Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lean on Me

“Lean on Me” is a song that I always enjoyed immensely, until today.

Today I truly listened to what this song says, what this song teaches.

"Lean on Me" is of a shallow and selfish nature. Think about it. Lean on me, for now, eventually I'll need someone to lean on and then it will be time for you to repay me by letting me lean on you. What about the fact that this person is already weak and needy? What happens when this person does not become strong enough to allow the other person to lean on the weak one. Then both are weak and the first weak person must flee to keep from being crushed by the second weak person or the two fall together and are injured even more.

The love of Jesus is such that He says, "Lean on me, I will never let you down. Lean on me and I will hold you up forever and carry you through all of your trials and struggles. Lean on me, for I have taken your burdens for you and in turn, I give you my light burden and my easy yoke of the Gospel. Lean on me, lonely brother, lean on me now and forevermore. I will never be weak. I will never be selfish. I will never grow tired of holding you up. Lean on me, lonely brother. I will never abandon you. No matter how badly you fail, turn to me and lean on me. I am here for you, always. I am your friend, even when you forget me.”

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus is the friend who comes to us even before we call. He calls to us, calling us out of the darkness of our weakness and despair. He calls to us so that hearing Him our troubles fade from our hearts and minds as we hear the comforting words of His grace, mercy, and peace. He calls to us and we hear the promise of forgiveness and healing and life everlasting. These are the things that He carried into the world from heaven in His own body to exchange on the cross for our miserable condition. He took our burdens so that the burdens that He carried into the world for us would be made to be ours through the faith that He authors and perfects for us, through the yoke of the Gospel and Baptism, and through the burden of the eating and drinking of the Supper of forgiveness, renewal, and life.

It is in His body, as members of His body, that we, then, lift up one another and carry one another’s burdens.

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

“Bear ye one another’s burdens.” Of which burdens does the apostle speak? “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. ” Our faults, our sinful desires and actions, our selfish inaction and cravings, these are what bring us down. These are what we are to address as unbearable burdens and to carry for one another.

This the apostle explains more fully, saying:

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:3-5)

These burdens are truly unbearable, not only for the one who is brought low, but also by all of the rest of us poor sinners. We cannot bear even our own faults, so how can we bear the faults of one another?

This why St. Paul instructs that we approach one another in meekness to restore one another to be truly spiritual. In other words, we are to pick up our brethren in the Lord and carry them to the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, where the person is restored again to the likeness of God, free of the burdens of the sinfulness that we have inherited from Adam. We pick up our brethren and carry them to the Lord, who then takes their burdens from them and gives them the healing of heart, body, mind, and soul.

The Lord Jesus comes to us in the water in which we have been treading. We have been treading for a long time. Perhaps we even made for ourselves or purchased for ourselves a kind of floatation vest that over time has become tattered and is becoming water logged. We are about to go under the water for the last time as Jesus comes to us in the water and tells us that He has brought with Him something that will preserve us. He takes His own robe, His own skin, from His body, strips us of our devices, and covers us with His bloody robe of salvation. He assures us that this robe will keep us above the water. He further assures us that when the wind blows us to the shore and we walk up out of the water that this robe will protect us from the scorching sun (the attacks of the world) and from the freezing cold (the loneliness and rejection) and from the fiery darts (the temptations and trials) and from the flames (the despair and the hot passions and desires).

When we begin to imagine that this robe is too restraining and we take it off and then succumb to our faults again, our brethren meekly come to us and pick us up and bring us back to the water’s edge, where we confess our stupid rebellion and the Lord restores us by placing His robe of righteousness upon us again with the Holy Absolution. Then He raises us up and we humbly walk with hearts filled with thanksgiving and joy to partake of the Supper of the Lord’s Holy Communion, restored to the life that we share with our brethren in the Lord’s body.

So, brother, don’t lean on me, except to crawl with me back to the water’s edge to be restored by the one who is truly our friend, who gives Himself completely for us and to us. If you want to lean on me, you’ll have to fall to your knees to do so. You’ll have to join me in and with the same broken and contrite spirit that I have. So, please brother, do call me and lean on me, for you then will find yourself stooping down with the humbleness of spirit that leaves you with only one place to fix your gaze, upward to the one who was raised up for our salvation. Then together we will lean on Him and receive His strength and be carried through every trial and struggle unto the final day of salvation.

