Deeds Not Creeds

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As you may or may not know, Lutheran’s adhere to the 3 creeds (Apostolic, Nicene, and Athenasian) and the the confessions that comprise the Book of Concord. This does not mean that Lutheran’s consider them higher than the Bible. In actuality, it is the Bible that the creeds and confessions accurately confess and teach. Some have argued against creeds and confessions and have declared the term, “Deeds not creeds.” I suppose the purpose of this statement is to argue that Christians should focus less on what they believe and more on how they live their lives. As if to say, “Let’s stop arguing about doctrine, lets stop being all about head knowledge, and lets show the world Christ by the way we act.” I completely agree that our neighbor needs our works, our charity and our love. But there are at least two very dangerous conclusions to this position. The first is that this implies that sanctification rather than justification is the essence of Christianity. But the forgiveness of sins if the essence of Christianity.

The word justify means to absolve, that is, to declare free from sins (Concordia p. 162). We as humans tend to be legalists by nature. And the most straightforward and self centered way by which men would like to justify themselves is by means of the Law. Or in other words, by doing something. By taking on the mantra of deeds not creeds, people can fall into the mistake that they are justified by a sanctification brought on by their obedience to the Law. The second fatal flaw in this position of showing the world Jesus through our deeds is, we fail miserably to live up to the life we are trying to show non-believers. I would argue that this is the easiest way to prove to the world that Christians are nothing but hypocrites. We declare, “Be holy as I am holy” and then completely fail to live up to the task. Hmm…actually that is the exact purpose of the Law. The Law shows us what God demands. It proves that we can not justify ourselves by completely obeying all of the Law, and then points us to the gospel. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law for us. The forgiveness of sins and our justification was all achieved by Jesus. As my pastor says, “Jesus does all the verbs.” The creeds and confessions are great at teaching us the truths of the Bible. But good works and sanctification are the inevitable fruit of our justification, not the means of our justification. So be careful. Don’t mistake your opinion of creeds and confessions with a desire to justify yourself by your works. Let Jesus do the verbs. Then, you can walk in the freedom that you receive forgiveness by the shed body and blood of Christ.

The Lutheran Dialogues: Free Will

As a new Lutheran, I am still very much studying and learning the specifics of the Lutheran theology. Today I would like to start a new series of blog posts that center around topics I am studying with the purpose of soliciting feedback from more learned Lutheran brothers and sisters.

(Note, I am not looking to debate with other denominations. I am looking to learn more about various topics from a Lutheran perspective.)

Topic 1: Free Will

I am very versed in the Calvinistic stance on free will, as well as the Arminian side. What interests me on this topic is how both Calvinists and Lutherans both believe in Total Depravity. The Book of Concord seems to refer to it more as ‘Original Sin’ but the understanding is much the same. The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration states

“By the fall of our first parents man was so corrupted that in divine things pertaining to our conversion and the salvation of our souls he is by nature blind, that, when the Word of God is preached, he neither does nor can understand it, but regards it as foolishness; also, that he does not of himself draw nigh to God, but is and remains an enemy of God, until he is converted, becomes a believer [is endowed with faith], is regenerated and renewed, by the power of the Holy Ghost through the Word when preached and heard, out of pure grace, without any cooperation of his own.”

In short both believe that man cannot will himself to salvation and that God the Holy Spirit must make the change in man in order for salvation to occur. This logically leads towards a discussion on election. If no man can save himself, and only God can regenerate, then we have to explain why some are regenerated and others are not. I.E. Unconditional Election and Double Predestination. From a personal opinion, I have never heard an Arminian argument to make me not believe the bible teaches a monergistic mode of salvation. When I have asked what the Lutheran take is on election and predestination, I have gotten the answer that Lutherans look only to the comfort side of election. Meaning, Lutherans do not emphasize the negative side that God may have created some for wrath, but look to election only in comforting people to assure them that they are saved. If you are a believer, then you are the elect. As nice as that is,it only takes on the high road on the topic. This allows the Lutheran to avoid making God into a monster that predestined some to hell without any choice or hope as the the Arminians would accuse the Calvinists of. But this answer seems a bit of a dodging of the question.

Here is lies my question for this topic; What part does Baptism play into a monergistic view of salvation.

In reading section 67 of the Solid Declaration we read,

“Therefore there is a great difference between baptized and unbaptized men. For since, according to the doctrine of St. Paul, Gal. 3:27, all who have been baptized have put on Christ, and thus are truly regenerate, they have now arbitrium liberatum (a liberated will), that is, as Christ says, they have been made free again, John 8:36; whence they are able not only to hear the Word, but also to assent to it and accept it, although in great weakness.”

Dr. Luther states in the Small Catechism,

“What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”

It would appear that since God is monergistically forgiving sins, washing, regenerating and saving in the sacrament of Baptism, this would answer the issue of Total Depravity as well as the bondage of the free will. In Baptism, a person who absolutely can not will himself to come to faith in Christ is now endowed with that gift from Christ himself. (On a side note I should also point out that God can use the hearing of the Word to bring faith and regenerate a person as well, but I am digging at the question of how can Lutherans believe in total depravity and not double predestination). Baptism would appear to be a mode in which the means of grace can be bestowed to man and at the same time, still account for not believing in the perseverance of the saints. Meaning, at Baptism you are saved even as an infant, but it is up to that person to confirm that faith and not reject the faith they were given. Or in even other words, it takes a will that is bound in sin and the inability to choose God, and regenerates them and makes them free to live out that faith.

