Forgiveness for the fallen

Christ Calls to Calvary…the Fallen

This is our theme for tomorrow night’s midweek Lenten series: Christ Calls to Calvary. Tonight, Christ calls the fallen.

Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. (Matthew 26:48-50)

This may be the hardest call to understand and accept. In the end it will be the most important call of all. Judas’ name has been attached to all kinds of images, stories, explanations, excuses, protests, and empathy. Judas is the one who betrays Jesus to the Jewish leaders and their guards.

Judas—was one of the twelve that Jesus called to follow him.

 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. (Matthew 10:1-4 NAS)

Judas—sold his friend and master for some money.

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. (Matthew 26:14–15 NAS)

Judas—sat with Jesus when Jesus instituted the Supper. The Supper which continues to offer the body and blood of Jesus even today.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26–28 NAS)

Judas—tried to deny his own plot. At the supper, Jesus says that someone will betray him. Judas joins the other disciples and asks the fateful question, a question that reveals his own plotting even before the meal began:

And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself.” (Matthew 26:25 NAS)

Judas—led the group to Jesus to fulfill his “contract” with the chief priests.

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?”  (Matthew 26:14 NAS)

While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. (Matthew 26:47 NAS)

Judas—realized his sin, and he regretted what he had done. Instead of repenting, though, he was led to despair and ultimately his death.

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. (Matthew 27:3)

But…

Jesus—endured the betrayal of Judas, the denials of Peter, the abandonment by the other disciples, for our betrayal, our denials, our abandonment of Jesus.

He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25 HCSB)

Jesus—came to fulfill His heavenly Father’s perfect will.

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4 HCSB)

Jesus—came to be betrayed, by every one, including Judas—and me. He knew what waited for him, betrayal and death, death on a cross.

[Jesus said:] “Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:45 NAS)

Jesus—died on the cross for the sins of every one, Judas—and me.

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 HCSB)

Jesus—is God’s perfect amen to every promise he made—for the fallen.

For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Him. Therefore, the “Amen” is also spoken through Him by us for God’s glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20 HCSB)

Jesus—came for the fallen, for every person—including me. There is hope.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13 HCSB)

Jesus—has the last word, forgiveness for fallen.

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Christ Calls to Calvary 1

Christ Calls to Calvary…

That’s the title of the series of sermons for midweek Lenten services. The various weekly themes finish that statement:

…the Faithful, Luke 18:31-33

…the Fallen, Matthew 26:50

…the Erring, Luke 22:61

…the Worldly, John 18:34-37

…the Ignorant, Luke 23:34

The series finishes in Holy Week

(Maundy Thursday)…the Penitent, Matthew 26:17–30

(Good Friday)…the Confessing, Matthew 27:27–61

Call to…the Faithful

The focus is not just the Law that identifies and condemns our sins, but more importantly the Gospel that shows Jesus as the one who suffered and died for our sins. His resurrection confirms his defeat of even death itself.

 This is the third passion prediction in Luke’s Gospel.

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.”

But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said. (Luke 18:31-34. NAS)

The text for tonight reminds us that Jesus calls each person, including the faithful. Those who are faithful have been saved by grace. They have heard, believed, and continue in the faith. The saving message of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection is not only for those who are outside the church. The faithful in the church need to hear the message again, and again.

The reality is that we don’t grasp all that God reveals in his Word. And even if we “know” the core doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ, we face temptations, subtle manipulation, and outright attacks on this core of our faith.

The call to Calvary for the faithful tonight is a reminder that we can never outgrow, move beyond, improve upon what Christ has done. Our life of faithfulness is not measured by what we achieve, but what Christ has already achieved for us. The call to the faithful is a call to confess sins, a call to receive forgiveness, a call to remain faithful.

So if you have heard that your sins are forgiven a thousand times, come tonight and receive that wonderful news for the one thousand and one times. It is a life-saving message. You need it, I need it, all the faithful need it.

