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.

FogOfFear

You can see it far off, looming on the horizon, a thick fog menacing off the coast and swirling in the distance. You know the signs. You’ve been here many times before, but you’ve learned to carry on.  At first, you kind of ignore it, you are aware it’s there. You don’t want to work yourself up, so you busy yourself with things in the hope that the winds will change, and the fog is driven out to sea. The winds rarely change.

In time it approaches, subtle and quiet, caressing its way—almost seducing its way back into your life. Your defense mechanism hasn’t worked, and you can’t keep up the charade. At first, it’s manageable. “This isn’t so bad,” you think, “I can handle this.” Before you know it, the fog is all around you, the thick blur is everywhere, and the familiar comforts are gone. In the fog, sounds are distant echoes, faces are veiled shapes, and the familiar becomes strange; you know it all too well. Feeling alienated and overwhelmed—unable to trust yourself, in the fog of anxiety you give up. You lose yourself in an existential madness. You have a panic attack.

For the anxious and disquieted, fog is a good metaphor.  In fog we lose our bearings, we lose our vision to see reality, and we feel isolated and alone. Sometimes anxiety comes out of nowhere. Anxiety is an existential crisis because it alienates us from reality. That is why a panic attack has a deep sense of dread about it. In a panic, we feel that we are captivated by new truths and new realities.

Have you ever had the experience of waking up from a nightmare only to be troubled by it later in the day? Something about the nightmare hangs around. It is as if the nightmare was exposing something about the real world that you can’t quite shake. Usually, in a short time, this sensation falls away, lost amidst the distractions of waking up. The nightmare, with all its teeth, is not actually real. That’s what anxiety is like, a brooding, lingering sense of unease that turns into real terror. However, unlike the nightmare, it doesn’t go away.

Panic appears to be a revelation—a disclosure about how things really are. Just as fog can make the familiar, strange—and therefore disorient us, unhinging us from the moorings that give us stability and comfort. Anxiety exposes what we take for granted by giving us a new kind of vision, a new story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we can handle, and what is real. Anxiety is a story that is always negative, always fatal, always self-harming, weak and victimizing.

What if this story is true? What if the fog is the way things really are, and the sunlight is just a mirage? What if the nightmare is real and the waking-world is false? It can be tempting to go there, but let’s not go there because nothing good can come from it. Instead, let’s be honest about anxiety and see what that does. The Psalmist says to trust the Lord like a weaned child.

Anxiety is dreadful, it affects our quality of life. Anxiety is debilitating. That doesn’t mean it is true. This is the key point I want to focus on today. The question we must return to in our anxious, fog-laden crisis is always: Is this true? It’s not.

Anxiety is not prophesy. Anxious people live as if it is. Anxiety makes predictions: “I’m going to fail”, “I can’t handle it”, “This will never work.” Anxiety makes judgments: “I’m a failure at being a Christian,” “I’m too weak,” “I’m a bad Christian.”  We need to ask, “Is this true?” Who gets to speak into your life and tell you who you are? Who gets to name and talk about you? Who gets to identify the central essence of what it is to be you? Anxiety wants to.

Does your anxiety have the right to name you, inform you, identify you, claim knowledge of who you are? No. It does not. Anxiety is not God. Anxiety is predominately demonic, because, “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18) and Christ says, “Don’t be afraid” (Mark 5:36). Fear is dangerous to our faith not because it exposes that our faith is weak, but because it tempts us to worship false gods. The danger of fear is that it blinds us from the truth, the truth that God loves us. That love—the love of God as seen in Jesus, in God’s giving of His Son for His glory should speak into our fear and counteract it. God may not always shield you from the terrors of anxiety, but his Word is always more powerful and can counteract any untruth.

That is what anxiety always is: false beliefs. “I can’t handle this.” False. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “I’m too weak!” Maybe so! “But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). “I’m a failure at being a Christian.” False! “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). “I’m a bad Christian.” Wrong! “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). By asking, “Is this feeling or thought true?” Is this God? We have two options; we can trust our hearts and experiences, or we trust the God who IS truth.

Essentially, what it means to live the Christian life is to live it trusting God’s words of truth. God’s words are powerful and creative, and unlike human words, God’s words do what they say. God’s words create faith when they are heard. They grant strength when we are weak. God’s words of truth counteract the negative and lying untruths of anxiety.

In the fog of anxiety, even though we feel alone, alienated, isolated, weak and near death; the feelings are real, however, the thoughts behind the feelings are not true.  We have a God who is with us always. God never abandons us as orphans, He walks with us through death-valleys, and His strength is sufficient for our weaknesses. These are all His promises. They are all true. The anxious person may have doubts and that’s OK. However, to press in through the fear and not allow it to harm us, we are to hold fast to Christ’s word and promises. I should know. I’ve experienced the fog of deep, dark panic attacks. Then, when I’m reminded of God’s promises, I feel better. Why? Because I ask myself, “Is this anxious thought true?” No, it’s not. It’s false.  I’m taken outside myself by words that give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God’s words are true. He who calmed the storm with His words can calm my jittery nerves with the same words. The storms of my life are just as vulnerable to the King’s command of peace as that ancient storm was to Jesus Christ.

Out there, in the world today, in our city, our State, and our Country, there is a lot to be concerned about. War or peace. Democrat or Republican. Famine. Pestilence. The Coronavirus. Influenza A or B. The economy. Life or death. All of these things may strike fear into your hearts. However, Jesus says in John 14:1, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Therefore, hear God’s Word of truth for you today from Philippians 4:7, “Then God’s peace, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s peace be with you. Take heart! Don’t take what the world gives, but take what Jesus Christ gives. His peace. It’s eternal peace. That peace which passes all our understanding.

This is most certainly true.

