Thursday, December 29, 2005

The ugly sides of justification and sanctification

My first blog, the one that evolved into Katie's Beer, was always meant as a journal or record of the days that my family exists on this earth. At the very least, I will print up the pages and put them in a scrapbook which waits for the day when my children will be interested in their history. This blog, Be Strong in the Grace, was also meant as a journal of the spiritual life of my family. It was born of a small amount of anger at the false teachings we fell prey to in earlier days, but a greater sense of joy and urgency in making a permanent record of being retaught Christ's doctrines and laying them on top of man's doctrines we had chosen to follow in the past.

The one good thing of coming from a pietistic life to a life of grace is the removal of the large sack on my back; the sack which contained the good works which proved that I would be found in Christ on judgment Day. To say that a weight was lifted off my back on that day, the day I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of the futility of my own efforts to sanctify myself, is a gross understatement. To realize that I had been forgiven long ago and had been given salvation long ago was a bittersweet joy. How many days of my life had I wasted following man's teachings on how to be a better Christian! Days of self-imposed suffering that I could never have back.

Once the heavy load was removed by Christ, I sometimes was overwhelmed with freedom. I listened to secular music, amazed by the depth and beauty of many songs. I could watch movies and television shows, weed through what was good and bad, and be prepared to discuss a popular show's merits with friends and co-workers. I didn't fall into a trap of listening to or watching today's seedier fare; my well-honed aversion to offensive material remained in place. I enjoy my freedom to participate in what is good in today's culture, while being able to identify faith-harming offerings. My kids are another matter...

My two children were raised by a pietistic mother up until they were of confirmation age, 5th and 7th grades. Up to that point, I had carefully controlled what they watched, listened to and did. They obeyed me, most of the time, because they wanted to be found good Christians. I had observed that kids easily pick up on pietistic motivation, but that often backfires in the teenage years. Now that we have abandoned pietism for a life of faith and grace, our daily life hasn't changed that much, but our theological perspective has changed. My kids are teenagers now. They have both attended confessional Lutheran schools and gone through rigorous catechismal training. They have gone from self-centered praise sessions with little gospel preached to balance the law-based sermons, to more reverent and liturgical divine services with law and gospel rightly proclaimed. Both of them are able to explain to their friends concepts I never knew at their age - justification, sanctification, law and gospel, liturgy, etc. They are loving and wonderful children and I have every confidence that they will happily grow into Christian adulthood.

Yet from these two well-educated and well-loved souls sometimes comes gossip, slander, anger, coarse talk, and other sins. They sometimes defend television shows, movies and music that are completely incompatible with Christian doctrine. When I witness these acts, my old pietistic voice shouts at me that I've failed as a mother and as a Christian. Then I'm faced with the choice of beating down their spirits in an indignant and angry voice while waving God's Word in my hand or confidently running to Christ for the grace to calmly and lovingly point them to the cross.

This week, I was blessed, reassured and challenged by Reverend Paul T. McCain's post, Walk in Christ, As Christ Loved Us. He writes:

We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, and raised to new life in Him. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, purchased and won from sin, death and hell by the precious blood of Christ. How then are we to deal with popular culture that surrounds us with vile and degrading speech, sexual impurity and all manner of sinful behaviors, which are rewarded, praised and idolized by so many?

Sadly, there are some who believe that they are free to consume the sinful pollution pumping out of the sewers of popular culture. Some Christians are so confused about what lives of sanctification are all about that they mistakenly think that concern about such things is somehow "pietism" or that striving to lead holy and pure lives marks one as a Pietist. This is wrong. This is error. This is sin.

The Gospel is never an excuse. Justification is about justifying sinners, not sin. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sin, not license to sin. We are set free to live new lives in Christ, not remain in the muck and mire of sin. We are not to think that we can do whatever we want just because we can run to church on Sunday to be forgiven.

We all need to keep a close guard over what comes our out of our mouths, and what we permit to fill our eyes, and our ears. We are to be serious about lives of Christian sanctification. No excuses. No avoiding the subject. We say, "No" to anything that is contrary to God's will in our lives, and say "Yes" to the upward calling of God that is ours in Christ Jesus. Lord, have mercy on me for those times I've forgotten, and neglected, my calling in Christ! Read on...


Still, I am sometimes bothered by my teens', and sometimes my own, immature understanding of grace and forgiveness. Too often they talk and act with the false confidence that they are already forgiven for whatever they might do. Is this what confessional Lutheranism has brought us, I wonder? Then I am reminded that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, pietists and Lutherans alike. We each have our areas of weakness. The Pietists grow to depend on salvation by works and Lutherans are tempted to flaunt their grace. Still, the Holy Spirit comforts me with God's Word proclaiming grace, forgiveness, peace and power.

The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning, I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly that we preach to save those who believe. . . We preach Christ crucified. . . Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Cor. 1:18-25


Friday, December 23, 2005

Katie Luther



Be sure to listen to the 12/20/05 Issues, Etc. archived program on Martin Luther's wife, Katherina von Bora Luther with Dr. Martin Noland of Concordia Historical Institute and Issues Etc. host Rev. Todd Wilken.


Originally posted on 6/23/05
Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary's website has links to the Lutheran Synod Quarterly . I was looking through it this morning for a little inspiration and this article caught my eye: The First Lady of the Reformation by Gaylin Schmeling. It is very short, so I've posted it here.

Katherine von Bora is the best known woman of the Reformation because she was Luther's wife. While Katherine has been eclipsed in history by the great fame of her husband, she was far from a wallflower. She was a rock of support at her husband's side throughout their married life.
Katherine was born in January of 1499, and at the age of ten she was placed in the nunnery at Nimschen near Grimma when her father remarried.

In the 1520s the writings of Luther began to infiltrate the nunnery. The message of salvation through faith alone in Christ brought comfort and peace to the sisters' hearts. A number of them turned to Luther for advice and he counseled escape, which was shortly accomplished. On April 7, 1523, Katherine and the other sisters reached Wittenberg. Luther felt responsible for finding suitable mates for the former nuns and managed for the most part, but this was not the case in Katherine's situation. This may be due to the fact that she had her eye on Luther. In any event Luther and Katie were married in June of 1525. Their relationship probably was not the most romantic at the start, yet years later Luther would declare, "I would not exchange Katie for France or Venice, because God has given her to me, and other women have worse faults."

With this marriage the Black Cloister of Wittenberg became the first Lutheran parsonage. With marriage came also an entirely different lifestyle for Luther. Katherine brought order out of chaos at the Black Cloister. Not only did she provide a clean house and a made bed, which were an unknown luxury for the unmarried Luther, but she also brought about financial responsibility. She kept Luther from giving away everything they had and she put the household on a budget. Katherine helped support the household by managing a farm and a brewery. It was not long before Martin and Katherine had still more responsibility. Within eight years they became the parents of six children. Three sons and three daughters were born to this union. They also raised a number of orphaned relatives.