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Kay’s Shoes

[One of my friends posted a while ago. This is her second guest post]

Kay’s mother was a high school cheerleader, popular and pretty. In her mind she had a bright future until she discovered she was pregnant. This child was the end of that perceived future. She put on abundant pounds as she lamented her loss.  Once Kay was born, her mother propped a bottle to feed her and used a plunger to administer baby food so wasn’t burdened by having to hold the child. Kay was blamed for her mother’s miserable life and all her failures. Kay grew up starving to be held, starving for love.

Kay grew from a quiet loving child to a young woman struggling with drugs, men, and her own children. She tried so hard to get things right but continued to struggle. Imagine the first day she heard of the Lord’s true love for her. Imagine the tears in her eye and the breaking of her hard heart when she heard that He had lived the perfect life in her place. He loved her even while she lived with all her failures. He would remove her guilt, shame and failures (her filthy rags) and replace them with His coat of Righteousness. He gave her His true love that lasts forever.

We cannot understand her sorrow turned to joy until we slip into Kay’s shoe. Just seeing the change in Kay isn’t enough of the picture; we have to live with her the hurt, the mud she struggles with, and cry her hurts before we can experience the joy of her true love, hope and faith. We should be the whisperer of encouragement, the teller of The Way. This is the work that the Lord has put before us. Slipping on our neighbor’s shoes, seeing with their eyes, feeling with their broken hearts; then their stories can become our stories; we share their burdens with prayer and love. We are the arms, legs, hearts, and minds of Christ for them. dsc02738

Christ is more than our example; He is The Way. On the cross when He said, “It is finished,” it was not for dramatic effect because everything has been accomplished by Him for us.  Now He tells us to share His love with every person, the Kay’s and the Clark’s of the world. Can’t you see their tears, their anguish? Can’t you feel His love calling you, moving you to share His love with them? He holds out His robe of Righteous for each one of us; wiping away our tears, removing our stains. We put on His perfect life in exchange for our sad one. What joy! The Divine swap makes our feet beautiful and our words sweet.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NAS).

Kay’s shoes are there waiting for you to slip on. Walk beside her, love her, tell her the good news that she is not alone. She is never alone; Christ is forever with her. He loves her.

Forgiveness in the Church

How does the Church live together day in and day out? It isn’t programs, musicians, leadership, spiritual giftedness. Rather the Church lives and breathes in the environment of forgiveness. There is no short-cut, not a handy bypass to avoid dealing with sin. Ignoring sin will foster an atmosphere of approval of sin. Refusing to forgive leads to arrogance, on the one hand, and the desire to cover sins, on the other. No, dealing with sin can be done in no other way than through forgiveness. It means dealing with sin, not to “win” but to “win the brother” — that is, to restore the brother or sister to the fellowship. Thus, this process is for the purpose of restoring relationships. It means forgiving, even in the midst of a crises. It means letting God have the first word and the last word.

Forgiveness is not the same as saying, “Oh that’s okay.” No, the reality of sin is that it is destructive of people, relationships, and especially relationship with God. When we as Christians face sin, it can be unpleasant. But, forgiving sin is restorative, it is the mending of broken relationships, and it is foremost the bringing together the forgiven sinner and the God who forgives.

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Who are you to forgive?

You will often hear something to this effect: “Only God can forgive sins.” Or “Who do you think you are to forgive sins?” But Jesus says the opposite. Tomorrow our Gospel reading is Matthew 18:15-35 (also basis for the sermon)—see below. The theme is forgiveness; namely, Jesus tells us how to deal with sin: in love confronting the person about the sin (not attacking the person). When the person repents, we forgive the person, freely, even as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).

We do not forgive on our own authority but on the authority of Jesus himself. Note in 18:18

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

In other words, the forgiving we do is done on the basis that it has already been forgiven in heaven. We are not in control, but rather declaring what God has already done.

