Monday, October 30, 2006

The Foundation of Orthodoxy

Recently a considerable amount of attention has been generated by the action of a former brother of mine who decided that Orthodoxy is the possession of the "Orthodox Church." He has enjoyed a considerable amount of celebrity because of the scholarly nature of his devotion to the "historic liturgy." He truly is a very scholarly individual, who wholeheartedly devoted himself to his scholarship. In my observation this led to both much blessing and his ultimate downfall. It led him to denounce his own church body, for entirely valid reasons, and yet simultaneously to denounce leaving his church body. The latter was based upon a belief that standing as the Church apart from a formal church body is somehow invalid. (This is my condensed paraphrase from one of his very scholarly papers: "What Options Do the Confessions Give Us?".) Finally, being unable to reconcile these two diametric positions, being unable to live with this hypocrisy, he turned to liturgy and tradition for his salvation, where things seem to be more stable.

Please understand that this is not in any way meant to be an attack on this dear man. However, since his recent resignation from the office of Pastor in the congregation that he served and his accompanying departure from the Evangelical Lutheran Church has brought much attention to this "movement," it seems appropriate to mention him.

I believe that this "movement" is symptomatic of a bigger issue. The bigger issue is how people define the Church and the Faith.

As one who left the same church body more than four years ago, and as one who briefly examined the "Orthodox Church" in the hope of finding a church to call "home," perhaps my observations will be of some benefit to others finding themselves in a similar dilemma.

For me, however, the dilemma was not one of seeking an alternative to the Faith testified to by the Lutheran Confessions, but was one of seeking to find a church that truly abided in the Faith testified to by the Lutheran Confessions. As those who "go East" ultimately must and do admit, the "Orthodox Church" does not embrace the same faith exposed in the Lutheran Confessions.

At this point I need to explain the purpose of this post. My purpose and focus is not to counter the move toward the "east." My focus is not to oppose the Orthodox Church. My purpose is to explain what I believe is the dilemma for those who strongly desire to be faithful to the Faith of the Scriptures as it is embraced and explained in the Lutheran Confessions.

I am setting before you an understanding of the Lutheran Confessions that at first will very likely seem quite foreign to you, especially if you are a proponent of "Lutheranism." I myself am no longer a proponent of Lutheranism. I am a proponent of the faith that is witnessed by the Lutheran Confessions.

This may seem like strange language to those who count themselves to be "confessional" Lutherans. I propose to you that if this sounds strange that the reason for the strangeness is due to the view towards understanding what it means to confess. In my observation, nearly all who commonly count themselves as confessional Lutherans today understand this to mean that they confess the Confessions of the Book of Concord. This is the basis of the confusion that is being experienced today among Lutherans. The Confessions are not meant to be confessed. They are meant to be expositions of that which is confessed, namely the doctrine taught in the Scriptures. So, the Confessions are witnesses to the witness given to the Church by the Holy Spirit.

This brings into question just what confession really is. St. Paul explains this.

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."
(Romans 10:8-11 NKJ)

By this we behold what confession truly is. It is not confession of a creed. It is not confession of a body of doctrine. It is not confession of anything that is of man. It is confession of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus Himself makes this very plain in His statement to the apostles in Matthew 16:15-18:

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (NKJ)

Here the Lord Jesus proclaims the basis upon which His Church shall be built so as to stand forever. Upon what shall His Church be built and stand, upon the ROCK. The Lutheran Confessions define this as the ministry of the Gospel. In the Smalcald Articles Luther explains:

As to the statement, "On this rock I will build my church"(Matt. 16:18), it is certain that the church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry of the confession which Peter made when he declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. Therefore Christ addresses Peter as a minister and says, "On this rock,"that is, on this ministry.

Whose ministry is this ministry? It is Christ’s ministry. Jesus defines the rock as the revelation (apocalypse) given to Peter by the Father. He makes it painfully clear that the confession on which the Church is built is not the confession of a man, but the confession of the Father, that is, God. This is God’s confession or revelation. The confession of the Church is the ministry of Christ, by which He speaks through His ordained spokesmen the confession of the Father. This is the confession of God, which means it is the confession of the Holy Spirit.

