Framework for Lutheran Theology

Theological Prolegomena—the name of our one our seminary courses. That’s a mouthful. So what is it? Crudely translated: “Forward to Theology.”

As I began developing the courses for our seminary my focus was on the core courses in the four areas of theology (exegetical, doctrinal, historical, practical). But as we received interest from people leaving non-Lutheran backgrounds who wanted to study with us, I realized that there was a component missing in the curriculum. That is, they were attracted by many aspects of Lutheran theology, but they retained their old framework of thinking. That is, Lutheran theological topics were stuffed into a framework that couldn’t effectively embrace Lutheran theology.

Thus, Theological Prolegomena was birthed into our seminary curriculum. In our syllabus for the course, here is the overview of what is Theological Prolegomena.

What does it mean to be Lutheran? That question causes much confusion. Some think that it means to follow Martin Luther. Some think that it is inappropriate to even ask the question, assuming that the real question should be about “Christian.” Some think that it refers to denominations. And still others think that it means to be “Protestant” with a few, minor doctrinal differences from all other “Protestant churches.” But each of these miss the point of the question.

This course looks at the underlying thinking that sets the foundation for understanding Martin Luther, but more importantly for understanding those who confess the Christian faith in this unique way. That is, one cannot take the theology of another movement and adjust a few things and become Lutheran. Rather, the foundation of thinking affects every doctrine, and even how to approach the Scriptures, doctrine, and theology. Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians (Luther’s Work) gives the student a primary source related to the topics covered in the course.

But to be Lutheran is more than studying some of Luther’s writings. It involves a shift in how we view God, how we view humanity, and the relationships developing out of those two views. In fact, we do not follow Luther, rather we confess the faith as Luther and Melanchthon and Chemnitz, and a whole stream of others have done throughout the centuries.

Defining Terms

We start with these statements that guide our study of theology.

Material Principle: What matters most?

Justification by grace through faith

Formal Principle: What is the source for determining Material Principle?

Bible

Then we look at three commons terms used in the history of the Christian Church. Sometimes the words have been narrowly defined or applied. But we discuss these terms as they developed in the early church, and as historically applied to Lutherans.

Catholic: “universal”

If the word is not capitalized. Sometimes you will see Church catholic and it means the universal church (all believers in Jesus Christ). If the word is capitalized then it is narrowly referring to Roman Church headed by the pope.

Orthodox: “straight praise” ———> “straight doctrine”

Again, this is used two ways, in the general sense of “straight doctrine,” namely everyone who teaches the “straight doctrine of the Christian Church.” In a narrow use of a church body then it applies to many of the eastern churches, i.e. Greek Orthodox Church.

Evangelical: “Gospel”

In the broad use the word refers to those throughout the centuries who have maintained a proper understanding of the Gospel. In the contemporary environment, the word has been associated with a very narrow segment within the Protestant churches. Interestingly the Evangelische Kirche is the name that refers to the Lutheran churches in Germany.

Thus, as Lutherans we identify ourselves as catholic, orthodox, and evangelical. 

Confessional Phrases

How often have I heard this statement: “I am Christian first and Lutheran second”? Far too often! And worse, such a statement is not even accurate. Rather the statement should be:

“I am a Christian who confesses the faith as a Lutheran” (how we confess)

In other words, we are catholic, orthodox, and evangelical Christians who have publicly stated what we believe the Bible teaches, definitely given in the Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (compiled in 1580).

Some might object and say, “We just believe what the Bible teaches.” Our response to that is, “Okay, what does the Bible teach?” The instant a person answers the question, she or he has given a public confession of what the Bible teaches. Our answer to that question has been in place since 1580 (some documents are earlier) when the entire Book of Concord was accepted.

Thus, we find two phrases repeated in our confessions that reflect all the above:

“The Church has always taught”

“We believe, teach, and confess”

By those phrases, we as Lutherans publicly confess that what we are stating in the Book of Concord is what the Christian Church has taught since the time of the apostles up to the present time. That is why the first three documents in the Book of Concord are: Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. We are not changing what the early church taught. We are not some spinoff of many, but rather we confess the faith as it has been passed on from the beginning of the Christian Church.