~ taken from Bruce Hillman

 

ObJust

Posted on The Brothers of John the Steadfast webpage

What is justification?

For Lutherans, the central teaching of the Bible is justification by faith apart from the works of the law. The classic expression of this doctrine is found in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession, “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for  Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins.  This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.” Lutheran theologians often speak of justification as having two aspects, objective and subjective. Objective justification is “God’s verdict of ‘not guilty’ upon the world for the sake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.” Subjective justification means that the benefits of God’s verdict of ‘not guilty’ become yours through faith.

What is the basis of Objective Justification?

Jesus has redeemed all people. John the Baptist declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) This statement, which we sing in the “Agnus Dei,” declares Jesus to be “objective justification personified.” 1  Paul also wrote to Timothy, that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Timothy 2:6).

Where is Objective Justification taught in the Bible?

  • 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. “The only possible antecedent of ‘their’ in that sentence is ‘the world,’ and the world certainly includes all men.”2
  • Romans 4:25: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. “To refer to the words: Who was raised again for our justification,” to the so-called subjective justification, which takes place by faith, not only weakens the force of the words, but also violates the context.”3
  • Romans 3:22-24: There is no difference, for, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. The key word here is “all.” All have sinned and all those sinners are justified- there is no difference. “All have sinned. The verb ‘justified’ has the same subject, ‘all.”4
  • Romans 5:18: Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. “By raising [Christ] from the dead, [God] absolved Him from our sins which had been imputed to Him, and therefore He also absolved us in Him, that Christ’s resurrection might thus be the case and the proof and the completion of our justification.”5  “Because in Christ’s resurrection we are acquitted of our sins, so that they can no longer condemn us before the judgment of God.” 6

Do the Lutheran Confessions teach Objective Justification?

While the term “objective justification” does not appear in the Lutheran Confessions, the teaching of objective justification may be found there. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession teaches that a refusal to believe that our sins are forgiven by God is to call God a liar. “And what else is the refusal to assent to absolution but charging God with falsehood? If the heart doubts, it regards those things which God promises as uncertain and of no account. Accordingly, in 1 John 5, 10 it is written: He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son.” (Apology XII:62) “Therefore, if any one be not confident that he is forgiven, he denies that God has sworn what is true, than which a more horrible blasphemy cannot be imagined.” (Apology XII: 94) The Large Catechism teaches us that our sins are forgiven prior to our acceptance of such forgiveness. “Therefore there is here again great need to call upon God and to pray: Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses. Not as though He did not forgive sin without and even before our prayer (for He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or ever thought about it). But this is to the intent that we may recognize and accept such forgiveness.” (LC III:88) The Formula of Concord declares, “That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.” (FC SD XI: 15).

How are Objective and Subjective Justification connected?

Objective justification is the basis for subjective justification. “An essential prerequisite of justification by faith, or of subjective justification, is the objective justification (the reconciliation) of all mankind.” 7  “If God had not in His heart justified the whole world because of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction, and if this justification were not offered , there could not be a justification by faith.” 8 “The relationship of objective justification to the other so-called justification can expressed in this way, that in the latter the appropriation of the former occurs.” 9 “Only those who believe the gospel are justified subjectively. But faith always has an object and that object is Christ Jesus and the objective justification He achieved.” 10

ELS Pastor Ron Pederson warns, “Both objective and subjective justification need to be taught together. If you leave one or the other out no one will be saved.” 11  His warning echoes that of former WELS President Carl Mischke, “A word of caution may, however, be in place. It may be well to remind ourselves not to divide ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ justification as if they were two totally different things which can be treated in isolation from one another. They are rather two sides of the same coin, and there can be no ‘saints’ or salvation without faith. To teach otherwise would indeed be universalism.” 12

What are the dangers of denying Objective Justification?

Denying objective justification may lead to falling into the error of limited atonement, that Jesus paid only for the sins of believers. “Not all men, indeed believe this glorious fact, wherefore, they do not become partakers of the righteousness which Christ earned for them and which God gives them in the gospel. But it is nothing else than Calvinism to deny, as so many still do, that God has in Christ ‘reconciled the world unto himself’ (2 Cor 5:19), atoned ‘for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2) and thus justified all men.” 13

Denying objective justification can turn faith into a human work. “All those who deny the objective justification (the objective reconciliation) will, if they be consistent, also deny that subjective justification is brought about by faith; they will have to regard faith as a complement of Christ’s merit- a human achievement.” 14

Denying objective justification makes faith a cause of justification. “It is not strange that those who emphasize man’s faith at the expense of the objective validity of Christ’s Gospel and His work of justification should go astray in the doctrines of Conversion and Election, so as to give man’s faith there also an entirely unscriptural importance.” 15

Denying objective justification diminishes the glory of the Gospel: “the ‘objective justification’ of all men is denied by many within the Lutheran churches and neglected by still more, so that the full light of the Gospel does not shine forth in their teaching and preaching.”16

1 Ronald Pederson, “Objective Justification,” Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. 52, Nos. 2-3 (June-September 2012), p. 163.
2 Siegbert Becker, “Objective Justification,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Winter 1986:4.
3 Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, II:321
4 Richard D. Balge, “Justification- a Brief Study.” Essay delivered at the Wisconsin Association of Lutheran Educators, Wisconsin Lutheran college, Oct. 26, 1984, 1.
5 Johann Gerhard, Annotations in epist. Ad romanos, Jena ed. 1666, p. 156
6 Johann Gerhard, Disputationes theologicae, Jena, 1655, XX, p. 1450
7 Pieper II: 508.
8 Ibid.
9 Ph. D. Burk, Rechtfertigung und Versicherung, p. 41
10 Pederson 166
11 Ibid.
12 C.H. Mischke, The President’s Newsletter WELS, June 1982.
13 George Lillegard, “Doctrinal Controversies of the Norwegian Synod,” Grace for Grace, Lutheran Synod Book Company, 1943, p. 149.
14 Pieper II: 508
15 Lillegard, Grace for Grace, p. 151.
16 Ibid.

