Archive for the ‘history’ Category

statechurch

For what seems an eternity, one of the ongoing accusations leveled by secularists against Christians and the Church was that Christians kept their heads in the clouds. Believers have been told they have been too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, that they needed to be where the action really was, directing their energies to down-to-earth, pragmatic deeds.

So it is with some astonishment that the faithful see Governor John Carney of Delaware, along with other state governors such as California’s Gavin Newsom, order church leaders and congregants to keep their nonessential heads in the tech cloud. Carney’s recommendation? “Do your best to practice your faith virtually.“

No matter how virtuous or sentimental their motives, the almost complete capitulation of priests and pastors to banishment by government leaders like Carney has been astonishing. Few have meaningfully protested the exile of the Church into the cloud. In fact, nearly all churches voluntarily have closed their sanctuaries and ascended into cyberspace.

The nearly universal retreat into the cloud meant that the Church accepted social distancing more severe than the six feet enforced by grocery stores. It meant church leaders distanced themselves from their congregations altogether, consigning their flocks to a cyber-environment that is COVID-19 free but certainly not free from the virus of political correctness enforced the church of Big Tech minders.

Basically, the Church acceded to a definition of itself as non-essential, thus relegating itself to the status of any other business or institution. By beating a retreat into the cloud, the Church shrank itself into the tech matrix, subjecting itself to the arbitrary touch of a fingertip or click of a mouse, becoming just another one of the gods inhabiting the cloud above Mt. Tech Olympus.

But what is just as important as the ascension of the Church into the cloud is the fact that state governments, now fortified by SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States], will expect churches to continue to follow severe restrictions set up during and after the total shutdown. Churches will be expected to follow regulatory requirements for reopening that amount to the equivalent of a “fundamental transformation” of the churches.

Government leaders, now heartened by the swing decision of Chief Justice John Roberts, will continue to commandeer the way church is done by altering the liturgy, the habits, and the ways and means of worship as surely as if an altar devoted to Zeus were placed in the sanctuaries and congregants were forced to bow down and offer incense to the god.

Delaware is but one example of the establishment of the new state churches. As of May 18, Delaware’s governor issued his state church initiatives, including the new liturgical practices conforming to COVID correctness:

Attendance is limited to a maximum of 30% of occupancy.

Social distancing of 6 feet or more is required (except for members of the same household).

The length of the service can be no longer than one hour.

Individuals age 13 and up are required to wear a cloth face covering.

Services are limited to one day per week.

Gathering times must be staggered to permit cleaning before the next service.

Churches are asked to establish a system for staggering the arrival of worshippers.

Older citizens are advised not to attend at all.

When have we seen similar draconian restrictions on the Church? It may help to review the Bolsheviks’ responses to the Orthodox church that formed Russia’s spiritual life from 988 A.D. on.

Robert Conquest, the author of Harvest of Sorrow, relates that Lenin’s letter of November 1913 to Maxim Gorky stated the party position quite flatly:

Every religious idea, every idea of God, is unutterable vileness … of the most dangerous kind, contagion of the most abominable kind. Millions of sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical contagions … are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of God decked out in the smartest ideological costumes. Every defense or justification of God, even the most refined, the best intentioned, is a justification of reaction.

In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church itself was considered a pathogen within society. Churches were regarded as ideologically germ-ridden places to be sanitized by correct thinking.

Lenin went on to say it was best to start the eradication of the church by giving “an impression of toleration with control, humiliation of the churches rather than with overt suppression.”

In sum, church activity was to be reduced to the performance of services alone. Russians were to practice their faith by ritual only, much as Governor Carney advises when he suggests Christians should learn to practice their faith “virtually.”

The exile of the churches into virtual reality provides an opportunity for some self-examination.

Perhaps the COVID-19 crisis will encourage church leaders to think about how and what happens when sanctuaries are vacated, and seven devils loosed by the State enter as the shutdown is somewhat lifted.

They might wish to reflect about what to do when the State wishes to cleanse the church of “diseased” doctrines — to think about what to do when the Church’s beliefs are declared hate speech pathogens.

Just as importantly, leaders also might think about how the flock has been deprived of community and thus of corporate worship and corporate prayer. They may wish to meditate on the sacramental aspect of the community of the saints.

For many if not most churches, the celebration of Holy Communion is when the body and blood of Christ are offered as essential spiritual food pastors and priests are required to dispense. But the shepherds of the flock almost universally have quit offering spiritual wine and bread, leaving their sheep to fend for themselves.

In short, within a space of weeks, Americans have seen the entirety of American Christendom shut down and the overnight ascension of what is essentially a secularist state church. The initially nascent state church has now been more firmly established by SCOTUS’s decision to allow state control of churches for reasons of “health.”

When any government even temporarily takes over the churches for any reason, it has essentially shattered the autonomy of the Church, making it subservient to the State. The Church under orders from the State is then subject to forcible conformance to State dogma.

The state that dictates when and where and how and to whom the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is administered is the state that has taken over the church and substituted its own sacraments. The state that dictates the how, when, and where of the baptism of children is the state that has created its own church. The state that decides when, where, and how many of the faithful can listen to the preaching of the Word or how many can assemble to pray together is the state that also dictates what is to be preached and prayed. The state that insists that worshipers wear and sing through face masks is the state that determines the way virtues of the state churches are signified. The state that ranks the Church of God to be an institution equal to bars, restaurants, and public schools is the state that will disregard the unique status of the Church and its constitutional rights.

As the directives from the state begin to strangle the Church, the latter is faced with a choice it probably should have made at the beginning of the state takeover. Pastors and priests must make the decision to open their churches to worship services and to continue the churches’ ministries as they were before the coronavirus coup. They must remember what the Church is and obey God rather than the State.

For if they do not, it’s predictable that the almighty State will squeeze the churches harder, requiring total conformity to the State that certainly seems ready to hijack the Church’s mission, to vitiate its standing in constitutional law, to appropriate its wealth, and to take over its institutions by force if necessary.

It’s time for all believers, leaders, and congregants alike, to remember the words of St. Ambrose:  “Not only for every idle word must man give an account, but for every idle silence.”

By Fay Voshell

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was awarded the Charles Hodge Prize for excellence in systematic theology. She is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and other online publications.

ussa-flag

 

Our situation is dire. We stand at the precipice, just as the Christian Russians did before the Bolshevik [revolution] annihilation.

We must mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare ourselves to stand up. We need thousands, and then tens of thousands, to gather together in public to defend our right to live. We must be non-violent, but we have to be physically present. We must come out of the shadows to risk everything before we are so oppressed that we have nothing left to defend, including our dignity.

Some people will be doxed, but the idea of doxing 10,000 is laughable, and pointless, and if 10,000 are doxed, there are places of comfort and support. Furthermore, 10,000 can turn into 100,000 and more. All people, of every color, fighting for God-given unalienable human rights must prepare themselves for suffering – temporary suffering for the greater good and to avoid WAR.

It is time to move to areas where we can gather together in communities. It is time to move and congregate in small groups that are willing to lead and organize. It is time to accept that they are coming for your job, and your property, and your reputation, and ALL of your rights: speech, arms, assembly, faith, and life.

You have to stand up to people who would do this to you. Because, if they would do this, they will take your life as soon as they have the power to do so. They rule us by intimidation and financial oppression. These people do not have real power against the group. They can censor and imprison individuals, and they do this to control and oppress the greater population. They know they cannot overtake the majority or even a significant minority of the majority.

But how are we to stand up? How are we to overcome our fears of financial insecurity, losing things we have or not getting things we want, imprisonment, social rejection, what we will eat, what we will wear, and where will we live? We worry we will risk all and our people won’t back us up. We know we lack power; we are demoralized. How are we to fight when we can’t keep our own marriages and families together? When parents and children are addicted to drugs, nicotine, alcohol, sugar, pornography, Hollywood filth, professional sports, gaming, and casual sex?

We have no common morality, no cohesive group, and have become such rugged individualists that we can’t get along with anyone. So we retreat, and atomize and withdraw further. Emotions rule us, we are soft in every way that we should be hardened. We are weak and prone to despondency and confusion. We don’t know where we came from or where we are going.

We accepted views of the world that have no meaning. Each of us has our own religion and therefore we are all atheists. We have abandoned discipline and discomfort, reading for television, fasting for gluttony, purity for lust, sacrifice for carnal pleasure, and we constantly do the same things, like alcoholics drinking the poison we know is killing us.

We inherently know what is good, right, and pure. We know these things. We know we are called to stand up for right, we know gratuitous sex, violence, vulgarity, and materialism are evil. We know what they bring, we know what drugs bring, drinking too much, we all know these things. What we lack is power.

Like the alcoholic, we are powerless over the type of evil that rapes and murders children, literally traffics children for sexual deviancy and political power (e.g. Epstein). Evil that uses the manipulation and emotional appeal of Hollywood to turn lies into truth and evil into good.

Evil that promotes and defends the murder of innocents in dozens of countries for the propagation of a truly racist state. An evil that facilitates countless wars in the name of lies, every form of degeneracy – a people who rule the world by deceit. They hide the genocide of women and children in America, South Africa, and Palestine. They conceal the greatest atrocities ever perpetrated in the history of the world during the Bolshevik takeover of Russia.

We cannot fight fire with fire, we cannot learn their tactics and turn their methods against them. We cannot defeat this kind of evil. We cannot become these people; it wouldn’t be worth it. It would be better to die than to be like them.

