Monday, July 30, 2012

Differences between the ELCA and LCMS w/links

The original work for this post comes from Rev. Joshua Scheer.

The following is intended as a primer to some of the differences that exist between the ELCA and the LCMS in regards to what we believe, teach, and confess. It is not an exhaustive list, but points to some major differences.
**** The LCMS links will be updated as I can get to them. The LCMS recently updated their website and as a result the old links are dead. I have provided a link to the new LCMS website for further reference and reading.
On the Bible
ELCA — “We also find in the Bible human emotion, testimony, opinion, cultural limitation and bias.”
“Because Biblical writers, editors and compilers were limited by their times and world views, even as we are, the Bible contains material wedded to those times and places. It also means that writers sometimes provide differing and even contradictory views of God’s word, ways and will.”
“…we sometimes conclude either that the writer’s culture or personal experience (e.g., subordination of women or keeping of slaves) seems to have prompted his missing what God was saying or doing, or that God now is saying or doing something new.”
LCMS — “It is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.”
ELCA – The ELCA affirms belief in the Triune God, but allows for some strange views of it. From their website: “ELCA Lutherans believe that God reveals who God really is to us. Therefore the Christian church must confess its faith in the essential Trinity. God is one God, revealed in three persons.”
“Do I have to believe in the Trinity to be Christian? Question: Should I renounce my membership? I’m a committed follower of God, Christ and the Spirit, but I don’t believe the Trinity theory. I’ve been told, “If you don’t believe in the Trinity doctrine you can’t be a Christian.”
How does one prove this doctrine? Answer: You need not renounce your membership in the Christian church. Even Paul didn’t ascribe to the doctrine of the Trinity since it wasn’t defined until hundreds of years later. But I believe he would confess the truth of the revelation of God to which this doctrine bears witness. The Trinity isn’t meant to explain God. In fact, saying God is One but three persons proves that God can’t be explained — only witnessed to. The Trinity isn’t some litmus test of intellectual assent to a doctrine. Rather, it calls us to trust and commit to the God revealed as Father, Son and Spirit, which is precisely how you spoke of your faith. We can’t prove the Trinity, but based on Scripture, church tradition and experience, the doctrine of the Trinity expresses the faith that we hold to be true and life-giving. “We don’t need to prove God.We only need to worship and obey God. This we can do!”
Another problem in the ELCA is the allowing for radical feminism to rob the church of the revealed names of God. Instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, other formulas are being developed and used instead: “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier”, “Parent, Child, Spirit” or “Holy eternal Majesty, holy incarnate Word, holy abiding Spirit”.
For greater examples of this, go to: which is the website of a congregation that belongs to the ELCA.
LCMS – The LCMS believes in the Triune God. “On the basis of the Holy Scriptures we teach the sublime article of the Holy Trinity; that is, we teach that the one true God, Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4, is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, three distinct persons, but of one and the same divine essence, equal in power, equal in eternity, equal in majesty, because each person possesses the one divine essence entire, Col. 2:9, Matt. 28:19. We hold that all teachers and communions that deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity are outside the pale of the Christian Church. The Triune God is the God who is gracious to man, John 3:16-18, 1 Cor. 12:3. Since the Fall, no man can believe in the “fatherhood” of God except he believe in the eternal Son of God, who became man and reconciled us to God by His vicarious satisfaction, 1 John 2:23; John 14:6. Hence we warn against Unitarianism, which in our country has to a great extent impenetrated the sects and is being spread particularly also through the influence of the lodges.”
“The Synod believes and teaches that “the three persons of the Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal, one God” because this is what we find taught in the Holy Scriptures, God’s inspired and errorless Word. Both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, together with God the Father, are named in Scripture with divine names (“God,” “Lord”), are described as having divine attributes (eternal existence, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, etc.), are depicted as carrying out divine works (creating, forgiving, judging, preserving) and are accorded glory, honor and worship which are worthy of God alone.”
Holy Spirit
ELCA – The ELCA while affirming the Triune God speaks of the Holy Spirit as a face of God. From their website: “For ELCA Lutherans, the Holy Spirit — as person — might be said to be one of God’s “three faces.””
