Inventing New Gods and Old

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on September 22]

It will always be my favorite example of Hollywood missing the point entirely: the 1999 remake/reimagining of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair. The End of the Affair was one of my favorite novels that I read while I was in college. So when I first heard that the movie had come out with Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes, and Stephen Rea, I was excited to see how Greene’s vision translated to film.

I have no illusions about the difference between books and movies. I prefer, as often as possible, to read the book before I watch the film. But they are not the same sort of thing. Books can do things that films can’t, and vice-versa. But if the film misunderstands or completely misses the central theme of the book—especially if it’s one of my favorites!—it takes all enjoyment out of the experience of interacting with those two visions.

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Elmer Furtick

Looks like Steven Furtick took a page out of Elmer Gantry’s playbook (and I can’t get over how much he looks like Boyd Crowder):

In Scranton, they had unusually exasperating patients.  Scranton had been saved by a number of other evangelists before their arrival, and had become almost anesthetic.  Ten nights they sweated over the audience without a single sinner coming forward, and Elmer had to go out and hire half a dozen convincing converts.

He found them in a mission near the river, and explained that by giving a good example to the slothful, they would be doing the work of God, and that if the example was good enough, he would give them five dollars apiece.  The missioner himself came in during the conference and offered to get converted for ten, but he was so well known that Elmer had to give him the ten to stay away.

His gang of converts was very impressive, but thereafter no member of the evangelistic troupe was safe.  The professional Christians besieged the tent night and day.  They wanted to be saved again.  When they were refused, they offered to produce new converts at five dollars apiece–three dollars apiece–fifty cents and a square meal.  By this time enough authentic and free enthusiasts were appearing, and though they were fervent, they did not relish being saved in company with hoboes who smelled.  When the half dozen cappers were thrown out, bodily, by Elmer and Art Nichols, they took to coming to the meetings and catcalling, so that for the rest of the series they had to be paid a dollar a night each to stay away.


Ye Do Shew The Lord’s Death Till He Come

The Lord’s Supper proclaims Christ’s death, and does so to the unbelieving world, even to those who are not present within the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day: where Christ’s chosen people gather week after week (day after day?) around the Lord’s gifts, the world cannot help but notice. Where are the Christians? They are with their Lord, doing what He commands, receiving what He promises. Is there are greater witness, a greater testimony, to the power of Christ’s forgiving word than Christians who actually believe it? Christians who “share Jesus” with their friends and relatives, but who often find other things to do when the rest of Christ’s Body is gathered in His House, speak a contrary and undermining word about Jesus. He’s important to me, but His actual word and promise is not. Further, those who cannot be troubled to be where Christ has promised to be—in and with His Word and Sacraments—are unlikely to talk about Jesus at all, let alone bear witness to His forgiving and life-giving love. They simply show, by where they are on Sunday morning, or whenever else the gifts are given, how seriously they take Christ’s words. To make Christ’s forgiving Word and Sacraments the central organizing principle of the new life given by Him in baptism is instead to bear witness to the central fact of the Christian life: in myself I am a sinner; therefore, I need Jesus—not in general, not how I want Him, now when I choose to be with Him, but always, ever, at every single opportunity, regardless of how I feel or what is happening in my life: I need Jesus when and where He has promised to be. The promise is essential, and Christ’s Baptism, Christ’s Absolution, Christ’s preached Word, and Christ’s Supper are the promises we have.


Actions and Words, Again

[See here for the first part]

So it seems that many people do not care that the treasures of the liturgy and the hymns are lost, and along with them any sustained relevance in the lives of sinners who, essentially, are exactly the same as sinners, say, 1700 years ago.

