Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve - 2017
2 hours ago
Now in order to correct these abuses, know first of all that a Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer, no matter how briefly, as Psalm 102 says, “When the kings and the people assemble to serve the Lord, they shall declare the name and the praise of God.” And Paul in 1. Corinthians 14 [:26-31] says that when they come together, there should be prophesying, teaching, and admonition. Therefore, when God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together.(Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 53. Liturgy and Hymns, p. 11.)
For the abolitionists [of the historic liturgy], that gospel is tinged with a strong sense of works-righteousness, and it infects much of Protestantism today, particularly with the individual focus on "me and Jesus" and the decision theology that runs rampant through its songs and sermon. Among the Rationalists, there are restorationist tendencies in which the liturgy becomes an object of devotion, turning this rite that bears the salutatory means of grace into an idol to be worshiped. The liturgy becomes a good work, the platform for presenting the propositional truths of the faith. This ultimately undermines the incarnation and destroys the Church's sacramental life." p. 262
Somewhere in the world, in the last week of October, a baby was born who tipped the human population over the 7 billion mark. Statistically there is a high probability this baby is an African. Statistics also tell us this African baby will need to fight for survival, facing the highest child-mortality rates in the world. Such is the irony of Africa: the most likely place, and at the same time the most dangerous place, for a young person to grow up.
By the end of the century, Africa will climb from its current population of 1 billion people to over 3.6 billion, an increase from 15% of the world's population to 30%. while the rest of the world's population is slowing down, Africa's is accelerating. this rapid growth combined with Africa's current development state ha produced a human tragedy on the scale almost impossible to comprehend.
In the last thirty years, over 100 million Africans have died from wars, famine, malnutrition and preventable diseases. this ongoing tragedy is compounded by the reality that most of those dying are people who bear the name of Christ. Even more unthinkable is the fact that such tragedy has occurred at the height of christian power, wealth and influence in the world. But here also is another part of the irony that is Africa. Though billions in aid has been sent from the West, the aid itself is now seen as part of the systemic problem that keeps Africa from moving forward.
Antirationalism in the Lutheran Doctrine of Preservation.
The doctrine of preservation in the faith, as it is taught in the Lutheran church, confronts us with another apparent contradiction. This doctrine too illustrates very clearly how Lutheran theology differs from that of Rome, on the one hand, and that of Geneva, on the other, in the matter of dealing with seeming contradictions. The very terminology employed is significant. What Calvinism calls the perseverance of the saints, a term which lays stress on the activity of the believer, Lutheranism calls preservation of faith, a term which lays emphasis on the work of God.
The Scriptures present us with two sets of passages in this doctrine, which reason finds difficult to harmonize. In the following columns we have arranged them in juxtaposition to show how they stand in sharp contrast to each other.
Column 1: Statements of Scripture in which God promises to preserve us in the faith:
"God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." (I Corinthians 10:13)
Column 2: Statements of Scripture which warn us against falling from the faith.
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (I Corinthians 10:12)
[Similarly, Becker now lines up John 10:28 against Luke 8:13, John 10:29 against I Timothy 1:19, 2 Tim 1:12 against 1 Corinthians 9:27, Philippians 1:6 against Hebrews 6:4-6, Philippians 2:13 against Philippians 2:12, 1 Corinthians 1:8 against Romans 11:20-22]
The promises in the first column are promises of God. All the promises of God are to be believed. Not to believe them would be to call God a liar. The believing child of God reading these promises, should be convinced that he will never fall away, that God will not suffer him to be tempted above that he is able, that no man shall ever pluck him out of his Savior's hand, that no creature shall be able to separate him from the Father's love, that the Spirit of God will complete the work which he has begun in him.
But on the other hand, the warnings in the second column are warnings of God. All the warnings of God are to be observed with care, God does not jest. His words should be taken at their face value. And the believing child of God who takes these warning seriously will be sure that he is in constant danger of falling away from the faith, that he may be a cast-away, that he may make shipwreck of the faith, for he is not one whit better than Hymenaeus and Alexander, he is not stronger than Peter, he is no less subject to temptation than David, he is now wiser than Solomon, he is no less attracted by the world than Demas. So he lives in fear and trembling.
It is clear we are here dealing with a rational difficulty. Calvinism looks at the first column and draws from it the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. "Once a believer, always a believer," says the Calvinist. The passages in the second column are either ignored or else they are interpreted in such a way that they are made to agree with the axiom, "Once converted, always converted." A Lutheran finds difficulty in seeing how one can thus interpret the words of Jesus regarding those who "for a while believe and in time of temptation fall away." But in pursuing its course, it must be said, Calvinism remains true to the law of contradiction. It holds that as long as there is a real possibility of falling away, there can be no complete and perfect assurance of perseverance.
