Thursday, June 20, 2019

"In this day and age, orthodoxy is absurd."

Frequently I hear it said, as a refutation of this or that orthodox proposition, “In this day and age,” that proposition is absurd. There are many variant formulations of the idea. Sometimes it is stated as, “This is the 21st century. We are not controlled by the darkness of the past.”

Leaving aside for the moment whatever particular proposition is being refuted, let’s look at a different issue arising from this:  the source of authority, which is Scripture alone.

Is a day a source of authority? Is a time a source of authority? Is an age a source of authority? Does Scripture change with days, times, and ages? Does God change his Word through time?

The fundamental epistemology of "in this day and age" is nothing better than a mere zeitgeist, as if the First Commandment said, "You shall have no other zeitgeist before now."

It might seem convenient to have an evolving Word of God, because it leaves us prerogatives to approach Scripture on a smorgasbord basis, eating only what we like.

But be careful what you ask for. If Scripture is evolving, then the foods you like also are subject to being evolved into oblivion. You like the Gospel? You like forgiveness of sin? How quaint. On your “day and time” epistemology, they will evolve away. Time will march past them. The Gospel and your forgiveness will lie in a dark past.

Under the guise of being so accepting and nice, the final cruelty lurks: the cruelty of no gospel. With no gospel, even the notion of your own self will become a quaint anachronism. Without the Gospel, a stable Word of a stable God, you will not be saved from evolution, to say nothing of not being saved from your sin. With evolution of the Word of God, you already, right now, have neither significance nor value.

You have significance and value because the Word of God says you do. Do yourself a favor. Believe the Word of God.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Only a slight variation from the Word

When Satan seeks to supplant truth with error he is not so foolish as outright to propose that error be accepted. At the fall he was subtle enough not to suggest that. He did not propose outright rebellion against God. He suggested only a slight variation from what God had said, "Is it really true that you cannot eat from every tree?" and later on, "You will not exactly die because God knows that you will become like Him." But once he had wedged in even a little unbelief he drove it farther and farther until it ended in open rebellion against God.

That has been the progress from truth to error until this day. First, error begs for tolerance of only a slight variation from the truth; then, it becomes bolder and demands equality; then it takes the upper hand over truth; and finally, error becomes completely intolerant of truth. The idea that what you believe makes little or no difference is the first step away from the truth. It suggests compromise with error. It is this that has opened the ears of many a Lutheran to the falsehoods of new religions. This is why, for instance, a well-dressed and well-groomed Mormon, when he comes to your door, says he is not trying to win converts at all, but that he is only trying to remove certain misconceptions about the Mor­mons so as to create a better understanding. This is also why the "Two-by-Twos" call themselves non-sectarian and say they have no creed; they are only traveling "evangelists" preaching the Gos­pel. This gives the impression that they are not proposing any change from your old faith at all. If the preacher of a "new religion" can send a Lutheran away from his first few meetings saying, "They aren't trying to get us to change over," or "I can't see any difference between what they preach and what our own pastor preaches," or "I can't see why their religion isn't just as good as ours," then the first and most important step in winning that Lutheran over to their new religion has been made. In the name of tolerance, error has driven in the point of its wedge.
Rev. Dr. Casper B. Nervig, Christian Truth and Religious Delusions (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1941), pp. 4-5.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Gethsemane: Jesus sees sin rightly for us, and it was killing him for our salvation

In Gethsemane, Jesus faced something more than we think. Not only that He was going to suffer the cross (not to make that a small matter, and not to exclude it from Gethsemane), but that He would be made sin for us.

How far did this being made sin go? He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. So He never sinned.

The being made sin was firstly forensic, that our sin was imputed to him so that his righteousness could be imputed to us. That He does for us as Surety, and by it we receive justification.

As Mediator, in sympathy for sinners, He faced in conscience what it would be like to be a sinner. This is based on the forensic aspect of the Cross, and it adds a dimension. This is not a conscience guilty of its own sin, yet it is a conscience that feels the guilt of sin rightly for others. It is pro nobis, for us, not for himself.

This was the horror that suddenly assaulted him in Gethsemane, ekthambeo, “sore amazed.” Jesus "began to be sore amazed." We hardly lament being sinners, but Jesus lamented it rightly for us.

