Reformation devotions, May 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 1 of 8)

Morning devotions

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a Psalm or a passage from the schedule found below.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening devotions

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a Psalm or a passage from the schedule.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in May

Month Day Book Morning Evening



John 1:1-34 1:35-51



John 2:1-12 2:13-23



John 3:1-21 3:22-36



John 4:1-38 4:39-54



John 5:1-24 5:25-47



John 6:1-25 6:26-71



John 7:1-24 7:25-52



John 8:12-30 8:31-59



John 9:1-12 9:13-41



John 10:1-19 10:20-42



John 11:1-29 11:30-57



John 12:1-26 12:27-50



John 13:1-20 13:21-38



John 14:1-15 14:16-30



John 15:1-11 15:12-27



John 16:1-15 16:16-33



John 17:1-12 17:13-26



John 18:1-24 18:25-40



John 19:1-15 19:16-42



John 20:1-18 20:19-31



John 21:1-14 21:15-25



1 John 1:1-4 1:5-10



1 John 2:1-14 2:15-29



1 John 3:1-12 3:13-24



1 John 4:1-6 4:7-21



1 John 5:1-12 5:13-21

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone

The Lord’s Supper and the perspicuity of Scripture: Why do Lutherans disagree with the symbolic view?

In spite of claims that the Scripture is so unclear that it needs an outside infallible interpreter, Martin Luther found some of its passages clear enough both to rely on them with complete confidence for eternal life and to shed light on many passages that are otherwise less clear. Although many individual texts lack clarity in themselves, simple trust in the straightforward texts makes the doctrine taught by Scripture, including every article of faith, completely clear. Such texts are so lucid that they need no exegesis in the sense of clarification. No more open to different interpretations than ordinary human language, the clear passages make possible the understanding of many less clear passages, the unity of faith, and the rejection of false teaching. This is what it means for Scripture to interpret Scripture: many unclear passages of Scripture are clarified by passages of Scripture that need no clarification, neither from human interpreters, nor even from other Scripture. For example, the Ethiopian eunuch could not understand an unclear messianic prophecy without Philip’s interpretation, now recorded as perfectly clear Scripture that interprets the less clear prophecy (Acts 8:30-35). Many of those who deny this doctrine of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture claim that divisions among Protestants result from different interpretations of Scripture passages, …

More: The Lord’s Supper and the perspicuity of Scripture: If the Bible is perfectly clear, why do Protestants still disagree?

Faith is clear, not defined in terms of good works

Many evangelical Christians tend to think they disagree with each other only on what they consider minor issues such as whether to baptize infants and whether the gift of tongues is for today, but that they agree on how the forgiveness of sins is received: by grace, through faith alone. This illusion is dispelled upon the realization that different evangelical churches mean very different things by the word faith. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • Faith really means deciding to accept Jesus as Savior by sincerely saying a sinner’s prayer.
  • Faith really means making the decision to accept Jesus not only as Savior, but also as Lord.
  • Faith really is not just belief in God’s promise that his Son died for our sins and rose from the dead, but includes a benevolent love for God, a pious hatred of sin, covenant faithfulness, an obedient heart, or some other commendable quality.

With all the differences of opinion, can anyone know with certainty what faith means? Does it matter?

More: Does faith really mean faith, or did James redefine it?

Justification by faith alone as the hallmark of Lutheranism

Ongoing controversy between even some of the most conservative followers of John Calvin surrounding what has become known as “the new perspective on Paul” dispels the illusion that professing evangelicals, though disagreeing on minor points of doctrine, at least agree on justification by faith alone. Among the more influential denominations involved, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church recently commended for study a report that explains many of the points of contention, some concerning seemingly harmless definitions of terms. Noting that words in the phrase “justification by faith alone” mean different things to different people, the report criticizes what it calls “the Federal Vision” for redefining faith to include faithfulness, obedience, or other good works. On the other hand, the same document condemns baptismal regeneration as contrary to the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith. That regeneration by baptism as God’s visible word as well as by his spoken word was integral to Martin Luther’s understanding of justification by faith suggests that those who formulated the confession’s underlying system of doctrine may have, ironically, redefined justification by faith centuries before the Federal Vision.

More: Calvinistic modification of justification by faith alone: Does God save all who believe the good news of Christ crucified?

Christ’s spoken and visible words give life

In 1531, the first Protestants clarified some fundamental similarities between the preached word of God and the sacraments, the rites instituted by Christ:

Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), “Faith comes from what is heard.” As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament “the visible Word,” for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect. (Tappert, 2000a)

The Lord’s Supper was called the visible word, used in contrast to audible word by Augustine in an age of general illiteracy, when words were only written to be read out loud. However, in today’s culture of silent reading, visible word may convey no more than written word, whereas the concept of nonverbal communication, conveying thought by means other than words heard or read, is quite familiar.

