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“I Do Not Run to the Cross”

So that our readers may the better perceive our teaching I shall clearly and broadly describe it. We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world. For inasmuch as he had determined once to achieve it, it made no difference to him whether he distributed it before or after, through his Word, as can easily be proved from Scripture. But now there is neither need nor time to do so.

If now I seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ, as Dr. Karlstadt trifles, in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross. Therefore, Luther has rightly taught that whoever has a bad conscience from his sins should go to the sacrament and obtain comfort, not because of the bread and wine, not because of the body and blood of Christ, but because of the word which in the sacrament offers, presents, and gives the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for me. Is that not clear enough?

Writing from Martin Luther, “Against the Heavenly Prophets,” pp. 213-14 in vol. 40 of Luther’s Works, American Edition, edited by Conrad Bergendoff, copyright (C) 1958 Augsburg Fortress Press.  Quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House, 2008, pp. 191-192.

Posted in Grace, Lord's Supper, Lutheran Distinctives, Means of Grace, Sacraments.

Today Is My Baptismal Birthday

On April 4, 1999 – at an Easter sunrise service, at the age of twenty – I was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I had absolutely no clue what was happening to me.  Of course, I thought I did at the time, and I thought what was happening was my work. As a good baptist evangelical, I was choosing to be baptized to show my obedience to Christ now that I had accepted Him as my Lord and Savior.  For all I knew, Baptism was a symbol of something that had already happened in my heart.  I had “accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior” years before this, of course (and more than once), but at this point I had begun to recognize that the Bible considers Baptism to be important, and my increasing mysticism made me feel like enough of a “real Christian” to actually take this fateful step of discipleship.

I think for most baptists (and I use the lower-case “b” as this describes most non-denominational fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants), Baptism is something that you do at a certain point in your life and then never really think about much again.  In your Baptism you are showing/telling the world that you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and that you are deciding to live for Him from that point on.

But the Scriptures know nothing of this explanation of Baptism.  They do not describe it as a symbol of an already-present reality or a work that you do to show your obedience; they describe it as something that God does to you and for you.  In Baptism you are buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:1-4, Colossians 2:11-12).  In Baptism you receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Christ cleanses you by washing you with water and the Word (Ephesians 5:25-27).  You are born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:5).  Baptism saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21-22).

In my Baptism fourteen years ago, the name of the triune God was placed upon me, and now I belong to Him.  My relationship with God is not dependent upon my obedience, or on how close I feel to Him, or even on some shaky and uncertain decision to accept Christ into my heart.  My relationship with God is dependent upon Christ and His work alone.  Making the sign of the cross reminds me of this on a daily basis: I am baptized into Christ.  He alone is my salvation.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Assurance, Baptism, Decision Theology, Grace, Means of Grace, Sacraments.

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God Surrendered All For You in Jesus Christ (Happy New Year!)

My usual New Year’s resolution is to not make any resolutions.  (Yes, I know that statement is self-defeating.)  This year, for some reason I decided to mix it up a little bit…so for 2013 one of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more at this blog!  Who knows, maybe it will actually happen…

I’ve noticed quite a few Christians on Twitter making resolutions to surrender all to God this year, or exhorting others to do the same.  They’re going to pray more.  They’re going to read Scripture more.  They’re going to share the Gospel more.  You name it, they’re going to do it.

Maybe you will do those things more this year, by the grace of God.  And these things are all wonderful things that we should as Christians aspire to.

But surrendering all to God…it won’t happen.  I can guarantee that you will fail at that endeavor, because you are a sinner.  Whether you are a Christian or not, you still sin daily in thought, word and deed.

And the good news is, that is why Jesus Christ came.  In Jesus Christ, God surrendered all for you.  He perfectly surrendered to the Father for all the times you failed to surrender to the Father.  He surrendered His very life on the cross so that you might have life everlasting.

