At the time of his passing, Paul T. McCain was in the middle of a series of programs on The Lutheran Confessions on the radio program Issues, Etc.
Here is a link to the final episode that was recorded of The Lutheran Confessions Series, titled God, Original Sin, and the Son of God in the Augsburg Confession. If the link does not work, here is the full mp3 file (60MB).
As we, his family, seek peace after his passing, one part of Paul’s commentary stands out as a clear message to us, and anyone enduring hardships in our earthly life. Here is the excerpt:
It’s hard to accept and understand that the Lord would allow, at this time, this pandemic, to upend everything in our lives.
Let’s be honest – we have had it so good, for so long. Even now – what we are going through now, the present sufferings that we go through – can’t compare to what we will receive in heaven, what we have received right now by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and what we are still receiving through the means of grace.
God is in control. We tend to think: yeah, you know, when Jesus ascended into heaven, God’s in some far off other galaxy, and hasn’t too much time for us anymore. This is completely untrue!
God has joined himself to us in Jesus Christ. When we have a God separated from Christ, we have no God. The only God we know is the one who is incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth, who is true God and true man.
So yes! He is still in control. And maybe at times like this, [we should look to] those bible verses that we read often without thinking about: All things work together for good, to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28] All things, not just the good things. All things.
Indeed, God instructs us that all things work together for good, within his plan. We have received so much already on this earth, through the gifts God has given to us. We’ve had it good! And we still have so much to receive in the promise of the resurrection.
Those who place their trust in Christ can have confidence in this promise. Even during times of sorrow and hardship, we are comforted by the knowledge that every joy, victory, and trial in our life on this earth is part of His plan, according to His purpose for us.
Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse answers the question well:
“Why is Luther the greatest in what has been a long line of teachers in the church who have proclaimed the Word of God from generation to generation? It is because none of the others understood the Word of God so profoundly. The Word of God is greater than human words, which have limitations. The time will come when nobody remembers Homer, or Shakespeare or Goethe, but the Word of God will endure forever. Human words can certainly accomplish much – the command of a powerful ruler or of a general can decide the fate of nations, but sooner or later their power ceases to be. No mere human word is almighty. But God’s Word is always living and active because it is the Word of the eternal, almighty God, the Word through which all things were created. It is the Word of the Judge of all who live. It is the Word of forgiveness, the Word of redemption, the Word which no human word can contradict. It is the Word which, as John says, has become flesh in Jesus Christ. He is himself the eternal Word of God; ‘his name’, it is written in Revelation (19:13), ‘is called the Word of God’. To proclaim the Word of God is to proclaim Jesus Christ. ‘To him all of the prophets bear witness’, according to the apostle Peter (Acts 10:43). ‘We preach Christ crucified’ says Paul in regard to the preaching of the apostles (1 Cor 1:23). He, Jesus Christ, is the content of the church’s preaching – that he is the Redeemer and the Lord is the proclamation of the teachers of the church from its very beginning. That is the message which has been handed down from one generation to another. The proclaimers come and go, but the proclamation itself remains the same: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. That and nothing else is the content of the Christian proclamation. Luther again and again reminded the church of this – a church which had forgotten it, and indeed which had almost buried the one Word of God under so many human words of religion and philosophy.
Luther is one of the great Christologists, the great witnesses to Christ in the church. Like the great theologians of the early church – an Irenaeus or an Athanasius – he stood in reverence before the great mystery of God’s revelation: ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); ‘great is the mystery of godliness, that God was manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16). All of his life Luther stood prayerfully and reverently before the incomprehensible mystery of the person of Jesus Christ, ‘where God and man meet and all fullness appears’. What the Greek fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries acquired by deep study of Holy Scripture with reverent and prayerful meditation, what the ancient church confessed in her ecumenical councils and stated contrary to the reasoning of philosophy – that Jesus Christ is true God, God from God, Light from Light, very God of very God, of one being with the Father, and at the same time true man – Luther thought through these powerful truths and took them even further in his theology in connection with the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. However, he tried to speak of these things so clearly and simply that even the simplest Christian – yes, even a child – could grasp them. ‘He whom the world could not contain, lies on Mary’s lap. He who upholds all things becomes a little child’. That is the teaching of Nicea. Or we think of how Luther expressed the doctrine of Chalcedon, the teaching of the two natures of Christ, in his catechism – ‘I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord…’ This explanation of the second article of the creed has been called by some the most beautiful sentence in the German language – it is the most beautiful sentence in the German language, but not only because of its structure, which reveals a master of language, but also because of its content. Here we find the eternal Word of God, the eternal Gospel: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.
