When discussing theology, I've come to realize that not only is personal study of doctrine a necessary component to faith, but it is something that shouldn't be kept to oneself. I want to share my journey, both past and ongoing, into the realm of theology. Through this, I hope that you will gain insight into the Christian faith as a whole. Before reading anything else, I suggest you read the introduction and definitions (found in the pages tabs above) so you may better understand where I am coming from in everything I write. Because many of my posts are on heresies, there is also a page above with a family tree of heresies and links to all the posts I have so far on the topic.

31 October, 2012

Reformation Day

Today, for many individuals, is a strange custom known as "Halloween".  I never really saw the point in it, so I generally choose to avoid participating in it (costumes are fun, though, so I enjoy the dances, parties and such that spring up at this time of year with masks and disguises).

However, for Lutherans, today is Reformation Day.  495 years ago on 31 October, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.  At that time, the door was much like a bulletin board, with all forms of notices posted there--this notice being one for debate on the topic of Indulgences.

Luther's Rose (or Luther's Seal), enshrining the core of our beliefs in Sola Fida, Sola Gratia and Sola Scriptora: Faith Alone by Grace Alone as taught to us in Scripture Alone

Before I get into more about the Theses, I came across two interesting links in looking for further information on this topic.  One from what appears to be a Catholic source, actually speaks very kindly of the Theses, which is encouraging to me and I would like to hear from my Catholic friends to see if this is common sentiment or just someone posting on the internet.  Another is an article from The Economist on 17 December 2011, addressing how Luther "went viral" in his day.  If you haven't seen the more recent Luther movie, you're missing out.  Below you can watch the 95 Theses scene--but seriously, watch the whole movie as soon as possible.  It is excellent.

Why did Luther write these 95 Theses in the first place?  Briefly, Luther strongly (and rightly) opposed the practice of purchasing the forgiveness of sins and giving false hope to sinners and believers about their salvation and forgiveness being just a few coins away.

Indulgences are pieces of paper you can could once buy (edit: per a Catholic friend, you cannot still purchase indulgences, however you may still earn or gain them and it appears to me the practice has been somewhat reformed, addressing issues of contrition and repentance now at least) from the Roman Catholic Church for absolution of your sins, or removing dead relatives from Purgatory.  Johann Tetzel, the hand of Pope Leo X in the selling of indulgences, had a nice little ditty: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!"  These pieces of paper are, of course, utterly meaningless for forgiveness of sins (particularly since Purgatory does not even exist) and were simply a means of raising money for building projects and to finance the exceedingly extravagant lifestyle of the Pope at that time.  In order to sell more indulgences, the priest Tetzel began to claim that all sins (past, present and future, with no further need for confession and absolution) were forgiven with his indulgences--for just a little more money.

Additionally, it was said that veneration of relics would allow the sinner to receive pardon for their sins by "skipping" Purgatory.  Wittenberg, because of Prince Frederick III of Saxony, held a large collection of relics at that time, reportedly over 5,000--and, like most relics, they were frauds.

Luther was rightly outraged that the Church would charge money for a gift freely offered and already paid for by Christ.  In order to expose this fraud, Luther, being a scholar, requested a public debate at the University of Wittenberg, with the 95 Theses being the outline of topics for discussion.  They also were the challenge to anyone who would come and defend the appalling practice of selling Indulgences.

After posting the 95 Theses, Luther also sent copies to the Archbishop Albert of Mainz (who authorized the selling of Indulgences in his area) and to the Bishop of Brandenburg, Luther's superior.  Within two weeks, the Theses had spread across the country with the aid of the printing press.  Within two months, copies could be found all over Europe.  In January 1518, friends of Luther's translated the Theses from Latin to German, and further distributed them so that even the common man could understand.

Not much happened until Albert of Mainz decided to score some political points with the Pope.  As mentioned below, had Albert not made the "big deal" of these theses and that monk he had, Luther would likely have been largely unknown today.  The response to Luther, besides greatly angering Johann Tetzel, came on 15 June, 1520 from Pope Leo X in the Exsurge Domine.

Within two years, Wittenberg had turned away from many (what they considered to be heretical) Catholic practices and Luther became much more popular than he ever desired.  From testimony of witnesses to his own writings, he never meant to start a "revolution", merely sought to reform what he considered false teachings within the Church he so dearly loved.  From there, Luther was excommunicated within a few years, within a decade, the Lutheran Princes issued the Augsburg Confession, and the rest, as they say, is history.

To the credit of the Roman Catholic Church, some of the most egregious practices that Luther opposed have been addressed at least to some extent, but it took centuries for that to occur.  By then, they had already severed ties with Luther, and Lutherans, and certainly did not address all concerns that were later laid out in the Augsburg Confession and other portions of the Book of Concord.

To close, I thought I would share a few quotes from those far more eloquent and smart than I.

Some great general commentary on Luther's role in the Reformation from Dr. Gene Edward Veith:
"Luther's goal was to reform the church, but the church repudiated him and what he was trying to do. It is often said that Luther split from the Roman Catholic Church. That is not true. He was thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church. There is a huge difference. Luther was no schismatic. He did not start some new religion on his own authority. He did not dream up some new theology. He was trying to bring the church back to its true nature and its true message, as defined by the Word of God, which the church itself professed to believe. 
The Roman Church, in turn, refused to take the concerns seriously, much less give them a genuine hearing. The pope refused to address even the most flagrant abuses that were obvious to everyone. Instead of listening to those who questioned its direction, the Roman Church tried to destroy them. Thus the Roman Catholic Church created Protestantism." 

Interesting perspective on what might have been had not a church bureaucrat seized what he thought was an opportunity to gain favor with Rome from Pr. Donavon Riley:
"What happened when Luther posted the 95 Theses on the church door? Nothing. An irrelevant monk posted his theses for academic debate on the church doors in an irrelevant city, in an irrelevant part of Saxony, known for its fish, beer, and prostitutes. Several months later the theses were read by Albrecht, "Bishop" of Mainz, who used them as an [political] opportunity for himself to garner more favors from Rome. If not for him ... Obscurity for our frail friar."

"The World's Most Interesting Reformer..." 

30 October, 2012

Pastoral Appreciation

Apparently I missed the memo that October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  I couldn't let the month slip away without thanking all the dear Pastors in my life, most especially...
  • Pr. DuWayne Kirkeide -- the Pastor who baptized, first communed and confirmed me
  • Pr. Donal Widger -- my Pastor in Colorado Springs the last several years (after Pr. Kirkeide retired), and the one who married me
  • Pr. Brian Wolfmueller -- my current Pastor, who has made moving to Denver and finding a church that much better (and been an incredible and helpful resource for all my annoying theological questions)

And all my other Pastor friends--most of whom I know online or from the District Synodical Convention this summer:
  • Pr. George Borghardt
  • Pr. Daniel Burhop
  • Pr. William Cwirla
  • Pr. Jonathan Fisk
  • Pr. Carlton Hein
  • Pr. Steven Hein
  • Pr. Adam Lehman
  • Pr. Brian Kachelmeier
  • Pr. Alan Kornacki
  • Pr. Jared Melius
  • Pr. Mark Preus
  • Pr. Donavon Reily
  • Pr. Walter Snyder
  • Pr. Geoffrey Wagner
  • Pr. William Weedon
  • Pr. Todd Wilken

I'm sure there are more that I've forgotten (I have to know more than just Lutheran Pastors, right?), but thank you to all Pastors who care for their flocks, and preach the Word in its entirety and purity--both Law and Gospel.