Posted in Biblical studies, Doctrine- Systematics, Ministry, My church, Pastoral Formation, Seminary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

English translations and word choices

Some translation oddities

Reading the daily lectionary, I have found some odd translation choices in terms of English usage in some different translations. The following readings come from today’s (Sep. 21) readings. With earlier readings from other days I noticed other odd or awkward phrasings. My goal is not to extensively deal with each text, but look at the English word choice and style used to translate the Hebrew.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 

Hebrew: וַיִּמָּלֵ֨ךְ לִבִּ֜י עָלַ֗י, roughly “my heart was counseled upon me.”

NAS  I consulted with myself

ESV I took counsel with myself

NRSV After thinking it over

NAB After some deliberation

HCSB After seriously considering the matter

NIV  pondered them in my mind

NET I considered these things carefully

NLT After thinking it over

GW After thinking it over

Lutheran Study Bible using the ESV has this alternative in a footnote: “mulled over in his mind what to do” (p. 745).

NAS and ESV maintain the Hebrew sense, but in the process provide an awkward/unusual rendering in English to do so. Most of the other translations adapt the thought into common English usage.

Nehemiah 6:16

Hebrew: וַיִּפְּל֥וּ מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵיהֶ֑ם, roughly “their eyes fell greatly”

NAS  they lost their confidence;

ESV  fell greatly in their own esteem

NRSV (so also RSV-RCC) fell greatly in their own esteem

NAB our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations

HCSB lost their confidence

NIV lost their self-confidence

NET they were greatly disheartened

NLT they were frightened and humiliated

GW lost their self-confidence

Note that ESV/NRSV/RSV-RCC use an odd way to express the Hebrew text. Most of the others show the reflexive (Niphal) sense, with “lost confidence.” NAB is unique in that the focus is not their own eyes that matter, but the eyes of the nations.

Psalm 55:19 

Hebrew:  יִשְׁמַ֤ע ׀ אֵ֨ל ׀ וְֽיַעֲנֵם֮, roughly “God hears and will afflict them”

NAS  God will hear and answer them (footnote: “afflict them”)

ESV (so also RSV-RCC) God will give ear and humble them

NRSV God…will hear, and will humble them

NAB God…will hear me and humble them

HCSB God…will hear and will humiliate them

NIV God…he will hear them and humble them

NET God,…will hear and humiliate them

NLT God…will hear me and humble them

GW God will listen. The one…will deal with them

Most translations offer a readable and understandable English rendering of the Hebrew. But notice ESV and RSV-RCC “God will give ear.” Aside from the original RSV and now lately ESV, I have never heard the use of “God will give ear.” My first humorous thought is “how many ears does God have.” With some practice, a reader might catch what is written. But what of an oral reading (i.e. in worship), will that communicate clearly and easily?

Concluding Thoughts

This is not an academic exploration but a simple look at translation choices and how that fits the register of understandable (and primarily oral) English. Over the past several years as I have reviewed translations, I have found that ESV is problematic in this specific area. And it follows the RSV, NRSV, and RSV (RCC) pattern. This also makes me more aware of how I preach and teach and at what level (vocabulary, etc.) I do so.

Hope to explore more on this topic.

Posted in ESV, GW, HCSB, Hebrew, Languages, NAS, NIV 2011, Old Testament, Translations | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Update on HCSB

Over the past 5 years I have reviewed, studied, and made recommendations to the HCSB translation team. WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) had formed their own committee and review team for suggestions to the same translation team. And soon HCSB will change… for the better. Earlier this summer B&H Publishing announced the changes.

March 2017 CSB launch

That is the scheduled time for the latest updates. Here are a few notes about this update (combining B&H and WELS items):

Name is changed to: Christian Standard Bible

Major revision of text, plus two confessional Lutheran scholars were added to the translation oversight committee

Adopted many of the recommendations submitted by WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod)

Removed Yahweh from the Old Testament, using LORD (as almost all other English translations have done)

All of these are significant improvements for CSB. I can’t wait to receive the new translation. Once it is in hand I will offer more comments about the updates.

