I’ve Been Wondering About Believing In and Worshiping the One True God


The story about the man who may be executed in Afghanistan for his conversion to Christianity got me to thinking. I found myself wondering why it is that if Christians and Muslims actually do believe in and worship the one, true God, a person can be put to death for worshipping Christ, instead of Allah in Muslim nations that follow strict Islamic law? And for that matter, if Muslims do in fact believe in and worship the one, true God, why should we be concerned if people are Muslim instead of Christian? Sometimes we hear people say something like this: “The Muslim God is also the true God (there is only one true God, right?) but worshiped in an inadequate way.”

Finally I had to ask myself, “Was Jesus wrong when He said ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also’ “(John 8:19; ESV)? If it is true that Jews do worship and believe in the one true God, though they deny Christ as Messiah and Lord, then Jesus must have been wrong. If it is true that Muslims and other non-Christians actually do believe in and worship the one true God, even while rejecting Jesus Christ, then Jesus was a liar.

The operative words here are “believe” and “worship” and “one, true God.” Let this much be clear, as one would hope it would be. Muslims absolutely do not believe in, or worship, the one true God. To say this is not in any way to deny the natural knowledge that there is a god. But as Paul makes clear in Romans 1, this natural knowledge is corrupted by sin and men turn to the worship of false gods (Romans 1:21 “Although they knew
God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they
became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were
darkened”). This is precisely what happens when you believe in and worship any god other than the One, True, God. In other words, the corruption of the natural knowledge of God is dramatically evident when people do not worship the Most Blessed and Holy Trinity, but turn to false gods, such as the Muslim “Allah.”

Here are a few Luther quotes on the subject that I find particularly instructive:

“When the Turks go into battle their only war cry is “Allah! Allah!” and they shout it till heaven and earth resound. But in the Arabic language. Allah means God, and is a corruption of the Hebrew Eloha. For they have been taught in the Koran that they shall boast constantly with these words, “There is no God but God.” All that is really a device of the devil. For what does it mean to say, “There is no God but God,” without distinguishing one God from another? The devil, too, is a god, and they honor him with this word; there is no doubt of that. Therefore I believe that the Turks’ Allah does more in war than they themselves. He gives them courage and wiles; he guides sword and fist, horse and man. What do you think, then, of the holy people who can call upon God in battle, and yet destroy Christ and all God’s words and works, as you have heard?” (American Edition 46:183).

“All people who say that they mean the true God who created heaven and earth are lying. They do not accept His work and Word but place their own thoughts above God and His Word. If they truly believed in a God who created heaven and earth, they would also know that as Creator this same God is also above their thoughts and possesses the same authority to make, break and do as He pleases. But since they do not let Him be the Creator above them and their thoughts in so small a matter, it cannot be true that they believe [Glaube] Him to be the Creator of all creation.” (Walch 10.I.1:241)

“It does Jews, Turks, and heretics no good to profess a very great devoutness and to boast against us Christians that they believe in the one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and also call him “Father” with intense earnestness. For all that, their worship consists of nothing except futile and useless words that they use to take the name of God in vain and misuse it, against the Second Commandment. . . Here you see that when they do not know who God is; and when they call Him “Creator” and “God” and “Father,” they don’t know what they are actually saying…Therefore they have no God, but they misuse the name of “God” in sin and shame and invent their own god and creator, who is supposed to be their father and whose children they profess to be.” (St.L 3:1932)

“Jews, Turks, and Tartars all esteem Christ and His mother Mary very highly. But they do not believe [glaube] that He is the Son of God, in whom one must believe and through whom all are saved. . . .  Therefore, the faith of the Jews and the Turks is nothing but sheer blindness, for they exclude the Son and want to retain only the Father. This is the chief article of our Christian faith: that the Son is eternal and true God, and also true man, sent into the world for its salvation. This article annuls the belief [glaube] of the Jews, the Turks, and all others who renounce the Son and thus worship another god and look to another source for help. The Turk is not able to pray the Lord’s Prayer or the articles of the Creed. Faith, to which God alone is entitled, is the chief type of worship. For we are not to believe in angels, prophets, or apostles. No, this divine honor is due the Son alone; for He is true God with the Father. John treats this article very intensively. . . . If I earnestly believe that Christ is true God and that He became our Savior, I will never deny this but will proclaim it publicly against the Turks, the world, the pope, the Jews ,and all the sects. I will confess that it is true. I would rather forfeit my life or jeopardize my property and honor than disavow this. Wherever faith is genuine, it cannot hold its tongue; it would rather suffer death. Such faith will also confess God’s Word before tyrants. To be sure, it will encounter all sorts of trials and temptations from the devil, as the martyrs amply demonstrate.” (AE 22:392-393).

“Turks and Jews boast a lot about God and claim to have a better faith than we Christians. They say they cannot be wrong. They say that they believe [Glaube] in one God, who created heaven and earth and everything else. This kind of faith certainly can not be wrong, they think. Christ, however, here concludes: ‘He who hates Me, hates my Father.” Now, since Turks and Jews hate Christ and persecute His Word, they certainly also hate the God who has created heaven and earth. They do not believe [Glaube] in Him and they do not honor Him. For Christ is the same one God.” (StL 13a, 1285).

Here are some quotes from Luther’s Large Catechism on the subject:

“As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God.” (Large Catechism, Tappert, p. 365).

“You can easily judge how the world practices nothing but false worship and idolatry. There has never been a people so wicked that it did not establish and maintain some sort of worship. Everyone has set up a god of his own, to which he looked for blessings, help, and comfort… Everyone made into a god that to which his heart was inclined. Even in the mind of all the heathen, therefore, to have a god means to trust and believe. The trouble is that their trust is false and wrong, for it is not founded upon the one God, apart from whom there is truly no god in heaven or on earth. Accordingly the heathen actually fashion their fancies and dreams about God into an idol and entrust themselves to an empty nothing. So it is with all idolatry. Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.” (Large Catechism, Tappert, pp. 366-377).