The Roman Church, on the other hand, characterizes all certainty of salvation as proud presumption. When the passages in the first column are held before them, they respond that some men may have a special revelation from God. Only they can be sure of their salvation. But the ordinary Christian has no such assurance, and he can have no such assurance. "Let him that thinketh he standeth," they say, "take heed lest he fall." We must live in fear and trembling all our lives and hope that we may be able to overcome. Only if we look at the warnings of God, will we be inclined to avoid carelessness and indifference in our Christian living. Romanism holds that if men are not kept in fear, they will be led into carnal security and will fall away.
... One answer that Lutheranism gives is that the contradictory heart of man needs a contradictory doctrine. The heart of man, desperately wicked still even in the converted Christian, is inclined to become proud. Like Peter, it is inclined to say, "Though all should be offended because of you, yet I will never be offended." (Mat. 26:33). Like an immature teenager, it response to the expressed concern over its salvation with "Don't worry, mother, I can take care of myself." To convince man that he cannot take care of himself, to make him realize that by himself he is lost, that he should never become careless and indifferent in his faith and life, the Lord has given us these serious and earnest warnings which mean exactly what they say and are not to be changed or modified in any way.
But the heart of man is also a timid, quaking heart, which so often needs reassurance. When its feet have slipped into the slough of despond, there is only one way that it can be helped. Man's extremity is God's opportunity. When I am weak, then am I strong. For when I know that I cannot remain faithful, that I cannot persevere, for I am frail and helpless, then the Lord comes with the blessed assurance that no man shall pluck me out of his hand. And so, every day, the Christian, as long as he remembers and believes the promises, will be sure that he will never fall away.
There is no logic that avails here. We must simply hear and believe--believe it when God tells us that we are in danger, believe it when God tells us that we are in no danger.
... Thus the Christian must learn to live in constant tension between these two. When he begins to lean over to the left, toward pride and presumption and confidence in the strength of his faith, and to trust in his own character, then the warnings against apostasy, the Savior's, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation," pushes him upright once more. But usually man, even the Christian man, whose heart is never fully what it ought to be, begins then to lean over to the right--he becomes afraid and begins to doubt that he will ever make it to the gates of the heavenly city. Once again the Savior comes and stands on the other side to support him and to push him upright once more with his promise, "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God" (Isaiah 41:10). And he knows that when his pilgrimage comes to an end, "all the trumpets" will be blowing "for him on the other side."
When Lutheranism says that God is man and man is God, that God died, that the blood of Jesus is the blood of God, that man, in Christ, is almighty, and that his body partakes of the divine attribute of omnipresence, it goes out of its way to point out that this is not a mere figure of speech, not a mere rhetorical expression, not an epistemological device, but a metaphysical reality. When Lutherans defend the real presence in the sacrament, they are intent upon defending the reality of the communion of the two natures in the person of Christ. It is no accident that the article on the "Lord's Supper" and the article on the "person of Christ" were placed side by side in the Formula of Concord. When Lutheran theology defends the statement that Mary is the mother of God, it is not intent, as Rome is, on heaping honor upon Mary--and it deliberately rejects all the illogical and unwarranted conclusions that
Rome draws from this statement. Lutheran theology defends this truth because of its significance for the doctrine of the person union of the two natures in Christ.
An interesting illustration of the contrast between the Lutheran and the Reformed position is to be found in the hymnody of the church. When Isaac Watts, a Reformed poet, wrote "Alas! And did My Savior bleed," in his Hymns and Spiritual songs in 1707, one of the stanzas read,
"Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in
When God, the mighty Maker, died,
For man the creature's sin."
The Lutheran Church has generally permitted this stanza to stand unchanged, but in Protestant hymnals the third line of the stanza often reads, "When Christ, the mighty Maker, died." Although all the Lutheran hymnals I consulted contained this hymn, only two were found which have this revised reading. These two were the hymnals of the former Augustana synod and of the former United Lutheran Church, which since have merged to from the Lutheran Church in America, now generally recognized as the most liberal Lutheran body in America. Most Reformed hymnals do not contain the hymn at all, but out of more than a score that do, only the hymnals of the former German Reformed church and of the former Evangelical church, both of which were strongly influenced by Lutheranism, contain the original wording. The revised wording, in itself, teaches nothing different from the original, but in the light of the Reformed position on the doctrine of the personal union, the change is significant.
Lutheranism itself, and even the most conservative Lutheranism, has not always been able to resist the pressures of reason on this doctrine. When the Synodical conference revised its hymnal in the 1930s, it changed the lines,
O sorrow dread!
Our God is dead!
O sorrow dread!
God's Son is dead!
in spite of the fact that the original German says,
O grosse Not!
Gott selbst ist tot.
But generally it must be said that Lutheranism has withstood the pressures of reason in this doctrine with at least a measure of success, by the grace of God.
From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern Publishing House (www.nph.net). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
The Collect for the Day of Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Jan. 1st.today is/was:
Lord God,You made Your beloved Son, our Savior, subject to the Law and caused Him to shed His blood on our behalf.Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit that our hearts may be made pure from all sins;through Jesus Christ, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.I will be their God, and they shall be my people. I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.