Katherine was a faithful wife to Luther. In times of sickness she was his compassionate nurse. In LutherĂ­s dark periods burdened down by the struggles of life, Katie was able to comfort him with that same long hidden Gospel treasure that God through Luther had restored to the world. Katie was indeed Luther's faithful rib. Katherine saw the death of her beloved husband in 1546 and outlived him by six years. In the summer of 1552 the plague broke out in Wittenberg. By fall Katie decided they had to leave. On the way the horses became frightened and bolted. Katie jumped from the wagon and was seriously injured. For months she lay suffering and finally died in the Lord on December 20, 1552.

One of the greatest legacies the church has received from the marriage of Martin and Katherine Luther is the Lutheran parsonage. The Luther home became the example for future Lutheran parsonages and Lutheran homes in general. The Luther house was given to hospitality. It was filled with children, students, and relatives. There was always a place for those in need. It was a place of culture and music and of joy and happiness.

This heritage continued even in the Lutheran Church in America. The early Lutheran parsonages were shelters for the needy, inns for travelers, and centers of culture. Frontier parsonages such as the home of Elisabeth and Ulrik Koren were a great blessing to the Lutheran Church. May the Lutheran home and parsonage always be a place of hospitality. This is the legacy of Katie Luther, the first lady of the Reformation.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence


A reprint from one year ago...

On my earlier Fernando Ortega on Baptism post, Chris Jones added...
"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" is certainly not a Baptist hymn, whatever Mr Ortega's denominational affiliation may be. I'm not finding the source where I read of his Baptist background, so don't quote me on that one. (You know how that goes; you read an article once...) However, he collaborates with many Baptist artists and organizations; it is a fair association, I think. A person's denominational association does not always determine their theology, I have learned. This man's gift of songwriting, song selection and music style has richly blessed my life and faith. On a Fernando Ortega CD, you will hear soft and lovely piano playing "accented by cello, fiddle, and Irish flute, creating a beautiful blend of Spanish, Celtic, and American folk music. With his velvet voice, Ortega celebrates God's majesty and faithfulness and paints vivid images of the Southwestern landscapes of his own childhood. " (from a Today's Christian Woman, November/December 1997 review) Read more reviews of his music at Christianity Today. You can sample or buy the CD, Storm, from his website, FernandoOrtega.com.

Chris also wrote of the hymn, "It comes from the Liturgy of St James of Jerusalem, and dates from the 4th century (if not earlier). It is sung in the liturgy while the priest and acolytes enter the altar with the bread and wine to be consecrated. Some Protestants alter the words of the hymn because it teaches the Real Presence. I wonder if Ortega's version includes these words:
Lord of Lords in human vesture, In the body and the blood
He will give to all the faithful, His own self for heavenly food"

I decided to research Chris' question. I just listened to the song. He sings every verse that was printed on Twylah's post. Indeed, Fernando Ortega does sing the verse referring to Holy Communion! By singing that verse, he may or may not indicate that he believes in the Real Presence of Christ at Holy Communion. He may have just wanted to be true to the original lyrics, although I don't know what Christian could sing words of worship which he didn't mean. What a beautiful verse that is, His own self for heavenly food, especially when you first read Chris Jones' description: It is sung in the liturgy while the priest and acolytes enter the altar with the bread and wine to be consecrated. If anyone has ever been in an Orthodox service, you can imagine the sense of the holiness and worship of our God present there. You can hear ancient voices worshiping the one True God a thousand years before you were born. With that in mind, read the verses to this song again, singing it softly to yourself. When Fernando sings this hymn, he softly and slowly plays the piano and is accompanied by a quiet mandolin. At the last verse, he sings nearly accapella, with only a few piano chords, of the seraphim and cherubim hiding their faces in the presence of God as they sing "Alleluia Lord Most High". I have the feeling that this is a clearer picture of worship, in quietness and utter humbleness.



Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
from the Liturgy of St. James
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,

Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own Self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way;
As the Light of light, descending
From the realms of endless day,
Comes, the powers of hell to vanquish,
As the darkness clears away.
At his feet the winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the Presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
"Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, Lord Most High!"

You can listen to this hauntingly beautiful liturgy here.
Ortega's version is here.
This clip reveals some of Ortega's guitar work.
Originally posted 12-22-04

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pietism today

Philipp Jakob Spener, father of Pietism

A fascinating broadcast on Issues, Etc., Pietism and American Evangelicalism, featuring Dr. Martin Noland and Pastor Todd Wilken, is so full of good commentary that I must recommend it! I've listened to it three times so far and plan to listen again. Maybe I can earn a degree listening to Issues, Etc broadcasts...

Hour 1 WMA Hour 1 MP3
Hour 2 WMA Hour 2 MP3

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Amor et Labor: Reformation Quiz results

A while back I took the Reformation Quiz posted by Amor et Labor. He's compiled quizzes results from all over the blogosphere and summarized them on his blog: Reformation Quiz results

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dare to be a sinner!

Mr. and Mrs. Sinner


The lovely couple above are sinners and, actually, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Sinner. I don't recommend doing a Google search for sinners or sin (yikes!), but this interesting photo showed up in my search. I wonder if the Sinner family thought of themselves as sinners, also. Many Christians today buy into the modern false teaching that one can become less and less sinful as you "progress" in faith. I used to believe that. After twenty years of trying to perfect my faith and become more Christian-ly, I was utterly depressed. I was a failure, I thought. What hope could I give to my kids if their own mother couldn't become more saintly. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit led me to a pastor and church who told me something new: I was a sinner still and always would be. That scriptural truth changed the course of my life and faith. I had already known that Christians still sinned, but I had allowed myself to be taught that sins were mistakes that happened when you weren't following in the footsteps of Christ closely enough. What I didn't know is that sin is a condition which permeates the earth, our culture, our bodies and our minds. And once I was able to see myself, and the whole of earth, as in a permanent sin condition, it then became clear where my help was to come from. I have found that only through clinging to the cross in desparation for salvation from my sins, in thankfulness for the act of grace that saved me and in hope for the world to come, can I even begin to imitate Christ. Any good work, done for the purpose of being a good work, becomes tainted or filthy in God's eyes. I live my life as Mrs. Sinner and, despite all my efforts otherwise, I often live up to the title! Thankfully, I am also Mrs. Saint, but I will never live up to that title until I move on to heaven.