(Aside: It seems to me, in fact, that our current cultural situation is very near the situation of people like Ambrose and Augustine, following the legalization and then the State sponsorship of Christianity: i.e., very soon–if not already–there will be an influx of people into the Church or the sphere of those who belong to the Church, who have been pagans their entire lives.  They will not have been baptized and they will be approaching the Church from a position of nearly complete ignorance.  What will we do with them?  Will we pretend we can dumb down the Gospel to the level of unbelief, and that this will somehow appeal to them enough that they will gladly join Christian congregations?  Or will we be secure enough in our liturgical and apostolic heritage to assimilate them into the life of the Church, with the fullness of its ancient doctrine and practices (see Acts 2:42)?  This will obviously require much more work than what we’re currently doing, and a complete reworking of our present process of catechesis.  We will be starting at the ground floor, hoping to make life-long Christians.  That cannot happen in six weeks, or even two years.  Perhaps the early catechumenate, mutatis mutandis, can help us here if we are willing.)

But for those who do think the liturgy has something to offer, if only as a vestigial memory from childhood, what can we do?  I do not pretend to have the answers to a problem that has been in the making for probably 300+ years.  However, I will offer some tentative ideas, to begin or continue a discussion, especially in the LCMS (since that is my context).

  1. Parents, as I said in the first part of this, must be committed to what happens on the Lord’s Day.  Not only those who are parents of those particular children, but other members of the congregation who also have a vested interest in whether children grow up in the fear and instruction of the Lord.  Sunday School teachers cannot teach a class, and then absent themselves from the Divine Service without a very compelling reason.  Even if you think people don’t notice, it sends a strong message to children not to see their Sunday School teachers in the Divine Service.  It says you’re only putting in your time, and no more.  The other members of the congregation, surrounding the children, cannot sing and say everything half-heartedly or no-heartedly.
  2. When you are present in the Divine Service, and when you are at home, you must be willing to teach your children about the various parts of the liturgy (e.g., show them where things are in the hymnal), and connect the liturgy to the various concerns that arise in day to day life.  The Nunc Dimittis, for example, is especially appropriate for night time singing before bed.  (If you don’t know how it connects, ask your pastor!  He, if he’s anything like me, would love to tell you, almost more than anything.)  In the Service itself, you have to participate yourself and help your children to do so according to their ages.  Children will memorize the words if they hear the people around them singing them.  They do it with everything else you say; why not with the Divine Service?  Participate and sing the hymns, even if you don’t like that particular one!
  3. Related to that, realizing that the words are pure Gospel, sing them like you mean them.  If your children see you mumbling the words, or sitting there without your hymnal open, or glazedly looking out the window, they will quickly realize that these things are not important.  Guess where they won’t want to be next week?
  4. This presence and this participation will not only impact your children.  Here, we’ve come back around to unbelievers.  Imagine, first, this scenario: someone who is not a member of a congregation, who maybe has no connection with a congregation, who finds the Divine Service foreign, visits your congregation.  This person sits in a pew, sees people socializing right up until the beginning of the second stanza of the opening hymn, and singing the liturgy and reading the responses as if they were reading a manual on how to correctly install the flush mechanism of a modern toilet.  The hymns sound how Lutherans are always accused of sounding: like funeral dirges, not necessarily musically, but in the manner and appearance of the people singing them.  Death cometh, hopefully sooner rather than later.   At least, that’s what I’d be thinking.  Now, ask yourself this question: why in the world would that person ever want to return to your congregation for a Divine Service?  The fact is, we are the cause of the things we complain about.  The pastor can only do so much to speak and sing his parts with passion (especially if he’s an introvert like me); the people have to do a little work.  And if they do: if they sing with joy, if they appear to actually believe what they are singing and saying, might that not cause someone to take a second look at what appears at first to be an hour completely removed from the twenty-first century?  Maybe there’s something more here than meets my first glance.  Maybe still waters run deep.  Maybe…

Now, obviously none of these things, or anyone else’s ideas, will guarantee that churches will stop shrinking, that kids will start to love and treasure the liturgy more than their parents, that we can reverse a decades-long trend of apathy toward the liturgy that the Christian Church has developed over 2000 years.  Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb–the way things generally go–not a promise.  But the guarantee of continued falling away from God’s promises in baptism is much more likely if parents do not carry out their God-given responsibilities and bring their children to the services of the Lord’s House, teach them the stories of God’s salvation in Christ, and sing to them the songs that the Church has sanctified by long use.

