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497 Years ago today a learned monk of the Augustinian order named Martin Luther nailed a document called The 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The world has never been the same! Here is that document, and the hymn of the Reformation: A Mighty Fortress!
Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther (1517) Published in:
Works of Martin Luther:
Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol.1, pp. 29-38
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.
In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.
6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.
7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.
11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.
12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.
14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.
15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.
17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.
18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.
20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.
21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;
22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.
23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.
24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.
25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.
26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.
27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].
28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.
29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.
30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.
31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.
32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.
33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;
34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.
35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.
36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.
39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.
40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].
41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;
44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.
45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.
46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.
47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.
48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.
49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.
52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.
54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.
55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.
57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.
58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.
59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure;
61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.
62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.
66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.
67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.
68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.
69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.
70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.
71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!
72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!
73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.
74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.
75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.
76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.
77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.
78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.
79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.
81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.
82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”
83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”
85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”
86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”
87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”
88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”
89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”
90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.
91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.
So, what is this world of which I speak? Well, I'm not so sure I or anyone could tell of it, for to truly know it, one must have been there and back again, or originally from that place with the ability of communicating it's (ie. the other world's) existence to us here and now.
Such an instance of the veil being "rent", as it were, is given 2 Kings 6: 15-17, were it says:
Here God gave Elisha's servant a little peak under the veil, so to speak, and surely was comforted by the vision.
And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
So why speak ye of this veil?
Well, this past weekend I saw more programs on TV than I ever have about the occult, demon possession and exorcism, ghosts, etc., all in anticipation of Halloween coming this Saturday. It seems that even prior to this weekend that shows about the "paranormal" regarding groups and individuals who empirically try to gather facts about the spirit world through recording devices, etc., are growing in number and gaining in popularity. Even right now the number one movie in America last weekend was called Paranormal Activity, about a faux reality couple who record evidence of a demonic haunting in their home. So, in light of this, a cultural firestorm has been lit around all things "paranormal".
Getting back to the TV aspect of things, I can say that all of these shows are produced to be "sensational", ya know, eerie music, discomfiture enducing editing techniques, cliff-hanger commercial breaks regarding heroic researchers in eminent peril, and all the rest that goes with sensational programming. I must admit they are amusing in the truest sense of the word to the uninitiated, mindlessness is alive and well in TV land, but I, yes even I have bitten into them hook line and sinker. I'm embarrassed to admit there isn't really any show I miss, as sad as that may sound. My wife will walk into the living room and say, "are you watching one those ghostbuster shows again?" Me thinks, I'm a loner in my household as regarding interest in the paranormal! Nevertheless, the shows are entertaining, and, if you get past the sensational bits, they are addressing matters of serious importance, which is something I'll get back to in a moment. However, I must say some are less sensational then others, the least being, in my humble opinion: Ghost Hunters on the Syfy Channel Wednesday nights @ 9:00 PM.
You can tell they are a bunch of "normal" people just interested in a subject, of which they seem to be fearless. The two founders of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society), Jay and Grant, are plumbers during the day, even in spite of the shows success, and paranormal investigators by night. The usual show will document them leading a team of investigators they've hand-trained to a purportedly "haunted" site, setting up equipment to hopefully capture something, and then revealing to the owner or caretaker of the property their findings. Much of the hours upon hours of evidence they go over for each investigation is discarded as something that could be caused naturally such as a blowing curtain or un-level floors, etc. The bits of evidence they do find which are indeed unexplainable or incontrovertible they present to their client. Here is one of their most interesting findings I think, and keep in mind what you are watching is filmed by night vision cameras in pitch-black rooms, real-time. This clip is of a location close by me in Philly called, The Eastern State Penitentiary, watch it, tell me what you think:
Is it real? I have no idea. It could very well be a fake by the team itself, the camera crew which records them, or an unknown outsider who sneaked onto the premises undetected, and so in any case who knows?
Nevertheless, some of the newer shows are delving into dangerous things for shock value, and could be opening themselves up to serious harm. In some of these more extreme shows they invite pagan rituals, voodoo curses, satanic worship, etc., against their own person all for the sake of catching some sensational footage. All of these people could be setting themselves up for demonic attack or possession, heaven forbid!
However, in the end what are these people looking for ultimately? Is it to test the religious claims of eternity, another world, that spirits both heavenly and demonic are real, or do they search just out of child like curiosity for what goes bump in the night? I'll leave that up to them to decide, but in an ultimate sense they are trying to see beyond the veil. I'm sure there are those who want to find their relatives, there are those who want to see angels, there are those who even want to see devils with scary faces, but I am sure of it that any of these "spiritual explorers" are not expecting to find devil's with angelic faces, for a devil with an angelic face can be any one of those things to any one of those people. In my opinion, this would be the scariest kind of devil in all. These demons wouldn't have to control me through their brute power by force, but by appealing to my pride in showing me what I want to see. They let me be the god who creates his own universe, in his own image, after his own designs, and by that, they would slowly manipulate me into thinking God the devil, and the devil god. The appearance is unimportant but the goal remains the same, divide God's children from their heavenly Father.