The alcoholic that recovers literally dies to himself. As a matter of survival, he admits that it has utterly beat him and that his only hope is to surrender to this truth. He then becomes willing to believe in a power greater than himself that has all power, and from this, a new man rises out of the ashes of the old, like a phoenix. He develops a new paradigm completely. He replaces drunkenness with sobriety, hopelessness with faith, changes every aspect of his life, and his outlook, and his actions and becomes a man that has Power.

This is our only hope. From the early Greek philosophers who understood eternal truth, the ultimate goal of transcendence, beauty for the sake of beauty and absolute morality, not dependent on relativity. They were Christians before Christ and they led the way for our pagan ancestors to accept the coming of the Logos.

This in turn led the way to more than two millennia of Western Christian order and beauty. This world has never seen power like the power of Christendom. It was only when that common faith, morality, and unity turned its eyes and its hopes toward the one and only God of the universe, that we were able to create real and lasting beauty on earth.

This beauty was created by the kind of fearlessness only people of real faith can have. Societies were created that strove to protect the innocent, and the weak, and the family, and the citizen. We all know the battles of the Christians, we all know the stories of the Martyrs, the fearlessness of the faithful.

The enemies of the Logos have deceived you. They will tell you anything you want to hear, to turn you away from that Power. They will tell you Christ is your enemy all the while they plot to kill him again and again in the hearts of our people just as they did at the Cross. You cannot deny there is none they hate as they HATE the Christ.

And without our faith, The Family of the Trinity, The balance of the paradox of absolute right and wrong with total redemption, fierce power with compassion, death with Resurrection, there is no purpose to your love. You don’t matter if there is no God. Only the cold and the ruthless of this natural fallen world you worship will prevail, and only they should prevail in that reality. In that view, the world is dead and meaningless, and only the strong deserve to live because there is no reality, no good, no God, everything is relative.

In the real world where nature and laws of nature are fallen by our weakness and restored by Our God, everything transcendent matters and everything physical matters because of the Incarnate God. And good wins, and water is purified, and death is conquered, drug addicts cleaned up, families reconciled, people unified under a common banner.

When Power is recognized as belonging only to the one true Trinitarian God of our fathers, and worship is removed from every satanic and evil thing they mesmerize us with, that is when we rise fearlessly from the ashes. We will throw off our self-imposed chains of weakness, despair, and addiction. We will march into battle like our forebears with Holy things, and Holy banners, and they will tremble at the power. And then if you die, you are martyred, and you die with no bondage, having lived in good health, internal peace, with intact families and dignity.

“Anyone who is capable of speaking the truth but remains silent, will be heavily judged by God, especially in this case, where the faith and the very foundation of the entire church of the Orthodox is in danger. To remain silent under these circumstances is to betray these, and the appropriate witness belongs to those that reproach (stand up for the faith).”

— St. Basil the Great

How long have we watched dissidents get canceled? How many years will we tell ourselves, we don’t have anything to contribute? That it’s better to keep your job and donate to the braver ones, only to sit on your money and quietly hide, never finding the courage to do the right thing.

If you are working and making money and honestly contributing significant amounts to truth tellers, keep doing it. But if you are going to live your whole life with dreams of valor that will never be realized, prepare for sacrifice. Ready yourself mentally, physically, spiritually, to give up all that you are holding onto. None of it will save you or add a cubit to you. And if you lack power, find the faith in the God that even the kings of our fathers worshiped.

~ by Rebecca Dillingham (edited)

Truth warrior, Jesus follower, wife, boy mom, and lifelong learner. Apologetics practitioner for Orthodox Christianity, the Southern tradition, homeschooling, and freedom. Recovering feminist-socialist-atheist, graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and retired mainstream journalist turned domesticated belle and rabble-rousing rhetorician. In my day-to-day life, I’m “Rebecca Dillingham” to most folks, “Mom” to my boys, “Baby” to my husband, “Becky” to my parents, “Beck-Nut” to my nieces and nephews, and my patron saint name “Ilia” to my parish. But here, I’m a dissident mama who’s adept at triggering leftists, so I’m going to bang as loudly as I can.

Just click on the picture!

city_wide-small

Neighbor

There are famous words from the Torah Portion Kedushim (Holy) that not only Jesus, but many Jewish sages before and after Him, considered to be the kernel of the all Jewish teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. These words from Leviticus 19 are quoted in all the Synoptic Gospels. However, only in the Gospel of Luke 10:29-37, is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan where the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is addressed. What was so shocking in Jesus’ interpretation of one’s neighbor?

The Continuity

The episode opens with a “lawyer” asking Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds with a question: “What is written in the law?” The lawyer quotes verses from the Torah known to all Jews of his time— Deut.6:5 and Lev.19:18. These verses had already been combined in Jewish thought and had indeed been considered to be the foundation of the whole Torah; so by this point we observe only continuity between the covenants.

The 3rd Man

The dialogue continues, however, and the famous parable follows; a man was attacked and left for dead and both a Priest and a Levite passed him by. There is a shocking aspect that may escape a non-Jewish reader – every Jew belongs to one of three groups; Priests, descended from Aaron; Levites, descended from Levi; and Israelites, descended from the other children of Jacob. Therefore, after the Priest and Levite, a first-century Jew would have expected mention of the third group—an Israelite.

The Challenge

However, the third person is not an Israelite but a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews. Moreover, the fact that this Samaritan proves to be a neighbor, while the Priest and the Levite fail, directly challenges the contemporary Jewish interpretation of the word “neighbor”. Thus, not only continuity, but also the innovation of [our Lord in] the New Testament, is evident here.

by Julia Bloom – Israel Biblical Studies

 

p. s. We should think of these things concerning our world today.

noahs-ark

Noah’s family and animals saved in the Ark.

In Genesis 6:14-22 it says, Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.

But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.” Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.”

In Genesis 7:1-24, the story continues, “Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male, and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” And Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah.

And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark— they and every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort. And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

Now the flood was on the earth forty days. The waters increased and lifted up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive. And the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days.”

Exodus in Genesis

Did you know that the story of Abram and Sarai’s journey into Egypt (Gen. 12:10–13:2), is not only about Abram and Sarah: it foreshadowed the Exodus of Israel that would happen 400 years later. In both accounts, we find a descent into Egypt as a result of “heavy famine,” plagues upon the Egyptians, and fleeing Egypt because of the plagues; and the departure from Egypt with great riches.

Moses, Israel’s Redeemer in an Ark

Our Bibles say that Noah and his family were saved in the Ark, the word is tevah in Hebrew. Surprisingly, we find the same word, tevah, in the story of Moses: however, most modern English translations say that Moses was put into a basket. The truth is baby Moses was put into an ark. Why would the Torah use the word “ark” here, instead of the common Hebrew word for basket? The answer is clear: to make an intentional link between the two stories—Noah prefigures Moses’ role as Israel’s redeemer.

Baptism as an Ark

In 1 Peter 3:18-22 we read, “Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit. In it, He went and preached to the spirits in prison, after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you – not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to Him.”

Noah and his family came through the water, in other words, “by means of water” in the ark, and so were saved by the water in spite of the floodwaters around them. So, baptism is our own spiritual resurrection. Because our regeneration is made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Listen to what Peter says earlier in 1 Peter 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This leads me to what I want to encourage you with today. Just as Noah and his family were saved in the Ark, and Moses was saved in an Ark, and we are saved in the Ark of baptism, we are being saved in the “Ark” of sheltering in place. God is protecting us by our government advising us to remain in the safety of our own homes. Ensuring us to make every effort of cleanliness like washing our hands, covering our coughs and sneezes, and disinfecting things around us, we are under God’s protection.

The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 7:1, “I come to you for protection, O LORD my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me!” Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The LORD protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.” Another example is from Psalm 31: 1-5, “I come to you, LORD, for protection; never let me be defeated. You are a righteous God; save me, I pray! Hear me! Save me now! Be my refuge to protect me; my defense to save me. You are my refuge and defense; guide me and lead me as you have promised. Keep me safe from the trap that has been set for me; shelter me from danger. I place myself in your care. You will save me, LORD; you are a faithful God.”

So, remember you are sheltering in place in the hands of God, held in His everlasting arms, underneath His mighty wings, guarded by His massive pinions, protecting you from this pestilence. You are being saved in the Ark of sheltering in place!

May God bless you all with His mercy and grace!  Amen!

Copyright © 2020 Gary DeSha

 

Historical Plagues

WHETHER ONE MAY FLEE FROM A DEADLY PLAGUE

1527

Translated by Carl J. Schindler

INTRODUCTION

The Black Death, which from 1347 to 1350 swept out of China or India to the Crimea and thence into Europe and as far as Iceland, killed one-fourth of the population of Europe. This traumatic experience left a deep emotional imprint on the religious life, outlook, art, literature, folk customs, and superstitions of medieval Europe. Four great epidemics swept Germany in the fifteenth century and further ones occurred in the sixteenth.

The bubonic plague, as we know it, is spread by infected rats and other vermin. It is communicated to human beings by fleas, through infection in cuts and abrasions of the skin, even (as Luther surmised in the writing that follows) by breathing the air which has been polluted when the sick cough up germs, and by contact with the clothing and excrement of the ill. The sickness, after a very short incubation period, manifests itself as a fever accompanied by rapid pulse and sometimes by spells of delirium, speech disorders, and loss of consciousness. On the second day boils as large as hen’s eggs appear on the neck, legs, or in the armpits. If the boils penetrate the lymph glands, they infect the bloodstream and lead to death within three or four days. In cases where the germs enter the bloodstream and multiply there, death can occur in a moment to an apparently healthy person. At the height of an epidemic, the mortality rate can range from 30 to 90 percent and even higher.