More: Ways the Son of Man calls forth life: Seeking the kingdom of God in word and sacrament

Scripture is clear enough to interpret itself

Lutherans confess the prophetic and apostolic faith as it has been handed down throughout the generations, but not because they see that earlier Christians did so. Interpreting Scripture in light of what earlier Christians say is a very dangerous procedure, for Arianism preceded the Nicene Creed, and first-century false teachers preceded both.

For Lutherans, Scripture interprets Scripture, that is, clear passages shed light on unclear passages. Otherwise, Scripture would be so unclear that it would require interpretation by human reasoning, whether that be one’s own reasoning or the reasoning handed down in one human tradition or another.

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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Ministry statements of LCMS, WELS & ELS

The 2001 adoption of Walther’s Church and Ministry by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) may be an important step toward its recovering unity in Scripture’s teaching on the ministry of God’s word. The synod’s continuing need for a movement back to Walther is explained by John Brug.

Would official adoption of Walther’s Church and Ministry also have been advisable for other former members of the Synodical Conference? In the discussions of the twentieth century Synodical Conference, the meaning of Walther’s theses taken in isolation was controversial, with some participants even concluding from them that the parish pastorate was the only divinely instituted form of the office. In that setting, it would not have brought clarity for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) to simply affirm Church and Ministry without affirming other writings by Walther, including those regarding school teachers. It better served expository purposes for the WELS to formulate its own Waltherian theses.

Similarly, the fact that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) formulated its own ministry theses rather than adopting those of the WELS does not indicate doctrinal disagreement within the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. To be sure, there are definite differences between the WELS and ELS statements on the ministry. Judging solely on the basis of the texts as opposed to their historical origin, they have different concerns and perspectives, somewhat like the First Gospel compared to the Fourth Gospel or like Luther compared to Chemnitz.

Roughly speaking, the WELS statement is more concerned with what is true everywhere, at all times, and under all circumstances. As Brug’s ministry book points out, the gospel ministry could be authorized in the multiple-teacher form found at Corinth as opposed to the parish-pastor form that is more effective today.

By contrast, the ELS statement, with its focus on apostolic directives, is more concerned with the settings in which the directives apply. The ELS can correctly say that such directives must be obeyed whenever they are applicable, for they are correct applications of the Decalogue, and the WELS can correctly assert Christian freedom in other settings. Each synod thereby emphasizes an essential aspect of Sola Scriptura.

This sketch does require some qualification. For more on the ELS statement and on the need to distinguish doctrinal differences from those of wording and emphasis, see David Jay Webber’s “Small Contribution to the Ongoing Discussion concerning the ELS Ministry Statement,” his “Walking Together in Faith and Worship: Exploring the Relationship between Doctrinal Unity and Liturgical Unity in the Lutheran Church,” and his book Spiritual Fathers.

When WELS theologians affirm what the 1932 Brief Statement says about the ministry, they affirm the Waltherian theology it reflects, not the above misunderstanding of Waltherian theology, which was held by some in the LCMS in 1932. The distinctives of that misunderstanding were not held universally in the LCMS, nor were they specified in the Brief Statement. Otherwise, the WELS theologians would not have affirmed the Brief Statement’s section on the ministry.

The ministry of the word (Augsburg Confession V) is the same ministry of all pastors, including, but not limited to, the form it takes in the parish pastorate. That is how WELS theologians read the Brief Statement. It is genuinely Waltherian, not Walther-lite.

When believers leave the new LCMS fellowship to join the WELS fellowship for doctrinal reasons, they thereby join the fellowship of the old Synodical Conference because its teachings are those of Scripture. Indeed, even non-historians with the simple word of Scripture can judge doctrine, even concerning church and ministry.

Discussions with Rolf Preus are gratefully acknowledged.

Pointing sinners to the simple word of Scripture

The first and foremost duty of the exegete consists in holding the flighty spirit of man to the simple word of Scripture and, where he has departed from it, to lead him back to the simple word of Scripture.

