God’s law condemns—but his good news promises forgiveness and joy!

I feel the most vital and necessary teaching we Confessional Lutherans are “still standing” by is the proper distinction between the law and the gospel. Before I became Lutheran, I attended and was involved in many Christian churches that were good at preaching the ways I didn’t fulfill God’s word but never clearly preached that Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s law so I didn’t have to do anything else to be saved. Their teachings mixed the law and gospel by conveying if I just did my part, God would do his and my life would be prosperous, fulfilling, and happy. I did believe Jesus died to save me, yet the sermons that promised an “easy yoke” and an enjoyable, “Spirit-filled life” left me insecure, burdened, unhappy, and unsatisfied. I wanted to do good, but I couldn’t do enough to prove to God how thankful I was. I could not understand others saying that reading the Bible made them “feel better” or “comforted.” I kept trying the next book, experience, or deed, but got bitter results: being ashamed of my life, feeling both sad and inadequate by my “good” actions.

At the end of my rope, I read Lutheran articles that clearly separated the law from the gospel. In those articles, salvation was sure, based on Jesus’ works, not man’s. I finally understood the comfort Scripture offered! Now, my trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is where my treasure lies, my satisfaction will never disappoint, and my heart finds contentment. I confess with Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17).

This post by Evelyn Bickel commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (31 October 2017).

500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation! It began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther started calling the church to return to these teachings of the Scriptures:

More information:

Celebrating in Ottawa at 3:30 pm on Sunday, November 5:

Keep all the commandments to enter life

As I opened my New Testament, I expected to read a passage and then return to life as usual. Instead I found this:
Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” “Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” “What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied.
Matthew 19:16-20a, Good News Translation
But I obviously had not obeyed all those commandments! Condemned by Jesus, I fell to my knees, begging to be allowed somehow to enter eternal life as a slave.
Years later I learned that because “the only One who is good” was sentenced to death for my crime, I not only received eternal life but received it as God’s forgiven child. Grace alone.
I did not receive it by doing a good thing but simply by believing that good news. Faith alone.
No church council or Pope could take the joy of this full pardon from me, for I had not learned it from mortals but from the very words of God. Scripture alone.
Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
This post by David Bickel commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (31 October 2017).

Crucifying desires for wisdom, power, pleasure, and honor

Because men do not know the cross and hate it, they necessarily love the opposite, namely, wisdom, glory, power, and so on. Therefore they become increasingly blinded and hardened by such love, for desire cannot be satisfied by the acquisition of those things which it desires. Just as the love of money grows in proportion to the increase of the money itself, so the dropsy of the soul becomes thirstier the more it drinks, as the poet says: “The more water they drink, the more they thirst for it.” The same thought is expressed in Eccles. 1 [:8]: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” This holds true of all desires. Thus also the desire for knowledge is not satisfied by the acquisition of wisdom but is stimulated that much more. Likewise the desire for glory is not satisfied by the acquisition of glory, nor is the desire to rule satisfied by power and authority, nor is the desire for praise satisfied by praise, and so on, as Christ shows in John 4 [:13] , where he says, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again.” The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it. In other words, he who wishes to become wise does not seek wisdom by progressing toward it but becomes a fool by retrogressing into seeking folly. Likewise he who wishes to have much power, honor, pleasure, satisfaction in all things must flee rather than seek power, honor, pleasure, and satisfaction in all things. This is the wisdom which is folly to the world.

—Martin Luther*

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The word of God as the sole source of doctrine: Sola scriptura & the perspicuity of Scripture

Shall we be perpetually enslaved and never breathe in Christian liberty, nor sigh from out of this Babylon for our Scriptures and our home? Yet you say they were saints and illuminated the Scripture. Who has shown that they made the Scriptures clearer—what if they obscured them? . . . But doesn’t obscure Scripture require explanation? Set aside the obscure and cling to the clear. Further, who has proved that the fathers are not obscure?

—Martin Luther*

Scripture alone

As Franz Pieper explains in his Christian Dogmatics, Scripture interprets itself, being so clear that it needs no theologian or council to interpret it. Were Luther and countless believers before him deluded to take Christ as promising to give them his true body and true blood, the fault would not be with them but rather with Christ for breaking his promise to them. He could not break his promise to those who simply took him at his word, “This is my body . . . This is the blood of the New Testament” (Bickel, 2005, pp. 5-6).

Those who reject the Lutheran confessions thereby reveal that they submit to the authority of some “father” or “teacher” other than the Christ as heard in the simple word of Scripture (see Matthew 23:8-10). For confessional Lutherans, “All dogmatics must be exegesis; and all exegesis must be systematic and dogmatic. Our work, our confession, is exegesis. This is our confession of the clear Word of God” (Teigen, 1982, p. 164).

Creedal confusion

Indeed, it is Lutherans who have fixed their eyes on the bronze serpent lifted up, not on any strength of their own to heal them of their sins. Now, Lutherans are starting to bow down to the very serpent used to heal them. Given the history of the Israelites, it should not be completely baffling that some now turn to the Lutheran confessions to clarify the Scriptures, seen as lacking the clarity to be understood without some authoritative lense through which to view them.

That undermines the foundation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, for the confessions constitute a statement of what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess on the sole basis of clear passages of the prophetic and apostolic writings. That is why any article of faith that cannot be proven from Scripture alone cannot be proven from the Lutheran confessions or from any other true exposition of Scripture.