29 October, 2012

Infant Faith and Paedobaptism

After my miscarriage earlier this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about infant faith.  I took great comfort in the fact that while I was pregnant for those few short weeks, I was able to attend our district synodical convention and hear the Word preached several times there, along with attending church when the campaign schedule allowed.  As a Lutheran, or maybe more broadly, as someone who believes sincerely in infant faith and infant baptism, that gave me the hope that my child did hear the Word, which is all that is needed for faith.  God is good and faithful, and I will trust in His mercies with my child that I will never get to meet here on earth.

While Lutherans (and other subscribers to paedobaptism--another name for infant baptism) believe that we are conceived with Original Sin present from that very first moment that sparks life, we also believe that because faith comes through hearing, that faith, too, can follow at a very early age--perhaps even before birth.  Who are we to say what God may or may not be able to accomplish?  There is no "age of accountability  (for that denies Original Sin being from conception), nor is there a need for a believer's baptism.

Now that I'm expecting again (14 weeks now!), it has been on my mind once more.  At least in our Lutheran synod (LC-MS), the Pastor blesses the children who are not receiving communion with a remembrance of their baptism.  I was so moved yesterday while we celebrated the Lord's Supper.  Perhaps I've just never noticed this, or perhaps it is something that not all Pastors do, but my Pastor also blessed my unborn child, asking for God to guard it and bring it safely to His promises in baptism.  What an incredible statement of our beliefs and our faith that even the littlest among us may also be worked upon by the Holy Ghost to be brought to faith!

I was two weeks old when I was baptized, and I do not remember a single day when I didn't have faith.  For me, it was never a question of when I had faith, but perhaps when didn't I?  I certainly can't remember.

When I was younger (maybe 7-8 years ago), I started writing a paper on why infant baptism is Biblically sound doctrine.  I've since updated it several times, and it only seems to get longer every time I look at it.  However, since 50-ish pages in a word document do not translate well into a blog post (particularly when there are lengthy appendices), I'm simply going to share some of the highlights here (mostly related Bible Verses and Early Church Father quotes).  If you'd like to see the whole thing, feel free to comment or shoot me an email and I'll send it your way.

The issue of baptism, or more specifically, infant baptism, often boils down to three simple questions.  First, what is the purpose of baptism?  Second, can an infant, who cannot make a “choice”, have faith?  Third, can a “choice” to believe bring salvation to you, and if so, what is the role of the Godhead in this “choice”? (note: those are the basis for the rest of the paper)
  • Genesis 7:1-9:17; Exodus 14:13-31; Numbers 20:1-13; Joshua 3-4; 2 Kings 5:1-19; Ezekiel 36:22-29; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:4-9; Luke 3:3-18 and 1 Corinthians 10:2, 11—the promises of water connected with the house of Israel (including John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Israel’s redeemer) are used to save and destroy, a dichotomy shown distinctly in baptism through the drowning of the Old Adam and birth of regeneration baptism gives; also showing the promise to all people of God.
  • Psalm 51:2; Isaiah 1:16; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 12:2-3; Ezekiel 36:22-29 and Zechariah 13:1—the Old Testament points to salvation through baptism.
  • Isaiah 32:15-17; Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28-32; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16; Luke 11:13; Luke 24:49; John 1:33; John 4:10-14; John 7:37-39; John 14:16-17; John 15:26-27; John 16:7-14; Acts 1:4-5, 8; Acts 2:1-21, 32-39; Acts 10:43-48; Acts 11:15-18; Acts 15:7-9; Romans 8:11-13; Romans 14:17 and Ephesians 3:16—the promise of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament; the promise of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is fulfilled through the rest of the Testament and through our baptism into Christ.
  • 1 Peter 3:20-21—baptism actually redeems not through the power of the individual but of the resurrected Christ.
  • John 3:5-8 and Galatians 3:27-28—the effects of being in the flesh could only be countered by water and Spirit, by a baptism that brings with it the power of the Spirit.
  • Romans 6 and Hebrews 2:14-15—one participates in Christ's death through baptism.
  • Job 14:1; Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; John 3:5-6; Romans 3:20, 23; Romans 5:12, 18; Romans 8:6-8; Ephesians 2:1 and 1 John 1:10—speak of original sin and the necessity of baptism for ALL.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 15:50 and Romans 8:6-8—we cannot, of our own will, submit to God.  The Holy Spirit, through the Word, causes faith in us.
  • Luke 3:3, 6—baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, for salvation.
  • John 15:16; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 and Ephesians 2:9-10—we are predestined to faith, that is, it is not the work of man but of God by which we are atoned.
  • Romans 10:14-15, 17—faith comes from what is heard - faith is a miraculous result of the Word of God.
  • Romans 9:16 and Philippians 2:12-13—salvation cannot come by the hands of any man, but through the work of God in you.
  • John 4:14; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 10:9-12, 14 and James 2:14-19—faith is the only way to salvation.
  • Matthew 14:22-33—we come to Christ on (in) the water.
  • Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-27; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Matthew 13:5-7, 18, 20-22 and Luke 8:13—we can fall away from our faith, once saved is not always saved.
  • Colossians 2:11-13—baptism is the new circumcision.
  • Exodus 4:24-26—the importance of circumcision and of obedience to God’s commands.
  • Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-39; Acts 11:14, Acts 16:14-15, 30-31, 33; Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16-17 and Colossians 2:11-12—who is to be baptized - whole households, which includes infants, were baptized.
  • Joshua 8:35—infants have always been included in the Biblical understanding of family and nations.
  • Psalm 8:2; Psalm 22:9-10; Psalm 71:5-6; Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 18:1-6; Matthew 21:15-16; Luke 1:15, 41, 44; Luke 18:15-17—infants can (and do) have faith.
  • 2 Timothy 3: 14-16Timothy had faith from infancy.
  • Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:14; Luke 10:21; Luke 18:15-17; Acts 11:14; Acts 16:15, 33 and 1 Corinthians 1:16—the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children.
  • Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-39; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-10; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:25-28; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:11-14; 1 Peter 3:20-21 and Titus 3:5the blessings of baptism.