This way of speaking about the person of the Holy Spirit is actually heretical. It is a mark of the ancient heresy of Modalism. This speaks not of three persons, but three faces of the same, or three modes of the same being. One of the chief promoters of this heresy was a man named Sabellius. From the Christian Cyclopedia: “Sabellius.* Modalistic Monarchianism as developed under him is known as Sabellianism: God, the absolute monad, reveals Himself successively in 3 prosopa (Gk. “faces”), each representing the entire monad (Father: Creator and Lawgiver; Son: Redeemer; Holy Spirit: Lifegiver).”
LCMS – The LCMS teaches the biblical doctrine that the Holy Spirit is a unique person of the Triune God. From their website: “The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Holy Trinity, true God with the Father and the Son–therefore not a “power” or an “energy” of God. We read of God the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19 where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being (the Holy Trinity). The Father has begotten the Son from eternity; the Son is begotten of the Father from eternity; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. To the Father especially is ascribed the work of creation; to the Son, the work of redemption; to the Holy Spirit, the work of sanctification.
How do we know the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity and, therefore, truly God? Because the Bible clearly calls Him God. Acts 5:3-4 equates the Holy Spirit with God. Jesus promised, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 15:26).”

ELCA – The ELCA allows for the view that God used evolution to create things. This means that the account in Genesis 1 and 2 do not have to be true for the member of the ELCA. The ELCA teaches the historical critical method of interpretation of Scripture, which discounts the accounts as history and treats them more as poetry. From their website:“The ELCA does not have an official position on creation vs. evolution, but we subscribe to the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, so we believe God created the universe and all that is therein, only not necessarily in six 24-hour days, and that God actually may have used evolution in the process of creation. In fact, to deny the possibility that evolutionary processes were used is seen by some as an attempt to limit God’s power.”
“Historical criticism is an understanding that the Bible must be understood in the cultural context of the times in which it was written.”
LCMS – The LCMS believes that God created all things out of nothing in exactly the way that the Scriptures teach. From their website: “We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.””
ELCA – The ELCA teaches that non-Christians can go to heaven. From their website:“”The Christian hope for salvation, whether for the believing few or the unbelieving many, is grounded in the person and meaning of Christ alone, not in the potential of the world’s religions to save, nor in the moral seriousness of humanists and people of good will, not even in the good works of pious Christians and church people…. There is a universalist thrust in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s theology. How else can we read passages such as ‘for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ’”
Again: “If Jesus is the Lord and Savior, he is the universal Lord and Savior, not merely my personal Lord and Savior. Because Jesus is the unique and universal Savior, there is a large hope for salvation, not only for me and others with the proper credentials of believing and belonging to the church, but for all people whenever or wherever they might have lived and no matter how religious or irreligious they may have proved to be themselves.”
LCMS – The LCMS believes that faith alone saves. Jesus is the only way to salvation, He is the only door. From their website: “Since God has reconciled the whole world unto Himself through the vicarious life and death of His Son and has commanded that the reconciliation effected by Christ be proclaimed to men in the Gospel, to the end that they may believe it, 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Rom. 1:5, therefore faith in Christ is the only way for men to obtain personal reconciliation with God, that is, forgiveness of sins, as both the Old and the New Testament Scriptures testify, Acts 10:43; John 3:16-18, 36. By this faith in Christ, through which men obtain the forgiveness of sins, is not meant any human effort to fulfill the Law of God after the example of Christ, but faith in the Gospel, that is, in the forgiveness of sins, or justification, which was fully earned for us by Christ and is offered by the Gospel. This faith justifies, not inasmuch as it is a work of man, but inasmuch as it lays hold of the grace offered, the forgiveness of sins, Rom. 4:16”
The article of doctrine known by the name “Justification” was called by Luther the chief article of the Christian Faith. It is the Article by which the Church stands or falls. That means that when the article on Justification is given up, then the Church will soon fall intoallsortsofheresies. The Augsburg Confession of 1530, confesses:
Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21–26; 4:5]. (from Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 33.)
In 1999 the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church signed the 1997 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The ELCA approved the JDDJ in 1997 by 97%, and is a major part of the LWF. The LCMS is not a member of the LWF.
In JDDJ, the Lutheran theologians say that agreement on the basic points of Justification has been achieved, and yet Lutheran theologians from around the world have criticized the document for giving up the Lutheran definitions for the Roman Catholic ones.
