WHAT OUR GOD DOES NOT REMEMBER

Read Psalm 51: (Read 2nd Samuel 11 and 12) — A Psalm of David after the prophet Nathan confronted him about taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and deceptively arranging the death of Uriah. Though there were temporal consequences, David acknowledged his sin and found comfort and healing in the mercy and grace of God.

Read Psalm 30: (Read 2nd Samuel 24) — A song of David at the dedication of the temple of David. It was perhaps written after God’s anger had been aroused against David who took a census of the people without God’s permission. God punished him severely. David acknowledged his sin. God forgave David and lifted him up from his despair. The greatest rejoicing is when God in His grace forgives our sin.

Read Luke 22:55-62: Peter’s denial and repentance. Unlike Judas wo betrayed Jesus and felt remorse but lacked faith in God’s mercy, Peter repented of his sin and wept in acknowledgement of it, as well as at the contemplation of the mercy of God. (We could speak of Adam and Eve, Moses, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Zacharias, and Paul who described himself as “chief of sinners”).

They did not commit their sin in their pre-conversion state. Both David and Peter were men of God. David was declared a man of God; he was chosen of God, a servant of God, an ancestor of the incarnate Christ. Peter was chosen of the Lord to be a disciple and an apostle; he sat at the feet of Jesus and walked with Jesus. Both were among those of whom the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

Yet they, as all humans born on earth since Adam, were sinners who had to say and who demonstrated the truth of the apostle’s admission, “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:18-19).

In the tug of war between the old man (the flesh) and the new man (born of the Spirit) they succumbed to the flesh. If there is anyone (and we are not speaking of the unbeliever who is of the flesh and not of the Spirit) who reads this who will not admit to the same affliction of sin, he is unarguably a liar.

As children of God being born anew through Baptism and thus in Christ dead to sin, it is not possible to blithely excuse sin. No child of God can say, “The devil made me do it.” As those in whom the new man dwells, albeit in this body of flesh, we know better. Thus the believer in the flesh and because of the flesh needs the preaching of the law lest he try to excuse sin or become secure in it. The Lord calls us to repentance. Luther in the first of the 95 theses said, When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” In the 3rd he wrote, “Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.” In other words, repentance is not simply an internal feeling of remorse. It will manifest fruits of repentance, fighting against and earnestly trying to put away the sin.

True repentance does not include thinking one can sin because the Lord forgives sin. A Christ-believer does not sin because he knows the Lord is gracious. Luther said in a Maundy Thursday sermon in 1518, “To probe and ponder how bad you have been is not enough if you do not ponder and probe much more how good you desire to become (What Luther Says, Vol. III, para. 3869).

However, a penitent sinner cannot overcome sin by exercise of his will. He prays for the forgiveness of his sins as well as for the Spirit to impart and work through the Gospel the will and strength to overcome and to separate oneself from the sin. A child of God says with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25)!

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 3:9). The blessing of daily confession of sin before the Lord lies in the absolution. To us He says, “ Son (Daughter), be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2). He means it. He died to atone for our sins. That He did is confirmed by His resurrection from the dead.

This is the promise that David believed. Yes, there were temporal consequences in David’s life as there may be in ours. Yet we can join with David in confidence of faith in the Lord. “A broken and a contrite heart—these O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). It was this grace which moved Peter to tears, and which upon his restoration to office made him a bold confessor of His Savior until he died.

Forgiven! But do you think either of them forgot their fall? They did not live in doubt or despair. It is unlikely that they forgot their sin. David said in His penitential Psalm 51 “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight…” (Psalm 51:3-4). Do you think Peter ever forgot how he had denied his Lord? There is benefit in not forgetting!

Certain sins frequently stick in our memory and haunt us. Temporal consequences of a sin jog our memory and remind us. However, inability of the penitent to forget does not mean one doubts forgiveness. God’s grace is greater than the accusing conscience (1 John 3:20). Further, by the Word of God reject any suggestion of Satan that you are not forgiven: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13), for “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). “… and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

O, the depth of the love our God has for us in Christ. While David and Peter and the patriarchs may not have been able to forget (nor can we), God does not remember our sins. They are as if they were not. Amazing, incomprehensible, but true. For the sake of His Son, to our eternal blessing, our gracious Father no longer remembers them!

Hark back to the promise and blessings of Baptism. “Be baptized and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16).

How far is the east from the west? “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12)

How deep is the ocean? “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the seas” (Micah 7:19).

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him…”(Ezekiel 18: 22).

“…then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (Hebrews 10:17).

“For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more(Jeremiah 31:34).

The Father, for Jesus’ sake, forgives and blots our sins from His memory. To do less would have meant that He rejected the atonement made by Jesus Who died to take away the sins of the world. The Christ-believer finds comfort in the truth that with God there is no double jeopardy. When He says our sins are gone from memory, they are! Again, they are as though they were not.

In fullness of joy join in the paean of the Psalmist : “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities…Who redeems your life from destruction” (Psalm 103:1-3).

“… And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’” (John 8:11). “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

“THANKS BE TO GOD WHO GIVES US THE VICTORY THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

 

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WITHHOLD THE TRUTH FOR FEAR OF OFFENDING?

WITHHOLD THE TRUTH FOR FEAR OF OFFENDING?

 In its  July 2019 churchwide assembly the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in America (ELCA) presented a declaration on “inter-religious commitment.” Though the declaration refers to the Savior’s commission in Matthew 28 and does give a  nod to  Christ as the Savior, and the Gospel as the power  of God unto salvation, it is basically blinding eye salve. Some excerpts from the declaration which is heavily socially oriented:

“ Our relationship to each of our neighbors of other religions and worldviews is vitally important. At the same time, Christians have had a particularly rich yet complex relationship with Jews and Muslims. In significantly different ways, all three traditions claim to worship the God of Abraham. Given this kinship, Lutherans have a responsibility to overcome stereotypes and misunderstandings of Muslims and Jews and to seek fuller understanding and cooperation. Doing so may well involve rethinking aspects of Christian self-understanding.…

“Beyond Judaism and Islam, the ELCA engages with other religious communities, including Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs, among others. The state, national, and world councils of churches have played a significant role in expanding the breadth of our inter-religious dialogue and in exploring how we understand and relate to other neighbors who self-identify as Christian, but are not trinitarian, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses….