Do you not believe me?
I'll give you what I believe to be the greatest example in history, one that still has tremendous affect on the world as we speak, namely Islam and the supposed revelation from the angel Gabriel to Mohamed. I don't doubt for a second what Mohamed claims, I believe he did see an angel with a new gospel, but "*...though...an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we [the apostles] have preached unto you, let him be accursed....**Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (*Gal. 1:8; ** II Cor. 11:14)
So, this is nothing to be mocked when we try to get a peek into these mysterious realms, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12)
Yet, with those things said, the thing we must finally ask is whether God has anything under the veil for us to see or not? It would seem the answer to be no. It would actually seem God is more preoccupied with keeping the veil ever before us. Why do I say this? Because God wants us to look at the veil, to never turn away from it in this world, but to continually, everyday, look at it! The veil that God puts between Him and us, the veil he wants us to focus on is Christ dying for our sins upon the cross. When we see that, when our sins are truly with Christ on that cross, we will then be able to pass through the veil of death and tears in this world to finally see and live in the midst of God's glory for all eternity.
I thought I would leave you with a letter from Bugenhagen (a contemporary of Luther's) to Luther regarding his dealings with a demoniac girl. It's interesting to say the least, for it displays that the devil and his kingdom are quite real and should not be mocked. Enjoy!
On the day of the festival of Simon and Judas we arrived safely, by the grace of God, in Lubeck. Once I had gotten there the Devil gave public notice of himself and was recognized in a possessed girl, who, until this time, had been quite well. Before this, his presence in her was doubted, but now he claimed openly to be there and to have entered the young girl through an old woman's curse. The girl had reminded the old woman (the Devil claimed) of a pound which she still owed her, to which the woman responded: "I'll send the Devil into your body."
I was with the girl today, who was well again. Because they feared that the devil might return, the parents were still concerned. Her parents told me what else the devil had said: "Aren't there enough preachers here? Why is it that you had to call one from Wittenberg?" He also said: "Bugenhagen has come. I know him well, and have often been with him, etc." When I had heard this from the girl's father, in her presence, I laughed and was reminded of the verse in Acts 19: "Jesus I know well and Paul I know well, etc." It is quite true that he has often tempted me and bothered me with his thousand tricks, trying to disprove my teaching and faith, but because of Christ, who helped me by His grace, he was no able to achieve anything except to provoke me to do battle with him. I have still not forgotten what he tried to do through the Silesian Sacramentalists, etc. In other sins it has seemed as if he was defeating me. But, Christ be thanked, though he was pleased to visit me, he was not pleased to stay. I would remind you agian to pray for me in this matter, etc.
But to return to the situation: I asked the girl, who is about eighteen years old and continually bed-ridden, if, after she had come to herself again and was feeling well, she was aware of the way in which she had cursed and mocked. She answered no, that she knew nothing of this. Her parents told me the same thing. They, too, had questioned her when she had regained her senses as to why she had mocked so terribly. She had answered them: "I didn't do it, is was the Devil in me; buy I have no idea what I did." They also told me the following: Yesterday, while the the Devil was torturing her, the father began to quote to her from the Word of God, and, when that did not help, he took a copy of the German New Testament and held it in front of her. She, however, turned her face away and began biting the pillow that was under her head, etc. I spoke for a while with the girl and she gave proper Christian answers and a good understanding of her baptism. I was especially concerned to convince her not to get the idea that she was forced to belong to the Devil simply because he had tortured her, etc. Finally, I knelt, along with all who were present, laid my hands on her head, and prayed. She thanked me as I was leaving.
While I was writing this letter, however, a messenger came and told me that the Devil had tortured the girl again, had thrown her naked out of bed, and under a table, and then under a chair, and had twisted her neck so badly that she would have died had not her father quickly come to help. The girl's parents pleaded that I should come. So I went, and, as I arrived in front of the house, I heard a loud scream. When I entered and reached the possessed girl I heard with my own ears these words: "Bugenhagen the traitor is coming! Oh the traitor, he must go out!" I stood there dumbfounded, and even though I did no believe the liar, I nevertheless interpreted his words to refer not only to the possessed girl, but to the entire city; that is, that I would not tolerate the Devil's kingdom in it. May the God of all mercy permit and accomplish this through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
All those present claimed theat the girl had not formerly known my name, and added that she had mocked horribly before I had entered the house. Now when she screamed, I yelled back and called her by name "Elizabeth!" The Devil answered: "Elizabeth, Elizabeth." Then I said: "Yes, are you trying to deny it? Why shouldn't I call you Elizabeth? You gave me testimony today that you received that very same name in baptism, by which was are baptized into Christ." He then began to pounce about, screaming so loudly that those present could not hear each other. But I fell to my knees and prayed earnestly with the intensity which the girl's misery and despair wrung out of me, speaking loudly so that all could hear, that the Lord Jesus should free her--for he had said, "In my name my name they will drive out devils." I think that the others were praying with me since I had turned my back to them. Meanwhile the Devil screamed: "I must go out! Oh I must go out!", and tortured the girl horribly. But her father held her. Immediately after this she lay still, so that her father no longer had to hold her. She lay there, breathing heavily as if she was about to depart. Meanwhile the father told me what the Devil had said to him yesterday before I had arrived: " you doubt that I am present! Now look, I have given you a clear sign!" He pointed to a hole in the window which he had broken. "That", said he, "is how I entered, etc."