To this day, the painting that stands over the altar at the St. Peter and Paul Church in Weimar, Germany, glows with a radiance that takes the viewer’s breath away. It is the most remarkable example of the uniquely Lutheran use of altar paintings to confess the Gospel rediscovery in the Sixteenth Century Reformation. Below the painting you will find an explanation, a guided-tour of the painting.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is certainly true of the centre panel of the altar painting in the church of Sts Peters and Paul, Weimar, Germany. It was begun by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) and was completed by his son, also of the same name, in 1555. (To distinguish them, they are called Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger.)
The heart of the 16th century Reformation and indeed of the Christian faith, is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ. This is how Luther expresses it in part 2 of the Smalcald Articles.
“The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:25). He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all” (Isa.53:6). Moreover, “all have sinned,” and “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood” (Rom. 3:23-25).
Inasmuch as this must be believed and cannot be obtained or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that such faith alone justifies us, as St Paul says in Romans 3, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28), and again, “that he [God] himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
If the doctrine of justification is to be properly taught, law and gospel must be properly distinguished. The Formula of Concord of 1577 says (Article 5),
“We must … observe this distinction with particular diligence lest we confuse the two doctrines and change the Gospel into law. This would darken the merit of Christ and rob disturbed consciences of the comfort which they would otherwise have in the holy Gospel …”
That Lucas Cranach clearly understood the central teaching of the Lutheran reformation and the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is illustrated by his altar painting at Weimar.
In the centre background, Moses is shown teaching the ten commandments to the Old Testament prophets. They are standing on a circle of barren path, along with a figure representative of all human beings who are under the law’s condemnation. Man is shown here being chased into the fires of hell by death (pictured as a skeleton holding a spear) and the devil (in the form of a monster wielding a club). The prophets taught, as did Moses, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut. 27:26 ESV, compare Jer. 11:13). Yet it’s not only our actual sins that condemn us, but also the prior sin that we inherit from our parents (original sin). To quote the Smalcald Articles once again,
“Here we must confess what St Paul says in Rom. 5:12, namely, that sin had its origin in one man, Adam, through whose disobedience all men were made sinners and became subject to death and the devil. … The fruits of this sin are all the subsequent evil deeds which are forbidden in the Ten Commandments …”
The good news is that God in mercy and compassion saves all who put their trust in His Son. When the people of Israel in the wilderness sinned and were bitten by snakes, God provided a way of escape that prefigured His Son’s death on a cross. All the Israelites had to do to be saved was look at the snake mounted on a pole (Num. 21:4-9). In Cranach’s painting, this is shown in the background on the painting’s left.
Directly in front, Martin Luther is standing with open Bible in hand. His feet and hands are positioned like those of Moses. His message, however, is one of gospel, not law. On his face is a look of steadfastness and serene confidence. He stands on lush grass in which flowers grow, unlike the bare, stony ground on which Moses stands. Of three passages written in German on the open Bible, the third one reads, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so also must the Son of man be lifted up, so that all [who believe] in [him may have eternal life]” (Jn 3:14).
