martin luther

Quietly coming to a town near you…

020806-F-7823A-004This post is strictly for my confessional Lutheran brothers and sisters.

I’ve spent some time researching and writing about a network called FiveTwo. If you are a confessional Lutheran within the LCMS, I encourage you to make your acquaintance with the FiveTwo Network and its founder, LCMS Pastor, Bill Woolsey.  My encouragement to familiarize yourself with this pastor and his network is a lesson in discernment. You see, whether you realize it or not, FiveTwo is a church planting network and though it’s not directly funded by our synod, it’s leadership is overwhelmingly comprised of rostered LCMS pastors and their sights are firmly set on transforming our synod. I could write of the vast issues I see within FiveTwo, but for anything to get accomplished we, the confessionals, must take ownership of our synod by educating ourselves about the clear and present dangers within this movement. (more…)

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I spy something with my little eye…

I spy something with my little eye…

Picture yourself sitting in your favorite church pew.

Do you see it?

It’s right there…

It’s a staple.

It’s not as if you are actively aware of its presence, but you’d probably notice it’s absence.

It’s usually in the front, left hand side of the sanctuary in most US churches. (more…)

Introducing the Church Fathers – Prosper of Aquitaine

Prosper of Acquitaine

Prosper of Aquitaine was a lay theologian born in 390AD.   Although the year of his death is uncertain, many scholars believe it was sometime between 455AD and 465AD.  Prosper was born in Aquitaine which is the southwestern metropolitan region of France.  Following in the footsteps of Hippo of Augustine’s debate with Pelagius and his followers, Prosper primarily wrote against the semi-pelagian heresy that was gaining popularity in the fifth century.  In addition to his contributions on soteriology, he was also a continuator of Jerome’s historical work called “The Universal Chronicle.”  His contributions are viewed as important due to a general lack of historical documentation from his time period.  The selection of today’s post is Chapter 8 from his book “The Call to All Nations.”  This is a fantastic book and one of his later writings. This book was recognized by Caesarius of Arles at the Council of Orange as a positive case in denouncing the semi-pelagian heresy.  Martin Luther found this work very helpful in formulating his reformation view of predestination, grace and the will.  If you haven’t read this work, I highly encourage you to get your hands on a copy and make your acquaintance.

Prosper of Aquitaine – The Call to All Nations – Chapter 8

Grace repairs God’s work in such a manner as not to take away free will but rather to heal it by itself.

