Not Chosen? — Chosen!

I am teaching Ephesians in ALTS this quarter, the third time I have done so. Instead of getting bored with it, I find that Paul’s letter is deeper than when I first read it 55 years ago, deeper than when I have taught in congregations the past 30 years, and deeper than the several times I have translated it.

Sometimes a fresh reading and perspective is needed. Here is one verse to whet the appetite for digging deeper.

… just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1:4 NAS)

Obviously we examine the words and the theological significance of the words: “God chose us in Him.” And we will do that tonight in class.

But there is also the practical side, the living reality, of what this means. In our current situation in the world, “not chosen” comes through words like alienation, abuse, abandoned, and the list goes one. What does it mean for us “God chose us in Him”?

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Practice Resurrection*,  helps us dig through this practical stuff.

Everybody I have ever become acquainted with has a story, usually from childhood, of not being chosen: not chosen for the glee club, not chosen for the basketball team, the last chosen in a neighborhood sandlot softball team (which is worse than not being chosen at all), not chosen for a job, not chosen as a spouse. Not chosen carries the blunt message that I have no worth, that I am not useful, that I am good for nothing.

These and a host of other compensatory strategies often work quite well, sometimes spectacularly well, but they don’t have much staying power. [Peterson, 58]

Against this background, common to all of us, of not being noticed, being ignored, being dismissed as of no account, being indistinguishable from the background, the verb “chose” is a breath of fresh air: God chose us.

And yes, God chose us. It wasn’t a last-minute thing because he felt sorry for us and no one would have us, like a stray mutt at the dog pound, or an oprhan who nobody adopted. He chose us “before the foundation of the world.” [Peterson, 58-9]

Such a perspective helps us to relate this powerful text to those who have lived lives “not chosen.” This does not mean teaching people how to be good enough, how to behave. This means that God’s Word can speak into our very own lives, where we struggle often with “not chosen.” And receive what God had intended from eternity past.

God chose us “in Him,” namely, “in Jesus.” God’s choosing is not a “behind the curtain” kind of choosing that we have no clue about. “God choosing” is not left for us to wonder who he chose, or why has He not chosen…?

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 2:4 CSB)

If we want to know God’s desire for everyone, it is clearly stated in this passage. We look at what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world, not as a life coach, to help us live the good life. Jesus came to be human, to endure the pain and suffering of life, to pay the penalty of our own sins, meaning He takes the punishment we deserve.

And He came to endure the most devastating “not chosen-ness” imaginable when He was on the cross, and gasped these words:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

In that moment He experienced what we all dread, the forsakenness by God. But prior to that moment, Jesus also received this accolade:

behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 NAS)

Paul goes on in Ephesians to expand the horizons of what it means to be chosen in Him. When we believe in Jesus and are baptized into Him, we receive the same declaration from the Father, “My beloved child.” Your chosenness is certain because it is God’s work in Jesus. We cannot undo what Jesus has done. Even more, Paul reminds us that God chose us in Him “before the foundation of the world.”

And Paul ends this section with even more good news:

In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession (Ephesians 1:13-14 CSB)

In our world of brokenness because of sin, the forsakenness of others, our own despondency, this Word comes from God to become a bright beacon of light for all who believe in Jesus. In Jesus is salvation, in Jesus God’s eternal plan comes to fruition and completion, in Jesus is hope, not just for today, but for eternity.

No wonder that Ephesians 1:3-14 divided into three sections (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and Paul includes the phrase at the end of each section: “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”

===========

*Peterson, Eugene H. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

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A Word of Concern

This 3rd midweek service focuses on the word “concern.” The word can be used negatively, concern about what is happening in a fearful sense. It can also be used positively, noticing what is happening and having concern (and care) for those affected.

Psalm 142 (CSB)

1 I cry aloud to the LORD;
I plead aloud to the LORD for mercy.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I reveal my trouble to him.
3 Although my spirit is weak within me,
you know my way.

Along this path I travel
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see:
no one stands up for me;
there is no refuge for me;
no one cares about me.

5 I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my shelter,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Listen to my cry,
for I am very weak.
Rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
7 Free me from prison
so that I can praise your name.
The righteous will gather around me
because you deal generously with me.

1 Corinthians 12:18–26 (CSB)

18 But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted. 19 And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable. 23 And those parts of the body that we consider less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unrespectable parts are treated with greater respect, 24 which our respectable parts do not need.

Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, 25 so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. 26 So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

John 19:23–27 (CSB)

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled that says: “They divided my clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.” This is what the soldiers did.