So…repent.  Daily.  Repent of your failure to keep God’s holy commandments.  And trust that Jesus Christ kept God’s holy commandments perfectly in your place.  In Him there is forgiveness, life and salvation.

Posted in Faith, Grace.

“All I have is my sins!”

In truth, believing the Gospel would be an immeasurably great and difficult task for us if God were not to accomplish it within us.  But suppose it were not so exceedingly great and difficult.  Even if it were an easy condition that God had proposed to us for our salvation, our salvation would not be a gift; God would not have given us His Son, but would merely have offered Him to us with a certain restricting condition.  But that is not God’s way.  The apostle Paul says, “[They] are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  We are justified gratuitously, without any contribution on our part – without even the least thing being required of us.

Accordingly, we poor sinners praise God for the place of refuge He has prepared for us, to which we can flee even when we have to come to Him as completely lost, dead broke beggars, who have not the slightest ability to offer to God something that we have achieved.

Blessed are we!  We have a Gospel that proclaims: “Here is indeed a refuge for sinners!”  Jesus Christ is the faithful Savior, to whom we all can flee.  And we should offer Him nothing more than to say, “Here are my sins!”

Then Christ will ask me, so to speak, “Do you not have anything more?”

And I will answer, “No, all I have is my sins!”

Then He will say, “Fine, then you are the right one for Me.”

As soon as someone comes up and wants to offer Him something, then that person is denying the Lord Jesus.  “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  And that name is the dear name of Jesus.  So remember: we should regard it as a horrible corruption of the Gospel to treat the command to believe as a condition of a person’s justification and salvation.

From C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, p. 299 (emphases in original).

Posted in Decision Theology, Faith, Justification, Law and Gospel.

Is the Gospel Mere Historical Information?

Christians today are concerned with one central issue: Where in the world is God?  How can I be reassured of his love in the face of the complexities and traumas of my life?…the historic answer of the heirs of the reformation has been: in the gospel.  Modern Evangelicals, however, do not see the gospel as the means of applying the love of God to the sinner as much as they see it as information about the love of God.  The gospel is understood to be an “offer of grace,” rather than the “application of grace.”  It has no power itself, the power is in your decision to accept it.

In contrast, the Lutheran church has always stressed that the gospel is both the offer of grace and the means of its application.  After dealing with the central doctrine of justification by grace through faith, that is, that God will consider our faith in Jesus as righteousness, the Augsburg Confession turns immediately to the application of salvation:

To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the gospel. And the gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this. (Augsburg Confession: Article V. “The Office of the Ministry”)

….Evangelical Christians today tend to see the gospel as mere historical data. Accordingly, if you want to take advantage of this information you do it by making a decision to commit yourself to Jesus. The Bible has a dramatically different view; here the shoe is on the other foot. God takes the initiative, just as he did in the incarnation of his Son.

The gospel is not just historical information, but the living power of the living God. Jesus said: “The words which I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). No wonder then that Paul saw the gospel not as a static message but as life-giving power: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

From Sanctification: Christ in Action by Harold L. Senkbeil, Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1989, pp. 166-7.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Decision Theology, Faith, Grace, Justification, Lutheran Distinctives, Means of Grace.

Martin Luther on the Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel

If any of you are well versed in this art, I mean, if any of you can rightly make this distinction, he would deserve to be called a doctor of theology.  For Law and Gospel must be distinguished from each other.  The role of the Law is to terrify men, to drive them crazy and to despair – especially rude and vulgar people – until they realize they can do neither what the Law demands nor achieve God’s favor.  That will make them despair of themselves.  For they can never accomplish that goal – to obtain God’s favor by their own efforts – and keep the Law.  I recall when Dr. Staupitz said to me on a certain occasion: “More than a thousand times I have lied to God, promising that I would become godly.  But I never did what I promised.  I will never again resolve to become godly, for I see that I cannot carry out my resolution.  I want to quit lying to God.”  That was also my experience under the papacy: I was very anxious to become godly, but how long did it last?  Until I had finished reading the Mass.  An hour later I was more evil than before.  This state of affairs goes on and on until a person becomes quite weary and is forced to say, ” I have had it up to here with being godly according to Moses and the Law.  I am going to follow another Preacher, who says to me, ‘Come to Me, if you labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ ” ….