Though the girl's body was still moving, we were afraid that she was slipping away. While I sat and waited to see what would happen, she opened her eyes just as if she was awakening from sleep. I spoke to her wih a quiet voice: "Elizabeth!" She answered "What?" I continued: "Do you know what you have done and the way in which you mocked?" She answered: "No." So I reminded her in the same way I had earlier in the day. Then I knelt and prayed with my hands on her head that she should be free, etc. Having finished praying, I asked her to say the Amen. This she did willingly.
And so I left; but I have been told that the Devil tortured her again that night, just as we read in the Gospel concering the swine, etc., and screamed "I must go out, but where shall be my habitation? There is a horse in Lunenburg; I will enter it, or perhaps the chain-maker." Now the girl's father was of the same profession and was, as we say, an adventurous man, since, to my surprise, he had spoken to me without fear from the start, as soon as he was certain that it was the Devil. Said he: "If is weren't a sin there's a lot I would ask the scoundrel and he would have to answer it all." I, however, forbade him to ask anything secretly of the Tempter or to allow it of anyone else. I did not ask what else had happened.
I am puzzled that Satan can confuse people this way. But no matter what he does or says, he still shows that he is a stupid and condemned spirit. These things happened on the eve of All Saints Day, in the year 1530. May God graciously give us the victory against all of [the Devil's] fiery darts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I don't know?
For those who really want an attempt at answering the unanswerable check these two links out:
For everyone else as clueless as me, read on....
What could trigger the economic collapse?
What is this fearlessness and mocking of which I speak?
However, I ask you, can anybody detect at least a majority of leaders or citizens running the government, the financial sector, or the household, after the pattern of how we should run our homes? There are many who do, I'm certain, but for the most part, do we not see gross corruption in government, finance, and consumers at all levels, the likes of which are only found in decadent nations before they implode? This is because we hate God's law. And, as we are irrespective of God's law, it only naturally leads to us becoming over litigious, lovers of self, power, and mammon, desperately hoarding what will be consumed by fire.
It is evidenced in Scripture (for example; just read the prophecies of Daniel), and in the annals of mankind that decadent nations fall, and usually the fall is quick, certain and irrevocable. What is most insidious about this death is that it is a willfully unforeseen suicide. Yes!; that's right, we willingly kill ourselves in ignorance! And, it's unforeseeable because nations, at this stage are willfully ignorant, purposefully blind, cognitively dissonant, or in our case "irrationally exuberant" to the realities of the world around them. Future and current nations can always look back with 20/20 hindsight, just as we do now, and say, "How could the world allow itself to become so financially dependent on the economy of American?" Or, "Why would anyone in America ever think that switching from the gold standard to a fiat money system (i.e. money backed by aether) was a good idea?" Yet we are unable (or unwilling) to see the fate which is about to meet us. Furthermore, an accumulated analysis of all the various fallen systems of either government, economy, or household, due mainly to arrogance and decadence, could never give us any definitive insight, or render a predictive formula so that we could see the ends coming from far away due to the "problems" overwhelming complexity. We can barely predict the next days weather correctly let alone predict something with so many variables as is encompassed by an intertwined world economy.
Even if someone can see the the fate of their nation or their future from a long way off, they might not be able to see any hope if the vision is rather dismal. Some of us are already experiencing the reality of a collapsed economy, and upon looking at the fundamentals of everything in the markets, the outlook is nothing but dreadfully dismal for the world. And, in my own Christian walk, I can't even begin to count how many arrows of outrageous fortune I have received in the past six months. I constantly fight, and ask God in prayer to keep me faithful in spite of everything I see, in spite of myself! So many times in the past six months I have given in to the feeling that God has been judging me, that I must not be doing something right. It hurts me to no end! I mean, God hates me! right?
But His Word tells me something else! His word tells me to look at my Savior on the cross; He is the one being judged, He is the one who God pours His wrath upon, He is the one that God hates, and not for anything He has done, but on account of what I have done on His behalf. His Word tells me I must accept the reality at present; that I am as righteous as God is, that I am in effect His Son, that I possess the entire Universe, that the Angels are at my beckon command, and that God enjoys my company and I His, and not for anything I have done, but on account of believing what He has done on my behalf! His Word also tells me this world is perishing, and that I shouldn't store up for myself treasures here, which moth and rust destroy, but to keep my hope in Kingdom come, to keep my hope in Christ who is the way to the Kingdom and my true Treasure, to trust in His Word of Truth which the Holy Spirit works eternal life through, to glory in suffering just as Jesus was glorified as "the Son of Man". And to believe all this in spite of what I see, in spite of what I think I know, in spite of the fact that I do not see the glory that is with me in Christ, that I do not experience being present in His Kingdom, and nor do I feel His Holy Spirit interceding on my behalf. With all that said, God wants me stop trying to feel Him and ultimately resign my entire self, body and soul, to the fact that God loves me even when I'm convinced He hates me.