(By the way, I still like this song, only no longer immensely. I see its faults, but I still appreciate the fact that it causes me to think of my and your true friend, Jesus, on whom we truly may lean with complete confidence, and who continually calls to us bidding us to do so.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Church versus Movement

What does it mean when a church begins to refer to its church body as a movement?

The congregation in which my wife and I were married, where my mother-in-law is a member, a congregation that has changed so much that we no longer recognize it, has this statement on its web site:

Holy Cross is associated with other Christians world-wide in a movement known as the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS).

What does this mean? Perhaps the movement is the direction that is being taken that moves the people farther and farther in a new direction. Perhaps it means that the congregation and church body are moving away from what they once believed, taught, confessed, and practiced to what is counted as an improvement upon their past moorings.

Perhaps the rest of the material presented on the homepage for Holy Cross helps to illustrate what is meant by being a movement.

Perhaps the link to the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) provides insight. On this page I noticed a new format and new links. Interestingly one of the new information blurbs, or advertisements, regards the inclusion of “Time of Grace” on the KFUO broadcasting schedule. Time of Grace previously was advertised on the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod home page. The WELS home page no longer promotes Time of Grace, a program produced by a WELS pastor and congregation. But the LC-MS has “moved” toward promoting it on its radio programming. WELS moved somewhat away from the promotion of Jeske and the LC-MS moved toward promoting Jeske.

In contrast to the notion of movement is what the Lord Jesus says concerning His Church. He says:

Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Christ, the Son of the Living God, says that He is the builder of His Church and that He builds it upon the rock of this confession. Accordingly, He builds His Church to be immovable, standing even against all the works of the devil, standing unmoved by the coaxing of the gates of hell.

So when a congregation or church body begins to speak of an identity that is equated with a movement, what does this really mean? What are those who are speaking really saying about themselves and the direction in which they are choosing to move?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Exciting Glory of the Gospel

Today’s sermon text was so exciting to me as the sermon developed in the writing of it that when I finished I could hardly wait to preach it! How wonderful, exciting, and glorious is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!

2 Samuel 22:21-29 — “The Lord Rewarded Me According to My Righteousness”

HTML Sermon

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MP3 Sermon

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Agreeing to Disagree

A statement that is very commonly heard today, especially among people discussing their confessions of faith, is “We will agree to disagree.”

Do the people who make this statement even realize what it is that they are saying?

What they are really saying is that despite whatever things that they discuss and debate that they really are in agreement after all. What is the basis of their agreement? They agree that none of the things about which they disagree really matter.

When people say that they will agree to disagree, what they are saying is that they do not count these matters as important enough to press to the point that the other person is left with only two possible responses: either to abandon the belief that has been erroneously held and to come into agreement with the truth; or to reject what the other person believes and to reject the person who presses it as absolute truth.

This kind of conviction regarding what is believed is completely abandoned when people agree to disagree. Such an agreement is an agreement that the areas of disagreement really do not matter beyond being the expression of one’s personal opinion. Therefore the two parties can continue to be friends in the agreement that these matters are not of any real importance. They have agreed that there is nothing so important as to argue to the point of absolute agreement, and so they absolutely agree that nothing is to be absolutely rejected.

I, for one, do not agree.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Do You Renounce

In the rite of Holy Baptism the person who is baptized is asked to confess the Christian faith, which includes the following statement and vow as the very first:

Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?

What are the works of the devil and all his ways? What does a person renounce with this vow?

Is compromise of doctrine a work or way of the devil?

Is compromise of practice a work or way of the devil?

Is acceptance of divisions in a congregation or church body, divisions that stem from divided understanding of doctrine and administration of the Sacraments, is this acceptance or tolerance a work or way of the devil?

Do you renounce?

Is this for real? Do people actually mean anything when they make this promise? Do people really mean that they reject the devil and his works and his ways and refuse to have anything to do with them?

Do you renounce?

How far does this question reach? After all, if this is treated seriously, it will completely change a person’s life. If this is treated seriously, it will affect every earthly relationship that the person has. If this is treated seriously, many former associations will also be renounced. If this is treated seriously, the person will be treading a very narrow path through life.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:13-15)

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:1-6)

Do you renounce?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

For Thou Art Great

For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone. (Psalm 86:10)

Truly God is great! Out of nothing He created the heavens and the earth and all that exists therein. He created the angels as ministering servants. He created man, perfect and holy, to live in His Holy Communion forever.

