Friday, May 11, 2012

A Response to Some Question on the Sacraments

I got a recent comment on an old post which I felt was worth responding to with a new post because these are some very commonly asked questions:

1) You said one can be justified by faith alone without needing to be baptize (at least in some special cases). Can you provide instances of these?

The typical response to this question is to point to the thief on the cross. Clearly the thief on the cross did not have the opportunity to accept baptism but was received into paradise regardless. This is the only case I can think of, because all others who become believers in the New Testament have the opportunity to receive baptism. True faith will always result in baptism. Luther says that it is not the lack of baptism that damns but the rejection of it. Baptism is the ordinary means of regeneration but not the only means.

2) Can you please enumerate, based on what Luther taught, the benefit(s) of baptism for adults who have already come to faith in Christ?

This is a somewhat complex question. For Luther, everyone in Germany was baptized as an infant. He didn't face the question in the same way we do today. The Lutheran scholastic tradition is somewhat muddled on this question as well, sometimes seeming to promote baptismal regeneration for infants only, and baptism as a sign and assurance of faith for others. This is one of Charles Hodge's main arguments against a Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration, because it has no clear doctrine of baptism for both infants and believers. I would say, in response to this question, that baptism gives the gospel promise in a concrete way for the believer, seals him with the Holy Spirit, and brings the forgiveness of sins. These things are present through the word but are sealed, confirmed, and strengthened through baptism. It seems clear in the book of Acts, and of the way Paul speaks of baptism, that the presence of the Spirit becomes greater through baptism. He is present in a way he is not beforehand.

I also think that one can speak of regeneration as more than a one time act. Luther speaks of the Christian life as continual repentance and renewal. Thus I think it is valid to say that one was both regenerated through the word, and through baptism (which also is accompanied by the word).

3) Again, with regards to those who have trusted in Christ for Salvation and are not yet baptized, are they saved already, or not yet until they are baptized?

They are saved through the word, which is also a means of regeneration. However, they should not neglect the great benefits given through baptism which does not then become a mere symbol.

4) Do Lutherans believe in mortal sin?

Yes. We don't have a list of sins that are mortal, or believe that the believer is constantly falling out of a state of grace. However, continual unrepentant sin can drive away the Spirit and cause the loss of faith. This does not have to be then remedied through satisfaction or works of penance, but is forgiven when one trusts in the gospel promise. The Lutheran fathers do use the language of mortal and venial sin, but not in the Roman Catholic sense.

5) What is Absolution?

Absolution is a proclamation of the Pastor that he forgives all of our sins for the sake of Christ. This is often called the "office of the keys" and is based on Jesus' words in Matthew 16 and John 20, that whatever sins are forgiven by the disciples are also forgiven in heaven. The words of the pastor become the words of Christ, as through human words, God conveys the benefits of the gospel. This is often called by Lutherans a third sacrament.

6) I was baptized in a Baptist church (which holds that baptism is a mere profession of faith). Does Lutherans accept my baptism as valid?

The validity of baptism depends on God's word and promise, not on the faith or life of the minister. This was defended by St. Augustine against the Donatists who held that an unholy man's baptism was invalid. As long as the word was present, and the Triune name invoked, your baptism is valid.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sermon on John 10

My sermon on John 10, concerning Jesus as the good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. here

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Quick Update on my Life

I just want to let all of my readers know about the direction of my life and ministry that has developed in the past few months. In April I defended my Masters thesis on the doctrine of Justification in Luther, the New Perspective on Paul, and the early Church, at Trinity Lutheran College in Everett Washington. I passed my defense and received my Degree. I have begun applying for Ph.D. programs, and am pursuing a dissertation on the topic of justification in contemporary theological dialogue dealing with the New Perspective on Paul, the Finnish Interpretation of Luther, and Forde's "Radical Lutheranism." I hope to begin a Ph.D. program this fall.

On the ministry front, I am finishing my vicarage at St. John's Lutheran Church in Westfield, MA. This summer I will be interviewing for ordination in the AALC, ( a small Confessional Luther church body in full fellowship with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I hope to receive a call soon thereafter. I would appreciate all of your prayers through this process.

I also will begin posting audio of my sermons on a regular basis for anyone interested.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Warning to Lutherans to Avoid Evangelical Errors

I have noticed in certain strains of Evangelical Catholicism some tendencies which tend toward some of the same errors as American Evangelicalism. I don't mean that we have suddenly started singing 7-11 choruses or having our Pastors preach on the latest popular movie in his "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirt. However, I have noticed a certain strain of emotionalism and obsession with aesthetics which mimics that of mega church culture. Let me explain.

I have, for example, heard some Lutherans say that they "feel more worshipful" when the Pastor is wearing a chausable, or when incense is used during the service. This is then the justification for those practices. Or, I have heard of some who claim to be Lutherans simply because they appreciate the aesthetics of liturgy over dull evangelical worship styles. I have heard faithful Lutheran churches denigrated simply because they don't have enough chanting during the service, or the Pastor chooses an alb and stole over a chausable. Is this not simply buying into the same emotionalism which drives evangelicalism? Stating that you feel God's presence through the beauty of the liturgy, vestments, and church architecture, is not all that different from the concept of feeling God's presence through the emotionally manipulating music. Sure, its a heck of a lot more classy than the contemporary version of it. I'm emotionally moved far more by Bach or Handel than Chris Tomlin or Michael W. Smith. However, the same error can be mimicked.

I'm not saying that emotion shouldn't be part of worship. The beauty of the liturgy is certainly one of the great benefits of being a Lutheran. Beautiful music does and should move us emotionally. Vestments and architecture do convey a sense of the presence of the Holy that isn't present in many modern churches. However, there is a danger when this becomes the overriding concern. That which drives a Lutheran should be the gospel as presented in the Lutheran Confessions, and the administration of the sacraments. The beauty of the worship is a secondary concern. God is present just as much in the small country church with 20 congregants, a Pastor who can't carry a tune, an organist who can't play in an ugly sanctuary, as He is in a beautiful Cathedral full of candles, icons, and incense.

I love high church services with all of the smells and bells. However, I think we have to be careful where our priorities lie. If I were to worship solely according to the beauty and emotion conveyed in worship, I'd be Eastern Orthodox, not Lutheran. But the central concern of ours should be the gospel, which is proclaimed more clearly in the Lutheran church than any other. That is what makes us Lutheran and should keep us Lutheran.