25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

“See How They Love One Another”

Love— a big topic! The word is often misunderstood, misused, abused, twisted. And yet in the current debacle of love (in both the church and the world), there is a genuine love based on truth. What we in the church can do is to hold to that perfect balance of love and truth, sacrificing neither.

Competing views of Love

If someone is claiming to love, but twisting Scripture to support a false view, then we have to speak truth, calling a spade a spade. If abuse is happening in the name of love, then we can be sure that love is not part of the environment, no matter how loudly someone shouts about it being “Biblical love.”

True love described by Paul is the heart of what love looks like, acts like, and speaks like.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CSB)

As Christians we cannot let the world determine love; Scripture does that sufficiently. The people without faith can see problems in the world, even in love problems. In light of the great needs in the world, one suggestive, even tempting quip, is heard: “Let the Christian churches show their love for the hurting, refugees, persecuted.” There is some truth to that, but not the totality of the problems nor the solution of the problems. In other words, many can see the problems with love, but can’t offer a viable, sustainable model of love.

The starting point for Christian love is not the entire social mess in the world. Yes, the needs are pressing, but we cannot let that dictate what love is and looks like. Rather, the as we look at 1 John, we discover love that begins within the Church and moves outward, not the other way around.

1 John Speaks to the Church

This short post is about beginning in the local Christian congregation. If we cannot love those in our own congregation, then what can we offer the world? People will see our congregation and say, “If that is love, I want no part of it!”

John’s first letter proposes a different agenda for the Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament: “love for one another.” Given the atmosphere, attitudes, language among  Christians (at least in the U.S.), now is a good time to reflect on what John faced and wrote in the first century.

John minces no words about love in the life of a Christian—specifically love for other Christians:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:14-15 CSB)

How is love in our congregations? A real problem for Christians is when our love for others is feigned, and ultimately love is replaced by indifference. What does “cooling love” sound like? In the tone of dialog. In the descriptions of others? Of course, we may not always outright reject brothers and sisters in the faith in the congregation or attack them. We don’t have to. We are too subtle for that.

 How do we move beyond the superficial love?

John writes:

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16 CSB)

Jesus showed exactly what perfect love is. He sacrificed his own life, not for good people, but for sinners, like you and me. He loved in words and in deeds, all in truth. So John asks the first century Christians (and us!) to consider that in our love of other Christians.

If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18 CSB)

So the pattern for loving our brothers and sisters in faith, the very people we meet at worship, on the street, in our homes, is Jesus himself. As you read through the Gospels notice how Jesus loved— openly, freely, deeply. None of his love was based on what the person could do for Jesus, but because most of all the people needed to be loved, uncoditionally. And Jesus could do that—and did that.

John concludes this chapter with a summary of the thoughts above, with one specific addition.

Now this is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps his commands remains in him, and he in him. And the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he has given us. (1 John 3:23-24 CSB)

John adds that we know the Christ and his love remains in us: the Spirit who is given to us. Notice then we not only have the example and reality of Christ loving us, we have the Spirit leading us to live in Christ, to love in Christ.

Such description and hope mean that love is the central aspect of our life together in Christ. God continues to nurture our love by means of God’s Word (John 8:1-32), God’s forgiveness (Matt. 18:15-20), the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-29), and the daily reminder of our Baptism in Christ (Romans 6:1-7). Our actions reflect that love as Christ remains in us.

Thus, Jesus’ love transforms us so that we see the real problems in the world, not just the visually identified problems. Thus, in the church we see the heartache, abuse, neglect, despair, the broken relationships in our midst and respond with both the truth of God’s Word and the perfect love of Jesus as the solution. We speak with one another not “as if we loved them,” but “because we do love them.”

May the observation from a second century pagan become a tribute to God’s love in our midst: “See how they love one another.”

[more to follow]

A Word of Assurance

For the midweek Lenten services we have followed the theme: “A Word of ______”

Last week, it was “A Word of Forgiveness.” This week our theme is “A Word of Assurance. Here are the four Scriptures that we will use in our meditation.

Psalm 91:14-16 (CSB)

[God says] Because he has his heart set on me,

I will deliver him;
I will protect him because he knows my name.
When he calls out to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble.
I will rescue him and give him honor.
I will satisfy him with a long life
and show him my salvation.

Ezekiel 36:22-32 (CSB)

22 “Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: It is not for your sake that I will act, house of Israel, but for my holy name, which you profaned among the nations where you went. 23 I will honor the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations—the name you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the LORD this is the declaration of the Lord GOD when I demonstrate my holiness through you in their sight.”