Just as the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, so does misery. Be comforted in heart that God knows our sufferings, He has counted every tear, He has consumed the cup of wrath to the dregs and has died in the damnation reserved for people with a wicked and evil conscience all for the sake of those that don't love Him, for people who, in spite of knowing about salvation in Christ, still hate Him. We, who are utterly incapable of loving Him without a spiritual regeneration by the Holy Spirit, who still wrestle with the flesh because of faulty senses and our natural love for whispering, malcontented devils, also love Him, although we in our flesh still hate Him. This is the essence of the biblical maxim "Simul Iustus et Peccator" (both saint and sinner at the saint time), and yet, God still loves us. Let us give thanks for this amazing blessing in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Two Sermons Addressing the Ever-Increasing Lutheran Flight to Eastern Orthodoxy and the Theology of the Cross1 comments Posted by Drew Lomax at 5:00 PM
FOR THOSE WHO DIDN’T SWIM
Rev. Albert Collver, Ph.D.
Pastor, Hope Lutheran Church, DeWitt, MI
Assistant Visiting Professor, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, MI
In recent years a number of prominent Lutherans have left behind the Lutheran confession for either Rome or Constantinople. Many are well acquainted with Richard Neuhaus’ journey to Roman Catholicism, and with Jaroslav Pelican’s pilgrimage to the Orthodox. Recently we have heard of the “brain” drain from the Lutheran tradition; how the best minds are going elsewhere. If one holds that the Lutheran confession is true, as I do, one wonders if these are really the best minds, for if they were, would they be leaving? Occasionally, one hears of individual Lutheran pastors swimming across the Tiber or the Bosphorus River. Although these pastors receive at least a moderate amount of notice, little is said of those congregations who are confused, hurt, and feel betrayed. Some of these congregations even wonder if they are still church. When the pastor leaves for Rome or Constantinople, some of the congregation follows,causing even more divisions and strife.
The following sermon and essay were delivered to Epiphany Lutheran Church in Dorr, MI, on August 28, 2005 after their pastor left for the Antiochian Orthodox Church. It is offered in the hope that it may be helpful to others.
What image comes to mind when you hear the word “traitor”? If you are an American, the word “traitor” and “Benedict Arnold” are nearly synonymous. Arnold was a man who worked his way up to the top of the Colonial military establishment. He began as an enlisted man, eventually becoming a general in the continental army. He fought bravely and won many victories against the British. He also had a number of set backs in his personal life and career which made him a bitter man. Eventually, this once trusted hero of the American cause switched his loyalties. His former friends became his enemies, while his former enemy became his friend. General Arnold petitioned to become the commander of West Point. Because of the trust General Washington had for Arnold, he was given this command. Only Arnold’s intentions were not pure; for he planned to surrender the fort to the British, dealing his former friends a blow that might have changed the outcome of the war. His treachery was discovered before the damage done. Benedict Arnold lived out his days embittered with remorse and as long as the United States remains his name will be associated with “traitor.”
The world has had its share of “traitors”, men and women who have betrayed each other for some cause, for some gain, or for love. The thing about traitors is that they oftentimes were heroes and even considered great or the best of the best before changing sides. Perhaps, you have suffered at the hand of a “Benedict Arnold” in your lifetime. Perhaps, you have felt betrayed by a person, a friend, or an institution. A secret shared was revealed – betraying your trust. A common cause was forsaken. It hurts to be betrayed. Perhaps you have even betrayed another person yourself and had to live with regret and remorse.
In the Gospel lesson for today, we hear of something worse than betrayal. Peter becomes worse than a traitor. Peter does anti-Christ. He opposes Christ and joins forces with Satan. What a dramatic change from last week’s Gospel lesson when Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ.
In last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus asked Peter what the crowds were saying about Jesus. He seemed at the top of his game being compared to famous prophets and men of God from the past. Jesus seemed destined for success. When Jesus asked the question, Peter got the answer right. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Peter was commended for his confession. Jesus also promised to build his church on the rock, that is, the confession that he is the Christ.
In the reading for today, which may have happened only moments after Peter made the confession that Jesus is the Christ, we see something different. Jesus tells his disciples what is about to take place. The future Jesus describes does not match up with Peter’s vision. Jesus told his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem to suffer many things. He told his disciples that he would be rejected by all the power-brokers of the day. He told his disciples that he would die and then rise again on the third day. Peter could not stand to hear what was about to happen to Jesus. His visions of grandeur, of Jesus ruling majestically in Jerusalem – no doubt with the twelve disciples seated next to him – was shattered. Peter had no use for a Jesus who would be rejected,suffer, and die. So Peter did anti-Christ; he joined forces with Satan to oppose Jesus.
The future Jesus described for himself was one of humility, suffering, rejection, betrayal,and death. Jesus told of a future any person would try to avoid at all costs. Who would knowingly walk to death when death could be avoided simply by taking a different path? Who would willingly face public humiliation when it could easily be avoided? Who would submit to terrible suffering? Who would follow a leader that told his disciples that grief, suffering, and death awaited? Not Peter. He had much grander plans for Jesus. And so it is often with us. We do anti-Christ when we go against how Jesus would be Lord to us and to his church, when we go against being transformed into his image, into the image of the cross.
