Responding to antidenominationalism (Is that even a word?)

Now that I’ve had some time to think about Pastor Weedon’s blog post, and given what is the sensitive nature of the subject, I think it is best to qualify my statements before proceeding. I have family members who are not LCMS Lutheran. I have family who is not even Lutheran, for that matter. I find this subject to be somewhat disconcerting to think about, as the topic can be personal to many people. Denominational loyalty is becoming a thing of the past. The post-modern society in which we live doesn’t see the need to be stuck to one train of thought, and, in fact, looks down on anyone who would claim to be more right (or even the only one right, for that matter) than anybody else. Thus, it is difficult to hear someone stating, quite plainly and firmly, that everyone else has missed the mark. It makes one uncomfortable, like somebody in the room just told the inappropriate joke, and nobody laughed.

Having said that, I don’t think that Pastor Weedon has told the inappropriate joke at all. In fact, a better analogy might be that he’s the one who called out the guy who wrote the inappropriate comment on the bathroom wall, in front of an office full of coworkers. He’s gone and said the thing that needed to be said, and now everyone is looking around and trying to decide whether or not to agree with him. And I have to say that I do.

Yes, it’s not about denominations. Nor should it be. The Christian Church has split, unfortunately, and not down a line which can, or should, be drawn. We have not split on guitars vs. organs, or J.S. Bach vs. Stephen Curtis Chapman. We’ve split in a much more harmful way. We’ve severed our ranks on the Body and Blood of Christ. We’ve divided ourselves over God’s saving work in Baptism, and the faith it instills. We rendered the Church in two because some of us have decided that we understand God’s plan better than God does.

Is Christ the only Way to salvation? Yes. Is His death and resurrection that which saves? Absolutely. Does that mean that the rest of our doctrinal differences are just topics of conversation? NOT IN THE LEAST! Our faith, our confession of that faith, our belief in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and our holding to that Word, the Word of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, is what makes us Christian. And we MUST believe what IT says, not how WE CHOOSE to interpret it.

Will members of churches with a confession other than that found in the Book of Concord be saved? Yes. Christ tells us that, in Mark 9:40, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” The Holy Spirit works in all manner of people, Lutheran or not. But He only works in those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, and the Savior of the world. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1.

Don’t let this make you think that the rest of the doctrine doesn’t matter, though. Mistaken doctrine is like a wounded body part. If the wound is allowed to fester, it can consume all of your body. It can break you down and kill you. Having an unsound doctrine may not destroy you immediately, though, but may instead spread slowly, seeping into your other parts and beliefs, breaking you down and creating doubt in the parts that were sure. Only the true belief in the Word of God can heal this wound, and lift you up out of your sinful ways.

I know that I was once of the mindset that a Christian is a Christian, and what difference does a little doctrine make? I can see now, through my own study and prayer, that God’s Word is true in only one sense. And I believe that the Lutheran Confessions are the true exposition of the Word.

May God be gracious to you and I, and may “the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Colossians 3:16.

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Denominationalism vs. Confessionalism

I caught this post over at Pastor Weedon’s blog.  It’s gotten me thinking so I figured I’d repost it.  So, what do you think about it?  I’ll respond tomorrow.

I’m not sure it will clarify or not, but for what it’s worth.  We in the LCMS do not accept denominationalism.  We do not believe in the branch theory of the Church.  We recognize that our practice of closed communion is exactly what would be appropriate for the entire visible Church on earth.  We believe that what we believe is precisely what every jurisdiction/communion SHOULD believe, because it is – we hold – nothing other than what the Scriptures teach.

In other words, we don’t regard those who hold to a different Confession as just “another denomination.”  We regard the other confessions to the extent they differ from ours to be falsifications of the truth.  As offensive and prideful as they may sound, it’s not intended to be anything less than what (until very recent times) EVERYONE believed about their own confession.

So we act in our communion discipline *as if* we were the legitimate heir and successor to the Catholic Church of the West.  That’s a self-understanding derived from our Lutheran Symbols.  We do not claim to be the only jurisdiction in this Catholic Church of the West, purified by the Gospel.  We recognize other particular churches around the globe in whom the same faith resides – from the churches of the Archbishop of Latvia, to the churches of the Archbishop of Kenya and the Bishop of Southern Africa and the President of the LCC, and a bunch of others.  Consequently the notion that our altars are closed to non Missourians is actually not at all accurate.

