Monday, February 28, 2011

The Thing Most Needful

The church will always have weaknesses and fall short this side of Glory. There will always be room for improvement as we toil and wait for what is to come.

But if the church is to be found wanting... let it be in anything but fidelity to the Word of God and the declaration of the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

The pure and true Gospel of Jesus Christ is the one thing that is most needful.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Solution for a Church Full of Hypocrites

This was actually one of a couple dozen theses that I penned while trying to list some points on another topic, but I have come to realize that it is significant enough to deserve its own blog post apart from the issue that brought it up so that I can expand the thought and broaden its scope.

The Solution for a Church Full of Hypocrites:

A "hypocrite" is someone who says one thing but does the opposite. He is an actor who portrays something that he is really not. The church is full of hypocrites. This is a very, very bad thing. Christ hates hypocrites and specifically warns against hypocrisy when dealing with the Pharisees. It is a charge that is levelled against the church quite often. This charge is unfortunately true and has an endless string of examples to prove its veracity. I have heard wrong-headed people suggest that the church is supposed to be full of hypocrites. They will even respond to the charge by saying something to the effect of, "certainly the church is full of hypocrites... and there is room for one more!" NO!!! That is wrong! The church is not supposed to be hypocritical at all. Thankfully, the people who actually think the church is okay being hypocritical is relatively small.

The problem comes when people aim to fix this issue of rampant hypocrisy among "Christians". Everyone knows that they way to do away with hypocrisy is to make some one's words and public face match who they are and what they do. So one must ask, "Why is the church full of hypocrites?"

Answer: The church is full of hypocrites because it is full of people who claim to be pulling holiness off when they are not. A "Christian" is a hypocrite when he claims to be righteous when he is in fact a wretched example of horrible thoughts, emotions, and behavior. He proclaims the changed life when he appears completely unchanged and lives as bad as the pagans.

The history of the church is filled with heretics, pietists, legalists, and plain ole erring leaders who have sought to rectify this problem... but went about it the wrong way. Without a proper understanding of man's sinful condition this side of Heavenly Glory, they seek to motivate, cajole, encourage, and threaten men into acting in accordance with the high principles of the Law. They wrongly believe that, if they can just reform people's behavior, the whole hypocrisy problem will be resolved. They foolishly think that, if they can just fix enough people, the church as a whole will improve itself and finally live up to expectations. They wrongly believe that the reason why this has not happened yet is because the right methodology has yet to be applied and set out to finally institute the purification of the church. This is not possible because the sinful flesh still clings to our mortal bodies. It will never work.

This will sound pessimistic, but the only feasible way to remove "Christian" hypocrisy is to lower the person's self-concept, words, and public face down to the level of his poor behavior and spiritual depravity. One must bring a person's words in compliance with his bad behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit by teaching him to always pray "God be merciful to me, the sinner!"

In light of God's Law, which demands perfect and sincere obedience in every way at all times, a hypocrite who tries harder is still a hypocrite no matter how successful he thinks that he has become. He will always fall short of the glory of God. There is none righteous. Not even one.

A sinner who claims the title of "sinner" is no longer being hypocritical. His self-perception and behavior finally agree. He finally sees himself for what he is: a fallen creature in desperate need of a savior because he cannot free himself from his sinful condition.

And here is where the Law has finally done it's great work by driving desperate men to the cross. Here is the place where the sinner encounters the God-Man Christ Jesus, the Great Physician, who declares, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Here is where the diagnosis finally fits the symptoms and the holy imputed righteousness of Christ is administered to him through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with Christ's institution. Here is where the sinner finds healing, wholeness, and unity in the Body of Christ as a fellow beggar among brothers rather than just a puffed-up, lying failure in the company of other puffed-up, lying failures.