 

~ thank you Shawn!

Pastor Gary DeSha

Transform

Christ Lutheran Church is in the process of a modern transformation! By the time this newsletter reaches you, we will have celebrated and re-dedicated Christ Lutheran Church to worship, the ministry of the Gospel, missions, the discipleship of believers, and the correct administration of the Sacraments – all to the glory of God. God has blessed this congregation with many blessings. What I hear God telling us is that we must submit ourselves to the transformation of the Holy Spirit. How are we transformed?

We are told in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family.” Romans 8:29

Our transformation enables us to be of service to God in bringing the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to a lost and dying world. A recent Pew Research Center study has identified some interesting facts:

  1. Atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons score higher in religious knowledge and outperform Protestant Christians on questions about the core teachings and history of Christianity.
  2. Those identifying themselves as “Christian” shrunk from 78% to 70% – a drop of 8% points in just seven years. Meanwhile, those calling themselves atheist, non-religious, or simply unaffiliated rose from 16% to almost 23%.
  3. Almost 60% of our youth leave their churches as young adults – many joining the growing number of the so-called “nones,” those who profess no adherence to any faith whatsoever.

What can we at Christ Lutheran Church do? We must do what we believe, teach and confess!

  1. To preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  2. To preach and teach the Law of God, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  3. To preach and teach repentance from sin and faith toward God through Jesus Christ alone.
  4. To preach and teach belief in the inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration and authority of God’s Word (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) – the Bible.
  5. To teach her followers of Jesus Christ, their family and children what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and why it matters.
  6. To teach followers of Jesus Christ what the Christian faith is and that it is important to know and understand what they believe, and why.
  7. To preach and teach about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, i.e., being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the continuation of the gifts (manifestations) of the Holy Spirit; the gifts God gives for the equipping and building up of the Body of Christ.
  8. To preach and teach how God has arranged the Body of Christ (the local church); how He has defined its leadership; and how the Body of Christ (the local church) should function in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  9. To support her members by assembling together for worship, ministry, and fellowship. We are exhorted in God’s Word to always assemble for worship, because it is the evidence that we care, love, and work for one another and our community.

“And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. And let us do this all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

At Christ Lutheran Church we must seek to do just that. Let us make the necessary commitment to transformation. It is time to take a sound biblical stand for God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and His Church. Let us come together, from ashes to renewal. Join us, help us, fellowship with us, support us. Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Gary

Practical Faith in God

Posted: August 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

practical

Practical Faith in God

My childhood autumns in Florida hold precious memories — believe it or not, taking out warmer clothing, hot cocoa, harvest moons, cool crisp air, bon fires, a well-stocked pantry, and best of all—FOOTBALL! I love it.

The autumn of life is a strange mixture of nostalgia, blessings, and potential. It yields the harvest of seeds we’ve sown throughout life and braces us for colder days to come. When life’s autumn arrives, we look back and better understand the way God led us; but we still have work to do—the best and fullest. It’s a good transition time.

“Autumn” occurs only once in the Bible. In Jude 1:12, where false teachers are compared to “trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots,”  implying that the true teaching of God’s Word must be fruitful, and autumn should be a fruitful season, the most abundant of the year. How can we take advantage of our autumn?

The seasons come and go, and our focus is to be on the God who remains unchanged and unchanging. “LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2)

There’s a lot of unwelcome change in our world. Moral and societal changes brother us most when we turn on our television, the internet, or look at the newspapers. We’re painfully aware that our kids are growing up in a world far different from the one we knew as children.

I remember living in Arizona, especially the valley of the sun – Phoenix; the surround vistas are awe-inspiring.  The plants are so green, the cactus thrives, and you can see for miles (when there is no pollution alert).  The time of year I’m remembering is autumn, if you want to call it that, the air can be crisp and cold.  The evening dew bursts forth and slaps your face with the fresh scent of the moist ground.  Then, before you know it, the green desert starts to turn yellow, and withers to brown when the first 100-degree day hits. Everything, including humans look for shade and relief from the heat of the sun.

When things get hot for us, when things start to wither around us and turn bad where do we go for relief?  What is one to do?

We are to turn to God and trust in Him. Why is that?  The reason is that even if we have family, friends, or co-workers to share our problems with, we still must rely totally on God. Everything we experience, we experience on our own. If you think about it closely, at the end of the day, we don’t have family, we don’t have friends, and all we have is God. It is you and God. Faith in God gets us through to Him Who gets through to us. God gives us what no one else can possibly give us, and that is strength and hope.

Is there a lesson here? Yes. Here is the lesson: who we have a relationship with, what we have or don’t have, has no bearing on our faith in God or in our relationship with Him.

Life can beat us down hard, and we have to deal with it the best way we can. It will either make us stronger by faith in God and trusting in Him to care for us, or it will take us down into the pits of despair because we allow it to dominate and control us. Sometimes we try to be noble, or stoic, and think we can handle everything on our own.  We all have to deal with life in our own way, behind our own eyes, from which no one else can see or experience.  Growing strong out of these lessons is the only way to go. There is no other way to go, except down into the depths of weakness and self indulgence.  Faith in God will keep us out of the grim depths of despair.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

The Bible teaches that in all things we are to give thanks.  We are to thank God for the bad situations that happen to us, and not just the blessings He bestows upon us. In prayer, however, we are to thank God for being there with us through it all.  I’ve learned something deeper about faith and being grateful to God.