This Preacher does not teach that you can love God or that you must act and live a certain way.  Rather, He tells you how to be godly in God’s eyes and how to be saved, despite the fact that you cannot do as you should.  This kind of preaching is wholly different from the teaching of the Law of Moses, which deals only with works.  The Law says, “You shall not sin….Go and be godly….Do this, do that….” But Christ says, “Accept the fact that you are not godly.  But I have been godly in your stead.”

Quoted in Walther, C.F.W., Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible.  St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, p. 27-28.  Cf. Luther’s Works: American Edition, Volume 23:271-73.


Posted in Grace, Law and Gospel, Quotes.

The Answer to Your Sin and Death

Look to Christ hanging on the altar of the Cross and pouring out His precious blood for your sins (1 John 1:7).  The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanses you from all sin: He is the propitiation for your sins and for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  For He did not come into the world to be ministered to but to minister and to give His life as a ransom and price for the sins of many (Matt. 20:28).  And lest any doubt arise or remain for you in this matter, from heaven, the throne of Truth, that most sweet and consoling name of Jesus, was brought by an angel, the spirit of Truth, proclaiming to us before He was conceived that He is our Mediator.

Indeed, is Jesus anything other than a Savior?  It is for this reason that He was given the name of Christ because He saves His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).  This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  This is Jesus Christ who came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15).  This is the High Priest of the New Testament, who has given Himself up for our sins as a sweet smelling offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).  It was Christ who shed His own blood for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28), who bore our sins in His own body on the Cross (1 Pet 2:24), who was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isa 53:5).  The Lord laid on Him, as a stream made to rush headlong onto Him, the sins of us all.  God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us (2 Cor 5:21).  That is, He imputed to Him our sins.  He placed on Him the punishment of our sins.  He made Him a sacrifice for our sins.  Nor did Christ oppose this counsel and decree of the heavenly Father but carried out His will with the readiest mind imaginable.  He gave Himself for our sins (Gal 1:4).  He loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal 2:20).  There is a certain Baptism I wish to be baptized with, He said, and how great is My distress until it be accomplished (Luke 12:50).  This was the Baptism of His Cross and distress in which our most kind Savior was wholly immersed for no other reason than His immeasurable and ineffable love toward us.  It was this that so distressed Him.

No matter how great the outward pain in His suffering, nevertheless, you must know that His inward love for us was greater and more ardent.  Indeed, He was prepared to suffer more for our sins if the price He paid for our redemption did not seem sufficient.  But we should not doubt the sufficiency of that price, a redemption that is absolutely complete with Him.  As Bernard says, “for not a drop but a stream of blood flowed abundantly from the five wounds of His body.”  Indeed, Christ called out that all things were finished on the Cross and by the Cross.  Therefore He made through Himself a full and perfect purification for our sins (Heb 1:3) and by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Heb 10:14).  By His blood He cleanses us from our sins (1 John 1:7).  Therefore, believe such plain, clear, and carefully expressed words of the Holy Spirit and firmly know that the suffering and death of Christ made a complete and sufficient satisfaction for your sins.

From Johann Gerhard (first pub. 1611, translated by Carl Beckwith), Handbook of Consolations: For the Fears and Trials that Oppress Us in the Struggle with Death.  Eugene: WIPF and Stock, 2009, pp. 11-12.

Posted in Faith, Grace, Justification.

On Lutheran Use of the Word “Reformed”

I have noticed that many Lutherans – especially lifelong Lutherans – have a tendency to refer to every Christian who is not Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox as “Reformed.”

Can we please stop doing this?