In Adam our nature existed without blemish, but he by his wilful disobedience incurred many evils and transmitted them to his posterity in whom they were to multiply more and more.  The victory over these evils and their utter destruction only springs from the grace of the saviour who restores His own work with His own labour. For, as the Apostle John says For this purpose the Son of God appeared, that He might destroy the works of the devil. He it is who breaks the chains of the prisoner. He clothes the nakedness of the robbed man, He heals the injuries of the wounded, but all this in such a manner that what He works in him is also effected by man himself.  He indeed cannot risk to fight against his enemy without a protector. He has to wage war against one who once defeated him. He should, therefore, not trust in his own strength which, even when it was unimpaired, did not hold out; but let him seek victory through the One who alone is unconquerable and who brought victory to all. And if he does seek victory, he should not doubt that he has received this very desire of seeking it from Him whom he is seeking. And he should not think that, because he is led by the Spirit of God, he no longer has free will. This he did not lose even when he wilfully surrendered himself to the devil. The devil perverted his judgment that goes with the will, but did not take it from him. What was not taken away by the one who inflicted a wound is still less destroyed by the One who comes to heal. He heals the wound. He does not set aside nature. But what was lost in nature cannot be restored except by its Author; in whose sight what was lost in nature did not perish. He is eternal wisdom, eternal truth, eternal goodness, eternal justice, He is, in short, the eternal light of all virtues, and all that is virtue is God. Unless He works in us, we cannot be partakers of any virtue. For indeed without this Good nothing is good, without this Light nothing is bright, without this Wisdom nothing is wise, without this Justice nothing is right. For the Lord says through the mouth of Isaias, I am, I am the Lord, and there is no one besides me who saves; and Jeremias says, I know, O Lord, that the way of a man is not in him; neither is it in a man to direct his way. Mortal man, born according to the flesh from a source that was cursed in Adam, cannot come to the spiritual dignity of the new birth except through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he cannot even foster any desire for it as long as he has not received from God the ardour of this desire, about which the Lord says, I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I, but that it be burning? That fire is the love of God which a lover of the world cannot conceive in his enslaved heart. He is filled with the love of vain things, and even if he could escape these to some extent, and, rising above temporal and visible goods, attain through his own understanding the eternal and invisible ones; even if he could renounce the worship of idols and give up the adoration of heaven and earth and all the created things of this world; even so he would not conceive the faith and the love of Christ, because he would be upset by His lowliness. He would not with his own insight overcome the scandal of our Lord’s nativity and death. For, as the wisdom of the world resists the wisdom of God, thus blinding the pride of the self-conceited, so it pleased God by the foolishness of our preaching to save them that believe. Hence, those who are made arrogant by their worldly learning, think that the Cross of Christ is something to be laughed at rather than adored; and the higher a man rises in the attainments of the human sciences, the more he scorns the humility and feebleness of our preaching. No wonder either, that pagan philosophy opposes the Gospel of the Cross of Christ, when Jewish learning also resists it. We conclude that neither the learned nor the illiterate of whatever race or rank come to God led by human reason; but every man who is converted to God is first stirred by God’s grace. For man is no light unto himself, nor can he inflame his own heart with a ray of his own light. If Saint John than whom no son of men was greater, was not the light because he did not shine with his own brightness, but had received the power to enlighten others from the true Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world: what man is there who would give up so many conflicting opinions, so many constraining habits, so many inveterate prejudices, relying only on his own judgment and helped solely by the spoken word of a teacher? Grace would then consist only in the exterior hearing of the doctrine and the whole of a man’s faith would spring from his own will If such were the case, there would be no difference between grace and the Law; and the spirit of forgiveness would enliven no one if the letter that kills remained. For indeed the Law commands things to be done or avoided, but it does not help one to do or to avoid them. Its rigour is complied with not out of free choice but out of fear. But the Lord with a view not to destroy but to fulfill the Law, through the help of His grace, made the command of the Law effective, and through the abundance of His clemency lifted its penal sanction so that He might not avenge sin with punishments, but destroy it through forgiveness. That is why the adulterous woman whom the Law prescribed to be stoned, was set free by Him with truth and grace, when the avengers of the Law frightened with the state of their own conscience had left the trembling guilty woman to the judgment of Him who had come to seek and save what was lost. And for that reason He, bowing down that is, stooping down to our human level and intent on the work of our reformation-wrote with His finger on the ground in order to repeal the Law of the commandments with the decrees of His grace and to reveal Himself as the One who had said, I will give my laws in their understanding and I will write them in their heart. This indeed He does every day when He infuses His will into the hearts of those who are called, and when with the pen of the Holy Spirit the Truth mercifully rewrites on the pages of their souls all that the devil enviously falsified. Whenever, then, the word of God enters into the ears of the body through the ministry of the preachers, the action of the divine power fuses with the sound of a human voice, and He who is the inspirer of the preacher’s office is also the strength of the hearer’s heart. Then the food of the word becomes sweet to the soul; the darkness of old is expelled by the new light; the interior eye is freed from the cataracts of the ancient error; the soul passes from one will to another, and although the will that is driven out lingers on for a while, yet the newborn one claims for itself all that is better in man, so that the law of sin and the law of God do not dwell in the same way and together in the same man. And then, whilst the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit also resists the desires of the flesh, the tempter ventures to ambush man through exterior objects; but the mind strong with God’s help prevails. For, obviously, there are occasions for struggle and these serve the great profit of the faithful: their weakness is buffeted that their holiness may not yield to pride. Hence, too, the Apostle says: Lest in the greatness of the revelations I should be exalted, there was given me . . . an angel of Satan to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me, but He said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee, for power is made perfect in infirmity. Let, then, the Lord seek His image; let the Good Shepherd find His erring sheep and not disdain to bear it, sick and tired for long of the trackless wilds, on His shoulders, and save it not only by calling it back, but also by carrying it along. Let the Lord seek His image, wash away from it all accumulated uncleanness that has stained it and so brighten up the mirror of the human heart. For it is written: Who can make clean that is conceived of unclean seed? Is it not Thou who only art? Let the Lord seek His image that in its renovation and justification the grace of its Reformer may appear, as the Apostle Paul testifies to have happened to himself when he says: And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea, which were in Christ. . . . They had heard only that he who persecuted us in times past doth now preach the faith which . . .he impugned. And they glorified God in me. Such was the conviction of the Christian people at that time, such the belief of the first members of the Church who had but one heart and one soul: when they saw a man converted from his error to the acceptance of the truth, they gave glory to God and confessed that the convert’s faith came from a divine gift. The Lord Himself when instructing His disciples, the teachers of all nations, said: So let your light shine before men, that, seeing your good works, they may magnify your Father who is in heaven.

