Devotional Thought of the Day
15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17 (NLT2)
6. We also believe, teach, and confess that, although the genuinely believing and truly regenerated persons retain much weakness and many shortcomings down to their graves, they still have no reason to doubt either the righteousness which is reckoned to them through faith or the salvation of their souls, but they must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, on the basis of the promises and the Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.
Men expect redemption from themselves, and they seem quite prepared to provide it. Thus there is linked to the primacy of the future the primacy of practice, the primacy of human activity above all other activities. Theology, too, shows itself more and more open to this concept—orthopraxis replaces orthodoxy. “Eschatopraxis” seems more important than eschatology. If in earlier days it was left to popular enlightenment to tell the lower class that artificial fertilizer was more effective than prayer, now, after a suitable interval, we can read similar commentaries in the kind of “religious” literature that strives to reflect the contemporary Zeitgeist; we can even find voiced there the argument that under certain circumstances prayer itself will have to be “refunctioned”: it can hardly be considered any longer an appeal for divine assistance; on the contrary, it must be regarded as a period of quiet composure in preparation for the practice of human self-help.
Benedict XVI’s words about orthopraxy replacing orthodoxy (right practice replacing right praise) seem eerily prophetic. Written in 1971, these words I believe talk of the church today. For the focus on doing things correctly, doing things in a way that seems holy to man dominate both traditional and contemporary Christianity, It can be seen in both conservative and liberal voices.
As he notes, even prayer becomes the preparation for doing things correctly,
As I look at this, I think I see a tie into the quote from the Lutheran Confessions in green. I think that we struggle with the fact that while we believe, the weakness and shortcoming we have (which is simply a fancy way of saying we still sin). We don’t know how to deal with our own frailty, our own brokenness. We are impatient with the healing we are experiencing in Christ, and so we seek to fast track our own sanctification.
If only we can do everything right, if only our performance reveals how much faith we have, then maybe others will see us as holy, and then, based on our testimony, we can believe we are holy. So we look for the masters, the life coaches, the pastors who will show us the way to worship, how to live, how to raise our kids, and be a bastion or moral and religious perfection.
And instead of being an imitator of Christ, we try to become a clone of those who we follow. Driven by the fear of being revealed to be something less than faithful, we take on the mannerisms, while leaving a soul behind that is empty, broken, and struggling with the sin that so easily ensnares us.
Prior to the passage from Romans above, we see Paul going from the joys of rising with Christ in baptism, to the absolute low of discovering he still can’t get things right. Orthopraxis is impossible, He can’t do what is right, he can’t help but do what is wrong. In this moment of shame and self-pity, he finds in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That despite his struggle with sin, God sees Paul as righteous, holy, a son of God.
This discovery changes things, it changes our fear of our sin being discovered into a cry for help, Daddy! Daddy! HELP! We realize that our hope is not found in our attempts to be holy, but in hearing His voice tell us we are His children. In hearing His promise to complete everything in the day of Jesus. We find our transformation not by our work in ministry, not in our perfection of word and sacrament, but from being there, broken, and finding healing.
Nothing I can do will bring you the level of holiness you will be satisfied with, in this age. For satisfaction means you want to judge if you have made it, or rely on the judgment of others. That desire for satisfaction will drain you, ripping out from you the core of your heart and soul.
But allowing God to minister to us, allowing His grace, His mercy and love to pour into us, living life being drawn to Him, sometimes in tears, this is our hope. Not starting with prayer, but a life lived in Him, allowing Him to recreate us.
This is our hope of wholeness, of holiness. Letting God be God, as we realize we are His.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 474). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 242–243). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought for our Day:
2 I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. 3 You have patience and have suffered troubles for my name and have not given up.
4 “But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. 5 So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place. Rev. 2:2-6 NCV
Here we must also mention those hypocrites who put their trust in their own righteousness before God, as the Pharisees in Luke 18:10 ff. Upon such people falls the guilt of many sins, because they do not recognize their own weakness, they do not recognize that in the eyes of God they are worthy of punishment because they have a false confidence and do not call upon God through Christ the Mediator. Indeed, they put their own works forward in the place of the Mediator’s. I have described their attributes above under the fifth degree.
A third point should be added here: when absolution has been given, one should accept the new melody of life and let oneself really be re-tuned to the new rhythm of God. The first indication of this new melody in our lives is prayer, for the new life is above all also a turning to God.
It seems like a new idol is gaining strength in the church. That pastors, ministers, and others who serve are being trained to serve this idol. That people are being led to put their faith in this idol, that if it is served, that if sacrifices are made to appease it, then everything will be okay.
It really isn’t a new idol, it simply put on new clothes and addresses a certain fear we have, that somehow, God is displeased with us, that this is the reason that churches in 1st world countries are shrinking and closing.
The church in Ephesus also had to deal with this, look at what the Apostle John wrote it above.
They didn’t tolerate false teaching, they tested everyone and discovered who was teaching falsely.
They had patience and suffered troubles (even ones they didn’t create for themselves!)