Thank you to B&H Publishers for this effort.

Thank you to WELS for offering valuable input on the translation.

Posted in Biblical studies, HCSB, New Testament, Old Testament, Translations | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Husbands and Wives Eph. 5:21-33

 

Introduction

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God and His people to witness God joining together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.

What kinds of images come to mind when you hear these words? Joy, sadness, anguish, expectation, fear, concern, uncertainty, hope? Perhaps not surprisingly all of these emotions and reactions can be present at a wedding.

Scott Bruzek has written a clear analysis of the dilemma surrounding marriage and the misconceptions of marriage—for pastors and the Church, and the need for a more Biblical view of marriage as holy ground.

Most people think of [the pastor] as an ecclesiastical vending machine. If they put in the right amount of money—say, $200 for a Gothic building, $75 for an organist, $50 for a sexton, $100 for a sermon, and $50 deposit in case somebody throws rice instead of bird seed—then push the right buttons, they expect the perfect wedding to pop out. They assume that marriage within the church is offered offered as a public service, as if the church is just Las Vegas without the kitsch and the pastor is no more than a justice of the peace. In allowing people to think this way about the church, we have lost the sense of the holy. We have surrendered the joy of Adam and Eve at peace with the Lord in Eden (Gn. 2:21–25). We have failed to speak of Moses’ awe in slipping off his sandals and hiding his face before the Lord at the Burning Bush (Ex. 3:3–6) or the disciples’ terror on the Mount of Tranfiguration as they fall face down before Jesus with the shining face (Mk 9:6; Mt 17:6).

In other words, we have lost the sense of the church as other–worldly. We have forgotten that things happen in the Church happen nowhere else, that words and deeds are said and done in the church that said and done nowhere else, and that gifts are given and received in the church that are given and received nowhere else. It is within the church that the holy Lord of heaven and earth has chosen to dwell among his people graciously, and by his merciful presence to hallow space and the time. Certainly the church is in the world, but it is not of the world— it is otherworldly, it is holy (Jn 15:19; 17:11–19). This is what we confess each week in the creeds: “I believe in one, holy, Christian, and apostolic church.”

If we have lost the sense of the holy—the sense of who the Lord is: the holy One; and what the Lord has done: holy things; and when the Lord does them: sacred time; and why: for the saints, the holy ones—even if only in this corner of the church called matrimony, and the church no longer speaks of holiness, then who will? No one. Others may champion values, character, or virtues…

To be faithful as a Christian and a pastor is to speak of holy things. Among the holy things done in Christ’s church is holy marriage. That is how the liturgy speaks—of holy marriage. This thing done …before God and witnesses is utterly otherworldly and wholly sacred. Marriage is holy ground. Marriage is sacred space. (“Marriage as Holy Ground,” Logia Vol. VI, #2, p. 17)

His insightful comments help pastors and churches regain what is Biblical in marriage.

Usually in my premarital pastoral care, the prospective bride and groom have two preconceived ideas about the wedding ceremony: the songs they want sung, and they want to do away with the vows in which the wife pledges to “obey” her husband. Other than that, they will “let” me do anything else I want! I tell them to wait until session five…

But as Christians, is this a legimate approach to a relationship so important as marriage? I think not. Rather, the God who has saved us also sets before us the implications of our new life “in Christ.” That, after all, is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Thus, everything that Paul has written up to this point informs and forms the present text regarding marriage.

1. “Holy Ones”—precondition for a Godly marriage

In the very first verse of Ephesians Paul calls them “saints” or “holy ones.” Building on that, he writes as the precursor of the marriage relationship:

“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21 ESV)

Notice that Paul urges this mutual relationship “out of respect for Christ.” Paul addresses the relationship between husband and wife assuming that both are Christians. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). If that is true in connection with business dealings, how much more so in a husband-wife relationship?