JDDJ showed the problem with the ecumenical ideology of the ELCA that has led to so many “Full Communion” agreements with church bodies that do not agree even on the Lord’s Supper. Statements like JDDJ craft specific words and phrases which make agreement possible without yielding any previous statements (The Augsburg Confession, or the Decrees and Canons of the Council of Trent for example). Everything is done in the name of “diversity”, as it we all agree, but just express it differently. JDDJ declares that differences still exist in language, theological elaboration, and emphasis, and yet claims that some sort of agreement has been made. The Roman Catholic Church still believes the same things that brought on the Reformation, and some even harsher as the Council of Trent condemned Lutheran beliefs. Lutherans should hold to their reformation beliefs too, but JDDJ showed a willingness by theologians of the ELCA for the sake of getting along to give up that article by which the Church stands or falls.
For an excellent evaluation of JDDJ which includes the text of JDDJ go to:
For another great resource on the LCMS response to JDDJ go to:
The Resurrection of Jesus
ELCA – The resurrection for the ELCA does not necessarily have to be a historic event, but something of faith. From their website: “All of this has led some scholars to write that the risen Jesus (and apparitions of the risen Jesus) is a supernatural reality which does not belong to this world and cannot be the object of historic investigation. Rather, Jesus’ resurrection is an object of faith.”
Accordingly, “ELCA members believe that what history does is to demonstrate the disciples’ faith in the resurrection. Their witness and testimony to Jesus’ post-death appearances make it abundantly clear that the resurrection was a primary object of the apostolic proclamation from Christianity’s very beginning.”
This view then means that it is not important whether Jesus is still dead in a tomb or not, just that you believe that He rose.
LCMS – The LCMS affirms a real, historic, personal, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. It is as the Bible says.
The Virgin Birth of Jesus
ELCA – The ELCA, while affirming the historic and biblical doctrine of the Virgin Birth, also allows for someone to not believe in it. From their website: “This statement, written in the 16th Century, supports the Western Church’s traditional understanding of the doctrine referred to as The Virgin Birth. While it remains official and normative for the Evangelical Lutheran Church today, it has not closed the doctrinal debate over Jesus’ conception for many Lutherans, and by inference that includes ELCA members. It is a doctrine debated by many other Protestant Christians, scholars and those who inquire about the Christian faith and its tenets.”
LCMS – The LCMS believes in the Virgin Birth. From their website: “The LCMS believes, together with historic and orthodox Christendom of all ages, that Jesus was true God, begotten of his Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. Mary was truly Jesus’ mother and he was truly her son, while at the same time God was truly Jesus’ Father, and he was truly God’s Son. The suggestion that Mary merely “carried Jesus in her womb and gave birth to Him but He was not her biological son,” therefore, is in direct conflict with what the Bible clearly teaches. Attempts to “explain” how the virgin birth and the incarnation of the Son of God is were/are possible from a purely “biological” point of view are, of course, misguided, since we are dealing here with a miracle and mystery that transcends human reason or scientific investigation.”
The Devil
ELCA –The ELCA allows for belief in a real Devil or a more generic “evil”.  From their website: “We must begin by saying that there are ELCA Lutherans who understand Satan (or the Devil) to be a very real being, author of evil, prompter of sin, destroyer of humankind. Other ELCA Lutherans view Satan metaphorically — as the personification of evil forces in this world that oppose and obstruct God’s will in every age, be they human or spiritual.”
LCMS – The LCMS teaches as the Scriptures do, that the Devil is a personal being, a fallen angel.
Church Fellowship
ELCA –The ELCA has entered into“full communion” with many church bodies of varying confessions of Faith. These church bodies do not even agree on whether the Body and Blood of Jesus are present in the Lord’s Supper. There are other differences in belief as well. From this, it is clear that the ELCA does not believe that full agreement in doctrine is necessary for full communion. The church bodies which the ELCA are in full communion with are: Moravian Church (1999), The Episcopal Church (1999), Reformed Church in America (1997), United Church of Christ (1997), Presbyterian Church USA (1997), and the United Methodist Church (2009). None of these church bodies believe in the real presence of Christ during the Lord’s Supper.
LCMS – The LCMS is active in discussions with many groups and has established“pulpit and altar fellowship” with many church bodies throughout the world. The LCMS believes that communing together, sharing pulpits and clergy, and holding joint worship services are the highest form of expressing unity. That is why any attempt to join with other church bodies involves a serious, honest, and thorough review of the doctrines that are confessed by each church body. This is in keeping with the Lutheran tradition set by Martin Luther in 1529 at a place called Marburg (for more information look up the Marburg Colloquy).