Adapted below from two article (found here and here) are just a few examples from early church fathers (many more exist), showing how infant baptism has been practiced since the inception of Christianity.
  • Polycarp (69-155), at his martyrdom, said, “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord Christ.”
  • Justin Martyr (100 - 166) stated that, “Many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples since childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years.”
  • Irenaeus (130 - 200) wrote in his Against Heresies II 22:4 that Jesus “came to save all through means of Himself - all, I say, who through Him are born again to God - infants and children, boys and youth, and old men.”
  • All 66 bishops at the Council of Carthage in 254 stated that, “We ought not hinder any person from Baptism and the grace of God... especially infants... those newly born.”
  • Origen (185 - 254), in his Commentary on Romans 5: 9, said that “For this also it was that the church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants. For they to whom the divine mysteries were committed knew that there is in all persons a natural pollution of sin which must be done away by water and the Spirit.”  He continues: “The Church has received from the apostles the custom of administering baptism even to infants. For those who have been entrusted with the secrets of divine mysteries, knew very well that all are tainted with the stain of original sin, which must be washed off by water and spirit.”  Origen also stated in his Homily on Luke 14, that “Infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins.”
  • Cyprian (215 - 258) writes, “In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man... Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision... we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins - that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.”
  • The Sixteenth Council of Carthage in 418 unequivocally stated: “If any man says that newborn children need not be baptized... let him be anathema.”
  • Augustine (354 - 430), declared in De Genesi Ad Literam, X: 39, that, “If you wish to be a Christian, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin.” And again, “Whoever says that even infants are vivified in Christ when they depart this life without participation in His sacrament (Baptism), both opposes the Apostolic preaching and condemns the whole church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they cannot possibly be vivified in Christ.”  In Enchiridion, Augustine declares, “For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin.”

As we can see, just from this, infant baptism is not only the Biblically accurate doctrine on baptism, but it has been in practice since the beginning of Christianity (I would especially point out Polycarp, one of the Apostle John’s disciples—look how long he lived (86 years) and how long he had been a faithful servant of the Lord Christ (86 years)—coincidence?  I think not…).  Believer’s baptism, relatively speaking, is a new idea that was developed during the reformation by protestants.  There is simply no Biblical or historical precedent to show that it was practiced in any way prior to then.  Now, obviously, adults were baptized, but those are instances of conversion, which is an entirely separate matter.  We notice that when God says confess with your mouth and be baptized, that there is not a priority in it, no need for one always to come before the other (particularly if you understand Greek).  As long as you confess and believe, you are justified, sanctified and atoned for.  Why would you deny baptism to the believers when God commands that all His children be baptized?

There was only ONE major opponent to infant baptism can be found before the 1520s.  From the second article linked above: 
“In the 1,500 years from the time of Christ to the Protestant Reformation, the only bonafide opponent to infant Baptism was Tertullian (160 - 215), bishop of Carthage, Africa. His superficial objection was to the unfair responsibility laid on godparents when the children of pagans joined the church. However, his real opposition was more fundamental. It was his view that sinfulness begins at the "puberty, of the soul," that is "about the fourteenth year of life" and "it drives man out of the paradise of innocence" (De Anima 38:2). This rules out the belief in original sin.  Tertullian’s stance, together with other unorthodox views, led him to embrace Montanism in 207. Montanism denied the total corruption and sinfulness of human nature. With its emphasis upon the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was the precursor to the modern Charismatic Movement.”

The Lutheran Confessions (Book of Concord) address Baptism (in general) and Infant Baptism (in specific) numerous times.
  • Augsburg Confession: Article IX: Of Baptism.
  • Apology to the Augsburg Confession: Article IX: Of Baptism.
  • Smalcald Articles: V. Of Baptism.
  • Small Catechism: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
  • Large Catechism: Holy Baptism. and Of Infant Baptism.
  • Visitation Articles: Concerning Holy Baptism.

Why Doctrine Matters...

I should have included this in yesterday's Sermon Notes post.  I made this several months ago after another Sermon from my Pastor talking about false doctrine meaning spiritual death for folks--I couldn't help but think of this analogy.  Pictures of many, many individuals could go on here, but I figured since I named a whole heresy after him, Joel Osteen was prime target number one.  Maybe I'll make more at some point with other pictures.  Got suggestions?  Post in the comments.  Enjoy!

Yes, I made it in Paint.

Heresy of the Week: Gnosticism

This week's heresy, Gnosticism, is actually a branch of heresy, not generally thought of as a heresy itself.  There are many, many Gnostic heresies (I've found about 50 distinct branches), which we shall cover in later weeks.  I wanted to set the stage for it now, however.

Gnosticism (meaning “learned”, from the Greek for “knowledge”) is an early church heresy that actually predates Christianity (dating all the way back to Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion), but became a coherent movement in Christianity during the second century. There are several key ideas in Gnosticism, predominantly a dualistic theology (good creator God who rules the spiritual world and evil god, usually Satan and/or the God of the Old Testament, who rules the material world). Gnosticism runs the gauntlet as far as its dualistic theology goes: Manichaeism (a “radical dualist” movement) and Mandaeism are two common derivatives of Gnosticism, classic Gnosticism, such as Sethianism is considered to be “mitigated dualism”, whereas Valentinianism teaches qualified monism. Mitigated dualism teaches that there are two principal forces, one of whom is inferior to the other. In the case of classical Gnosticism, the material world was created by a lesser being than the spiritual world. Their goal, through obtaining higher or “secret” knowledge to throw off the constraints of the physical world and ascend to a spiritual plane. Nearly all Gnostic believed in Docetism (known as Gnostic-Docets), that there was no incarnation of Christ and denied He existed as a human.

All forms of Gnosticism share the following beliefs (although they are often manifested very differently):
  • Dualistic theology (god of good vs. god of evil)
  • Layers or multiple heavens/spiritual planes of existence
  • Seeking of "secret" knowledge
  • Material world = evil; spiritual world = good
  • Because the material is bad, Christ could never be a human, though some teach that he "appeared" to be human (like a ghost or spirit)
  • In almost all, some form of reincarnation is present
  • Bondage of the spirit (good) to the material/body (evil), which can only be overcome through "secret" knowledge
Interestingly, there's a pretty even split on those who are absolute Ascetics (deny all physical pleasures) and those who are absolute heathens (to throw off the physical, one must experience it all--the sooner, the better, especially if it can be in one lifetime).

These groups are from where many of the non-canonical books (most famously, the Gnostic Gospels) come.  As we get into specific Gnostic heresies, we'll talk about the books connected with that sect (if any).

Gnosticism, used sometimes interchangeably with Mysticism in many circles (not identical, but similar enough that it often works), has had heavy influence on many religions throughout history, including several Christian sects today.  Luther calls the Mohammedans (Islam) mystics in the Book of Concord.  Many include Mormonism in this as well, along with folks like the Christian Scientists.  There are even Jewish Mystics, and most Eastern religions were heavily influenced by Mysticism.  Most of the "Christian" Gnostic sects don't deal with those outside religions, but some have had impacts on demonomations today, which will be discussed when we cover individual Gnostic heresies later.

28 October, 2012

The Church Year and Liturgical Colors

As the church year comes to a close over the next month, I thought it might be of benefit to share the beauty of our church calendar with you.  This will look familiar (probably identical) to many denominations, but to far too many--it will be foreign, which I think is a tragedy, but sadly to be expected with the lack of emphasis on tradition in most protestant churches.  In any liturgical church you attend (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Orthodox, etc.), you will likely notice that the colors around the church change at different times of the year as well.  That's included and explained below, from the Lutheran perspective (again, fairly similar in all liturgical churches).

There are three seasons to the church year: the Season of Christmas, the Season of Easter and the Season of the Church.  The LC-MS website has a good summary of these seasons, with details on what all the colors mean here.