“Whoever knows that in Christ he has a gracious God, truly knows God, calls upon him, and is not, like the heathen, without God. For the devil and the ungodly do not believe this article concerning the forgiveness of sin, and so they are at enmity with God, cannot call upon him, and have no hope of receiving good from him.” (Tappert, p. 44).

“For pagans had something of a knowledge of God from the law of nature, but at the same time they did not truly know him nor did they truly honor him (Rom. 1[:19-32]). (Kolb/Wengert, p. 585.)

Let’s let God’s Holy Word have the final say here:

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” John 8:41

Again, Holy Scripture: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you.” John 17:25

Again, Holy Scripture: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ Rom. 10:14-15.

Again, Holy Scripture: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” I Cor. 2:14

Again, Holy Scripture: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” Galatians 4:8-9

Again, Holy Scripture: “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:11-13

Again, Holy Scripture: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do
not know God. I Thess. 4:3-5 

Again, Holy Scripture: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. I John 2:22-23

Again, Holy Scripture: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does
not know us is that it did not know him.” I John 3:1

Again, Holy Scripture: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” I John 4:1-3

Again, Holy Scripture: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” I John 4:6

Again, Holy Scripture: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true-even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” I John 5:19-21

“Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes,
you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but
he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I
am from him and he sent me.” John 7:28-29

Again, Holy Scripture: “Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you
would know my Father also.” John 8:19 .

Slavish, or Lavish, Liturgical Preaching?

The recent post of a sermon by Pastor Cwirla elicited a criticism from a fine Lutheran pastor. You can read the comment he made by going to Pastor Cwirla’s sermon. The pastor was questioning why we it seems we must always have a “slavish” reference to the liturgy in every sermon it seems from Pastor Cwirla. Well, count me “guilty” of the same “slavishness.” I can’t help but mention the means of grace when I preach, for, as Pastor Cwirla observes in a response, how can we avoid mentioning precisely how this is all “for you”? Update: The pastor who posted the “criticism” of Pastor Cwirla was in fact doing so in jest! The joke’s on me for sure. But…I think it is a good conversation to have for I do know that some among us raise this criticism from time-to-time. The issue is this: is preaching the means of grace a slavish liturgical preaching, or … is it lavish preaching of the giftts of Christ?

Pastor Cwirla dug up a quote from another Lutheran preacher who had these remarks to make when he was preaching on the healing of the Paralytic.

“It is also the evil spirit’s doing that we find ourselves dead in the water spiritually; otherwise our hearts would be joyful and comforted.  For think what it would mean if we rightly and truly believed that what Christ here says to the man sick with palsy, he is saying to you and to me every day in baptism, in absolution, and in public preaching, that I must not mistakenly think that God is angry and ungracious toward me.  Shouldn’t that cause me to stand on my head with joy?  Wouldn’t that make everything sweet as sugar, pure as gold, sheer everlasting life?  The fact that this doesn’t happen for us proves that the “old Adam” and the devil drag us away from faith and the Word.”  (Martin Luther, Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity) quoted from “The House Postils,” Eugene Klug, tr. (Baker, 1996), vol 3, p. 82

Pastor Cwirla then observes:

Luther here makes the same point.  What Christ did for the paralyzed man, He does for us through Baptism and Absolution.  In fact, you might say that every miracle of Christ, including resurrection from the dead, is worked for us through the Word and the Sacraments.

What say you friends??? Is it possible that in an over-reaction to preachers who do in fact follow a slavish formulaic pattern of always finally making the whole point of the sermon the reception of the Lord’s Supper we are in danger of neglecting truly quality means of grace preaching? For fear of being one of those who finds the Lord’s Supper in every reference to bread in the New Testament, are we neglecting proper pointing of our folks precisely to those means by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in those whom He will, with the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, as we confess in our Augustana, Article V? Are we perhaps tempted to “de-flesh” the Word made Flesh and avoid referencing precisely where it is, and how it is, that He comes to us today with grace and mercy, through those very humble, concrete means He has given? Is that “slavish liturgical preaching”? My concern is that when we preach a “means free” sermon we are reducing the Faith to a concept, a pious wish, a fine idea, a noble truth, but not what it is: flesh and blood reality, or rather Flesh and Blood reality.

Clearly what is incorrect liturgical preaching is making the point of every sermon nothing *other* than talking about taking Holy Communion. That lack of balance is wrong. I’ve read too many sermons like that, that seem to fall over themselves, skimping on real Law and neglecting the Gospel, thinking that by speaking only of taking Communion they are somehow covering the Redemption of Christ….yes, yes…that is not good. Nor is there any place for sermons that shy away from preaching sanctifcation. I’ve said plenty there. But….we need also to guard against “means free” preaching.

Your thoughts?

Jesus Stands By Me and Calms the Storm


Today, January 29, 2006, is the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. In the historic Lutheran church year, the Gospel reading for today is from Matthew 8:23-27, Christ stilling the storm. J.S. Bach wrote what perhaps is one of his most operatic cantatas, BWV 81 “Jesus schlaeft, was soll ich hoffen” — “Jesus sleeps, how can I hope?” for this Sunday. It puts the Christian in the boat with Christ, as the storms of life rage. Here then is a meditation on the Gospel reading, inspired by Bach’s Cantata 81.

In this life there are times when all appears lost and no hope seems possible. Death stares us square in the face. We cry out to the Lord, wondering why He seems so far off, so far away. Why does He seem to hide Himself in the midst of our trouble? Why does He sleep when we are threatened so? The storms of life churn around us and crash against us, doubling their rage and anger. Where do we turn when the guilt of our sin fills us with grief, or when loneliness and worry, anguish, fear, frustration, or anger, press down unbearably?

