Reading Life Backward: Why Hebrew is the Language of the Christian

pastorkurthagen:

Attention-grabbing headline — it’s still a good read even if you don’t know Hebrew.

Originally posted on :

Image Not German, not Latin, not even Greek, but Hebrew alone is the language of the Church that preaches Christ crucified. In this language the last is first and the first is last. Everything is read from right to left, from end to beginning, from what will be to what is. In the Church, what you see is never what you get. It is the opposite. Appearances are deceptive.

Israel is my servant; Jacob is my chosen; Abraham is my friend; the Church is my bride. So says God. But this flies in the face of what I see. For I see Israel black-eyed and bloody-lipped, wrapped in Babylonian chains. I see Jacob fleeing a would-be murderous brother, exiled far from the land of promise. I see old man Abraham loading the wood onto Isaac’s back, lifting the blade of sacrifice over the promised seed. I see the Church plagued with…

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“To me” — “for me”

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ImageI was correcting some catechism quizzes the other day when it struck me how personal Martin Luther made his explanation of the 3rd Article. Over and over, he makes salvation a personal matter — as it should be. One’s own faith and confession are paramount, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” but “he who does not believe will be condemned.” It’s always the Holy Spirit’s action in an individual sinner’s heart that makes the difference, as He uses His Word to convict sin and kill the sinner, so that Christ can raise that person to new life through regeneration and faith in Him. Just run your eye over Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Article, quoted below, and notice how often Luther puts things on an individual footing. You’ll be surprised — and hopefully, grateful, because God took that much trouble, and still does “richly and daily”, for a sinner such as you or me. (Thanks be to God.)

I believe that  I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ,  my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me  by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and  kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens,  and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps  it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian  Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all  believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the  dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting  life. This is most certainly true.

2013 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Onward, Christian soldiers!

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I realized something today that I had never thought of before. Today, Nov 11, is Veteran’s Day in the United States, where we remember all those who have served in our armed forces. Today the Christian Church commemorates St. Martin of Tours, who started a career as a Roman soldier before deciding that he might serve the Lord better as an evangelist and bishop (today we’d say pastor).

It’s an interesting coincidence that on the day where the nation thanks our soldiers, the Church also thanks her Lord for the service of a former soldier. In his service as a bishop, Martin displayed many of the virtues commonly seen in the military — energy, endurance, courage, a clear-sighted practicality, abundant loyalty and unswerving obedience to his “superiors” in the faith (for want of a better term — perhaps it would be better to say “fathers” in the faith). Several times he chose to follow Hilary, the bishop who was his teacher and pastor, into exile. Martin also displayed the compassion that comes from true strength, and the truest strength is faith in Christ. The story is told that during his days as a soldier, as he rode along, Martin saw a half-naked, shivering beggar by the side of the road. Martin immediately stopped, cut his cloak in two with his sword, and gave half to the freezing unfortunate. How many of us would hack our coats in half to give to a homeless person? Yet that’s exactly the sort of thing that Martin of Tours became known for.

All this reminds us, too, that proclaiming the Gospel is not for wimps. It takes a certain amount of dedication, fortitude, courage — in short, the grit that comes from a living trust in the Savior — to face down the challenges of life and the rage of the old enemy, Satan. It takes discipline to push your flesh down and not give in, and a certain amount of daring to not care what the world will say or what it will do to you for preaching Christ. “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” St. Paul advised Timothy, and that’s good advice for us all. Being a Christian is rarely easy or fun (the devil, the world, and your flesh see to that), but the victory that Christ gives in the end is worth it.

Lord God of hosts, Your servant Martin the soldier embodied the spirit of sacrifice. He became a bishop in Your Church to defend the catholic faith. Give us grace to follow in his  steps so that when our Lord returns we may be [found] clothed with the baptismal garment of righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

– from “A Year with the Church Fathers,” p.354

What Is A Lutheran Church?

pastorkurthagen:

All I can add is…yea and amen. This is most certainly true. Sasse knew his onions, as they say.