Dominating the painting is Christ on a cross. The amazing message of the Gospel is that by his death, Christ takes away the world’s sin. The message written in Latin on the transparent banner held by the lamb in the centre foreground declares that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). His outstretched arms and generous loincloth are also reminders that He is the world’s Saviour. This was John the Baptist’s message, and John is shown standing underneath the crucified Christ on His left side. With right hand pointing up at Christ on the cross and left hand pointing at the lamb, John is shown proclaiming the meaning of Jesus’ death to Lucas Cranach, the painter. Cranach represents all who believe. A stream of blood from Christ’s pierced side splashes on to this head. It is as the first verse on Luther’s Bible says, “The blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). Therefore like Luther, Cranach also stands confidently.
There is another verse on the open Bible, to which Luther’s finger points directly. It reads, “Therefore let us approach the seat of grace with joyousness, so that we may receive mercy within and find grace in the time when help is needed” (Heb. 4:16). Such approach is possible because Jesus is our victorious high priest. Having paid for sin, He has defeated death and the devil and now lives to intercede for us. Jesus is shown on the painting’s right as the risen One, youthful and full of life, standing on death and the devil, with the staff of his victory flag pushed in the monster’s throat. His gold-edged cloak flows toward the lamb’s banner and the cross. As a result it’s actually both banner and cloak that bear the words, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.
“Believe in God; believe also in me,” the Lord says (Jn 14:1). From this painting His eyes meet ours, inviting us to believe in Him. The other set of eyes that meet ours belong to Cranach, the painter. His feet face in the direction of Christ. But he has turned from his adoration of Christ to look at us also, inviting us to believe and be saved along with him.
Article 4 of the Augsburg Confession expresses the heart of Lutheran teaching this way:
“[W]e receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.”
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). This, in summary, is the message of the Lutheran reformation and of its foremost artists, Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger.
What happened? Just a couple years ago I was holding this guy in my arms, now look what happened: he just graduated from high school last night! This is our son, Paul Jerome, quite happy as he is shaking hands with the principal of his high school here in West County St. Louis. Because of his ACT score of 34 (two points shy of a perfect score), he received a full academic scholarship to Truman State University here in Missouri, where he will be headed off to college this coming August. He maintained a high-A average throughout high school, while maintaining a very full schedule of music, and being drum major for the marching band for two years. Can you tell I’m a proud dad? Yup, I am. And so his mother. I mean, she is a proud mother, not a proud dad. You know what I mean.
Sitting around the cafe the other day, pondering the many ways in which technology has contrived to screw up my otherwise placid existence, the talk of my table mates turned to the craft (or is it the art?) of writing.
“There’s a case to be made that the internet has actually helped improve the quality of writing in general,” said, well, we’ll call him “Topsy.” I leaned in close to see if any alcohol was present on Topsy’s breath. Detecting nothing beyond the usual halitosis, I surmised that he was being serious.
“Make the case,” I said.
Topsy’s line of reasoning, as best I could follow (for nothing is ever simple in Topsy’s world), is that the easy access and limitless nature of the web allow you to expose yourself to tons of writing, both good and bad. Presumably, the average educated swine will gravitate toward the good writing and, as a result, improve his own skills as he increases his knowledge. I expressed skepticism.
“Because our chief job in life is pattern recognition,” Topsy said, pressing his point, “and the chief job of the internet, through googling, is pattern recognition, what we do by living on the internet is discriminate between good and bad writing. Bad writing is, by its genes, something that doesn’t convey information, whether artful or factual.
“The question is, are there enough of ‘us’ out there (I presume he was referring to the aforementioned educated swine), through this passive-aggressive process, to make any difference at all in this overpopulated world?”
I looked longingly at the bottle of Chianti behind the counter, but resisted the urge. It’s hard enough staying with Topsy’s train of thought while nursing a latte. I was left to wonder, though. If he’s right — if only a relative few in our post-literate society can tell good writing from bad, whether it’s online, in print or scratched in the mud with a stick — then what’s the point?
As a mere stripling, I was advised that if I hoped to become a good writer, I should write every day. More than that, I should read good writing every day. This can be accomplished on the internet as easily as it can by reading a book or magazine. But if you’re the sort who prefers People to The New Yorker, well, again, what’s the point?