In the corrupted state of the Church in which doctrine that we cannot but regard as false and dangerous is enshrined in the confessions of other jurisdictions, this leads invariably to acknowledging in them that while members of the Church Catholic may well reside in their midst (in fact, most certainly DO), nonetheless those Churches by the acceptance of various falsehoods alongside the truth of God, cannot be acknowledged as true sister churches on a par with our Synod.  Again, I know it sounds horrific to the ears of those who think denominationally, but if you think confessionally it makes perfect sense:  confessions can be entirely pure, somewhat corrupted, or totally destructive of the Christian faith.  We tend to put almost all the other confessions (Anglican, Reformed, Roman, Orthodox) as “somewhat corrupted.”  Totally destructive would be something like a Mormon or JW confession.

So back to the assumption that an LCMS person holds the pure confession – that IS the assumption we would make, unless the person in question gives evidence that his participation at our altars is in fact a lie – that he disagrees with our Lutheran confession of the Christian faith as expressed in our Lutheran Symbols.

I’ve probably offended all my ELCA friends and many of my Missouri ones by the above, but I think it’s clear that until we can get the differing ecclesiologies understood, there’s no hope of anyone understanding our practice of responsible communion (my preferred term), which takes seriously into account the nature of one’s public profession at a given altar (where, as Pr. Speckhard says, he or she is willing to accept correction).

Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand!

One night when I was in college, a Christian friend and I had the pleasure of having a conversation with a non-Christian friend of mine which lasted until 4:00 in the morning.  While it was an enlightening discussion and a wonderful witnessing experience, there was one point that made me stop and think.  I asked the non-Christian, when he alluded to his current state of searching for the Answer, “What do you stand on?”  After he gave me an explanation, I stopped and thought, “Well, what do I stand on?”

Constantly in this world, we are bashed by the rains and waves of sin and temptation, hounded by the winds of evil and suffering.  We try to establish ourselves a place to stand on this earth, only to be struck again and again by depression, anger, pain, unease, and weariness.  And most of all, our sinfulness.  In all of this trouble and torment, what do we stand on?

In Matthew 7:24ff, Jesus tells the story of the wise and foolish builders.  These two guys each built a house; one built on the rock and the other on sand.  The rains and winds came and beat the house on the rock, but it stood straight and tall, and did not fall.  The other house on sand fell to the ground, because it had no firm foundation.  Jesus says in this passage that all who follow Him and His Word are like the wise man who built on the rock.

We stand on the Rock that is the Lord.  Isaiah 26:4, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”  We stand on God and His Promises, the Hope of now and our future years.  We stand on Christ Jesus and His Victory over sin and death.

When the world pulls at us, trying to bring us down into it’s hopeless depths, remember the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 40:2, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  We have the contentment and satisfaction of knowing that we stand on a Rock which can never be broken.  The Rock that will never succumb to the evil of this world.  It is our strength and refuge.

The next time I ask myself, “What do you stand on?” I know my answer.

Read also:  Psalm 31, 61, and 62, Matthew 16:13-20 (Peter’s answer is the Rock), 1 Peter 2:4-12.

Everybody’s Got a Favorite

It’s true, and we all know it.  Everybody has a favorite hymn.  “Earth and All Stars” or “Rock of Ages” or (for you Lost & Found fans) “The Church’s One Foundation” are just a few that get picked pretty regularly.  But does anybody you know have a favorite verse in a hymn?  Well, I have two.

Now that might sound a little strange, perhaps even silly.  But I’ve found over the years that I’m drawn to two different verses from hymns in the hymnal.  And I think that’s a good thing.  Because these are the verses I hear in my head when the world is turning sour, or I’m in a bad mood, or I just need something to think about while I waiting in line at the grocery store.  Inevitably, one of these two verses will pop into my head during one of those situations, and I get to turn the words over as I hum the tune and think about what they mean to me.

The first, and probably the one I think about most, is the second verse of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

“With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected; But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.  Ask ye, Who is this?  Jesus Christ it is, Of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.”

Or in another way: “We cannot win over sinfulness, no matter how strong we are.  We are lost to death.  But the valiant One comes from God for us.  And who is this, you ask?  It is JESUS CHRIST!  The Son of the Living God!  And there is no other Lord in heaven or on earth.  He will win for us eternally!  Amen.”

The other verse is the third of “Hark, the Voice of Jesus Crying.”  This is the verse which makes me stop and consider the most.  I find myself thinking this one over, wondering about the plans God has for me, curious if I will be faithful to the calling of God, whatever it is.

“If you cannot be a watchman, Standing high on Zion’s wall, Pointing out the path to heaven, Offering life and peace to all, With your prayers and with your bounties You can do what God commands; You can be like faithful Aaron, Holding up the prophet’s hands.”

This is also my favorite hymn.  What’s yours?