They had doctrine and practice of that doctrine down pat, so much so that Jesus even praised them for it! Yet they were as empty as the Pharisees railed against. When we enter a point where our focus is primarily correct doctrine and practice, we leave behind the Lord we love, (ironically the one correct doctrine should lead us to adore, which is what is the definition of true orthodoxy!)
Please hear me, teaching correctly about God’s grace is important, critical even. Worshipping Him in a way consistent with what the scriptures reveal is also very important. Do things our own way, in what makes sense to us in that moment is dangerous. But making doctrine and practice THE focus of our ministry, or how we judge other’s ministry is still idolatry.
St John encourages us to return to our first love, the love we had for the Lord who delivered us, who brought us into fellowship by the power of the Holy Spirit. To change our hearts ( not our minds (doctrine and practice dwell there too!) and return to what we did at first, being in awe, trying to learn how to love God. It is from such a life of prayer that doctrine and practice really come alive anyway. The words mean more, they aren’t just rote, the actions we take we find are nourished and strengthed by the Lord we dedicate them to Him!
I love how Pope Benedict XVI phrased this, in regards to absolution. THe idea of God re-tuning us, transforming us to live in this new melody of life, these new movements, My guitar cannot tune itself, neither can I tune myself. Yet as God does this, as I get out of the way, I find myself desiring to spend more time with Him. I find the music that is life sweeter and more comforting, more serene.
FOr it is God turning us to Himself, revealing His presence, His embracing us, even as the prodigal was embraced by the Father who loved him.
For He loves us…and therefore, we can love Him, our first love…
Lord Jesus, help us to know the presence of the Holy Spirit, Tune our hearts and souls so resonate deeply with your voice, that we may love you more, and so that this new melody would be heard by many. AMEN!
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print. quote from Melancthon
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
4 Teach me your ways, O LORD; make them known to me. 5 Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me. I always trust in you. 6 Remember, O LORD, your kindness and constant love which you have shown from long ago. 7 Forgive the sins and errors of my youth. In your constant love and goodness, remember me, LORD! Psalm 25:4-7 (TEV)
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. 6 Remember the LORD in everything you do, and he will show you the right way. 7 Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the LORD and refuse to do wrong. 8 If you do, it will be like good medicine, healing your wounds and easing your pains. Proverbs 3:5-8 (TEV)
Deliver me from self-trustfulness, In the frequent days in which I must do battle with my self as foe, arm me with a constant trust in Thee. (1)
Heresy is not so much a new doctrine, but an Orthodox doctrine that is overemphasized. (2)
A sincere resolution: to have faith in God always; to hope in God always; to love God always… he never abandons us, even if we are rotting away as Lazarus was.
When I read the quote in blue above, from the biography of a man who personally impacted how I preach, it stunned me for its simplicity, and its truth.
I could give example after example of when man’s reason and pride joined together to subtly and slowly twist doctrine, or the reaction to that heresy which caused a quicker reaction that threw them off the cliff in the other direction.
One example is in the discussion of how faith and works are related. If one overemphasizes the doctrine of justification, he may end up teaching that works and piety are not needed in the Christian life. A reaction to that would be an overemphasis on the doctrine of sanctification, where certain works/gifts/charisms once seen as a reaction to grace now become legislated and those who don’t practice or show those works are taught to question their salvation. The two sides meet, they harden their position, defending what they see as a true doctrinal position, to the extent that only that doctrine matters.
When I read the quote on the plane, 30 such issues came to mind. (examples include the Sacraments, the Commandments – especially the Sabbath, Religion versus Relationship, the Work of the Holy Spirit, Worship Wars, Evangelism/Mission versus Orthodoxy) Several that friends of mine are dealing with, or have dealt with in recent years. I tucked it away in the back of my mind. This morning my regular devotions (from which the other four quotes come) brought up the problem again, and the answer to it.
Hence the blog this morning.
The issue is one of sin, specifically the sin of pride and the exaltation of man’s ability to reason.
We know the danger of man’s reason apart from God, but do we realize that we still fall prey to the pride which exalts our reason, our understanding? That makes us believe that we know all we need, even more than those around us? Do we realize we are still but the children of God, that we don’t know it all, and even more importantly, we can’t apply all that we do know?
It is, as the quote in green above states, the battle of self idolatry. Proverbs reiterates the same thing, our need not to be able to understand, but to trust God, to lean on Him, to continually refer back, not just to man’s wisdom, but to scripture, to prayer. Psalms reiterates this theme of trust, of walking with God.
The challenge is that doctrines are beautiful, there is something overwhelming about those “aha” moments when something life-changing is realized. But that one doctrine cannot become the defining doctrine of our life. Even the study of all doctrine cannot be, for doctrine itself doesn’t save us, Christ does. Doctrine may instruct us in how our souls are healed in how reconciliation occurs, of how the means of grace deliver that precious grace. The wisdom of God being revealed is a wonderful thing.
But it isn’t our God.
