvation, but not for all mankind, rather only for the elect. The plain fact is that only the Church of the Augsburg Confession teaches both the intensive and the extensive perfection of Christ's reconciling work--all sins of all men have been fully expiated (II Cor. 5:19-21). All that remains is to receive this gift in faith--an that appropriating faith is itself a gift!"

I've heard this before, but it caught my eye again, as it identifies the flaw in the respective understandings of the doctrine of the atonement.

The above quote is from the article "The Church in the Twenty-First Century: Will there be a Lutheran One?" p. 195 By Kurt Marquart, in the volume "All Theology is Christology: essays in honor of David P. Scaer"

Sermon on John 14:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading, John 14, especially verses 6-7 and 9b: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

The other day on an interpretive hike at the Wichita Mountains, I had an interesting encounter with a man and his wife who told me they belonged to a Unitarian church. When I asked what they believed there and what they believed regarding Jesus, he basically said that you can believe whatever you want, and there are no creeds. He said you’ll never hear mention of sin, hell, or even heaven there. Although you might hear the pastor say there might be a heaven, and if there is, everybody will be there. Regarding Jesus, he said they don’t believe He was sent from God, but He was basically a good person and a good teacher. They also deny that God is a Trinity. I couldn’t help but be surprised at how almost point by point, everything he said was entirely opposite of what Jesus teaches here in the Gospel reading. It was truly a sad experience, and left me wondering why he could think Jesus was a good teacher, if he disregarded the most important things that Jesus taught about Himself and about salvation. And if he truly believed that there was a God, why is it that this man didn’t seem concerned to know what that God has to say about our relationship with Him, and the truths about the afterlife? He may have found it comforting to think that if there is a heaven, everyone will be there; but is that what God actually says?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks in entirely different terms. He says clearly, without ambiguity, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. He speaks in absolute terms about salvation and the afterlife, reaffirming to His disciples that His Father’s house is a real place, and that He is going there. You also can’t miss the fact that Jesus is speaking of the Trinity here, and although the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned in today’s Gospel selection, you only have to read the rest of John 14 to find Jesus speaking of the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus and the Father will send. But what does it mean that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? What is Jesus teaching us by these words?

Our brother Thomas helps us figure out the first part. Jesus told His disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas interrupts, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This was one of those moments where they knew something, but just didn’t realize it. Thomas had, of course, just heard Jesus say He was going to His Father’s house; but Thomas didn’t think he knew where that was, or what was the way to get there. Then Jesus opened the disciple’s eyes, and they had one of those “AHA!” moments, where the light bulb comes on. The light bulb came on when He said “I AM the Way.” Suddenly Thomas and the rest realized that they did in fact know the Way to get to the Father, because they knew Jesus. Perhaps they were expecting to get a roadmap and directions; instead they were shown the Person of Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the Way, and He Himself leads us on the Way. He is the expert navigator who will safely guide us through the snares of this life, taking us safely home to His Father and our Father. We can trust in Him because He is the Way and He is our guide. And He tells us that He is the only Way to the Father, for no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. What He’s saying is that all other ‘ways’ are closed. There are no back roads or alternate ways to the Father. Jesus’ words stand in stark contrast to the Unitarian belief that all paths lead to the same God. Jesus says He is the only Way. He says this, not because He wants to keep people from getting to the Father, but rather because He wants them to know the right Way to get there. He doesn’t want people taking dead-end roads. But sadly, many have chosen to travel dead-end roads. It is those people especially that need to hear our Christian witness. God indeed wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth, but here He shows that there is only one path, One Way.

And since God wants all men to come to a knowledge of the Truth, Jesus also tells us that He is the Truth. He is the Truth because He came to reveal the Truth concerning the Kingdom of God and the Truth concerning God. Jesus came as God-in-person to reveal the Father’s will, the Father’s image, and the Father’s love. Since no one had ever seen God, Jesus appeared in flesh to show this Truth by His teachings, life, death, and resurrection. He taught that the Father’s will was that “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). And He showed the Father’s love by His death on the cross for our sin. But how did Christ show the Truth of the Father’s image? Jesus explained this in the rest of today’s Gospel reading.