“In general, the ELCA is open to participating in inter-religious prayer services that honor the integrity, distinctive commitments, and gifts of each tradition, and reflect prayerful understanding and careful planning.”

The declaration of this self-declared “Sanctuary Church” is a classic demonstration of “good words and fair speeches” of which the apostle Paul spoke in Romans 16:18. It has no concept of church fellowship as Scripture teaches it.

In view of the ELCA fear of offending unbelievers by the truth,  keep in mind: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

One lay delegate boldly proposed to delete the following line toward the end of the declaration:  “Hence, we must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion or the individual human beings who practice it.”  He quoted John 14:6. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The resolution was soundly defeated. A pastor responded that she was embarrassed they were even talking about this in front of their “inter-faith visitors.”  Another described the resolution as an example of “white Christian supremacy” and called it “nonsense.” According to the ELCA, there were “39 ecumenical and interfaith guests in attendance.”  Ninety-eight percent (98%) of the assembly of over 900 delegates defeated the resolution.

In a later interview (online), the delegate was asked what he thought of his church body, the ELCA. We shall let him speak. He said the ELCA “is not evangelical; it is not Lutheran.” He personally doubted that it was Christian. According to him, the most that can be said of the ELCA  “is that it is in America.”  Anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God, and that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ Who is the way the truth and the life will concur.

Are we saying that everyone in the ELCA is lost? Absolutely not! Are we saying that every pastor in the ELCA is on the anti-Christian bandwagon? Absolutely not! The Lord knows who the Christ-believers are. What we can ask of those who disagree  with the doctrine of the ELCA is, “Why are you still in it?  Why are you willing to be identified with a church that gives lip service to Scripture but denies the truth of it? Can you not see the danger to your faith? Are you not, by continuing in it, misleading  others by staying in the ELCA? “

Scripture is clear:

“And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully…’Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who steal My words every one from his neighbor.  Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’  Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ says the Lord, ‘and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the Lord’”  (Jeremiah 23:28, 30-32).

“Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts:20:30)

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

“Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord…” (2 Corinthians 6:17)“

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.  For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).

We are to avoid false teachers as our Lord instructs us. We are to avoid  false teachers and false doctrine because they offend the Lord and rob Him of His glory. False teachers and their doctrine endanger souls. Scripture enjoins separation from false teachers and their false doctrine in the interest of  preservation. It is amazing that in an age when there is so much concern about what we eat,  about the water we drink, about the air we breathe, a church can be so casually indifferent toward Scripture and even promote error that contradicts “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The ELCA was born in 1988 from  the merger of three Lutheran bodies –The American Lutheran Church (ALC); the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches; and the Lutheran Church in America. It carried over the ALC’s. misinterpretation of Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession. which says “…And to the true unity of the Church, it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the  Gospel and the administration of the Sacrament.” Hence with her skewed understanding of the Gospel, one who rejected the delegate’s resolution for fear of offending the interfaith guests could claim as she did that she believes the Gospel, while denying the very heart of the Gospel.  Clearly, the ELCA while entertaining the idea that there are or may be other ways to heaven  than through faith in Christ preaches another Gospel. The apostle Paul said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

The message of the Gospel is the message of salvation  by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone. However in the interest of union with other religions, even Christ denying ones,  the ELCA abuses Scripture and the Augsburg Confession. It buys into Gospel reductionism. Gospel reductionists accept Bible authority only in matters which are explicitly part of the gospel or may be developed from the gospel. Basically, it sets the Word of God against itself. The ELCA  denies the inerrancy of Scripture. Thus Scripture is bendable, pliable, a matter of opinion. The ELCA  does not unanimously teach the virgin birth of Christ. Besides finding room in heaven for those who deny Christ, the ELCA  makes allowance for abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism,  same sex unions, and ordination of women into the ministry. It teaches another Gospel.

The Augsburg Confession does not set the Gospel against Scripture. Context is important. “…And to the true unity of the Church, it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the  Gospel and the administration of the Sacrament.  Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is rites or ceremonies, instituted by men should be everywhere alike.”  It is not speaking of union of visible churches. The unity of the Holy Christian Church, the Body of Christ, is not determined by the form of liturgy, the order of the service, clergy vestments,  church polity, or even the date of Easter. That the sum total of  believers in Christ are united in the Holy Christian Church grants no license to the ELCA (or the Church of the Lutheran Confession) to set side or misinterpret Scripture to satisfy an agenda.

The ELCA promotes a social agenda at the expense of the truth of salvation. So we ask of ourselves, are we to help those who oppose us as the Samaritan did who saw to the need of the Jew  waylaid by robbers on the road to Jericho? Are we to pray for our enemies? Are we to be kind to those who despitefully use us?   Are we to grant the same rights to our neighbor that we expect to be granted to us? Are we to love our neighbor as ourselves, are we to care about the welfare and well-being of our neighbor?  “Yes.” Are we to love our neighbor and treat him with respect? Certainly. But are we to do that at the expense of the truth of God’s Word and furthermore,  is it love to withhold from our neighbor the truth that all people have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God and deserve eternal wrath and punishment, and that Jesus is the only way to heaven?

Is it love to refuse to warn those who worship gods of their own imagination, and who fall before dumb idols? Is it love to refuse to tell them that  there is no other God but one?  Is it love to lie about the way to salvation because the truth might offend?  Is it love to let the unbeliever walk the road to perdition? Is it love to stand idly by while the troubled believe they can in some fashion be saved by their own works, their own merits, or at least by their good intentions? Is it love to  be silent when people believe that they will be saved  regardless of what they believe so long as they believe something? Is this love?