But mankind fell into temptation and chose the way of destruction rather than the way of life.

God has demonstrated the extent of His greatness by going far beyond the marvelous works of creation. For God has done a far greater thing in the redemption and salvation and sanctification of sinners. God has redeemed that which could not be redeemed. He bought back His sons from the condemnation of their rejection of His goodness. Those who were lost and beyond redemption, those who had entered again into the chaos of unbelief and sin, God redeemed with His own blood. Having redeemed them, He also called them out of the darkness of their sin and unbelief to be recreated again in His image. He established for them His Church on earth so that they would have a place of gathering into which He would continually gather them to receive the means by which He regenerates them and renews them. In this Church He washes them and gives to them new spirits that live in His holiness, thus sanctifying them through the justification that He declares in connection with the atonement of the cross of Christ crucified. He feeds them with His Word and with His own body and blood to keep them in this new life that flows from Him.

Truly this is far greater even than calling into existence out of nothing the cosmos. For in this He takes filthy sinners who have been corrupted in their very nature and regenerates them with new hearts of faith to live again in that which their corrupted nature despises and hates. He takes enemies and makes them His friends. He takes the irreconcilable and reconciles them to Himself.

Truly it is marvelous that in the beginning He made a perfect world from nothing, a world that He declared to be in every way, good, including the first couple of the human race. But how much more marvelous it is that from those who had become completely evil, God has brought forth those whom He once again may and does declare to be in every way, good! Even more marvelous still is that He works this in His Church on earth where His little congregation is continually persecuted and opposed by the world!

Yes, truly Lord, Thou art Great!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Be Nice to Me

Today the lady at the blood donation center put this little sticker on my shirt, saying that now people would have to be nice to me. She said, just point to the sticker, it says so.

This sounds silly to hear. The sticker obviously does not have the power to make people obey the command that is written upon it.

Yet people treat the Law of God in this way, imagining that by quoting the Commandments that people’s lives will be changed. Preachers hold the statements of what God says should be and imagine that doing so will change people’s hearts and minds.

But the power for salvation, the power that regenerates the heart and mind is the Gospel. The power for a new life is the power of God, the Word made flesh, who perfectly obeyed the will of the Father and lived without yielding to the power of sin. He defeated sin. He defeated all the powers of wickedness and disobedience. He overpowered all that works against us. He did so not with commandments, but with love. He is love, and He gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin so that sin would be destroyed by His sacrifice.

Preachers imagine that it is their job to teach people how to live. But this is a false understanding of the preaching office. Preachers are ordained to preach the one who is life. It is in receiving Him through the ordained means that life is restored to people dead in their sins. The life that is lost on account of sin can be restored only through the one who takes the sin of the world. Jesus takes our sin and gives to us in its place His life of holiness. He imparts to us the forgiveness that He purchased with His suffering and death. He raises us up to the new life that He guaranteed by rising from the dead. He rules our hearts by the Gospel and the Sacraments that He entrusted to His Church on earth and by the Holy Spirit who is poured out to us in Baptism. He keeps us united in His body and in His forgiveness and new life through the Holy Communion. Living each day in the knowledge of this that we receive by faith is what preachers are ordained to teach and proclaim.

This, then, is truly teaching people how to live, by grace, through faith. This is what is taught from the cross where God is nice to us, saying, for you I gave blood today. And He continues to give His blood for us in the supper of forgiveness and life so that we may truly learn how to live.

VBS Crock

It seems that Lutherans have largely forgotten who they are. It seems that Lutherans have forgotten why they are Lutherans. This is demonstrated quite clearly in the crock of Vacation Bible Study programs that Lutherans are using these days. The congregation in which I was raised is a prime example. My “home” congregation is known as Trinity Downtown , formerly known as Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. The shift from Evangelical Lutheran has taken many years, but now seems to be complete.

The following is the web site’s summary “update” stating the completed activities and fulfilled objectives of the VBS program for 2009:

Vacation Bible School
Crocodile Dock - UPDATE
Vacation Bible School 2009 ended July 24, but the memories and experiences of seeing God everywhere will continue. Approximately 100 children everyday learned how to be fearless kids shining the love of God. We collected well over a hundred canned goods for the food pantries; dozens of bottles of bug spray for Compassion Corner to distribute; children’s vitamins for Hands of Mercy mission in Sudan; and diapers for BETA house. The children made 200 stuffed turtles for Operation Kid-to-Kid, a mission of care and love for children suffering natural disasters. What a great week!