24 “‘For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25 I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. 28 You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will summon the grain and make it plentiful, and I will not bring famine on you. 30 I will also make the fruit of the trees and the produce of the field plentiful, so that you will no longer experience reproach among the nations on account of famine.

31 “‘You will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and detestable practices. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act— this is the declaration of the Lord GOD— let this be known to you. Be ashamed and humiliated because of your ways, house of Israel!”

Hebrews 10:19-25 (CSB)

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own aassembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

John 11:17-37 (CSB)

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that awhatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me awill never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Church in the Midst of Turmoil

In the midst of much public angst, fear, etc. over the past week, accusations have been flung at Christians, specifically Evangelicals, about what should be done, changed, etc. In this post I will address that topic. But more, there is much about what Christians say and do, especially relative to the elections and who is elected/not elected, than has been addressed.

Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical

I use all three of these terms, but not as identified by a church body or movement. That may cause confusion, so let me explore this a bit. When I teach hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) I repeatedly point out that one key is looking at the referent of a word, i.e. what is it referring to, pointing to.

Definition: catholic 

When the word is capitalized (Catholic) it refers to the church body that is headed by the pope and headquartered in the Vatican. In my references to that church body I use the fuller title, Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

When the word is not capitalized (catholic) then it carries the basic sense of “universal.” Historically catholic referred to the universal Christian church, that is, believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of location or affiliation. It also meant that the Christians were identifiable by the confession they publicly professed.

I am catholic, in that I confess the Christian faith, and as articulated in the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian).

Definition: orthodox

Like catholic, when Orthodox is capitalized it refers to a specific church body (or a group of church bodies: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.). When the word is not capitalized, orthodox carries the basic sense of “straight praise” (literalisticly) which came to indicate “straight doctrine.”

I am orthodox in that I confess the true, straight Christian doctrine (and praise/worship that reflects such) proclaimed in the Bible (as as expressed the creeds of the Christian Church.

Definition: Evangelical

Again, when capitalized the word, Evangelical, refers to a movement within the last 100+ years. Most of the rhetoric of the past 60 years about “Evangelicals” is used in reference to a conglomeration of people from various Reformed, Calvinist, and other Protestant backgrounds.

When not capitalized, evangelical has the historic meaning “gospel.” Interestingly, in Germany since the time of the reformation the Lutheran church was and still is known as the evangelische kirche, the gospel church.

I am evangelical as an expression historically meaning “gospel.” I adhere to the confession of the Gospel in all its purity, as articulated in the Book of Concord 1580.

Confusion and Caution:

These three words can also be used in a sociological way. That is, it might refer to many groupings of people who have the sociological identification as such, but are not theologically included in the terms. Thus, when each is used in a sociological way, then they might include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc. However, when used in their historic theological understanding, the words do not apply to those groups.

I do not write this to cause problems but to note that using a word like “evangelical” (in a sociological construct situation) includes these groups which are not necessarily theologically accurate. For instance, I will never include these groups because I use the terms in their strictly theological sense.

Ministry in a Changing Social/Political Arena

What happens to the message of a Church/pastor when the social, political, economic situation drastically or subtly changes? The answer depends on how the terms above are used, sociologically or theologically? Sadly many churches/pastors don’t make that distinction. Is it any wonder that those outside the Church are confused when trying to provide an answer, demand changes?

Background:

With the election of Donald Trump as President, many are questioning how the Church can/should be changed or exhorted to respond. First, I would like to approach this from a secular standpoint. I served in the U.S. Navy 9½ years active duty and 4 years reserve. I served under four different presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.

In fact, my final processing interview (May 1973) took place when the Watergate investigation was reaching its peak. I was asked how this changing environment would affect my service in the Navy. I answered that my oath is to defend the country and the Constitution. If the President were impeached, then the VP would serve. It would not change my service at all. Thus, over the next decade, changing presidents didn’t affect my work, my commitment to the Navy, the nation, or relationships with family and friends.

So what is the Church to do?

So when the Church is called out now for not addressing the current hot points, I think I need to follow a similar path as a pastor. Note that most of these calls are for Evangelicals to change, or become what the Church should be, etc. My first response is: I am not part of the Evangelical movement, never have been, even though I am evangelical.

Second, I have pastored at the time of six different presidents (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump). Over the past 30+ years, my focus as pastor has been on proclaiming the Gospel as historically understood. That means that much of my ministry is to and with people who are broken, abused, outsiders, etc. I began using the term “fringe ministry” to summarize this approach, which I think reflects Jesus’ ministry. Not once did the national climate affect the message or my ministry.