So my riposte to Topsy was, while the internet may be a nifty vehicle for delivering one’s polished prose and penetrating insights to an impatiently waiting world, it can’t help you become a better writer if you, pardon my French, suck.
Moreover, the internet leads to all sorts of unsavory writing practices, like blogging. You know, the journal of the 21st century.
Keeping a diary or journal (“journaling” they now call it, thanks to the modern world’s habit of turning perfectly good nouns into verbs) was common among the literate before television came along and hooked us up to the communal drool bucket.
A journal exists for its author to reflect on, well, anything. A fading love, political turmoil, a spat with a friend, the weather in Buffalo, New York, on June 10, 1946. The writer is free to express the most intimate thoughts, because the nature of keeping a journal is to keep it private.
Occasionally, if the journal belongs to a writer or an artist or a statesman, the writing is so compelling that it finds its way into print after the author dies. In the best of those, we are invited into the mind behind the creative process and we emerge with a deeper understanding of a masterwork, say, or the thinking behind a crucial political decision.
Most journals go unread, though, and that’s the way it should be. The contents were only intended for the writer’s eyes, after all.
A lot of people will tell you that blogging is merely journaling online. It is not. Blogging is not private, but very public. And very few blogs involve the kind of introspection that characterizes a serious journal. Most blogging is sheer exhibitionism, either the self-absorbed ramblings of an individual blogger or the corporate site that exists for the sole purpose of making money. (If anyone sees a disturbing parallel between blogging and column writing, kindly keep it to yourself.)
This doesn’t mean blogs have to be badly written. It just means that most are.
But let’s be fair and balanced, like Fox News. Of the 27 million or so “daily diaries” floating like space junk in the blogosphere, there are a handful that aren’t bad. Some are well written and insightful. But understand that we’re talking about a precious few needles in a mighty big haystack.
Were Truman Capote alive today he might be moved to say, “That’s not writing. That’s blogging.”
– – –
Tony Long, copy chief at Wired News, cries plaintively, “Can’t anybody out there diagram a sentence anymore?”
Well, they are at it again…insulting every Christian church in the nation in their desperate attempt at saving themselves from oblivion. I’m talking about the United Church of Christ and their ridiculously offensive television advertisements. In this one there is portrayed a mother with a crying child, a gay couple, a Hispanic man, a handicapped person and a poor person being “ejected” out of their church pew. Think I’m making this up? Nope. Oh, yes, do keep in mind this is yet another church that the ELCA is in full communion with.
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, in which I serve as a pastor, has prepared a new Lutheran hymnal. I have been aware of, and involved in certain ways, in this project for many years. It began when in the mid-1990s, Rev. A.L. Barry, of blessed memory, was serving as president of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Rev. Dr. Paul Grime, Executive Director of the Synod’s Commission on Worship, some time soon after he came to serve in this position, began talking about the need for a new hymnal to replace “Lutheran Worship.” Dr. Barry, at a meeting of the Commission on Worship, indicated that 2007 would seem like a good year for a new hymnal to be made available to the Missouri Synod and so the ball was set in motion. Dr. Grime, with the able assistance of his co-worker in The LCMS Commission on Worship, Rev. Jon Vieker, started into the project, a preliminary step along the way being the production of “Hymnal Supplement ‘98.” Well, we are at the point now where the new hymnal will soon be, God willing, a reality. And it is fantastic. It has been prepared by the LCMS Commission on Worship and has been worked on for many years by committees consisting of literally hundreds of people who have, for the past number of years, devoted themselves to producing for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and the wider English-speaking Lutheran community, a hymnal that provides the best of both old and new.
A new web site has been established that will provide a “one stop shop” for news and information about Lutheran Service Book and its various companion pieces, as this information becomes available.
I’ve seen recently first pages of the new hymnal and it is simply gorgeous. It is going to be a tremendous resource, in both style and substance.