In a related post, Tim the Enchanter of Beggars All writes:

"As I stumbled into the Reformation, this single doctrine struck me as the only thing that 'made sense'. After years of pretending to be 'victorious', it was such a blessed relief to simply be honest about myself and my continued need for grace.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about 1 John 1 and "walking in the light" in the last chapter of his Life Together:

"He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their lonliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. The fact is that we are sinners!

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says:
You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. "My son, give me thine heart" (Prov. 23:26) You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you...He wants to love you."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Winter is at hand...don't believe it!


Luke 21:25-36
25"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

29He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32"I tell you the truth, this generation[a] will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
In Minnesota, we embrace winter and rejoice in its beauty. It is true that winter can be beautiful. However, would you want to spend eternity in winter? The truth is that winter is harsh and unforgiving. It brings a temporary death or absence of many things. Some of us enjoy cross-country skiing or snowmobiling, while others struggle to pay for their heating bills or warm clothing. That is winter's reality. God intends for us to live in the warmth of summer with Him in eternity. Vicar Lehmann posted a sermon that reminds us that Jesus is coming and He's bringing summer with Him! Please read his message in a quiet moment when you can reflect on what he is trying to teach us...

Beloved, today Jesus comes to you and announces the coming of the Summer. Do not listen to the world. As wind buffets your house and white flakes assail your face, you might believe winter is at hand. Do not believe it. Jesus comes with the end of another season, and His reign is endless day. Jesus is a Summer Lord, and if you listen to His Words carefully, you know it's springtime. “Behold the fig tree. Whenever it is already sprouting leaves, you know that Summer is nigh.” For, beloved, it must be spring when we are so close to the advent of the King. Jesus is the King who brings with Him Eternal Summer. Read on...

A sermon for Advent 2 based on Luke 21:25-36 by Vicar Charles Lehmann

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Accepting Christ's first coming...


Last Judgment
by GIOTTO di Bondone (b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)
from the Web Gallery of Art

You Must Accept Christ's First Coming

I admit that I have a problem with the word Accept when used anywhere near a discussion of faith. I recently saw it in my son's confessional Lutheran catechism materials and temporarily freaked out... quietly to myself...lest to reinforce my son's suspicion that his mother is, indeed, completely crazy. Knowing our pastor well, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt that the word was used appropriately. That sort of reaction is a remnant of my oversensitivity to false teachings and a reminder of my being blown about in the wind by every false teaching while foolishly drifting from church to church in the Sea of Modern Evangelicalism.

I heard that word used again just last week in Pastor Brook's sermon. Pastor Brooks said something very profound. He said that in order to understand that Jesus Christ will return again we must first accept the first coming of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus Christ accomplish in His first coming to us? He fulfilled prophecy, lived a perfect life, taught many things and then became sin for us. Through His becoming sin and being put to death, we were made free - free from the evitable result of our sin nature which is death. This was done out of love for us; our loving Creator wants us to rejoice Him in eternity, yet His holy nature cannot allow sin into that perfect realm of heaven.

Therefore, the reason we rejoice at Christmas is in remembrance of our Savior's birth which signaled the coming love act of Easter and joyful anticipation of our life to come with God in eternity. Accepting (really, a prompting by the Holy Spirit) what Jesus Christ's first coming truly means is crucial to a Christian's faith. What can I possibly have to be joyful about if it isn't about the fact that my Redeemer already came to redeem me? I spent so many years trying to become less sinful so that I would be found without blame on Judgment Day. I believe that such thinking is the child of pietism, the idea that one can be found blameless by their own works. I have since been taught that the only way I can be found blameless is to be found in Christ, not trying to act Christ-like. In a beautiful reversal of cause and effect, the only way to become more Christ-like is to become more and more aware of how sinful we are and to always reflect on how our only hope is in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.


Nativity
by VOS, Marten de(b. 1532, Antwerpen, d. 1603, Antwerpen)
From the Web Gallery of Art

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ask the Pastor: Give Thanks to the Lord

From Pastor Snyder...

We don’t need to remind God to bless us. We don’t even need to thank Him. Yet, it is good to thank Him and to ask Him to continue to supply our needs of body, mind, and soul. Psalm 136, the basis of Milton’s hymn I quoted, mentions giving thanks because “he gives food all flesh.” But it also praises Him because “he is good, because his steadfast love endures forever.” The Psalmist reminds us that this is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the Doer of miracles. He’s the One “who by understanding made the heavens.” Read on...Ask the Pastor: Give Thanks to the Lord

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More on monergism and synergism

I hadn't expected that my exploration of the terms monergism and synergism would lead to a review of the Eastern Orthodox and Baptist doctrines. However, it seems that those coming from either background look at synergism through that corresponding lens. My background and lens is in the doctrine of Baptist and its daughter, American Evangelicalism, churches. The continuing theme of these responses is that synergism, no matter how practiced, is a form of works righteousness. In my experience, along with the scripture cited below, synergism is a path to spiritual death. One cannot cooperate with God in salvation, which is why a Savior was necessary. The more years spent thinking that one can do anything to become justified or sanctified, the further from the gospel one moves. This is my experience.

Orthodox

Question: Can the Eastern Orthodox position on Theosis be confused with the Lutheran terms for sanctification? From what I understand about Theosis is that man should not count the race won (I guess this is a position of humility) and strives for perfection. I also understand that the Orthodox view St. Ambrose as legit, that is, faith without the works saves. Could terms be misused for actual lines of agreement?

Answer: In Eastern Orthodox teaching theosis or divinization is a process by which human beings achieve the union with God that was lost in the fall into sin, a process whereby human beings become participants in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The Orthodox do not think of theosis in terms of pantheism, however. Rather it is the process by which human beings are restored to the likeness of God. “As we cooperate with God's grace, he renews the distorted image in us so that we attain the likeness and consequently become godlike.” (Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. p.134, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994)

The Eastern Orthodox reject the Lutheran teaching of justification by faith alone and in reality confuse the scriptural doctrines of justification and sanctification. The disagreement between Easter Orthodoxy and Lutheranism is more than an argument about terms. The Eastern Orthodox have no understanding of total depravity, that human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins, unable to cooperate with God in conversion. In fact the Eastern Orthodox are strong proponents of synergism. They believe that a sinful human being can and must cooperate with God in every stage of the "process" of salvation.

Lutherans teach that human beings cannot cooperate in conversion or justification. Our salvation is attributable only to what God has done for us. Justification is always full and complete. Our salvation is sure and certain through faith in Jesus. Sanctification is a process in which the Holy Spirit makes us more God-like and leads us to produce good works in our lives. Good works have nothing to do with saving us (Ephesians 2:8-9). They show that we have been saved by God's grace alone. They show that we are new creatures of God created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Good works are our response of thanks to the God that has done everything for us. Sanctification in this life will always be incomplete because we will retain a sinful nature until the day we die. In sanctification our new man (the faith or new life which the Holy Spirit has created in us) does cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Yet even in sanctification we recognize that "it is God who works in you both to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).