Originally posted on The First Premise:

OverwhelmedAmerican Lutheranism became an enigma to its environment.  For with the exception of a few remnants of old Reformed Churches, American Protestantism is not familiar with a doctrinal type of Christianity.  Only by means of this “rigid” (as the world calls it), firm, and clear position was Lutheranism able to maintain itself.  There was no Lutheranism that was receptive to the influences of the world, that was broad-minded, liberal, and modern.  There were indeed Lutherans who became liberal.  But then they ceased to be Lutherans. …

What is Lutheranism without the actual incarnation, without the miracles that belong to the enfleshed God-man, without the real presence of the body and blood of Christ, without the washing of regeneration?  There is no Lutheranism save that which is “orthodox.”  Anything else may be a beautiful, congenial humanitarianism and Christianity, but it is not Lutheranism.  That must be kept in mind, even when…

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Now I know what he means

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And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

– Revelation 10:8-11

I had always, more or less, known intellectually what these verses were portraying: that St. John’s message was one that was sweet to his taste, as God’s Word always is to the devout soul (cf. Ps 19:10), but that that same message would stir up unpleasant emotions or reactions, even for the prophet himself. But I had never experienced it, at least that acutely, until just recently. Knowing that you have to tell someone you love something unpleasant, that they’re not holding up their end of things or not meeting the divine standard, can give a pastor a gut ache, quite bluntly.  You can feel the ache in the pit of your stomach. This is the sort of thing that gives people ulcers. Some may be more prone to stomach ailments due to stress (that’s why St. Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake), but sooner or later every pastor will face that kind of a situation. When I have in the past, I’ve realized that St. John’s words aren’t just a picture. They’re the literal truth. Your gut really does churn, because you’re conflicted: you dearly love the other person (or people) in Christ, and yet you know that you must preach the law to them and not shy away. That’s part of our calling. That’s how it was for Ezekiel, who is the source of this image in Revelation (read Ezekiel chapter 3 to see). That’s how it was for St. John, who had to endure being the last apostle and being exiled for the testimony of Jesus Christ. That’s how it is for every faithful pastor, who finds out that the ache passes and the sweetness of God’s Word becomes even more precious and endearing after the bitterness of the law and the taste of death have passed. His Word is the bread of our souls, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, and it heals the ache it causes — for pastor and for people.

 

Prison ministry, Lutheran style

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I ran across this interesting Luther quote while looking for something else. It shows that Lutherans have always been concerned with those society has cast away (as, indeed, all Christians should be.) Our Lord’s words in Matthew 25 still ring in our ears: “I was in prison and you came to visit Me.”

Perhaps even more revealing for us in modern-day Arminianized America is Luther’s insistence that he doesn’t pay any attention to the personal faith of the prisoner. Today many insist that someone needs to make a decision for Christ before they can be assured of forgiveness, but Luther puts his foot down quite firmly that God’s Word is objectively true. Take the penitent at his or her word, and let God’s Word be taken at face value as well. Sins are forgiven when God says they are! When someone confesses and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness, they are forgiven! Concerning oneself with the personal faith in the heart of the penitent, rather than their outward confession and the power of God’s Word and absolution, is a subtle trap of which all pastors need to beware. Our job as pastors is dispense God’s Word and Sacrament; we leave the judging of hearts to Him who knows what is in them, and to whom all creation will give account.

When a certain Bohemian said that the sacrament ought not to be given to those who have been convicted of a public crime and have been condemned in a public trial because there is danger that they might not believe, Luther responded, “This doesn’t concern the one who administers. His only concern should be that he offer the true Word and the true sacrament. I don’t worry about whether he [the communicant] has true faith. I give the sacrament on account of the confession which I have heard, the condition of his heart be what it may. I wager a thousand souls that the absolution and the sacrament are right. I must believe him when he says he is penitent. If he deceives me, he deceives himself. Nevertheless, the sacrament is true and the absolution is true. It is as if I were to give somebody ten pieces of gold and he took them to be only ten coppers. The gold is right in front of his eyes. If he doesn’t know what he’s taking, the fault is his and the loss is his.”