On August 2, 1527, this dread plague struck Wittenberg. Fearing for the safety of Luther and the other professors at the university, Elector John, on August 10, ordered Luther to leave for Jena. Five days later the university moved to Jena, then to Schlieben near Wittenberg, where it remained until April of the following year. Unmoved by the elector’s letter or by the pleas of his friends, Luther, along with Bugenhagen, stayed to minister to the sick and frightened people. By August 19 there were eighteen deaths; the wife of the mayor, Tilo Dene, died almost in Luther’s arms; his own wife was pregnant and two women were sick in his own house; his little son Hans refused to eat for three days; chaplain George Rörer’s wife, also pregnant, took sick and lost both her baby and her life; Bugenhagen and his family then moved into Luther’s house for mutual encouragement. Writing to Amsdorf, Luther spoke about his Anfechtungen and about the hospital in his house, closing his letter by saying, “So there are battles without and terrors within and really grim ones; Christ is punishing us. It is a comfort that we can confront Satan’s fury with the word of God, which we have, and which saves souls even if that one should devour our bodies. Commend us to the brethren and yourself to pray for us that we may endure bravely under the hand of the Lord and overcome the power and cunning of Satan, be it through dying or living. Amen. At Wittenberg on All Saints’ Day in the tenth year after the trampling down of the papal bull, in remembrance of which we, comforted .in both respects, have drunk a toast.”1 By the end of November the plague had definitely receded and in December Luther’s wife was happily delivered of her child, Elizabeth.

The plague also appeared in Breslau in Silesia, on August 10, 1527, and continued until November 19 of that year. A question had been raised among the clergy of that city whether it was proper for a Christian to flee from such deadly peril. Through Johann Hess, the recognized leader of the Reformation in Silesia, they wrote to Luther asking his advice, and when a first letter brought no answer, they wrote again. Luther was not inclined to answer immediately, in part because of illness and severe spells of depression which struck him July 6. Near the end of July, he began an answer to be published in the form of an open letter. Changes in handwriting and the kind of paper used (the original printer’s manuscript has been preserved) indicate that the writing was interrupted twice. In the meantime, the plague struck Wittenberg, and the people around Luther heard how a Dominican in Leipzig had, early in September, mocked the way the Wittenbergers had run away from the plague. These events stimulated Luther to finish the letter, which was completed not later than the first part of November.

In this open letter to Hess, Luther declares that the Christian pastor, lake a good shepherd and not a hireling, is commanded by Christ to stay despite the danger of death because he is needed by his flock for comfort and strength in the hour of death. Similarly, city officials and all who are bound by responsibilities to their neighbors are not free to flee. Even servants should not flee unless given permission by their masters, nor even a neighbor unless there is someone else to take his place in caring for the sick. If not bound by such responsibilities to one’s neighbor, one may flee rather than tempt God by exposing oneself to contagion. Luther goes on to suggest the establishment of public hospitals rather than using private homes for that purpose. He has a word for those who are horrified at having to nurse the sick, explaining that this feeling is a weapon of the devil and that many who nurse the sick with love and devotion are protected against the plague. But if they should succumb, God, Himself would be their nurse and physician. On the other hand, he warns against the over-bold who scorn ordinary precautions against contagion, thus tempting God, who has created medicine and given us the intelligence to care for our bodily health. Furthermore, such recklessness endangers others with whom one comes in contact. Use medicine, take what helps you, fumigate the house, yard, and streets, avoid unnecessary contact with the sick and their houses, Luther exhorts. He warns against those who, reportedly, when they get sick deliberately spread contagion out of spite; these should be arrested and executed. Luther suggests that another means to combat the plague would be to establish quiet, well-kept cemeteries outside the city to avoid contamination in the crowded town. He urges that the pastor be called promptly in case of sickness and not when it is too late and the ill person is unconscious. Furthermore, daily services should be conducted with the ministry of the word, as Luther did in Wittenberg. While enlarging on his opinion, Luther was careful not to take from his friends the personal responsibility of making their own decisions in the light of their accountability to God.

The fourteen-page pamphlet was published by Hans Lufft in 1527 and was reprinted in nineteen subsequent editions. It enjoyed a wide circulation, particularly in times of pestilence. An English translation by Theodore G. Tappert of a substantial part of this open letter was published in 1955 in Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 230–244. The translation which follows is based on the printed text of the original manuscript text, Ob man vor dem Sterben fliehen möge in WA 23, (323) 339–379.

WHETHER ONE MAY FLEE FROM A DEADLY PLAGUE

To the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor at Breslau, and to his fellow-servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ

Martinus Luther

Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Your letter, sent to me at Wittenberg, was received some time ago. You wish to know whether it is proper for a Christian to run away from a deadly plague. I should have answered long ago, but God has for some time disciplined and scourged me so severely that I have been unable to do much reading or writing.1 Furthermore, it occurred to me that God, the merciful Father, has endowed you so richly with wisdom and truth in Christ that you yourself should be well qualified to decide this matter or even weightier problems in his Spirit and grace without our assistance.

But now that you keep on writing to me and have, so to speak, humbled yourself in requesting our view on this matter so that, as St. Paul repeatedly teaches, we may always agree with one another and be of one mind [I Cor. 1:10; II Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2]. Therefore we here give you our opinion as far as God grants us to understand and perceive. This we would humbly submit to your judgment and to that of all devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion. Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these and many other parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them.

To begin with, some people are of the firm opinion that one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague. Rather, since death is God’s punishment, which he sends upon us for our sins, we must submit to God and with a true and firm faith patiently await our punishment. They look upon running away as an outright wrong and as lack of belief in God. Others take the position that one may properly flee, particularly ff one holds no public office.

I cannot censure the former for their excellent decision. They uphold a good cause, namely, a strong faith in God, and deserve commendation because they desire every Christian to hold to a strong, firm faith. It takes more than a milk2 faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and still are in dread. Who would not acclaim these earnest people to whom death is a little thing? They willingly accept God’s chastisement, doing so without tempting God, as we shall hear later on.

Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone. A person who has a strong faith can drink poison and suffer no harm, Mark 16 [:18], while one who has a weak faith would thereby drink to his death. Peter could walk upon the water because he was strong in faith. When he began to doubt and his faith weakened, he sank and almost drowned.3 When a strong man travels with a weak man, he must restrain himself so as not to walk at a speed proportionate to his strength lest he set a killing pace for his weak companion. Christ does not want his weak ones to be abandoned, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 15 [:1] and I Corinthians 12 [:22 ff.]. To put it briefly and concisely, running away from death may happen in one of two ways. First, it may happen in disobedience to God’s word and command. For instance, in the case of a man who is imprisoned for the sake of God’s word and who, to escape death, denies and repudiates God’s word. In such a situation everyone has Christ’s plain mandate and command not to flee but rather to suffer death, as he says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” and “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Matthew 10 [:28, 33].

Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death.4 We have a plain command from Christ, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” [John 10:11]. For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death. However, where enough preachers are available in one locality and they agree to encourage the other clergy to leave in order not to expose themselves needlessly to danger, I do not consider such conduct sinful because spiritual services are provided for and because they would have been ready and willing to stay ff it had been necessary. We read that St. Athanasius5 fled from his church that his life might be spared because many others were there to administer his office. Similarly, the brethren in Damascus lowered Paul in a basket over the wall to make it possible for him to escape, Acts 9 [:25]. And also in Acts 19 [:30] Paul allowed himself to be kept from risking danger in the marketplace because it was not essential for him to do so.

Accordingly, all those in public office such as mayors, judges, and the like are under obligation to remain. This, too, is God’s word, which institutes secular authority and commands that town and country be ruled, protected, and preserved, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 13 [:4], “The governing authorities are God’s ministers for your own good.” To abandon an entire community which one has been called to govern and to leave it without official or government, exposed to all kinds of danger such as fires, murder, riots, and every imaginable disaster is a great sin. It is the kind of disaster the devil would like to instigate wherever there is no law and order. St. Paul says, “Anyone who does not provide for his own family denies the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” [I Tim. 5:8]. On the other hand, if in great weakness they flee but provide capable substitutes to make sure that the community is well-governed and protected, as we previously indicated, and ff they continually and carefully supervise them [i.e., the substitutes], all that would be proper.

What applies to these two offices [church and state] should also apply to persons who stand in a relationship of service or duty toward one another. A servant should not leave his master nor a maid her mistress except with the knowledge and permission of master or mistress. Again, a master should not desert his servant or a lady her maid unless suitable provision for their care has been made somewhere. In all these matters it is a divine command that servants and maids should render obedience and by the same token masters and ladies should take care of their servants.6 Likewise, fathers and mothers are bound by God’s law to serve and help their children, and children their fathers and mothers. Likewise, paid public servants such as city physicians, city clerks, and constables, or whatever their titles, should not flee unless they furnish capable substitutes who are acceptable to their employer.