And that, sin, as only a holy person can see it (sinners hardly see sin), would have killed him right there and then, had not the angels strengthened him. That is what is going on when He says, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful unto death.” His language “unto death” signifies a dying right there and then in Gethsemane, from the sudden assaulting horror in conscience over our sin, and the angels did not make it any better. They only strengthened him to survive Gethsemane and die for us where and when He must to save us, on the Cross.

It is Maundy Thursday, and we still don’t see sin rightly, but Jesus saw it rightly for us, and it was killing him, for our salvation.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Men, for Christmas, turn your hearts to the children

One of the impressive memories of youth is the men of the church bagging candy, nuts, and fruit to give to the children following the Children’s Christmas Program.

Ours was a large congregation. My grade had 68 kids. Multiply that by ages from 3 to high school seniors, that is a lot of bags, a lot of candy, a lot of nuts, and a lot of fruit. It took some acreage to lay out the work. It took an organized effort of quite a few men. A project that size hardly could be done in secret or under the radar.

Kids saw the preparations and work of the men. After the program, it was from the hand of the men that the kids received their treats.

In no way is this to diminish the role of women. But the women usually do things for children without having to be specially prodded to do it. Seemingly, these days, men lack the self-starting attribute to do these kindnesses that help Christmas show that our Savior really has come. But that has been true in the past, too. In fact, one of the reasons God sent John the Baptist was to change that.

In the prophesy that John the Baptist would come to prepare the way of our Lord, Malachi says (4:6):
And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
Luke notes this prophesy about John as John came preparing the way for Jesus. He writes (1:16-17):
And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The Lord turns the hearts of the fathers to the children.

Men, we all can be like John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord. Let’s turn our hearts to the children. There are many, simple, low-effort ways to have a major impact. Get a book of Advent and Christmas stories and read one a day to children. That’s it. Just read it. Nothing more to it. But believe that, not because of you or any talent you would have to acquire, but because of the content of the stories, that would leave a mark for the better. Bag candy for children. Give candy to children in the Name of the Lord.

Children already know – no one has to tell them – that the world is agonizing in sin. When you do such a kindness and by it point to Christ, they will know it came from Christ through you. Kids get things that are hard for adults, but easy for them. Do an easy Christmas kindness, and give a kid a chance to get an easy Christmas message, that you, a man, have a heart from Christ for the children, a sign that Jesus loves them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Men, lay down your lives for you wives, and ...

As a kid growing up in a large Lutheran church (68 in my confirmation class), besides other things that were done to help me pay attention, there was the conversational relationship between my Dad and Mom.

On the drive home from church, Dad would often identify the one main point of the sermon, and Mom would elaborate and develop what she had gotten from the sermon about that point.

When we got home, all five kids had duties before lunch (which we called dinner, and it was a multi course hot meal, about to be made from scratch). After changing clothes, everyone pitched in to making the meal, setting the table, and such.

Dad sat at one end. Mom at the other. The kids down the two sides, sandwiched between Mom and Dad. Punctually, everyone sat down. Dad or Mom had kept track of which of us five kids was next in the rotation to say grace.

Then immediately as the serving bowls and platters were being passed, Mom and Dad resumed the dissection of the sermon. Mom got a kick out of how many times Dad would say, “Pastor Nervig gave the same sermon three times again today,” and then he would identify the juncture at which the first repetition began, and the juncture at which the second repetition began.

Mom liked to say, “But Oscar, you know, that’s what they taught us in school, to tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.” Dad would grudgingly allow that, yes, that is what they taught in school, and probably there was good reason for it. But Dad was an excellent listener. He did not need to hear something twice. He got it the first time. Mom too, every bit as much as Dad, but she had more tolerance for repetition.

Often there was a “I’m-not-too-sure” moment, when Dad would say something like, “I am not too sure about the way Pastor Nervig applied the example of Abraham, though.” And then Mom and Dad would delve into that example together. In the end, both of them reaffirmed we were lucky to have a pastor of Nervig's caliber.
The whole event oozed and throbbed that these things were important to Mom and Dad, and that being conversational in marriage about it was important to them. Sooooo, I listened in quite intently.
Many was the time that, with two brothers and a sister beside me in the back bench seat of the 53 Mercury and then the 63 Electra and then the 69 Electra, and a sister between my parents in the front seat, I leaned forward with both forearms flat on the backrest of the front seat, my chin resting on the backs of my hands, to listen in on their conversation. And at the dinner table, I wanted to be able to have something to say to be part of this event between my parents.