We are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) — the truth which makes one free (John 8:32). The Lord commissioned the disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature, saying also, “teaching them to observe all things, that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).The Savior’s commission is anti-gospel reductionism.  Paul taught the whole counsel of God. He instructed Timothy, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Is it love to fail to preach the Law which shows the sinners need, and the Gospel which heals the sorrowful heart and proclaims salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone?

“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). To teach anything else or suggest the possibility of eternal salvation by any other manner than through faith in Christ is a lie. It is  loveless. The ELCA should be embarrassed and ashamed that it offends God!

If the false teachers know Galatians 8:1, do they believe it? Whatever the answer, they who teach and believe what the ELCA does, unless they repent, are in peril of judgment.

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UNDERSTANDING THE COMFORT OF REVELATION

 

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16). The whole Bible from Genesis of the Old Testament to Revelation of the New Testament is the Word of God. Nothing the Lord gave to the holy writers through the Spirit is outdated, culturally conditioned, or subject to change to fit societal fancy, whim, political agendas, or preconceived theological opinions. Despite the raging of the heathen, the vanity of the intellectual, and the political correctness of a fallen society, the faithful are called to the “casting down [of] arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

When we read or study the Holy Scriptures we are in the school of the divine in which we sit in awe in the presence of the One who teaches “as one having authority” (Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22). When a pastor speaks he is to speak the truth of God’s Word. Nothing more, nothing less. He is an ambassador of the Lord God. He speaks as a representative of God and is to be respected as such. However, his words are to be measured according to the standard of Holy Scripture. The Bereans in Acts 17 “searched the Scriptures daily” to verify that what Paul was teaching was true.

When Jesus spoke He spoke on His own authority. As one reads the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), one hears Jesus say again and again, “I say unto you.” This is significant because “The words that I [Jesus] speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). John 1 says, “The Word was God.” Therefore to deny, challenge, or change what Scripture teaches is a direct affront on Christ.

It is not within the power or ability of the wisest of men or the best of teachers to convince anyone that the Bible is the Word of God. The most anyone can do is lead an inquirer into the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, through which the Spirit convinces one that Scripture is what it claims to be. The Word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). It is a lamp to our feet and light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

So what advice may be given to one inquiring of our faith or to one new to Christianity or perhaps reading the Bible through for the first time? No better advice can be given than to encourage him to read the Scripture starting with the New Testament, specifically starting with the Gospels. In the Gospels one learns of the person of God, the person of the Savior, the reality and consequence of sin, and the good news of Jesus’ redemptive work through His life, His death, His resurrection and finally His ascension.

In this regard it is interesting that the Ethiopian was reading of our Savior’s work of atonement. He was reading Isaiah but did not understand what he read. Beginning with what the Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53, Philip preached Jesus to him (Acts 8). Beginning with the Gospels helps the new Bible student appreciate the meaning, purpose and prophecy of the Old Testament of which the New Testament is fulfillment. It is also a primer to appreciation of the Epistles which are built upon the foundation of Christ and His atonement.

Reading through Revelation was a reminder of how important it is to have a grasp of the Gospels to appreciate the Revelation of Jesus Christ as given to John. Unfortunately many who have little appreciation of the Scriptures have a vague acquaintance with Revelation. It frequently is the book of the Bible they start with if they read the New Testament. If one starts with Revelation he may quit reading or conclude the Bible is a difficult book. Revelation has become the playground of millenialists, and promoters of end-time theories that contradict plain passages of Scripture, including the Gospels. Particularly through misinterpretation of chapter 20 (Also Ezekiel and Daniel), millenialists suggest that Christ will return before the final judgment to rule with His saints physically and peacefully on the earth for 1,000 years. During this time they claim Satan will be bound. It is alleged there will be a mass conversion of the Jews, after which will come a period of frightful evil. Then the end will come. However, plain, clear, Scripture speaks of only one return of the Lord Jesus to take His people home and pronounce judgment on all who rejected Him. Any interpretation of Revelation or any other Scripture that denies or contradicts other clear passages of Scripture is wrong. The Bible does not contradict itself.

There are red flags in Scripture that alert us to the times in which we live, e.g. 2 Timothy 3. However there will be no prior announcement of Jesus’ coming. He said that He will come as a thief in the night, and as a lightning flash (Matthew 24:27). We will know it when it happens, but not before. His return is known only to Him and the Father. Man can neither calculate the day or hour, nor the month and year of Jesus’ return. Simply put, if there were a 1,000 year rule of Christ on the earth, someone, somewhere, sometime would attempt to do what Scripture says cannot be done, namely, determine the date of end of the world. He would need only to count from the beginning of the 1,000 years. Some have already tried, and missed!

Revelation was written by the apostle John who was in exile “on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ “ (1:9). It is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him [Jesus] to show His servants – things which shortly must take place. And He [Jesus] sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw” (1:1-2).

 

Revelation is the only prophetical book of the New Testament. In the first chapters it speaks to the seven churches of Asia Minor. However, the exhortations, instruction and comfort of these letters is timeless.

 

The book is difficult to understand since in the majority of the book the Spirit uses figurative and symbolical terms, as well as pictures and visions. Our natural inquisitiveness makes us want to understand what every word and expression and every picture and symbol means. However, if one stops to try to figure out precisely what each figure, picture, or vision means, it is easy to lose the thread of what this powerful, instructive, and comforting book teaches.

Jesus and the apostles spoke of the last times. The last times are dated from the coming of Christ Who ushered in the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, as well as the birthday of the New Testament church. Jesus tells us that He overcame the devil. Scripture tells us the victory over sin, death, and the devil belongs to all who by faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross have been reconciled unto God. Jesus gives us the promise in His Word that He will give to all who hear His voice and follow Him “eternal life, and [they] shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).