Here is where the Law is completed in the death and resurrection of Christ and the freedom of the Gospel liberates the sinner from all of the Law's threats and demands. This is where the public perception no longer matters and the man abandons boasting in himself and begins to loudly boast in the only thing that he truly has to boast in: the Lord God Almighty. This is where the light yoke of Our Savior is found as He, the blameless and spotless sacrifice, assumes our burden of guilt before God the Father and becomes a perfect advocate on our behalf. This is where the Holy Spirit does a mighty and mysterious work within the regenerated soul of the Christian in accordance with His perfect will and bestows upon him diverse and new gifts filled with pious passions as a gracious free treasure of matchless worth. This is where the threatening veil of God's wrath is pulled away and, through the mediation of Christ Jesus, the true face of our merciful God of love is found.

In this freedom that only the Gospel can give, the Christian is finally free and empowered by God Himself to do truly good works which God had predestined before the foundation of the world for His purchased servant to walk in by faith. Free from the burden, despair, and compulsion of obligations, the sinner is supernaturally conformed to the image of Christ through sharing in His cross. He stops toiling in the vain hope of favor from God and the approval of men for all his hard efforts and finally begins to work for free in selfless holiness because God has shown him that Christ has already earned his heavenly wages on his account. It is then that the Christian is able to achieve by faith the truly God pleasing works which no external source on earth--not even the church herself--could compel him to do through human machinations and the exhortations of the Law.

In the gratitude of his salvation and with the secure knowledge that his eternal destiny has already been won completely by Jesus so that there is not even one single thing that could even be added, the Christian gladly and joyfully undertakes the work of a servant to his fellow man as a holy act of true, genuine worship. Freed from despair and guilt, the Christian recognizes that his imperfect obedience in this new life is covered and perfected by Christ's imputed righteousness just as his disobedience was when he was born again by water and the Spirit.

He is finally no longer loathed to contend with the imperative force of the Law's demands but finds himself living freely in the Spirit and walking in God's ways as a new creation in Christ. He can now see his lingering sinfulness for what it now is through Christ: the vestigial Old Adam which clings to him for a short time but will be done away with when this life of tears comes to an end and God rescues him from this body of death. He no longer resists sin because he fears as though he "has to or else" but rather he resists sin and wages war against it on all fronts because his regenerated spirit actually wants to walk in newness of life. He no longer simply fears his sinfulness as an eternal liability but comes to hate his sin as a contagion and detestable thing of which he desires no part according to his regenerated spirit.

The Christian no longer lives in a state of hypocrisy where his words and ideals do not conform to his heart and actions. Instead he lives honestly as a sinner redeemed by grace whose life is one of constant combat between the right spirit which was given to him by the Holy Spirit and the sinful flesh which still clings to him with all its temptations and faults. Rather than attempting to reform his sinfulness through legalistic new measures, he seeks to kill it daily through repentance and enjoys the gift of the forgiveness of sins given in holy absolution and the Lord's Supper with his church family.

In jubilant praise and compassionate concern for his fellow sinner, he finds that the Holy Spirit has given him a voice of expression which helps the church on earth proclaim the very saving message that had won him back from that liar the devil and the gaping jaws of hell itself. Rather than forcing himself to be the greatest among his peers and struggling to fit in, the Christian settles into community with his fellow sheep and peacefully lives out his life in the Body of Christ in accordance with his various callings, vocations, and stations in life.

This is how true disciples of Christ are made and this is how those disciples are kept steadfast in the faith. This is where the Kingdom of God is at hand and made manifest: in Christ Jesus Our Lord. This regenerative act of salvation is where Jesus Christ exercises His power of kingship and how the church of God is brought into being, preserved, sanctified, and eventually glorified on the Last Day.

And so the health of the church is never measured quantitatively or even qualitatively according to humanly conceived standards but is measured Christologically according to its faithfulness to her Savior through the clear preaching of the Divine Word and the proper administration of the sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ.

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who Invented Your Means of Grace?

There is no such thing as a church without sacraments.

I'm serious. Every church has them. They may call them different things and they may morph and change on a whim, but no church is devoid of some kind of sacrament. The reason for this is that you cannot avoid it. You have to answer the question, "How does an individual receive the objective promise of the forgiveness of sins?" You can't ignore that question because even a young child will hear John 3:16 and impertinently ask "But how does that happen to us?"