The VBS theme of the Group Ministries materials is restated in this update:

“Approximately 100 children everyday learned how to be fearless kids shining the love of God.”

Is anything missing from this theme?

Is the Gospel in anyway whatsoever even mentioned? Is the name of salvation mentioned as being taught to the children as even a sub-theme? Were the blessings of Baptism in any way a part of what the children were taught? How exactly are the children to be “fearless?” Is this fearlessness the gift of God that accompanies the good conscience of 1 Peter 3:21? What is the source of this fearlessness, since no mention is made of Jesus or the Holy Spirit or the Father or even of God, how did the children see God everywhere? Since the means of grace by which God makes Himself known are not mentioned, how were the children taught to see God? Since the means by which God promises to come to His children with His love are not mentioned, since the means by which God’s love shines in the world are not mentioned, how were the children taught to shine with God’s love? What does this notion mean apart from the means of grace declared in the Holy Scriptures?

Is this what the congregation professes to be? Is this what the congregation has bound itself to teach and practice?

From the constitution of the congregation:

In the church and public services of this congregation purely Lutheran hymns, and in all ministerial acts purely Lutheran forms only shall be used. Thus, also, in the parochial school, besides the Holy Scriptures and Luther's Small Catechism, such books only as are purely Lutheran shall be introduced and used for instruction in Christian doctrine, and all other books used in the school shall be free from everything which is in variance with Lutheran doctrine.


Of this constitution, paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,16, 17, and 19 shall be unalterable and irrepealable.

Is there a conflict between what Paragraph 12 states regarding the doctrinal literature used in the congregation and school and the materials purchased and utilized in this VBS program?

These materials are produced by Group Publishing. Group’s Statement of Faith says:

Statement of Faith

What we believe:

We believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God.

We believe there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, in his virgin birth, in his sinless life, in his death on the cross, in his bodily resurrection, in his ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in his personal return.

We believe people receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus.

Group’s mission:
We equip churches to help children, youth
and adults grow in their relationship with Jesus.

Does this sound like what is stated in Paragraph 12 of the congregation’s constitution? Does this sound like literature that is purely Lutheran? Where are the means of grace? Where is the need for the proclamation of the Gospel? Where is the Holy Spirit’s work of calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and preserving in the one true faith? Where is any declaration of how the salvation that is through Jesus is imputed to those who would receive His forgiveness and eternal life?

According to Group, faith grows through serving others:

Group's Faith In Action

We don’t just say it. We do it!

At Group, hammering nails, painting porches and meeting
practical needs have just as much to do with serving churches as creating books, magazines and curriculum. Each year, more than 20,000 youth and their leaders venture across the U.S. and beyond to grow in their faith by serving others. Whether it’s building wheelchair ramps, insulating drafty trailer homes, working at a homeless shelter, or running a VBS, participants shine the love of Jesus in every dark corner they can find.

Thus, Group teaches that doing good works is the means by which a person’s faith grows.

How do Lutherans teach that faith grows? Lutherans teach in accord with what the Scriptures declare, and as the one holy catholic Church has confessed in the Ecumenical Creeds, that faith grows not through one’s own works, but through the works that the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Gospel and through the Sacraments. The Third Article of the Creed directs us to this for our comfort and assurance. Luther beautifully expounds upon this in his explanation to the Third Article, saying:

The Third Article declares:

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

Luther explains:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

What a marvelous contrast! One way is pure grace, the other way is completely dependent upon the works and efforts of the individual.

Does it really matter whether pure Lutheran literature is used? Without a doubt!

The literature published by Group always directs away from depending upon the grace of God in Christ. It always directs to little programs and projects of service as the means by which a person convinces oneself that faith is alive and growing. Pure Lutheran literature always directs away from one’s own works and efforts so as to direct us to the pure grace of God in Christ as our only source of hope and comfort. Then we see God being present in the means by which He has ordained. Therefore we do not need to look for Him everywhere, because we actually receive Him through the means of grace. Then, rather than working to become fearless kids who shine the love of God, rather, we take comfort in the promises of God in our baptism and in the Holy Communion and in the pure preaching of the Gospel. Then we rest in His peace rather than working to become certain of our faith. When God is the one who works our faith for us, all that we need to do is what St. Paul writes to the Philippians, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. What this means is to be certain that we truly are receiving our understanding only through pure Lutheran literature, which always teaches us to trust in God’s grace in Christ. Then we truly are fearless because we realize that in Christ we have no cause to be afraid. (Rom. 8)