On the other hand, if you want your children to keep looking for a church that will “fit their needs” and give them what they think they want, eventually they will just do what they always wanted anyway, and treat the Lord’s Day as just another day in the weekend.  If that’s what you want, I’d suggest we all just keep doing what we’re doing and kill off the liturgy, and with it the Faith that it instills.  I’m not willing to give up just yet.


If Women Are Not Ordained, We Should Stop Baptizing Them?

In the past month I have seen both a button and a bumper sticker that read:
If you’re not going to ordain women, stop baptizing them!
The logic is impeccable.

If that’s impeccable logic, I’d hate to see the peccable kind.  I don’t want to disagree with someone who describes himself as a “consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O’Connor, [and] watcher of the Coen Brothers,” but I have no choice.  How have we lost the ability to make distinctions among the Scriptures?  I mean: how is it that a record of the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost is suddenly a proof-text for the ordination of women?  How is it that the gift of salvation in holy Baptism (and this point may be where the real disagreement begins) suddenly makes all people not only equal before God in Christ, but the same?  (If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?)  How is it that prophecy, or the boldness in the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the acts of Jesus, automatically means the Office of preaching and administering the Sacraments?  (And, again, here we may be already past the point of where we agree.)

Read Acts 2 again.  I don’t see Peter saying that the Spirit wipes out all created distinctions.  He clearly says, quoting the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (vv. 17-18).  But the argument of Prof. Kirk seems to be that since the same Holy Spirit is poured out as gift (the Spirit is the gift) upon God’s people in Christ (as Acts shows by describing the Spirit moving the Apostles from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the end of the earth), then that Holy Spirit must also give all people as the same gifts to the Body of Christ (see below).

But that’s exactly the opposite of Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 12:

Now there arevarieties of gifts, butthe same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Doall speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts [namely, love]  (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 27ff., ESV).

Further, Paul speaks of gifts not as the ability or intelligence to do the work of the various offices described in the New Testament, nor as the call to or the feeling that I should be in one or another office; he speaks of the Office or the vocation itself as the gift.  See Ephesians 4:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it [Paul’s paraphrase of Psalm 68:18] says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave[! see the psalm] gifts to men.” … And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, the teachers, to equip the saints[,] for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith… (Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13, ESV sort of).

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (I am convinced the last are two distinct aspects of the one Office) are all gifts that Christ gives at His Ascension for the sake of the one Body, made up of different members.  It has nothing to do with how I feel about it, whether I feel called, what I think God should do, or that I think He should have given different gifts to His Church.  Even in those traditions that, following the Scriptures, hold that the Office of the Holy Ministry is restricted to men, this is not automatically extended to all men by virtue of their baptism.  God has not given the same gifts through all men, nor has He given the same gifts through both men and women.

Prof. Kirk ought to have continued reading the book of Numbers, as apparently some in Israel took the pouring out of the Spirit in Numbers 11 to be a justification for all to serve in exactly the same way (thanks to Prof. Kirk, perhaps in spite of himself, for helping me make this connection).  Hear Miriam in chapter 12: “Has [Yahweh] indeed spoken only through Moses?  Has he not spoken to us also?” (v. 2)  Or Korah and his friends in chapter 16: “They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far!  For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and [Yahweh] is among them.  Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of [Yahweh]?'” (v.3)  God had not given the Spirit so that everyone could be exactly the same in Israel, nor does He do so in the Church (as Paul, echoing Numbers 11-16, makes clear).