Also he says in 18:20

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Note that 18:20 is often taken out of context and used to apply to any and every gathering of Christians—except forgiveness. However, in this context, Jesus’ promise to be there with us is in the forgiving of sins. Let’s not ignore the central aspect of the Christian life: forgiveness of sins. Let’s not downplay the role in the gathering of Christians. Let’s not pretend we are super pious by claiming “I would never dare take the authority to forgive sins.” Indeed, Jesus says the very opposite. We fail to live in Christian community when we do not confront sin (with the Law) and forgive (sin (the Gospel). And it isn’t self-appointed, it is Jesus’ description and commission of Christian living.

The text is Matthew 18:15-35 (NAS)

[Jesus said:] 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’

34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

May we live together in community based on the forgiveness of sins!

”Testament” or “covenant”

We began our Lent observance on Ash Wednesday, which leads to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The central place of the Lord’s Supper within the worshiping community is highlighted throughout Lent and culminates in Maundy Thursday. I serve a congregation that celebrates the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, every service, which reflects the importance of it among God’s people, and especially for our people.

As Lutherans we confess the Lord’s Supper that in it we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a teaching that is different from Protestants(the bread and wine are symbols/representatives of the body and blood, which are not present).

One issue related to the Lord’s Supper is how to understand διαθήκη (diatheke) and how to translate it, whether “testament” or “covenant.” As I have been reflecting on this heritage of theology, some history of translation is helpful. In 1963 William Beck published his NT translation called An American Translation (AAT), but popularly know as Beck’s Bible (Beck died in 1966, but his OT was published in 1976 with two scholars [Schmick and Kiehl] finishing his work). In 1963 I was a freshman in high school, and our church began using Beck’s NT for Sunday School. Rather different than KJV for understandability!

Regarding this topic, the KJV used the word “testament” for διαθήκη. In 1986 the process of revising AAT began. Soon, the project became known as God’s Word to the Nations. I remember the “testament/covenant” issue that faced the translators of God’s Word to the Nations (GWN, 1986-1988), later New Evangelical Translation (NET 1988-1992), and eventually God’s Word (GW 1995).

I had the privilege of serving congregations from 1987-1995 that were testers for GWN, later NET, eventually GW. In 1992 there was a change in translation direction, much to my frustration about translating specific words in context. So when it was finally published as God’s Word (GW 1995), I opposed several of these changes because I thought they weakened the translation and changed the focus of the underlying Greek. Beginning in 1992 I had written repeatedly over the years  to ask that the GW translators revert back to the 1992 NET renderings.wine-sacrament

Several critical changes: (original refers to the NET; change refers to the GW move in 1992-1995).

διαθήκη original: “last will and testament” changed to “promise”

χάρις original: “grace” changed to “good will”

ἅγιοι original: “saints” changed to “holy people” or “God’s people” or “believers”

This article explains the reasoning for using “testament” in the NT rather than “covenant” as a translation of διαθήκη.

Translating διαθηκη in NET

Here is the NET (New Evangelical Translation) of Matthew 26:26-28

While they were eating, Jesus took bread and gave thanks. He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Then He took a cup and spoke a prayers of thanks. He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you. For this is My blood of the last will and testament, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

So, what is the significance of translating διαθήκη as “last will and testament” (or “testament” as in KJV)  rather than “covenant.” I think it becomes clear in Matthew 26:26-28 (and parallels and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) regarding the Lord’s Supper. It is also why when speaking the words of institution, I use “testament” (and occasionally “last will and testament” —with explanation) not “covenant.”

Regardless of this discussion, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus offers his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. For that we rejoice.

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Growing to maturity

This last weekend in our makeup session for Ephesians we translated and studied Ephesians 4:1-16. The theme of Ephesians is “in Christ,” which permeates each section of the letter. Not only is 4:1-16 the transition from the doctrinal foundation (1:1-3:21) to the practical application (4:1-6:24), it sets the goal for those who are “in Christ.” namely,

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (4:13, 15 NAS)

One quote from Eugene Peterson exemplifies why this is such a challenge.

