Chief Article of the Christian Faith

The Lutheran Confessions state clearly that justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is the article by which the Church stands or falls. Carl Braaten (Principles of Lutheran Theology, Fortress, 2007) in his chapter on “The Confessional Principle” posed the challenge for us, “The question we face today as Lutherans is whether justification by faith alone is still the right key for the church” (p. 43). And yet, he fails to give an adequate response, especially in light of two shifts in recent decades that challenge such a claim.

1. New Perspective on Paul: Breaking ground on this was Krister Stendahl and James D. G. Dunn. However, N. T. Wright has led the way in challenging the essential issue at stake in Pauline with what is called the New Perspective on Paul. He claims that Luther and the reformers framed the issue around their own current topics, not around what Paul and the NT presented. In essence, Luther asked the wrong question (how can a sinner be justified before a holy God?).

Recently Dan Wallace offered a compelling critique of Wright and the NPP, “Δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ and N. T. Wright.” As a convenient summary, Wallace writes about the problem from a lexical perspective, “It has coherence when it is not interacting with the particulars of the text, but it wreaks havoc at the lexical level for it is self-defeating.” But Wallace further highlights the ultimate failure of Wright’s approach and method, “I would view Wright’s synthesis of Romans as a brilliant failure—brilliant because of how coherent it is, but a failure because it sits three feet above the text at all points where it would be inconvenient to wrestle with what the text actually says.”

Paul McCain offers a Lutheran starting point for evaluating the NPP with his article on CyberBrethren.

2. Post-modernism: Braaten is definitely a “modern” writer. As you read his works, it almost seems as if he is reluctant to give up the modern perspective for the post-modern reality of life. He has regularly written about the failures of the ELCA and its abandonment of the Lutheran perspective, whether due to the reduction to social gospel or the emphasis on the gospel of inclusiveness. But still his framework is the absolutes of modernity. Thus, while he offers valuable critiques of what went wrong, he offers nothing with regard to a post-modern world view.

So, the challenge of Braaten’s question is still there, but the response has to deal with the post-modern challenges. Stay tuned.

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Exorcisim

This topic came up on a forum. Here is my response to the topic. Regrading a liturgical form to use, that is relatively easy. This is where we can learn from the church catholic (not the RCC exclusively) on this topic. This is not child’s play, nor is it to entered into independently.

1. Study Scriptures

2. Pray

3. Consult with other pastors

4. Pray

5. Read the literature, not the sensationalist stuff, but the serious Lutheran writings.

6. Pray

7. Consult with doctors to ensure that there is no medical issue that is masking demonic activity, or is in fact the cause of the problems.

8. Pray

9. Teach your elders about all of this. Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Ephesians 6:10-20, 1 Peter 5:5-11, 1 John 1-5, James 4:1-10, James 5:7-18, etc.

10. Confess your sins to one another. Then forgive one another. Matthew 18:15-20, Ephesians 4:32, etc.

11. Pray

12. Prepare your family. This takes time, effort, energy, etc. It is not to be entered into lightly or with a short-time attitude.

13. Pray

14. Prepare to engage in long term spiritual growth for the individual, which should be a goal for all Christians.

15. Pray

If you still decide to proceed, then always have at least three people involved on site during the exorcism. All three should be mature Christians, well-grounded in the Scriptures. If the person is a woman, at least one of the participants needs to be a woman.

This is only an outline to make a beginning when approaching such a profound topic.

Does Doctrine Matter?

Francis Pieper offered some guidelines to examine doctrine (teachings of the Bible), Christian Dogmatics. The Fundamental Doctrines distinguish Christians from non-Christians. Secondary Doctrines flow from the Fundamental Doctrines,a nd distinguish one Christian group from another.