Baptist


Question: I've enjoyed reading your answers to the questions submitted here. I don't know much of Lutheran faith or practices and have found your website very helpful. But, I have to disagree with your answers regarding certain Baptist teachings. I do agree that Baptists, in general, can be varied in their teachings to some degree. But _not_ to the extent of including works as a means of salvation. I am Southern Baptist (the largest group among Baptists by far) and I have never heard anything but that salvation is a free gift offered solely by God's grace...freely offered and given at His desire. The alter call which Baptist churches perform is intended for answers to God's offer....

Answer: ... Please allow me to explain why Lutherans see some Baptists as espousing a subtle form of work righteousness. Those Baptist groups that adhere most closely to the T.U.L.I.P. theology of Calvinism believe that their salvation is entirely in God's hands apart from anything that they can do. Other Baptists are closer to Arminianism and believe that the sinner has a role to play in his own conversion (Decision Theology). They teach that an unconverted sinner must decide for Christ or invite Jesus to come into his life in order to be saved.

Confessional Lutherans see such synergism or human cooperation in conversion as a subtle form of work righteousness. Lutherans believe that sinners by nature are dead in their transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5). Because they are spiritually dead they have no power to cooperate in their own conversion and therefore cannot decide for Christ or ask Jesus to come into their lives or do their part. We believe that sinners are purely passive in conversion. God converts the sinner. He alone acts in conversion. The sinner is passive. He is converted by God and becomes a believer. Unbelievers cannot choose Christ. Rather Christ chooses us (John 15:16). If a person is asked to do his own part in conversion, then salvation ceases to be a free gift from God, but something which the sinner at least partially merits or deserves (Romans 4:4ff, Romans 11:5-6).

You state that the Holy Spirit convicts some of their sins and the sinner chooses to answer or not. That sounds to me like Decision Theology, a theology which Confessional Lutherans reject because they see it as work righteous and contrary to Scripture.


Ephesians 2

Made Alive in Christ v. 1-10

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Guess who said this...


On his way home...he visited his daughter and son-in-law...on Sunday morning, July 1st, he attended the services at the church when his granddaughter was confirmed. On retiring to his bedroom that evening he asked for a Bible and apparently seemed well and strong. About midnight he became ill and soon realized that death was approaching. Retaining consciousness to the last, he said to those about him: "

Greet my congregations! Greet the brethren!" Turning again in prayer to the Savior, he said, "O Lord Jesus, I am a great sinner, but thou art a merciful Savior. Help me, Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior blest, my hope and salvation!"

Then he recited these words from the hymn:

I have Thy Word,
Christ Jesus, Lord,
Thou never wilt forsake me;
This will I plead in time of need:
O help with speed,
when troubles overtake me!"

A few moments later he died peacefully at the age of 69 years. He was buried on Friday, July 6, 1894. His body was laid to rest beside that of his wife in the Spring Prairie cemetary, Keyser, Wisconsin.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Readers' Retreat: Narnia and Dr. Gene E. Veith

Peek Into Narnia

Come to the Readers' Retreat: Delving into The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Dr. Gene Edward Veith , C.S. Lewis Scholar, hosted by King of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Golden Valley, Minnesota

Saturday, December 10, 2005 from 8:00am to 7:00pm


Cost

~ includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the movie ticket.

Students: $32.00 (or $18.00 for lunch only)

Adults: $48.00 (or $35.00 for lunch only)

This event is being hosted by King of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
6000 Duluth Street
Golden Valley, Mn 55422
763-546-3131


To register or for more information, call Pastor Matthew Brooks at 763-546-3131 or email to mbrooks@kog.org

Register by November 25th -make checks payable to King of Grace

Schedule:

8:00am - Breakfast

9:00am - Presentation with selected readings and discussion
led by Dr. Veith, C.S. Lewis scholar

Noon - Lunch

1:00pm - Movie: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

3:30pm - Inklings - a discussion led by Dr. Veith

6:00pm - Dinner


Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Ph. D., is a well-known Lutheran writer and speaker, the Culture Editor of WORLD Magazine and the Executive Director of the Cranach Institute , for the study of Christianity and Culture, at Concordia Theological Seminary. He is the author of 15 books on Christianity and literature, the arts, and culture. Veith is highly respected for his scholarship on Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. He has taught English literature for 25 years in both Christian and secular colleges. You may view his weekly posts on World Magazine and his daily posts at Cranach blog. He is most recently the author of The Soul of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.



Also, be sure to read Dr. Veith's review of the movie at World Magazine. Below is an exerpt:

A Review of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by Gene Edward Veith

The hype machine is getting cranked up for the upcoming movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, set to open Dec. 9. The dramatization of C.S. Lewis' classic tale, with its clear symbolism of the gospel, is being marketed to and through churches, in the same way as The Passion of the Christ. WORLD caught one of the "Sneak Peeks" the promoters are staging for pastors and other Christian leaders across the country. (Go to Narniaresources.com for a schedule and ticket requests.) Though the producers of The Passion showed a rough cut of the whole movie, Disney and Walden Media are showing only clips of the Narnia movie. The event also included a walk-through of the plot, presentations from the production companies, suggestions from the evangelistic group Mission America for how churches could use this film, and a presentation from co-producer Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson. Judging from the preview, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe looks very promising, both as a movie and as a Christian testimony.

Continue reading this story by WORLD magazine.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Random Thoughts on Dying Well

Daniel relates a good approach to take when considering our own mortality. He writes:

If you google the words dying well, you will find all sorts of things, from euthanasia supporters to spiritual advice to tips on spending your last days well. It goes on and on. What you don't see is people reminding us to live in our baptism, to live in daily repentance, to live the sacramental life, to live our lives in our vocations. All of these things help us to prepare to die well. Ultimately, however, as much as all the repentance, the Eucharist, and everything else I mentioned helps us, to die well is to cling to our baptism.

Monergism and Synergism

These two terms were completely unknown to me until a couple of years ago. I finally found an explanation from the WELS.net site that helps me to understand:

Question: In the Lutheran Churches we are correctly taught salvation thru faith alone. Other Protestant Churches all claim the same teaching of salvation thru faith. However, some denominations, especially Baptists teach that you are saved by asking Jesus into your heart to forgive you. Seems to me they are saying that praying and asking for forgiveness saves you. Where is saving faith in their decision theology. I'm confused.
Sounds like to me they do not include faith in conversion.