On Abortion
ELCA – The ELCA is Pro-Choice. Their social statement made in 1991 allowed for all views. Pro-Life people are allowed in their fellowship, but even their health insurance plans for church workers covers abortion procedures. The only exclusion in the health plan is for an abortion after 20 weeks. All others would be covered.
LCMS – The LCMS is Pro-Life. This again is the stance of Scripture. All life is precious in God’s eyes. The LCMS believes that abortion is contrary to God’s Word and “is not a moral option except, except as a tragically unavoidable byproduct of medical procedures necessary to prevent the death of another human being, viz., the mother” (1979 Res. 3-02A).

On Homosexuality
ELCA “The 1991 Churchwide Assembly (CWA) — the highest legislative body of the ELCA — affirmed … that gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” This policy was reaffirmed by the 1995 CWA, and the 1999 CWA further encouraged discerning conversation about homosexuality and the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in our common life and mission.”
ELCA – The 2009 Churchwide Assembly voted to support same-gender relationships, and allowed for practicing homosexuals to be pastors.
LCMS — “The Missouri Synod believes that the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s Word and will, and seeks to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual inclinations.” “The Word of God clearly condemns homophile behavior in Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27, and 1 Cor. 6:9”
Women’s Ordination
ELCA – The ELCA has ordained women since its founding.
LCMS – The LCMS does not ordain women in keeping with the Scriptures. “The LCMS believes that those Scripture passages which say that women should not “teach” or “have authority” in the church (see, for example, 1 Cor. 11 and 14; 1 Timothy 2) mean that women ought not hold the authoritative teaching office in the church–that is, the office of pastor.”
ELCA – The ELCA as of August 2009 allows for homosexual ordination.
LCMS – The LCMS believes that homosexuality is intrinsically sinful. Practicing homosexuals are not allowed to be pastors

Sunday, July 29, 2012

“The Bible We Study” Basics of the Christian Faith Sermon Series, July 29, 2012

1.                   Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  In the message from God’s Word today we’ll be looking at the importance of God’s Word for our lives as Christians.  The message is entitled, “The Bible We Study,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                   According to John Burwell’s  report of the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, church delegates got an unexpected education when discussing a resolution to include the English Standard Version of the Bible to the list of approved Bibles for the denomination.  But controversy arose when one delegate discovered that the ESV’s translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 clearly includes those who unrepentantly practice homosexuality among those who won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. Immediately, a new vote was called and the ESV was rejected. Anyone who thought the matter was finished was disappointed when someone discovered that the same wording is found in the RSV, the NIV, the CEV, and several other versions already approved for use in the Episcopal Church! As John Burwell wrote, “Who Knew?”  The decision was then made to send the bill back for more study. Wonder what they’ll find in there next?  Or, take another example from this past week over the Chik-fil-A controversy. Mr. Dan Cathy, the Chik-fil-A CEO, stated that he supports the traditional BIBLICAL view of marriage. That’s the “controversial” news. His words were, We’re very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”  “We’re a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we’re married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” For this reason, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has urged Chick-fil-A to “back out” of its “plans to locate in Boston.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says Chick-fil-A has no place in the city of Chicago.  In his comments to the Baptist Press, Cathy didn’t even mention same-sex marriage. He simply said he and his company supported traditional marriage. It’s clear that anyone who supports the authority of God’s Word in all areas of life is frowned upon by those outside of the church and yes, even those within it. 
3.                   Some people think the Bible “contains” the Word of God.  The Bible’s origin, coming from the one true God, and the Bible’s purpose, communicating God’s life to us in Jesus, makes it unique.  No other book in the history of the world has had that origin and purpose.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  All Scripture is God breathed.  God the Holy Spirit gave His chosen writers the thoughts they expressed and the words they wrote.  Even so, the holy writers didn’t simply take down heavenly dictation.  They weren’t robots.  Each wrote in his own style, and each book reflects the experiences of its writer.  The Bible is unique.