In the midst of life’s storms and tempests, the Christian stands like a boulder, while all around the stormy wind howls and angry waves roar and foam, threatening to weaken our faith. We hear the voice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, “Oh, you of little faith, why are you so fearful?” He speaks to the storms and winds and waves in our lives, “Be still! Be quiet! Return to the boundary set for you, so that my chosen ones will not be lost. Be still! Be quiet!” He speaks His forgiveness, “Be still! Be quiet!” He speaks to your worries, your fears and your anxious thoughts, “Be still! Be quiet! I have overcome all of this, for you. Sin has met its match. Satan is vanquished. Even death can not destroy you. I have come for you. My death, is your life. In my peace, you find your rest. Therefore, be quiet. Be still.”

How blest you are when Christ speaks His word to you. Your helper awakes and with Him all the storms and troubles and angry raging seas of life, all the dark and fearful nights of sorrow and worry and anguish are gone. How? Beneath the shelter of His healing mercy you find your rest and hope and safety in the storms of life. You are freed from all enemies. So, let the Evil Foe rage and storm. Jesus stands with you. Yes, even while thunder and lightening crash and flash all around, Jesus is here with you. Sin and hell do frighten and threaten, but there is One greater than them, Jesus, your priceless treasure. And he says to you, “Peace! Be still!”

Walk in Love, as Christ Loved Us


We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, and raised to new life in Him. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, purchased and won from sin, death and hell by the precious blood of Christ. How then are we to deal with popular culture that surrounds us with vile and degrading speech, sexual impurity and all manner of sinful behaviors, which are rewarded, praised and idolized by so many?

Sadly, there are some who believe that they are free to consume the sinful pollution pumping out of the sewers of popular culture. Some Christians are so confused about what lives of sanctification are all about that they mistakenly think that concern about such things is somehow “pietism” or that striving to lead holy and pure lives marks one as a Pietist. This is wrong. This is error. This is sin.

The Gospel is never an excuse. Justification is about justifying sinners, not sin. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sin, not license to sin. We are set free to live new lives in Christ, not remain in the muck and mire of sin. We are not to think that we can do whatever we want just because we can run to church on Sunday to be forgiven.

We all need to keep a close guard over what comes our out of our mouths, and what we permit to fill our eyes, and our ears. We are to be serious about lives of Christian sanctification. No excuses. No avoiding the subject. We say, “No” to anything that is contrary to God’s will in our lives, and say “Yes” to the upward calling of God that is ours in Christ Jesus. Lord, have mercy on me for those times I’ve forgotten, and neglected, my calling in Christ!

I remain concerned that in our efforts to make sure people realize they are not saved by their works, we have allowed some to believe that their behaviors and works make no difference, that they are perfectly free to wallow in the mire and muck of this world, and that they should not give their attention to striving mightily to resist temptation, to flee all forms of immorality and, by God’s grace, and with His help, to be imitators of God, even as God Word says we should. Read this, from Ephesians 5, carefully:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For
you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or
impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance
in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

   “Awake, O sleeper,
   and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

There is only one way here. It is the way of repentance. For the sins of thought, word and deed we flee for refuge to the infinite mercy of God in Christ Jesus. We pray for strength to resist temptation, to flee immorality, to not even let the works of darkness be named among us.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever
things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are
just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if
there be any praise, think on these things. 
Philppians 3:8

May God grant it, for Jesus sake.

December 28: Holy Innocents

Almost entirely unknown today, in the church, not to mention the world, is this day, set aside in the historic church year to honor the memory of the baby boys slaughtered at the hand of Herod’s troops in the town of Bethlehem. If you recall, when Herod heard from the wise men that one had been born King of the Jews in Bethlehem, he commanded troops to enter the town and kill every male child. The slaughter of children deemed inconvenient or an obstacle to the fulfillment of personal ambitions or plans continues today, of course, in the slaughter that is abortion.

A prayer for this day:

Lord Jesus Christ, in your humility you have stooped to share our human life with the most defenseless of your children: may we who have received these gifts of your passion rejoice in celebrating the witness of the Holy Innocents to the purity of your sacrifice made once for all upon the cross; for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Here are some other thoughts from another source.

Pfatteicher (Festivals and Commemorations) associates
these three “heavenly birthday” celebrations with the birthday of
Christ: “as he was born into this world from that, so they were born into
that world from this” [p. 464].

These three festivals are also sometimes distinguished by:


St. Stephen — a martyr in will and deed


St. John — a martyr in will, but not in deed (the only
    apostle not to have been martyred)


The Holy Innocents — martyrs in deed, but not in will.
    “Although the Holy Children … were not believers and were unaware of
    the reason for their fate, they were killed for the sake of Christ, and in a
    sense in place of him, and the church by the beginning of the third century
    recognized them as martyrs” (Pfatteicher, p. 470).


If these festivals are celebrated, they help us quickly move
from the sentimentality of Christmas and a “cute” baby, to the dire
costs of discipleship.

As a general theme, life after Christmas is not all that
sweet. Following the birth of Jesus there is anger and murder, weeping and
wailing, moving and resettling. After our wonderful Christmas celebrations we
are again confronted with the fact that the kingdom has not fully arrived. The
“peace on earth” sung by the angels (in Luke) is followed by death and
destruction, suffering and evil. Salvation for Joseph and his family meant
hearing and believing the word from God and then doing them.

There is also great irony in this section. Chapter 1
proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God — Emmanuel — God with us, but now we
see “God with us” fleeing for his life. We see the “savior”
needing to be saved from Herod’s anger. Two thoughts from this
“reversal”: (1) It is an indication of the “emptying” of
Jesus who comes as a suffering servant, rather than a powerful god. (2) For
Matthew, Jesus “needed” to do these things to fulfill OT prophecies.
Jesus comes “to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). He comes to do what
God requires of him and not to fulfill his own desires.

Matthew 2 indicates two responses to the revelation about
Jesus — Gentile Magi come to worship the child. The Jewish king, Herod, seeks
to destroy the child. It is important, especially in Matthew, to recognize that
it is not all “the Jews” who reject Jesus. It is likely that in
Matthew’s Christian community, there were many Jewish converts. At Jesus’ birth,
it is King Herod who seeks to destroy Jesus. At his crucifixion, other Jewish
authorities seek to destroy Jesus. In both cases, they are unsuccessful. Jesus
is taken away for a time, then is brought back.