As a twofold solution to the problem of leaning on the confessions as if the Scriptures needed clarification, Naumann (2005, p. 25) suggested a greater study of both Scripture and the confessions:

There are two main steps involved in reaching and holding on to the right view of Scripture and the confessions. First and most important, is to study Scripture so that we recognize its unique authority, clarity, and sufficiency. If our confidence is solid there, we will not feel a need for another norm to prop up or supplement Scripture. The second step is to read the confessions regularly and in their entirety. Most of the problems with the interpretation of the Confessions today come from failing to hold on to the confessors’ view of the confessions as displayed especially in the beginning of the Formula of Concord. People cannot claim to be “confessionals” unless they agree with the confessors’ understanding of the confessions. To make the confessions a norm along side Scripture or to use them as a second source of doctrine is not confessional. The sad irony is that this is a Romanizing tendency, which feels the need to supplement Scripture and turn to the authority of the church to resolve doctrinal issues. There is, in fact, a high degree of correlation between this view of the confessions and Romanizing views of church and ministry and the sacraments. One rarely encounters one problem without the other.

A second source of trouble is reading the Confessions selectively without considering all pertinent statements in the whole context of the confessions. To cite but one example, pulling out the passages in the Confessions in which Predigtamt refers to the pastoral ministry and ignoring all those in which it refers to the means of grace. The solution to this is regular reading of the confessions in their entirety.

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Agape, Eros, Caritas: Love motifs at war

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it. …sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive…

—Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation

enthroned

Agapē motif: Christ as mirror of the paternal heart

Agapē /ah-GAH-pay/ is the Greek word the New Testament uses for the sacrificial love that motivated the Triune God to reconcile selfish humanity to himself and to pardon all who repent and believe this good news. The Agapē motif is Anders Nygren’s term for what Martin Luther recognized in the Apostles’ Creed as the distinctive core of Christianity:

Behold, here you have the entire divine essence, will, and work depicted most exquisitely in quite short and yet rich words, wherein consists all our wisdom, which surpasses and exceeds the wisdom, mind, and reason of all men. For although the whole world with all diligence has endeavored to ascertain what God is, what He has in mind and does, yet has she never been able to attain to [the knowledge and understanding of] any of these things. But here we have everything in richest measure; for here in all three articles He has Himself revealed and opened the deepest abyss of his paternal heart and of His pure unutterable love. For He has created us for this very object, that He might redeem and sanctify us; and in addition to giving and imparting to us everything in heaven and upon earth, He has given to us even His Son and the Holy Ghost, by whom to bring us to Himself. For (as explained above) we could never attain to the knowledge of the grace and favor of the Father except through the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the paternal heart, outside of whom we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But of Christ we could know nothing either, unless it had been revealed by the Holy Ghost. These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and separate us Christians from all other people upon earth.

As the Apology of the Augsburg Confession puts it, “Recognition of original sin is a necessity, nor can we know the magnitude of the grace of Christ unless we acknowledge our faults… Properly speaking, the Gospel is the command to believe that we have a gracious God because of Christ” (Article II, ¶33 and Article IV, ¶345, T. G. Tappert). In the classic Agape and Eros, Anders Nygren documents how this central motif of apostolic Christianity was clearly proclaimed by Irenaeus but later obscured by Plato’s Eros motif in the dark ages until the Agapē motif was recovered by the Lutheran Reformation.

The Eros motif: Humanity yearning upwards out of self-love

Platonic Eros, as opposed to vulgar Eros, is the yearning people have for the impersonal Highest Good. It came into conflict with the heavenly Father’s pity for the world below in its expression in Gnosticism and in Origin. The two types of love differ in their basis, direction, and nature.

The Caritas motif: Desiring God out of baptized self-love

Agape and Eros chronicles the course of the love war through the centuries. Roots of such present-day errors as bridal mysticism and Reformed theology lie in the Caritas motif. The Caritas motif is Augustine’s synthesis between the Eros motif and the Agapē motif. According to Caritas, the Christian is not to repent of self-love but rather is to redirect his self-love to what can really satisfy it: the heavenly Bridegroom and his Father. In Caritas’s pure Augustinian form, that is accomplished in a life of meritorious self-denial and humility via grace infused by the Holy Spirit.

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Happy Reformation Day!

“For most people, October means cooler weather, raking leaves, and, at the end of the month, celebrating Halloween. For Lutherans, October includes the commemoration of Reformation Day — the day Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.”

— Mark A. Loest

Blest Halloween that struck the hour
When Luther’s hammer rose and fell
At Wittenberg in heaven-born power
And rang dark popery’s funeral-knell,
When long and cruel night was gone
And smiling rose the promised dawn!

“[I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
[This means that] I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

— Martin Luther

More information: Poem source & related history | Luther’s Small Catechism

New in 2012: Why the Reformation still matters

Modern Reformation

The article “If God exists, why doesn’t he prove it?” appeared today on the web site of Modern Reformation with its New Atheism issue.

With contributors “from Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches,” Modern Reformation describes itself as “the leading voice for confessing evangelicals across the Reformation spectrum.” Should the Lutheran Reformation and the Zwinglian Reformation be considered together as one Protestant Reformation?