Season of Christmas

Advent is the first part of the Church Year.  There are four Sundays in Advent (as we get closer, I will be posting more about each Sunday):
  • First Sunday in Advent, or Ad Te Levavi 
  • Second Sunday in Advent, or Populus Zion
  • Third Sunday in Advent, or Gaudete
  • Fourth Sunday in Advent, or Rorate Coeli
The color of Advent is purple (penitence) or blue (hopefulness), with pink (joy) on Gaudete Sunday.

We then have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  White, the color of purity and Christ, is the color of these celebrations.

Following Christmas, we have Epiphany, and the several Sundays after Epiphany, leading us into the second church year season.  Epiphany, like Christmas, is white (purity), while the following Sundays are green (growth).  On the first Sunday after Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord (also white), and on the final Sunday after Epiphany, we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday (white).  How many Sundays in Epiphany there are depends on when Easter falls.  The earlier in the year, the shorter the Epiphany Season.

Season of Easter

My favorite season of the church year begins with Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent.  The colors of these days are black (sobriety) for Ash Wednesday, and purple (penitence) for Lent.

We then come to Holy Week, beginning with the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the institution of the Last Supper and betrayal of Christ on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion on Good Friday, and the Resurrection of Easter (or Resurrection Sunday).  The colors of Holy Week are scarlet (passion) for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday, black (sobriety) for Good Friday and white (purity and Christ) and gold (denoting value).

There are seven Sundays following Easter before the final church season, the second to last Sunday being the Ascension of our Lord, all Sundays being white (purity and Christ).

Finally, the last Sunday in this season is Pentecost.  The color of Pentecost is red (power and fire).

Season of the Church

The first Sunday in this season is Trinity Sunday, where the Lutheran Church celebrates our Godhead and the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity with the Athenasian Creed.  The color of this Sunday is white (purity).  We then celebrate up to 25 more weeks of Pentecost, where the color is green (growth), until the final Sunday of the Church Year, then it all starts again.  Like Epiphany, the number of Sundays after Pentecost is determined by when Easter falls--the later in the year, the fewer Sundays after Pentecost there are.

Feast and Festivals, Commemorations

It surprises even some Lutherans I know to realize we have Feasts and Festivals, and Commemoration days in the Lutheran Church Calendar.

The list of Feasts and Festivals below comes from here.  For a list of all Commemoration days in the Lutheran Service Book, check here.  Most Feasts and Festivals are celebrated with red (power and fire).

November (30)
30 - St. Andrew, Apostle

21 - St. Thomas, Apostle
26 - St. Stephen, Martyr
27 - St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
28 - The Holy Innocents, Martyrs
31 - Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

18 - The Confession of St. Peter
24 - St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor
25 - The Conversion of St. Paul
26 - St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor

2 - The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
24 - St. Matthias, Apostle

19 - St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus
25 - The Annunciation of Our Lord

25 - St. Mark, Evangelist

1 - St. Philip and St. James, Apostles
31 - The Visitation (Three-Year Lectionary)

11 - St. Barnabas, Apostle
24 - The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
29 - St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

2 - The Visitation (One-Year Lectionary)
22 - St. Mary Magdalene
25 - St. James the Elder, Apostle

15 - St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord
24 - St. Bartholomew, Apostle
29 - The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

14 - Holy Cross Day
21 - St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
29 - St. Michael and All Angels

18 - St. Luke, Evangelist
23 - St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr
28 - St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles
31 - Reformation Day

November (1-29)
1 - All Saints' Day

Sermon Notes: "It's more important for us to love each other, we shouldn't worry about Doctrine..."

Reformation Sunday
"God for Us"
Text: Matthew 11:12-15

We so often here something to the effect of, "It's more important for us to love each other, we shouldn't worry about Doctrine..." today in modern Christianity.  The problem?  That's Satan speaking.


It is the Devil's hobby to tempt humans to sin.  His real work is in false doctrine.  He aims for the heart of the church--our doctrine, our Gospel.

Modern Christianity (especially non-denominational and/or mega-churches) often forget about doctrine and teachings--sometimes even saying that it is bad to be so divisive.  They want to focus on "deeds, not creeds".  Sadly, these are age-old heresies that Satan has used since the death of Christ to drive others away from the Gospel (which saves) and into the Law (which condemns).  If Satan takes our Gospel, he has won and he has us in his grasp.

Sadly, we live in an age of doctrinal indifference in all church bodies--Lutheranism is not exempt from this.  It is the same old struggle, the church's struggle.  Our fight for the Gospel--our fight for truth and salvation--is the history of the church.  In fact, every book of the Bible (some more obviously than others) was written to correct doctrinal error.

None of this is special to our modern times or even the Reformation.  The church has had false teachers from the beginning.  The church has had many "reformers" along the way.  So what made Luther different?  While other "reformers" were crying out against the sins of individuals in Rome, Luther was focused on false doctrine and false teaching.  While others were grasping at mere feathers, Luther grabbed "the goose by the neck, and set a knife to the throat." (from Table Talk)

The Reformation was a time of great theological controversy.  The chief question of the day was, "How is a man to gain salvation?"  Luther's answer was in Christ alone, through no work of our own, through Faith Alone given to us by Grace Alone as given to us in Scripture Alone.  Works are a mere result of faith, not what give us faith, nor can they earn us any form of merit.

Luther stood not only against Rome, but all false teaching in all churches (especially Arminian, Calvinist, Radical Reformed and Zwinglian).  Those divisions were largely (at the time) over the Lord's Supper.  Luther wrote more about the Lord's Supper than any other doctrinal topic because he knew that the Lord's Supper is the Gospel.

The Reformation was not about Luther, but about Jesus, about restoring the Gospel to primacy in the church.

There are probably more false teachings  and teachers now than ever before.  The sum total of modern theology seems to be: "God is a nice guy who wants us to be happy."  But the Scriptures say more--much, much more.  The Scriptures teach Christ crucified.  The Scriptures teach the Gospel.

At the end, Pastor read a beautifully dramatic rendition of "A Mighty Fortress", a hymn we had already sung in the service.  The words are truly incredible.

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from ev'ry need
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.

2 With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever.

3 Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpow'r us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

4 The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone,
Our vict'ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

(My favorite part of Reformation Sunday are all the wonderful hymns we get to sing, including one of my all-time favorites, "Thy Strong Word".)

22 October, 2012

Heresy of the Week: Millerism

This week's heresy is one of the eschatology vein.  It is what happens you don't take God at His Word ("But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come." Mark 13:32-33) and instead trust on your own cleverness to "know" or "divine" or "prophesy" about God and predict His return.

Millerism is an eschatological heresy of the 19th and 20th centuries. The founder of Millerism, William Miller, a Baptist lay minister, believed he could know through prophetic interpretation the date of the Second Coming (he guessed 1843, then 1844, clearly neither being correct, an event which was called "The Great Disappointment"). He initially kept this analysis to himself, but after sharing with a few skeptical acquaintances, he decided to start preaching and writing about this publicly. His articles were published all over America and even into other countries (such as Great Britain, Australia and Canada) and had a wide readership. After "The Great Disappointment", many left the Millerite movement, returning to their old denominations (most were originally Baptist, Presbyterian or Methodist), while a significant number became Quakers. Still others in the Millerite movement became the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and also significantly influenced the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Bahá’í also credits Millerism for the analysis of Christ’s return and said the timing was right, but the location was incorrect.