So then, why do congregations like the one in which I was raised, Trinity Downtown in Orlando (LC-MS), and Risen Savior in Orlando (WELS), as well as congregations in many places and denominations, use materials from Group, materials that they have promised not to use? Is it because of laziness? Perhaps, but more likely it is simply because they trust in cutesy gimmicks rather than in the Word. If they trusted in the Word they would actually use the Word. But they choose these cutesy cartoons and silly little projects rather than the Word. They hold onto the name of Lutheran for the sake of their tradition and heritage, but they use the methods and doctrine and practice of the preachers of faith by works. Lutherans teach as the Scriptures do, that works are the result of faith, not that faith is the result of works.

So, what is VBS today anyway? The letters stand for Vacation Bible School. This seems to be appropriate, for what is taught does seem to be a vacation from the doctrine of the Bible. But what sort of vacation is that? After all, it is the clear doctrine of the Bible that assures us of God’s love. It is the clear and unadulterated doctrine of the Scriptures that comforts us with the merits of Jesus as the cause of our forgiveness and salvation and new life of peace and hope and joy.

The Holy Spirit continually calls us to congregate to enter into the vacation that God provides, also called the Sabbath. He calls us regularly to take a vacation from the cutesy things that have no substance and have no power to give hope and peace. He calls us regularly to take a vacation from our own self-delusions and our own corrupt and frail efforts at holiness and goodness. He calls us to take a vacation from the lies and the disappointments of the world. He calls us to take a vacation from our own failures. He calls us to receive the holiness offered in Holy Baptism. He calls us to partake of the meal of life. He calls us to step out of the struggles and stresses of daily living in this world of sin and sorrow to rest in the mercy of Almighty God.

Why would anyone choose gimmicks over what the Lord provides? Why would anyone choose works over the freely bestowed gifts that God provides through the means of grace? Why would anyone choose anything other than what is taught and given in the pure Lutheran literature?

As for me and my house, we will continue in the vacation that the Lord provides.

(All images are from Group’s free downloads in connection with the CrocodileDock VBS page. The noticeable absence of anything relating to God, Christ, or the Gospel is not by choice but according to what was provided at the site at the time of downloading.)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Veneer of Righteousness

On one of the trees from which I recently was asked to remove some lower boughs so as to raise the canopy and to provide better symmetry to the tree’s canopy, I encountered a surprise. From the exterior of the limb through which I was sawing, the branch appeared to be healthy and strong. But as I cut through the limb, suddenly a brown and smelly liquid gushed forth. The following pictures display what I found inside.

From what the tree produced on its outside it was impossible to see what existed inside the tree.

This brought to my mind such Scriptures as these:

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew 23:24-33)

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. (Matthew 15:8-20)

How true! The Lord Jesus lays before us the depiction of the sinful human heart. He being the one who knows the hearts of all mankind, who came to sacrifice Himself to redeem mankind, speaks truly of our miserable condition.

And we know this to be true even as we search our own hearts. Our continual inclination is to lie, to cover over what we know is deep within us. Our hearts are selfish, so we try to act generously, especially when we know that others are watching. Our hearts lust after every pleasurable thing in the world, so we try to cover this over with various sacrifices in our lives. Our hearts seethe with frustration and anger and even hatred, so we try to act kindly and to smile and to suppress our outward reactions. We doubt God’s goodness and we secretly desire to do things that we know are contrary to His good and gracious will, so we try to do various acts of goodness that are easily observed that give the appearance of right living and honesty. We do this both for what we hope others will see and thereby think of us, and even more importantly we do this for ourselves in an attempt to hide what we know really lurks deep within our hearts.

We pray, but we do not listen to what God has already declared. We attend worship, but we do not heed what God has ordained.

We apply a veneer of attempts at goodness and righteousness on the outside, but underneath the old Adam continues to act rebelliously against the Lord our God.

So how do we find help?