How many heartaches could be avoided if this one issue were addressed before any announcement of the engagement or the plans for marriage. Certainly this is not to suggest that Christians who marry will not have problems. But as Christians they have the advantage of starting from the same foundation: saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). Thus, the husband and wife will operate on the basis of their Christian faith and relationship.

Sadly many Christians who marry do not have a Christian marriage; they do not enter it as “holy ones.” They interact according to the prevailing cultural patterns, undermining the relationship, exposing the other to outside attacks. And that can be problematic. Thus, when preparing couples for marriage (and for couples within a troubled marriage), I lead them through a study of Ephesians. We spend considerable time working through what it means to be saved by grace through faith. We discuss the Law Gospel diagram and the relationship based on a proper understanding and application of Law and Gospel. We spend the entire first session on that.

In the second session we examine Ephesians 4:25–32, namely how do Christians interact: dealing with speaking truthfully (4:15; 4:25), anger (4:26–27), words that are spoken and those who overhear (4:29), and avoiding all the negatives of relationships (4:31).

Most importantly we look at the key element of Christian response in each case:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  (Eph. 4:32 ESV)

That is, God deals with sin through His Son, Jesus. And He gives the Church and Christians the words to speak forgiveness to one another. Now going back to 5:21–33, everything in marriage is formed and informed in light of God’s love and compassion that forgives, restores, renews. And that changes everything in a marriage.

As Christians who share the same faith in Christ, who have a relationship based on Ephesians 4, the issue of a Christian marriage of Christians is not only a possibility but the only God-pleasing option. God does not want us to settle for less than the best. It is “in Christ” that the husband and wife relationship begins and grows. Thus, both husband and wife live out their life together, submitting to one another in Christ. By doing so, they do not stoop to power plays, domination, or manipulating games. Most important they, and the Church, recognize something more profound about their marriage, it is a holy estate.

 

2. What is Going on? (Ephesians 5:22–33)

Many women and men balk at 5:22 (“Wives, submit to your own husbands…”). Such a reaction reflects the perversions in our culture,  and not an understanding of what Paul writes. Sadly many think that the ceremony in the church is what the two people who are getting married are doing, or will do. As Scott Bruzek writes, “The seeds of this lie in seeing marriage as the public ecclesiastical affirmation of a private vow and the pastor primarily as a witness to this act of two people joining themselves together” (p. 18). Against this view of our work, Jesus, the Holy One, says: “What God has joined together…”—God’s work.

It’s no wonder that we have trouble with this section of Scripture. We look at it as a burden that doesn’t fit our lifestyle. The context of this holy activity is something that God is doing, and will do. Notice how free that makes both wife and husband. Marriage is not ours to do with as we please. With the Holy One, Jesus, the heart of the relationship lies in His forgiving presence. Today is a good day to remember that marriage is the Lord’s work in and through wife and husband. After all, remembering can be understood as a Biblical synonym for faithfulness.

What does marriage involve then? God is joining together, or a more literal rendering “yoking together” two Christians, two “holy ones” in Christ. Think of two animals yoked together, so they can work together, walk together, pull together for a common goal. How similar it is for wives and husbands in Ephesians 5. “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” It implies the equal yoke of one to the other, and God is doing His work in the yoking and the continuing to build that relationship, causing both to grow together.

3. How is this done?

Notice in this long passage, that Paul addresses two groups of people: wives and husbands.

Wives (5:22–24 ESV)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Kph. 5:22–25 ESV)

Verse 22 evokes many emotions, unfortunately often negative. “Submit” seems demeaning to the wife, and sadly it is a reality in too many relationships. Abusive husbands try to use this as a “biblical basis” for what they are sinfully doing. Neither this passage, nor any other in the Bible, can be used to justify abuse—NEVER. Abuse is not part of husband-wife relationships, nor of parent-child relationships (Ephesians 6:1–4) or any Christian relationship.

Thus, we have to remember that 5:21 is the over arching guide of the entire section, that is, “mutually submitting to one another in Christ” applies to wives and husbands equally and especially within the marriage relationship.