Thoughts on Sanctification

ImageSanctification is a tough subject to define in the culture of 21st century thought. Thankfully God’s truth is transcendent and absolute, so therefore we need go no further than scripture to define it. On one hand, there are those who claim that sanctification is positional; that it was a finite declaration that happened in union with or shortly after justification and thus all Christians have liberty and freedom from the harsh damnation of the law through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. This is the antinomian leaning perspective. On the other hand, there are those that claim justification and sanctification should be distinctly separate, and thus sanctification is evidenced in the work that we do. This is the legalist leaning perspective and can be taken to the extreme where complete holiness can be obtained on earth (Wesleyan thought) or that works are actually a necessary element for salvation; not just an evidence of (Roman Catholic). My position and claim is that sanctification is both positional and progressive.

I will begin by defining what “sanctify” objectively means. Sanctify is defined as “to set apart or declare holy; to consecrate.” Therefore sanctification is the act of setting apart, declaring holy or consecrating. Within the broad spectrum of Christianity each definition applies, however, holiness is most often used. In the first place I will put forth the position that sanctification is a positional declaration. Whenever sanctification comes up in scripture, it is typically positional. It is positional because it is typically found in the past tense; i.e. “sanctified.” Let’s look at a few examples.

1 Corinthians 1:2
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:11
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Romans 15:16
But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 2:11
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,

Acts 20:32
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Here we have some clear passages that point to the act of sanctification as a declared position the Father has made by the work of Christ through faith. These verses do not speak of an ongoing, progressive perfecting, but a declaration that the Christian is now declared holy (set apart) by the work earned by Jesus’ death and resurrection. This culminates in 1 Corinthians 1:30 where Paul writes,

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

So it looks pretty clear that our sanctification is in Christ. It is done, finished and completed upon the cross…right?

Yes and it is ongoing.

Sanctification is progressive in each Christian’s life because we bear fruits by walking in good works. These good works are evidence of our walk with Christ (James 2:14). These works are not performed to earn position with Christ, but to show forth the work of Christ in and through the Christian life. Good works are as simple as changing dirty diapers and providing for our families. Whatever vocation God has given us, we bear fruit by being good stewards of those gifts and blessings. Luther was once quoted as saying that even our best works would earn us damnation, and he is right. We are saved solely on account of Christ and his atoning work. Works contribute zero to our salvation. If you spend any time with a Lutheran you will hear the phrase “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does” and this is a true and right saying. The works we perform are God given. God uses them to minister to others. Does this mean that we are completely oblivious to our good works or that we are not cognizant of them?