So there you have it. I look forward to Lutheran responses on how baptism plays into the topic of Free Will and double predestination. Thanks!

The Big reveal: The Pre-Lutheran me.

If you followed my “Becoming a Lutheran” series of posts, I mentioned the erroneous teachings on some of the churches I attended prior to discovering the Lutheran faith. I never named names as my intention was not to point out specs in other peoples eyes, but rather point out the teachings not the teacher. If you search the rest of this blog, it wouldn’t be to hard to put 2 and 2 together and figure it out. Now with the media coverage of Steven Furtick’s criticizing of his building of a 1.6 million dollar home, I figure it is time to make the big reveal. That’s right, your looking at a former Elevator. My family attended for years. I volunteered and our daughter actually was re-baptized there. (She was baptized when she was younger and wanted to make that profession now that she was older and ‘understood’ what she believed.) Yes I could give you stories of how what you read about “The Code” is true, how the giving to the church is largely emphasized, I could defend the fact that 10 million really did go out to some very deserving and needed charities in Charlotte. I can tell you how the books were peddled at the church. I can probably confirm a lot of what you are hearing. But instead what I would like to point out is the church’s enablement of all of this. Our itching ears, our need for self-help sermons, our desire to have a purpose driven life, and our need to have extra-biblical sources to have faith that our lives mean something and is going to get better; it is us who are to be criticized. We have just enough bible knowledge to know things are not right but in our narcissistic pursuit of happiness and self actualization, we heap for ourselves false teachers to scratch our ever itching ears. No one put a gun to my head when I dumped the thousands of dollars into the tithe bowls. It is the same all over the church. John MacArthur just did his Strange Fire conference. Instead of people admitting and calling the prosperity preachers, false prophets and snake oil salesmen, we will defend them. We will look the other way and continue to support them. Why? Why do we do this when it is right in our face? Is it because we really believe them? Or is it because God isn’t good enough. The gospel of Jesus Christ; that we are sinners and that the Son of God came down to live a sinless life, to be crucified, buried and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins isn’t enough for us. Instead we want a quick fix to our temporal lives here and now. We want a seed to produce the harvest that going to our vocation isn’t producing. We want them to fix our lives. I liked what MacArthur said at the conference. If this is your best life now, then hell must be what your awaits you in the next life to come. Until Christ and him crucified, until repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and until Jesus’ work on the Cross becomes enough for us, nothing is going to change. We will continue to be an evil and adulterous generation seeking a sign and a wonder. We will continue to seek everything and anything but Christ. Yes, shame on Furtick for turning the pulpit into his million dollar home. But shame on us. Shame on me for helping build the steps of his million dollar house that he will walk up everyday when he gets home. I repent of following, funding and needing men as my savior. May it be now and forever more, Christ alone!!

Baptism

Of all the things we learned during our Catechism classes, Baptism was the most difficult. Not because it was hard to believe that is was more than the post-modern, “It’s an outward sign of an inward call.” It was easy to conclude that Baptism would be more than me offering a favor to God by showing Him and the world (which oddly is just other believers at a church service) that I believe in Him. How arrogant of man to think we can offer anything to God. No what was difficult was hearing “Baptism Saves.” But I thought Jesus saves? I thought His atoning work on the cross is what saves? My pastor posted this picture that explains things. Have a look at these Scriptures. It does all point to Jesus and to His atoning work on the Cross.

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Come to me and I will give you rest.

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I learned something very interesting about these scriptures during our catechism class recently. I have long been taught that these verses are in the context of our everyday life and work. The emphasis is placed on our trials, the stress from over extending ourselves, picking the wrong path, being over worked in our vocations, or any other life event. The scenario starts with a church attendee being exhausted, stressed and burdened by the busyness of this world. These verses would be applied in a way that accused the person of doing these things without God. Or maybe there was too much on thier plate. Perhaps God gave you the annointing of a saucer, but you have taken on the amount of a servng plate in your life. The big finale would come in the form of advice such as, “You have to cut back on the things that God has not called you to take on.” This would burden the person even more if these things are all neccessary. Imagine the serving plate of tasks in the persons life was parenting, working to provide for the family, and going to school at night to provide a more stable financial position in the home. The person could be left more confused and guilty than ever. Questions such as, “What do you cut? Why did God only give me the annointing of a saucer and not a serving plate? Why can’t I handle all these things?” would surface. After all, they are just trying to do the right thing.
What I learned was that these verses are not so much about your life, but about Law and Gospel. Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Many teachers today will be quick to point out that the yoke is a wooden crosspiece fastened between to animals. The example of a yoke of oxen would be given, which, is labor, the tilling of the field. What is not often taught is that to the hearers at the time of the writing of the New Testament, farming was not the only anaolgy people understood. Jewish rabbis spoke of the “yoke of the law” as glorious obedience to God. Jesus described this yoke as heavy. Instead he offers an alternative by being yoked together with him to the gospel. “When sin has been forgiven and the conscience has been liberated from the burden and the sting of sin, then a Christian can bear everything easily. Because everything within is sweet and pleasent, he willingly does and suffers everything.” (AE 2:133) One yoked to Jesus will find rest. It is the peace that surpasses all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Php 4:7) It’s not about being given more Law to follow, its about the Gospel proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in Christ alone.