—F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics III, 360

The fathers lead Lutherans to rest on Scripture alone

The deep respect of the Wauwatosa theologians for previous Lutheran teachers did not cross the line into the idolatry of interpreting Scripture in light of tradition (Mark Braun, “The Wauwatosa Gospel,” in Lord Jesus Christ, Will You Not Stay: Essays in Honor of Ronald Feuerhahn on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, pp. 131-152, 2002, available from Concordia Publishing House, reprinted in Charis, p. 25):

Offering what amounts to a position statement of the Wauwatosa Gospel, Pieper concluded his 1913 retrospective: “We intend in the future to pursue scriptural study even more faithfully than before. . . . We submit in advance to the least word of Scripture that opposes us, no matter from whom it may come. But we submit to no man, be his name Luther or Walther, Chemnitz or Hoenecke, Gerhard or Stoeckhardt, so long as we have clear Scripture on our side. . . . We esteem the fathers highly, far higher than ourselves as far more learned and more devout than we are. Therefore, we want to use them, particularly Luther, as guides to Scripture, and to test their doctrines a hundred times before we reject them. But authorities equal to Scripture or opposed to Scripture they may never become for us, or we shall be practicing idolatry. . . . We renounce this authority-theology anew. It causes so much damage to the church. It is unfaithfulness to the Lord; slavery to men; it brings errors with it. But it also makes the mind narrow and the heart small. . . . Dogmatic training perhaps makes one orthodox, but it also easily makes one orthodoxist, intolerant, quarrelsome, hateful, and easily causes division in the church. . . . Scripture is at once narrow and broad. The study of it makes the heart narrow to actual false doctrine and heresies, but broad toward various human expressions and presentations. It does not accuse of false doctrine unnecessarily; it teaches us to bear and suffer in love the mistakes of the weak. It keeps the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Therefore we want to entirely do away with this dogmatic authority-theology, and to sink ourselves ever deeper into Scripture and to promote it above all else. We know that in doing so we will best serve the church.”

This approach to Scripture is not at all novel. Here are some excepts from a recent conference paper that traces the history of the essentially Lutheran approach to Scripture from Tertullian to Wauwatosa (H. H. Goetzinger, “The Pastor & His Seminary Training: The Pastor as Exegete,” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Symposium, 16-17 September 2013, pp. 2, 7, 15):

The Lutheran church came into existence by God’s grace using the external means of Luther clinging to the Scriptures as the infallible, saving Word of God. Our church’s most striking characteristic is binding itself to the Word, without which our other chief characteristic “By Grace Alone” would be unthinkable. For the Confessional Lutheran church, the Scriptures truly are the living speech of the almighty God. And so, you and I, every time we open our Greek or Hebrew texts, sit in fear of the Word that causes the enormity of our task and the weight of our responsibility to cause our stomach to churn and our skin to shiver. And so it should be. We have been convinced by the Spirit that the Word is the only power of God for salvation. We say along with Luther, “God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of his external Word and Sacrament.” Woe to us if we adulterate the Word of God. Yes, the work of an exegete is weighty business . . . As admirable and respectful of the Scriptures as it sounds, we do not, because we cannot, approach the Word of God tabula rasa. We come pre-wired with a sinful nature that wants to make all the world bow at our feet and when it doesn’t, we exercise revisionist history and re-write the text so that it reflects us as the king of the universe. We have the same inclination toward Scripture, if it were not for the gift of faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. And so, we approach the Scriptures with a presupposition of faith which the sacred text itself has worked in us: that it is what it claims itself to be, the very Word of God. Our entire hermeneutic is based upon the presumption that the Bible is divinely inspired, as such it is without error, can be trusted in all it says, and is to be taken literally (not literalistically).

. . .

Luther further elaborates on the attitude of the exegete: “That the Holy Scriptures cannot be penetrated by study and talent is most certain. Therefore your first duty is to begin to pray, and to pray to this effect that if it pleases God to accomplish something for His glory – not for yours or any other person’s – He very graciously grant you a true understanding of His words. For no master of the divine word exists except the Author of these words, as He says: “They shall all be taught of God” (John 6:46). You must, therefore, completely despair of your own industry and rely solely on the inspiration of the Spirit.”

. . .

Koehler, along with Walther and Pieper, Stoeckhardt and Hoenecke, and later Schaller as well, wanted to let Scripture and not human reason be the interpreter of Scripture. Koehler comments, “We say, the assignment of the exegete is simply nothing else than to say: Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Koehler taught hermeneutics while at the Wauwatosa seminary. An outline for his course has been preserved and lends valuable insight into the development of the “Wauwatosa Theology.” Koehler asserts that the rules of biblical exegesis form a “Doctrine of Holy Scripture in its Importance for Exegesis.” His outline can be found as Appendix A. Koehler echoes the principles of Tertullian, Luther, and the “golden age.” It is from a sermon preached for the 1925 seminary school year that we first hear the term Zusammenhängendes Schriftstudium. The term means a connected, or systematic, study of the Scriptures on the basis of the original languages with constant attention to the larger context. This is the exegetical kernel of what we today call the “Wauwatosa Theology.” Keep the whole of a biblical book in mind during the exegesis of the individual phrase and sentence.

Lutheran traditions tested by Scripture

Some have attempted to discredit the WELS statement on the ministry by implying that its Wauwatosa theologians rejected the theology of the fathers and treated them with disrespect. That is a distortion of church history. We have seen that what they actually rejected, while maintaining deep reverence for the fathers, is the practice of relying on them in place of Scripture for proofs of articles of faith. The fathers would surely approve.

