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It isn’t Faith or Works…. or Faith versus Works…

Devotional THought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

1  Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. 2  I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. 3  Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. 4  And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. 5  The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had: Philippians 2:1-5 (TEV)

1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)

18  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)

 

 

Walther wrote: “Luther, you know, taught that good works do not save a person, but only faith, without good works. From this rejection of good work, papists draw the inference that Luther must have been a wicked man because he taught that to get to heaven, man should only believe and need not do any good works. However, that is by no means Luther’s doctrine. Luther taught the exact contrary. True, he did not say that, to be saved, a person must have faith and, in addition to that, good works, or love; but he did teach that those who would be saved must have a faith that produces love spontaneously and is fruitful in good works.  

The progressive identification of the soul with Jesus Christ, which is the essence of the Christian life, is carried out in a hidden way through the Sacraments.3 It also needs an effort from each one to correspond to grace: to know and love Our Lord, and to have the same dispositions as he had.4 The aim is to reproduce his life in our daily conduct, until we can exclaim with the Apostle: Vivo autem, iam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus,5 it is not I who live, it is Christ who lives in me.

I could have provided so many more quotations from scripture, so many more from Luther, Walther, Pieper or from Benedict XVI and Francis.

Recent Conversations on this topic exploded into my mind as I read the quote in blue this morning from the Introduction to the Forge, by Josemaria Escriva.  The day before I had found the quote in green from CFW Walther’s (first president of my denomination the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).

Yet despite such things there are people that argue that works have no place in the Christian life, since we cannot save ourselves by them,  Theospeak – they do not merit our salvation.  There are others who say unless we break our backs in proving our holiness, that there we cannot be saved.  The first want to reject works because they smack of pietism (that we are Pharisees if we insist on good works) , the latter want to reject faith because they see it being antinomial. ( that being free of God’s law means we can do whatever the h&ll we want!)

In both cases, these arguments nullify the work of God in our lives.  The first denies the work of God through the means of grace in sanctifying us, in His setting us apart to be His special people.  That in setting us apart, He is transforming us, that the Holy Spirit is changing our hearts and minds to reflect the nature of Christ. Such a change should be reflected, not only in our actions, but more importantly in our attitudes towards our neighbor, toward “those people”, toward the ones who are our adversaries, or just antagonize the hell out of us.

But the transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is done, as the quote from the Forge says, in a hidden way. As God comes to us, through the word and sacraments He takes up residence in us, He delivers the blessings promised, (see Ez, 36:25ff)  He strengthens our trust in Him – the trust which causes us to correspond to this work.  We begin to desire His heart, we begin to confess our sins, and receive absolution, we begin to desire the Lord’s Supper-the Eucharist more and more.

it is subtle, yet it requires much of us.  Sometimes we want to rebel, to correspond less, or even not at all.  It is then those very same sacraments, especially Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Confession and Absolution come into play even more.  For as Jeremiah learns during his rants against God, God’s love it to wonderful, God’s mercy is to extravagant, God’s presence cannot be denied. We are transforming.

So stop all the arguments trying to divide faith and works.  It is a division God doesn’t intend.  One isn’t just the result of the other, for that still puts the emphasis on us.  Both are the result of God coming to us, saving us, granting us faith and repentance and replacing hardened hearts and minds with the presence of the Holy Spirit.   A presence that is undeniable and that we desire more and more in our lives.

To Him be glory for ever and ever.

Amen!

(1)  Thesis X, Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, CFW Walther

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 138-143). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Preaching with A Soul on Fire: A Necessity!

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church
27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

14  But even if you should suffer for doing what is right, how happy you are! Do not be afraid of anyone, and do not worry. 15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:14-15 (TEV)

815         You have seen very clearly your vocation to love God, but only with your head. You assure me that you have put your heart into the way you are following. But you say that you are distracted at times, and even attempt to look back. That is a sign that you have not completely put your heart into it. You need to be more sensitive!  (1)