Note, too, that the text does not say, “Husbands, make sure your wives submit…” That is, wives are the addressed “saints” (“holy ones”) in this passage. Submission is not forced, but freely given, as Paul notes that the Church submits in the same way to Christ. There is nothing negative in this exhortation. Yes, sinful women and sinful men may make this section negative, but that is due to sin, not reflective God’s work and plan for marriage.

Interestingly, when preparing couples for marriage, by the time we get to this section, the wife-to-be tend to have open-eyed amazement realizing that this is a positive statement of relationships. In fact, the most common statement that the wife-to-be makes is: “Wow, I only have three verses, my husband to be has nine verses. I am so thankful that I don’t have his role!”

Husbands (5:25–33 ESV)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25–33 ESV)

When we turn to the husbands, notice that the exhortation is to love your wife as Christ and to give yourself up for her. The role model for the husband is Christ. And now we go back to 5:21:

“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21 ESV)

True submitting to someone is evidenced by the giving up of self for the good of another. For the husband, his challenge is to realize that submission is not making decisions, bossing his wife (and kids) around, as if that is the essence of Christian leadership. Rather he listens, cares for his wife. He sacrifices himself for the sake of his wife. He gives, even his life, for her sake.

Note that when both live within the mutual submission, the relationship can grow, each person being valued, loved, and protected.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25–27)

Paul’s words in 5:25-27 remind us of Baptism—God’s cleansing work of the Church. Water with the Word— these are God’s tools as He works in the Church and in marriage. God unites husband and wife as holy ones, because of their baptisms. Extending that saving work, God’s work of absolution (forgiveness) brings the marriage relationship back to Ephesians 4:32. Luther wrote appropriately: “Sinners are attractive because they are loved, they are not loved because they are attractive.”

Word and Sacrament are at the heart of the Church feeding and growing the Church to draw it closer to Jesus. They are also at the heart of the marriage of two Christians. When issues begin to divide a marriage, look at the Word and Sacrament focus of their lives, personally and together.

4. Conclusion

So where do we go from here? I would urge to you to look at your present status. The consider:

1. Read and study God’s Word relative to marriage and Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and absolution: Genesis 2; Matthew 19; Ephesians 5:21–33; 1 Corinthians 7; 1 Peter 3:1–9. In conjunction with this, read Matthew 18:15–20; Ephesians 4:32; Romans 6:1–11; 2 Corinthians 1:3–7; 1 Corinthians 11:23–29.

2. Honor marriage as a holy estate instituted by God, regardless of your current life situation.

Married: commit yourself to God in your marriage. Remain pure in your relationship in thought, word, and deed. Hold up your spouse in prayer regularly, faithfully. The roles are based upon grace in relationship to Christ, thus are Gospel focused, not Law fcoused. Husband and wives have different roles, but not competing roles. What an amazingly profound way that God provides for each to nurture and care for the other.

Those not married: commit yourself to Christ and remain chaste (sexually pure) for marriage. Young people in particular, do not believe the lies of culture/music or be misled by the passion of the moment. And bottom line, if you have sinned, that is not the end for you. Confessing the sin means receiving the forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:8–9).

Divorced: Sadly divorce is a reality in our world. But commit yourself to the God who forgives, restores, renews, and upholds you. Let Psalm 34:18 be a theme for your new life in Christ:

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 NAS).

God is certainly not finished with anyone. God is about life, re-creation, restoration.

3. Attending weddings: Emotions are a part of life and especially evident in weddings. But do not be overcome with the emotion, but rather rejoice in God’s work of joining together two people in Christ. Often at the conclusion of wedding ceremonies people want to clap, almost as a sign that what the two had done was pleasing to them. Perhaps an alternative (better?) response at the end is to say, “Amen” (“it is firm,” “it is true”) to what God has done.

For indeed, marriage is holy ground, the ceremony is sacred time, because of the Holy One who is present, to join husband and wife to become one flesh, to bless them as they begin their holy life together.

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One more phone call

Two or three times a week, I still reach for my phone to call. And yet, cannot. The gulf is to great. And I grieve.