This clear, and understandable Word of God is comfort to the people of God in this anti-Christian world. Christ-believers individually and as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, are under stress. They are hated, maligned, persecuted. Surely we are seeing that in the overt efforts to stamp out Christianity. Subtle and not so subtle efforts are made to minimize the influence of the Christian faith by attacking the Word of God. Attacks are launched by the heathen and even from within the church world. This hatred of Christ and the Christian faith orchestrated by the devil was alive in apostolic times and is depicted in Revelation with symbols and visions which portray all the anti-Christian forces that are arrayed against the Lord and His children.

 

All but one of the apostles, John, died a violent death. It never has been and never will be that Christians who are bold to confess their faith have it easy in this world. They must fight against their own flesh. They must withstand the arrows of the evil one and his minions. Paul wrote, “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). As one reads Revelation from beginning to end this is abundantly clear.

But the message of Revelation is not one of woe. The mighty and victorious hand of the Lord is evident in the affairs of the world and in the defeat of the enemies of the Gospel. The ultimate victory belongs to the Lord, and to His people. “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18) when the Lord returns in His appointed time to take His children home. That is the message of Revelation as we anxiously await the Savior’s return.

John wrote in Revelation 14: “ Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’”

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’  So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

“Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

 And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’”  So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.”

The message of Revelation is clear. The world will mock, rave, and war against the Church, and suffer eternally the wrath of God. Ultimately God’s people shall find rest in heaven. “ And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’” (21:3-4). “He who testifies these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly. Amen.’” Our response? “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).

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THE BLESSING OF A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL

 

The Brainerd (MN) Dispatch, (9/13/19)quoted the head of the Brainerd School Board:  “Darwin’s theory [of evolution] was done in the mid-1800s, and it’s never been proven. So I’m wondering why we’re still teaching it.” She is to be commended for walking into a den of lions.

A Director of Teaching and Learning, and a science teacher responded saying  the course was to be “grounded in the belief that all students can and should be scientifically literate.” According to the Dispatch, the course would cover topics like biochemistry, cells, DNA, and evolution. The defenders, the paper said, “did their best  to explain. It’s true: By definition, a theory is something that has yet to be ‘proven.’ But that doesn’t mean it’s a haphazard guess. Genetics, DNA, fossil evidence all back up Darwin’s ideas. There’s been no credible evidence to give us reason to doubt it.”

According to the Dispatch the science teacher said “he wasn’t out there to disprove Christian belief. He personally thinks you don’t have to choose between faith and science, that you can ‘embrace both.’ But: ‘This is science, and science doesn’t deal with belief. We deal with facts.’”

This is wrong on several points. First, the city pages of the paper, no doubt quoting the teacher, reported that a theory is something that has yet to be ‘proven.’” Yet later,  the teacher whom they quoted said, “We deal with facts.” So which is it? Is evolution theory or fact?

Furthermore, evolution is not science. Science is a systematic study of anything that can be examined, tested, and verified. It is knowledge gained by observation. A scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation. Evolution is a philosophy, a false religion, the origin of which dates back, it is said, to the 7th century B.C to Empedocles (490-430 B.C.). He was a Greek philosopher, statesman, poet, religious teacher, and physiologist who was called the father of evolution. “ Despite its ever-burgeoning technical complexity modern evolution theory still needs to play catch up with Empedocles. Darwin pays tribute to Empedocles for his theory of natural selection. Empedocles argues for reproductive fitness, random chance, and survival of the fittest (RationalSkeptecism.org.)

One who commented on-line asked, “How can someone serve as an educational leader and hold such uneducated views?”  We wonder how anyone so educated can believe evolution.

The Dispatch declared, “It’s easy to wonder how someone who denies science can gain power in the world of education. Then again, it should be noted that some of those Facebook commenters were on _[her name]_ side, calling evolution a ‘lie’ being ‘peddled’ to kids, and demanding it be taught alongside creationism so students can ‘decide for themselves what they believe.’

“There are plenty of _[her name]_out there. In 2011, a national survey of more than 900 public high school biology teachers discovered that only 28 percent consistently taught evolution. Thirteen percent spent at least an hour in their classrooms presenting creationism in a positive light.” A University of Minnesota biology professor  was depicted as being “unsurprised.”  Apparently  is unsurprised, as he sees it, that so few teach evolution.

A member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State commented “To their credit, _[those defending evolution]_remained poised and professional, calmly explaining…that evolution has been documented, that it serves as the foundation of modern biology and, furthermore, its instruction is mandated by the state’s science standards…. _[The teacher’s] _ reply could not have been better: ‘This is science, and science deals with facts. It doesn’t deal with belief. It doesn’t have to be a dilemma or a concern for someone to choose between Christianity and evolution – that’s not what this is about. You can actually embrace both. It’s my duty as a teacher to teach science and not teach religion. That’s the separation of church and state.’”

It is sophistry, unfortunately adopted also by many within Christendom, that one can embrace both the theory of evolution and God’s truth recorded in the sacred Scriptures. Proponents of evolution have no respect for the Word of God, no need for God, no explanation for the origin of evil in the world, no Savior from sin, obviously. Evolution lies at the root of the abortion evil.

It is not possible to believe “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and all the other references in the Bible to the creation of the world, on one hand, and evolution or even the theory, on the other. If evolution is settled science, why does the theory constantly change?  Exactly what is the origin of whatever it is from which evolution began? What is the most recently suggested date for when it all began?  As we are writing, it was reported that the universe, thought to be 13.7 billion years old, may in fact be 2 billion years younger.

Job had challenged the Lord as to why He did as He did. In response the Lord said to Job: “Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?  To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38: 4-7ff)?

Let’s concede to the evolutionist that it is a fair question to ask how we can reject the philosophy of evolution and be so sure of divine creation. We are sure because we know the Designer, Architect, and Creator Who was there. We confess with the Psalmist, “ My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:4, cf. Isaiah 40). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He [Jesus] was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3).The Word of God is the credible evidence not only to doubt, but to reject evolution. To those who mock our faith in the Lord our Creator and Redeemer we simply ask a fair question. “Who do you know that was there to substantiate your theory or what some claim to be facts?”