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27 NKJ)

So the confession that flows to the lips from the heart of the believer and is spoken before men is God’s own confession of salvation, revealed in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is why we can trust the ministry to be effective for us, not because of the faithfulness of the men who administer the mysteries of God, not because of the faithfulness of our feeble confessions, but because of the confession of God, who speaks through our pastors and our confessions. God is the faithful one. God is the one in whom we trust. God is the focus of our devotion.

In response to this another question arises. Often the term Christocentric is used. What does this really mean? Does it mean what Billy Graham and D. James Kennedy advise people? Does it mean to make Christ the center of your life? Does it mean to make Christ the center of your thinking and doctrine and practice? Does it mean that pastors and congregations should strive to keep Christ as the center of the ministry of the Church?

Understood correctly, yes. However, this is not the language of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not proclaim Christ as the center of our lives. The Scriptures proclaim Christ as our life. He is not the center of the Church’s doctrine and practice, He is the Church’s doctrine and practice. The Church is not centered in Christ but is the body of Christ with Christ as the head. The Church is built upon the Rock, which is Christ. The Church does not feed upon doctrine and practice but upon Christ, through His blood sprinkled with the water and through His body and blood distributed in communion with the bread and the wine.

This leads to another matter of confusion in "Lutheranism": the definition of communion or fellowship. Is communion ever a partial relationship or is it a true conjoining of two or more into one? The Scriptures always speak of the true conjoining of more than one into one true communion. It is a true sharing in or participation of the parts in one another.

This is perhaps the biggest factor in the confusion and struggle among those confessing to be Lutherans today. Most who call themselves Lutherans do not really believe that communion is real. Most today consider communion to be limited in various ways. The Scriptures teach that communion is 100%. To be in communion with something or someone is to be joined in complete union with that thing or person or body. This is what St. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10. There is no such thing as a partial communion. Whatever we join ourselves to is what we are in communion with in reality. Either we are in communion with the Lord or with someone else, namely, the devil. Those are the two choices. Joshua presented this reality to the Israelites when he led them into the land of rest.

Within modern Lutheranism, however, "Confessional Lutherans" pretend that this reality can somehow be ignored. They persuade themselves that they can coexist in a true communion and a partial communion simultaneously. They pretend that they can confess to be in a church body that mingles itself with the world and with mixed confession, and simultaneously be in true communion with the Lord by practicing certain things at the local communion (congregation). They pretend that they can be in the communion of the church body at some limited level.

Thus they find themselves in a never ending conflict. Their hearts lead them to the same point of the dear man who wrote the fatal paper: "What Options Do the Confessions Give Us?" The answer to the question posed by this paper is that the Confessions don’t give us ANY options, or better stated, excuses. The Confessions testify to the Rock and the communion of the Rock, the Church. There is only one option. Either one is in the communion of Christ, or the person opts for the other communion. No levels of fellowship exist. Either a person is in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, or the fellowship of the world and the prince of this world.

St. James addresses this very powerfully and adamantly:

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NKJ)

When people remain committed to two masters, they find that the Lord Jesus was not kidding about what happens. They eventually choose to love one rather than the other, though they continue to pretend to love both. But there is no middle ground. Either a person stands upon the Rock, or on the confessions and communions of man.

As a former member of the LC-MS, I faced this dilemma. As I examined every other body of "Lutheranism" that I could find, I continued to face the same dilemma.

I determined that I could not be conjoined with the bodies that are in communion with that which I denounce. I determined that I am far better to stand alone upon the Rock, than to stand with many in a fellowship of multiple foundations.

The Church does not exist by the confessions of men, but by the confession of God. This is why AC VII is so important to remember. Is the Gospel taught purely in a congregation that confesses communion with those who teach impurely? Are the Sacraments administered in accordance with the divine Word in a congregation that confesses communion with members of a church body who do not administer in accordance with the divine Word? Can a congregation honestly say that they are members of a communion, but only part way?

I believe that the Scriptures teach that this is impossible. I believe that the Lutheran Confessions teach this as well. Thus I found it impossible to remain in a church body that declares that what God says cannot be can be. I am a follower of Christ, not a follower of the Church. I believe that Christ is my sufficiency, not membership in a church body. I believe that the confession of the Church is the product of the confession of Christ, not the other way around. I believe that standing upon the Rock that I shall remain steadfast and unmoved. I know no other Rock than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I have never been disappointed while trusting in Him. The Scriptures promise that I never shall be disappointed or ashamed while trusting in Him.