America in the twenty-first century does not offer propitious conditions for growing up. Maturity is not the hallmark of our culture. Our culture is conspicuous for its obsession with “getting and spending.” Instead of becoming more, we either get more or do more. So it is not surprising that many people are offering to sell us maps for living better than we are without having to grow up: maps to financial security, sexual gratification, music appreciation, athletic prowess, a better car, a better job, better education, a better vacation.

As it turns out, the maps never get us to where we wanted to go: the more we get and do, the less we are. We regress to the condition of “children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). It is hard to know whether things have gotten worse since Paul wrote, but with the multi-billion dollars spent every year in America to fund “trickery” and “craftiness deceitful scheming in business and entertainment and government, and, most distressingly, church, it certainly is not getting any better. Paul has something different in mind for us. (Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ, pp. 179-80, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010, [emphasis added])

In such an environment, the loudest voices encourage us to develop the skills, the principles of leadership, the best marketing we can find, and then let that be our standard and goal. There isn’t much room for learning and growing in Christ in such an environment.

This isn’t only a problem for pastors and other church leaders. This is a problem for every Christian. If we have accepted and encouraged the outward conformity to success, then we need to start by repenting of changing God’s standard and goal for a business “success” model of the church. Being “in Christ” and growing to maturity is not success in the eyes of the world.

If your pastor is spending sermon time on methods of being a better parent, better spouse, better lover, then “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) is not the center of the preaching. And that ought to be a warning that your spiritual growth is being stunted, deflected. Listen carefully to what is said, study Scripture, and hold pastors accountable.

Don’t be dazzled by the glitz being offered. As people “in Christ,” we can die on the famine in and from the pulpit. But a heart refreshed, forgiven, renewed, restored in the Word and Lord’s Supper is the foundation of being “in Christ,” and growing “in Christ.”Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 10.33.25

Lutheran-Protestant Differences

This basics elements of this post originally appeared in April 2012. It was part of a series on “Searching for a Church.” I have modified it to fit the context of Sasse’s quotes and the distinction between Lutheran and Protestant in the two previous posts.

The caveats

This part of the search takes a while. It is one thing to hear a good sermon on Sunday or a good short series of sermons. It is another to determine whether the church covers all key doctrines or whether these are more hobby-horse sermons. What makes this more complicated is that you have to be there and dig into both the sermons and the official teachings of the congregation or denomination.

So, in one sense you are becoming a focus of the church’s ministry (or you should be!) unless the church doesn’t want to deal with you as part of the ministry and only as “members” (whatever that might mean). This is a catch 22 situation. As you and your family become (unintentionally) integrated, it can be difficult to leave if you discover the teaching of “the faith” doesn’t measure up.

This part of the search also involves your own growing in the “the faith.” That is, you study the Scriptures in a more consistent manner. You don’t just pick a few favorite passages, but wrestle with some of the more challenging texts (1 Cor. 11:23-29; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 3-8, John 14-17, etc.). At this point a critical text to keep in mind is Acts 17:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true  (NIV)

Thus, no matter what the credentials of the pastor, the size of the congregation, or popularity of the ministry, every pastor ought to welcome questions about Scripture. And you can ask, not to trick someone or “win an argument,” but rather in humility to see whether what you hear and see in the church is consistent with Scripture. I can’t stress this enough: humility is critical in this whole process, in your own study of Scripture and in your testing of the church’s teachings.

Two Questions to Start:

There are always two questions to ask a group or an individual to find out whether it is even worth pursuing.

1. What is most important? [Material Principle]

It’s amazing how easily this question is glossed over in many churches today. The Bible is very clear on this point, but the answer to this question can be summarized as:

justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

justification by grace (alone) through faith (alone) in Jesus Christ (alone)

See the following Bible passages:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 NIV)

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24 NIV)

The list of passages goes on and on: Philippians 3:9; John 14:6; Acts 2:36; Acts 4:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 2:16, etc.