–from Luther’s Table Talk, No. 325: Administration of the Lord’s Supper to Convicts(Summer or Fall, 1532)

My Review of “Faith and Act” Featured on “The Shepherd’s Study”

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Once again I have the privilege of being the featured review on “The Shepherd’s Study,” our synod’s continuing education blog for pastors. This book was a real pleasure to review. Having a vibrant, authentic Lutheran Church in these gray and latter days is a pressing concern of mine, and this book can help us see more clearly toward that end. If you want to know what “real” Lutheranism looks like, sounds like, prays like — be sure to read the review! And the book will not disappoint, either. (The full review is below — you can see it posted here, along with other reviews and content.)
Title:
Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation
Author:
Walter Zeeden
Reviewer:
Pastor Kurt Hagen

 

Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation, by Ernst Walter Zeeden. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2012. 147 pages.

Prof. Dr. Ernst Walter Zeeden was a German historian of some note whose specialty was the late medieval and Reformation eras.

What does it mean to be truly “Lutheran?” What does “real” Lutheranism look like in practice? How should we expect genuine, faithful Lutheranism to be practiced? Sooner or later, every Lutheran who cares about his or her church – especially about the way that the Lutheran church worships or ought to worship – will ask questions similar to these. It’s inevitable. Lutherans seem to be poised in the no-man’s-land between Roman Catholicism and the Reformed – between the weight of traditional accretions of false doctrine on the one hand, and the slashing scalpel of unsanctified reason that tries to cut down everything to its own size, on the other. We honor and respect the heritage of our forefathers in the faith, but we struggle to focus on the Word, and the Word alone, as our only guide in faith and life. So what are we to do? What will real Lutheranism look like?

This is not a hypothetical question. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, towns and territories in Lutheran lands had their worship and church life ruled and guided by documents called church orders. These church orders laid out, often in exacting detail, just what was and was not permissible in worship and parish life. Since there was no separation of church and state, these church orders were enforced with both civil and ecclesiastical sanctions. (For instance, we cannot fine our members or put them in the stocks for neglecting preaching or the Sacrament, but they could, and probably did!) If we want to know for certain what Lutheranism looked like, sounded like, lived like in that bygone time, the church orders are the place to start. The church orders especially focus on how worship was to be conducted, and thus Zeeden’s book does as well.

In one of the endorsements of Faith and Act, William Weedon, Director of Worship for the LC-MS, enthuses, “[Faith and Act is] the next best thing to having a full set of Sehling gracing your shelf!” Just who Sehling was quickly becomes apparent: he was the first historian to make a thorough, systematic study of the Lutheran church orders, publishing the texts of many of them with commentary added.  Often throughout the text, Zeeden summarizes Sehling or presents a digest of his findings, but Zeeden’s approach – mature, balanced, fair, and crystal-clear – and his conclusions are ultimately his own. For those who have never studied the church orders, or who lack the necessary language skills or interest to tackle such a topic, but yet would like to get a taste of what the church orders contain, Zeeden’s book is made to order. Here lies the answer to the question, “What is Lutheranism?” – or perhaps more accurately, “What was Lutheranism?” Without answering the second question we cannot know the answer to the first.

It was both gratifying and interesting to note while reading Faith and Act just how much the Lutheran Church has managed to retain, or recover, over time. This should not be surprising, because the liturgy, among all the precious treasures of our heritage, continues to be celebrated among us. Many of the extra adornments involved in worship may have lapsed from common or frequent use among us since the days of the church orders. Among them we might mention a number of the ceremonies associated with the Holy Communion like genuflection or elevation of the consecrated elements, or the multiplicity of festivals and saints’ days taken over in large part from the medieval Church. At the same time, the basic shape of the liturgy is still present in many of our churches. The doctrine that the liturgy teaches and reinforces continues to be cherished and taught, which also breeds an appreciation for the liturgy – not only its beauty of expression, but its wonderfully solid, orthodox doctrine. The two—doctrine and practice—go hand in hand, and the history of Lutheranism that Zeeden documents demonstrates this well.

It’s interesting to note that as Calvinism encroached, Lutheranism’s ceremonies became the benchmark by which the truth was confessed. Our doctrine is already firmly founded on God’s Word. Should not the ceremonies of our worship confess that doctrine visibly – especially in an age where people are hyper-sensitive to any disconnect between words and actions? We should at least consider expanding the range of ceremonies we use, for the sake of confessing Christ clearly.