What does baptism have to do with call or ordination?  Beyond being the sine qua non for being given as gift to the other members of the Body, nothing.  Baptism makes you a member of the one Body; you share in the one Spirit, the one Faith, the one Hope.  But the one God and Father of all does not give to all the baptized the same grace when He gives them as gifts to the rest of the Body.  Baptism is the joining of sinners to the holy Body of Christ, crucified and resurrected, by the singular Word of God’s own promise.  It is a gift, and gifts imply no rights whatsoever.  Sinners have no rights before the holy God by virtue of His gifts.  He gives, and gives, and gives, and we receive, and receive, and receive.  On the other hand, if baptism is a symbol (a symbol we perform) of something that God is doing elsewhere, apart from His specific words of promise in Christ, then it makes sense that baptism gives us rights within the community.  But baptism is not your certificate of membership that gives you all the rights and privileges attending thereto, like a diploma (I often wonder what rights and privileges actually do attend to my diplomas, but that’s a different issue).  Baptism is, as Stephen Paulson puts it, God’s attack on the sinner.  God’s work, God’s gift, God’s promise, all in Christ.  Just like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  All gift.

The question remains: how do we know whom God has put into that Office?  Well, He says in other parts of the Scriptures.  But that’s for another time.  (Or, just read this.)


The Face in the Mirror

A while back, my wife and I watched an episode of Our America with Lisa Ling called “Pray the Gay Away?”  I thought the show itself did a good job of getting interviews with those who thought that homosexual sex and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible, as well as with those who thought they can be reconciled and that there is no fundamental contradiction.  Ling interviewed both the current head of Exodus International, which exists to lead homosexuals out of that life, as well as a former founder of Exodus, who now lives with his male lover.

That was all pretty much down the line, as far as someone might expect.  What I found most significant was the segment that Ling did with the counselors and campers at a camp in Minnesota, called The Naming Project ([TNP] held at an ELCA camp, and founded by two ELCA pastors and another ELCA-trained leader).  The impulse behind the camp is good: provide a camp for kids who have been bullied or otherwise marginalized by other people.  It does not help anyone to call them names or reject them because of their sin; they, like everyone, are individuals for whom Christ died–that, in itself, should be enough to end any form of aggression by Christians.  (Of course, this whole issue depends on what is or is not sin, which automatically determines what is and is not forgiveness.)  For TNP, Christianity is equated purely with acceptance and what amounts to greater self-esteem.  The entire segment with the mirrors and the affirmation of individuals no doubt feels good, and maybe those kids feel like no one has ever loved them unconditionally.  Unfortunately for this camp and for the kids who go there, unconditional love has been equated with acceptance of every person along with his or her every sin.  It seems that for every call to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” there is an equally loud call to love the sinner and the sin.

But the fundamental problem with the way that this camp goes about its “project” is symbolized by the very thing that the leaders think will show unconditional love: looking at themselves in a mirror.  “Look at yourself, don’t look at me.”  “You are a child of God.”  “We offer kids a place to be at peace with who they are.”  “Look what God has made: you are made in the image of God.”  This would fit very neatly at a free-will Baptist camp, but I see no way that it can fit at a so-called Lutheran camp.  For Lutherans, it doesn’t matter how you “self-identify,” and, for that matter, it doesn’t matter how others identify you.  It only matters how God identifies you; and how God “identifies” you is only good news if you are not a sinner.  And, for Lutherans, no one is not a sinner.  Gay, straight, married, single, there is no one righteous, not even one.  Looking in a mirror at what and who you are and saying that this is the fullness of who God has made is the opposite of everything the Scriptures say about human beings–unless one confines the Scriptures to Genesis 1 and 2, as the pastor in the clip seems to do.  We may have been made originally in the image of God, but unless we are remade by the Image of God, Jesus Christ, we are not children of God.  Instead, as our (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) baptismal rite says, “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own.  We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation” (Lutheran Service Book, 268).  If you are at “peace” with who you are, you either haven’t been paying attention, or you’re lying to yourself.  Whoever is at peace with himself has given up the Holy Spirit’s fight with his own sinful nature, which is not eradicated until physical death and physical resurrection.  As much as looking at themselves means not looking at the one holding the mirror, it also means not looking at Jesus, whose judgment of us is the only one that matters.