In the case of children who are orphaned, guardians or close friends are under obligation either to stay with them or to arrange diligently for other nursing care for their sick friends. Yes, no one should dare leave his neighbor unless there are others who will take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them. In such cases we must respect the word of Christ, “I was sick and you did not visit me …” [Matt. 25:41–46]. According to this passage, we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in his distress but is obliged to assist and help him as he himself would like to be helped.7

Where no such emergency exists and where enough people are available for nursing and taking care of the sick, and where, voluntarily or by orders, those who are weak in faith make provision so that there is no need for additional helpers, or where the sick do not want them and have refused their services, I judge that they have an equal choice either to flee or to remain. If someone is sufficiently bold and strong in his faith, let him stay in God’s name; that is certainly no sin. If someone is weak and fearful, let him flee in God’s name as long as he does not neglect his duty toward his neighbor but has made adequate provision for others to provide nursing care. To flee from death and to save one’s life is a natural tendency, implanted by God and not forbidden unless it be against God and neighbor, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4 [5:29], “No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” It is even commanded that every man should as much as possible preserve body and life and not neglect them, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 12 [:21–26] that God has so ordered the members of the body that each one cares and works for the other.

It is not forbidden but rather commanded that by the sweat of our brow we should seek our daily food, clothing, and all we need and avoid destruction and disaster whenever we can, as long as we do so without detracting from our love and duty toward our neighbor. How much more appropriate it is, therefore, to seek to preserve life and avoid death ff this can be done without harm to our neighbor, inasmuch as life is more than food and clothing, as Christ himself says in Matthew 5 [6:25]. If someone is so strong in faith, however, that he can willingly suffer nakedness, hunger, and want without tempting God and not trying to escape, although he could do so, let him continue that way, but let him not condemn those who will not or cannot do the same.

Examples in Holy Scripture abundantly prove that to flee from death is not wrong in itself. Abraham was a great saint, but he feared death and escaped it by pretending that his wife, Sarah, was his sister.8 Because he did so without neglecting or adversely affecting his neighbor, it was not counted as a sin against him. His son, Isaac, did likewise.9 Jacob also fled from his brother Esau to avoid death at his hands.10 Likewise, David fled from Saul, and from Absalom.11 The prophet Uriah escaped from King Jehoiakim and fled into Egypt.12 The valiant prophet, Elijah, I Kings 19 [:3], had destroyed all the prophets of Baal by his great faith, but afterward, when Queen Jezebel threatened him, he became afraid and fled into the desert. Before that, Moses fled into the land of Midian when the king searched for him in Egypt.13 Many others have done likewise. All of them fled from death when it was possible and saved their lives, yet without depriving their neighbors of anything but first meeting their obligations toward them.

Yes, you may reply, but these examples do not refer to dying by pestilence but to death under persecution. Answer: Death is death, no matter how it occurs. According to Holy Scripture God sent his four scourges: pestilence, famine, sword, and wild beasts.14 If it is permissible to flee from one or the other in clear conscience, why not from all four? Our examples demonstrate how the holy fathers escaped from the sword; it is quite evident that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fled from the other scourge, namely, hunger and death, when they went to Egypt to escape famine, as we are told in Genesis [40–47]. Likewise, why should one not run away from wild beasts? I hear people say, “If war or the Turks come, one should not flee from his village or town but stay and await God’s punishment by the sword.” That is quite true; let him who has a strong faith wait for his death, but he should not condemn those who take flight.

By such reasoning, when a house is on fire, no one should run outside or rush to help because such a fire is also a punishment from God. Anyone who falls into deep water dare not save himself by swimming but must surrender to the water as to a divine punishment. Very well, do so if you can but do not tempt God, and allow others to do as much as they are capable of doing. Likewise, if someone breaks a leg, is wounded or bitten, he should not seek medical aid but say, “It is God’s punishment. I shall bear it until it heals by itself.” Freezing weather and winter are also God’s punishment and can cause death. Why run to get inside or near a fire? Be strong and stay outside until it becomes warm again. We should then need no apothecaries or drugs or physicians because all illnesses are a punishment from God. Hunger and thirst are also great punishments and torture. Why do you eat and drink instead of letting yourself be punished until hunger and thirst stop of themselves? Ultimately such talk will lead to the point where we abbreviate the Lord’s Prayer and no longer pray, “deliver us from evil, Amen,” since we would have to stop praying to be saved from hell and stop seeking to escape it. It, too, is God’s punishment as is every kind of evil. Where would all this end?

From what has been said we derive this guidance: We must pray against every form of evil and guard against it to the best of our ability in order not to act contrary to God, as was previously explained. If it be God’s will that evil come upon us and destroy us, none of our precautions will help us. Everybody must take this to heart: first of all, if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him commend himself to God and say, “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; thy will be done. I am thy lowly creature. Thou canst kill me or preserve me in this pestilence in the same way as if I were in fire, water, drought, or any other danger.” If a man is free, however, and can escape, let him commend himself and say, “Lord God, I am weak and fearful. Therefore I am running away from evil and am doing what I can to protect myself against it. I am nevertheless in thy hands in this danger as in any other which might overtake me. Thy will be done. My flight alone will not succeed of itself because calamity and harm are everywhere. Moreover, the devil never sleeps. He is a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44] and tries everywhere to instigate murder and misfortune.”15

In the same way, we must and we owe it to our neighbor to accord him the same treatment in other troubles and perils, also. If his house is on fire, love compels me to run to help him extinguish the flames. If there are enough other people around to put the fire out, I may either go home or remain to help. If he falls into the water or into a pit I dare not turn away but must hurry to help him as best I can. If there are others to do it, I am released. If I see that he is hungry or thirsty, I cannot ignore him but must offer food and drink, not considering whether I would risk impoverishing myself by doing so. A man who will not help or support others unless he can do so without affecting his safety or his property will never help his neighbor. He will always reckon with the possibility that doing so will bring some disadvantage and damage, danger and loss. No neighbor can live alongside another without risk to his safety, property, wife, or child. He must run the risk that fire or some other accident will start in the neighbor’s house and destroy him bodily or deprive him of his goods, wife, children, and all he has.

Anyone who does not do that for his neighbor, but forsakes him and leaves him to his misfortune, becomes a murderer in the sight of God, as St. John states in his epistles, “Whoever does not love his brother is a murderer,” and again, “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need [yet closes his heart against him], how does God’s love abide in him?” [I John 3:15, 17]. That is also one of the sins which God attributed to the city of Sodom when he speaks through the prophet Ezekiel [16:49], “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Christ, therefore, will condemn them as murderers on the Last Day when he will say, “I was sick and you did not visit me” [Matt. 25:43]. If that shall be the judgment upon those who have failed to visit the sick and needy or to offer them relief, what will become of those who abandoned them and let them lie there like dogs and pigs? Yes, how will they fare who rob the poor of the little they have and plague them in all kinds of ways? That is what the tyrants do to the poor who accept the gospel. But let that be; they have their condemnation.

It would be well, where there is such an efficient government in cities and states, to maintain municipal homes and hospitals staffed with people to take care of the sick so that patients from private homes can be sent there—as was the intent and purpose of our forefathers with so many pious bequests, hospices, hospitals, and infirmaries so that it should not be necessary for every citizen to maintain a hospital in his own home. That would indeed be a fine, commendable, and Christian arrangement to which everyone should offer generous help and contributions, particularly the government. Where there are no such institutions—and they exist in only a few places—we must give hospital care and be nurses for one another in any extremity or risk the loss of salvation and the grace of God. Thus it is written in God’s word and command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and in Matthew 7 [:12], “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together (as previously indicated) so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another. First, we can be sure that God’s punishment has come upon us, not only to chastise us for our sins but also to test our faith and love—our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. I am of the opinion that all the epidemics, like any plague, are spread among the people by evil spirits who poison the air or exhale a pestilential breath which puts a deadly poison into the flesh. Nevertheless, this is God’s decree and punishment to which we must patiently submit and serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner as St. John teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” [I John 3:16].

When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart. He is such a bitter, knavish devil that he not only unceasingly tries to slay and kill, but also takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles. We would sin thereby against God and man; that would be the devil’s glory and delight. Because we know that it is the devil’s game to induce such fear and dread, we should, in turn, minimize it, take such courage as to spite and annoy him, and send those terrors right back to him. And we should arm ourselves with this answer to the devil:

“Get away, you devil, with your terrors! Just because you hate it, I’ll spite you by going the more quickly to help my sick neighbor. I’ll pay no attention to you: I’ve got two heavy blows to use against you: the first one is that I know that helping my neighbor is a deed well-pleasing to God and all the angels; by this deed, I do God’s will and render true service and obedience to him. All the more so because if you hate it so and are so strongly opposed to it, it must be particularly acceptable to God. I’d do this readily and gladly if I could please only one angel who might look with delight on it. But now that it pleases my Lord Jesus Christ and the whole heavenly host because it is the will and command of God, my Father, then how could any fear of you cause me to spoil such joy in heaven or such delight for my Lord? Or how could I, by flattering you, give you and your devils in hell reason to mock and laugh at me? No, you’ll not have the last word! If Christ shed his blood for me and died for me, why should I not expose myself to some small dangers for his sake and disregard this feeble plague? If you can terrorize, Christ can strengthen me. If you can kill, Christ can give life. If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine. Should not my dear Christ, with his precepts, his kindness, and all his encouragement, be more important in my spirit than you, roguish devil, with your false terrors in my weak flesh? God forbid! Get away, devil. Here is Christ and here am I, his servant in this work. Let Christ prevail! Amen.”