We understand that in a secular society evolution is going to be taught. Grudgingly, unbelief also has its day. Empedocles lived and philosophized before Jesus was born on earth! Our defense against unbelief is the Word of God which through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus overcomes it and converts  hearts to knowledge of the truth. Another defense is not to expose ourselves to it. It is not always easy to avoid exposure. A young lady, a graduate of a Christian Day School and of Immanuel Lutheran High School, recently began college. She rues  having to sit in class and listen to evolution all year. Through the Christian education she was given the wisdom and ability to  discern between truth and error.

Her experience demonstrates both the extent of exposure as well the means to dealing with it. In our Christian Day Schools and Immanuel High School(s) the children of God under our care   are immersed in the Word of God for the benefit of their souls.  They are  taught the Word so that they grow in faith and guard it against Satan’s wiles.

Children as twigs are bent and nurtured  through the Word of God, the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. It is the Gospel which is the sanctifying power in their lives. The Spirit of God working through the Gospel energizes the heart to live to the glory of God. The Gospel with its message of forgiveness in Christ Jesus  gives the wisdom to discern the wonderful works of   God in creation, and the manifold grace of God which brings salvation. Creation and redemption are two separate expressions of God’s power and love; neither  can they be separated without minimizing the other. “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine’” (Isaiah 43:1). [The Hebrew word “create” in this passage is the same as that in Genesis 1. It is never used with other than a divine activity]. 

 It is logical to believe that if the Word of God molds hearts and minds to His will,  children without the Word and exposed regularly or daily to the deceit of  Satan can be molded to his will. Must one go to a Christian school to be molded to the will of God and  the confidence of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus? Not in and of itself.

But that also suggests that it is important that Christian parents regularly and faithfully train up their children in God’s Word in their home; regularly and faithfully utilize the opportunities (worship, Sunday School, perhaps home school) to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). First, this is the will of God. Furthermore it is a responsibility laid upon parents, particularly if the children have no other educational option than the government schools that mandate, for example, the teaching of evolution.

It is difficult to understand how a Christian teacher in the public system who accepts the Scripture as the Word of God, and who in the heart believes and with the mouth confesses, “By faith we believe that the worlds were framed by the Word of God “(Hebrews 1:3)—it is difficult to understand  how such a teacher  could objectively and comfortably teach evolution.

It is lamented that “only” 28 percent consistently taught evolution. Apparently that thirteen percent spent at least an hour in their classrooms presenting creationism in a positive light is too many. The numbers are meaningless. The prevailing secular anti-Christian mentality ( TV news, comedy shows, talk shows, and even apostate churches that embrace evolution completely and/or give credence to both) strikes at the foundation of faith and hope in Christ.

 Surely a Christian Day School and High School which augments a  Christian education begun in the home is an avenue  by which we can counter Satan’s lies and deceit, including the false teaching of evolution that undermines the faith, and denies the Lord Who created us, and redeemed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil..

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TOMORROW? ARE YOU SURE?

 Driving through the city we noticed a well-weathered sign that promised “Free beer tomorrow.” After a chuckle, we thought about how the promise of tomorrow misleads all of us some of the time, and of many of us all the time.

Tomorrow is a convenient excuse. A retirement chore of someone I know is to vacuum the stairs. “Yes, dear, I will do it tomorrow.” Sounds like a child I knew who frequently asked, “Can I not do it tomorrow?” Tomorrow is convenient when the task is perceived to be unpleasant or gets in the way of what one really prefers to do today.

Through one’s life many tomorrows have turned into today when one had to vacuum, and many yesterdays that have long been forgotten. But ask yourself, “Is tomorrow guaranteed to you?” If so, by whom?

Scripture speaks of tomorrow (translated “morrow” in the King James) many times. Indeed, many tomorrows have been repeated since the beginning of time that began when God created the world. But yesterday’s tomorrows are no guarantee of future tomorrows.  For example, James wrote, and this addresses the abuse or misuse of the always tomorrow concept: “ Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’;  whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14).

Surely we should plan our life for the possibility of tomorrow. To fail to do so is irresponsible and wrong. But always we should be of the mind that our life is lived under the good and gracious will of God. Note what James said: “Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” The Psalmist recognized, “My times are in Your hand…” (Psalm 31:15). The Lord has determined the measure of our days, the span of our life. So whether today or tomorrow, James continued, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). To exclude the Lord when planning tomorrow is folly and just as irresponsible as making no plans at all. It can have eternal consequences.

Jesus spoke a parable concerning a man who had been richly blessed by the Lord. He anticipated his tomorrows. Jesus said: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’  So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided’” (Luke 12:16-20)?

As pastor I conducted a funeral for a faithful Christian man who left the doctor’s office and dropped dead before he reached his car. There is not always tomorrow. Of those who, unlike the faithful Christian, are of the mindset of the rich man in the parable, Jesus said, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

So the question is asked again. Is tomorrow guaranteed to you? If so, by whom? Who says you will wake up tomorrow, or even that you will make it through this day? Just recently it was on the news that a young couple was killed as they left the parking lot of the courthouse where they had been married five minutes before.

Luther prayed in the evening: “I thank You Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son that You have kept me this day. And I pray that You would forgive me all my sin, wherever I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” He also prayed in the morning that the Father would keep him through the day from all harm and danger, that all his doings and life would please the Lord. In another prayer, not Luther’s, the conclusion is, “If I should live another day, I pray thee, Lord, to guide my way.”

To the world such prayers are foolishness. Christ-believers, on the other hand, acknowledge each day as a day grace, to be lived faithfully according to the will of God, to the glory of God, and to one’s spiritual benefit.

Always tomorrow? Only as God wills. Do not use tomorrow as an excuse or as a cover for laziness, neglect, indifference. Do not rob yourself of nourishment in the Word today or of gathering in God’s house around the Word today. It is living dangerously and is disrespectful to our Lord to say:

I am not going to church today. I will go tomorrow.