A connection between our text and the passion is made with
the word apollumi, which is used of Herod’s desire to
“destroy/kill” the child in 2:13; and chief priests’ and elders’
desire to “have Jesus killed” in 27:20. Another connection could be
with empaizo. This word is used to refer to what the Magi do to Herod in
2:16 (“tricked” in NRSV); but its four other uses refer to Jesus being
“mocked” by others (20:19; 27:29, 31, 41) at his crucifixion. This
text pre-figures the crucifixion/resurrection event.

Aversion to Sanctification

I was just in a conversation with two younger men who were seriously saying that listening to the audio pornography and vile filfth of Eminem is appropriate for Christians. One suggested that because only what comes out of a man is what makes him sinful that it matters not what he sees, or hears, as a Christian. These two young men are sadly typical of a poorly formed understanding of the life of good works to which we are called as Christians that seems pandemic in the Christian  Church, where apparently some can wax eloquent about how they are striving to be faithful to God’s Word, but then turn right around and wallow in the mire and squalor of sin. This all the more underscores for me the point that we have a serious lack of emphasis on sanctification in our beloved Lutheran church. There is much teaching that is not being done, that must done. Simply repeating formulas and phrases about justification is not teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God. Comforting people with the Gospel when there is no genuine repentance for sin is doing them a disservice. There is a serious “short circuit” here that we need to be mindful of. Let this be clear. Listening to the “music” of swine such as Eminem is
sinful and willfully choosing to listen to it is sin that drives out
the Holy Spirit. This is deadly serious business. Deadly. Serious.

Pastors who wash their hands of this responsibility claiming that they want to avoid interjecting law into their sermons when they have preached the Gospel are simply shirking their duty as preachers and are being unfaithful to God’s Word.

We have done such a fine job explaining that we are not saved by works that we have, I fear, neglected to urge the faithful to lives of good works as faithfully and clearly as we should. This should not be so among us brethren.

I’m growing increasingly concerned that with the necessary distinction between faith and works that we must always maintain, we Lutherans are tempted to speak of good works and the life of sanctification in such a way as to either minimize it, or worse yet, neglect it. I read sermons and hear comments that give me the impression that some Lutherans think that good works are something that “just happen” on some sort of a spiritual auto-pilot. Concern over a person believing their works are meritorious has led to what borders on paranoia to the point that good works are simply not taught or discussed as they should be. It seems some have forgotten that in fact we do confess three uses of the law, not just a first or second use.

The Apostle, St. Paul, never ceases to urge good works on his listeners nad readers. I recall a conversation once with a person who should know better telling me that the exhortations to good works and lengthy discussions of sanctification we find in the New Testament are not a model at all for preaching, since Paul is not “preaching” but rather writing a letter. This is not a good thing.

Two years ago an article appeared that put matters well and sounded a very important word of warning and caution. It is by Professor Kurt E. Marquart of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I strongly encourage you to give it your most serious attention.

Antinomian Aversion to Sanctification?

An emerited brother writes that he is disturbed by a kind of preaching that avoids sanctification and “seemingly questions the Formula of Concord . . . about the Third Use of the Law.” The odd thing is that this attitude, he writes, is found among would-be confessional pastors, even though it is really akin to the antinomianism of “Seminex”! He asks, “How can one read the Scriptures over and over and not see how much and how often our Lord (in the Gospels) and the Apostles (in the Epistles) call for Christian sanctification, crucifying the flesh, putting down the old man and putting on the new man, abounding in the work of the Lord, provoking to love and good works, being fruitful . . . ?”

I really have no idea where the anti-sanctification bias comes from. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk over-reaction to “Evangelicalism”: since they stress practical guidance for daily living, we should not! Should we not rather give even more and better practical guidance, just because we distinguish clearly between Law and Gospel? Especially given our anti-sacramental environment, it is of course highly necessary to stress the holy means of grace in our preaching. But we must beware of creating a kind of clericalist caricature that gives the impression that the whole point of the Christian life is to be constantly taking in preaching, absolution and Holy Communion-while ordinary daily life and callings are just humdrum time-fillers in between! That would be like saying that we live to eat, rather than eating to live. The real point of our constant feeding by faith, on the Bread of Life, is that we might gain an ever-firmer hold of Heaven-and meanwhile become ever more useful on earth! We have, after all, been “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Cars, too, are not made to be fueled and oiled forever at service-stations. Rather, they are serviced in order that they might yield useful mileage in getting us where we need to go. Real good works before God are not showy, sanctimonious pomp and circumstance, or liturgical falderal in church, but, for example, “when a poor servant girl takes care of a little child or faithfully does what she is told” (Large Catechism, Ten Commandments, par. 314, Kolb-Wengert, pg. 428).

The royal priesthood of believers needs to recover their sense of joy and high privilege in their daily service to God (1 Pet. 2:9). The “living sacrifice” of bodies, according to their various callings, is the Christian’s “reasonable service” or God-pleasing worship, to which St. Paul exhorts the Romans “by the mercies of God” (Rom. 12:1), which he had set out so forcefully in the preceding eleven chapters! Or, as St. James puts it: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (1:27). Liberal churches tend to stress the one, and conservatives one the other, but the Lord would have us do both!

Antinomianism appeals particularly to the Lutheran flesh. But it cannot claim the great Reformer as patron. On the contrary, he writes:

“That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee s if t were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstance use these or similar words, “Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!” Instead they say, “Listen! Though you are an adultery, a wordmonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all! . . . They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach… “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extol so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, He has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men . . . Christ did not earn only gratia, grace, for us, but also donum, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain fro sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, “Christ! Christ!” He must be damned with this, his new Christ (On the Council and the Church, Luther’s Works, 41:113-114).