Unless that is stated up front by the group and is consistently the center of everything else in teaching and ministry, then the group does not reflect the most important thing, and hence is not Lutheran in confession.

Regarding this question, when we examine other confessions within the Christian church, we discover that most churches would not necessarily disagree with the response to the first question [Material Principle]. Rather the disagreement is whether that statement is the top priority, and they may disagree with the means by which that is accomplished.

Within Protestant churches, some follow Calvin, as summarized a century later in the Westminster Confession (1647)

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Other Protestant responses could include those by Zwingli (divine causality), or Methodism (holiness or the perfected person), or Pentecostals (maturity in speaking in tongues). And the list goes on.

2. What is the source for #1? [Formal Principle]

For Christians, the answer ought to be “the Bible.”

Scripture (alone)—the Bible

But don’t be too quick to jump on this answer. Why? Because over time it will surface that the real answer might be “The Bible and reason.” In other words, the real stance might be: “I accept the Bible as long as it makes sense to me.” Or ask yourself whether faith is so narrowly defined that it does not apply to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Bible does.

Have they (we) restricted it to mental capability? The answer to such a question may indicate that the Bible is no longer the source, but rather my own reason. So, if a group claims the Bible is the only source for doctrine and faith, very good. But look closer at how this is practiced in preaching and teaching.

Using Reason: Ministerial Use

Even further, we have to look at how reason is used with regard to the second question about Scripture alone. For Lutherans, we use reason in a ministerial way, that is in service to the Scriptures. Thus, we use reason in all its fullness, using all the tools that are available, including new archaeological discoveries, lexicons (dictionaries), manuscript finds, etc. The stopping point for Lutherans is at the point at which Scripture declares something that our reason struggles to believe. Ministerial reason tries to understand all that is involved, but if no solution can be found, then we say that Scripture has the last word, not reason.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this limit is the Lord’s Supper. How can Jesus’ body and blood be present in the the Sacrament of the Altar. Our reason would want us to get out a microscope to confirm that it is true. Yet, as Luther told Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, “But the text says, ‘This is my body’ ” (paraphrased). So reason is a tool, but always stops short when there is a contradiction between what the text says and what reason deduces.

Using Reason: Magisterial Use

In that same Marburg discussion, Uhlrich Zwingli (1483-1531) used reason but in a magisterial (judging) way. That is, when he could not comprehend using ministerial (serving) reason, he moved to magisterial reason to sit in judgment over Scripture. Thus, Zwingli’s response to Luther’s declaration was in essence, “But that doesn’t make any sense that his body and blood were actually present.” To get around this contradiction, Zwingli claimed that the communicant (the one receiving) would ascend to heaven to get benefits. The bread and wine were only signs of something (the “real benefit”) that was happening elsewhere not in the elements in the Lord’s Supper. So not only did Zwingli sit in judgment with magisterial reason, he even used it to devise a non-Biblical solution.

Interestingly, the Roman Catholicism formalized this same position. The source of official teaching includes four sources:

1 all the canonical books of the Bible (including the Deuterocanonical books)

2 reason

3 the tradition of the Church (formalized reason over a period of time)

4 the interpretation of these by the Magisterium (official teaching authority of the Church through the pope and bishops).

Accordingly, for Roman Catholicism, these four sources constitute the complete and best resource for fully attaining to God’s revelation to mankind. Thus, within Roman Catholicism, sacred scripture and sacred tradition as preserved and interpreted by the Magisterium are both necessary for attaining to the fullest understanding of all of God’s revelation.

Distinguish between what is important and not important?

So how do we decide what is or is not important? What is the role of baptism relative to what is most important? What about the role of women? (NB: even phrasing this question this way reveals much about the church) What about end times? It can be very confusing.