In the wider Protestant world, the term “Reformed” specifically means “Calvinist.” In some circles, the word “Reformed” is even narrower than that – it refers to a specific type of confessional Calvinist.  So when I hear Lutherans referring to American evangelicals (and even Pentecostals/charismatics) as “Reformed”, I cringe a little bit.  Most of those folks are not Calvinists by any stretch of the imagination, and will not hesitate to let you know that.  And I cringe more than a little bit when Lutherans say “the Reformed believe X” when X is a belief that only an American evangelical – and no confessional Calvinist – would actually hold.

I understand why Lutherans use the term in such a broad way.  Sometimes it’s for the sake of convenience when we are speaking among ourselves, as simply using the term “Protestant” to refer only to Calvinists and Arminians and not Lutherans can be confusing to some.  And historically, the non-Lutheran Protestant denominations ultimately – in one way or another – are theological descendants of the original Calvinists of the 16th century.

But neither of these reasons really excuse a practice that is generally unhelpful when one is actually interacting with Calvinists or Arminians.  At best it causes confusion and at worst it can cause unnecessary offense – to the point where the Calvinist or Arminian writes off you and Lutherans in general as being ignorant of what they really believe.

A while ago I was listening to a lecture on the two natures in Christ by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt of White Horse Inn fame, at the end of which (during a question and answer session) he takes Lutheran pastors and professors to task for their use of the word “Reformed” to refer to Wesleyan evangelicals (and conversely, for using the term “evangelical” to refer to Calvinists). Here’s some of what he (himself an LCMS pastor and professor) had to say:

If you’re in a wider Christian circle and you do what our LCMS pastors do – and they’ve been trained to do it – I’m going to be speaking to a group of them back in Minneapolis and I’m gonna tell them to repent of this – if you’re in front of a broad Christian group, and there are a lot of Calvinists there, and you call them evangelicals, they’ll be totally offended.  To them that means Arminian.  They might just walk out of the room because they think you’re an idiot – an uneducated idiot.  And correlatively, on the other side, if you have a large evangelical gathering and you call them Calvinists, their hands will be in the air and they’ll say “I am not – whatever I am, I’m not one of those.”…

So as you say “evangelical” today, it usually means Arminian/Wesleyan….When you say “Reformed”, it means one thing, and only one thing – 120 proof Calvinism.  Now we even have in our books in the LCMS guys – professors – who use (or have used) the word “Reformed” to mean everybody who isn’t Lutheran or Roman Catholic.  Disaster.  Disaster.  We’ve got to stop doing that.  I talk to seminarians – they still blunder into it – and so I try as politely as I can to say, “You want to distinguish those.”  Because if you’re speaking in a broader Christian audience, you want to be precise about that, or you’ll have no idea why fifty percent of the room packs up its briefcases and walks out the back door.  But they will.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Calvinism, Pet Peeves, The Church.

Why I am Not a Big Fan of Screens in Church

On this Friday’s episode of Worldview Everlasting, Pastor Jonathan Fisk dealt in part with the use of technology in the Divine Service. One of the things he talked about was the use of screens in church, and he made some really great points.  To elaborate on his comments as one who has personal experience with screens in (a non-Lutheran) church, here are a few observations and reasons why I am not a big fan of using them in a Lutheran service:

1. The potential for idolatry. No, I’m not saying that every church or pastor that uses a big screen or Power Point slides during their service is necessarily guilty of idolatry.  But when the people of a church finds themselves thinking things like “we can’t reach this generation without this kind of technology”, or when a pastor finds himself freaking out when the Power Point presentation crashes two minutes before the service starts, they might be.  I have heard people actually say that the glitches in their church’s Power Point presentation were caused by the devil.  Really?  I think Satan is more interested in making us think that the Power Point presentation is necessary in some way, and that people will either not believe in Christ without it or that the church will die without it.

God does not need a big screen or a Power Point presentation.  His Holy Spirit is the one who creates faith in our hearts through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.  There will not be one more person in heaven because a pastor decided to supplement his sermon with Power Point slides or because a church decided to put the lyrics of all their songs on a big screen.  Conversely, there will not be one more person in hell because a pastor or church decided NOT to do these things.  When we think that our human activity apart from the Word of God makes the difference between heaven and hell, we are no longer trusting in God alone to save sinners.  We are guilty of idolatry and need to repent.