Jesus does not say that we should just be ourselves, or be at peace with ourselves; He says we must deny ourselves (Matthew 1624-25; Luke 9:23-24).  He says not that the person is good, but that everything that comes from our own hearts is evil: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20).  (No doubt this bible, listed under TNP’s resources, will help you understand these passages in a different “light.”)  To look in a mirror and accept oneself is the opposite of confession (which is essence of a wholly Christian life): it is pure narcissism.  It is much more Lady GaGa than Lord God Omnipotent.  Confession is to acknowledge that I am, along with all my impulses and desires, opposed to the God who made me originally in His image.  I have rebelled against that image.  I have nothing good in me.  I am, not to put too fine a point on it, evil.  That is the truth about me, and if it is not the truth about me, than I have no need of a Savior.  I may need a life-coach, or an encourager, or a self-esteem raiser, but I don’t need a Savior.  This camp teaches the opposite of everything that actual Lutherans believe.  And it’s not really relevant that these teenagers have identified themselves, or are being encouraged to identify themselves, as homosexual.  The relevant question is, what is the truth about human beings?  What is the truth about every human being?  And it is not good enough to “confess” that we are all sinners.  Christ did not die for generic “sin.”  He died specifically and particularly for sinners who do not “sin,” but who actually and specifically lie, lust, murder, steal, fornicate, commit adultery, covet, and make idols for themselves.  It is not good enough for the counselors and campers to confess that they are sinners in general, and then talk about God having made them that way.  What God made must be unendingly distinguished from what we are now.  To say that we are, without remainder, children of God who are “born this way” (it is a serious problem when a supposedly Christian camp’s slogans are indistinguishable from Lady GaGa’s), is to deny any doctrine of Original Sin.  If we are born “this way,” and if “this way” is okay with God, then either God is the author of sin; or we are not sinners, though we make mistakes.  I don’t know which one the leaders of the camp would choose, but they are alike denials of the entire Scriptural witness, not to mention a denial of Jesus Himself.

All it takes is a brief thought-experiment to highlight the (Christian) absurdity of accepting the person in the mirror: imagine if we were to do that with any other sin (for the sake of the progressives/enlightened, let’s call it a “negative behavior”).  Imagine an alcoholic who beats his wife: look in the mirror; you are a child of God; God made you this way; be at peace with yourself.  Or a chronic philanderer: be at peace with the person God has made.  Or an abuser of animals: look in the mirror and accept that you are made in the image of God.  Or even someone who lies or steals only once in a while: be at peace with the person in the mirror.  If we do it with LGBTQ youth, why not with those people?  What possible argument could be made?  There is at least as much or more public opprobrium connected to an alcoholic wife-beater than to a gay teenager.  The wife-beater is marginalized and oppressed, and it may even get him beat up by a better man.  Those are his impulses and inclinations, maybe even his orientation, and there are studies that connect alcoholism to genetics.  Why doesn’t he get a mirror in which to look and affirm what God has made?  Try to make an argument that could not also be applied to homosexual youth.

They are free to deny that we are sinners; but sinners don’t need a Savior.  Why not just say, we’re happy with who we are and we don’t need God to tell us that?  Why must we seek justification from some higher Power for our choices?  That’s a far more fundamental question than whether my personal god likes me or not.


What is Pietism?

Sometimes Lutherans will throw “pietist” around like it’s a four-letter word (most of the time it is).  Historically, it’s a movement to reverse what was seen as “dead orthodoxy” and a sort of doctrinal legalism that sucked the life out of true religion.  It emphasized conversion, private Bible study, and de-emphasized corporate worship, the Sacraments, and objective means of grace.  It favored the subjective experience of the believer.  We have that historical movement and its successors to thank for Confirmation as we know it, as well as pretty much the entire way we view Christianity in America today.  (Again, read D.G. Hart’s The Lost Soul of American Protestantism for a broader view of pietistic impulses in the United States.)