As I wrestled through this process I came to realize that there were distinctions between doctrines, some very important, and others less so. At the time I didn’t have resources to formally sort this out, but as it turned out, I followed much the path that Franz Pieper had articulated in his Christian Dogmatics. And I discovered that this process was used by Christians for many centuries, that is, to distinguish Fundamental Doctrines vs. Non-fundamental Doctrines vs. Adiaphora (“things indifferent”).

Fundamental Doctrines:

These concern the foundation of the Christian faith. Saving faith (as “the faith”) includes the following:

Knowledge of sin and consequences of sin (Luke 24:47; Isaiah 66:2; 57:15; Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Luke 4:18, etc.)

Knowledge of the Person of Jesus Christ, i.e. true God and true Man (Matt. 22:42; 16:13-17; 1 John 1:1-4; Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 12:3, Matthew 28:18-20, etc.)

Knowledge of the work of Jesus Christ, not as an example, but rather the Mediator who gave Himself as a ransom for all to take away the sin of the world (1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 1:29; 1 John 3:8; etc.)

Faith is in the Word of Christ, the external Word, not an internal “feeling” (Mark 1:15; Romans 10:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13, etc.)

Belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead and of eternal life for all believers in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, 54, etc.)

If the above are not believed and taught, then the person/group is not Christian. It is that simple.

There are two secondary fundamental doctrines, that support the above, namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The difference is that while these are built on the above foundation someone can believe or teach wrongly on either topic and yet be Christian. This is critical in two ways. We may disagree on these two topics but we cannot then claim that those who disagree are not Christian. On the other hand, we cannot just accept something to avoid digging further, claiming “it doesn’t matter because I’m Christian.” Doctrine does matter. If Scripture teaches something on these two topics we cannot dismiss it as unimportant (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy 1:13-14, etc.).

Non-fundamental Doctrines:

Pieper writes about this classification very well:

Non-fundamental doctrines…are those Scripture truths which are not the foundation or object of faith in so far as it obtains forgiveness of sins and makes [people] children of God, but with the faith of those who have already obtained the forgiveness of sins should and does concern itself. (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pp. 91-2)

The knowledge of non-fundamental doctrines serve faith, and include topics such as: the Antichrist, doctrine of angels, end times theology, etc. However, the denial of or errors regarding non-fundamental doctrines can endanger saving faith, i.e. approaching the end times in such a way that faith in Christ is weakened rather than strengthened.

Adiaphora (“Things indifferent”)

These are things which God has neither commanded nor forbidden. In Christian freedom we can make choices on either side of the topic, but always with concern for the weaker believer (i.e. Romans 14:13-18). Examples include: to be vegetarian or not, to drink alcoholic beverages, what day to worship, etc. These can raise all kinds of additional concerns, which means caution, love, and humility inform and guide our freedom in these matters.

One other topic: Law and Gospel

Understanding Law and Gospel and the proper distinction between them is essential in terms of reading Scripture rightly. Over the past 30 years I have found that once people come to grips with this, many other pieces fall into place (not in the sense of “making sense” but rather consistent with Scripture itself. This deserves a separate post, but just a note on it (and a Law-Gospel Handout):

Law: Tells us what we are to do or not do, and threatens punishment when we fail. It can only condemn, accuse, threaten (in doctrinal terms). “I” am the subject of the Law.

Gospel: Tells us what Jesus Christ has done for our salvation, 100% his doing, nothing I can do or even believe to change that. “Jesus” is the subject of saving work, and He is always the object of saving faith. Gospel never condemns, never accuses, but always comforts, forgives, renews, restores, and builds faith in Jesus Christ.

Much more could be written but this is at least a good starting point. It gives a road map to make sure that we do not make a “shipwreck of our faith” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). As we work our way through the above process, we also look at how this is working itself out in the congregation. Correct doctrine is to be consistent with a Spirit-led, God pleasing ministry among the people and in outreach. So that is the next focus.