The Lord’s church, the Lord’s people, are made and formed in his image. The church takes on the image of her Savior Jesus. In this life, the image of Jesus that we see is of him suffering and dying on the cross. This is not a pretty picture. The world does not want to see a suffering Jesus. This is why St. Paul wrote, “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.” (1 Corinthians 1:17) The cross of Jesus never makes sense to the world. It does not make sense to us at times either. By nature we desire to see a glorious, powerful Jesus who does away with his enemies, who comes down from the cross, so to speak, to take care of those who mock and jeer him, a Jesus who uses his power and might to make his church strong and respected.
To put it another way, do you feel better when the church has ten people or one hundred in worship? Most people and pastors, if they are honest, will say they feel better when more people are present for worship. Oftentimes the counting of people is equated with the success of a congregation. When problems arise in congregations, when attendance drops, when programs don’t seem to get off the ground, often times we feel as if Jesus is not helping and supporting us. We may feel as if Jesus has failed us. Yet no matter what problems a congregation may face – whether attendance is soaring or dropping, whether there is heartache and strife, whether there is troubles with the pastor or the congregation – Jesus never fails his church. Jesus never fails his people. No matter what difficulties and sufferings a congregation goes through Jesus is still giving out his forgiveness through his Word and forgiving gifts. Jesus still gives out his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the nourishment of your soul.
The church on this earth has her beauty hidden – hidden behind the scars, blows, and wounds inflicted upon her by the devil and world. There is no ideal congregation; all have their warts and blemishes. Quite frankly, the Lord’s church here on earth is nothing to look at. Yet Jesus sees beauty in his bride and he transforms her through his suffering and death on the cross into his holy, pure, and virgin bride. He sees beauty where all we see are problems, hurts, pain, and suffering. Yet the church remains because he has promised that the church will remain wherever he is. Jesus has promised to be where his Word is preached purely and his forgiving gifts are given out according to his institution.
So it also goes in our lives. Is it any surprise that the lives of the Lord’s people would parallel the life of his church? We, also, face sufferings, hardships, and trials in our lives. We get sick, have disappointments in our job, career, family, and relationships, and face the attacks of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. We struggle with temptation. At times we may be tempted to think that Jesus has failed us. We may be tempted to do anti-Christ, to seek the message of prosperity, success, and positive thinking – to avoid the cross that Jesus has laid in our lives.
Jesus tells his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. No one wants to bear a cross. Even Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that his Father take the cup of suffering, that he take the cross away. Yet bearing the cross for Jesus is not something we decide to do, or something we take upon ourselves. We have enough sorrow in our lives without having to go out and look for more. The stuff we face in our lives, the crosses that we bear, comes to us because we are being transformed into the image of Jesus. We belong to him and he gives us these crosses, these sufferings, so that we learn to trust him all the more, so that we cling to his Word and promises. He gives us these crosses and sufferings so that our sinful nature is put to death. Death is a painful thing and our sinful nature does not like being put to death. Yet it has been drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism and every day a new person emerges from the font. Every day our sinful nature is put to death and every day we face the struggles and crosses of this life as the devil and world wage battle against us. Yet no matter what we face as individuals or as a congregation, Jesus never fails us.
Look how Jesus treated Peter. Jesus exorcised Peter. He cast Satan out when he said, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you do not setting your mind on the things of God but the things of men.” Jesus also cast Satan out of you at your Baptism. There in his Name with the water Jesus delivered you from Satan’s kingdom. There Jesus turned your mind away from the things of men to be focused on the things of God. In your Baptism, Jesus transformed you into his image. From that moment on your life in Christ takes on his imagine,including the image of his suffering and death. Therefore, our lives here on earth are often full of suffering and grief.
You might ask, “How is my suffering as a Christian different from a person who is not?” Although your hardships and sufferings may look like other people’s, the Lord has given you a cross to bear that is uniquely yours. He places crosses in your life so that you trust in him and his promises rather than yourself. He has given you his promise that he will never leave or forsake you. He has promised you that he will not give you more than you can endure. He has given you his promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.
If Satan had his way with us, we would all become traitors to our Lord. If Satan had his way, all of us would do anti-Christ. Just as Jesus exorcised Peter and kept him on the rock, on the confession that Jesus is the Christ, so too, Jesus has exorcised you in Holy Baptism. He has delivered you from all your sins and has transformed you into his image. In this life we are transformed into the image of our crucified Savior, who bears the lashes of affliction, grief,suffering and death. In the life to come, we will be transformed into the image of our resurrected Savior, shining in his glory. When our Lord returns on the clouds in his glory and his people see him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Lord’s church will be presented to him as the pure, beautiful, virgin bride redeemed in his blood. On that day, she will no longer bear the marks of suffering or indignity. Her warts and blemishes will be gone. Then the Lord’s church and his people will be in harmony as they celebrate at the marriage banquet,which our Lord Jesus gives us a foretaste in Holy Communion.