Where are the “practical and clear sermons,” which according to the Apology “hold an audience” (XXIV, 50, p. 267). Apology XV, 42-44 (p. 229) explains:

“The chief worship of God is to preach the Gospel…in our churches all the sermons deal with topics like these: repentance, fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, prayer . . . the cross, respect for the magistrates and all civil orders, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love.”

“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, unto Thy Church Thy Holy Spirit, and the wisdom which cometh down from above, that Thy Word, as becometh it, may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, that I steadfast faith we may serve Thee, and in the confession of Thy Name abide unto the end: through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”

Kurt Marquart

Concordia Theological Quarterly

July/October 2003
Pages 379-381

Bach for Dummies


A friend contacted me in reference to my recent Bach post. Perhaps others might like to chime in and make recommendations.

Paul, I grew up listening to the Beatles and continue to be a huge Paul McCartney fan.  But in reading your posts and others, I’ve decided that in 06 I’d like to add some Bach to my CD library.  The problem is this – where to begin?  I visited my local Borders the other day and they carry quite a selection of Bach’s music.  Too many selections.  I had no idea where to begin.  Is there a “Bach for Dummies” book I can read for ideas.  A “Bach for Beginners” post on your weblog would be helpful for a guy like me.  Any suggestions?  Thanks and God’s best to you and yours. Thanks, George.

Great question George. I’m not aware of a “Bach for Dummies” type of book, but it sounds like a good idea. I’d appreciate it. There is a helpful Classical Music for Dummies that offers a nice overview.

Bach is known today chiefly by his instrumental works.
His choral works are less well known.
And, least known of all are his church cantatas.

As for recordings…there is a debate that rages among Bach lovers. It has to do with whether or not to listen to Bach recording on original instruments in what are known as HIP, historically informed performances, that is, performances that
attempt to come as close as possible to what Bach intended when he originally wrote the pieces. Obviously, that is a subjective effort, since we simply can not say for 100% what Bach intended when he wrote his music, but….honestly….most any and every good recording will provide the newcomer to Bach with beautiful music. The more advanced Bach listener will develop a library of recordings by certain conductors and performers, etc. I appreciate the work of Gardiner and Koopman. I’m collecting each of their complete recordings of Bach’s Cantatas.

Perhaps the best way to begin listening to Bach is…to begin listening to Bach. If you want a single CD that offers you a nice overview of Bach, here is the one I would recommend.

When, or if, you want to listen to entire pieces, perhaps you might want to check with your local library and check things out before you commit to buying them. Where to begin? That’s a  tough one. Here is what I would suggest.

Instrumental Works

Brandenburg Concertos
Orchestral Suites
Cello Suites

Choral Works

Mass in B Minor [often said to be the greatest piece of music ever written]
The St. John Passion
The St. Matthew Passion


You can find various collections of Cantatas. There are several complete collections. The newest collection is still in production, by Gardiner.

I would suggest you check this web site. It is part of the Bach Cantata group. Here you will find a lot of secularists who listen to the Cantatas mostly for the music, when of course, the words, which Bach obtained from various sources, are crucial as well. You can pay as much, or as little, attention to their debates and squabbles over how precisely to sing the Cantatas. Huge arguments will break out over whether or not one voice, or several, should be used for the various parts of the Cantatas. [I tend to believe single voices was the way Bach had it in his day, using only a group of voices for the chorale parts].

Then, pick out the Cantatas you are interested in hearing…for instance, BWV 80 for Reformation Day, and then find a collection of Cantatas with it on it.

I do prefer original instrument recordings that are historically informed. I do not prefer a “big orchestra” sound to Bach’s works, for he never wrote for large orchestras, which came after his time. Look for recordings that are all digital DDD for the best sound quality.

A word of caution. You can go as far, and as deep, as you want into this. But the further you get you will find that, as in all fields, there are fierce debates raging among the experts. Debates that are oh-so-important to them, but strike many of us as silly.

One thing to be careful about is to realize that many Bach lovers today want to enjoy Bach separate from the faith that drove him to do what he did. They want to listen to Bach purely as music devoid of any connection to his Orthodox Lutheran commitments. And, of course, that is possible. But to know Back best, and to enjoy him most, is to do so from the point of view of the faith he confessed, and that of course, was a hearty Orthodox Lutheranism.


Please let me say a word about musicians and music.

I’ve found that sometimes, unfortunately, musicians can really take the joy out of music. There are sensitive egos involved, and they are very easily bruised. I’ve learned that every musician knows, deep inside, that he truly does know the “right way” to perform any given piece of music and so you have to be careful when evaluating what musicians have to say about music. There is much to learn and I admire those who truly understand the wonderful intricacies, but don’t let them intimidate you.

This is somewhat akin to tasting wine. Just start tasting. When you find something you like, you’ll know it. You should not have to have a 500 page book or a Ph.D. in wine to know a good wine when you taste it. Similarly, with Bach and his music. Just listen. Read the liner notes for historical background and interesting information, but listen for a good long while before you start consulting too many experts. They have a way of sucking the wonder of it all right out of it. Somewhat like studying poetry too closely. So, study with discernment.

I hope this helps George. God bless your enjoyment of J.S. Bach.


A Limited Gospel: The Error of Calvinism

On the night of Christ’s birth the angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Contrast this Biblical truth with what James White has to say about the Gospel. According to this “Reformed Baptist” theological cruise host and pundit,  if Christ would have died for all, that would have tied God’s hands and left him no way to show forth all his attributes. Actually, if Christ died for all it puts a big old kink in the Calvinist system. And therein lies the problem. In White’s system, the angels should have said, “Fear not, well, unless you are worried about not being among the elect, in that case, be afraid, be very afraid, for behold I bring you, well, actually, maybe not you, but good news for some, and great joy for some, that will be for some people.” This is not the Gospel of Jesus, but it is the “Gospel” of Calvinists like White. That is to say, no Gospel at all. Here is what White has to say. The poor guy can’t distinguish universal atonement from universal salvation.