But lest this be simply an historical and academic irrelevancy, see the Hauge Lutheran Innermission Federation (C.P. Krauth is obviously correct when he says that not all who claim the Lutheran name are Lutheran–btw, that’s another must-own: The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology).

I was given their publication “Morning Glory” by a relative of a parishioner, and it seems like a nineteenth century relic of the revivalist frontier.  Let me first say that the inclinations of these Christians and others like them is completely understandable.  As a pastor, I see first-hand the complacency and a seeming nominal Christianity.  You wonder if the Word of God is having any effect, and you doubt whether you’re preaching strongly enough, and you’re tempted, above all, to preach solely the Law “to awaken souls.”  But the Law will never awaken souls, and that’s what separates the pietists from the Lutherans.  No amount of banging on people with commandments, requirements, and what God wants will convert sinners.

In the first article, from 1895, the author writes,

A follower of churchianity uses the Lord’s means of grace only to rest securely in his impenitence and sin, in a sleep that can never be blessed.

But the question is always begged, how can anyone determine whether someone is “resting securely in his impenitence and sin”?  I have no doubt that people do, but there’s no way for anyone else to know, unless the person says so.  And then this:

With God’s Word as light and law for discerning the spiritual condition, we must get all believing men and women to work to gether for the salvation of sinners. We must totally turn away from the old traditional ways of thinking, and (I am sorry that this needs to be said even
among God’s children) stop promoting the notion that it is enough when the pastor regularly preaches God’s Word during the congregation’s public worship services. For then sinners will not be converted, because there is no cry in it; then they will remain lost.

The problem is not necessarily with the preaching, but with the fact that the people in the congregation remain sinners.  The problem might be with the preaching, but the fact that there are “unconverted” people in the congregation (again, only God can know) may be in spite of the preaching (it always is), rather than because the preaching is weak.

But what I really wanted to get to was this: “Do the Baptized Need Conversion?”

There is a popular emphasis in much of Lutheranism (and some other church bodies as well) that if an infant or a young child has been brought to Christ in baptism, and never leaves that covenant established at their baptism, that they are Christians solely because of God’s Grace. If they confess their faith at their confirmation and are regular in church and at the Lord’s Supper, they are in fact faithful Christians and have no need for conversion. Is this, in fact, what the Bible teaches?

Besides the fact that the whole article could not be more distant from Luther’s Small Catechism on baptism, notice how close it is to a Baptist position.  Just because someone says he’s Lutheran doesn’t mean he is.  Notice how astounding that first sentence is: “There is a popular emphasis in much of Lutheranism…that if an infant or a young child has been brought to Christ in baptism, and never leaves that covenant established at their baptism, that they are Christians solely because of God’s Grace.” That is about as clear a statement of the anti-Lutheran doctrine of these pseudo-Lutherans (indeed, pseudo-Christians) as one could possibly find.  The pietist temptation is to move so hard against those who appear to be resting securely in their impenitence that they cannot handle the radicality of God’s grace in Jesus Christ: that it is completely free, completely apart from works or decision or your holy life.  Holiness contributes nothing to your salvation.  And if the pietists trust that “holiness of life” shows whether someone is not resting securely in impenitence, those good works and perceived holiness could be the very thing that contributes to the dreaded secure resting.

But it gets worse: doing violence to Paul’s letter to Titus, the author writes,

However, notice in the very same verse that it states that there must also be a “renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Thus, following the order stated in Titus 3:5, it is baptism first and then a renewing by the Holy Spirit. This is how God saves us. To have baptism alone, with out the renewing of the Holy Spirit, is not salvation.