He tells us this in a series of statements that have a unique progression to them. First Jesus says that to Know Him is to Know His Father; second, that by Knowing Him they have Seen Him; and third, that to See Him is to See His Father. But our brother Philip interrupted Jesus before He could make His third point. Again, like Thomas, he was a little confused. Jesus said “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” Philip was a little unprepared for this jump. He knew Jesus, and Jesus said that meant He also knew the Father. But now He says that also meant that he has seen the Father! Philip’s probably thinking, “Whoa, back up the train a minute. Hold on here. When have I ever seen the Father?” So he tells Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” It’s like he thought that he had missed something, and was asking for a replay. And you can just hear the patience in Jesus’ answer:

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” It wasn’t the first time that Jesus had said something like this. He had said before “whoever sees me sees Him who sent me” (John 12:45). He had taught the disciples and the other Jews that He and the Father were One (John 10:30). He had said that He did nothing of His own authority, but spoke as His Father taught Him (John 8:28). There were plenty of times when Philip and the disciples had heard Jesus teach this Truth again and again. Yet even after such a long time, they still didn’t understand. (So maybe there’s hope for us too!) So Jesus made it clear in His third point: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Another light bulb moment. All this time they knew and saw Jesus, and didn’t realize that in doing so they were knowing and seeing the Father. In this great mystery of the Trinity, we learn that “the Son is the radiance of the God’s glory and the exact representation His being” (Heb. 1:3). Seeing Christ is seeing the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

By looking at Christ, we have a clear picture of the Father’s will, His image, and His love. This is because the Father lives in Him, and because Jesus is in the Father. In Christ all the fullness of the deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9). And so we see what Jesus meant in His threefold explanation: First, that to Know Him is to Know His Father; second, that by Knowing Him they have Seen Him; and third, that to See Him is to See His Father. This close relationship between knowing Jesus and seeing the Father is crucial for us Christians today. For we have not seen Christ physically, eye to eye, as Philip and the disciples had. So all the more for us it is important that we understand that to know Jesus is to know the Father, and thereby to see the Father. We, of course, know Jesus through the Word that has been proclaimed to us, and by the Holy Spirit granting us faith in that Word. We know Jesus by faith, and thereby know the Father also. And seeing Jesus by faith, as the Scriptures depict Him for us, we also see the Father by faith. So that when we finally arrive in our Father’s mansion in heaven, it won’t be like coming to a stranger’s house. Rather, you might hear us remark, “I feel like I’ve known Him all my life!” For indeed you have. For by knowing Jesus you know the Father. And we will at last be at home, because Jesus is also The Life.

This last and final part of Jesus’ statement points to the eternal promise of our Savior: that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life, and be raised from the dead on the Last Day. Jesus is the Life, because through His death on the cross He defeated death, and by His resurrection He has opened to us the Way to everlasting life. And by faith and rebirth in Baptism He grants us the same resurrection to life. As the hymn writer puts it, “You are the life; the rending tomb proclaims your conqu’ring arm; and those who put their trust in you not death nor hell shall harm.” Christ’s breaking forth from the tomb proclaims that He has conquered death. Since death lies defeated, we who believe in Jesus cannot be harmed by death or hell. We are safely on the Way to Heaven in the One who is the Way and the Life. The grave is not the end for us; by Jesus’ Life we shall also have life in heaven. For He has prepared an eternal home for us to inhabit with God and all believers in Christ. A life in communion with God, clothed in our resurrected bodies. For that Last Day we pray and we wait.

But until that day, we can have a sure hope and confidence, for we do know where Jesus has gone, and we do know the Way. For He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is everything we need for our Journey home, and through Him we have seen the Father. And that is enough for us. Lord, keep us always surefooted on the Way, as you teach us your Truth, and give us your Life. In Jesus name, Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Praying the Psalms With Christ

This is my most recent church newsletter. It was rather hastily done, so I apologize for any poor writing or incomplete thoughts. I wish I had more time to develop it more fully and orderly.>>>

Many of us use the Psalms as a regular part of our daily prayer and devotional life, especially if you use the “Portals of Prayer.” The Psalms are deeply loved by Christians because of their passionate humanity and the way in which they speak to so many of our situations in life. There seems to be a Psalm for nearly every range of emotion in life: for times of joy and laughter, for times of thanksgiving and praise, for times of sorrow and hurt, for times of suffering and guilt. There are Psalms that look forward to our promised Messiah, and there are Psalms that pray for deliverance from our enemies. Through the centuries of the church, going back to the times of the ancient Hebrews, the Psalms have been a regular part of the worship and prayer life of believers in God. The Psalms were literally the songbook or hymnal of the Old Testament church, and this has been carried on into the church today, as even now we sing the Psalms during worship.