Coming home from work today, I found the latest issue of NEWSWEEK waiting for me [April 3, 2006]. A story in the magazine discusses the new style of horror movies that are all the rage at the box office, and most often among the under 25 set. They are incredibly and sadistically gory and gruesome, described by one New York Times critic as “torture porn.” One young man is quoted as complaining after viewing one of them that it was not bloody enough for him. The article reminded me, in a striking way, of Tertullian’s writing De Spectaculis, “On the Spectacles” — a work in which this Early Church Father wrote against Christians viewing the spectacles of the gladiatorial sports that were so common-place in his days, and the theater of his time that featured absolute filth and raunch, live on the stage. Consider how he answers a protest he commonly heard to the concerns expressed about Christians filling their eyes with the “torture porn” of their days:
“Everyone is quick to argue that since all things were created by God and given to man to use, they must be good, since they are all from a good source. We see many good things in the public shows: the horse, the lion, bodily strength, and musical voice. So, since these things all exist by God’s creative will, they can’t be foreign or hostile to Him. And if they are not opposed to Him, they can’t be considered harmful to those who worship Him, since these things are not foreign to them.” [Tertullian, De Spectaculis, Ch. 2]
Some things never change, do they?
Tertullian concludes his magnificent work on this issue, one we do well to ponder today, by offering an alternative to the public shows and spectacles:
“What are the things which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and which have not so much as dimly dawned upon the human heart? Whatever they are, they are nobler, I believe, than circus, and both theatres, and every race-course.”
Good news! The Afghan convert is set to be released. Some quotes from news reports follow. Whenever we are tempted to believe our problems are too great to handle, consider this man’s plight and his bold and courageous faith in Christ.
Rahman is being held in a cell by himself next to the office of a senior prison guard, the warden said. He showed the AP the outside of Rahman’s cell door, but refused to allow reporters to speak to him or see him.
He said Rahman had been asking guards for a Bible but that they did not have any to give him.
He said he was fully aware of his choice and was ready to die for it, according to an interview published Sunday in an Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
“I am serene. I have full awareness of what I have chosen. If I must die, I will die,” Abdul Rahman told the Rome daily, responding to questions sent to him via a human rights worker who visited him in prison.
“Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us,” he added in a clear reference to Jesus.
Rahman also told the Italian newspaper that his family – including his ex-wife and teenage daughters — reported him to the authorities three weeks ago.
He said he made his choice to become a Christian “in small steps,” after he left Afghanistan 16 years ago. He moved to Pakistan, then Germany. He tried to get a visa in Belgium.
“In Peshawar I worked for a humanitarian organization. They were Catholics,” Rahman said. “I started talking to them about religion, I read the Bible, it opened my heart and my mind.” Afghan convert set to be freed
An Afghan man charged with converting to Christianity is set to be released from jail while his case is reviewed.
Abdul Rahman’s case has been handed back to the attorney-general because of gaps in the evidence, an official said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that while the attorney-general looked at the papers, Mr Rahman did not need to be detained.
Mr Rahman, a Christian for 16 years, was charged with rejecting Islam and potentially faced the death penalty.
Afghanistan’s legal system is built on Islamic Sharia law, and Mr Rahman could have faced execution if he had refused to renounce Christianity.
The Afghan government has come under increasing pressure over the case, says the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul.
Key international backers of President Hamid Karzai have called for Mr Rahman’s release, while Muslim conservatives in Afghanistan are in favour of his detention.
Mr Karzai has personally intervened in the case and several top level meetings have been held over the past two days to resolve the issue. Details of his imminent release are being kept secret, as feelings in Kabul have run high over the case. ’Mental issues’
Earlier, Mr Rahman’s family asked the court to dismiss the case against him, saying he suffered from mental illness.
Supreme Court Judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada told the BBC there was considerable doubt that Mr Rahman was fit to stand trial.
According to Judge Mawlavizada, Mr Rahman appeared “disturbed”. He said the accused man’s relatives had told the authorities he was insane and that they claimed Mr Rahman had said he heard strange voices in his head.
The judge also said it was not clear if the accused was really an Afghan or a citizen of another country. Mr Rahman has lived outside Afghanistan for 16 years and is believed to have converted to Christianity during a stay in Germany.