First the Holy Spirit must work repentance in our hearts, so that we humbly acknowledge the depth of our depravity and sinfulness. Then we willingly hear His call to the waters of salvation and confess our sins and receive His holy absolution. This changes us within as St. Peter writes:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

The Lord has ordained Baptism as the means by which our conscience is cleansed and set free of all that works against the holiness that God has decreed for us. In Baptism God takes all of our inward filth and fills us with His own holiness. This is called sanctification. Through Baptism the Holy Spirit enters our heart and justifies us, declaring that for Christ’s sake and through the power of the faith of Jesus that the atonement that He made for us truly redeems us. In connection with this declaration of justification we are set apart with the gift of God’s own name of holiness, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This name is bestowed upon us as our very own, now set apart as God’s own children of righteousness.

This knowledge that is made to be ours through the faith that the Holy Spirit creates within us changes us from the inside out. The baptized believer does not need an outward veneer of self-righteousness for a covering, for God has placed upon His newborn child His own robe of righteousness, namely, the righteous of Jesus Christ in connection with God’s holy name.

God has also ordained the Sacrament of the Altar where the body of Jesus is fed to us under the form of the bread that is blessed and the blood of Jesus is given to us to drink under the form of the wine that is blessed. Since God Himself has spoken this blessed Sacrament into being and commanded it on the night of His betrayal, we receive it in absolute confidence and receive through faith that which He promises. So we are renewed with the strength that He alone can give, strength to believe the impossible, that we are justified and sanctified as His beloved and holy children. Our confidence is because God is the one who is working this for us.

Because of this, we have no need for veneer. God removes all that is corrupt and rotten within us. Because of His grace nothing remains to cover with a veneer of righteousness. He has declared that for Christ’s sake we are righteous. Thus, our lives then begin to demonstrate the works that He has prepared for us that we may walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 .

Monday, August 03, 2009

Spiritual Cooperatives

In this day and age, what is the definition of Church?

For what do people seek when they seek to find a place to worship? Most people say that they are seeking to find A church or a church home. Some will say that they seek to find The Church.

As one searches the length and breadth of the cosmos, a wide variety of churches can be found. This is true even when one specifies that a Christian church is what is sought. How many Christian churches exist in the world?

Who cares?

Some do care.

From the days of the apostles the claim is that only one Church exists in the world. It is stated also in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and in the Athanasian Creed. Most of the mainline church bodies still claim to hold these creeds to be true.

Yet even among the more clearly defined church bodies, those who make more clear differentiations between the various bodies and their confessions, nevertheless, they still call each other church and they still call one another Christian.

Some claim that it is necessary to avoid those that teach differently, that is, those who teach false doctrine. Some also examine how other bodies practice what they confess, and claim that it is necessary not to be in fellowship with these heterodox bodies. Yet even among these more defined groups, still the mutual practice is to call the other bodies both Christian and Church.

This being the common practice among them all, what then really is the difference? If it does not really matter what is taught and practiced, if those who are more strict or rigorous or careful or discerning in their examinations and close associations still count the others as Christian and Church, what does really matter?

Perhaps it would be better to use the term Spiritual Cooperatives, rather than Church or churches, for this better reflects what is commonly called Church in the world.

The following sites have definitions of cooperatives:

Statement on the Co-operative Identity

These definitions seem to fit far better what is observed as church today.

So does it matter how one defines Church?

In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Matthew 7:15-23, the Lord Jesus gives a very powerful warning:

     Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
     Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

According to this warning of the Lord Jesus, there will be many who became absolutely convinced that they were members of the church and disciples of Jesus and children of God who will find out that they were really only members of a spiritual cooperative where their spiritual leaders misled them and deceived them. According to the Lord Jesus, these poor souls will be convinced that they were doing the will of God, but will hear from the one that they called “Lord and Savior” that He never even knew them and that all of their presumptive acts of faith and godliness were actually works of iniquity.

Should this be a cause for concern in a day when Church is defined so broadly that those who believe in the resurrection of the body and those who do not believe in the resurrection of the body both are called Church? Should this be cause for concern when the most discerning of the church bodies say that a less discerning church body is Church while that church body says that an even less discerning body is also Church while that church body says that even a church body that denies the resurrection of the body is also Church?

When this is what Church means today, what really is the difference between the most discerning bodies and the least discerning bodies?

To this the Apostle Paul writes:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

Does it matter how one calls on the name of the Lord? Does it matter with whom one gathers to hear the Word of the Lord? Does it matter how one defines Church?

Apparently it depends on whom one asks.

Whom are you asking?