But I myself have found that for much of my life, while using the Psalms in prayer, in devotions, or in worship, I was not grasping the full richness and depth of the Psalms. While I certainly don’t claim to have achieved anything even approaching a full understanding of the depth and richness of the Psalter, I have learned a great deal more since my years at the Seminary began. To show you what I mean, I want to first turn to Luke 24:44ff. Here Jesus is giving the two disciples on the road to Emmaus a tremendously important lesson on how to understand the Old Testament. He explains to them that “ ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:44-47). He had also just before, spent time walking through the Scriptures, beginning from Moses and all the Prophets, explaining to them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27). So here Christ gives the disciples the key to understanding the whole Old Testament Scriptures: Christ Himself. He is the person to whom the whole of Scripture testifies, as He said again in John 5:39. From the books of Moses, to the Prophets, to the Psalms, all the Old Testament was pointing forward to Christ.

So as we apply this specifically to our reading of the Psalms, we ask how is it that the Psalms testify concerning Christ? Without trying to over-generalize, we must first say that each Psalm must be looked at individually. Some Psalms are very clearly prophetic of Christ, such as Psalm 2, 16, 22, 69, and 110 are some of the more obvious ones, as they are quoted or referred to in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews also places several of the Psalms in the mouth of the Father (e.g. Heb. 1:5/ Ps. 2:7), Jesus Himself (e.g. Heb. 2:12/ Ps. 22:22; Heb. 10:5/ Ps. 40:6-8), and the Holy Spirit (e.g. Heb. 3:7/Ps. 95:7-11). To state it simply, the Psalms are full of Christ, whether it is He Himself speaking, or whether He is being spoken of. So how is it that the church, or King David, or Solomon, or even we can use the Psalms as our own prayer/songbook?

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter together? It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of the human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer.” Bonhoeffer continues, “Who prays the Psalms? David (Solomon, Asaph, etc) prays, Christ prays, we pray.”

When you pray the Psalms in this light, I have confidence that you will see their meaning open up and unfold more and more. When we see the Psalms as first of all speaking of Christ, and read them as if Christ Himself were praying them, we will see the anguish and the suffering that He Himself participated in as He became part of humanity. Likewise we see His joy and trust in God in the midst of all circumstances, and His praise for God. And since we see Christ in the Psalms, we also see ourselves (as well as David or the other human authors). For in the Psalms our prayer is caught up together with Christ’s prayer, as He prays with us, as our One Mediator to the Father (1 Tim. 2:5). In your devotions, try reading the Psalms through the eyes of Christ, and see if your understanding isn’t enriched. As we read the Psalms and indeed the rest of Scripture we will continually find that these are indeed testifying of Christ (John 5:39). And as we are in Christ, we find renewed comfort and hope in the words of the Psalms, which are simultaneously our prayers, as broken sinners, and the prayers of Christ who bore our sins and sufferings in His body.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A brief thought on Law-Gospel Preaching

It seems to me that the question of whether the "Gospel predominates" in a sermon has been somewhat of a bugaboo for seminarians (myself included) and pastors ever since Walther said it. As I was musing about how one might know when the Gospel is predominating, rather than the Law, I came up with this criteria: In a sermon you know that the Gospel is predominating WHEN ALL THE LAW HAS BEEN RESOLVED, specifically IN CHRIST. If the Law that is preached remains unresolved, the law has predominated. If the Law has been brought to its resolution (or 'end'; cf Rom. 10:4) in Christ Jesus, then the Gospel predominates. Thus it does not become a question of percentages or ratios; whether 4 pages were law and one was Gospel, or whether you spent twice as long talking about the Gospel. But instead the question is whether the accusation of the Law has adequately been answered by the Gospel of Christ. So there's my thought. I don't claim its original; it may be a concoction of what I have learned previously coming subconsciously to the surface :) I have to go back now and review Walther's thesis to see how that criteria compares.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Back in Business!