It is that God gives us the strength and hope to carry on.  We are to thank God for Who He Is and all of what He has done for us, mostly for sending His Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior! I believe God allows tragedies, death, disasters, illness or calamity in our lives. He allows it and He is there when it happens and is there when it is over, and is there when we are healing from it. He is our source of strength, courage, healing and vitality.

Andre Crouch wrote a famous and moving song about trusting God, It goes like this, “Through it all, through it all…I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all…I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

Through it all, He gives us faith, hope, and love. Through it all, He bestows upon us His mercy, His compassion, and His grace.  Through it all, He gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation – His salvation. Though it all may be a mystery, He saves us, nonetheless.

May God bless your September!

 

Pastor Gary +

 

Do you remember this song from Seals and Croft?

“See the curtains hanging in the window, in the evening on a Friday night; A little light shining through the window, lets me know everything is alright… Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…

See the paper laying in the sidewalk, a little music from the house next door; So I walked on up to the doorstep, through the screen and across the floor…

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom; July is dressed up and playing her tune; And I come home from a hard day’s work; And you’re waiting there, not a care in the world; See the smile waiting in the kitchen, food cooking and the plates for two; Feel the arms that reach out to hold me, in the evening when the day is through…

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…”

In John 3:8, Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. That’s how it is with everyone who has been born from the Spirit.” Nicodemus had objected to Jesus’ teaching because he did not understand. Jesus shows him that he ought not to reject it on that account, for he constantly had a problem believing. Jesus’ words might appear incomprehensible, but His teaching was to be understood by its effects. As in this case of the wind, the effects were seen, the sound was heard, important changes were produced by it, trees and clouds were moved, yet the wind is not seen, nor do we know where it comes, nor by what laws it is governed. So it is with the operations of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person.

When the Holy Spirit comes, we see the changes produced. Men who are sinful become holy; the thoughtless become serious; the licentious become pure; the vicious, moral; the moral, religious; the prayerless, prayerful; the rebellious and obstinate, meek, mild, and gentle. When we see such changes, we ought no more to doubt that they are produced by God ‐ by the mighty Agent, than when we see the trees moved, or the waters of the ocean piled upon heaps, or feel the cooling effects of a summer’s breeze. In those cases we attribute it to the “wind,” even though we do not see it, and we do not understand how it operates.

Here are four things we learn from this passage:

1. That the proper evidence of conversion is the effect of change on the life.

2. That we must not search for the cause or manner of the change on the life.

3. That God has power over the most hardened sinner to change him, as He has power over the loftiest oak, to bring it down by a sweeping blast.

4. That there is a great variety of the modes of the operation of the Holy Spirit. As the “wind” sometimes sweeps with a tempest, and knocks everyone down all before it, and sometimes blows upon us in a mild evening zephyr, so it is with the operations of the Holy Spirit.

The sinner sometimes trembles and is prostrate before the truth, and sometimes is sweetly and gently drawn to the cross of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit’s invisible operations gives visible evidence of His power. The Holy Spirit works His own way beyond our comprehension just like we do not know the law of the wind.

So, as our summer draws nearer and covers us with its warmth, remember as you feel the summer breeze upon your face, that God, by the invisible power of His Holy Spirit has moved you and changed you, and is in the process of changing you, from glory to glory into the blessed, holy image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have a blessed summer!

GayChristianity

— A Fatal Theological Oxymoron

An oxymoron combines two notions that don’t belong together. They are often humorous, as in “military intelligence,” “open secret” or “paid volunteer.” Oxys in Greek means “sharp” and moron means “dull,” so you can see how the name was coined. “Gay Christianity” is an oxymoron, and not in the least humorous! This growing movement in contemporary evangelicalism mixes two contradictory elements in a dangerous theological oxymoron. To show why this is true, we need to define both elements-“Gay” and “Christianity.”

Christianity: We must begin with the definition of Christianity by its original founders. The Apostle Paul describes the truth as worship of God the Creator, and the lie as the worship of Nature (Romans 1:25). He is connecting with The Old Testament. Nehemiah says of God: “You have made heaven…and the hosts of heaven worship you (Neh 9:6). This takes us back to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Pagans worshiped the hosts of heaven (Nature), but in the Bible, the hosts of heaven worship the Lord. Christianity seeks to follow Psalm 57:5 by exalting God above the heavens, in order that his “glory be over all the earth!” The basic truth of existence is that the Creator and his creation are distinct.

All fallen human beings, including homosexuals, need to hear the compassion and empathy expressed in the gospel, but the biblical message cannot be reduced to mere sentimentality. It reveals the just nature of God the Creator and the fallen nature of every human being. Jesus is the revelation of that just God. As the second person of the Trinity, he is Judge and Creator but also Redeemer who, through his death on the Cross, extends God’s love to sinners.

Gay: The dictionary defines “gay” as “relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one’s own sex.” Unlike Christianity, which derives from revealed, holy Scripture, gayness has its roots in pagan religion, which has practiced homosexuality throughout the millennia. Paganism not only worships nature, refusing the Creator; it also refuses the binaries and distinctions that God has placed in creation, such as male and female. For a generation, “Gay Christians” have argued that the Bible embraces homosexuality as a valid expression of human love. A recent scholarly study entitled Unchanging Witness challenges that thesis. It argues that the Judeo-Christian tradition, from the Old Testament world to Rabbinic Judaism, to the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament and on through the whole of Christian history, has never believed the Bible to give moral legitimacy to homosexuality.

Homosexuality poses a colossal threat to Christian living. Radical legal scholar Mark Tushnet, Professor at Harvard Law School argues that the culture wars are over; they (traditionalists) lost, we won…. [O]pponents of the moral revolution are to be treated with scorn, contempt, and worse, like Japan and Germany, owing unconditional surrender.