My mother, Phyllis, died one year ago today. My wife and I had spoken to her just four days before she died. A call cut short because my mother couldn’t hear well (and we were in a car) and she hung up. We planned to call her back a few days later, like we always did. We didn’t get that one more phone call. We knew her death was approaching, she was 88, but the grief is the same.

Over the years, we would visit her once a year (for about 2 weeks), but the phone calls every week were a special blessing. We could talk about whatever was on her mind or mine. Many times we relived events or people in our lives, bringing back some forgotten memories, and sometimes tears or laughter. But always a good conversation.

My grandmother holding my mother in 1927; my grandfather behind my Uncle Elgin.

My grandmother holding my mother in 1927; my grandfather behind my Uncle Elgin.

In 1999, my mother began writing by hand her autobiography (her life up to 1972 when the youngest son was married and gone from home). She had kept diary entries for every day from 1934 to the last months of her life. She asked me to put these “scribblings” into the computer, which I began to do in 2000.

We worked closely (much of it long distance) for the next five years as this writing eventually became a book. That was her lifelong goal, to publish a book. In 2005 I contacted a printer, and we published the book, with three printings over the next three years. It was a privilege to do this for her and with her.

In the process I learned so much more about her. Not only what she wrote, but as we discussed each chapter and paragraph, she would fill in the blanks. I soon learned I had many more questions about her growing up, about my father’s background and family (my father died in 1991). And that sparked even more phone calls, and late nights when we met face-to-face. And always the photos to aid us or provoke our memories.

 

My mother’s parents divorced within a year after my mother was born. Her mother remarried in 1932 to Paul Carlson, who became my mother’s step-father. But my mother never addressed him that way. Until he died in 1985, she always called him “Dad.”

Phyllis Staley at age 12

Phyllis Staley at age 12

Paul’s youngest brother, Charley, married a woman named Netsy, just a few years older than my mother. They became good friends and remained so their entire lives. Last summer, both my mother and Netsy were in the same assisted living center. And they died within an hour of each other. My mother’s response to that “coincidence” would have been: “It was meant to be.”

One of Charley and Netsy’s five sons, Brian, wrote this last week.

Take time to recall to memory Netsy Carlson and Phyllis Shields McCoy … cousins …who passed away on the 23rd within an hour of each other. True friends to the end having had one last visit about a week before sharing stories, love, and hugs. It was a beautiful time for me to sit back and watch how these two strong ladies coped with their impending deaths with such bold faith in God and life everlasting through Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. It was a time I will cherish the rest of my life … so peaceful … even now as I think back on it. Blessing to you all.

Brian

So my grieving continues, the missed phone calls, the emptiness of visiting my hometown without my mother, Phyllis. But also rejoicing for she shared our faith in Jesus Christ.

Phyllis Shields (1927-2015)

Happy 88th birthday, Mother. June 9, 2015

Happy 88th birthday, Mother. June 9, 2015

One more phone call…

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Resources for Eschatology and Revelation

From time to time I get requests from pastors, students, and laity about good resources for preparing to study or teach Revelation and eschatology. Another request came in this week. Here is the list of resources I recommend.

==========================

An excellent resource written by an LCMS pastor many years ago. He developed it teaching in his congregation in the 1970s. Includes some very helpful diagrams. I have referenced several times in the last 25 years. Even had the privilege of talking to him on the phone about his book and approach before he died.

Things to Come and Not to Come

Eugene Peterson does an admirable job on Revelation;

Reversed Thunder: Revelation and the Praying Imagination

In between is this excellent Roman Catholic book by Michael J. Gorman: Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness following the Lamb into the New Creation. I used this about three years ago when I was laying out the ground work for studying and teaching Revelation.

Reading Revelation Responsibly

Both Peterson and Gorman invite study of the worship life of the church as expressed in Revelation.

For more academic perspective, this is excellent:

Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics: Eschatology

And for the most thorough treatment of Revelation from a conservative Lutheran perspective is Revelation (Concordia Commentary Series) by Louis Brighton (one of my Sem professors, now retired).

Revelation (Concordia Commentary)

Obviously there many other resources, but this group provides sufficient breadth and depth for your study of Eschatology and Revelation.