Well, I've been on about a 3 week hiatus from blogging as my fiancee and parents were in town, and had a wonderful time w/ them. I just posted a sermon on Acts 2 from a week ago, and should have some new stuff up eventually. Until then...!

Sermon on Acts 2:36-41

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text for this Third Sunday of Easter is Acts 2:36-41,

36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

When the Apostle Peter first preached this sermon in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection, he addressed a crowd of Jews and Gentile proselytes from many different nations. They were living in a corrupt and wicked generation just as we are today. It can hardly be questioned that today’s generation is every bit as corrupt as it was in the first century A.D. Despite the fact that statistics claim the United States is largely a nation made up of Christians, our generation’s morals don’t always reflect that claim. Instead we find widespread moral permissiveness, and the collective conscience of society is growing more and more numb. Things that were once considered unacceptable to society, such as homosexuality, are gradually gaining more and more acceptance in our generation. We are witnessing what St. Paul described as people “glorying in their shame” (Phil. 3:19). In areas of scientific research, technology has progressed to a point where life can be manipulated in ways not possible until now, and science and medicine are crossing into realms that ethics haven’t yet explored. Often the rationale for doing such things is simply, “If we can do it, we should.” An “end justifies the means” philosophy is prevalent in this generation. But who will save us from this corrupt generation?

It’s at this point that I have to make a very important side note about the NIV translation of Acts 2:40. The NIV reads, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” which is a major mistranslation, that also occurs in several other English translations. What it should say is “Be saved from this corrupt generation.” And this is not just a matter of translator’s preferences, or some ambiguity in how the original Greek reads; the grammar is simple and clear, “Be saved.” And why is that so important? Well, for Peter to have told the gathering of Jews and Gentiles to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” would have been about as useful as telling them to grow purple wings and fly. It’s just that absurd. They could not save themselves from their corrupt generation any more than you or I can save ourselves from our corrupt generation. “Save yourselves” makes us the ‘actors’; make us the ‘doers,’ when in fact we don’t have the capability to save ourselves. Rather, with Peter I say to each of you, “Be saved” because there is One Actor who is capable of saving us from this corrupt generation, and He is Jesus Christ. When Peter said “Be Saved” it was clear that he was telling them to be saved by Jesus Christ, in the same way as he had just said a few verses earlier “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is the One whom the Father made both Lord and Christ, who is powerful to save us.

So if Christ is the One who saves us, where are the cries of sorrow and repentance from this generation? Where are the cries of “What shall we do?” The Apostle Peter’s listener’s were cut to the heart when they realized the wickedness of what they had done, and said with sincere grief and mourning, “What shall we do?” Peter had made it clear that the Messiah promised to the Jews, for whom they had waited for so long, was the very man Jesus who they despised, rejected, and crucified. What greater guilt could they feel than that from killing their promised Lord? There they were, standing guilty of a man’s blood, and it was not just any man, but the very Son of God! And knowing that the One they had killed had risen from the dead probably struck fear in their hearts as well. Who was this man who defeated death, and was He coming back for vengeance? They were very clearly convicted by Peter’s words, and their cries of “What shall we do?” showed their sorrow over their sin.

But where is the sorrow of this generation over our sin? Instead of being sorrowful over sin, our culture seems to glory in it. People are dying in unbelief and unrepentance, quite content with their sins, and with no visible signs of remorse. How can our generation be brought back to repentance and sorrow over sin? The answer is that we need to shine as lights in this world, in the midst of this crooked and twisted generation (Phil 2:15), to awaken our corrupt generation to its sinfulness. And we shine as lights because we are light in the Lord Jesus. It is His light that shines through us to awaken this corrupt generation. Our present culture and society needs to hear God’s Law, because the world needs to have its conscience reawakened to recognize the sins we have committed against God. People of our generation will see no need for a Savior until they realize that they have sinned against God, and are in need of saving. This starts with us standing up for what is right even when it isn’t popular. Among our families, and friends, and at work, we must be Christians of conviction—not willing to let the sins of this corrupt generation go by unnoticed and uninhibited. But rather we are to call our generation to repentance, so that they may receive Christ’s forgiveness.