Such an attitude certainly threatens “Christian” free speech. In addition, the new bathroom laws demolish public decency standards by embracing individual “exposure rights”forgeneralized “nonconsensual nudity” (typical of past pagan societies). Such extreme, nonsensical standards are part of a massive moral brainwashing of the next generation, accomplished through “progressive” educational programs, such as President Obama’s recent diktat regulating gender-free school bathrooms.

We seek rather to identify the pagan cosmology of Oneist nature-worship behind “gayness” and to analyze the conflict such a position has with the Twoist biblical cosmology of a world full of distinctions created by God. Without standing in judgment over homosexuals, we must preserve the essence of the Christian message, namely purity, holiness and the radical transformation made possible by the Twoist Gospel. Those powerful, positive elements will be utterly lost if pagan-inspired “Gay Christianity” becomes a defining element of Christian thinking and practice.

Paganism, in rejecting the binary and “joining the opposites” eliminates the fundamental character of biblical truth expressed in created distinctions between God and the creation, male and female, right and wrong, good and evil. Thus, “Gay Christianity” is indeed an oxymoron.

In His mercy, however, God can clear our sinful thinking and transform our hopelessness into joy. Our conference will feature several testimonies of those who have been rescued from their Oneist confusion. The air has cleared for them, as we pray it will also clear for our culture.

By Dr. Peter Jones

What Is A Lutheran?

Posted: May 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

Luthers Rose

By Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

As a refugee – or casualty – of many different kinds of churches and religions before I became a Lutheran, I find the Lutheran Church uniquely satisfying.  It has the good parts of all of the other kinds of Christianity.  And its distinctive qualities zero in on what is most essential in the Christian faith.

One of my relatives said, “You Lutherans are just like Catholics.”  Well, not really, but sort of.  Like Catholicism, Lutheranism is sacramental.  Lutherans really believe that this material world can convey spiritual reality.  In Baptism, physical water effects a spiritual cleansing.  In Holy Communion, we really believe that Jesus Christ is there and that when we eat the bread and drink the wine we are receiving His body and His blood.  (Yes, that is a mind-blowing concept, and my mind is blown every Sunday, to my great benefit.)

Like Catholicism, Lutheranism is historical, in solidarity with the Christianity that goes back throughout the centuries.  This means that Lutherans, like Catholics, tend to worship with some version of the ancient liturgy.  We do not have to, strictly speaking, but in my case, once I got used to it, I found it more meaningful and even more emotional than any other kind of worship I had previously experienced.  (The words of the liturgy are pretty much all taken from the Word of God, so no wonder.)

Also like Catholics we draw on the rich spiritual heritage of the Church through the ages, including the church Fathers of ancient Rome and medieval writers such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  We keep denying that we “broke away” from Rome, insisting that we were just trying to reform things, only to get kicked out!  What needed reforming are things like the papacy, ritualism, indulgences, legalism, and extra-biblical add-ons to Christianity.  But Lutherans do not throw out the baby with the holy water.

Yet my Catholic friends consider us Lutherans arch-Protestants.  And indeed, Lutherans possess everything distinctive about Protestants also.  For example, Lutherans emphasize the Bible as much as any Baptist preacher or evangelical Bible study leader.  Orthodox Lutherans believe the Bible is inerrant, the ultimate authority, God’s personal revelation to human beings by means of human language.  We even ratchet that up:  the Word of God is also sacramental, conveying God’s grace to those who hear or read it, scaring us to death by the severity of God’s Law (bringing us to repentance) and comforting us to life by the love in Christ’s Gospel (bringing us to faith).

Speaking of that Gospel – the Good News that Christ died for our sins and offers salvation as a free gift – Lutherans preach it and cling to it, just as evangelicals do.  (The word Evangelical comes from the word evangel, meaning “good news,” which is what Gospel means.  The term Evangelical originally meant “Lutheran.”)

Again, as with the Word of God, Lutherans ratchet up the concept.  Many Protestant Evangelicals today see the Gospel mainly in terms of their conversion, that is, when they first became Christians.  Having accepted the Gospel a long time ago, they now assume that Christian life is about following God’s Law.  Lutherans, though, see the Gospel as something that we need every day and every moment, so that we are always repenting and experiencing Christ’s forgiveness, receiving Christ every time we encounter His Word or receive His body broken for us and His blood poured out for the remission of our sins in Holy Communion.  Our response to the Gospel is faith, and the Christian life has to do with growing in faith, which, in turn, bears fruit in good works and love for our neighbors.  But Lutherans are, indeed, Protestants (a term also first applied to Lutherans.)

We are different, perhaps, in our emphasis on the freedom of the Gospel, so that we do not get hung up on extra-biblical pieties and moralisms that characterize many conservative Protestants.  For example, some evangelicals are shocked and scandalized to find that Lutheran congregations may well serve beer at their church dinners!  Other Evangelicals find the “Lutheran beverage” refreshing, especially because instead of feeling guilty about it, they can enjoy it as a gift of God.

Lutheranism exhibits the best parts of the different varieties of Protestantism.  When I was in college, the Evangelical campus ministries that I fell in with were torn with controversies between Calvinists, Arminians, and charismatics.  For me, Lutheranism fulfills them all.  Like Calvinism, Lutherans believe that we are saved by grace alone, that God does absolutely everything for our salvation; but whereas Calvinists push that notion into the logical extremes of double predestination and limited atonement, Lutherans, understanding the Word and Sacraments as Means of Grace, believe that potentially anyone can be saved because Christ died for all.  Like Arminians, Lutherans emphasize God’s love and the universality of Christ’s sacrifice; but whereas Arminians focus on the role of the human will in both salvation and in the possibility of moral perfection, Lutherans, with a more radical view of both sin and grace, stress the role of God’s will rather than our own.  Like charismatics, Lutherans expect a direct experience of the supernatural and direct contact with the Godhead.  But finessing the dangers of spiritual subjectivity, Lutherans find God’s charisma (the Greek word for “gift”) in His gifts of the Word – in which the Holy Spirit is present – and the Sacraments, in which Christ is miraculously, supernaturally present.