Imagine studying about marriage, You’ve read every sociological book, every psychological book, every book describing the intimacy that a husband and wife share, physical, spiritual, emotional. You look at your own marriage certificate, memorizing it so well, that you could reproduce it from memory…even the crinkle in the seal. You invest every moment of your time in such learning about marriage that many consider you an expert.
But you’ve done so, at the expense of time with your spouse…..
How well can you really know what the union of two souls are?
Same thing with God.
The key to avoiding heresy is not managing to juggle and keep in balance all the doctrines that are taught in scripture.
The key is abiding in Christ. Of walking with God, of realizing that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Of knowing the dimensions of His love for you and all His people. To receive His mercy, His forgiveness and the healing of our souls. It is then you can hear His voice, it is then you know His love and mercy and grace. It is then you treasure its words, for what it reveals about God and His people. It is then that doctrines aren’t just a matter of knowledge, a matter of the mind. But then that they are a description of our life as thise who trust God.
It is then, that these words, in bold colors above, resonate with us, because they are our prayers.
God’s peace to you… and know that you are kept, your heart and mind, in that peace. by Christ. AMEN.
(1) From Celtic Daily Prayer, Aidan Readings for 10/25, credited as from Hebridean Altars
(2) Ortiz, Juan Carlos (2011-08-09). From the Jungles to the Cathedrals: The Captivating Story of Juan Carlos Ortiz (Biography: Great Leaders of Our Times) (Kindle Locations 1717-1718). Vida. Kindle Edition.
(3) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 924-925). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Not quite a devotional but….a good thing to discuss!
I mentioned before, in pts 1 & 2 that the Lutherans were once callled “evangelical catholic”, so the title of this book by George Wiegel intrigued me, when I saw a friend reference it. It isn’t about Lutherans, or Lutheranism, but a look back at the last centruy of the Roman Catholic Church, looking at a change in the nature of ministry, a re-focusing. As I have read the first few pages and chapters, I realized that processing it might be better done in writing – as I see somethings incredibly… well “Lutheran”… and part of me wonders about how Luther would fare in today’s RCC. At any rate – since I am processing it, I suppose that some of you might enjoy the thoughts, or even better, engage in discussion. So here goes part 3.
Thus evangelical Catholics who adhere to the Gospel— once again, the truths that God has revealed for our salvation in Holy Scripture and the apostolic tradition— are in fuller communion with evangelical Protestants who affirm classic Christian orthodoxy than they are with prominent Catholic theologians such as Hans Küng, Roger Haight, and Elizabeth Johnson, despite being, canonically, in the same Church with the latter. (1)
The context of this quote, comes from a discussion about the church’s doctrine – and unity within the doctrine. It notes, fairly, that not all that claim the title of Catholic (we could add/substitute Lutheran or for that matter – Christian) do not agree with the teaching and/or practice of the church. There is obviously some flexibility in practice, the Franciscans/Capuchins do hold everything in common with the Dominicans or the numeraries of Opus Dei. But there are those who specifically break with the church. A great example would be Hans Kung, or the politicians who are pro-abortion, or pro-women’ s ordination, and yet claim to be good Catholics. The author notes a desire for people to be honest – if they have another faith, or even another god, just admit it – and follow that god and its teachings to the extreme.
That is another discussion, but it gives context.
What I am surprised at, is the idea that a catholic author would dare write that there are those of us out in the protestant sphere, who affirm classic Christian Orthodoxy, that closer in communion to those “evangelical catholics” – because of our focus on the gospel, and the task we’ve been given to plead with people to be reconciled to God ( II Cor. 5). It is something I’ve been wondering about for about 2 and a hlf years – whether our affiliation to our denominations is based in culture or ethnicity, rather than doctrine. That our battles within denominations are more about our preference of practice, than actually being consistent to the faith delivered to us.
Let me use an example.
A regular attender at one of the churches I pastored was an 88 year old lady – an incredible lady who was an active participant in the life of our parish. She went through the new members class with great joy, as she finally had answers that puzzled her forever. But when it came to the end of the class, she and I had a conversation- because while she wanted to be active in everything (except congregational meetings) and she loved the doctrine that she was taught, loved the service, loved the sacraments and the promises they gave her, she had called herself a Presbyterian all her life. It was hard to give up the word, and the fact that it made up so much of her identity, and she struggled with becoming a member – just because of a strong tie to the word…..
Kung does this – as do other theologians and even writers – look at all the catholic journalists who now are writing that the new pope must change this, or bring the church into the present by removing the restriction on “that”.
And we find ourselves – no matter the title, in fellowship with people who are different in their core beliefs, their core practices, while the people we have far more in common…we are separate from, standing across the road, as it where – able to see and wave and talk… yet…. It’s no wonder that many young people don’t grasp why the denominations are necessary, when they really aren’t united in doctrine.
I think ultimately, there are two options. Will we further dissect the church, creating smaller and smaller denominations and synods – niche marketing the faith as it were…
Or we will simply run to the cross, and pray…. for our unity – in Christ.
(1) Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (p. 38). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.