Secondly, He will save a particular people. He will not save every single person on the planet. Yes, He could have, had that been the choice of the Triune God. But universal salvation would have left God with no choices, no demonstration of the breadth of His attributes. His grace would have been a given, hence, not free, not sovereign. Instead, He saves His people from their sins. He is Savior. A given, you may think? Not in today’s theological landscape. Few truly believe it anymore, to be honest. Source.

A Blessed St. Stephen’s Day

Today in the historic church year, the stoning of St. Stephen is commemorated. Christmas, you see, is serious business, a very deadly business. God sent into this world His Son, who, like Stephen, was killed at the hands of sinful men. Our Lord Christ was the true and faithful Witness from the Father, but the world received Him not. But this did not stop our Lord. He knew why He had come. He knew what He had to do. He did not turn back. He did not run. He set His face like flint, and scorning the cross’ shame, He endured it for our life and salvation. Life died. The dead live. What a blessed mystery and joy.

And so, on the day after Christ’s birth, there is commemorated the first martyr in the church, St. Stephen, who died as a faithful confessor and witness of His Lord. The word “martyr,” a Greek word, means, “witness.” The confession of Christ as the only way, the only truth, and the only life is not a message any more popular today. A cute baby in a manger seems harmless enough to many, but when that baby’s mission is proclaimed and insisted upon, in various ways our culture starts gathering its stones to stop this proclamation.

On a day when shopping mall parking lots are stuffed full of people trying to return gifts, there is a certain dreadful and wonderful irony that the church this day remembers Stephen, killed by those who did not want the Lord’s gift of a Christ. And so, they took up stones to murder one of the Christ child’s faithful disciples, St. Stephen, who went to his death confessing the gift of the Savior Jesus.

Ponder and meditate on the reality of death as the ultimate cost of discipleship. Recall our Lord’s words, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall
lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” [Mark 8:35]. Consider your own calling in life. When, and where, are the opportunities in your life to confess your Savior? What do you sacrifice in order to bear witness to your Lord? When have you remained silent? When have you compromised your confession in order to avoid the “stones” of those who would persecute the Faith? Confess those sins and repent of them. Thank God for faithful Stephen and His confession of the One whose blood cleanses us from all sins, and sets us free to confess Him with joy and confidence. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give you great strength and joy in confessing His Son, as you follow the example of Blessed St. Stephen. God grant it, for Jesus sake.

You may find it a real blessing to meditate prayerfully on the libretta of Bach’s Cantata 57, prepared specifically for St. Stephen’s day. Note the sturdy realism of this text.

Where’s Jesus? An Expression of Concern to my Calvinist Friends

While I like, and respect, most of the Calvinists I’ve been privileged to get to know in various ways, I have profound disagreements and very serious reservations with Calvinism. I hope that is a distinction not lost on anyone. I regard Calvinism not as part of the church’s reformation, but as actually contributing toward its deformation. And here is why I believe this. This is a collection of several blog posts.

I don’t know about you, but nothing says to me, “Christmas is near”
more uniquely than the stories that appear in local papers this time of
year about people having their Jesus stolen from their yard manger scenes.
But it set me to thinking. I have to review a lot of Christian books
and other products. I read a lot about them. It’s kind of an
occupational hazard, I guess you could say. Well, it never ceases to
amaze me how often I come away from reviewing a book from a Christian
publisher, be it for adults or children, with the question, “Where’s
Jesus?” Oh, yes, there may be a lot of talk about God and about the
Christian life and all manner of issues, but….where is Jesus? Where
is the actual Gospel? You know the “I delivered to you what I received
as of first importance…the cross, the resurrection, forgiveness of
sins” You know…the Gospel. Where is the Gospel?

And lately I’ve been noticing this as a frequent characteristic of
Calvinist blog sites and theological discussions. Here’s an example of
it from a self-described Calvinist gadfly I’ve come to know. Alan
writes about himself and then concludes…

I am a sinner saved by God’s grace alone. He didn’t save me by
trying somehow to “woo” me by whispering in my ear hoping that I would
cooperate. He saved me when I was spitting in his face. God took my
creaturely rebel heart and sovereignly penetrated my will and performed
the miracle of regeneration by raising me up to spiritual life. It was,
and is, amazing grace.
 Cheers, Alan

Compare what our friend Alan has to say to how St. Paul talks in
Gal. 2:21. I trust you will notice a striking difference. I’m not
saying we have to mention Jesus with every other word, but….please
let me hear about Jesus, not just about the sovereign will of God. The
lofty grandeur of the God high in the heavens is a wonder indeed. But
that does me no good. No, talk to me of God who lies in the manger, for
me, as a baby. Let me hear more about God who lived perfectly in my
place, who walked this earth, in the same flesh and blood I have. Speak
to me of God who fed the crowds, healed the sick, raised the dead and
calmed the storms. Put my eyes on Jesus, God in the flesh, who took my
sins on his shoulders, who suffered and bled for me, as the
all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for my sins, and the sins of the whole
world. That’s the God I want to hear about more. You see, God has come
down in the flesh and now to all eternity, He is the only way I know
the Father, no other way. I can ponder the “sovereign will” of the
grand Creator, but I prefer to ponder God in the face of Jesus Christ,
who is, my Lord and my God. Let me hear of Jesus.He is the One who
shows us the Father. Please put Jesus back where He belongs.

In the process of trying to get to the bottom of
Calvinism, I’ve learned that Calvinism is somewhat hard to define, but
there does seem to be fairly universal consensus that the Canons of Dordt are the most commonly held principles of Calvinism…but….then you talk to other Calvinists who point you more toward the Westminster Confession. And then you have the Belgic Confession, and various other attending documents
that go along with Westminster Confession which are apparently of some
authority in various Calvinist churches. Of course, one could try to
fathom a rather complex chart explaining Calvinism’s view of how a person is saved.