I recall part of my youthful fantasies about my own future marriage, of being able to converse with my wife about sermons, Bible passages, the Catechism, and such. It seemed like the next best destination to heaven.

Men, lay down your life for your wife, and converse with her about what is important.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Embarrassment of Western Christians with Leviticus

John W. Kleinig, Leviticus (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003), pp. 25-26.

Christ and his apostles show that the ritual legislation in Leviticus is relevant for us. While the law of Moses does not prescribe what we do in the Divine Service, it helps us to understand how God interacts with us in Christ and in the Divine Service. So each section of this commentary ends with a discussion of the fulfillment of each piece of ritual legislation by Christ. In each case we will examine the function and significance of the divine service, for what God intended to achieve ritually through his law in Leviticus is accomplished fully by Christ and conveyed to the church in the Divine Service.

Leviticus was used widely in the early church and later to preach the Gospel and our participation in God’s holiness by virtue of our union with Christ. In contrast, the modern church generally ignores Leviticus. …
The present neglect of Leviticus, however, should not surprise us. It is an accurate reflection of the status of the book in the contemporary church, and index of the embarrassment of Western Christians with its contents.  It seems that this book is thought to have little to no relevance for modern people. At best, it contains outdated ancient Israelite ritual legislation that has been abolished by Christ. At worst, it is considered quite un-Christian in its promotion of ritual legalism, justification by works, the very antithesis of the Gospel. So churches that prize the Good News of free forgiveness through faith in Christ may mistakenly assume that they should no longer use Leviticus to nurture the saints, even though the entire book is concerned with forgiveness and atonement—more overtly than any other book of the Bible.

Leviticus cannot be sidelined as easily as that, for much of the NT is rightly interpreted only in its light. We depend on Leviticus for the proper understanding of Christ’s death for sinners and the doctrine of his vicarious atonement, which is the heart of the NT Gospels and epistles. Christ is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), “the Lamb who was slain” (Rev 5:12). The letter to the Hebrews, with its profound liturgical theology of Christ as both the great High Priest and the once-for-all sacrifice, would be inscrutable without Leviticus. From a literary point of view, it is the heart of the Pentateuch—the central book of the five that comprise the Torah, which is the foundation of the OT and indeed the entire canon.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I’ve got the love of Jesus down in my heart. It has nothing to do with knowledge.

A young fellow went fishing with his buddies. As they loaded their poles and tackle boxes into the pickup truck, conversation came around to the girl he was dating. His buddies asked him all sorts of questions. “What family does she come from?”  “Who are her parents?”  “What do they do?”  “Does she have brothers or sisters?”  “What church do they attend?”  “What did she study in school?”

His buddies were a little surprised at first. By the time they reached the river, they had passed from surprise to frustration to skepticism. He could answer none of their questions.

“How long have you been dating her,” asked one of his fishing buddies. “Four years,” the young fellow said. “How can you be dating a girl for four years without knowing who she is,” his buddy demanded. “I know what I need to know,” the young fellow said easily. “But if you love her, don’t you want to know more about her?”  “Who said anything about love?  It’s not like we’re going to get married. We’re just having fun for awhile. We go out on a date, then we go our separate ways. She’s a lot of fun. That’s all I need to know.”

That young fellow’s level of interest in his girlfriend seems so wrong that you’d never meet anyone like that in real life. But you already have – the church.

Many in the church are just dating God. Who said anything about loving God?  It’s not like we’re married to Him. We know what we need to know to have a good time. We’re enjoying church, Bible study, praise and worship, and the assurance that we are headed to heaven. We’re having so much fun we don’t want to be bored with unessential details and technicalities.

Who cares about which parts of Christ’s life are his state of humiliation and which are his state of exaltation? That is just academic theological gobbledgook. It has nothing to do with me enjoying salvation. Who cares whether baptism is a sacrament? Whatever it is, I am baptized, so I’ve got it. It has nothing to do with the quality of my faith.

I love Jesus just fine without pursuing any more knowledge of him.