Answer: Perhaps the best starting place to answer your question is to remind ourselves that, among professing Christians, there are two different approaches to the doctrine of conversion and salvation: monergism and synergism. And there are variations within those two groups, monergists and synergists.

Monergists (really only strict Calvinists and Lutherans among major church groupings) teach that God alone is the one who saves and that humans have no active role in coming to faith (conversion). Unfortunately, Calvinists also teach that God alone and unilaterally decrees and determines who will be lost, and that makes them different from orthodox Lutherans. But they and we share the conviction that God creates faith and causes the unbeliever to become a believer without any merit, worthiness, or cooperation on our part. That's monergism.

Synergism, on the other hand, teaches that humans have some role to play in conversion and being saved, and that people in some way "work together" with God to bring this about in individual lives. But aside from this basic premise, synergists differ in how they believe the human being contributes to conversion and to what degree the person cooperates with God in being saved. Roman Catholics are synergists (some prefer the term semi-Pelagianists) and so are many Evangelicals (including professing Calvinists, which makes it really confusing). And some who bear the name Lutheran are also synergists (but are Lutherans in name only).

Some synergists teach that some sinners cooperate with God by resisting God and his grace less than other do, and other synergists say that some sinners respond more favorably to God's grace than others do and therefore are saved. And in the example that you gave, namely that of decision theology, synergists treat faith as something the sinner comes up with in response to and in cooperation with God's grace. Faith is ultimately being treated as a cause or condition of salvation, a part of the cooperative effort that the human being is to some degree responsible for. It's sort of like saying, "God does his part by providing Jesus as the Savior and informing us of that Savior, and we must do our part by believing in the Savior and deciding that we will trust him--then we will be saved."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sins - mortal and venial?

What is mortal sin and venial sin? I know what it is to the Roman Catholic church, but I didn't know that the confessional Lutheran church ascribed to this delineation. The WELS Q & A feature at WELS.net is helpful, as always. Here is a summary of answers that helped me to understand:

Question: I read the book, A Summary of Christian Doctrine, by Edward Koehler. It is very conservative Lutheran. In it, it does mention mortal and venial sin. Did the Lutherans acknowledge this at one time. I've learned to think that a sin is a sin, mortal or venial, greater or lesser. I've never thought of sins as some greater than the other. They're all damnable unless you repent. The Catholic church is heavy on the terminology of mortal and venial. If the Lutheran church acknowledges mortal and venial sin, is it referred to as mortal sin as being impenitence and venial sins as the sins Christians do commit but that they are forgiven because of faith?

Answer: Lutherans have historically used the terms "mortal" and "venial" in classifying sins, but define the terms differently than Roman Catholicism does. Edward Koehler, at this particular point, is quite brief and it is understandable that questions be asked and clarifications be sought.

Your comments and explanations are right on target. All sins we commit are worthy of death and mortal in that sense. They are also, because of Christ's work, fully forgivable and through faith are therefore venial. In classifying sins, therefore, we always refer to the spiritual state of the person who sins, not to the nature of the sin itself. "Mortal sins" are sins that are not accompanied by faith and forgiveness. So they are inseparable from spiritual death. "Venial sins" are those committed (in ignorance or weakness) by people who still possess saving faith and forgiveness.


Question: Lutheran theology, as I understand it, distinguishes between "willful" sins and sins of "weakness." Could you explain the distinction and provide some specific examples? Also, is faith lost only through willful sins?

Answer: Even though the Bible simply speaks about sin, we can make some distinctions. The first is to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary sins. An involuntary sin would include any of the following:

--sin of ignorance in general (Leviticus 4:2)
--sin of ignorance regarding God's will or law (1 Timothy 1:13)
--sin of ignorance where one is ignorant of the fact (Genesis 29:23,25)
--sin of ignorance where one has chosen to be ignorant (Isaiah 7:10-12)
--sin of ignorance where one has not chosen to be ignorant (Genesis 19:33)
--sin of weakness (Matthew 26:69-74)

When a person knows something is a sin and yet chooses to do it anyway, he is committing a voluntary sin. While it is not easy to determine how "willing" a person has to be in committing a certain sin before he falls from the faith, we could say that habitual, persistent voluntary sin may signal a fall from grace. King David (2 Samuel 11 & 12) would be an example of a willful sin. David had fallen from the faith. Fortunately the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. David confessed his sin and was forgiven.

Another helpful distinction is venial sins and mortal sins. A venial sin is not damning. This is the case not because it is less serious but because it has forgiveness connected to it. On the other hand a mortal sin is damning, not because it is so per se, but because it marks a loss of saving faith in Christ as Savior. Because a Christian is living in a state of forgiveness, every sin he or she commits is a venial sin. Likewise every sin an unbeliever commits--whether "big" or "small"--is a mortal sin because it is done in a state of unbelief. A believer's sin would be considered mortal only if it resulted in a fall from faith.

Thomas Merton and me...because it's all about me!

Yesterday, Bunnie Diehl post a link and commentary to a post on Thomas Merton and his seeming foreknowledge of the American Evangelical movement. I put off reading through the post because I realized it would require me to stop and think for a moment or two (same thing happens to me with Three Hierarchies blog!). So, this morning I decided to focus my attention and was amazed at what I read. Who knew that Thomas Merton could have described what would happen through the Jesus Movement, American Evangelicalism and the post-modern movement...unless he knew well the effects of individualism on faith. I hate to suggest that individualism is a sin (but it is), me being the chief sinner in that area, but the individualism that we baby-boomers have insisted upon has had its very obvious detrimental affects. Individualism surely is an old sin, probably dating back to the garden of Eden when the Devil (the liar) told Eve that she wouldn't suffer ill effects from eating from the tree.

Othniel, Cross Theology blog, writes:

When writing about Contemplative Prayer, he (Merton) at one point addresses the intense danger that individualism poses to the faith, most especially as regards prayer and liturgy:

Interior life of the individualist is precisely the kind of life that closes in on itself without dread, and rests in itself with more or less permanent satisfaction. It is to some extent immune to dread, and is able to take the inevitable constrictions and lesions of an inner life complacently enough, spiriting them away with devotional formulas.

Individualism in prayer is content precisely with the petty consolations of devotionalism and sentimentality. But more than that, individualism resists the summons to communal witness and collective human response to God. ...
"The full maturity of the spiritual life cannot be reached unless we first pass through the dread, anguish, trouble and fear that necessarily accompany the inner crisis of "spiritual death," in which we finally abandon our attachment to our exterior self and surrender completely to Christ."