From that perspective, I do not have to change church bodies. I do not have to reinvent myself for the current situation. It is not because I am insensitive to what people are experiencing. Rather it is because I have been in the trenches of what people are experiencing: brokenness, abandoned, abused, neglected. The Gospel I proclaim is not a new social construct, in fact, to be Gospel, it cannot be.

What many, or most, people do not realize is that my ministry has even happened. It has not received public acknowledgement. And for that I am extremely thankful. Such public notice could easily close doors to ministry to the broken, abused, forgotten people, not open doors. I have seen God work changes in peoples’ lives that demonstrate exactly where God’s heart is, and therefore where my heart is.

Church and ministry do not change for anyone or any political, economic condition. I think we can learn from our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world: that even extreme, true (not artificial) persecution allows the Church to still be the Church. No president, no congress, no political platform can change that.

So what is the Church to do? In my case, exactly what we have been doing in the past. Thus, I speak Law to expose sin, but most importantly I speak Gospel to bring forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, hope in Jesus Christ. And the Church responds in caring for others as well.

Framework: Two Kinds of Righteousness

One of the key insights that Luther and others highlighted is this topic. In their study of the Scripture they saw that Scripture talks about righteousness in two different ways: righteousness before God and righteousness before people.

Coram Deo (before God) refers to the righteousness that a person has before God, most commonly called, “passive righteousness.” In other words the person’s works before God do not add one drop of righteousness before God. Our righteousness is entirely Christ’s righteousness, which is received as a gift by faith.

Coram mundo (before humans) refers to the righteousness that a person has before people, most commonly called, “active righteousness.”

Kolb and Arand in their book, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, note:

This view [two kinds of righteousness] provided the theological assumptions for everything they had to say about the relationship between God and the human being. This distinction between the two kinds of righteousness is one of the elements we can describe as the “nervous system” running through the body of Christian teaching as these reformers thought of the public teaching of Scripture. (Kolb/Arand, p. 25)

The implications for such an understanding is fleshed out even more.

The distinction between the two kinds of righteousness allowed the reformers without qualification to extol the gospel by removing human activity as a basis for justification before God. At the same time, it clarified the relationship of the human creature to the world in which God had placed him or her to live a life of “active righteousness” for the well-being of the human community and the preservation of the environment. The two kinds of righteousness, however, are not inseparable from one another. The passive righteousness of faith provides the core identity of a person; the active righteousness of love flows from that core identity out into the world. (Kolb/Arand, p. 26)

Lest we think this is a 21st century reading back into Luther, in our Prolegomena class I assign the students to read Luther’s 1535 Commentary on Galatians. Thus, the student reads the primary source to see that Luther does in fact address the two kinds of righteousness from the beginning of the commentary. And they see how he does that. One example from Luther’s introduction to Galatians:

Therefore I admonish you, especially those of you who are to become instructors of consciences, as well as each of you who individually, that you exercise yourselves by study, by reading, by meditation, and by prayer, so that in temptation you will be able to instruct consciences, both your own and others, console them, and take them from Law to grace, from active righteousness to passive righteousness, in short, from Moses to Christ. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 26, p. 10)

Kola and Arand present an expansion of what Luther means by the two kinds of righteousness:

Although Luther labeled the way we are to relate to God as passive righteousness, this dimension of our personhood also assumed a variety of other names, such as “Christian righteousness,” “divine righteousness,” or “spiritual righteousness.”

The reformers also used a rich and varied vocabulary to highlight the various activities and aspects of human life that constitute righteousness in the web of mutually constitutive human relationships. These include “human righteousness,” “civil righteousness,” “political righteousness,” “ceremonial righteousness,” “righteousness of the law,” “righteousness of reason,” “carnal righteousness,” and similar expressions. (p. 29)

Implications

Passive righteousness in Scripture

As we read the Bible we begin to discover that sometimes the text will emphasize the passive righteous of God. For instance,

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith… (Philippians 3:8-9 NAS)

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)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3:21-22)

Active righteousness in Scripture

Now in our relationships to others we see that Scripture talks about what we do in those relationships. Paul gives an extended discussion of this in Romans 12-15, as be begins that section with the words: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…” (Romans 12:1), where passive righteousness precedes active righteousness. The active righteousness of Christians shines through in their good works.

[Jesus said:] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, 20

Negatively regarding the works we do for others and their value before God.

This you know, my loved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)

Positively the active righteousness benefits others. Note that James is saying that the active righteousness before others is informed and shaped by the passive righteousness of faith from God.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit corphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27)

Resources:

Kolb, Robert and Arand, Charles P. The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians Chapters 1-4 (Editor: Pelikan, Jaroslav. Luther’s Works, Concordia). (2007).

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.