The second blow against the devil is God’s mighty promise by which he encourages those who minister to the needy. He says in Psalm 41 [:1–3], “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive; the Lord will bless him on earth and not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed. In his illness, he will heal all his infirmities.” Are not these glorious and mighty promises of God heaped up upon those who minister to the needy? What should terrorize us or frighten us away from such great and divine comfort? The service we can render to the needy is indeed such a small thing in comparison with God’s promises and rewards that St. Paul says to Timothy, “Godliness is of value in every way, and it holds promise both for the present life and for the life to come” [I Tim. 4:8]. Godliness is nothing else but service to God. Service to God is indeed service to our neighbor. It is proved by experience that those who nurse the sick with love, devotion, and sincerity are generally protected. Though they are poisoned, they are not harmed. As the psalm says, “in his illness, you heal all his infirmities” [Ps. 41:3], that is, you change his bed of sickness into a bed of health. A person who attends a patient because of greed, or with the expectation of an inheritance or some personal advantage in such services, should not be surprised if eventually he is infected, disfigured, or even dies before he comes into possession of that estate or inheritance.

But whoever serves the sick for the sake of God’s gracious promise, though he may accept a suitable reward to which he is entitled, inasmuch as every laborer is worthy of his hire—whoever does so has the great assurance that he shall, in turn, be cared for. God himself shall be his attendant and his physician, too. What an attendant he is! What a physician! Friend, what are all the physicians, apothecaries, and attendants in comparison to God? Should that not encourage one to go and serve a sick person, even though he might have as many contagious boils on him as hairs on his body, and though he might be bent double carrying a hundred plague-ridden bodies! What do all kinds of pestilence or devils mean over against God, who binds and obliges himself to be our attendant and physician? Shame and more shame on you, you out-and-out unbeliever, for despising such great comfort and letting yourself become more frightened by some small boil or some uncertain danger than emboldened by such sure and faithful promises of God! What would it avail you if all physicians and the entire world were at your service, but God were not present? Again, what harm could overtake you if the whole world were to desert you and no physician would remain with you, but God would abide with you with his assurance? Do you not know that you are surrounded as by thousands of angels who watch over you in such a way that you can indeed trample upon the plague, as it is written in Psalm 91 [:11–13], “He has given His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands, they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the adder, and trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.”

Therefore, dear friends, let us not become so desperate as to desert our own whom we are duty-bound to help and flee in such a cowardly way from the terror of the devil or allow him the joy of mocking us and vexing and distressing God and all his angels. For it is certainly true that he who despises such great promises and commands of God and leaves his own people destitute violates all of God’s laws and is guilty of the murder of his neighbor whom he abandons. I fear that in such a case God’s promise will be reversed and changed into horrible threats and the psalm [41] will then read this way against them: “Accursed is he who does not provide for the needy but escapes and forsakes them. The Lord, in turn, will not spare him in evil days but will flee from him and desert him, The Lord will not preserve him and keep him alive and will not prosper him on earth but will deliver him into the hands of his enemies. The Lord will not refresh him on his sickbed nor take him from the couch of his illness.” For “the measure you give will be the measure you get” [Matt. 7:2]. Nothing else can come of it. It is terrible to hear this, more terrible to be waiting for this to happen, most terrible to experience it. What else can happen if God withdraws his hand and forsakes us except sheer devilment and every kind of evil? It cannot be otherwise if, against God’s command, one abandons his neighbor. This fate will surely overtake anyone of this sort unless he sincerely repents.

This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running. And yet they don’t hear what Christ himself says, “As you did to one of the least, you did it to me” [Matt. 25:40]. When he speaks of the greatest commandment he says, “The other commandment is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Matt. 22:39]. There you hear that the command to love your neighbor is equal to the greatest commandment to love God and that what you do or fail to do for your neighbor means doing the same to God. If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word. If you do not wish or care to serve your neighbor you can be sure that if Christ lay there instead you would not do so either and would let him lie there. Those are nothing but illusions on your part which puff you up with vain pride, namely, that you would really serve Christ if he were there in person. Those are nothing but lies; whoever wants to serve Christ in person would surely serve his neighbor as well. This is said as an admonition and encouragement against fear and a disgraceful flight to which the devil would tempt us so that we would disregard God’s command in our dealings with our neighbor and so we would fall into sin on the left hand.

Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.

If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing. Actually, that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead, they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.

No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree, the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

Moreover, he who has contracted the disease and recovered should keep away from others and not admit them into his presence unless it be necessary. Though one should aid him in his time of need, as previously pointed out, he, in turn, should, after his recovery, so act toward others that no one becomes unnecessarily endangered on his account and so cause another’s death. “Whoever loves danger,” says the wise man, “will perish by it” [Ecclus. 3:26]. If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbor’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die. On both counts this is a grievous offense to God and to man—here it is tempting God; there it is bringing man into despair. Then the one who flees, the devil will pursue; the one who stays behind, the devil will hold captive so that no one escapes him.

Some are even worse than that. They keep it secret that they have the disease and go among others in the belief that by contaminating and poisoning others they can rid themselves of the plague and so recover. With this idea they enter streets and homes, trying to saddle children or servants with the disease and thus save themselves. I certainly believe that this is the devil’s doing, who helps turn the wheel of fate to make this happen. I have been told that some are so incredibly vicious that they circulate among people and enter homes because they are sorry that the plague has not reached that far and wish to carry it in, as though it were a prank like putting lice into fur garments or flies into someone’s living room. I do not know whether I should believe this; if it is true, I do not know whether we Germans are not really devils instead of human beings. It must be admitted that there are some extremely coarse and wicked people. The devil is never idle. My advice is that if any such persons are discovered, the judge should take them by the ear and turn them over to Master Jack, the hangman, as outright and deliberate murderers. What else are such people but assassins in our town? Here and there an assassin will jab a knife through someone and no one can find the culprit. So these folk infect a child here, a woman there, and can never be caught. They go on laughing as though they had accomplished something. Where this is the case, it would be better to live among wild beasts than with such murderers. I do not know how to preach to such killers. They pay no heed. I appeal to the authorities to take charge and turn them over to the help and advice not of physicians, but of Master Jack, the hangman.

If in the Old Testament God himself ordered lepers to be banished from the community and compelled to live outside the city to prevent contamination [Leviticus 13–14], we must do the same with this dangerous pestilence so that anyone who becomes infected will stay away from other persons, or allow himself to be taken away and given speedy help with medicine. Under such circumstances, it is our duty to assist such a person and not forsake him in his plight, as I have repeatedly pointed out before. Then the poison is stopped in time, which benefits not only the individual but also the whole community, which might be contaminated if one person is permitted to infect others. Our plague here in Wittenberg has been caused by nothing but filth. The air, thank God, is still clean and pure, but some few have been contaminated because of the laziness or recklessness of some. So the devil enjoys himself at the terror and flight which he causes among us. May God thwart him! Amen.

This is what we think and conclude on this subject of fleeing from death by the plague. If you are of a different opinion, may God enlighten you. Amen.16

Because this letter will go out in print for people to read, I regard it useful to add some brief instructions on how one should care and provide for the soul in time of death. We have done this orally from the pulpit and still do so every day in fulfillment of the ministry to which we have been called as pastors.

First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentation. A person who wants to live like a heathen or a dog and does not publicly repent should not expect us to administer the sacrament to him or have us count him a Christian. Let him die as he has lived because we shall not throw pearls before swine nor give to dogs what is holy [Matt. 7:6]. Sad to say, there are many churlish, hardened ruffians who do not care for their souls when they live or when they die. They simply lie down and die like unthinking hulks.

Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbor and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his soul, has left nothing undone, and has committed himself to God. When there are many fatalities and only two or three pastors on duty, it is impossible to visit everyone, to give instruction, and to teach each one what a Christian ought to know in the anguish of death. Those who have been careless and negligent in these matters must account for themselves. That is their own fault. After all, we cannot set up a private pulpit and altar daily at their bedside simply because they have despised the public pulpit and altar to which God has summoned and called them.

Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient. The reason I say this is that some are so negligent that they make no request and send no message until the soul is perched for flight on the tip of their tongues17 and they are no longer rational or able to speak. Then we are told, “Dear Sir, say the very best you can to him,” etc. But earlier, when the illness first began, they wanted no visit from the pastor but would say, “Oh, there’s no need. I hope he’ll get better.” What should a diligent pastor do with such people who neglect both body and soul? They live and die like beasts in the field. They want us to teach them the gospel at the last minute and administer the sacrament to them as they were accustomed to it under the papacy when nobody asked whether they believed or understood the gospel but just stuffed the sacrament down their throats as if into a bread bag.

This won’t do. If someone cannot talk or indicate by a sign that he believes, understands, and desires the sacrament—particularly if he has willfully neglected it—we will not give it to him just anytime he asks for it. We have been commanded not to offer the holy sacrament to unbelievers but rather to believers who can state and confess their faith. Let the others alone in their unbelief; we are guiltless because we have not been slothful in preaching, teaching, exhortation, consolation, visitation, or in anything else that pertains to our ministry and office. This, in brief, is our instruction and what we practice here. We do not write this for you in Breslau, because Christ is with you and without our aid he will amply instruct you and supply your needs with his own ointment. To him be praise and honor together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.18

Because we have come upon the subject of death, I cannot refrain from saying something about burials. First of all, I leave it to the doctors of medicine and others with greater experience than mine in such matters to decide whether it is dangerous to maintain cemeteries within the city limits. I do not know and do not claim to understand whether vapors and mists arise out of graves to pollute the air. If this were so my previously stated warnings constitute ample reason to locate cemeteries outside the city. As we have learned, all of us have the responsibility of warding off this poison to the best of our ability because God has commanded us to care for the body, to protect and nurse it so that we are not exposed needlessly. In an emergency, however, we must be bold enough to risk our health if that is necessary. Thus we should be ready for both—to live and to die according to God’s will. For “none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself,” as St. Paul says, Romans 15 [14:7].