We too, as believers need to have sorrow and contrition over our sin. We are regularly taught God’s Law; so we, of all people should know our own sin when we break those commandments. We should be cut to the heart whenever the Law rightly strikes home in condemning our sin. Here we stand, guilty of a man’s blood, and not just any man, but the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. We too are guilty of His blood, not because it was we who hung Him on the cross and crucified Him, but it was for our sins that He died. But the miraculous thing is that His blood is not on us for guilt, but for innocence! God does not condemn us for our guilt in Jesus’ death, but rather He counts us as innocent by faith in Jesus. And so we, along with the Pentecost crowd who asked Peter “What shall we do?” find great joy in Peter’s answer. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” There is great joy in these words, and these words welcomed about 3,000 souls into the Christian church that Pentecost, and these words continue to call people to the Lord today.

And these words need to be spoken to our generation today. For a wicked generation that has broken God’s commands, Jesus Christ comes, not bringing vengeance, but forgiveness and salvation. And He offers it to all who hear His Word, repent, and receive His baptism. From this short verse we learn so much about God’s gift of Baptism to us. Peter teaches us how forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit are brought to us—by baptism into Jesus name. How great a miracle it is that by simple water God cleanses our corruption? But Christians especially of this generation, and of the past few hundred years, stumble at these words of St. Peter. How can baptism bring forgiveness, they ask? To answer, we must not forget that it is not just plain water, but the “Word of God in and with the water that does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.” And that very Word of God which gives baptism its power, is the Name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into whom we are baptized. It is the power of God’s name, of Jesus’ name, which gives baptism the power to forgive.

Peter not only said “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” he also showed the power of Jesus’ Name by performing miracles and casting out demons, as recorded in Acts. Jesus’ Name will one day bring every knee to bow and tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; so how much more will that name bring forgiveness to those who are baptized into it? The forgiveness Jesus won at the cross is washed over you in your baptism, as His Holy Name is marked on your forehead.

And Peter also promised that in baptism we would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For us who are living in this present corrupt generation, baptism is essential to our survival. It brings us Christ’s forgiveness, as we fail and sin along our way, and it brings us the Holy Spirit, who teaches us Christ’s Word and focuses our faith on Jesus. The Spirit guides us in right paths and battles for us and with us against the attacks of the sinful world against our flesh. See how great God’s love for us is? He repays our sin with grace and our rebellion with free gifts! The Holy Spirit also teaches us to know our sins, so that we may continually live in repentance and forgiveness, so that we are not swept away with this unbelieving generation. So here we learn from St. Peter how closely tied together are baptism, the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ Name, and the Holy Spirit. All this is God’s way of pouring out His mercy on poor repentant sinners.

This is certainly an amazing promise for Peter to make to guilty sinners, asking “What shall we do?” But who does he make this promise to? To just anyone? To any broken sinner, no matter how great their sin, no matter how deep the hurt? Yes, ABSOLUTELY Yes! This promise of forgiveness by baptism into Jesus name is for everyone! “Repent and be baptized, every one of you,” Peter says. “This promise is for you AND your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Peter explicitly says this promise is for adults and children, and all afar off. Adults and children alike need this promise, because all are sinners in need of grace. And Christ has lived in and redeemed every stage of life, from the womb to the tomb, to eternal life! This promise is open for all, and it will be given freely to every person called to the waters of Baptism by the Lord our God—irrespective of age, gender, race, social status, and irrespective of the greatness of our sins. Since God valued each person’s life so much, that He sent His only Son to die for us, He wants to have each one of us for eternity with Him. And so He has blessed the waters of Baptism by the Word of Jesus Name, so that forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a renewed life in His name are literally poured out on us in a cleansing flood. And so Christ saves us from this corrupt generation. Not by our own efforts at purification, but by the purifying waters of Baptism in Jesus’ Name. For He has made those waters pure and holy, and He has called us to be clean in Him. Amen.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.