Every church body that still remains remotely Christian explains how this objective promise is applied to the individual through some kind of "means". There is always a "Means of Grace" whereby you are given access to forgiveness. The reason for this need is the simple fact that you are separated from the cross by 2,000 years and over 2,000 miles. It's a fundamental question that must be answered. "How do I get this forgiveness of sins?"

Scripture is clear and the early church fathers confirm its truth: The means by which an individual encounters the forgiveness of sins are found in those times and places where God has promised to do so. He calls the shots, remember? These means are in those places where the Word is applied to poor miserable sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit. Where you find the gospel preached, the Sacrament of the Altar celebrated, Holy Baptism applied in the triune name, and the proclamation of Absolution, there you will find the means of God's grace. This revelation is supported by similar types and forms found in the Old Testament as God's chosen people await the coming messiah and are pointed towards His supreme and all-availing sacrifice on the cross. The Old Testament is filled with typological sacrafices and signs that reveal that this is how God choses to interact with His chosen people. In this way, the ways of God are consistant so that He--and He alone--declares His promises to us and gives them as gifts to His people all the way from Adam up to the present day.

There are churches that claim that they have no sacraments. This is not true. In fact, they simply ignore the means of grace that God instituted in favor of a man-made means that has no Scriptural support. They point you to "your decision" to "make Christ your personal Lord and Savior" as the means whereby the objective promise of the forgiveness of sins is applied to you specifically. That's important. It's not the Gospel that does this. Nor is it the Holy Spirit. Nor is it those things that God instituted in His Word that have His promise for the forgiveness of sins.

It's your decision that makes this forgiveness happen for you. That's what gives you access.

You do it.


Christ promises forgiveness, but you bring it into effect by your conscious effort. Grace is not given to you as a free gift and imparted to you through the means that God instituted. Instead, you summon grace to yourself by the power of your own independent, autonomous will. Of course you are saved by faith... it's just that this faith is something you muster up from within yourself and are expected to maintain through discipline, mysticism, and forced zealotry.

That is significant. That is an amazing, bold, and dangerous claim. It smacks of the Garden of Eden where the devil entices man with the promise that we, the creature, will "be like God". The Scriptural supports to defend such an unfounded invention are weak at best. Do the research and you will find that the "proof texts" are taken wildly out of context and interpreted broadly with sweeping assumptions and mental leaps read into the actual texts. In contrast, the sacramental proof texts are starkly clear and unmistakably obvious. The fact that this debate still continues is a testament to the strength of fallen human pride and ignorance.

Many people who have not really looked into decision theology with any honest analysis (and probably never had to tortuously labor under its unpredictable and tyrannical yoke) will dismiss opposition to it by saying that we are splitting hairs.

This isn't hair splitting. This is the difference between searching the Scriptures to believe and practice what they clearly say...... and gross, man-centered idolatry. It is the difference between pointing a sinner to Christ and turning him back in on himself.

There is no other way to put it. It really is that crass. It really is that important.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Continuing Luther's Work....... By Undoing It?

History is full of people (past and present) who have said a great many good things about Dr. Luther.

Quite often, I come across theologians who have found themselves in the 500 year wake of the ongoing Lutheran Reformation who make magnanimous-sounding statements that all can be summarized as:

"What Luther did was a great start with the right intentions, but he just didn't go far enough."

Red flag. Right there. Run away. You can tell this is going to end badly. It's one thing to respectfully disagree with Luther... I just get really nervous when someone seeks to out-Luther Luther.

It never fails. As soon as they get that sentence out of their lips, every single one of them then proceeds to outline their doctrines and "fixes" that are intended to continue what Luther started... AND COMPLETELY UNDO EVERYTHING LUTHER STOOD FOR AND PROFESSED! What you end up with is not a continuation and perfection of Luther's work... but a complete repudiation of his ideas that would turn us back towards the very medieval superstitions that Luther sought to combat.

Look... either you're down with Luther's work or you're not. Please don't try to co-opt him for your own purposes in order to drape your shabby ideas in the regal robes of a true theologian.