Some Lutherans spend considerable amounts of time debating who is really following Sasse, Walther, Luther, or Melanchthon more closely. While somewhat interesting, such questions need not be resolved to understand the clear passages of Scripture. In fact, those questions can only be thoroughly answered by experts and can distract believers from the word of God. Why not concentrate exegetical efforts on the Scriptures rather than on what Walther really meant by some German word? The word of God itself brings clarity to areas of controversy such as that of church and ministry.

No human authority is needed. It really is possible to learn what Scripture says without uncritical submission to what Pieper says Walther says Luther says Scripture says. God grant that we hold his word as highly as they did, putting it above the opinions of all men, “no matter what their names may be.”

It is possible to learn doctrine on the authority of Scripture alone because all doctrine is found in the passages of Scripture that are so clear that they need no interpretation. The unclear passages are interpreted by the clear ones according to the analogy of faith (“Scripture interprets Scripture”).

The analogy of faith

The Lutheran Church is unique in that it believes, teaches, and confesses all clear passages of Scripture even in the face of apparent contradictions. Tensions present in the clear Scriptures are not resolved according to human reasoning but rather are held without wavering. Christ is fully God yet fully man. Christians are justified because God chose them, and yet those who perish do so by their own will.

In fact, several clear Scripture passages appear to contradict others or even themselves. God in Christ reconciled the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), and yet those who do not believe will die in their sins (John 8:24). Answer a fool according to his folly; do not answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4-5). Christians sin and yet do not sin (1 John 1:8; 3:9). God gave an old commandment, not a new commandment, a new commandment, not an old commandment (1 John 2:7-8). Not all those holding the office of pastoral oversight labor in teaching (1 Timothy 5:17-19; Titus 1:5-9). Apparent contradictions between clear passages of Scripture do not license “Reason” to mitigate or otherwise modify the truth taught by any passage in order to remove the appearance of a contradiction.

That mistaken approach to the word of God is often defended by an appeal to “the analogy of faith.” The analogy of faith acknowledges that clear Scripture passages interpret unclear Scripture passages. The analogy of faith does not apply when the passages under consideration are perfectly clear. To make the interpretation of every passage of Scripture subject to revision in light of other passages of Scripture is disastrous, as Franz Pieper explained in his Christian Dogmatics (quoted in footnote ii of my paper entitled, “The Lord’s Supper and the perspicuity of Scripture: If the Bible is perfectly clear, why do Protestants still disagree?”).

The analogy of faith is misused when a clear passage of Scripture is not taken for what it says. It is also misused when an unclear passage is reinterpreted in light of a human interpretation of Scripture or, even worse, in light of an interpretation of non-canonical writings.

God is not the author of such confusion. The Holy Spirit speaks so clearly that every article of faith is stated in a “simple word of Scripture.”


I am indebted to Pastor Rolf Preus for helpful discussions.

Doctrinal differences between LCMS & WELS: A concise comparison

What happened to the Arians in that trope by which they made Christ into a merely nominal God? What has happened in our own time to these new prophets regarding the words of Christ, “This is my body,” where one finds a trope in the pronoun “this,” another in the verb “is,” another in the noun “body”? What I have observed is this, that all heresies and errors in connection with the Scriptures have arisen, not from the simplicity of the words, as is almost universally stated, but from neglect of the simplicity of the words, and from tropes or inferences hatched out of men’s own heads.

—Martin Luther
Bondage of the Will, J. J. Pelikan, Oswald, H. C., Lehmann, H. T., ed.;
Luther’s Works, Vol. 33: Career of the Reformer III; Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1999, p. 163

Major differences between Missouri and Wisconsin

Doctrinal divisions between the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) include two long-standing differences in official statements:

Other possible differences are either more recent or less clear.

Church and ministry

For an example of what may be another long-standing difference between the two synods, many within the LCMS hold the WELS doctrine of doctrine of church and ministry to be in conflict with the position adopted by the LCMS. The differences between their interpretation and the WELS doctrine of church and ministry arise from different ways to understand a few passages of Scripture.

Acknowledgement: Much of the material of the posts on church and ministry arose from discussions with Daniel Gorman, Paul Jecklin, Rolf Preus, and David Jay Webber. The opinions expressed are my own.


As Luther observed, doctrinal divisions do not arise from ambiguity in Scripture but rather from insufficient regard for the passages that teach on the topics of controversy. Every article of the faith is directly derived from perfectly clear passages of Scripture. That is why the history of theology is only helpful to the extent that it points back to the word of God.

It does not follow that no preparation is needed. In evaluating doctrinal differences, prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, and the cross are essential.