It is very well known that the custom in antiquity, both among Jews and pagans, among saints and sinners, was to bury the dead outside the city. Those people were just as prudent as we claim to be ourselves. This is also evident in St. Luke’s Gospel when Christ raised from the dead the widow’s son at the gates of Nain (for the text [Luke 7:12] states, “He was being carried out of the city to the grave and a large crowd from the city was with her”). In that country, it was the practice to bury the dead outside the town.

Christ’s tomb, also, was prepared outside the city. Abraham, too, bought a burial plot in the field of Ephron near the double cave19 where all the patriarchs wished to be buried. The Latin, therefore, employs the term efferi, that is, “to carry out,” by which we mean “carry to the grave.” They not only carried the dead out but also burned them to powder to keep the air as pure as possible.

My advice, therefore, is to follow these examples and to bury the dead outside the town. Not only necessity but piety and decency should induce us to provide a public burial ground outside the town, that is, our town of Wittenberg.

A cemetery rightfully ought to be a fine quiet place, removed from all other localities, to which one can go and reverently meditate upon death, the Last Judgment, the resurrection, and say one’s prayers. Such a place should properly be a decent, hallowed place, to be entered with trepidation and reverence because doubtlessly some saints rest there. It might even be arranged to have religious pictures and portraits painted on the walls.

But our cemetery, what is it like? Four or five alleys, two or three marketplaces, with the result that no place in the whole town is busier or noisier than the cemetery. People and cattle roam over it at any time, night and day. Everyone has a door or pathway to it from his house and all sorts of things take place there, probably even some that are not fit to be mentioned. This totally destroys respect and reverence for the graves, and people think no more about walking across it than if it were a burial ground for executed criminals. Not even the Turk would dishonor the place the way we do. And yet a cemetery should inspire us to devout thoughts, to the contemplation of death and the resurrection, and to respect for the saints who rest there. How can that be done at such a commonplace through which everyone must walk and into which every man’s door opens? If a cemetery is to have some dignity, I would rather be put to rest in the Elbe or in the forest. If a graveyard were located at a quiet, remote spot where no one could make a path through it, it would be a spiritual, proper, and holy sight and could be so arranged that it would inspire devotion in those who go there. That would be my advice. Follow it, who so wishes. If anyone knows better, let him go ahead. I am no man’s master.

In closing, we admonish and plead with you in Christ’s name to help us with your prayers to God so that we may do battle with word and precept against the real and spiritual pestilence of Satan in his wickedness with which he now poisons and defiles the world. That is, particularly against those who blaspheme the sacrament, though there are other sectarians also. Satan is infuriated and perhaps he feels that the day of Christ is at hand. That is why he raves so fiercely and tries through the enthusiasts20 to rob us of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Under the papacy, Satan was simply “flesh” so that even a monk’s cap had to be regarded as sacred. Now he is nothing more than sheer “spirit” and Christ’s flesh and word are no longer supposed to mean anything. They made an answer to my treatise21 long ago, but I am surprised that it has not yet reached me at Wittenberg.22 [When it does] I shall, God willing, answer them once again and let the matter drop. I can see that they will only become worse. They are like a bedbug which itself has a foul smell, but the harder you rub to crush it, the more it stinks. I hope that I’ve written enough in this pamphlet for those who can be saved so that—God be praised—many may thereby be snatched from their jaws and many more may be strengthened and confirmed in the truth. May Christ our Lord and Savior preserve us all in pure faith and fervent love, unspotted and pure until his day. Amen. Pray for me, a poor sinner.

[1]

 

[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1968). Vol. 43: Luther’s Works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Vol. 43, Page 113-139). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

LuthersCatechisms

Galatians 6:6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow “all good things” upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I thought then that Paul’s admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now.

As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the churches should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of impoverished Christians I am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle Paul had to touch upon this subject so frequently. In writing to the Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter upon them. I would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the Corinthians by urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the poor. It seems to be a by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry. When the doctrine of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing support of those who deceive them.

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go wild like savage beasts.

Paul’s admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1Cr 9:11) In the old days when the Pope reigned supreme everybody paid plenty for masses. The begging friars brought in their share. Commercial priests counted the daily offerings. From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel. You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give generously for the support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of impoverished Christians. Instead, they rob Christ. When the members of a Christian congregation permit their pastor to struggle along in penury, they are worse than heathen.

Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They will lose their temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the severest punishment. The reason why the churches of Galatia, Corinth, and other places were troubled by false apostles was this, that they had so little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to give God a penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around and give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold, and not be punished for it.

The words “in all good things: are not to be understood to mean that people are to give all they have to their ministers, but that they should support them liberally and give them enough to live well.

~ Martin Luther

FI_LawAndGospel_Monday

At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.

individualconfession

Individual/Personal Confession

Pastor, what is confession and absolution?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins,and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. It is hard to say,“I was wrong. I am sorry. Forgive me.” God’s Word makes it clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In confession and absolution, God’s Word is having its way with us, moving us to confess the truth about ourselves and our need for His forgiveness. Because of Jesus Christ, confession and absolution is a blessed, joyful, happy exchange! “For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus hung on the cross, He became sin—for us. He was the ransom for sin. God poured out His just wrath on Christ. Christ won peace between God and man. In confession, Christ takes the burden of our sin and gives us in exchange His complete forgiveness and love. Absolution is the ongoing work of Holy Baptism, in which our old, sinful nature in Adam is drowned and the new man in
Christ arises.Through Holy Absolution we receive “the gift of God,”which is forgiveness of sins and “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).*

Pastor, don’t we do Confession and Absolution at the start of the Worship Service? Hasn’t individual confession become “unfamiliar” or “infrequently used”?

Yes, we do. But the Confession at the start of the service is not the form or setting of Confession that we just read about in the Small Catechism. What we do at the start of the service is a group or “corporate” form of Confession and Absolution. What we read about in the Catechism and throughout the Lutheran writings is Individual Confession and Absolution, or, for short, individual/personal confession. What we do at the start of the service is a general confession of sins, not specifying any particular sins, and there is a general absolution, directed to the group. What we do in Individual/personal Confession usually involves confessing specific sins, and the pastor directs the absolution to that individual. It is this individual/personal, individual form of confession that the Catechism has in mind when it talks about “Confession.”

Pastor, I thought Lutherans got rid of Individual Confession. Isn’t going to the pastor for Confession just a Roman Catholic thing?

No, it’s not. Individual/personal Confession is a Lutheran thing, too. Luther did not get rid of Individual/personal Confession, he just reformed it, cleaned it up of its abuses. There were three abuses that needed to be corrected. One was that Confession was forced, mandatory, done under coercion and compulsion. The second abuse was the enumeration of sins, that you had to come up with a complete listing of your sins, in detail, or else you could not be sure that you had confessed adequately. The third, and perhaps the worst, abuse was that, instead of putting the emphasis on the absolution, God’s free gift of forgiveness, the priest would give the penitent works of satisfaction to perform, works of penance, to offset his sins. These “three oppressive things,” as Luther called them, had corrupted the practice of Confession, had turned it from a gift into a torture. Therefore, these were the abuses that the Lutherans corrected and reformed.

But Luther never got rid of Individual/personal Confession. Far from it. He strongly encouraged people to go to Confession. He even wrote “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” in which he says such things as the following: “If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine.” Or, “So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is.” Or again, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”

Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions say the same thing. From the Augsburg Confession, Article XI: “Our churches teach that individual/personal Absolution should be retained in the churches.” Or from the Smalcald Articles, Article VIII: “Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” Again, this is talking about Individual/personal Confession.

But Pastor, do I have to go to Individual/personal Confession to get forgiveness?

No, you don’t. You don’t “have to.” This is a matter of “get to.” You “get to” go to Individual Confession and Absolution. It’s a gift! It’s the Gospel! To be sure, God is rich in his grace, and he gives us his forgiveness in other ways as well. In Holy Baptism, all your sins were washed away, and Baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. Your sins are forgiven also when the pastor preaches the Gospel to you in the sermon, proclaiming the good news that Christ Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, taking them away, and that includes you and your sins. You receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar, when you receive the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

These are all glorious, wonderful means of grace, by which God delivers the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross to us. Holy Baptism, Holy Gospel, Holy Communion–all gifts of God, all means of grace, and each one has its own distinctive value and benefit and place in the life of the Christian. But then so does Holy Absolution. And we don’t want to set one gift of God against another. In other words, just because I get forgiveness in the sermon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Communion. Just because I get forgiveness in Baptism doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Confession. No, God gives us all these gifts, each one of them, for us to use and benefit from.

What’s so special about Individual/personal Confession, Pastor?

For one thing, it helps us to be honest about ourselves. We readily say we are “poor miserable sinners,” but if we just keep it at that general level, we may try to excuse or rationalize sins we should be repenting of. The truth is, poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. And so, examining our lives according to the Ten Commandments and coming to grips with our actual sins helps to keep us honest and accountable and to realize the depths of our sinfulness and our ongoing need for Christ’s forgiveness.