Fundamental Doctrines (essential to faith)

A person is saved by God’s grace alone, by what Christ has done alone, and is received by faith alone. Therefore, saving faith includes:

1. Knowledge of sin and the consequences (eternal damnation)
2. Knowledge of the Person of Christ (true God and true Man)
3. Knowledge of the Work of Christ (redemption)
4. Faith in the Word of Christ (faith accepts the forgiveness of sins offered by the Word)
5. Acceptance of the bodily resurrection of the dead and eternal life
6. Belief in the Triune God as revealed in the Bible

Secondary Doctrines (supporting faith)

The secondary doctrines are important. Denial of these can lead to serious problems with the fundamental doctrines. Often there is a felicitous inconsistency, that is, someone believes in a wrong teaching regarding these secondary doctrines but still has faith in God’s grace through Christ. Secondary doctrines include:

1. Baptism
2. Lord’s Supper
3. Communication of Attributes (divine and human in the Person of Christ)

Non-fundamental doctrines (serving faith)

These Scriptural truths are neither the foundation of faith nor the object of faith, but these are doctrines which should and do concern the Christian. Denial of these non-fundamental doctrines may endanger faith. Non-fundamental doctrines include:

1. End times theology
2. Angels
3. Pastors (only men may serve)

Open Questions

Scripture leaves many issues untouched. Therefore, we cannot elevate a statement to doctrine unless Scripture clearly addresses the issue. Open questions include:

1. How did sin originate?
2. How is the soul created?
3. Crux Theologorum (why are some saved and not others)
4. Worship practices (as long as they do not contradict nor detract from established doctrines)
5. Role of women in the church (i.e. Voters’ assembly)


Some good food for thought. Sometimes, we find ourselves caught up in some of the non-Fundamental Doctrines, when we really need to focus on the Fundamental Doctrines.

Doctrines of Church and Ministry

I think it important to lay out the critical doctrines and ask questions related to each, so that doctrine becomes the basis for our practice. My goal is to stimulate doctrinal and theological reflection, examination, and purpose in determining who we are and where we as Lutherans stand on this issues.

Background reading:

Matthew 16:13-20; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Peter 2:8-9; Ephesians 4:11-32; Matthew 28:16-20; Matthew 18:15-20; Matthew 24:4-5, 10-11, 24; Acts 20:27-32; Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 6:10-17; Galatians 1:6-10; 3:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Hebrews 13:17


Augsburg V (Ministry of the Church/Office of the Ministry), Augsburg VII (The Church), Augsburg VIII (What the Church is); Apology VII and VIII (The Church); Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.

1. Priesthood of All Believers

What is the Church?

What is the doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers?

How does that relate to the authority/privileges of Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Absolution?

What congregational responsibilities are included in Priesthood of all believers?

What about avoiding false teaching?

What responsibilities do congregational members have relative to their pastors?

Church and Mission

For the past few months in Sunday morning Bible study, we have examined the five passages that cumulatively flesh out the Dominical Mission for the Church (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:44-53; John 20:19-31; Acts 1:6-8).

While each of these is distinctive in setting forth the mission of the Church, and each is uniquely suited to its particular writing context, they also share elements of mission. Here are a few of the most important elements:

Authority (of Jesus)
Holy Spirit
Faith/Believe
Scriptures/Testimony
Baptism
Extent (“end(s) of the earth”)

The study has helped clarify for many the framework for understanding Church, Mission, and the New Testament. One particular element of this study has intrigued me, namely Acts 1:6 in relationship to these topics, and specifically the Extent (“end of the earth”).

Acts 1:6 οἱ μὲν οὖν συνελθόντες ἠρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες κύριε εἰ ἐν τῷ χρόνῳ τούτῳ ἀποκαθιστάνεις τὴν βασιλείαν τῷ Ἰσραήλ

Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” ESV

Coming from an amillennial perspective, I have found few, if any, theologians in this school who have adequately addressed this verse. That is, concern about the accepting a bifurcation of Israel/Church that is symptomatic of premillennial theology causes many to either ignore or gloss over this verse and “get to the real meat in 1:8”. But what is the proper way to address this verse, in the context of Acts, Luke-Acts, or even broader, the New Testament? An insightful work by David Pao provides the basis for a solution.