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,

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."