And that leads us to the most important benefit of Confession, and that is, the Absolution, the word of forgiveness. To realize that, yes, God knows my sins, how lousy of a sinner I am, and yet He forgives me–yes, me! I hear the forgiveness spoken into my ears, with my name on it! I feel the pastor’s hands on my head, Christ’s authorized representative releases me from the burden of my sin and my guilt! That is what is so distinctive and refreshing about Individual Confession and Absolution: precisely that it is individual, dealing with my sins and directing God’s cleansing and forgiveness and care to me.

Luther puts it this way in his Brief Exhortation: “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.” “[It] is a work that God does when he declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.” Yes, the great treasure in Individual/personal Confession is the Absolution, spoken to you.

But Pastor, I’ve never gone to Individual/personal Confession before. I’m scared. What can you say to reassure me?

Let me guess what’s scary or intimidating about it. Maybe you think you must come up with some huge, awful sin–like robbing a bank or murdering someone–in order to go to Individual/personal Confession. No, ordinary, garden-variety sins are welcome any time. Maybe you can think of one or two that weigh on your mind. Lustful thoughts, harsh words, not treating your husband or wife with the love and care you know you should–that sort of thing. But even if you can’t come up with any sins or you’re not quite ready to speak about them, then just make a more general confession and the pastor will still speak God’s word of forgiveness to you.

Pastor, if I told you my sins, my dirty awful sins, wouldn’t you think less of me? Wouldn’t it change our dynamic, our relationship, and you wouldn’t be my friend anymore?

No, I wouldn’t think less of you. If anything, I might be tempted to think more of you, that you took advantage of the opportunity to come to Confession. But then, don’t go and get a big head about it and say, “Hey, look at me! I went to Confession!” That would-be pride, and then you’d have to come back to Confession for that!

No, nothing you say would shock me. I believe what the Bible says about our sinful nature, how the old Adam keeps on having evil desires and thoughts. And hey, your pastor knows what a sinner he is! I won’t be shocked by your sins. In fact, I’m here to give you God’s forgiveness for them.

And what’s more, Individual/personal Confession is just that: Individual and personal. The sins you confess go nowhere else. I am under oath, solemn oath, never to divulge the sins confessed to me. I never have, and I never will. I don’t even divulge them to myself, in a sense. What I mean is, when you confess your sins to me, my ears become a graveyard. The sins die there. I don’t carry them around with me in my head and hold them against you. I can still be your friend. But the more important thing for you is that I be your pastor. God has assigned me here to take care of your soul. And that includes hearing the sins you confess, the sins that trouble your soul, and then forgiving them in the name of Christ.

Pastor, tell me once again: Why should I come to Confession?

For the Gospel. For the forgiveness of your sins. To receive the gift Jesus has for you: Holy Absolution, with your name on it!

 

~ Adapted from an article by Rev. Charles Henrickson

– *Paragraph excerpt from article “What About Confession and Absolution”

by Dr. A. L. Barry, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

Shout With The Voice Of Triumph, Part 2
Shout to the Lord

             “Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel” (Isaiah 44:23).

The Shout That Leaves No Doubt

When God says He is going to do something, you can be confident that it is going to happen!  With this confidence, we are able to shout the shout that leaves no doubt.
It doesn’t matter what obstacles or problems you are facing.  You can shout with no doubt about what God is going to do for you as His child.

    In Psalm 27:5,6, we read:
“For in the day of trouble, He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.  And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me; and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD” (NASB).

    You may be saying, “Preacher, I don’t feel like shouting.”  Shout anyway.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are priests unto God, and we are called to offer sacrifice to Him.

    When you go into a church and hear all the people shouting, that’s a sacrifice.  This is one way in which the world outside of the church can know that something is taking place on the inside.  We have something to shout about!

    David said in Psalm 5:11:
“But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.”

    Even though you are saved and washed in the blood, you may be going through a trial or a test in your life.  Don’t let the devil steal your joy.  You may not be able to rub two nickels together, but the devil can’t touch what you’ve got under that fifth rib.  You are a child of God.

    You know what my Bible says in Psalm 34:19?
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.”
Many are the afflictions of the righteous.  Not the backslider, but the righteous.  And the phrase that makes me want to shout is, “but the Lord delivers him out of them all!”

    It doesn’t matter what you may be going through.  God has called you to be more than a conqueror.  He has promised to bring you out of every bad situation that you may find yourself in.  That should make you want to shout unto God with the voice of triumph!

If God Said It, It’s Already Done

In Ezra 3:11, we read:
“And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel.  And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.”

    The people had just returned from years of captivity in Babylon.  All hope seemed to be gone.  The great temple of the Lord that Solomon had built had been destroyed.  The great empire had been reduced to a minuscule remnant.

    But here they were, back in the land that God had given to their fathers.  The foundation for the new temple had just been laid.  God was beginning the restoration that He had promised through His prophets.  Many years had gone by, but God was right on time.

    They began shouting the shout that leaves no doubt.  They still had a long way to go.  The temple would not be completed for several more years, and they were still a small remnant of the once vast empire, but God promised them in Haggai 2:9:
“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give thee peace, saith the Lord of hosts.”

    Confidence filled their lungs as they witnessed the Word of God being confirmed before their eyes.  God said He was going to do it, and He did!

Three On-Fire Jews

I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego recorded in the third chapter of the book of Daniel.  They refused to bow down and engage in idol worship.  While many people are bowing down to false gods today, God is looking for somebody who will not bow their knee to Baal, but who will serve Him in the beauty of holiness.

    Old King Nebuchadnezzer got word that these three young men weren’t bowing down to worship the image that he had built.  Somebody got jealous.

    Even though they were in captivity, they had found favor with Nebuchadnezzer, who elevated them to important positions in his government.  When God starts blessing you, some of your best friends are going to get jealous.

    Nebuchadnezzer was overcome with rage, and he said to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “You’ll either bow down to my god, or you’ll burn.”

    Those boys said, “You’ve got it all wrong, King.  If we bow down to your god, we will burn.  We’ll burn in Hell!  If we have to choose the furnace, we choose yours.  Either God will deliver us from your fiery furnace, or He won’t.”

    This is what you call covering all the bases.  Either God’s going to do it, or He’s not going to do it!
As soon as they spoke those words, God said to Jesus, “Get down there and get in that fire.”
Nebuchadnezzer’s rage intensified, and he said to his servants, “Heat the furnace seven times hotter.  Tie them up and throw them in.”

The men who threw them into the flames could not stand the intensity of the heat, but not a hair on those boys’ heads was singed.  They still had their clothing on.  The only things missing were the bonds that tied them.

    Nebuchadnezzer looked into the furnace and counted four people.  He went back to his men and said, “How many did we throw into that fire?”

    They told him, “Three.”

    He said, “I see four, and the fourth one is like unto the Son of God.”
Now think about this: three people were thrown into the fire, and three came out.  What happened to the fourth one?

    I’m here to tell you, He’s still in the fire.  Why?  Because when you get into the fire, He’s already there to see that you get deliverance.  No matter what your predicament may be, God has a way out for you.

You Don’t Have Any Trouble

If you have ever heard my radio program, you’ve heard me say, “You don’t have any trouble.  All you need is faith in God.”  Now, that’s a borrowed statement; that’s not original with me.

    I was preaching in Buffalo, New York.  There was a gentleman who came into that meeting and said, “Brother Schambach, I’d like to invite you and your entire staff home for dinner.”

    I said, “We’ll be there.”

    At that time, I didn’t like to eat before preaching, so it was very late after the service was over before we were able to leave for his house.  He didn’t tell me earlier that he lived in Niagara Falls, so we had to travel quite a distance.

    But it was well worth the time.  The man’s wife had prepared a feast: a banquet that made Belshazzar’s feast look like a Girl Scout picnic.  She had prime rib of beef, turkey, T-bone steaks, and fried chicken.  You never invite a preacher out unless you have fried chicken.  And when people invite us out to eat, I fast all day so I can tuck it away.
I filled up my plate to gospel measure.  That’s the running over variety.  I was so hungry that when the gentleman asked me to pray, I prayed quickly, “Lord, bless this food.  Amen,” and I started digging into that food.

    I was helping myself and enjoying the food when all of a sudden this man had one of those talking spells.  But what he was saying was better than the food, and I pushed my plate back because I wanted to hear every word.

    He said, “Brother Schambach, I thought I had it made with a great job with the U.S. Government, money in the bank, and my home almost paid for.  I had never been sick a day in my life, when suddenly, I was hit with spinal meningitis that paralyzed me from head to toe.”

    Now, while he was speaking, I was looking at a man who was completely well in his body, and I knew that something miraculous had happened to him.  I listened intently as he continued on.

    He said, “I was hospitalized for three months, and then, to make matters worse, I was stricken with very painful rheumatoid arthritis which crept into all of my joints.
“I lapsed into a coma, my bank account was reduced to zero, and I had to sell my home to get equity out of it to pay the additional doctor and hospital bills.

    “They called my priest in to give me the last rites of the church, extreme unction; and even though I was in a coma, I knew my priest was giving me the last rites.”

    I’ve asked several doctors about this, and they’ve told me that, even though a person is in a coma, they can still hear you, but you cannot communicate with them.

    He went on, “I wanted to let the priest know that I understood that he was giving me the last rites of the church, but I couldn’t even flicker an eyelash.  He finished with the rite of extreme unction, and he walked out the door.

    “As soon as he closed the door, another priest came walking in right through the wall.  The other priest was dressed in all black, but this priest was dressed in all white.