Reading this post and the Merton quotes has certainly helped me to see something about my life and faith. It certainly is fair to say that, over the course of a few years, I began to experience dread (the weight of the law) despite devoting myself to loving God (on my own terms). The gospel is rarely preached in its full truth in the American Evangelical movement, so I had to depend on contemporary praise music to summon up feelings of worth and reassurance in Christ. The confessional Lutheran church was the first church in my life to preach to me the full weight of the law along with the complete gospel which freed me of my dread once and for all.

To those who don't think that the generic American Evangelical movement is NOT a mission field or who don't think its a problem to bring in some of their worship practices, they could not be further from the truth and are walking down a path of death...of dread with no hope.

Who knew that Thomas Merton could describe my life in the Jesus Movement and its daughter, the generic American Evangelical experience? At least I was able to reject the granddaughter, the post-modern movement.

Be sure to read: Cross Theology: Hating Knowledge


Thomas Merton

Monday, November 07, 2005

A wedding story

The Garden of Eden: The Creation of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Expulsion

by Lucas Cranach,1530

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


For All Saints Day, I arrived at my church in need of grace. I declared my sins, received absolution, was strengthen by the proclamation of the word and received forgiveness and strength through holy communion. My pastor offered a wonderful wedding story, woven together from the following scripture.



Isaiah 26
A Song of Praise
1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.

2 Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith.

3 You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.

4 Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

5 He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.

6 Feet trample it down—
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor.

7 The path of the righteous is level;
O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.

8 Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, [a]
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

9 My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.

10 Though grace is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil
and regard not the majesty of the LORD.

11 O LORD, your hand is lifted high,
but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame;
let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.

12 LORD, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

13 O LORD, our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.

14 They are now dead, they live no more;
those departed spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
you wiped out all memory of them.

15 You have enlarged the nation, O LORD;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land.

16 LORD, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer. [b]

17 As a woman with child and about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, O LORD.

18 We were with child, we writhed in pain,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth;
we have not given birth to people of the world.

19 But your dead will live;
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.

20 Go, my people, enter your rooms
and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until his wrath has passed by.

21 See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling
to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her;
she will conceal her slain no longer.


Revelation 21:9-22:5

9One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia[a]in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits[b] thick,[c] by man's measurement, which the angel was using. 18The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.[d] 21The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Revelation 22 : The River of Life

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.



Matthew 5 : The Beatitudes

1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.



The Wedding Story

The bride was created on Day 6 of creation. There was no sin, only saints. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. It didn't last for long. The Devil wormed his way into their hearts and Adam did nothing to stop his wife from falling for his lies. They fell into sin. What did the bridegroom do? He remained faithful. He came in the days of Caesar Augustus, hiding as a newborn infant. Shepherds and wise men recognized the bridegroom and received him, but the rest of the world mocked and killed him. The bridegroom wasn't surprised; He knew he would be killed at the hands of evil men. Still, He rose again, offering peace, forgiveness, passion and mercy to his bride. The wedding was still on!

We are the bride. We are saints. We are also sinners. Our natural desire is to be unfaithful everyday. We wonder if He still loves us? Are you still coming, we wonder. Are you still the groom? Why is the world so evil? Are you still faithful?

Our bridegroom remains faithful. He promises a wedding gift to His bride:

But your dead will live;
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.

His wedding ring for us is the gospel through the water and the word.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Family planning issues


Inspired by the conflicting comments on Bunnie Diehl's post regarding Christian and birth control, I am exploring what scripture, as well as the confessional Lutheran church, says on this topic. I've even learned a new word, traducianism, which is the word to describe how Luther believed new souls were created. Amazing idea! Below are three WELS.net Q & A articles which helped me to understand these issues better. My synod, as most, does not have a formal position on these matters other than to refer people to scripture and their pastors. That's a wonderful position to take! The questions below are asked anonymously by email and are answered by a panel of WELS pastors from the Seminary and synod headquarters. I am studying this topic and welcome any thoughts, however any disputes with the WELS answers should be directed to them or other theologians of confessional Lutheran synods and not me.

Use of birth control

Question: I was reading some of the past answers given in the Q&A about birth control and just had a couple of questions. I appreciate your responses. Why has the church made such a stand on end of life issues I am confused by the concept of right and wrong motivation for having children in marriage. It seems like the WELS comes across as saying the only justified reasons for not having children are extreme financial difficulty and medical problems that would endanger the life of the mother. Even if a couple has a generous income, good living conditions, and the woman is in good health, aren't there still other good reasons to avoid having children?

What if the woman feels she would be a better steward of this world by spending her time pursuing a career or higher education? What if she isn't comfortable being around children or blessed with patience and parenting skills? Or just doesn't have any desire to be a parent? And, of course, what if the man agreed with her and felt the same way? Are these still selfish motives for a couple?ves are devoted to reflecting our love and appreciation to God. We do this by obeying his commands (1 John 5:3) and pointing to Him for hope and salvation (Matthew 5:16).

Answer: While we talk about “our lives are in God’s hands” (which most closely reflects the sense of Deuteronomy 32:39 and Romans 8:28) the passage loosely paraphrases the passage which says, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). This passage refers to lives devoted to serving God and lives that pass each moment confessing “thy will be done.” It is a surrender of our will to God’s will. It is not a surrender of responsibility. We are still directed to be responsible stewards of our blessings and resources.

We are to take care of our lives as well as the lives of others (Leviticus 19:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Intervening is not a challenge to God’s providence but an act of stewardship to care for the blessing of life. When you face the end of life you make decision about your health care, always seeking to do God’s will. This is responsible stewardship over the life that God has given us.

In this same way a Christian couple seeks out God’s will as they make decisions regarding the beginning of human life and contraception issues. If using such contraception or birth control violates the will of God (i.e., is used for sinful purposes, is used at the harm of others, etc.) then it is sinful. It is not, however, contrary to God’s will to practice a form of family planning so long as the motive is correct and the same spirit of surrender to God’s will is there, as it is in making end-of-life decisions.

When illness and calamity come into our lives a Christian will intervene to protect and preserve life. At times, God graciously allows the intervention to take its course and healing comes. At other times God rejects the intervention and increased illness or death occurs. The intervention does not fail to let God be God in His authority over life and death. The action taken is to act responsibly to care for the blessing of life, to the best of our limited abilities.

In the same way when a Christian married couple makes the soul-searching decision to use contraception, they seek to prevent the beginning of life. They do not desert their conviction of God’s authorship of life and accept His will when He chooses to do give them a life despite the contraception. Properly motivated, using contraception is an act of stewardship and not defiance to God’s providence.

Traducianism

Question: I recently referred a friend to some of the excellent answers this forum has provided regarding birth control and people's motives, because I think they are very well stated.