William Miller is just one in a long line of those who claimed to prophesy the return of Christ (for a long, but incomplete list, read here).  Since the time of Christ, there have been those who have claimed to know when He would come again, and perhaps more disturbing--many who claimed to be Christ who had returned.

Millerism is important, however, because it caused the founding of one denomination (Seventh-day Adventist), and heavily influenced another (Jehovah's Witness).  More than most false prophets of the end times, William Miller has had a lasting impact on many today, continuing to lead them astray and to put their faith in the false prophecies of men rather than the Word of God.

Even now, we have those saying it will be on 21 December this year (2012)--funny how that's the same day the Mayan calendar supposedly predicts the end of the world (it doesn't, it is just the end of one calendar and the beginning of another but that's a totally different story).  Sounds to me like someone just got lazy with that one.  But they have celebrity endorsements!  So it must be true... *sigh*

Attempting to predict the return of Christ when we are told very clearly in God's Word that the time is unknowable makes an utter mockery of our faith.  It makes other Christians look bad--guilt by association, because it seems the loudest are also the nuttiest.

19 October, 2012

Lutheran vs. "Lutheran"

As much as I tend to be harsh on other sects and denominations, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the conflict within the name "Lutheran".  Not all who claim that name share our Evangelical Catholic faith.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of Lutherans:
  • Evangelical Catholics (Confessional, Quia Lutherans)
  • Variata Lutherans (Pietist, Quanteus Lutherans)
Luther's Seal

What is a Lutheran?

Lutherans (Evangelical Catholics) believe in Sola Fida, Sola Gratia and Sola ScriptoraFaith Alone through Grace Alone as revealed to us in Scripture Alone.

Book of Concord
Lutherans subscribe to the Book of Concord, which clearly states our Orthodox doctrine and Biblical teachings on any theological topic of which you may think.  However, exactly how a Lutheran subscribes to the Book of Concord is very important, and this is where the "division" begins to appear.  A Quia subscriber says we subscribe to the Book of Concord because it is wholly faithful to Scripture.  A Quanteus subscriber says we subscribe to the Book of Concord only insofaras it is faithful to Scripture.

Augsburg Confession
We also have to understand the difference between the Unaltered Augsburg Confession (UAC) and the Variata.  

At the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Lutheran princes presented the Augsburg Confession as our cornerstone declaration of faith.  That document, as presented at the Diet of Augsburg, is the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.  

The primary author of the Augsburg Confession, Philipp Melanchthon, decided to make changes to this document in 1540 and 1542 in an attempt to reconcile the Lutheran Church with the Geneva Church (John Calvin) by entirely changing the Orthodox "real presence" teaching of Holy Communion to the heretical "remembrance" teaching of John Calvin.  This is known as the Variata.

While I don't know if this is a strict rule of thumb, I do not know any Quia subscribers who subscribe to the Variata, nor do I know any Quanteus subscribers who subscribe to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.

This "creeping Calvinism" in the Variata is only the beginning, however, of the "liberalizing" of some who claim the name Lutheran.  In the late 17th century, the Pietism movement began with Philipp Jakob Spener. It was not only influential in Lutheranism, but also inspired the Methodist denomination (John Wesley) and the Brethren movement within Anabaptism (Alexander Mack).  Eventually, Pietism even influenced the Holiness Movement and Pentecostal churches.  This movement further confused and "protestantized" portions of the Lutheran church.

In the Pia desideria, written by Spener, six proposals as to how best to restore the life of the church were made (from Wikipedia):
  1. the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia ("little churches within the church");
  2. the Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church;
  3. a knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement;
  4. instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them;
  5. a reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life; and
  6. a different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life.
Strangely, this sounds much like today's non-denominational Christianity, and more importantly, the mega-churches that have invaded and degraded the catholic Christianity in America.  Pietism also placed a significant emphasis on "simple" Christianity--reducing it to the lowest common denominator in an attempt to re-unify the Church (which, as we can see today, has not worked).

Who are American Lutherans?

In America, we have three predominant denominations of "Lutherans" (there are others, but smaller in membership):
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, or as I prefer, E?CA--I'll explain below)
  • Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS, of which I am a member)
  • Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS, often considered the most "conservative", but not the most "confessional")

What's the difference?
The ELCA is by far the most liberal of the three American "Lutheran" denominations.  They practice the ordination of women and homosexuals (if they are in a committed relationship--not necessarily even married).  They practice open communion (allowing anyone to commune, regardless of their belief on Holy Communion).  They claim on their official website to subscribe to the UAC, but I have never met an ELCA member or Pastor who does not subscribe to the Variata.  They are Quanteus subscribers to the Book of Concord.  They value social justice and heavily promote it on their official website.  The ELCA was formed after liberal members of the LCMS walked out of Seminary during the SeminEx (Seminary in Exile) starting in 1974.  These were seminarians, Pastors and Professors who wanted to "Calvinize" and liberalize the pure teaching of the Gospel.  I call them "E?CA" because they aren't Lutheran, but I'm not exactly sure what they are.  I don't even like them using the word "Evangelical", for that matter.

The LCMS is the most confessional of the three American "Lutheran" denominations.  They are Quia subscribers to the Book of Concord, and hold fast to the UAC.  While there is some creeping liberalism in this Synod, the current leadership (President Pr. Matthew Harrison) and a number of solidly confessional Pastors are helping to stamp out that trend and ensure that Evangelical Catholicism is synonymous with the LCMS in America.  There are remnants of thought from those who left in the 1970s to form the ELCA who want to transform the LCMS into another liberal synod, which, since they already have that option available in the ELCA, is absolutely silly to me.  Thanks to good leadership and a more confessional massing of Pastors than we've had in awhile, I am very hopeful that trend entirely goes away.

While WELS is certainly more conservative than the ELCA, they aren't quite the same as the LCMS.  From what I can tell, they are also Quia subscribers to the Book of Concord, and subscribe to the UAC.  The three main areas of difference between WELS and LCMS are over fellowship, the role of women in the church and the Doctrine of the Ministry.  Largely, though, they are a conservative and fairly confessional Synod (but much smaller in membership than the ELCA or LCMS).

What does this mean?
A meet and right Lutheran question, clearly I am of the opinion that the ELCA (E?CA) should not be considered Lutheran.  They do not hold to proper Lutheran or Evangelical teaching, nor do they seem to value basic Christian tenets in their faith.  I would even dare to say they are clearly a Pietist remnant, once that is dangerous to the name Lutheran in specific and to catholic Christianity in general.

On the other hand, both the LCMS and WELS (while slightly different) are much more conservative, confessional and in the vein of proper, Orthodox, Evangelical Catholic Lutheranism.

Lutheranism defined

The "cover photo" from my Facebook Page, taken from another solidly confessional Lutheran.

When I speak of Lutherans, I mean a Quia-subscribing, UAC-confessing, Evangelical Catholic, thoroughly catechized, confessional, orthodox, Christ-centered, cross-focused, catholic and apostolic, Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel, traditional and liturgical Lutheran church.