I just feel sometimes that I’m trying to pick up
jello with my hands, or herd cats when I try to pin down precisely what
is the Calvinist confession of faith. I wish Calvinists could, like we
Lutherans, point to a single book and say, “Here is our definitive and
authoritative and normative confession of faith.” I appreciate the fact
that Lutheranism, though jello-like in its own unique ways, at least
brings to the table a single book, called The Book of Concord.
No, I’m not saying all Lutherans actually adhere to the Lutheran
Confessions, just as I would not suggest that the Presbyterian Church
USA is a paragon of Calvinist confession. We have our liberals.
Calvinists have their’s. I’m not concerned about either right now.

In my opinion, based on my observation and reading of
Calvinist materials now for many years, and most recently of course my
exchanges with several ardent Calvinists, I am all the more firmly
convinced that Calvinism simply does not put Jesus at the absolute
center of their “system.”

Am I suggesting that Calvinists don’t believe in
Jesus? No. That they don’t love Jesus? No. I’m simply saying that in
the Calvinist system of theology the “warm beating heart” is not to be
found, first and foremost, in Christ Jesus and the love and mercy of
the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness and new life and hope in Him.
For Calvinists it is my opinion that what “centers” them is not the
Gospel, so much as God’s eternal sovereign decrees. Am I saying God is
not sovereign? No. Am I saying God does not act sovereignly toward His
creation? No.

The concern I have with Calvinism is that the fuel
driving is train is not the  dynamite of the Gospel of Jesus, the love
of God, the kindness shown by God to us in Christ, but….in God’s
essence and glory, which Calvinists see most clearly in His
“sovereignty” but not actually in His grace, love and mercy in Christ.
Of course, they protest this assertion. They say, “But that’s what we
mean when we talk about sovereignty.” Well, I say, “Then let’s hear
more about Jesus and the Gospel and God’s life-giving love and kindness
and mercy in Christ.”

I believe that the New Testament clearly indicates
that we can not, and must not, look any farther than Jesus Christ when
we talk about God. All talk of God that drifts free of Christ and Him
crucified leads in a wrong direction. Jesus Christ is the only way we
know God as He wants to be known. We are not to try to peer past, or
around, or above Jesus and try to look into the hidden counsels of God.
And his is precisely where I think Calvinism as a system is highly
Is referring to Calvinism as a system unfair? I’m sure it could be so
in some senses, but, as one Calvinist web site puts it succinctly:

Calvinism is the name applied to the system of thought which has come
down to us from John Calvin. He is recognized as the chief exponent of
that system, although he is not the originator of the ideas set forth
in it. The theological views of Calvin, together with those of the
other great leaders of the Protestant Reformation, are known to be a
revival of Augustinianism, which in its turn was only a revival of the
teachings of St. Paul centuries previous. But it was Calvin who, for
modern times, first gave the presentation of these views in systematic
form and with the specific application which since his day has become
known to us as Calvinism.

is this “system” that has me worried for my Calvinist brethren, for it
seems to me that this “system” is quite a bit more concerned first with
an articulation of the eternal decrees and hidden counsels of God than
with putting Christ Jesus at the heart and center. Please let me

Calvinism concerns itself first with God’s glory and
making sure God gets what God deserves: glory. A noble goal! But, is
this truly the New Testament presentation of what is at the heart of
Christianity? It would, to me, seem to be working things from the wrong
direction. We are not given, first, to know and contemplate God in
Himself, but rather as He has chosen finally to reveal Himself to us,
and that He has done through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is not a
“system” this is a Person, the  God-Man, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Beginning with God’s glory is stepping off on the wrong foot.

Consider this explanation of Calvinism’s “beating heart”

central thought of Calvinism is, therefore, the great thought of
God. Someone has remarked: Just as the Methodist places in the
foreground the idea of the salvation of sinners, the Baptist the
mystery of regeneration, the Lutheran justification by faith, the
Moravian  the wounds of Christ, the Greek Catholic  the mysticism of
the Holy Spirit, and the Romanist  the catholicity of the church, so
the Calvinist is always placing in the foreground the thought of God.
The Calvinist does not start out with some interest of man; for
example, his conversion or his justification, but has as his informing
thought always: How will God come to His rights! He seeks to realize as
his ruling concept in life the truth of Scripture: Of Him , and
through Him, and to Him are all things. To whom be glory forever.

Here’s an example of what concerns me, from a self-described Calvinist gadfly I’ve come to know. Alan
is an earnest and sincere Christian young man who writes this about himself:

I am a sinner saved by God’s grace alone. He didn’t save me by
trying somehow to “woo” me by whispering in my ear hoping that I would
cooperate. He saved me when I was spitting in his face. God took my
creaturely rebel heart and sovereignly penetrated my will and performed
the miracle of regeneration by raising me up to spiritual life. It was,
and is, amazing grace.

Compare what our Calvinist friend Alan has to say to how St. Paul talks in
Gal. 2:20.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ
liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the
faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

I trust you will notice a striking difference. I’m not
saying we have to mention Jesus with every other word, but….please
let me hear about Jesus, not just about the sovereign will of God. The
lofty grandeur of the God high in the heavens is a wonder indeed. But
that does me no good. No, talk to me of God who lies in the manger, for
me, as a baby. Let me hear more about God who lived perfectly in my
place, who walked this earth, in the same flesh and blood I have. Speak
to me of God who fed the crowds, healed the sick, raised the dead and
calmed the storms. Put my eyes on Jesus, God in the flesh, who took my
sins on his shoulders, who suffered and bled for me, as the
all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for my sins, and the sins of the whole
world. That’s the God I want to hear about more. You see, God has come
down in the flesh and now to all eternity, He is the only way I know
the Father, no other way. I can ponder the “sovereign will” of the
grand Creator, but I prefer to ponder God in the face of Jesus Christ,
who is, my Lord and my God. Let me hear of Jesus. He is the One who
shows us the Father. Please put Jesus back where He belongs.

The quotations in this post are from an essay based on the book The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, Chapter I, pp. 29-40 (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1939).