This is the same terrible exegesis that leads to saying that repentance must precede baptism, because that’s how Peter says it.  But Matthew 28 is conveniently ignored by these same people because it puts baptism first, and then teaching.  The only way that this quote makes sense is if one has a priori separated renewal from baptism.  If, on the other hand, one believes that baptism is renewal (as Luther clearly does in the Small Catechism), then the argument literally makes no sense.  In fact, the Small and Large Catechisms provide the very antidote against carnal security: a return to baptism!  I.e., repentance.

We speak of this renewing after baptism as conversion, which means turning. When the baptized person becomes old enough to understand the issues of sin, condemnation, and the wrath of God under the Law, and then forgiveness of sins through Jesus under the Gospel, then the person must make a conscious choice by an act of their will on two things: 1) What will I do with my Sin?, and 2) What will I do with Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit will bring each soul to this point of decision, like a fork in the road.  After baptism, the soul must repent of their sins before God by an act of their will. This did not take place in baptism. After baptism, the soul must come to personal faith in Jesus by an act of their will. This also did not take place at baptism.

Any Lutheran should have alarm bells ringing at words like “choice,” “decision,” and “act of their [sic] will.”  Yes, everyone must repent, but this repentance is not something that the will can accomplish, nor can “the soul…come to personal faith in Jesus by an act of their [sic] will.”  They either make baptism into some sort of prevenient grace (in fact, it’s prevenient, postvenient, and everything in between) or they make it of no account whatsoever.  Personal faith in Jesus and repentance come solely from God, by God, and not apart from God’s working by His Holy Spirit.  Pietists rob Christians of their comfort because they make salvation depend upon something the Christian does.  And if it depends on something the Christian does, then there can never be certainty that the Christian has done all that is required.

Everyone claims “by grace, by grace,” but how a person views baptism will show what they really believe.  If they say that baptism is not enough, they either do not understand what Lutherans really teach (that it is the Holy Spirit converting a sinful creature by bringing it to the cross and grave of Jesus and raising it in the resurrection of Jesus) or they do not believe in grace alone.  If someone denies infant baptism because infants can’t “believe,” they deny grace alone.  If someone puts any requirement on a person for salvation, conversion, repentance, etc., they deny the work of God by His Law and His Gospel.  It’s as simple as that.

More robbing consciences:

Even if a young person has never gone off into open and coarse sin, he is still in need of conversion. This conversion will involve a real conviction of sin. This means that they will
realize that they have sinned against the Lord and the fact that they were once baptized will no longer cover that sin. They will also realize they need to come to Jesus in a personal, living way. It will no longer be enough that they believe in Jesus, but they will have to make a definite act of appropriating Christ for themselves.

If baptism no longer covers sin, then Christ’s death and resurrection no longer covers sin–because baptism is nothing more than the personal appropriation of Christ’s death and resurrection.  If baptism were something else, then it would also be something other than by grace through faith.  True belief in Jesus saves because it is simple trust that Christ died for me.  Anything else is not faith in the Biblical sense.

But enough.  Not Christian (see Sir Cuthbert’s remarks below) and, hence, not Lutheran.


What Do Christians Confess?

Just a question: if Christians get upset when “progressives” update the Creed to say things like “Mother-Father” “Jesus Christ, God’s only Child” and baptize people in the name of the “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” why don’t some of these same Christians take equally seriously the statement in the final part of the Nicene Creed that Christians “believe in one Baptism for the remission of sins.” If the progressives have given up an essential part of Christian doctrine, why have the anti-Sacramentalists not given up something at least as equally fundamental?

The “one, holy, Christian [catholic], and apostolic Church” that we confess is the same Church that confesses faith in “one Baptism for the remission of sins.” Have you not put yourself outside of your own Christian Faith if you deny it?


Do You Have MJS?

Do you have Mere Jesus Syndrome (MJS)? It’s a highly communicable disease that causes individuals to say things like: “As long as we both believe in Jesus, everything’s okay” and “why can’t we commune together, since we both believe in Jesus?”