4.                   The Bible is also completely reliable.  It’s God’s Word, not the word of human beings.  Inspired by God, it’s inerrant.  That means it’s free from error.  We can depend upon it as God’s truth for our lives.  From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is God’s message of love to sinful human beings.  Unlike other books, even other so called holy books like the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita, the Holy Scriptures are uniquely God’s Word.  It’s wrong to pick and choose those parts we believe because we consider them “reasonable.”  We can’t decide which parts of the Bible we want to believe.  Our reason, flawed as it is by sin, must submit to the authority of God’s Word.
5.                   We can despise God’s Word by ignoring it or parts of it.  We can also abuse God’s Word by twisting the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit.  Each passage of Scripture has one intended meaning.  We can’t get away with thinking that person A can arrive at one interpretation while person B arrives at the opposite interpretation.  But the Holy Spirit’s intended meaning in each text doesn’t and can’t change.  Neither does the Holy Spirit contradict Himself.  This is why we interpret the harder verses of Scripture in light of the much clearer to understand texts. 
6.                   But how do we decide what the meaning is?  How do you interpret the Bible?  In one sense, those who say, “It’s all a matter of interpretation,” are right.  As we interpret the Bible, our questions needs to be this, “What is God trying to tell us?”  There are several principles of interpretation that can help us answer this question in a way that we can be sure of.  The first principle of Bible translation is that Christ is the center of the Bible.  The Bible must be interpreted in Light of Jesus.  Luther once asked, “Take Christ out of the Scripture and what do you have?”  His answer was, “Nothing.”  The second principle is, all Scripture is to be interpreted in the light of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  In other words, God declares us right with Himself freely, as a gift, not because we deserve it but because Jesus lived, died and rose again for us.  The third principle, is that we approach Scripture not with a “prove it” attitude, but with an open mind, a repentant heart and faith that clings to Christ alone.  As Luther has said, “Reason is held captive under the obedience of faith.”  We come to the Scriptures asking, “Lord, what would you teach me here?”  The fourth principle is, we approach Scripture asking the Holy Spirit to work through His Word to convict us of our sins, and then, confessing our sins, we ask for God’s forgiveness in Jesus.  The fifth principle is, we read the Scriptures asking the Holy Spirit to reveal their meaning for our lives.  We look for blessings God has given us for which we can return to Him thanks and praise.  We ask, “Lord what would You have me do?” as we look for ways to respond to His mercy in acts of loving service. 
7.                   From the principles of Bible interpretation you can see that the Bible isn’t a book of rules for living a good life.  Not at all!  The central teaching of Scripture is God’s call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  From the Scriptures we learn that Jesus lived a perfect life in your place.  He obeyed each one of God’s laws perfectly for you.  Then He died on the cross in your place.  He suffered the punishment that you by your sins deserved.  And He rose from the dead to give you eternal life, a life with God that never ends.  That’s why we read the Bible, not looking for lists of do’s and don’ts, but asking God to transform us more and more into the image of His Son Jesus.
8.                   But, some people believe that the New Testament is more important to us today than the Old Testament.  The New Testament does portray the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus for us.  But the entire Old Testament also points to Christ.  It abounds in the revelation of God’s grace--His promise to send a Savior after Adam and Eve fell into sin, His answers to prayer in the Psalms, His message of forgiveness spoken by the prophets.  We don’t pit the Old Testament against the New.  Nor can we conclude that the Old Testament carries a message of law and the New Testament a message of gospel.  Both Law and Gospel are central in both the Old and New Testaments.  Both testaments tell of God’s judgment on human sin, but both testaments also tell of God’s mercy toward repentant sinners. 
9.                   There are a lot of “mistakes” in the Bible!  In its pages we read of many people who made “mistakes.”  But these “mistakes” were sins against our holy God, sins that deserved His punishment.  But the Bible doesn’t contain mistakes about who God is or what He’s done through history for us and our salvation.  Sometimes people point to “mistakes” in the Bible, to supposed “contradictions” or to conflicts between science and the Bible.  Certainly some textual problems exist.  But given the length of the Bible, these “variant readings” are few and far between.  More important is the fact that none of them detract from the central truths of Christian doctrine.  In fact, those who refuse to study the Bible because “it’s unscientific” need to study it more closely.  True science and the Christian faith don’t disagree at all.  All truth is God’s truth.  Pure science discovers the truths in the natural world.  It deals with empirical data, not with matters of faith. 