I am not attending the Sacrament today. I will tomorrow.

I will not read my Bible today. I will do it tomorrow.

I have no time for the Lord in prayer, in thanksgiving, for meditation. I will do it tomorrow.

In material matters one can plan for tomorrow, or next year. Plan the wedding, the family outing, the reunion, vacation, the job change, the dinner, and such, the Lod willing. In the totality of life regarding such as above, whether tomorrow or next year comes is finally of little consequence.

However, there are certain “do it now” scenarios. For example, in interpersonal relations with the family, do not waste today in anticipation of tomorrow. “I am too angry to talk about it. We will talk about and settle our disagreement tomorrow.” What if tomorrow does not come? We anticipate it, but there are no guarantees. What if one or the other party to a disagreement and with whom you are angry dies during the night? Is the remembrance of an angry word or a cold shoulder to or from someone you love, or may have hurt, something you want to have on your conscience because you put off until tomorrow what could have been put to rest today.

But what about spiritual matters, matters of one’s relationship to the Heavenly Father? What about matters of confession of sin, of faith, and of eternal salvation?

There is something akin to the tomorrow misconception that affects the spiritual but carries with it serious and potentially fatal eternal consequences. When Paul made his defense before Felix, Felix was afraid and said to Paul, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time [tomorrow?] I will call for you” (Acts 24: 25). Apparently tomorrow, the convenient time, never arrived for after two years when Festus succeeded Felix, Felix left Paul bound, “wanting to do the Jews a favor” (Acts 24:27).

Scripture addresses the tomorrow excuse: “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today [not tomorrow], if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest” (Hebrews 3: 7-11).

This reference to Israel in the wilderness is applied to the readers to whom the writer to the Hebrews wrote as well as to us: “ Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;  but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,  while it is said:

‘Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’” (Hebrews 3:12-15).

We have another warning against putting off until tomorrow what is essential today. The five foolish virgins kept putting off the day of preparation while waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. When the announcement of his coming was made the five foolish virgins tried to piggyback on the preparation of the wise virgins. In matters of faith and preparation for the coming of Christ that does not work. In the parable they had to scurry off to buy oil for their lamps. They returned after the bridegroom had come and the door was shut. They were left outside looking in (Matthew 25:1-13). In the parable Jesus concluded, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (v.13). The Lord God determines the span of one’s life, as well as the time of the end. Might that be today? How do you know it won’t be?

When the Lord calls it will not work to say, “Wait, Lord, I have other plans for today, but I will be ready tomorrow and it will also be more convenient.

Today, not tomorrow! “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning;  and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately.  Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.  And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants… Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:34-40). The Lord Jesus has won for us and has given us an inheritance in heaven. In watchful faith, sieze it today.

No guarantees of tomorrow. “… Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

 

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In the Midst of Changing Scenes of Life. . .

As one grows older and the shadows lengthen, one is flabbergasted at the many advances and innovations that have had an impact on life. Given the many advances (scientific and otherwise), should our forebears return they would hardly believe what they would see. In fact, we who have lived the last decades can hardly believe what we see. It seems at some time there must be an end (perhaps our forbears thought the same). However, that is unlikely so that advances that seemed to us unfathomable will no doubt give our heirs pause to wonder.

Advances in technology, medicine, automation, locomotion, communication, and in agriculture, and other innovations are the consequence of learning, study, and experimentation on the part of people who have a vision, a dream, as well as the inquisitiveness and boldness to strike out on new quests. Even we who yearn for a taste of the good old times and the simpler life of years past must admit, even if a bit grudgingly, that the consequent changes have enhanced our life. We are not so tied to the past that we refuse to appreciate the present with the new inventions, opportunities, and possibilities.

Perhaps your cell phone is ringing now. Perhaps you have been texting on your smart phone. Perhaps you are reading this on a word processor. Perhaps you own a car with features you do not even understand. Many of us are beneficiaries of medical advances that have, if not enhanced, at least prolonged life. Need we go on about the wonderful changes over time that have served us well?

Yes, there have also been changes such of which we have been speaking that have had a positive impact in the ministry of church. For example, many of the inventions of which our fathers did not know have contributed to a positive change that has enhanced the ease, ability, and the means of communication through which the blessed gospel of salvation is spread throughout the world. Be thankful. But to whom?

Here is where the Christ-believer parts company with the majority in the world who have respect neither for the Creator nor His Word. We acknowledge and appreciate those whose inventions and discoveries have contributed to the many positive changes, but we give glory to the Lord God, Creator of the world. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth…” (Proverbs 3:19) and it is He Who created man. It is He Who has given man wisdom and ability. The Lord God is the Bestower of the mind of man. Without the Lord God Who distributes gifts as He will to whom He will, man would be “dumb as a rock.”

As we admire, appreciate and use the inventions and creations of humans that have enhanced our life, we acknowledge with thanksgiving this truth: “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights…” (James 1:17).

Christ-believers, however, will view the advances from a balanced perspective.

Of course, many of the advances that enhance life and make it easier are good, but also frequently have an opposite effect. Why? Since the fall into sin, sin still infests society as it is passed on infectiously from sire to son. One can look at an apparently innocent newborn and deny reality. However, one cannot change the Word of God that says “…through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12). Adam and Eve had been created in the image of God (without sin). Scripture makes a sharp and clear distinction noting the change that occurred with the fall. After sin, Seth was born to Adam and Eve. He was not born in the image of God but was conceived and born in Adam’s likeness and image (Genesis 5:3). “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). That which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit are not one and the same!

With the entrance of sin into the world some things never change. There is nothing that the Lord gives or permits that is inherently evil. However, since the fall, corrupt man has always tried to be God, beat God, or abuse His blessings by deviously twisting, distorting, and converting what is good to evil purpose. As one example, the abuse of the internet with all its good qualities and benefits is not even arguable.