That’s good enough for me. Nothing else comes close.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

More on John 21

In the post, "Why Lutheran?" below, John 21 was utilized. There is another marvelous point that Jesus demonstrates for the life of the Church in this text. It again reflects upon who does the giving in the life of the Church.

When the disciples reached the shore with the catch of fish they saw that the Lord had already prepared the meal for them. Yet He told them to bring some of the fish that they had just caught. Why?

This was a gathering of Christ’s disciples. He was displaying for all time the basis for such gathering, or congregating. First He calls to His disciples in their daily activity. As He calls He shows that He has already provided for their every need of body and soul. As they respond to His words and guard them so as to follow them, they discover that the Lord has indeed provided for them.

Next the disciples demonstrate the natural response of those who hear the words of the Lord Jesus. First they recognize the voice as His voice. Then they come to their Lord where His voice is heard. Notice that nowhere in this does the Lord Jesus say, "Come here boys." He did not have to. What else would His disciples do once they recognized where He was?

Now back to the fish. Jesus already has the meal prepared, a complete meal. Nothing more is needed. Yet Jesus says, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught." Is this because the disciples needed more exercise?

It was a demonstration to them and to us regarding what we shall do with what He gives to us. First His gifts should remind us who our God is, our gracious and loving Father, who provides not only our daily bread, but our everlasting salvation as well. Secondly we should realize that His gifts have a purpose, His purpose. Thirdly we remember that His most earnest desire is the salvation of the world, and especially the elect. Then we understand the nature of the Sacraments. God has already supplied His grace, His forgiveness, His Word and promise. God has already supplied the water, the bread, and wine. His grace, forgiveness and Word have been supplied through Jesus. The water, bread, and wine have been given though our income or living so that we carry these elements to the Lord for Him to use to our benefit and the benefit of all who are brought before Him by the life of the Church. Moreover, by permitting us to bring these elements the Lord demonstrates that there is no part of our existence that He does not make holy through the merits of Jesus. We gather to the voice of Jesus and there we find Him ready to make all things new and holy for us.

Now this text still has volumes of wonder to be brought forth as treasures for us all. I wanted to share at least this. It is as the Lord Jesus declared in Matthew 13:52, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." I find it truly fascinating that the Greek word for treasure is "Thesauros." Can there be any question as to what the Church’s true treasure is?

Peace to all in Christ Jesus, the Word of Life.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why Lutheran?

Among the many "choices" of church affiliations/identifications or "brands" of faith, how can one know which one is the "right" one? Is this even a genuine question? After all, the Scriptures teach that there is only one Church.

However, in pondering this matter people often avoid the fact that the Scriptures clearly define this one Church and the faith by which it exists. Often in seeking criteria that establish the lowest common denominator, the truth can be ignored. The Scriptures do insist that there is one true Church and that it can be identified by what it confesses.

So what criteria are established by God in His Scriptures?

Every group that claims to be the Church of God seeks to give an answer to this. Either formally or informally a creed or confession is formed. Since questions continue to arise among those gathered, and challenges are presented from those outside the group, a confession develops into a body of confessions. These confessions serve to set the group apart based upon the presuppositions that are held regarding the right understanding of the Scriptures and what the Scriptures declare.

So why Lutheran? Why the Lutheran Confessions?

In an attempt to answer this the author of another Lutheran blog makes these introductory remarks:

I love Jesus. I love His Word. I love doctrine. In short, I love the Gospel. That is why I love Lutheranism. I don't get Jesus and His Word and His doctrine anywhere else like I do in Lutheranism.

Can I join him in these bold statements? Is this why I am a Lutheran? I want to say these things, but I find that I cannot.

In John 21 St. Peter is challenged by the Lord regarding this very matter and he finds himself humbly shying away from such boldness, too. Peter, the one who was always bold in confessing Jesus and at the institution of the New Testament by our Lord boldly declared his love for his Lord, now humbly confesses that he does not really love his Lord.

In this account, it was Simon Peter who rushed ahead of the others to swim to the Lord. It was Simon Peter who invited the others to go out fishing. Yet when Jesus called to them from the shore, Peter forgets all about the nets full of fish, puts on his outer garment and jumps into the sea and swims to the shore while the others stay with the boat and drag the nets full of fish to the shore. Peter did not care about the fish now that the Lord had come to them. The Lord miraculously provided the fish, but Peter was no longer interested in fish. He simply had to go to the place where His Lord was.