For me, Lutheranism represents a wholeness of Christianity, embracing the most salient features of Catholicism (including Eastern Orthodoxy) and Protestantism (including its various sects).  This, of course, means that Lutheranism will be attacked from all sides (Catholics condemning it for being protestant, Protestants for being Catholic, Calvinists for being Arminian; Arminians for being Calvinist; charismatics for being dead).  And frankly, it means that Lutherans will attack all of the others for what they leave out.  Part of the unattractiveness of Lutheranism for some people is its theological combativeness.  But it isn’t that Lutherans have the only truth, though some may seem to act that way.  Lutheranism has actually helped me to appreciate other kinds of Christianity.  But the Lutheran synthesis depends on a delicate balance that must be defended at every point.

Lutheranism, of course, has its own distinctive elements that can pretty much be found only in Lutheran churches.  These could be held in other churches, but they usually cannot be found among non-Lutherans, even though they go into the depths of the Christian mysteries.One is the Lutheran focus on Christology.  Martin Luther said that we ought not to think of God apart from His incarnation in Jesus Christ.  We often think of God the Father as an abstract idea or as an amorphous being far above the universe who looks down on human suffering.  But God has become flesh.  Not that Lutherans deny the transcendence of the Father or that we believe in the Son of God only at the expense of the other persons of the Trinity.  But God the Father has revealed Himself fully in Jesus.  To see the Father, we must see Jesus.  As Jesus told Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)  So our knowledge of God must be mediated by our knowledge of the man Jesus.

One of the main reasons some people do not believe in God at all is the problem of the evil and suffering in the world.  How could there be a God who looks down on all of the world’s evil and suffering and does nothing about it?  Notice the assumption:  God is a transcendent being who “looks down.”  What if God actually enters this world of evil and suffering?  What if, somehow, he took all of that evil and suffering into Himself?  What if this incarnate God suffered the just penalty for all the world’s evil?  What if this allows for a cosmic forgiveness?

This, of course, is what all Christians believe that Jesus accomplished on the cross.  But few Christians, oddly enough, apply Christology to the problem of suffering.  This brings us to another Lutheran distinctive:  the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross.  We would expect God to come down as a mighty king to be victorious over His enemies, to answer all of our questions, and to solve all of our problems.  Instead, God came as a baby to an unmarried mother who laid Him in a cattle trough; he was homeless; He was executed by torture.  The incarnate God set aside His rightful glory for a cross.  In doing so and by rising from the dead and then ascending to His glory, he redeemed us.  By the same token, we want the way of glory – and so we expect all of our questions to be answered and all our problems solved – but we, too, have to bear our crosses.  Ironically, in those times of our own weakness, suffering, and need, we find that Christ has taken up our crosses into His.

It has been said that American Christianity has no theology of suffering.  Consequently, we assume that suffering is meaningless, and if we suffer we cannot bear it, to the point of thinking we must be outside of God’s favor or there must not be a God at all.  Lutheranism, to its great credit, has a theology of suffering.

But it also has a theology of everyday life that brings satisfaction and joy.  One of the most helpful things I have learned since I became a Lutheran is the doctrine of vocation.  To realize that just being a husband, a father, an employee, and a citizen are all callings from God, that the day-to-day tasks that all of these entail are holy before God – that was a revelation to me.  Not only that, but God is working through human beings to bestow His gifts:  he gives me my daily bread through farmers, bakers, and cooks; He protects me by police officers; e heals me by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists; He proclaims His Word and gives me Christ’s body and blood through my pastor.  And somehow, He is working through me.  He created new life through my wife and me when we had our kids.  He has taught young people to write through me in my job as an English professor.  All of these vocations have the same purpose:  to love and serve the different neighbors whom God brings to us in each of our multiple callings.

I used to think that I served God when I did church work and that everything else was just living or making a living.  Now that I am a Lutheran, I know that in church God serves me through His Word and Sacraments and that He sends me out in my different vocations to live out my faith in love and service to my neighbors.  He is still present, though, even in the mundane, ordinary routines of life, working through me and serving me through others.  That gives my life purpose and a meaning that I never realized before.

One more distinctive:  Lutherans talk about “the chief article,” “the doctrine upon which the Church rises or falls.”  That refers to the teaching of justification by faith, or to be more technical, justification by grace through faith in the work of Christ – in other words, the Gospel, the Good News of salvation through Christ.  In Lutheran theology, everything goes back to this.  Baptism is Christ saving us.  Holy Communion is Christ giving us His broken body and His poured-out blood for the remission of our sins.  The Bible conveys God’s Law, which brings us to repentance, and His Gospel, which brings us to justifying faith.  The Trinity is a unity of three persons, which enables us to say that God is love, and because He loves us, He saves us.  Jesus is true God, because only God could bear our sins and save us like He did.  In vocation, we are, to use Luther’s words, little Christs to our neighbors as we sacrifice ourselves in love and service, just as Christ did for us.  This “chief article” holds Lutheran spirituality together.  It also holds life together.  I never realized that until I became a Lutheran.

 

OneBaptism

Or “What Does It Mean to Crucify Christ Again?”