Others who claim the name Lutheran, but are not even some of the above, are nothing more than Pietists, and I do not consider them to be Lutheran, no matter how frequently they use that name.  They are a blight on the name Lutheran and they do not represent our Evangelical Catholic faith.

17 October, 2012

The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church

A brief post on this topic.  As I have been researching for my book (tentatively titled "Here I (Still) Stand" -- more about it later), I came across an excellent resource by Heinrich Schmid called "The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church".  Using source texts (Lutheran theologians closest to the time of the Reformation and not more than a generation or two removed from Luther), Heinrich assembled an incredibly thorough and well-documented Biblical defense of Lutheran teachings and excellent apologetics resource in the mid 19th century.

For those interest, it is available for free online in several places, including Project Wittenberg and Google Books.  It is rather lengthy (over 700 pages), but well worth having on hand, especially as a Lutheran, should someone ask a question that you don't always know how to answer.  Someone far more studied, learned and coherent than I has already done much of the work in compiling all the necessary resources into one easy-to-use source.

15 October, 2012

Heresies of the Week: Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism

Semi-Pelagianism is my "favorite" heresy, not because it is good, but because it is so darn entrenched today in Christendom.

But, to better understand Semi-Pelagianism, we must first look at Pelagianism, so you actually get two heresies this week.

Pelagianism is a 4th century heresy that denies that Original Sin tainted human nature (humanity is considered inherently good rather than fallen) and teaches that human will is able to choose good or evil without Divine aid.  It is also known as Limited Depravity.  In essence, they taught that while Adam’s sin sets a bad example, that action does not have consequences on his progeny.  The role of Jesus is to set the good example in contrast to Adam as well as providing atonement for sin.  Thus, every human has full control and responsibility for obeying the Gospel as well as for each sin.  Humans are sinners by choice; not victims of Original Sin, but criminals who need pardoning.  Mormonism is considered by some to be Pelagianist.  Pelagianism is the only heresy to also be condemned by every major sect of Protestantism as well as the Anglicans.  The Catholic Church condemned it on several occasions: Councils of Carthage (412, 416 and 418), the 431 Council of Ephesus, the 529 Council of Orange, and the 1546 Council of Trent.

In contrast, Semi-Pelagianism is a modified Pelagianism heresy which teaches that the beginning of faith is an act of free will, with grace interceding later to help grow faith (as opposed to full Pelagianism, which teaches all of faith is an act of man)—but grace is not fully needed, as man can choose to keep faith and choose good on his own.  The Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on faith (that the initiative comes from God, but man works in synergy with God through free will to come to faith) is a Semi-Pelagian teaching.  Because of their extreme emphasis on free will, Arminianism is also borderline Semi-Pelagianist (although the emphasis in Synergism is in a different order than Semi-Pelagianism).  It was originally thought to be the bridge between Augustinianism (emphasis on grace as taught by St. Augustine) and Pelagianism (emphasis on free will), but was condemned as heretical in 529 by the Second Council of Orange.  The 1577 Lutheran Epitome of the Formula of Concord also rejects Semi-Pelagianism.  

As mentioned in the description, both Roman Catholicism and Arminianism (the largest of the protestant sects as discussed in a previous post--comprising most of American protestantism, although I don't know anyone who would admit to being an Arminianist, even if they are) are at least partially Semi-Pelagian (which I will explain in further detail below).  

Before that, though, a little more about Pelagius, the heretic whose name was given to Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.  Rev. Alex Klages wrote up a summary of Pelagius in two parts, found here and here.  Interestingly (probably because he is a Lutheran minister), he begins his post with this:
"I figured it was about time to dredge up one of the more major heretics, if for no other reason than the debate in which he and St. Augustine were engaged is still very much alive today. There are few true Pelagians, but I would assert that semi-Pelagianism is essentially the default theological position of North American culture." (emphasis mine)

Briefly, Pelagius...
  • was an Irish preacher in the late 4th and early 5th centuries.
  • was, by all accounts, a well-educated and pleasant man.
  • wrote a well-received position on the Trinity, and was largely respect until his position on man's fallen (or lack thereof) state and his teaching that man can choose to stop sinning became known.
  • made theological enemies with one of the greatest theologians, St. Augustine, over his heretical doctrine of Original Sin and the state of man.

Thank you, Google, for awesome image searches.  This appears to be the most common picture of Pelagius floating around the internet (sans the commentary on the side, which someone obviously added).  According to Wikipedia (the only source I could quickly find--and don't judge, I have several studies from my speech and debate days that say Wiki is by and large more accurate than any other encyclopaedia) this is a "17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagius."

The controversy Pelagius started was in his answer to the following questions: 
  • Can man not sin? 
  • Is man inherently good or fallen?
  • What is man's role in his faith and salvation?

There are essentially three positions in response to these questions: Pelagianism (1), Semi-Pelagianism (2) and Augustinianism (3) (paraphrasing Rev. Klages from his first part on Pelagius, since he so succinctly summarized this).
  1. It is possible to not sin (posse non peccare).  Man is inherently good or neutral.  Man has free will in all situations to choose the spiritual correct thing.
  2. It is possible to not sin (posse non peccare).  While man is inherently sinful (Original Sin), he isn't entirely fallen and still has the opportunity to choose good (more neutral).  Man has free will to "choose" and "initiate" faith apart from grace, but needs God's grace to intercede for it to grow (however, man can "choose" to keep faith apart from grace).
  3. It is not possible not to sin (non posse non peccare).  Man is inherently sinful (Original Sin).  Apart from God's grace, man is unable to ever desire the spiritually correct thing.

Or, put another way (from Rev. Klages' Part Two on Pelagius):
Perhaps the best way of distinguishing between the three possible positions has to do with God’s grace vs. our part in salvation:
  • Pelagian: one can be saved apart from God’s grace if one tries hard enough, although belief in Jesus makes it easier.
  • Semi-Pelagian: God’s grace does most of the work, but there is always something left to the believer to “seal the deal,” whether that be personal preparation beforehand or good works after the moment of salvation.
  • Augustinian: God’s grace does it all. The human will is not the determinant of salvation.

Lutheranism teaches, in line with Augustinianism, that:
  • It is not possible not to sin (non posse non peccare).
  • Man is inherently sinful (Original Sin).
  • Apart from God's grace, man is unable to ever desire the spiritually correct thing (Isaiah 64:6).
  • Because man is tainted by Original Sin and unable to desire the spiritually correct thing apart from God's grace, man has a passive rather than active role in receiving salvation.
  • Man's "role" in salvation, if it may be called that, is to reject faith, not to receive it--because man can only desire spiritual evil apart from the grace of God; so no matter how much we think we would want it on our own, we cannot "choose" faith because of Original Sin... it is simply impossible to do this.
This teaching is also known as Monergism.

Conversely, Arminianism teaches, in line with Semi-Pelagianism, that:
  • It is possible to not sin (posse non peccare).
  • While man is inherently sinful (Original Sin), he isn't entirely fallen and still has the opportunity to choose good (and, indeed, must choose good because God can only offer faith, man must "receive" it).  
  • God offers faith, but man has to "choose" to "accept" faith on their own, through "prevenient grace", which God gives to all sinners.
  • Man's "role" in salvation, as a "response" to "prevenient grace", is to freely "choose" to "accept" faith in God
  • Once man "accepts" faith, God justifies man and continues to give further grace to sanctify man.
The primary difference between Synergism and Semi-Pelagianism is that in the latter, man can choose to have faith without grace, whereas in the previous, man can only have choose to have faith as a "response" to "prevenient grace".  Synergism is a heresy that will be covered in further detail in a later week.