(This is the simplest explanation of what it means to be Lutheran.)

When Peter came up to Jesus he saw that Jesus had already prepared a meal for the disciples. First Jesus calls to them in the boat, asking them if they have any food. They did not. So He commands them to cast the net on the opposite side from where they were fishing and then He fills their net. When they arrive on the shore with the food that He provided them, they discover that He already has a meal prepared for them and He feeds them from His own hand. They simply received what He gave them.

This is what the true Church is. This is what the Lutheran Confessions teach.

How does Jesus provide for His Church on earth? He goes forward to demonstrate this with dear Simon Peter.

Jesus gently leads Peter to understand what it really means to be a disciple and how the disciples are to be blessed by Jesus. Jesus teaches both of these at the very same time.

First what it really means to be a disciple. We always get this backwards on our own. Like the disciples in the boat, we think that we need to seek and find what we need. Jesus showed them that He is the provider. They thought that they should come to Jesus because of their love for Him. He taught them that they are not capable of such love.

He takes Simon Peter and asks him in three different ways if he loves his Lord. Each time Jesus asks less of His disciple regarding love. First Jesus asks, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me more than these?" The second time Jesus asks, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you (agape) love Me?" Finally Jesus asks, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (philos) Me?"

John records that Peter was grieved because of the way that Jesus asked him the third time. Jesus was gently bringing Peter to realize that he did not really love his Lord. The first two times Jesus asked Peter regarding agape and both times Peter responded with philos. The essence of Peter's response is: "Do I love You, Lord? Yes, but only with the love that You have given to me. I do not love you with all my heart, soul, and mind, but have received Your love and I respond humbly to Your love in the faith that You have worked in me." Each of the first two times Peter responds with: "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." What he was saying is: "Yes, Lord, I now realize that I do not have agape for you, but you have agape for me and fill me with the power of Your agape so that I respond to it with philos. I cannot generate love for You, but because of Your love at work in me, I do respond and come to be renewed in Your love." The third time Peter was grieved because Jesus asked him whether he even had the love that responds to love. Peter humbly responds that since Jesus is the one who puts love into men's hearts by means of faith, that Jesus knows that Peter has this love, not by his own strength, but by the gracious activity of the Holy Spirit.

With this demonstration Jesus included something more. First Peter is being confronted with the fact that he himself only responds to Christ's love and does not come to God by any other means. Peter was led to confess the unworthiness of his own love. Then Jesus shows him that the Church and the means of grace do not depend on the love of the people, but upon the mercy and love of God. With each stage of Peter's confession of having a love that cannot be trusted or depended upon, Jesus commands him to deal with the sheep. With each question, as Jesus leads Peter to think less and less of his own love, as Peter's view of his own love becomes smaller and less important, the view that Jesus presents of the sheep becomes bigger and more important. First Jesus asks, "Do you love (agape) Me more than these." "No? OK. Pasture (feed) my lambs. Next Jesus asks "Do you love (agape) Me?" "No? OK. Shepherd my sheep." Finally Jesus asks, "Do you love (philos) Me?" "Yes? OK. Pasture my sheep."

First are the lambs, whom Peter earlier thought were less important and less devoted and simply less than himself. "Pasture them. Don't deal with them according to your love. Pasture them. Lead them to the safe pasture that I have prepared for them and let them eat to their hearts' content. Don't measure them and then predetermine their rations. Pasture them in the abundant pasture. Bring them to Me and let them feast."

Second are the sheep. "Shepherd them. Rule over them and take care of them. Tend to their wounds. Drive out the wolves. Keep them from wandering off. Only do not look upon them with your own love to do this. Look upon them with agape, My love. Tend to them not as your sheep but My sheep. Point them to Me and let them know My love. Look upon them as those who need My love just as you need my love. Look upon them as those who are in the same condition as you are and apply to them what I have applied to you."

Finally are the sheep as adult sheep, who like Peter, are fully aware of their dependence upon the pure Word and the Sacraments. "Pasture them. They have been humbled even as you have. They know what I have provided for them. Let them eat to their hearts' content. Keep them in the good pasture and let them feast. I am here for them. Keep them mindful of My presence and let them feast upon Me and live in the security of My love. Do not join them to other pastures. Do not permit neglect to cause them to seek their food elsewhere. Keep them here with Me. Show them where I am so that they may feast securely without wandering here and there on their own. Pasture them."