When the Lord gave you his Name, when he exorcised you in Holy Baptism, you were made in his image – in his image under the cross and his image in glory. Remember that Jesus never fails you. What a Lord we have.
Go in peace. Amen.
“This article also affords a glorious testimony that the Church of God will exist and abide in opposition to all the gates of hell, and likewise teaches which is the true Church of God, lest we be offended by the great authority and majestic appearance of the false Church, Rom. 9, 24. 25.”(FC SD XI, 50.)
One evening when I was tied up in meetings at church, my wife went to a funeral visitation for a co-worker. Being unable to procure a baby-sitter, she took our then four year-old son with her. As they drove to the place of the visitation, my wife explained to my son what had happened, what he would see, and why they were going. The funeral home was directly across from a large Roman Catholic church that nearly took up an entire city block. The architecture was impressive and gothic. The stained glass was magnificent. Large wooden doors provided entry into this majestic church. When my son saw this church, he could hardly contain his awe. He blurted out, “Look, mommy, a castle for Jesus.”
This story is the kind of memory parents will cherish about their children all their days. But it is more than simply a cute story; it illustrates an important theological point. One might be minimally impressed that a pastor’s four-year-old son recognized that this building belonged to Jesus. He knew it was a church. To be able to recognize the church at four years old seems slightly better than the Augsburg Confession’s expectation of children when it says, “a seven year old child knows what the church is.” (AC XII, 2) You might be wondering why we can sometimes be so confused about the church, if a four year old and a seven year old can recognize the church. Before you feel badly about your own church recognizing abilities notice what the four-year-old saw? He saw a majestic and glorious building as the church. He saw the splendor, the awesome architecture, and the authority as the church. He saw a castle for Jesus.
Now castles were not designed primarily for comfort or luxury. Castles were designed as strongholds and fortresses. Castles were designed to display power, majesty, and authority. Castles were for kings who displayed their power and might in the act of war. Castles were for conquerors. The phrase “a castle for Jesus” contains a lot of theology. Out of the mouths of babes, we see the kind of portrait we would like to paint of Jesus and of his church. In the words “a castle for Jesus,” we see that our natural desire is for Jesus to rule over the world in his castle, that is, his church, by displaying his great power, majesty, and authority. Naturally, a powerful, mighty king needs to have a glorious, majestic, and authoritative castle from which to reign. Thus, the church we desire by nature is a church that is outwardly impressive, successful, and majestic. We want people to gaze at the church with awe. From a little boy who found a castle for Jesus, we see that from as early as we can speak we are all theologians of glory at heart.
You may not be inclined to consider yourself a theologian but you are. As Gerhard Forde explains, “Being a theologian just means thinking and speaking about God.” (1) Every person thinks and speaks of God during his lifetime. Tragic events such as sickness and death, as well as momentous occasions such as the birth of a child often make people think of God. People think of God by cursing and swearing in his name. People also chose not to think of God. The thinking and speaking of God makes a theologian, which is part of the reason there are so many different religions in the world. Without the true knowledge of God, people will invent their own gods. All people are theologians in that everyone thinks and speaks of God.
Just as all people are theologians, all people have a theology. In one sense, there are as many theologies as there are people in this world, and for us to try to catalog all the various theologies would be an exercise in futility. But as with most things a multitude of variation can be summarized into a few broad categories. Dr. Martin Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 (2) placed all theology into two categories. He described theology as either being a theology of glory, or being a theology of the cross. A theologian of glory does not know God hidden in suffering. (3) Such a person prefers “works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general good to evil.” (4) He seeks the biggest, the best, the most impressive, the most successful, the most alive, and the most ancient as marks of the true church. In summary, the theologian of glory seeks to find, or if he cannot find it to build a castle for Jesus.
Those who are seeking a castle for Jesus find that castle by comparison and measurement. Anytime we compare or measure something we are in the realm of the Law, which sizes up things to see if they met the goal or requirement. In the case of a church, one might measure whether the attendance is at a certain level, or compare the age of its traditions, liturgy, and practices, or size up how alive a congregation or church body is in comparison to another. Such comparisons are similar to how a first down is determined in football. The referee gets out the measuring stick to see if the tackled player crossed the line or not. In the case of the church such measuring results in determinations of whether or not that congregation is the church or not. The Law knows no exceptions – close does not cut it. One problem with using measurements and comparisons as the security of the church is that in a fallen and sinful world nothing will measure up perfectly. Doubt is never totally removed. Attendance has dropped for three months in a row perhaps there is something wrong with the congregation; perhaps it has ceased to be church. Giving is down and now the congregation is spilling red ink, perhaps the Lord has taken away his favor. The pastor doesn’t speak well and his sermons don’t seem to connect with the people, perhaps he is not really from the Lord. Add your own test of a successful church. How many faults can a congregation have and still be church? How many aberrations and flaws? What if there is a 50/50 mix? Is it still at church? How do you decide?