What’s Your Perspective?

What’s Your Perspective?

I hope you find this helpful.

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Violence and Our World

The events of the past few weeks have raised violence, front and center. The sermon text on Sunday was Mark 6:14–29 (ESV).

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and abound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not,  20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, gup to half of my kingdom.”

24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.”  25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his hdisciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

This rather gruesome account is timely to say the least. We live in a broken world, with sinners doing what sinners do: sin. The recent events throughout the US and the world make it appear as if violence is not only increasing, but seemingly winning the day, the battle, and even the war. If we had only this text for contemplation, we might conclude that evil does win. A “righteous and holy man” is killed at the whim of a Queen who hated his message.

But did evil win? God had sent John as the forerunner to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God with the appearance of the King (Jesus). His focus was not just pointing a finger at people. Rather his call was for people to repent, each person to repent.

John appeared, baptizing in gthe wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4–5 ESV)

His message hit close to home: repent of your sins. Note what he did not proclaim: “Point fingers and blame others for your sins.” And yet that is often what happens. “Yes, I know my sins, but nothing like those peoples’ sins.” Ironically, John does not allow excuses for sin. Like Nathan before King David (“You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:7),  John is blunt.

Herodias was convinced that if she could have John killed then the accusations would stop—for her and Herod. But the sin remained, the accusation of John stood, because it was God’s judgment, not some wild self-righteous do-gooder. Even killing John did not alleviate the problem. Interestingly in less than 100 years the entire family line of Herod the Great (this Herod’s father) was completely erased.

Context helps

The context of this passage is significant: In the immediately preceding verses, Jesus had sent His disciples out to do the following:

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.  (Mark 6:12-13)

That is, John’s arrest and death were mentioned immediately after Jesus sends out the twelve. It was their proclamation and miraculous signs that attracted much attention, continuing what John began, and that caused Herod to remember what he had done to John.

Not only that, but notice what happens when the disciples return.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

Jesus’ words to returning disciples

This initial missionary trip must have seemed like a mountain top experience for the disciples. The message was heard, people responded, people were healed, demons were cast out. We might expect a celebration meal, regaling others with what they experienced. Instead Jesus responds:

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Jesus knew the weakness of us humans. With John’s death, it appears as if evil has won a major victory. With the report of the disciples, it appears as if they have won a major victory. But Jesus knows that more is going on than this temporary battlefield report. So he takes them away for rest.

My reaction would be: “Jesus, look what has happened. Why stop now?” The battle against evil is not lost when John is killed. Nor is the battle against evil won by the wondrous things the disciples have experienced.

The Final Confrontation with Evil

Jesus knows that the approaching battle, His battle, will take place on a cross, a sign of defeat for Him, and a sign of victory for His enemies. There it will appear as if evil won once for all. But not so! His death was to pay for the penalty that the sins of all the world had earned. Herod’s, John, Jesus’ disciples, and everyone person in history, including you and me.

But Jesus’ resurrection from the dead showed that the devil’s apparent triumph was an illusion. Sin, death, and the devil could not hold Him or win over Him.

The Message of Victory Continues

For us as Christians, the real message is who Jesus and what He has done. As Paul put it: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Notice that this is not a simplistic statement and then all is taken care of. Paul writes much about the implications of this in the life of the Christian. But unless this is front and center, everything else will fail, no matter the intentions.

The temptation for us as Christians is to look to the sword, power, intimidation, voting, etc. to be the real basis for action in this present world. If so, we have settled for temporary fixes for something much deeper, more profound. At times it will appear as if evil has triumphed, like with John’s death. Other times, we will exult in “our victories” like the disciples. But ultimately the goal of “winning” is not determined by temporary fixes, temporary measures, temporary victories. Winning is losing all and getting heaven.

In a world filled with violence, the only effective, long term message is one of God’s lover for sinners in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All other attempts will be short-sighted, stopgap, and frustratingly ineffective

As Christians we will continue to proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ, even in the face of enemies, or death itself. As P{aul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

 

 

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