From another perspective, even good use of things which man has accomplished are tainted when deniers of the Creator God take to themselves credit for what the Lord has given them the ability to accomplish. Have you never heard the boast that whatever man decides to do he can do? The desire to build a tower (which remained unfinished) at Babel was not in itself sin. The sin lay in the pride of man who said, “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11: 4). Pride goes before the fall. So the Lord confused their language that “ they could not understand one another’s speech” (v.7). Oops. “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth…” (v.8). Some things never change because corrupt man in his denial of the Lord God never learns.

Because of the corrupt heart changes for evil have continued through time and will continue, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). “… the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. . . “(Genesis 8:21), and “…every intent of the thought of his heart was [and is] only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

The advances that contribute to changes in the world have not left the church untouched. As beneficial advances multiply, heads and hearts are often turned from the Lord and His meaning in peoples’ personal lives, including the lives of Christians. As the influence of the world turns heads, within the church a need is felt in the minds of some to keep the church as they say, relevant. Some of these efforts have been detrimental as faithfulness to the Word of God is diminished and as the church engages in programs and activities which frequently de-emphasize the quietness, meditation, and blessing of hearing the Lord speak in His Word. Many fellowships have become more entertainment oriented than worship oriented, more earthly focused than heavenly focused, more socially focused than spiritually focused. This is contrary to the apostle’s exhortation: “Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ Who is our life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-5).

To the accomplishment of the apostle’s conclusion, we thank the Lord that IN THE MIDST OF CHANGING SCENES OF LIFE, good and bad, there is One in the heavens Who never changes.

“For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Jesus Christ, true God and true Man is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God of heaven Who has reconciled us unto Himself through the Lord Jesus Christ is eternal, unchangeable, omnipotent, omniscient, omni-present. He is forever and unalterably holy, just, faithful, benevolent, gracious, and merciful. The Psalmist wrote, “You are the same, and Your years will have no end” (Psalm 102: 27).

Likewise, God’s Word is the same and does not change. Our Lord Jesus withstood the challenge of Satan (Matthew 4); likewise His inspired Word has withstood challenges since the fall in Eden, challenges and attacks which continue unabated to the present day. But God’s Word does not change. It cannot change and has not. “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations…” (Psalm 119:89-90).

The inspired Word preserved to us in Scripture is the perfect expression of the will of God for life and for salvation. The moral Law which expresses His will and condemns ungodliness as well as the ungodly stands forever. The Gospel of forgiveness in Christ and the promise of eternal life to as many as repent and believe is unchangeable and forever. Thanks be to God!

What the apostle Paul wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3) of the last days is unfolding and will continue to do so until such time that the Lord in His mercy brings the world to an end and establishes a new heaven and a new earth in which Christ-believers will live forever in righteousness as they behold the face of God. The life in heaven is the fulfillment of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ Who promises an end of sin, sorrow, tears, and death upon his invitation: “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). What a blessed day of which the writer spoke: “For we who have believed do enter into rest, as He said…”(Hebrews 4:3).

Why would anyone exchange the certainty of eternal rest in Christ, for the temporary pleasure of building a tower in his own name, to his own glory while on this earth? Our Lord, Immanuel, is with us now, and His Word abides forever. According to His Word and promise, He will carry us through the storms and mysteries of life to the safe harbor of heaven.

All the advances and consequent changes in our temporal life, whether good or bad, well used or abused, will with life itself pass away. Only the eternal, faithful, God and His eternal Word and promises will endure to the comfort and salvation of all who confess their sin and trust in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our gracious Lord Who keeps His promises will give us an unfathomable life which, even though described in Scripture, is far beyond anything we can imagine, and which those who reject Christ will never know. Dear children of God, keep focus. Fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith, for there is laid up for you an inheritance, the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to you on that Day.

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Decline in Lutheranism

 

Though not sponsored by the two church bodies as such, according to Redeemerpress.org of July 8, 2019, pastors of the Lutheran Church (LC-MS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), will at a seminar address “the primary causes for the current unprecedented decline in American Lutheranism.” The announcement says, “Lutheranism is in retreat from California to New York and all current efforts to reverse the slide are proving ineffective.” Some Lutheran denominations reportedly shrunk by 5% in 2018 and “All remedies by church officials and bureaucracies to prevent the decline and reverse the slide have proven to be nothing more than expensive failures.”  The Redeemerpress post reports a prediction the LC-MS membership could diminish by about 25 % –500,000 members — over the next 10-15 years.

“The Camp Trinity Seminar on the Bible and Creation is addressing four primary causes for the decline and will supply real, practical, and effective solutions to:

  1. Confusion on the purpose and definition of Lutheran preaching;
  2. Failure to rebut and challenge the pseudo-science of Evolution;
  3. Failure to defend the authenticity and authority of Scripture; and,
  4. Failure to acknowledge the causes and severity of the current decline.”

Two “experts on Lutheran preaching,” one from the LC-MS and one from the WELS, will address the subject of Lutheran preaching. A second WELS pastor will speak on Remembering Herman Otten and on the Future of Lutheranism in America. He will also preach in the Sunday morning chapel service. In what is more than what we have always understood as a “free conference,” there are also other individuals from the LC-MS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) who will make presentations.

The seminar subjects are interesting. The speaker from the ELS will speak on “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: How Complex Biological Systems Support Special Creation,” and also on “Information in Living Things:  Where did it come from?” The LC-MS presenter will address creation/evolution issues of which there are now varying teachings and conclusions within Lutheranism in America.

Among questions one might ask: In trying to reverse the slide, what are the remedies church officials and bureaucracies have tried but have proven to be nothing more than expensive failures? What could the real, practical, and effective solutions be that will fix the causes? Is the decline in membership and attendance a Lutheran problem only?  Might the decline be indicative of a general lack of interest in and appreciation of God’s Word, the Bible? Is there a lack of interest in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church? Might it mean that those who yearn for the true Word of God are no longer finding it in their church and thus are leaving? On the other hand, have some become weary of the truth? Is it perhaps that in this post-Christian age the love of the world has drawn people to it, so that “the love of the Father is not in him” [them] (1 John 2:15)? Is the mentality perhaps simply, “ We do not need nor want the church to tell us how to live?”