While reviewing the answers, I noticed that discussions of birth control methods tend to rely on correlating Scripture with a largely biological definition of life. For example, "God-pleasing methods would be those that prevent conception rather than those that end the life of a human being, either in its embryonic or fetal stage of development. Life begins when a new life is formed. Usually this takes place when sperm and egg are joined together and form an embryo (Note: Cloning would be an exception)." See also pages 4-7 of "The Moral Implications of Attempts to Control Human Reproduction" by John W. Covach (WLS library).

Why does there appear to be a greater emphasis in this matter on a biological approach than on the transmission of souls? While Lutherans may not be able to "establish traducianism as the clear doctrine of the Bible" (David Wietzke, Theologia, Vol. 2 No. 3), it is the theory "most widely accepted by orthodox Lutheran dogmaticians." The list of orthodox Lutherans who accept it includes Luther himself (Cf. Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, p. 291) and the author(s) of the WELS Q&A: "[That the soul of the newly conceived child is somehow derived from that of the parents] is what is taught at the seminary and by nearly all Lutheran theologians. We can say God creates our soul but he creates it as he creates our body--through our parents, not by direct creation."

I ask this because I'm wondering if, when it comes to examining birth control techniques, an overly biological emphasis may provide a false comfort that is not justified on the basis of our uncertainty regarding exactly how God accomplishes the transmission of souls. Has any WELS author directly addressed the issue of how what we know and do not know about traducianism might affect an evaluation of birth control methods?


Answer: Creationism and traducianism are two views on how the soul comes to the human being. In creationism the position is held that each soul is created by God. In traducianism the view is that each soul is generated or derived from the parents. Martin Luther adopted the view, or theory, of traducianism primarily because it best accounts for the transmission of sin from the parents to the child (i.e., original sin, Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3).

Scripture does not definitively say exactly when and how the soul is joined with the body. What can be said with certainty is the inherited nature of sin (i.e., original sin) and that the soul is distinctively equated with life. Even at the point of conception there is already accountability for sin (Psalm 51:5). And, when the soul of a human being is taken by God there is no life. It is logical to assume that where there is accountability for sin there is a soul and we can idtenify that point to be as early as conception.

A creationism view of the soul, as an alternative to traducianism, is troubling because of the doctrine of original sin. Sin is the aberration of man not of God. For that reason inherited original sin makes the theory of traducianism the more palatable in explaining how the soul comes to the body. It comes "from the two becoming one flesh" with flesh being the communicator of inherited sin.

Because in procreation every human being, at its very essence, is composed of the contributions of male and female (even in cloning the biological mix is still present), there is a natural concern about biology in ascertaining the beginning of life.

We are not aware of any extensive writing on this topic within the WELS or elsewhere with special application to the beginning of human life and birth control methods.



Natural Family Planning


Question: With regard to birth control, does WELS' teaching back Natural Family Planning? My wife and I have disagreed with regard to use of birth control. In 1Corinthians6:19-20 it says"You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your bodies". I have tried to explain to my wife that I would bet WELS backs Natural Family Planning. I would argue that use of birth control does not demonstrate faithfully living out the lordship of Jesus Christ.

I would say the primary end or purpose of the marriage act is the procreation of children. When a couple thwarts that end, aren't they acting contrary to natural law?

I believe that there is a godly way to experience the act of marriage and to be prudent in serious circumstances by practicing continence during times of mutual fertility. If WELS backs NFP, do they offer any classes? If not, would they consider offering such courses in the future?

Answer: There are two important issues that come to bear on the birth control question. The first is motive and the second is method.

Your concern about God’s Word is crucial in assuring the correct motive. We learn in His Word that He wishes children to be born of a husband and wife. We also learn that children are considered blessings in a marriage. They are not entitlements, expectations, prerequisites, or validating components of a marriage. They are blessings. As with all blessings, they can be pursued and must be cared for by Christians with the understanding that as blessings, they are dispensed according to the will of God.

What this means is that in the practice of responsible stewardship a Christian couple may wish to seek many or few children depending on circumstances that often vary greatly from one couple to the next. Because the heart is something known only to the people and to God, their reasons for having more or fewer children lie before the Perfect Judge to whom we must all give account.

Appealing to some sort of a “natural law” as an endorsement of NFP is problematic. It is the act of the will in birth control that is the primary determinant of its correctness. In other words, if limiting the size of the family is done out of false motives, it is wrong whether using the NFP method or an artificial method.

That being said, when the motive is correct NFP and barrier methods of birth control are considered the methods most acceptable as they do not endanger new life or bring any health consequences to the user(s).

Christian Life Resources, which is an agency affiliated with the WELS and ELS, specifically focuses on life and family issues. In that capacity they have available a concise booklet that discusses all birth control methods and, most importantly, our motives in practicing birth control. That booklet can be purchased through their store website at: www.CLRStore.com or by calling 1-800-729-9535. You can also search their website at www.ChristianLifeResources.com for related information on this topic.


Motivation

Question: I am confused by the concept of right and wrong motivation for having children in marriage. It seems like the WELS comes across as saying the only justified reasons for not having children are extreme financial difficulty and medical problems that would endanger the life of the mother. Even if a couple has a generous income, good living conditions, and the woman is in good health, aren't there still other good reasons to avoid having children?

What if the woman feels she would be a better steward of this world by spending her time pursuing a career or higher education? What if she isn't comfortable being around children or blessed with patience and parenting skills? Or just doesn't have any desire to be a parent? And, of course, what if the man agreed with her and felt the same way? Are these still selfish motives for a couple?

Answer: Someone once said that even a Christian’s most sincere tears shed in penance are tainted with sin The point is that because of our own imperfection and sinfulness even our most noble intentions are tainted. Even cases of “extreme financial difficulty” or “medical problems” are open to considerable interpretation with many opportunities for bad motive to creep in.

The matter raised in this question goes to the heart of Christian living. How does one ever really know that his or her motives are right before the eyes of a perfect God? First of all, we must agree that the right motive is of paramount importance. Scripture makes this point abundantly clear (Acts 17:28; Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 13:7; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 11:6).

Secondly, because of the impurity of our hearts, we must candidly accept the reality that our motives are suspect (Isaiah 64:6; Mark 9:24; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17).

Thirdly, God’s Word is the only reliable standard of what is right and wrong and helps us judge the roots of our own motives (Psalm 119:105; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12).

Fourthly, while God’s Word is the only reliable measure of right and wrong, we are victims of our own ignorance of what that Word says, our own sinfulness that prompts us to “hear” the words we want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3), and an emotional bias the skews our reasoning. That is why pastors and doctrinally sound Christian friends are so important. Pastors are valuable because they are expert in God’s Word and also because they are accountable to congregations and to God for their work (Hebrews 13:17). Christian friends are valuable because as Christians their first allegiance is to God and as your friend, they look out for your welfare.