It has come clear to me that for Calvinism, starting from the
premise that the chief characteristic of God is his “Sovereignty,” it
makes perfect sense that the Sovereign God would lay down hard and fast
rules and laws for all eternity but then turn right around and order
his people to break them by putting, for example images in the house
constructed for His worship. After all, in their system, this same God
is the one who, despite telling everyone through His Son that He loves
the whole world and that the atoning sacrifice of His Son was for the
sins of the whole world, turns right around and decides to create some
people just so He can send them off to roast in Hell, while others, He
determines to be in Heaven. You don’t really need the atoning sacrifice
of Christ in this system. You see the Sovereign God simply is
Sovereign. That settles it. I’m not really sure what point there was
for Him to send His Son anyway, but I guess that too is just to be
chalked up to the Sovereign God.

And this Sovereign God is also so remote and “other” from His
creation, that we can not possibly suggest that this infinite God is
capable of associating Himself with the finite. In fact, it is an
affront to this Sovereign Other in Calvinistic thinking to suggest that
the actual humanity of a human being is so closely united to Divinity
that He is now truly, actually present in, with and under bread and
wine of the Holy Supper, even as he was in, with and under the assumed
humanity from the God-bearer, the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin.
Jesus is God, in the flesh, in the womb of the Virgin Mother. Christ,
is God, in the flesh, on the cross, crucified, died and buried, risen
again for our salvation.

And so it then is necessary for Calvinists to speak of a “spiritual
presence” of Christ, but in such a way as to avoid at all costs
actually regarding him as truly present where He promised to locate
Himself: under bread and wine, with His actual body and blood, given
from the hand of the pastor, into the mouth of the communicant. His
Glory dwelt between the Seraphim, but it seems for Calvinism, that
can’t be truly said of the Man Jesus Christ, now and into all eternity
as our Ascended Lord and King.

All this has come very clear to me and frankly the way my Calvinist
friends over at Dave and Tim’s place are handling images, is perfectly,
rationally consistent with their theology. Rather than starting in the
Mercy and Grace of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus, Calvinism proceeds
first from speculations about the Sovereign Lord and then works itself
out from there.

In this Advent season, I rejoice in God my Savior, who has blessed
us all through the humble Virgin Mother of God, through whom He took on
human flesh and blood and now, and for all eternity, is united with our
humanity in such a way that truly we look at the man Jesus and say, “My
Lord and My God” and receive the body and blood of this God-Man as the
atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, into our mouths, for
the blessing of both body and soul.

But I find myself concerned when I survey Lutheranism. How many
Lutherans in this country believe that the best way best to reach out
to people is by using methods and techniques that embody and rely on
essential characteristics of Evangelicalism, Non-Denominationalism,
Pentecostalism and the like.

These revialistic measures are reactions to Calvinism! They are not
compatible with Lutheranism. When there is such a rich, warm, glowing
treasure of truth at the hearth on which the fire of Biblical
Lutheranism blazes, why do we feel such a need to run outside and pick
up a few Calvinistic Reformed/Evangelical or Revivalistic sticks to rub
together for light? Do we not realize that American Evangelicalism and
Revivalism is the natural reaction to Calvinism’s dreary
double-predestination and lack of certainty about the presence of
Christ in His Word and Sacraments, its distortion and confusion of Law
and Gospel, its emphasis on the Sovereignty of God at the expense of
the mercy and love of God in Christ?

When a theological tradition holds out the message that there is
finally no way to know if one is saved, or damned, other than to throw
oneself into the arms of a Sovereign God’s whims, is it any wonder that
the response to this will be emotionalism and revivalism, trying
desperately to work up in the human psyche some assurance of salvation?
When Calvinism holds out empty sacraments that are mere legal
requirements to be obeyed, rather than actual saving actions of a
merciful, loving Christ, present among His people as He has promised to
be, is it any wonder people run from such “Sacraments” and the
“Sovereign God” and throw themselves down at the feet of false prophets
like Joel Osteen and other wolves in sheep’s clothing like him? ?But
why would we Lutherans want to mimic sterile worship spaces, and
revialistic practices? Why would we want to have among us practices and
techniques that mirror revivalism and emotionalism and then expect
anyone to bother much with what Lutheranism is all about? This has
given me much to think about indeed.

Let this point be clear and may God grant it for Jesus sake . . .
The differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism, and all those
churches that are spiritual heirs of Zwingli and Calvin, or reactions
against it: Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopalianism, Methodism,
Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-Denominational, and all the rest – these
differences are every bit as harmful, serious and threatening to the
truth of God’s Word as the differences between Lutheranism and Roman
Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. One person I know suggested that
Roman Catholicism added to God’s Word while the Reformed removed things
from it. Simply affirming an inerrant Bible is no reason to assume that
the theological differences are either relatively minor or of no great
consequence. Affirming an inerrant Bible, which I do, is no guarantee
of fidelity to what the Inerrant Word of God teaches.

Am I with these remarks suggesting that Lutherans are perfect
people? No, quite the opposite. We are poor, miserable sinners who
deserving nothing but God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We daily
sin much and deserve nothing but His wrath and condemnation. We flee
for mercy to our Lord Jesus Christ, seeking and imploring God’s mercy
for His sake. Lutheranism has many failings and faults and
imperfections. Some of my Lutheran friends find these so disturbing
that they think the “escape hatch” is to be found in Eastern Orthodoxy.
But they are just deceiving themselves with the allure of grass that
seems greener on the other side of the ecclesiastical fence.

This blog discussion and debate over images and commandments has
really helped me realize what a stark contrast there is between
Biblical Christianity, and Calvinism and all derivations, or reactions,
to it. To whatever extent Calvinism does teach and cling to the
revealed Gospel in Sacred Scripture, I thank God, but to the extent
that it does not, I, with Luther must say, “They have a different
spirit. They can expect no fellowship from me.” And by this, I mean formal church fellowship, not the fellowship of friendship, but the fellowship of communion in holy things at altar and pulpit.

Calvinism represents not Reformation, but deformation. And I want Reformation.