Ultimately the question comes down to what guarantees the church. If the way to discern the church is wrapped up in the measuring and comparing of a congregation to some benchmark be it history, tradition, apostolic succession, success, size, majesty, or glory the church was presented in the Scriptures fails the test. The Scriptures tell us of Noah a preacher of righteousness. The Lord gave him one of the most difficult calls imaginable for a pastor to have. The Lord called Noah to preach repentance and forgiveness for 120 years. What a lousy preacher Noah must have been by any reasonable standard. His sermons were boring and irrelevant to a world unable to see the approaching danger and destruction. Where were Noah’s converts? When the Lord sealed up the ark, all Noah had to show for his 120 years of preaching was eight people. Imagine that, over the course of 120 years only eight people believed Noah’s preaching. If you recall what happened after the flood was over, you might wonder how effective Noah’s preaching was – one of Noah’s sons didn’t turn out too good. What of the church? At the time of the flood, the church consisted of eight people sealed in a wooden ark, full of two of every kind of animal. Hardly an impressive sight as the ark bobbed helplessly over the surface of the water.
Throughout the Scriptures the church appears rather unimpressive, rather helpless, and quite frankly like it is about to die. The church at the time of Elijah was so weak and unimpressive that Elijah thought he was the only person left on earth who believed. He prayed that the Lord kill him so he did not have to endure being the only one. The Lord responded by showing Elijah fire and an earthquake, yet in all that power and might Elijah did not find the Lord. Elijah finally found the Lord in a quiet and unimpressive whisper. The Lord told Elijah that he had not been left behind, for there were still 7,000 left. Imagine that there were only 7,000 and 1 people in the Lord’s church in the entire world. There isn’t time to go through all the other pathetic examples of church in the Old Testament such as the church in captivity, which prevented it from even doing the liturgy correctly. No temple, no sacrifices, no church one would logically conclude – yet the Lord preserved for himself a people; he preserved his church.
To take an example from the New Testament consider the congregation in Corinth. The congregation had been founded by St. Paul, or had it? The congregation was fighting among themselves who really was the leader. Some said St. Paul, others said Apollos, and others said Peter, and still others Christ. Another way to put it is that some wanted to go West to Rome, others East to Constantinople, some to Wittenberg to follow Luther, and others just simply wanted to be called Christians. The congregation refused to discipline people who lived in open and manifest sin that was so shameful even the pagans would not consider living that way. There were divisions and great strife among members. Congregational members even took each other to court in lawsuits. To make matters worse they couldn’t agree on doctrine. Some even denied the Resurrection of the dead, not only of the dead but also of Christ himself. Some of the congregation thought Christ had already returned and that they had been left behind. Then there were the worship problems. The Corinthians had women preachers. They couldn’t follow the rubrics in the hymnal. They had charismatic and contemporary worship – you can’t get more contemporary than making it up on the spot. They even managed to mess up the Lord’s Supper’s liturgy.
One would be hard pressed to find a congregation or church body today with as many problems as the congregation in Corinth. Yet notice how St. Paul addresses this messed up congregation. He writes, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:2 – ESV) St. Paul calls this messed up congregation the “church of God.” It was the church of God because Jesus was there. What makes a group of people into the church is Jesus, not tradition, glory, or majesty. Jesus can even make a group of people as troubled as the Corinthians into his church.
Where Jesus is, there is his church. The only guarantee of the church is Jesus. No matter what a person would like to see in the church; no matter what should be present in a healthy congregation, ultimately in the end what makes that group of people a church is Jesus. St. Paul can even call the troubled group of people at Corinth the church because Jesus was there among those people calling, gathering, and sanctifying them as his holy people, as his church.
The only question that really needs to be answered is how does one find Jesus? The Scriptures tell us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” Yet our Lord is so gracious that he doesn’t leave us to wander around in search of him. He tells us exactly where to find him. When Jesus instituted both Holy Baptism and the Holy Ministry he promised his church, “And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 – ESV) When Jesus instituted Holy Absolution he promised his church, “For where two or three are gathered in my Name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 – ESV) When Jesus instituted Holy Communion, he told his church, “This is my body… This is my blood.”
In the things the Lutheran Confessions call the Sacraments, or the means of grace, Jesus has promised to be located at for his people. Where the means of grace are going on, where Baptisms are done in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, where sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name, where the Lord’s true body and blood are given out according to his institution and mandate, where his Word is preached, there is Jesus and there is his church. The Augsburg Confession confesses that the holy church is “the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” (AC VII) So if you want to find the church, you find Jesus. To find Jesus you go to where there is baptism, absolution, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Gospel.
Our problem is that Jesus does not seem to do a very good job preserving his church. The means of grace do not seem like very effective tools to build a castle for Jesus. People can be baptized and then turn around and act as if the Name of God was never inscribed on their forehead. People can hear that they are forgiven and not live as if they were. The swine can even trample the Lord’s body and blood under foot. People can tune out the preaching of the Word and pastors can preach poorly, stumbling over their words. Congregations, pastors, and even church bodies can fail to discipline those who have erred – just as the church in Corinth failed to expel the sinner from their midst. Historic and ancient practices can be discarded in favor of innovations that have no standing in the historic church. The historic liturgy can be replaced. Pastors may be less than faithful, even to the point of forsaking the vows they took at their ordination. No matter how wrong, tragic, or sad all this is, no matter how these things blemish the church and hurt people – so long as Jesus remains in his Word and forgiving gifts there his church is also. The church’s future and foundation does not depend on our faithfulness, rather it depends on Jesus’ faithfulness to his word and promises. When we are faithless, Jesus remains faithful.