Roman Catholicism, too, teaches a modified Semi-Pelagianism, that:
  • It is not possible not to sin (non posse non peccare).  
  • Man is inherently sinful (Original Sin).
  • Grace is the gift of God in Baptism.
  • Grace overcomes the taint of Original Sin, and then, with the aid of that grace, man can choose to do the spiritually correct thing and earn a storehouse of merit sufficient to overcome the punishment for sin (i.e. one can willingly do spiritually correct things if they continue to build their storehouse of merit through penance and Communion).
Lutherans would consider this Semi-Pelagianism because it asserts that man's works help in their salvation, when, as Isaiah 64:6 says, our best works are but filthy rags.  The teachings of Purgatory and Indulgences further this Semi-Pelagian idea that we can "work off" our sins or "buy" merit that is freely given in faith and already sufficient from Christ.

Calvinism is usually considered to teach Monergism, which is largely correct (although an incorrect form of Monergism), but many Calvinist/Reformed churches are extremely Legalistic.  Legalism is another form of Semi-Pelagianism, because it teaches that you must keep the Law in order to be "good enough" for salvation.  This form of works-righteousness is certainly in the vein of Semi-Pelagianism, even if they correctly teach of man's total depravity (in their case, before salvation).

Rev. Klages' Second Part on Pelagius has other good examples of the prevalence of Semi-Pelagianism in the modern church (and has been an excellent resource for my post, thanks to Pr. Snyder for suggesting that blog!).  To assemble my initial summaries, I used largely the writings of Early Church Fathers (specifically, St. Augustine in this case) and New Advent, which while Catholic, is an excellent resource overall on heresies.

While there is nothing new under the sun, most heresies have died out by now and future "Heresy of the Week" posts will likely be shorter and from a more historic perspective (rather than tying them into the modern church).

14 October, 2012

Bible Study Notes: Revelation 20:1-6

We're working our way through Revelation (we touched on Revelation 19:17-21, but didn't spend much time there today) and are now dissecting the various interpretations of Revelation 20 and eschatology (study of the end times).  There will be more notes to follow over the next few weeks, as we continue reading through Revelation 20, but here's what we covered today.

There are four main eschatological views:
  • Historic Premillennialism (not common anymore, actually existed somewhat before Christianity in Judaism)
  • Dispensational Premillennialism (first taught by the Gnostic heretic Cerinthus in the mid-2nd century, largely developed in the 1830s-1870s and most common protestant, specifically Arminian, eschatological belief)
  • Postmillennialism (popularity has waxed and waned, most popular at the turn of the 20th century but died out around WWI, slight resurgence today especially in Reformed, or Calvinist, churches)
  • Amillennialism (the proper eschatological view subscribed to by Lutherans and Catholics) -- perhaps more properly called "Realized Millennialism" as "Amillennialism" is a derogatory misnomer (meaning literally "no millennium")

Another lovely white board drawing from Pr. Wolfmueller

All four eschatological beliefs have some similarities in their timelines:
  • Death of Christ
  • Resurrection and Ascension of Christ
  • Gifting of the Holy Ghost to Christians
  • <...something happens...>
  • Resurrection of the Dead
  • The Final Judgment
  • Eternity
It's what happens in-between (the <...something happens...>) that is different, and in different orders, for each eschatological view.  Here are the "in-betweens" for each type:

Historic Premillennialism
  • The church age
  • Tribulation
  • 2nd coming of Christ
  • 1,000-years kingdom on earth (during which Satan is bound)
  • "Satan's Little Season" (where he is loosed for the final battle)
  • 2nd 2nd coming of Christ

Dispensational Premillennialism
  • The church age
  • Christ sort of comes back for the "rapture" (invented in the 1830s)
  • 7 year tribulation: 3 years of "peace", then the Antichrist comes and persecutes the converted Jews
  • (2nd) 2nd coming of Christ
  • 1,000-years kingdom on earth (during which Satan is bound)
  • "Satan's Little Season" (where he is loosed for the final battle)
  • (3rd) 2nd coming of Christ

  • The church age
  • "Golden age"
  • 1,000-years kingdom on earth (during which Satan is bound)
  • "Satan's Little Season" (where he is loosed for the final battle)
  • 2nd coming of Christ

  • The church age = 1,000-years kingdom (the death of Jesus caused Satan to be bound)
  • "Satan's Little Season" (where he is loosed for the final battle)
  • 2nd coming of Christ


What does Revelation 20:1-4 say about the end times?
  • The Millennium begins with the binding of the devil (which is accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus)
  • After the Millennium, Satan must be released for a time for the final battle
  • The resurrection of the dead and final judgment follows


Now for a few notes on Dispensational Premillennialism:
  • Teaches that God works in different "dispensations" or "economies" of salvation, usually 7:
    • The Garden
    • The Fall
    • Noah
    • The Patriarchs
    • The Law
    • The Church (or Grace)
    • The End Times
  • They base much of their teaching on the 70 weeks in Daniel (which are really week-years, or 490 years)
    • Jesus was rejected by the Jews at 69 weeks
    • There is a pause (called the "great prophetic comma") between Jesus and the 70th week
    • The Rapture removes the church so God can "deal" with Israel in the 7 years Tribulation
  • Question they can never answer: Is the 2nd coming at the rapture, after the Tribulation, or at the end before the final resurrection?
  • They say that about 2/3rds of the Jews will become "believers" during the Tribulation, and 1/3rd will be killed in the Great Persecution by the Anti-Christ
  • One of the three pillars of Dispensational Premillennialism is the Distinction between Israel and the Church (Dual-Covenant Theology)
  • During the 1,000-years Kingdom, Jesus reigns on an earthly throne in Jerusalem and continues to offer sacrifices in the rebuilt temple (which is utterly ridiculous and unsettling, since He already made the final sacrifice on the cross)
  • At the beginning of the 1,000-years kingdom, those raptured and who died in the Great Persecution during the Tribulation will be resurrected with heavenly bodies, but the believing Jews who are still alive will remain with their earthly bodies and can still marry, have children, and die of very old age (500+ years)
  • The 5th or 6th generation of the Jewish converts will rebel and join with Satan in the final battle at the end of the 1,000-years kingdom
  • Dispensational Premillennialism comes from the incorrect reading of the Bible as if it is about Israel, not Jesus
  • Dispensational Premillennialists use Matthew 24:36-441 Corinthians 15:50-58, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 to "prove" the rapture, but that is through a misinterpretation of the texts (trying to get the text to say what they want it to instead of proper exegesis of Scripture interpreting Scripture)
  • Dispensational Premillennialism teaches that Jesus was only crucified, died, buried, resurrected and ascended as "Plan B"; "Plan A" was to get the Jews to believe and He wasn't supposed to die (which is also utter nonsense)
In other words, Dispensational Premillennialism ends up looking like a ransom note, with snippets from various verses from various parts of the Bible all hobbled together to fit preconceived ideas rather than letting the clear Word of God interpret itself... and some of it, they honestly just made up.  The majority of Dispensational Premillennialism was invented in the mid-1800s.