2. Making the screen the focal point of the service. Instead of the focal point of the service being the pulpit and the altar and the baptismal font – the places where the Word is proclaimed and the gifts of God are distributed – the focal point is the big screen at the front of the sanctuary.  Instead of drawing people’s attention to the place where God comes down to us, the screen draws people’s attention to the things WE are doing.  If there is a way to NOT make the screen the focal point, I would be very interested to hear how that could be done.

3. Detaching lyrics from the actual musical notes to which those lyrics are sung. I have learned the tune of many a Lutheran hymn simply because the words AND musical notes were available to me in the hymnal.  Musical notes are generally not projected on a screen, for copyright reasons – and thus the only songs that are projected onto the screen are usually 1) very simple praise songs with little depth and/or 2) songs with tunes that everyone knows already.  Since big screens are purported to be an “outreach” tool, how does it help outsiders to the church if everyone expects them to already know the tunes of all the songs that are being sung?  Had it not been for the hymnal and its inclusion of the musical notes I would have been hopelessly lost when I first started attending a Lutheran church – where the majority of the hymns were hymns I did not know.

“But what about the fact that most people don’t know how to read music to begin with?”  That’s more of a commentary on the current state of education in this country.  Drawing the conclusion that “thus we should completely abandon written music in church” does not follow.  The fact that many (maybe even most?) people nowadays are NOT able to read music is no excuse for making it more difficult for the rest of us who are.  I have found that my ability to read the music of a tune unfamiliar to the people around me makes it easier for them to catch on to the melody.  Take the hymnal away and I might be just as lost as anyone else.  Without the written music it makes it much harder for people to learn new or unfamiliar songs that have any theological depth.

So those are a few of the reasons why I am not a big fan of screens in church.  You may disagree with me, and that’s fine.  Or you may feel the same way as I do but for other reasons.  Feel free to post your comments.  And read this article by Pastor Fisk.  Great stuff.

Posted in Culture, Liturgy, The Church, Web/Tech, Worship.

In the Very Midst of Life

Today’s hymn in the Treasury of Daily Prayer is a wonderful hymn by Martin Luther entitled “In the Very Midst of Life.”  It is quite appropriate to the Lenten season.  Our only hope against sin, death and the powers of hell is Christ.  I found it to be very encouraging in the midst of my own various struggles in this life, and I hope that you will find it encouraging as well.


In the very midst of life
Snares of death surround us;
Who shall help us in the strife
Lest the foe confound us?
Thou only, Lord, Thou only!
We mourn that we have greatly erred,
That our sins Thy wrath have stirred.
Holy and righteous God!
Holy and mighty God!
Holy and all merciful Savior!
Eternal Lord God!
Save us lest we perish
In the bitter pangs of death.
Have mercy, O Lord!

In the midst of death’s dark vale
Pow’rs of hell o’ertake us.
Who will help when they assail,
Who secure will make us?
Thou only, Lord, Thou only!
Thy heart is moved with tenderness,
Pities us in our distress.
Holy and righteous God!
Holy and mighty God!
Holy and all merciful Savior!
Eternal Lord God!
Save us from the terror
Of the fiery pit of hell.
Have mercy, O Lord!

In the midst of utter woe
When our sins oppress us,
Where shall we for refuge go,
Where for grace to bless us?
To Thee, Lord Jesus, only!
Thy precious blood was shed to win
Full atonement for our sin.
Holy and righteous God!
Holy and mighty God!
Holy and all merciful Savior!
Eternal Lord God!
Lord, preserve and keep us
In the peace that faith can give.
Have mercy, O Lord!

Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 755
Text: Martin Luther, 1483-1546, tr. The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, alt.

Posted in Faith, Grace, Hymns.