10.   One final comment about the reliability of the Bible we have in English.  Some people have come to the idea that because we have so many translations of the Bible, no one can really know the truth.  “Which translation can you trust?” they ask.  If this is your question, take an hour to compare the NIV, or the New King James Version, and the New American Standard Version, or the ESV.  Look at verses like John 3:16, 1 John 1:8-9, and compare Psalm 23.  Check out some of your own favorite texts.  If you do that, you’ll almost certainly conclude that the translations all say the same thing.  Certainly no differences in the major doctrines of the Christian faith can be found among the major translations.   In fact, the variety of translations can help you gain fresh insight into the meaning of specific texts by looking at how the translators chose to phrase words and verses. 
11.   God the Holy Spirit is always present to strengthen us when we pick up the Bible and take a long drink of the “milk of the Word.”  Some have suggested that the Bible we have in our homes never be closed, that they always lie open, the better to remember the invitation of our Lord to “take up and read.”  But, even if our Bibles are left open, how can we develop the right attitude toward reading them? How can we find time each day to read the Scriptures for our own personal spiritual growth?  For one thing, we need to view the Scriptures not just as divinely inspired, but also as living power.  If the Scriptures are only a code book of texts that prove our intellectual understanding of Him is a correct one, then no wonder they are of little help to us in real life.
12.   The Scriptures are our Lord’s Word to us.  An active powerful Word.  A Word that works changes in our hearts and lives.  We can go to it when our spirits are low.  We can read it as God’s letter of love written to each of us personally.  We can think of it many times a day.  We can refer to it in our daily conversations.  And as we let God’s Word have its way with us, those around us will see evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in us.  We will become more and more the living epistles Paul once wrote about, “Known and read by all men” (2 Cor. 3:2 RSV).  Amen.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

“The Goal We Seek” July 22, 2012--The Basics of the Christian Faith Series…

1.             Grace, mercy & peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   In the face of senseless tragedy like the 12 lives ended at a midnight premiere of Dark Knight Rising at the movie theater in Colorado there’s a tendency to wonder, “Where was God?” as well as to think once or twice about venturing out – feeling a need to withdraw, regroup, find some strength to face this fearful world we live in.  Wheres God in the face of death, suffering and evil?  These are questions that people have asked since the beginning of time.  Today we’re going to focus on the Bible’s answer to death in our Savior Jesus who gives to us the “Goal We Seek,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.             Centuries ago the Spanish fleet had an inscription on their flags:  NON PLUS ULTRA--“Nothing more beyond.”  Then Columbus discovered America.  After Columbus, Spanish flags read PLUS ULTRA--“More beyond.”  There is “more beyond.”  As our Lord Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he may die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”  But, what will we encounter in that “more beyond?”  What can we expect and what if we’re afraid?
3.             Well, fear is our “natural” reaction to death.  Death came into God’s creation as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin.  Death comes upon us because we, too, are sinful.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:12, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”  The Apostle John links the fear of death with the fear of judgment that we deserve when he writes in 1 John 4:18, “Fear has to do with punishment.”  Does this mean that death is “God’s will?”  Certainly God permits death, and he knows when we’ll die (Job 14:5).  But He never desires human death.  Through the prophet Ezekiel God says, “I don’t enjoy seeing a sinner die.”  (Ez. 33:11).  In heaven, where God’s people experience His complete and perfect will, there is no death.  God promises in Rev. 21:4, “I shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”  It’s not accurate to speak of God “willing” death. 
4.             The hymn, “All Creatures of our God and King,” refers to death as “kind and gentle.”  And in terms of leaving pain, suffering, and sorrow behind, we can understand why JS Bach would pen, “Come Sweet Death.”  Those deaths that come months or years after suffering are a relief.  Mourners don’t need to regret the relief that they feel.  Still, we need to take seriously those parts of Scripture that define God’s attitude toward death, for in His view of death we can find great comfort.  Maybe no clearer statement can be found than that of the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  Our God sees death as an enemy, an intruder, a blot on His good creation.  But, when our Lord Jesus comes again on the Last day God’s people will live on after death’s destruction.  Jesus also recognizes the pain death bring His people.  He sees its sting and, in Christ, He has seized its claim to victory. 
