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)


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