At the same time, the life of the ordinary people, and the clergy who served them, continued after the Reformation as before – only with Lutheran preachers and pastors complaining about the laxity and worldliness of their people. It provided some backhanded encouragement to see that our Lutheran forebears struggled under many of the same conditions imposed by the world and the flesh that we do today. People skipped church, misused church property, battled with their clergy over issues monumental and trivial, and tried to chisel their shepherds of the material support due them, back then just as often as now. Superstition and people’s own ideas substituted for the Word of God more often than they would have liked to acknowledge. We see these same problems in our own day. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

One of the benefits of reading this book is the historical background it provides. As an example: for those who have wondered about the vehement, acid broadside Luther launches in Article XV of the Smalcald Articles, where he rips into the papists for baptizing bells, among other things, and charging good money for it, Zeeden provides some background. It turns out that the church bells were often tolled during storms as a reminder for the people to pray for God’s mercy and protection, and over time the tolling and the bell itself occupied significance in the minds of the people (71-72). Superstition gradually replaced the worthwhile reason that the bells were rung in the first place, and it is against that superstition that Luther responds.

Zeeden’s analysis of the church orders provides welcome context that frees us from ignorance and from Lutheran myths. The abuses that the Reformation sought to correct were not remedied overnight. Some took a long time to root out. Others are endemic to human nature and still encountered today. Lutherans might be prone to speaking or thinking as if Luther found everything wrong in the church in his day, and after he took his stand and inspired others to follow, everything fell back naturally into place and remained there, pristine and unruffled, to this day. Reading works like Zeeden’s can guard us against both traps: thinking that the medieval church was all wrong, and thinking that just because Luther stampeded across the stage of history, everything was hunky-dory in his considerable wake. Both mindsets are half-truths at best. Zeeden helps us see our own heritage more clearly. For that he deserves our thanks.

Too precious

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

– Ps 139:14-16

It’s a good thing Jesus loves the little children, because we don’t.

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The other evening, in the few quiet minutes before bedtime, I had my older daughter sitting on my lap as I read to her. She brought me a Bible storybook, so that’s what we read. I pointed to a picture of Jesus and the little children, and I told her, “Jesus loves the little children.” Then a pang struck through me as I realized, He does, because we grownups don’t.

The world views children as an imposition, while still paying lip service to their value and preciousness. Children get in the way of spending our free time and our money on ourselves and our pleasures, the world has pretty much decided, which as much as anything is behind the decline of children being born today. If these little people will suck up all my discretionary income and my ME time, why bother with them? My life is complete as it is, a lot of people reason. For those children unfortunate enough to actually be born to parents with that mindset, the message comes through loud and clear –whether the parents realize it or not.

Of course some of us do love children. We love our own, and some of us even love children as a group — the idea of children and childhood in the abstract, as it shows up in the little people that wander across our path every day. But even that love — even for your own children — has limits. Even the most loving and patient Christian parent will still have days where they want to scream or tear their hair out. Little kids can push our buttons and aggravate us in world-class fashion at times. They drive us right to the edge of our patience, park the car, turn off the engine, then sit back in their car seats and let us take a good long look into the abyss. Sometimes they push us right over the edge — or we hurl ourselves over, into the depths of rage.

Often if we do not view them kindly or with our rose-colored Hallmark-issue glasses on, it’s because children (our children) show us the truth about ourselves. They show us how little love or maturity actually reside behind the façade of the caring, compassionate, reasonable adult we prefer to present to the world. And we can despise them for forcing us to see that in ourselves. This is the dark side of parenting that seldom, if ever, gets talked about. Martin Luther quite correctly named family life and raising children as one of the best and most God-pleasing ways to mortify the flesh, to crucify the old Adam inside us, for precisely that reason. Little children take and take and take, and sometimes we don’t want to give.

That’s why the Son of God became a little baby, for you and for me. To atone for our lack of love for those who need it the most. So that our lovelessness would not cut us off forever from the everlasting love of God in His presence, He who is Love became a little child, as was prophesied. The Virgin’s baby Boy became the Son of Man who shouldered the world’s lovelessness and dissolved it in His holy, precious blood on the cross. Because of Him we are the children of God. We don’t always love our children like we should, so Jesus did in our place. And that enables us to love them better every day, to repent of our selfishness and place our whole selves at the beck and call of those little souls so dear to Him. It’s a good thing Jesus loves the little children, because we don’t always. But He does, to eternity, and He loves us too. (Amen.)

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