Sermon Notes: Law and Gospel and the Two Kingdoms

This week's sermon came from our Gospel reading Matthew 9:1-8 (with references to our Old Testament reading from Exodus 20:1-8, 12-18).

Pastor prefaced the sermon with a note on politics, or more specifically, the two kingdoms and the role of law (the 10 Commandments, or our interpretation of Natural Law) in Christians deciding how to vote.

I won't recount the entire sermon, since the audio is online so you can listen for yourself, but I wanted to make a few observations about Two Kingdoms Theology in general (some of which comes from a previous Bible Study) as well as some of the points Pastor made both in the sermon and our discussion of it in Bible Study following service regarding the Christian's role in politics and voting (as well as the rest of the Sermon--since we can't have the Law without the Gospel!).

Regarding "Two Kingdoms Theology"

Two Kingdoms Theology refers to the Lutheran teaching of the proper distinction between the Left-hand Kingdom (or the Kingdom of Man) and the Right-hand Kingdom (or the Kingdom of God).  I personally consider Romans 13 to be the original separation of Church and State document.  By this, I don't mean that they are completely severed from each other at all, but as another Pastor reminded me, it shows the proper distinction of the Kingdoms, and more importantly, the proper role of a Christian in both Kingdoms.  

I also mean by "separation of Church and State" that a) theocracies are a BIG no-no (basically, preachers are preachers and rulers are rulers, the two roles should not be combined--that is, no blurring of the clear lines between the two Kingdoms); b) that the Left-hand Kingdom is meant to not interfere with the Right-hand Kingdom (First Amendment, anyone?); and c) Christians are called to be involved in government, not using government to advance Christianity, but rather, to advance Natural Law (which we'll get to in a minute).

For a better illustration, here are some of the differences between the two Kingdoms:

Left-hand Kingdom
Right-hand Kingdom
Kingdom of the Man (State)
Kingdom of God (Church)
Sword: Internal* and External**
Word, no swords
Exists for Order
Exists for Mercy
External Righteousness
Internal Righteousness
Realm of Morals
Realm of Faith
Ruled by Reason
Ruled by Scripture

 *Internal Sword = police, etc.
**External Sword = military

Now, from the Christian (and particularly Lutheran) perspective, Natural Law is exemplified in the second table of the Ten Commandments.  The first table deals with the Right-hand Kingdom, or our faith in God, and the second table deals with the Left-hand Kingdom, or Natural Law and interaction with our neighbor.

From that perspective, here is how the Commandments shape up as compared to Natural Law (my own analysis based somewhat on Pastor's Voter's Guide to the 10 Commandments):

Natural Law
4th Commandment: Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
Establishes earthly authority 
(not just parents, but “masters”: teachers, bosses, rulers, etc.; also places emphasis on a stable family unit)
5th Commandment: Thou shalt not murder.
“Do not encroach on other persons.”
(keep in mind that “murder”  “kill” -- that is, self-defense and justified wars do not fall under the “murder” category; also places emphasis on the government respecting all life)
6th Commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
“Do all you have agreed to do.”
(especially since from a state perspective, marriage is essentially contract law, and adultery would be a violation of your contract)
7th Commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
“Do not encroach on [other persons or] their property.”
(economic issues and theft fall under this commandment--something interesting we discussed was that socialism would also fall under this commandment)
8th Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
“Do all you have agreed to do.”
(again, contract law—also addresses slander)
9th Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
“Do not encroach on [other persons or] their property.”
(eminent domain)
10th Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, not his maidservant, not his cattle, nor anything that is they neighbor’s.
“Do not encroach on [other persons or] their property.”
(cross-applies to the 7th commandment and theft of personal property/items)

Of course, we can then argue how much of a role the government has in some of these issues.  Anyone who knows me politically knows I take a pretty extremely libertarian (or limited government) stance, especially when it comes to social issues, but that's a different discussion for a different blog.  But as you can see, the second table of the Ten Commandments works well with natural and common law (I used Richard Maybury's summary of common law above because it is that with which I am familiar and ridiculously succinct to boot at 17 total words).

Regarding Christians and Politics

A few brief notes from Pastor's sermon (these are the bullet points I wrote down, I've been taking sermon notes since confirmation):
  • Many Pastors say that you must "Take your faith into the voting booth," but that is wrong
  • It is not faith, but reason, by which we should vote because the Left-hand Kingdom is ruled by reason (the Right-hand Kingdom is ruled by faith)
  • We should bring not the Apostle's Creed but the 10 Commandments into the voting booth
  • We don't need to elect someone who is Orthodox, but someone who understands and values Natural Law
  • Pagans and Christians should vote the same, because it is by reason and natural law that we should all cast our votes
  • The 10 Commandments are the Christian's "Cliff Notes" of Natural Law
  • Knowing the 10 Commandments makes us reasonable, keeping them makes us wise
  • The State exists for order and the Law, the Church exists for mercy and the Gospel

Regarding the "Rest" of the Sermon

Now, before I go into the "rest" of the sermon, I wanted to briefly discuss Law and Gospel, since this is another fairly uniquely Lutheran thing--and is important to understand the distinction between to understand why this sermon was so well constructed.

The Law is what God demands of us, but because of Original Sin, we cannot fulfill.  The Gospel is the "good news" of God that forgives our sins and gives us what we cannot do on our own.  It is not simply Old vs. New Testament, nor is it always easy to distinguish in modern Christendom (sometimes even inside the Lutheran church).

I bring this up because, more obvious than usual, the Law and Gospel were very clearly defined in this sermon.  Our Left-hand Kingdom duty in politics is clearly covered the by Law.  But no good Lutheran sermon would be complete without the Gospel.  So today we had the story of the healing of the paralytic.  My notes:
  • Jesus' words ("Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.") were likely shocking and offensive to the onlookers
  • The man came for healing, not forgiveness of sins, why would a paralytic need forgiveness of sins?  Wouldn't he rather "need" his arms and legs healed?
  • Jesus was questioned by the scribes, who thought Jesus was blaspheming
  • Jesus poses an interesting question to the scribes: "Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?"
  • Both require higher power, but for us, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' almost seem harder, not easier (luckily we have Jesus who does that for us), but it was the most important thing to say
  • He forgives sins so that we may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive our sins
  • Like many, the paralytic very well may have been consumed by thinking his disability was caused by his sin (which, in a way, it was--or specifically, his sin nature which brings death, disease and decay)
  • Jesus wants all to know that nothing in life will prevent us from receiving forgiveness of our sin, even if we think we don't deserve it.
  • Melancholy sometimes sets in when we think of the state of this world, especially politics (because it is the Law)--but the Gospel undoes this for us
  • Christ tells us to take heart and be of good cheer--we are forgiven and He will come again

So, as you see, this brings it full-circle--the balance of Law and Gospel in another great sermon.  I spent a lot more time on the "politics" side of it than I did the actual sermon side--probably because I am surrounded by politics usually--so I would encourage you to listen to the sermon for yourself, since it brings a better balance than I did.