The second requisite for effective preaching is that the preacher not only himself believe the things he preaches to others, but that his heart be full of the truths which he proclaims, so that he enters his pulpit with the ardent desire to pour out his heart to his hearers. He must have an enthusiastic grasp, in the right sense of the word, of his subject. Then his hearers get the impression that the words dropping from his lips are flames from a soul on fire. That does not mean that the Word of God must receive its power and life from the living faith of the preacher; for the Lord says distinctly: “The words that I speak, they are spirit, and they are life.” John 6:63. Moreover, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says: “The Word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb. 4:12. But when a preacher proclaims what he has ever so often experienced in his own heart, he easily finds the right words to speak convincingly to his hearers. Coming from the heart, his words, in turn, go to the hearts of his hearers, according to the good old saying: Pectus disertum facit, that is, it is the heart that makes eloquent. This does not mean the artificial eloquence acquired in a school of elocution, but the sane spiritual art of reaching the hearts of hearers. For when the hearers get the impression that the preacher is in full and dread earnest, they feel themselves drawn with an irresistible force to pay the closest attention to what the preacher is teaching in his sermon. That is the reason why many simple, less gifted, and less learned preachers accomplish more than the most highly gifted and profoundly learned men.  (1)

In our midweek Bible Study, I have been teaching about preaching this summer.  Not because my people are going to preach from the pulpit, but because:

1)  It will help them interact with the sermon/homily more, and therefore benefit from it more

2)  It may help me grow in the area of preaching>

As we are going through a very elemental book on the craft of preaching, I came across the quote above in blue.  I very well may take the italicised part of that and hang it above my desk,   It is to become a goal of mine, knowing the context from where the quote comes.

I want people to know what I know, the presence of God.  Gosh I want them to know it.

Why?

Because it seems to me the only way to survive this life.  To get through things like I’ve gone through in life. the pains, the surgeries, the anxieties, the pain.  To deal with things like the sin which the author of Hebrews says so easily ensnares us.  For it does, and the grief and shame of our own sin can crush us, and resentment towards those who sin against us can tear our souls apart.

To be able to deal with death, something I’ve had to deal with since a child, my own hovering over me, and later, ministering to those who are dieing, and those who were left behind.  Knowing God’s promises are the only way to deal with that pressure.  To deal with demons as well, both those who are figurative, the idols we create that drag our life’s focus from God, and the real one’s who work to destroy our life by attempting to destroy our relationship with God.  We see both of those demons at work today, although we can never quite be sure which is which… both are real.

I love Escriva’s words, and I Pray mine would encourage people to believe with their heart (as Paul talks about in Romans 10), to know God, and relate to Him as their Lord, as their Savior.  Not to just know about Him.

Can a sermon be passionate, charismatic, full of zeal and dripping with flames from a soul on fire?

It can, if the pastor, the priest, the preacher has been broken and by God’s loving kindness is healing.

For as we heal – we begin to see the height, the depth, the breadth and the width of the love of God, revealed to us all in Christ Jesus.

That’s preaching…. that’s proclaiming.

And our people, not from pulpits, but in their homes, and their workplaces, in restaurants, coffee shops, in line at Walmart, will begin to do the same.

For such is our glory, the hope that we have in Christ Jesus….

And may we share it with zealous love.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3361-3364). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Walther, C. F. W., Dau, W. H. T., & Eckhardt, E. (2000). The proper distinction between law and gospel: 39 evening lectures (electronic ed., p. 112). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

A plea for the end of kind of idolatry – “congregational-ism/denominational-ism/nondenominational-ism”

Devotional thought of the Day:

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.. Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

427 What a sorry state someone is in when he has marvellous human virtues but a total lack of supernatural outlook, because he will apply those virtues quite easily to his own selfish ends. Meditate on this.(1)

Yesterday, I found myself wanting to respond to a post of a friend of mine.  I actually had already my counter to her point, with a carefully laid out response and reasoning to why she was wrong and I was right.  Just before I hit the button, I realized that my post was wrong, not because it countered hers, but that it countered what I well know.   She claimed that her church was the best, and I wanted to counter that it was fifth in line, right behind the 4 I’ve pastored.

There is only “one church”. or if you please “One Church”.

It’s the one we confess in the creeds, the one church through which the Holy Spirit calls and gathers people, where the waters of baptism cleanses them from sin, where the Holy Spirit works through word and the sacraments.

One church. Not just Concordia Lutheran, or Shepherd of the Valley, or First Christian, or Saddleback or even the Roman Catholic Church, but one church,  Made up of sin-shattered, broken people who find restoration as they are united to Christ.   We must recognize the brokennes, we need to talk through the issues, we need to mourn the division.  We can’t just hide them, or say to each other, “we just have to agree to disagree”  Otherwise the unity isn’t real…

There is still only one church, united in the death of Christ, brought together by the Holy Spirit in peace that only comes from knowing we exist in the presence of God.  In the loving presence of God.  That is where unity begins, at the cross, in the death of Christ Jesus.