Martin Luther called Hebrews 6:4-6 a “hard knot” in the Bible, because it seems to deny repentance to those who sin grievously after joining the church. In the third century, a schism formed because an elder in Rome, Novatus, denied restoration to lapsed Christians on the basis of these verses. Many Christians who read this passage are struck with fear, wondering, “Does this apply to me, since I have backslidden in my walk with the Lord?” The text reads:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Note that the reason given for being unable to repent is specified in the second half of verse 6: they crucify again the Son of God and hold him up to contempt. What could this possibly refer to? Many years ago, St. John Chrysostom (a powerful preacher in Constantinople who died in the fifth century) suggested that it referred to being baptized a second time. Other students of the Scripture have followed Chrysostom, and although his view seems less common today, I believe it carries significant weight. Here are three reasons—contextual, exegetical, and theological—that  “crucifying once again the Son of God” is a reference to attempting to be “baptized” again after committing apostasy.*

Contextual Evidence

Hebrews was written to a church that had members who were considering leaving the faith behind. They had taken the “new members’” class, been baptized, participated in the life of the church, but the pressures of persecution were making some in their number reconsider the Christian faith. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author encourages these believers not to let go of their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). The word “confession” used here indicates a public act of allegiance (cf. 1 Tim. 6:12); and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting reference than baptism. Throughout this letter, the Hebrews are encouraged to cling to their baptismal hope which centers on Christ. Furthermore, there very well may be a reference to baptism in 6:4 where the author speaks of being “once enlightened.” At least from the 2ndcentury onward, “enlightened” was used as a technical term for being baptized. If we couple that idea together with an allusion to the Lord’s Supper immediately following (tasting of the heavenly gift), it isn’t difficult to see that baptism is in the foreground of this book, and especially chapter 6.

Exegetical Evidence

In verse 6, crucifying the Son of God again is parallel to holding him up to contempt. The word used by the pastor here is rare in the New Testament, in fact, this is its only occurrence! It means to disgrace someone in a public manner. The people described in Hebrews 6:4-6 experienced in a powerful way the ministry of God’s word and Spirit (they were baptized church goers who had an intimate knowledge of the Bible). If they were to abandon it all, and then sign up again for the new members’ class and seek to be baptized a second time, that would be a public disgracing of Christ, as if his initial promise in baptism was insufficient. A person is either born again or they aren’t, but you cannot be born again – again. Continually hardening yourself to the gospel after years and years and then ultimately rejecting it (as some in the Hebrew church were dangerously close to doing) leaves one in a graceless situation (cf. Gal. 5:4). Indeed, later this pastor will say that if we reject Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, there’s no other sacrifice left for us that can atone for sins (Heb. 10:26).

Theological Evidence

When we understand what baptism is, theologically speaking, it becomes obvious that Hebrews 6:6 alludes to attempting to be baptized twice. In Romans 6:3-6, Paul taught this about baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

In baptism, we enter into Christ’s death and resurrection by faith. We are crucified with him. We can only be once enlightened because Jesus died once for the sins of the world (Heb. 7:27; 10:10). Perhaps now this pastor’s warning is a bit clearer; he’s saying to the Hebrew church: Let’s not start over from scratch again (Heb. 6:1-3); we’ve already been once enlightened; we’ve tasted the heavenly gift, the good word of God, the powers of heaven! If you throw it all away and trust in something else besides Jesus to save you, you can’t come back and get baptized again. Christ can’t be crucified twice!

Of course, at this point you might be thinking, “Yikes, I’ve been baptized several times!” The truth is, there’s only one baptism, and the act of baptism, without faith, cannot save you. The pastor in Hebrews is calling his audience to lay hold of the grace of God given to them in baptism, and you must do the same. The good news is, he trusts that his hearers will (note the encouragement in 6:9-12). Hebrews 6:4-6 doesn’t teach that if we deny Jesus, or commit a heinous sin, we can never repent again (remember King David the murderous adulterer, or Peter the denier). As long as there’s breath in your lungs, today is the day of salvation. Don’t harden your heart to God’s grace though, and don’t think that going and getting baptized for the seventh time will grant it to you. By faith, lay hold of the promise that has already been set before you and hold fast to it each and every day. And here’s the promise: if you trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, you have eternal life. Let’s have a full assurance of hope in that promise until the end of our days (Heb. 6:11).

By Adriel Sanchez, taken from his article on http://www.corechristianity.com

*Notes from St. John Chrysostom’s Homily on Hebrews 6:

“But what is “the doctrine of baptisms”? Not as if there were many baptisms, but one only. Why then did he express it in the plural? Because he had said, “not laying again a foundation of repentance.” For if he again baptized them and catechised them afresh, and having been baptized at the beginning they were again taught what things ought to be done and what ought not, they would remain perpetually incorrigible.

It is not open to them to say, If we live slothfully we will be baptized again, we will be catechised again, we will again receive the Spirit; even if now we fall from the faith, we shall be able again by being baptized, to wash away our sins, and to attain to the same state as before. Ye are deceived (he says) in supposing these things.

“Crucifying to themselves,” he says, “the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame.” What he means is this. Baptism is a Cross, and “our old man was crucified with [Him]” (Rom. vi. 6), for we were “made conformable to the likeness of His death” (Rom. vi. 5; Phil. iii. 10), and again, “we were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death.” (Rom. vi. 4.) Wherefore, as it is not possible that Christ should be crucified a second time, for that is to “put Him to an open shame.” For “if death shall no more have dominion over Him” (Rom. vi. 9), if He rose again, by His resurrection becoming superior to death; if by death He wrestled with and overcame death, and then is crucified again, all those things become a fable and a mockery. He then that baptizeth a second time, crucifies Him again. But what is “crucifying afresh”? [It is] crucifying over again. For as Christ died on the cross, so do we in baptism, not as to the flesh, but as to sin. Behold two deaths. He died as to the flesh; in our case the old man was buried, and the new man arose, made conformable to the likeness of His death. If therefore it is necessary to be baptized [again], it is necessary that this same [Christ] should die again. For baptism is nothing else than the putting to death of the baptized, and his rising again.

And he well said, “crucifying afresh unto themselves.” For he that does this, as having forgotten the former grace, and ordering his own life carelessly, acts in all respects as if there were another baptism. It behooves us therefore to take heed and to make
ourselves safe.