Many times yes…

Sometimes we know that we are doing a good work and other times we will be oblivious until the final judgment (Matthew 25:33-40). As we go forth in the Christian life, we must be nurtured and fed. This comes to us through word and sacrament (hearing the the word (both Law & Gospel), partaking in the Lord’s Supper,  repentance/absolution, and our personal study of the word). As we are nurtured and fed, we will begin to see how wretched and filthy we are, and realize our desperate need for Christ and his work. The best way to explain this is to use a dimmer switch as an example. At regeneration, the light switch is turned on, but the dimmer is at its lowest setting. We see a faint image of how filthy we are. In response we cling to Christ through his word and sacrament. As we are fed and nurtured through his word and sacrament, the dimmer switch goes up, ever so slightly, revealing how dirty, sinful and corrupt we really are. Our response is to once again, cling to Christ through his word and sacrament. Therefore our sanctification, or progression in holiness, is not centered on our works, but a clarifying agent that shows us what we really look like apart from Christ. If God were to show us all of our sin at once at the time of regeneration, it would truly be harsh act that would cast us into the throngs of a great depression and probably cause instantaneous death. God, in his grace and mercy, reveals our sinful state to us slowly throughout our lives as we continue to abide in Christ through his word and sacrament. The result of this action is that we begin to walk in good works. As I stated earlier, good works are as simple as taking care of your family. Good works are also choosing not to sin. Paul gives us many lists of sins that we as Christians must refrain from. These lists are found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:19-21 and Colossians 3:5. As God reveals our sin to us, and we cling to him, we not only perform good works through our actions, but also through a lack of action as we choose not to sin. There is a cooperation that takes place here. We choose to submit ourselves to God’s law, not because it has any power to save us, but because through Christ and his work on the cross we are now able to cooperate in holiness. This doesn’t mean that we will perfectly keep the law; far from it. It does however mean that we have the power in Christ to say no to sin and yes to good works for the sake of Christ, not selfish ambition. We as Christians will continue to struggle with sin until Christ’s return because we are all simultaneously saint and sinner. This is the battle of the flesh. At regeneration we share in the paradoxical nature of Christ. Christ became 100% man while maintaining 100% of his divinity. He is not two partial sums that add up to 100%, but rather the full expression of both natures. Likewise at regeneration, we are “simul justus et peccator” which means simultaneously saint and sinner. We are not saints that still sin or sinners that are improving towards perfection; we are the fullest expression of both natures as a reflection of Christ. To simplify, I once heard it put this way by a listener of the Just & Sinner podcast by Pastor Jordan Cooper. “At regeneration we are a new creation in Christ and the result is that our sin nature (the old Adam) is both put to death, and continually being put to death. It both happened and is happening. Our new nature that God created in us is perfect and thus cannot improve. The old Adam that is dead and dying has been definitively killed, but is going down fighting as it continues to wage war against our new nature. This is the source of conflict within every Christian. Therefore, sanctification is not a self improvement continuum but a cognizance of the war within that yields an increasing desire to daily drown and kill the old Adam and embrace the perfect new life that we already posses in Christ.” This daily killing of our sin nature will haunt us until death or Christ’s return. When we receive our glorified bodies, the same type of perfected fleshly body that the resurrected Christ has, our old Adam is finally conquered and eternally destroyed.

To summarize, sanctification is both positional and progressive. Our work in sanctification is not efficacious in salvation as that is solely the work of Christ. Our work in sanctification is to grow in holiness by abiding in Christ through his word and sacrament, thus we are sanctified and Christ is continuing to sanctify us cooperatively (even though our cooperation is minimal). In addition, sanctification is only a work that we do inasmuch as we are capable to do good works by the work of Christ on the cross and his drawing us to himself. We only cooperate in sanctification because Christ made it available through his death and resurrection by consuming his word and sacrament. Thus Christ does good works through us that are unbeknownst to ourselves as well as us choosing to do good works because of our love from and for Christ. This is all understood within the parameters and framework of our dual nature of simul justus et peccator.