5.             Physical death is the passage through which God’s people must pass to enter the glorious home our Lord has prepared for us.  Unless the Lord Jesus returns in judgment during our earthly lives, each one of us here will die physically.  And most of us probably have mixed feelings about that, just as the Apostle Paul did in Phil 1:21-24, where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the boy, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”  We know that when we die, we will, “be with Christ.” So then, as Christ’s people, our confidence lies in this from Romans 14:8, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.  So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
6.             In life and death, we belong to the Lord.  Death isn’t the end of existence.  This truth brings questions about what our existence will be like when we arrive on the other side of death, when we find ourselves with Jesus in the heavenly home.  Many people believe that we will live there as angels.  An old Christian poem says, “I want to be an angel, and with the angels sing.”  But the Scriptures teach us that angels are a separate creation of God.  Both angels and human beings are eternal creatures, but in heaven, human beings won’t become angels.  Instead, God will give us “glorified bodies.”  Jesus has promised to “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).  Our bodies will be like the body of our Lord Jesus after His resurrection.  He wasn’t an angel; nor will we be angels.  The bodies we have now will be changed, made fit for life in heaven.  The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:50, “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  Our bodies will be free from the ravages sin has brought to them.  Sickness and pain will be things of the past.  God will sustain our transformed bodies forever.  And the key thing is this:  all I need to know about heaven is three words:  WITH THE LORD!  I need nothing more.  We won’t understand everything about the glory that awaits us until Jesus welcomes us home.  We can rely on the love Jesus has for us and trust that what awaits us will be better than we could ever imagine!
7.             But, when does eternal life begin?  When will our bodies be released from the curse brought on them by sin?  These are two separate questions.  Jesus will come for us, either at the moment of our death or in that great day we often call His Second Coming.  On the Day of Judgment our bodies will be transformed, and from that moment on we will live in the glories of heaven.  We all await that day and so does our Heavenly Father.  The psalmist wrote in Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.”  Yet in another sense, eternal life is already ours.  The Apostle John wrote in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”  It’s ours already--by faith in Jesus our Savior.
8.             As the early Christian martyrs marched off to their deaths, they sang the words that have come down to us as the “Gloria in Excelsis,” which we sing in the Divine Service.  Here in this life they joined the song of the Christmas angels, the song that resounds throughout heaven.  Here on earth, the martyrs sang the hymns of praise that echo throughout heaven even now.  The eternal life that God the Holy Spirit began and nurtured in them here in time continues into eternity, just as it will for us.  Joseph Humphreys, the writer of the hymn, “Blest the Children of Our God,” saw this truth.  We will have eternal life, but eternal life is already ours.  Listen to his words, “Blest the children of our God, they are bought with Christ’s own blood; they are ransomed from the grave, life eternal they will have: with them numbered may we be, here and in eternity.  They are lights upon the earth, Children of a heav’nly birth; One with God, with Jesus one; Glory is in them begun: with them numbered may we be here and in eternity.
9.             In light of everything that God has done for us and in light of all He’s promised to do, we as Christians don’t need to fear as we anticipate the Day of Judgment.  We are the children of God.  We are bought with Christ’s own blood, ransomed from the grave, one with God, with Jesus one.  And even now, glory is in us begun.  God our Heavenly Father wants us to “have confidence on the day of Judgment,” as the Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:17.  And He works that confidence in us by His Spirit as we come to know and rely on His love for us in Jesus Christ.  We need not fear Judgment Day because we know what our Judge’s verdict will be.  He’s already handed down that verdict:  Not guilty!  He’s already clothed us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for you on Calvary’s cross.  You need not fear!
10.         But, if you do fear the Day of Judgment, bring those fears to Him.  Use the means He has in grace given us to lessen our fears.  We remember our Baptism and God’s declaration that there we died with Christ and have now been raised with Him.  You confess your sins and hear from me your pastor those life giving words, “Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We read the Holy Scriptures and relax in the love of God as we see evidence of that love on every page.  As the Apostle John wrote, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (4:18).  God wants to drive from our hearts the darkness of our fear--our fear of Him, our fear of His anger, our fear that He will punish us for our sins.  God wants to melt each of those fears away in the light of His perfect love for us in Jesus.  By faith in Jesus, we await His return in eager anticipation.  He’s given us His Word--we will be declared righteous in the judgment because of Jesus.  And so as we wait, we “watch and remain on guard,” just as our Savior has urged us to do.  We make faithful use of the means of grace, because by those means the Holy Spirit keeps us in the faith, the faith that by God’s grace makes us ready for Christ’s coming, the faith that by God’s grace makes us righteous in the Day of Judgment.  Amen.