The challenge with judging motive is that we are too biased to rightly judge our own motive with purity, and others are too ignorant to know all the components that go into a decision. Yet, with imperfect people trying to make perfect decisions the best advice still comes from Scripture, and that is to search your heart (Psalm 4:4).

God’s Word tells us that in the end we must each give an account of our own actions and decisions (Romans 14:12). Because of the serious nature of sin it may be prudent to err on the side of caution (1 Peter 3:17) but we also wish to be careful not to bind consciences (Galatians 5:1). It is sometimes a very fine line.

Practically speaking, it is not possible to draft an absolute list of justifiable reasons for or against the use of birth control. Where God has not definitively spoken we must allow for the exercise of Christian freedom. To help assure that we do not allow our freedom to be a license to sin (1 Peter 2:16), we need to continue to search our God’s Word, talk candidly about these matters with God’s servant (the pastor), and have soul-searching conversations with sound Christian friends. And when we have committed ourselves to a plan of action based on biblical principles, we need also to turn in faith to the gospel of forgiveness in Christ for the assurance that if we have erred in our judgment, he also has paid the price of that sin.

While this question has focused exclusively on motive a caution should be expressed about the methods of birth control that may be employed. Some forms of birth control do or have the potential to destroy life developing in the womb. Therefore, even with a correct motive we must take care not to use the wrong method and thereby sin by destroying life.

For a continued study of this matter you may search the Christian Life Resources website at: www.ChristianLifeResources.com or contact Christian Life Resources (800-729-9535) and order the booklet entitled, “The Christian and Birth Control” which is also available on-line at: www.CLRStore.com

Once saved, always saved?

I used to believe in the doctrine of once saved, always saved. I now believe the exact opposite, based on a study of scripture (thanks to the Holy Spirit!). Changing your mind on this doctrine has a profound change on how you see life. No longer do you drive around with the "I'm not perfect. I'm just saved." bumper sticker. You become much more aware of your daily sins and your dependence on salvation through Christ's death and resurrection. You also become more aware of activities and thought patterns that lead you toward Christ or away from Christ. No longer do you strive for holiness in order to obtain salvation; you strive to cling to Christ out of sheer thankfulness and desparation, thus turning from things that would keep you from clinging and thanking.

Below are two explanations of why the concept of once saved, always saved is not scriptural. They are taken from the WELS Q & A site and are written by theologian professors of a confessional Lutheran seminary:


Scripture makes it absolutely clear we cannot contribute the least speck to our salvation. Our baptism clothed us in Christ’s perfect righteousness (Galatians 3:27). By his Son’s life, death, and resurrection God declared us—by nature wicked—to be righteous in his sight (Romans 4:5). Even our faith, which clings to Christ’s salvation, is part of God’s complete gift package (Ephesians 2:8,9) worked by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3) through the gospel (Romans 10:17).

You are also correct that salvation can be lost. In the final analysis, it’s only unbelief that damns and not "bad behavior" itself. Yet carelessly persisting in sin destroys faith. In Luke 8 Jesus speaks of those who fall in times of testing and others whose faith is choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures. 1 Timothy 1 mentions those who shipwrecked their faith by not "holding on to faith and a good conscience."

We cannot contribute one speck to our salvation, but by our own arrogance or carelessness we can throw it away. Therefore, Scripture urges us repeatedly to fight the good fight of faith (Ephesians 6 and 2 Timothy 4 for example). We can participate in this good fight because the Spirit planted a new self within us when he brought us to faith.

However, this cooperation in sanctification is in no way a meritorious work that partially earns salvation. Our sanctified life does not make us any more children of God than we already are. We are already heirs of heaven in Jesus.

Second, it’s not our good works that preserve faith. Good works aren’t a means of grace. Good works flow from faith worked in us by the means of grace. The most crucial battle of the good fight is living in daily repentance. That’s hardly a meritorious work!

Daily repentance means that the Spirit through his law crushes our natural proud arrogance. Daily we learn to hate what our sinful nature loves. Then daily through the gospel the Spirit cheers our spirit through Christ’s forgiveness that is new every morning. Through daily repentance the same gospel that created our faith preserves and strengthens our faith.

My sins threaten and weaken my faith, but the Spirit through the gospel in Word and sacraments strengthens and preserves my faith. That’s why Lutherans typically speak of God’s preservation of faith and not the perseverance of the saints. The key is not our perseverance but the Spirit’s preservation.

The rest of our sanctified life then flows from this strengthening and preserving work of the Spirit. Fruits of faith don’t strengthen or preserve faith but flow from a faith that has been strengthened and preserved. What is more, although our new self participates in this sanctified living, the praise belongs to the Spirit. That same gospel that preserves our faith graciously empowers our sanctified living. "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

Evil works can lose salvation by destroying faith. But the reverse isn’t true. It isn’t my good works that preserve faith. Keeping my faith has everything to do with the gospel, and that is purely the work of the Holy Spirit.

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We teach that believers can fall from faith because the Bible teaches that believers can fall from faith. In explaining the parable of the sower our Savior says, “Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13).

Paul writes to the Galatians, “you who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

Again Paul writes, “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to the faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). To shipwreck one’s faith is to destroy one’s faith.

The Bible warns us, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
















To answer your question, one needs to understand the difference between the law and the gospel and the purpose of each. The passages that tell us that believers can fall from faith are law. The purpose of the law is not to comfort us but to warn us. The law will produce anxiety because it reveals our sin and our inability to do what God demands. God issues these warning so that we do not trust in our own strength, merit, or abilities. The purpose of the law is to make us despair of our own ability to save ourselves or contribute to our salvation in any way (Romans 3:19-20). If we rely on our strength or goodness we will fall.

When we are troubled by our sin, our weaknesses, and our inability to contribute to our salvation, we are to look to those wonderful promises of God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

“The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin” (1 John 1:7).

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

Those promises give us comfort and strength. Thank God that our salvations lies in God’s hands from first to last (Romans 8:28-39). The Holy Spirit uses that message of God’s love and mercy in Christ to create and strengthen faith (Romans 10:13-17). It is in the promises of God that we find the assurance of our salvation.

We cannot find that comfort and our assurance in human reason or in the law. We find our assurance that we are saved when we hear God’s promises and the Holy Spirit leads us to believe them.

That's why every Christian will want to be faithful in the use of the means of grace (the gospel in God's Word and the sacraments) because it is through these means that God strengthens and preserves faith so that our assurance of heaven is firm. We can find certainty of salvation nowhere else.