It stems from the belief that “Jesus” is all that matters for Christians. I admit, when one first hears the symptoms, one might be tempted to say, “What’s the big deal? Christians have to believe in Jesus to be saved; isn’t salvation the most important thing?” And who can argue with that? In terms of my individual person, my salvation certainly seems to be the most important thing. And to some extent, this is true. But there are some assumptions that go along with MJS that must be challenged.

First, sufferers of MJS assume that Jesus can be divided from His teaching. It might sound like this: “We both believe that Jesus died for our sins, right? Why do we need to worry about whether we teach different things about communion and baptism? We’re both saved. All the rest of that stuff is secondary.” And, of course, that’s true. It is all secondary–but only if it is assumed that, one, Jesus brings His salvation to you in some ethereal, spiritual way apart from means; and, two, that Jesus’ salvation ultimately has little or nothing to do with the rest of what He said. MJS inoculation number one: Jesus never works apart from His divinely ordained means; and He does not say anywhere that if you’re saved (whatever that might mean and whatever it might look like), you can call relatively unimportant what He calls part of “everything I have commanded you.” Finally, it makes no sense for a Christian to divide up Jesus and His gifts and pick and choose among which he will receive. Can you really say that you’ve confessed Jesus as Lord if you refuse some of His gifts?

Second, MJS sufferers have been known to be overtaken by the delusion that they, being “saved,” can now decide which parts of Jesus’ teaching are church divisive, and which are not. This symptom must be observed very carefully, because it looks very similar to the non-MJS assertion that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are very important, and other things less so. The decisive diagnostic is whether the person in question holds to the same things to which Jesus holds. If the person holds, with every Christian denomination of which I know (minus Rome and the other five sacraments), that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two gifts which Christ Himself explicitly instituted, it seems strange that he or she would then go on to deny that they are unimportant next to salvation. This, of course, contains the assumption that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are somehow disconnected from salvation. If they are not salvation-bearing and salvation-bringing, then they are indeed secondary. If, however, they impart forgiveness of sins, new life, and closer fellowship with God through His Son Jesus in the Spirit (what else is salvation?), then the question of whether they are essential to any discussions of salvation and Christian unity is moot. MJS inoculation number two: Baptism is how God brings you into His life of salvation and the Supper of His Son is how He constantly renews that relationship and keeps you in it (along with confession and absolution). Without a doubt, if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive it, and He does as we are drowned in repentance and rise to new life daily. But, what MJS sufferers often fail to recognize is that baptism is not a one-time event, but a daily renewal. So then there really is nothing outside baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We are promised nothing else and we can be certain of nothing else. Even private confession and absolution, where forgiveness is promised by Christ, is but an exercise of our baptismal promise.

Third, the MJS sufferer will often speak in terms of “I” and “you” and “me.” There is little to no recognition of the whole Body of Christ, though statements are often couched in terms of the minimum for belonging to the Church (a condition which is closely related to MJS: Mere Church Syndrome [MCS]). Rather, what really counts is whether you and I get along and whether we know each other to be Christians. It doesn’t really matter whether you attend a Lutheran or a Baptist or a Non-Denominational congregation; as long as we all believe in Jesus. MJS inoculation number three: ask the question, which Jesus do you believe in? The answer should get you further along the road to discerning whether the person actually has MJS or, as in some hypochondriacs, only believes he or she has it.

Fourth, to be as explicit as possible, those afflicted with MJS assume that Jesus’ doctrine is divisible. They ask the question, implicitly or explicitly, “Jesus, did you really mean this to be that important?” Of course not! (That’s what I thought.) But you essentially deny Jesus when you deny His teaching. Jesus is what He says and He says what He is. They are inseparable. Thus, those who disagree about His two explicitly-instituted gifts are disagreeing about who He is. Until that disagreement is worked out, there is no unity. Thus, regardless of whether we all get to heaven in the end, we cannot bring the eschaton before Jesus does by assuming that all of the rest of Jesus’ teaching is secondary. He will tell us at that time whether we have erred or not. Until then, the best inoculation for MJS is to take Him at His Word.