    This priest leaned down over my bed, put his mouth to my ear, called my by my name, and he said to me, ‘YOU DON’T HAVE ANY TROUBLE.  ALL YOU NEED IS FAITH IN GOD.’
“My first reaction was, ‘what kind of crazy priest is this?  I don’t have any trouble?  Spinal meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis, lost my home, lost my job, and the priest just walked out of the room giving me the last rites.  If this isn’t trouble, what is?’

    “The next words that came out of this priest’s mouth were, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, and I am going to heal you right now.’

    “He spoke to me further saying, ‘When I turn around and walk out of here, I want you to get out of this bed.  Go wash yourself and shave.  Walk out of this hospital.  Go to the first bookstore you can find and buy a Bible.  Begin reading the Gospel of St. John, and you will find the way to eternal life.’”

    I was so blessed listening to him relate this story that I couldn’t continue eating.
He looked at me and said, “Brother Schambach, He walked right through the wall.  Why didn’t he use the door?”

    I said, “He is the door, Mister.”  Jesus said in John 10:9:
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

    He’ll make an entrance right into your life.  He’ll come into your automobile.  He’ll come to you on the job.  He comes with the answer to your problems.

    Jesus is still alive.  He is still performing miracles.  All He’s looking for is obedience and a little bit of faith.  Trust Him, and you will shout the shout that leaves no doubt!

The Shout That Brought Us Out

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation..” (Zechariah 9:9).

    We’ve seen the shout without the clout;  the shout that brings the rout; the shout that leaves no doubt, and now we come to the shout that brought us out.

    Brought us out of what?  Praise God, Jesus brought us out of sin.  We’ve got something to shout about!
In John 19:28-30, we read:
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.  Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar, and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon a hyssop, and put it to his mouth.  When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”

    Jesus was on Calvary, stretched out between heaven and earth with nails in His hands and in his feet.  He was given vinegar to drink, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 69:21.

    After this final indignity, Jesus shouted with a voice of triumph, “It is finished!”  What was finished?  Well, several things, actually.

    The most difficult part of the work of mankind’s redemption and salvation had been completed, satisfying the justice of God and destroying the power of Satan forever.

    Also, the ceremonial law had run its course, and man was no longer bound by a long list of ordinances.  From this time forward, God would write His laws upon the hearts of the redeemed.  All of the shadows have been eliminated by the illuminating revelation of Christ.  It’s as if God were saying, “Put out the fires and stop killing the animals!  It is no longer necessary!”

    The Old Testament prophecies and types pointing at the Messiah and His suffering were also finished.  Jesus knew that drinking the vinegar was the last prophecy that had to be fulfilled.  He wasn’t complaining when He said, “I thirst.”  He was crossing the last “T” of prophecy that would usher in a new era in God’s relationship with mankind.

    Finally, the sufferings that Jesus had to endure, in soul and body, were now finished.  All of the pain, agony, and indignities that He had gone through during His ministry had come to an end.  He had accomplished what He had come to do, and now He was going to return to His Father.

    Having fulfilled His destiny as the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, now He would take His place on the right side of the throne of God and intercede for mankind as the High Priest.

The Last High Priest

Let’s examine this title a little more.  Do you remember when John baptized Jesus?  John baptized unto repentance, but Jesus had nothing to repent of.  Then why did He get baptized in water?  You need to go back and read the first chapter of Luke.  The father of John the Baptist was Zacharias, who was one of the priests who ministered in the temple.  The priesthood was handed down through blood relationship, and he was from the family of Abiah, a son of Eleazar, who was the eldest son of Aaron.

    The mother of John, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron.  The blood that flowed through their veins was priestly blood, and Jesus recognized John as the true high priest.
You may be thinking, “But I thought Caiaphas was the high priest.”  Caiaphas was a political appointee chosen around A.D. 18 by the Roman procurator, Valerius Gratus.  The government of Rome chose him because of his ability to compel the people to abide by the laws the Romans had imposed on them.

    But Jesus knew that John was performing the true duties of the high priest, admonishing the people to turn from their sins and baptizing them unto repentance. He knew that the right of baptism signified change and the passing from the old to the new.  He had no need to be baptized unto repentance, but He was showing that the role of the high priest had been passed to Him.  Although He would not assume that role until after His death and resurrection, this baptism by John was the ceremonial transfer of priestly succession.
John objected to baptizing Jesus because he knew that He was the spotless Lamb of God.  Indeed, he told Jesus that he needed to be baptized by Him.

    Jesus, knowing that He was fulfilling prophecy, told John, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

    So John complied and baptized Jesus.  And when He came up out of the water, the heavens burst open, and God the Father spoke and said, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”

    Do you remember what John said about Jesus when He was coming down the road?  “Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

    Nobody had ever said that before.  Lambs were slain for Israelis only, but here is John the Baptist, recognized by Jesus as the real high priest, saying, “Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.”

    Not a lamb for a man; not a lamb for a house; not a lamb for a nation, but a lamb for the world.  It’s important to realize that Jesus is not an American God; He’s not an Asian God; He’s not an African God; He’s not a European God, but He is the God of the whole world.

    Jesus was crucified on the cross at Calvary on Passover.  During this feast, the high priest would sacrifice a lamb without spot or blemish for the sins of the nation of Israel.
But now Jesus had become the sacrifice!  Not only was He the spotless Lamb, He was the High Priest who would present the sacrifice before God.

    And His sacrifice as the sinless Lamb of God was not just for the nation of Israel but for the whole world.

    When He cried out, “It is finished!” the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom.  Long and thick, it was made out of pure linen, and it was rent from top to bottom.  Do you know why?

    Only the high priest could come near the presence of God.  The veil represented man’s separation from God, but through His death and resurrection, Jesus tore down that wall of separation.  Now we are part of a kingdom of priests, and we can come boldly into His presence.

    Our High Priest is seated at the right hand of God, and He said, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23 NASB).

    We are priests of the most high God.  We offer sacrifices of praise.  When we shout unto God with the voice of triumph, we’re fulfilling our priestly duties.  We can shout the shout that brought us out because Jesus brought us out of sin and into righteousness.

The Shout That’s Going To Take Us Out

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first..” (I Thessalonians 4:16).

    Finally, I’m waiting for the shout that’s going to take us out.  Out of what?  Out of New York, Los Angeles, London, Nairobi, Calcutta, Tokyo, and every other place on this planet!
I don’t think it’s going to be much longer because there are signs all around us that we are living in the last days.

    Powerful earthquakes and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent.  More and more nations are becoming armed to the teeth with the most lethal military weapons ever developed.  Tensions are high in many areas of the globe with the potential for numerous wars and internecine skirmishes.

    Unprecedented advances in computers and other sophisticated technology are laying the groundwork for an eventual one-world economic and political system.

    All of the things that Jesus and the prophets told us to look for in the last days are being revealed on a daily basis.  Jesus is about to come!

I’m Getting Caught Up

I don’t know about you, but I believe in the rapture of the church.  I know there are some preachers who don’t believe in the rapture.  They tell me the word “rapture” is not in the Bible.  I tell them right back that the phrase “caught up” is.

    Here’s what it says in the book of First Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 13 through 18:
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

    I’m not looking for Him anymore.  I’m listening for Him.  I’m listening for the shout and the sound of a trumpet.

    He’s coming back with a shout, and if you’re not ready, you’re going to be left behind to face seven years of tribulation.  The Holy Ghost is going to be taken out of this world.  If you can’t stay saved now, I know you won’t be able to stay saved then.

    A friend of mine was praying, and he said, “Lord, how are you going to pull this rapture off?”  God told him, “That’s easy, son.  I’m just going to call the Holy Ghost home, and everybody He’s in is going to come with Him.”

    Are you ready?  Are your sins gone?  Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?  Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book if Life?  God said in Luke 10:20:
“..rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”

    We shall not all sleep.  If you want to sleep, sleep.  But I’m waiting for that final shout.  The shout that’s going to take us out of Harlem.  The shout that’s going to take us out of New York.  The shout that’s going to take us out of London, Jerusalem, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Sydney, Calcutta, and Tokyo.

    The Bible says in Mark 13:32:
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

    Well, I’m going to make an announcement.  I know the day, and I know the hour that He’s coming!  It’s going to be the day of the Lord, and He’s coming back in the hour that you think not.

    I want to go on radio and television, and I want to shout it from the highest mountain, “Jesus is coming!”

    We’re so close.  Jesus is about to come, and He’s coming back for a bride that is holy, without spot or wrinkle.  He’s not going to marry up with a bride that’s flirting with the devil.  He’s going to marry up with a chaste virgin.  Those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

    You might tell me, “I shook the preacher’s hand and had my name put on the church book.”  You might as well have put your name on a barn door and shook a donkey’s tail.  It’ll get you into heaven just as quick.

    He said, “He that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.”  It’s either Heaven or Hell.  It’s either Christ or the devil.  You’re either saved, or you’re lost.  You can’t put this decision off.

How To Get Ready

If you want to be ready for the soon coming of Jesus Christ, get on your knees right now.  Ask God to forgive you of your sins and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness.  Ask Him to give you a clean heart and to make you a new creation.  Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior and to fill you with the Holy Ghost so that you may live the life He wants you to live.

    Start reading the Word of God daily, beginning with the book of John.  Talk to God often, confessing your sins and asking for His help and guidance in your life.  Make it an everyday part of your life so that you will grow strong in the Spirit.

    Find a Spirit-filled, Bible-believing church, get baptized, and get involved with other Christians as God leads you into the work He has called you to do.

    Then your spiritual ears will be opened, and some day soon you will hear the trumpet of God sounding and the shout that is going to take us out!

by R.W. Schambach