Gospel of the Week – August 28

Matthew 16:21-28 – Jesus Tell the Disciples of His Death and Resurrection, and Says to Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

So here we are, on the way to Jerusalem, and Jesus pulls His disciples aside and tells them about what’s coming in Jerusalem.  “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” Matthew 16:21.  But Peter tells Jesus not to talk that way, and tries to gently scold Him for His words.  Of course Jesus understands that this is the tempting of the evil one who seeks to hold Jesus back from destroying death at the cross.  So Jesus tells Peter to lose the attitude and understand that this isn’t for Him to have a say in at all.  In other words, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Jesus sees the selfishness of Peter in Peter’s desire to keep the Lord alive, so that Peter can be with Jesus.  But Christ knows what is to come, and tells Peter to get his head out of the things of man and set his eyes on God’s purpose.  Peter would soon learn that purpose, or, as we like to call it, the Theology of the Cross.

Then Jesus goes on to talk about that life with the cross.  But it’s important to recognize here that Jesus doesn’t want these verses to be about what we have to do.  These are not the things of the Law, for how could we ever expect to live like Jesus, to be able to follow Him where He went and to be perfect like He is?  “None is righteous; no, not one,” as Paul says in Romans 3:10.  And how could we ever come up with enough to purchase our souls?  Could we use the whole world to buy the soul?  Would having everything even matter if we would lose our souls anyway?  The only One who could purchase our souls has done so, and did with His blood on the cross at Calvary.  And that One is Jesus Christ!  We are saved, our souls are not lost, because our lives are given over to Christ through faith brought by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by living in the world and of earthly things.  For this world and the things in it are not the goal, the end result.  Neither is a life led bearing the cross.  The final purpose is life with our Lord Jesus, who defeated sin and death to give us that life eternally through faith.  Praise be to God in Christ Jesus!

Oh, What a Preacher! (although he might argue with the praise…)

This weekend was the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ordination of Pastor Weedon at St. Paul’s in Hamel, IL.  I had the pleasure of listening to him lead chapel during my years of high school, and have been blessed by subscribing to his blog, Weedon’s Blog.  So first, congratulations to him.

Second, Pastor Matthew Harrison preached the sermon for the service this weekend at St. Paul’s.  And oh, what a preacher!  The link to the sermon is here.  Thanks to Issues, Etc. for the link.  So, take 14 minutes and 53 seconds out of your day and listen to our Synod’s president preach the Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To God be the Glory!

The Mighty and the Doubter

Doubt is not a big word. It’s short, simple, and not even all of the letters are really pronounced in it, either. Yet, it is the scariest word that I have ever encountered in my life. Not even death, which frightens the jeepers out of a lot of people, scares me as much as the word DOUBT. I shiver just thinking about it.

It doesn’t take much to doubt. A thought here, a comment there, an instance of personal realization, can turn someone’s world upside-down when that one little word comes into play. “What if I’m not supposed to do this today? Does she REALLY love me anymore? Where AM I supposed to be in five or ten years? Is there REALLY a God?” I know that that last one scares me the most, because it’s a thought that I’ve had to deal with before, and I’m sure some of you have had to deal with it, too.
Doubt creeps into our lives unnoticed most times. Just a down day on the job, a tired Monday morning in class, an innocent argument with a spouse or loved one, and suddenly, it’s there. What can we do? How can we stop it?

The truly scary part of doubt is…we can’t stop it. We can’t put a wall up so that it will never enter our lives. But, we can battle it, and win the day. “How?”

God loves us, and would never leave us. Joshua 1:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He’s there. In our doubt and uncertainity with the ways of this world, God is the Rock upon which we know we have solid footing. When we doubt, Psalms 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46 is a wonderful reminder of the stability of the Lord, and His power in our life.

So, when life is down, doubt is raging, and you just don’t know anymore, look to the One who does not change, is always there, and will not crumble under the pressures of uncertainty:  The Valiant One who fights for us, and wins for all eternity.

I would like to leave you with a message that was written a long time ago, by a very great man, based on Psalm 46. It has been my personal message of faith in times of doubt and trouble. Read it, think of the problems of your own life, and gain strength from its words. Words of hope and comfort which will lift your spirits.

“A mighty Fortress is our God, A trusty Shield and Weapon;
He helps us free from ev’ry need That hath us now o’er-taken.
The old evil Foe Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.

With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, Whome God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

Tho’ devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none, He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit,
And take they our life, Goods fame, child, wife,
Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won;

The Kingdom ours remaineth. Amen.

These words, the text of the hymn by Martin Luther, are probably the greatest attestment to the power of God that I have ever seen in my life. Nowhere else does the message of our eternal victory ring truer. And that is what it’s all about. The Eternal Victory.

May the Lord smile upon you today, and give you hope and joy.

Read Psalm 31, Matthew 7:24-29, Isaiah 40:28-31, Romans 11:33-36.