What is, “having tasted of the heavenly gift”? it is, “of the remission of sins”: for this is of God alone to bestow, and the grace is a grace once for all. “What then? shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far from it!” (Rom. vi, 1, 2.) But if we should be always
going to be saved by grace we shall never be good. For where there is but one grace, and we are yet so indolent, should we then cease sinning if we knew that it is possible again to have our sins washed away? For my part I think not. He here shows that the gifts are many: and to explain it, Ye were counted worthy (he says) of so great forgiveness; for he that was sitting in darkness, he that was at enmity, he that was at open war, that was alienated, that was hated of God, that was lost, he having been suddenly enlightened, counted worthy of the Spirit, of the heavenly gift, of adoption as a son, of the kingdom of heaven, of those other good things, the unspeakable mysteries; and who does not even thus become better, but while indeed worthy of perdition, obtained salvation and honor, as if he had successfully accomplished great things; how could he be again baptized?

What then (you say)? Is there no repentance? There is repentance, but there is no second baptism: but repentance there is, and it has great force, and is able to set free from the burden of his sins, if he will, even him that hath been baptized much in sins, and to establish in safety him who is in danger, even though he should have come unto the very depth of wickedness. And this is evident from many places. “For,” says one, “doth not he that falleth rise again? or he that turneth away, doth not he turn back to [God]?” (Jer. viii. 4.) It is possible, if we will, that Christ should be formed in us again: for hear Paul saying, “My little children of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal. iv. 19.) Only let us lay hold on repentance.”

 

Created For His Glory

Posted: January 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

huge-waves

Text:

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” 

(Isaiah 43:1, 3a & 7)

 Isaiah’s prophecy illustrates a sudden leap from reproach to consolation. This was very significant. It helped them to understand, that no meritorious work of their own would come in between what Israel was and what they were to be, but that it was God’s free grace which came to meet them.

The punishment of Israel has now lasted quite long enough; and, as God’s love which retreated behind His wrath, now returns with His own prerogatives again. To forgive His chosen people who will bear for Him their Messiah, and the Savior of the whole world.

God would continue to stretch out His arm it against the destructive power of the most hostile of Israel’s enemies, and rescue it from the midst of its greatest of dangers, Israel’s own rebellion and disobedience.

God says “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.” You and I have gone through many a trial, I am sure. We have been persecuted by people, those proud waves that go over us; then there are the temptations of Satan, that enemy who comes in like a flood, and many more. Because of how rapidly they come, how forceful the waves may be, and their overshadowing and overwhelming nature, we now see that there are waves through which we, the people of God, must pass through. Our way lies through these waves to eternal glory.

Even though some of these waves appear to go on forever, they have an end, as waves have, landing upon the shore. We have Jesus Christ as our example and guide, He gives sufficient strength to enable us to swim through them safely. God says these waves will not overtake us, so as to either cause our faith to utterly fail, or to separate us from the love of God. These waves will not destroy us; for though they come straight at us, and upon us, and may greatly affect and distress us, they will not hurt us. God causes them for our advantage. He is with us. Jesus Christ sympathizes with us, comforts and revives us. He teaches and instructs us in our afflictions. He sanctifies us [makes us holy], as well as supports and holds us up under them. Ultimately, He delivers us from them. When it feels like we are being pushed deep under the force of these waves, God’s hand reaches down into the depths, and lifts us up to safety.

God tells us, “When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” What is an affliction?  An affliction is something that causes great suffering and distress due to adversity. Isaiah compares afflictions to fire and flames. Illness, disease, or accidents can cause fear or anxiety by threatening us with great harm, or even death. Because of the fearful expectation or anticipation of God’s wrath upon Israel at times, and because of the nature of the afflictions, Israel found themselves refined just like gold and silver in the refiner’s fire. However, for the Christian, we saints are not consumed by these trials by fire, we lose nothing but our dross; those sinful behaviors along with their principles and proclivities are burned away, and God supports us through it all.

Andre Crouch wrote a song to help us understand what Isaiah is saying to us in today’s Old Testament reading, and it goes like this:

“I’ve had many tears and sorrows, I’ve had questions for tomorrow, there’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong. But in every situation, God gave me blessed consolation, that my trials come to only make me strong.

I’ve been to lots of places, I’ve seen millions of faces, there’s been times I felt so all alone. But in my lonely hours, yes, those precious lonely hours, Jesus let me know that I was His own.

Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.

I thank God for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys, I thank Him for the storms He brought me through. For if I’d never had a problem, I wouldn’t know God could solve them, I’d never know what faith in His Word could do.

Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

So, dear friends, the promises of God’s Word are true. It is Good News that God loves you. That He gave His only begotten Son for you. That Jesus took upon Himself our sin, sickness, and shame. That Jesus defeated death and the devil by His death. That He bore the wrath of God on our behalf. That He experienced separation from God on our behalf. He paid the price for our redemption. He made perfect and complete atonement for our sins. He is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the World.

Isaiah was painting a picture of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and holiness. Isaiah was telling Israel that even though they were disobedient and continually rebellious, God was patient and full of mercy toward them. He was compassionate toward Israel because of His divine purpose in sending the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would redeem Israel from their bondage to sin, sickness, death and the devil. The Word became flesh and lived among us. He sent His Messiah to save everyone, not just the Jew, but the Gentile too. His name is Jesus. God created human beings for His glory. However, the glory of humanity became tarnished because of our sin. Now, God’s glory will be seen and experienced by all because of what He has accomplished through Jesus Christ.

This is what Isaiah is saying to us today. He was looking beyond the closest prophetic mountain to Mount Zion, where the Messiah would Rule and Reign as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the Almighty God!

Amen.