Then Jesus warned Peter what this was going to cost in earthly terms. He warned Peter how this would cost Peter his freedom and his earthly life. Immediately Peter's heart looked back to his own love rather than the love of Christ. Immediately he began looking upon the other disciples rather than following Christ. Immediately he stopped loving the other disciples and became selfish in his motives. Jesus answered, "What is that to you? You follow Me."

In my daily life I frequently find myself praying, "Oh Lord, I love You, but not really. I trust You, but not really. I do not love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I do not obey You. My heart and mind wander everywhere except to You. I worry and I fret. I become angry without just cause. I turn aside from You and I sin. I don't want to sin, Lord, yet I turn from You so that I can sin. I follow You, but I turn aside to my own way. O Lord! You call me back again. I hear Your voice. The Holy Spirit brings to my recollection many Scriptures and plants a hymn in my heart. Oh, how I need You, Lord. Yes, I need You. Yes, I do love You. Thank You for giving this to me. . ."

This is why I am a Lutheran. This is why I give thanks to God for the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This is what they teach and confess. This is what I need to hear over and over again. I need Jesus. I need His Gospel that proclaims only Him and His salvation. I need His mercy and love. So yes, I love the Church that proclaims this clearly and administers it without compromise, without mingling my works and my love into what I am taught as what I need to seek. No, my love is produced by what I am fed. My love is nothing more than a demonstration of Christ's love at work in me. This is what the Evangelical Lutheran Church believes, teaches, and confesses. This is what the Scriptures declare as my only need. Therefore this is what I believe, teach, and confess, too. Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)


Monday, October 23, 2006

A Beginning and an Explanation

Today I became persuaded in my mind and heart to enter the blogosphere realm. This is new territory for me.

For this I chose the title: "Not Alone."


I chose this because it addresses the way that I observe people feeling in the world. People can feel alone even when surrounded by a crowd of people and even when actively participating with very close friends.

I have experienced this myself and have observed it in the lives of the many people I have met and worked with and conversed with throughout my life.

Often this feeling of aloneness and even loneliness (the two are related but not identical), is not understood. "Why?" is the question that often accompanies this feeling of aloneness. The "why" comes in many forms and is expressed in many ways. Pain of various types and degrees almost always accompanies it.

For those who are saints of God in Christ, this feeling should not exist. But it does. Saints should be entirely free of this feeling because despite whatever circumstances prevail, the true saint is never alone. The baptized believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who continually works to comfort the soul with God’s grace and love. Yet the saint is also a sinner, constantly encountering the fleshly warring against the spirit. Because of this, aloneness is experienced, for the flesh looks not to God’s will but to Man’s will, the will of self. No one can acknowledge the Lord when this is the focus of the heart and mind.

Job, that ancient saint, knew that he was not alone even when everything was taken from him. His children and livelihood and reputation all were stripped from him. His wife urged him to abandon true faith. His ungodly friends badgered him with his sinfulness. All the while he clung to the faithfulness of the Lord his God. But he eventually lost site of God’s faithfulness. He did what we all do when we become tired of persevering with nothing but the faith as our support. He began to imagine that he must begin to rely upon his own efforts and his own faithfulness. As soon as this tragic mind set begins to occur, God’s faithfulness becomes secondary, even nonessential, and most certainly not sufficient. Then the person becomes angry and depressed and resentful. The person becomes filled with doubts and fears and becomes defensive, seeking to find justification in himself. Then the Lord must set the person straight through harsh preaching of the Law so that the person remembers that there is no justification apart from faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This remembrance of the true source of justification, of course, comes not from the harshness of the Law, but from the sweet and tender preaching of the Gospel of Christ crucified that properly accompanies the preaching of the crushing power of the Law. In the moment that the Holy Spirit brings about this amazing reversal, (also called: repentance), the person is no longer overwhelmed by aloneness, but once again is full of God’s grace, mercy, and peace. His heart and mind is again guarded in Christ Jesus by the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

So, this is my brief explanation for the choice of title for this blog site.

God’s peace to all who come here, in Christ Jesus the Lord.

~ Pastor Paul A. Siems