To the church at Corinth St. Paul wrote, “The Word of the cross is folly.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) The cross is foolishness because it is an instrument of suffering, shame, and humiliation. The cross was such a horrible symbol the church did not widely adopt its use in art and decoration until the 3rd or 4th century. The cross caused Peter to do anti-Christ when he forbad (sic) Jesus from going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Jesus responded by exorcising him and by telling the disciples to pick up their cross and follow him. Discipleship is following Jesus to the cross, that is to say, following Jesus involves being transformed into the image of the crucified Jesus. Just as Jesus appeared beaten, bloody, and in anguish when he suffered on the cross, so too the lives of individual Christians and of the Lord’s church on earth appear to the world. In the second letter to the Corinthian congregation, St. Paul tells them that he is always “carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 4:10 – ESV) Literally, this passage speaks of carrying around the corpse of Jesus with the accompanying stench of death. To the world, Christians and the church reek of rotting flesh; they smell to the world like a dead body. This is what it means to live under the cross.
In the Heidelberg Disputation Luther wrote, “Therefore, in the crucified Christ is true theology and the recognition of God.” (5) The true words about God are related to the crucified Christ. It is only in Christ crucified that we see God. The purpose of the Gospel of St. Mark is to show you that Jesus is the Son of God. Read through Mark and note when Jesus is called the Son of God. First, at his Baptism, the Father identifies Jesus as his Son. The demons call him the Son of God, but Jesus always silences them. On occasion the crowd will call him the Son of God after he performs a miracle or displays his power, yet once again Jesus silences the crowd. He does not want to be known as the Son of God for displaying his power. The only time that Jesus allows himself to be called the Son of God is when the centurion exclaims, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39) Jesus wants you to see that he is most your Savior, most the Son of God for you when he hangs dead on the cross. We see Jesus as our Lord when he is crucified. When Jesus seems most helpless and lest able to help you and me, then he is most our Savior; then we see him as the Son of God. This is the theology of the cross.
We as Christians, we who are called to be the church of God, live in the shadow of Jesus’ cross. The church at times is rather unchurchly. The church is full of problems and strife. The church has blemishes, bruises, and scars from being abused in this world by the devil. The church bears wounds inflicted by the sinners who dwell within her walls. And yet the church remains, endures, and thrives because Jesus is there. Jesus doesn’t build for himself a glorious palace, or a mighty castle that he can reign with power and glory. Rather Jesus builds his church with living stones. You with all your hurts, blemishes, flaws, sufferings, and trials are the living stones that Jesus uses to build a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:5) When the world looks at the church and sees it built on the living stone the builders rejected, that is, on Christ, with all of us being stacked on Jesus as living stones, the world sees nothing attractive.
At times, we as members of this church see nothing attractive. At these times Satan tempts us to become theologians of glory. He tempts us to leave the shadow of the cross and to seek the glory and splendor the world has to offer. He tempts us to seek a church built on something other than Jesus and his means of grace. He tempts us to seek the security of tradition, the majesty of bishops, the impressiveness of numbers, and the power of success. He tempts us to leave behind the crucified Jesus. He tempts us to leave behind suffering and the cross.
Yet through the eyes of faith we see the church for what she is – the holy bride of Christ, founded on his Word and forgiving gifts. Through the eyes of faith we confess with C.F.W. Walther, “So what a miraculous building is the church! – She appears so weak and yet she stands so unshakably firm; she appears to be so poor and yet she possesses such an immeasurable wealth; she appears so small and yet she encompasses such a great uncountable host!”6 The true glory of the church is hidden in the shadow of the cross. Be not ashamed of the cross, nor of the sufferings and trials you face as the Lord’s people, as his church. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” (1 Peter 2:10) You were made into the people of God, into the Lord’s church, through Holy Baptism. And now the Lord continues to preserve you as his people, as his church, through his Word and gifts of forgiveness. Although people within the church can and will fail you, even if your pastor fails you, your Lord Jesus will never fail you. He will always be faithful to his promises to you. Through his Word and forgiveness the gates of hell will never prevail against you, his beloved people, his holy church.
Jesus does not need a castle, for he reigns from the tree of the cross. May we all become theologians of the cross.
1 Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518,(Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1997), 10.
2 Martin Luther, “The Heidelberg Disputation, 1518.” AE 31, 39-70; Studienausgabe (SA) 1, 186-218.
3 Martin Luther, “Heidelberg Disputation,” Thesis 21. AE 31, 53.
5 SA 1, 208:17. “Ergo in Christo crucifixo est uera Theologia (et) cognitio Dei.” (Also compare my translation with that of AE 31, 53.)
6 C.F.W. Walther, “Sermon for the Dedication of a Church – Psalm 87, 1865,” translated by Rev. Joel Basely
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