A cold, harsh, reality is that Lutheran Churches who do preach law and gospel, and who preach repentance and remission of sins, and sanctification as a fruit of the gospel are considered by many, including other Lutherans, outdated, musty, out of touch. People leave. Today we live in a fun and game society. The morals of our corrupt society are no looser than in the past (remember the flood), but are practiced shamelessly and openly—abortion, homosexuality, abuse of marriage, lack of respect for authority. Intemperate behavior, vulgarity, abuse of the name of God are as old as sin, but today are practiced without a second thought. Secularized and evolutionist education are staples in elementary and secondary public education as well as in colleges and universities. Those who do not want to hear about sin drop out of church. They despise the message of salvation, the expression of God’s love in Christ Jesus. Churches that do not want to offend anyone and skirt the truth are part of the problem. As they compromise Scripture and reject the Bible as the sole rule of faith and life they cheat those from whom the truth is withheld for the sake of putting people in the pew. Churches that adopt the deeds not creeds attitude of the world will find that people will not need the church to practice whatever the corruptions are in the fellowship of those who love sin.

What can Lutherans do? The first thing is to look at themselves, which we assume is the main thrust of the seminar. Has the time arrived of which Paul spoke to Timothy: “ For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)? Though it may not reverse the decline, and perhaps even increase it, there must be a continuation of (or a return to) preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Our Lord commanded His disciples to go forth and preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name (Luke 24:47). In the great commission the disciples were charged with “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…(Matthew 28:20). Thus in our churches we are to faithfully preach law and gospel.

But identifying as a Lutheran does not make one immune to neglect, falling away, indifference and the general disregard for the Lord and His Word, any more than being identified with the covenant people protected them from turning from the Lord. Rejection of God’s Word (remember Eden—“Has God really said?”) spawns every sin—every false doctrine as well as every neglect of hearing the Word. We know God’s Word will endure. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The question is, will God’s Word remain inviolate in the Lutheran Church, and will the Lutheran Church endure as a truly confessional church, as a true representative of that which the Spirit of God restored through the Reformation?

There are those, of course, who simply for reasons of their own walk away from the church. Spiritual malaise among members calls for faithful, careful, shepherding on the part of a pastor, as well as prayer and reaching out on the part of fellow members of the congregation. That said, our prime concern and effort dare not be creating mirages by hyping numbers. Again filled pews and large membership lists do not of themselves translate into saved souls. If that is or becomes the chief goal of a church, that church is treading on dangerous ground. Such an attitude spawns gimmicks, programs, and other humanistic endeavors that have nothing to do with the Lord’s commission to the Church to preach repentance and remission of sins. What is the benefit of increasing numbers at the expense of truth?

Scripture has alerted us that in the last times there will be a falling away, from the Word of truth. At the time of the prophet, Amos, idolatry was rampant. There was religious and political complacency. The people loved neither God nor their neighbor. To the exclusion of their neighbors, many exhilarated in their wealth and pleasure. They neglected the needy. They trampled God’s Word under foot, despised it. They rejected and persecuted the prophets and slew some.   In their unbelieving state they were immune to the call to repentance. History repeats itself. It is in this same milieu of secularism, apostasy, unbelief, and immorality that the faithful today are called to proclaim the unchangeable and certain Word of God. How long before the Lord reacts as He did then? “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). Now, as then, people, nations (churches?) reject the Lord at their own peril. Refusal to see the light, condemns to darkness.

Therefore, to the youth and the elderly alike, proclaim the precious message of the gospel, bearing in mind that neither the preachers nor churches are converters, but are called to be faithful conduits of the Word committed to them. Acknowledge the times in which we live and be bold to follow the apostolic counsel: “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Will people hearken? We do not know. But again this we do know. It is the Spirit through the Word Who draws people to God’s house and makes them active, alive members. And He works through the Word. Therefore preach the Word!

We make no claim to be among the “experts on Lutheran preaching.” But this we do know. It is the Spirit of God who adds to the Church, the Body of Christ, daily such as are being saved. It is He who keeps believers with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Therefore let the preacher study the Word, be faithful in his preparation, and clear in his presentation. Let him be courageous and bold in preaching the Word of God faithfully. From the pulpit to the classroom, to the hospital bedside, personal counseling, to the home visit (are there any more of these today?), what is called for is evangelical shepherding that manifests love for souls for whom Jesus died, and whose salvation He won. Whether our shepherding involves discipline, encouragement, or comfort, s change of heart and healing comes through faithful application of the Word, law as necessary, and most certainly the balm of the gospel. Preach the Word!

Now someone may say, “But that is not going to bring people into church or maintain membership.” Why not? But if not, what are legitimate alternatives? If one is speaking about spiritual growth, appreciation of God’s grace, faithful worship, and exercise of membership through faithful attendance and service in the Lord’s kingdom, there are no alternatives apart from preaching the Word of God. There are modern means, technologies, means of instruction, ways of reaching people with the gospel, but it is only the Word of God and faithful teaching of it that will move people to want to be in God’s house, and in an orthodox fellowship. As Lutherans of the Reformation heritage we will acquaint the people with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions drawn from the Scripture.

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). When all is said and done, as confessing Lutherans that is for us the important thing. To that end whatever the numbers are we leave to the Lord. Our call is to preach the Word, to nourish the flock, gather the straying, seek the lost, comfort the troubled.

As heirs of the Reformation let us live our faith, and pray; yes, pray that hearts are touched by the gospel, and through the Spirit are moved to regularly delight to be regularly and faithfully in the place where the Lord’s glory dwells (Psalm 26:8). May the Spirit draw such to identify with the Lutheran Church and church body that holds fast to the word of Truth, that they may grow in faith and hope in Christ unto salvation. May the Spirit further give them such faith that they will be faithful and active hearers and members until the Lord comes and may that be soon. Until then, Preach the Word.

 

 

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