I put the quote from St Josemaria in this post for a reason, the reason that if unity is to occur in the church, it has to be supernatural, it has to be because we trust in Christ to create it, and we realize He has. We just do not see it, perhaps because we focus so much on what divides us, and we get defensive if we think we are going to be proven wrong. Perhaps I should say I get defensive…. or I get offensive when I know I am right – and think that everyone else’s journey must be the same sort of twisted journey that I’ve had.  Again the temptation is to make me the norm, (or for you to make you the norm) rather than making it Christ.

You see, when we forget that there is one church, we begin to make idols of our congregations, of our denominations, or even of our “non-denominatiolism”.  We can acknowledge our errors, and the struggles, and the division, but we cannot triumph over others, or treat them as if somehow God doesn’t love them as much, or that they are inferior.   ( My own denominaiton does this, when they say, “we may not be perfect, but we ar the best thing going”  When we do this, we begin to think territorally, we begin to think what is best for our little part of the church, rather than what is best for all the churches around us. We horde talent, rather than seeking where God would use each of us.   Let me give and example – Our church has a number of skilled keyboardists, and they all love playing with my music director.  We had sent out one of our deacons, who is now a seminary student while serving as a student pastor.  He needed a keyboard player… we had several… so it worked out that one of ours helped out.  But what if churches with great sunday school staffs, or great youth programs or great senior programs actually invested their people in other churches?  What would happen then?

What would happen if we treated the church as a whole, even if just within our own denominations to start?  If we shared and worked together, and struggled with those who aren’t like us?

What if we heard Jesus’ prayer that we may be one, even as the Trinity is one?  What if we heard Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus, and the church in Rome and the church in Corinth?

Can we stop the idolatry? Can we celebrate together in Christ?

Can we pray and strive together… working through that which divides us, realizing that what unites us is more important?

BTW – for people in my own beloved LCMS – this isn’t something new or odd.  read the words below…

Though God desires that all congregations be orthodox, and though all heterodox communions exist only by God’s sufferance and contrary to God’s gracious will, still it is a fact that also in the heterodox communions there are believing children of God. The term “Christians” covers a wider field than the term “orthodox Christians.” Though Christ denies to the Samaritan Church the right of existence as a separate church organization (John 4:22), still He repeatedly acknowledged individual Samaritans as true children of God (Luke 17:16 ff; 10:33). Luther, too, never thought of making the orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, coextensive with the Una Sancta. Vigorously as he fights against the Papacy and expressly declares it an institution of Satan, he nevertheless does not doubt that God has at all times under the Papacy preserved for Himself a Church, yes, the elite of the Christians.31 Again, earnestly as Luther fights against Carlstadt, Zwingli, and their collaborators for their deviation from God’s Word, he nevertheless grants that there were also true children of God who, ignorant of the evil they were thus supporting, made common cause with these pseudo reformers (St. L. IX:44). Likewise our older Lutheran dogmaticians, “zealots for orthodoxy” though they were, nevertheless decidedly rejected identification of the Una Sancta Ecclesia with the orthodox Lutheran Church.32 The Fathers of the Missouri Synod declare it a calumny when the Lutheran Church is accused of identifying the Church of God with the Lutheran Church.33 They taught: If a person sincerely clings to the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, if he believes that God is gracious to him because of Christ’s satisfactio vicaria, he is a member of the Christian Church, no matter in which ecclesiastical camp he may be. By denying this truth one would overthrow the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, the article of justification. Walther: According to Rom. 3:28 and Acts 4:12 “the unconditional and sole requirement for salvation is fellowship with Christ through faith. The maxim, ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation,’ ‘He who has not the Church on earth for his mother has not God in heaven for his Father,’ is true only in this sense, that outside the invisible Church there is no salvation and no state of grace. It has only this meaning that ‘there is no salvation outside Christ’; for whoever is not in inward fellowship with the believers and saints is not in fellowship with Christ either. On the other hand, whoever is in fellowship with Christ is in fellowship also with all those in whom Christ dwells, that is, with the invisible Church. Accordingly, he who restricts salvation to fellowship with any visible Church therewith overthrows the article of the justification of a poor sinner in the sight of God by faith alone in Jesus Christ.” (Walther and the Church, p. 70.) Pieper, F. (1953). Christian Dogmatics (electronic ed., Vol. 3, pp. 423–425). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

 

(1)  Escriva,Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1908-1910). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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