The Foundation of the Church

The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2 that just as we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so we are to walk in Christ, rooted and built up in him. The images here are from agriculture and construction. And they both have to do with the sufficiency of Christ not only to save us, but also to finish the work he begins in us so that we are made fit to live forever in his kingdom.

The roots of a plant draw the essential nutrients that supply the rest of the plant so that it will bear fruit. Just so our lives must be rooted in Christ. It is from His Word and the Holy Spirit that He sends us from the Father that spiritual nutrition is provided for our lives in Him. We receive these nutrients when we listen to God’s Word being preached and taught. We receive them when, having confessed our sins, we hear and believe the absolution, that is, forgiveness from Christ. And we receive these nutrients when we regularly commune with Christ’s body and blood given with bread and wine in Holy Communion.

The building that is built on a firm foundation is a structure that will stand and endure. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, a house built on sand will be swept away when the storms of rising water and winds beat against the house. At the same time, a house built upon a rock will stand firm when the water and winds assail it. And as you well know, eventually storms will come!

Paul writes in his Ephesian correspondence that the edifice of the church is built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, with Christ Jesus being the cornerstone (cf. Eph 2:20). In other words, God’s Word – the word of our Lord Jesus Christ – is the foundation upon which the Church will endure the passing of this present, tumultuous, stormy age.

We walk in Christ by being rooted and built upon Christ!

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “liturgy”?

(from the Greek, “work of the people” or “public service”): more than a set form of service or one particular service, the liturgy is the whole body of texts and music used for the worship of God. The Lutheran Book of Worship is the liturgy of many Lutheran churches in North America.  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Our Lutheran liturgy involves the participation of all who are gathered: clergy, worship assistants, and laity. Worship is not a spectator sport. We have been gathered by God to receive from Him. And so in reverence, we give thanks by offering praise and thanksgiving to our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Liturgical worship helps us all share in this.


Rooted and Built Upon Christ

The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2 that just as we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so we are to walk in Christ, rooted and built up in him. The images here are from agriculture and construction. And they both have to do with the sufficiency of Christ not only to save us, but also to finish the work he begins in us so that we are made fit to live forever in his kingdom.

The roots of a plant draw the essential nutrients that supply the rest of the plant so that it will bear fruit. Just so our lives must be rooted in Christ. It is from His Word and the Holy Spirit that He sends us from the Father that spiritual nutrition is provided for our lives in Him. We receive these nutrients when we listen to God’s Word being preached and taught. We receive them when, having confessed our sins, we hear and believe the absolution, that is, forgiveness from Christ. And we receive these nutrients when we regularly commune with Christ’s body and blood given with bread and wine in Holy Communion.

The building that is built on a firm foundation is a structure that will stand and endure. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, a house built on sand will be swept away when the storms of rising water and winds beat against the house. At the same time, a house built upon a rock will stand firm when the water and winds assail it. And as you well know, eventually storms will come!

Paul writes in his Ephesian correspondence that the edifice of the church is built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, with Christ Jesus being the cornerstone (cf. Eph 2:20). In other words, God’s Word – the word of our Lord Jesus Christ – is the foundation upon which the Church will endure the passing of this present, tumultuous, stormy age.

We walk in Christ by being rooted and built upon Christ! 

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “liturgy”?

(from the Greek, “work of the people” or “public service”): more than a set form of service or one particular service, the liturgy is the whole body of texts and music used for the worship of God. The Lutheran Book of Worship is the liturgy of many Lutheran churches in North America.  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Our Lutheran liturgy involves the participation of all who are gathered: clergy, worship assistants, and laity. Worship is not a spectator sport. We have been gathered by God to receive from Him. And so in reverence, we give thanks by offering praise and thanksgiving to our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Liturgical worship helps us all share in this.

God’s Word Causes Growth

In Colossians 1:28 the Apostle Paul writes that he proclaims Christ, warning and teaching every person, so that he might present them mature in Christ. So for the Apostle, Christ not only provides us with forgiveness so that we might stand pure before God, but Christ also goes to work on us so that one day our sinful nature might be done away with once and for all and that we desist from sinning. This is presented as spiritual growth, indeed as reaching maturity.

At the same time Paul is concerned we might develop some bad ideas about spiritual growth, especially when we begin to act like such growth depends on us. Now to be sure the work of Christ to help us reach our full stature in Christ happens in and through us, and not without us; at the same time it is His work!

When we make it our responsibility a number of things go awry. For starters, we begin to try to measure our growth. This in turn can lead us to comparisons, which in turn can lead to either pride or despair.

Also when we try to measure or mark our growth we become very preoccupied with the self, which is the antithesis of loving God with our whole being and then loving our neighbor as ourselves. When instead growth happens naturally we will have so entrusted our “selves” to His care and provisions that we give our “selves” little thought. Instead we become lost in glorifying our heavenly father and in loving our neighbor.

When we assume responsibility for our maturation we then rely on our own understanding. This is defective. Instead, we should rely on God. God not only gives us spiritual birth, but like a good parent He also sees to our nurture and He does so through Word and Sacrament. Our focus must ever remain on our Lord, and receiving His Word. It is His received Word that causes growth!

Since You Asked…

Why do we celebrate Holy Communion nearly every Sunday?

The celebration of the meal we call Holy Communion has consistently been the chief act of Christian worship since the age of the Apostles. The Lutheran Reformation did not break with this tradition of 1,500 years. In fact the Augsburg Confession (our principal statement of faith) declares Holy Communion to be the chief act of worship for Lutherans on Sundays and festivals (Art. 26).  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

You might think of Holy Communion as spiritual bread and drink for our journey (pilgrimage), for our Lord’s Body and Blood is true nutrition indeed!

The Head and the Heart

In Matthew 22 Jesus reaffirms Deuteronomy 6 where we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and with all our mind. We can easily forget the mention of our mind, especially in the present age that tends to dumb things down and emphasizes a “heart-felt” faith rather than an intellectual approach.

What we can easily overlook is that the use of “heart” in the Scripture seldom refers to human emotions or feelings. In the Bible the heart is pictured as pondering, thinking, reasoning, and exercising wisdom. There is not the dichotomy of heart and mind that is often made in our culture. The seat of the emotions in Scripture is one’s bowels or gut feelings. This is because our emotions often affect our digestive system.

In addition to its reasoning ability, the heart in Scripture is also seen as the core of one’s being and it is identified with one’s will and determination.

There is entirely too much dumbing down in Christian outreach and nurture. There is also too much appealing to emotions and experience. The result of this is a lack of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Disciples are not developing the mind of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16).

Part of what it means to be created in the image of God is that human beings are rational creatures. Indeed the Creator of heaven and earth created a world that is ordered and intelligible. And the creation is a work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Interestingly, in John’s Gospel the Son of God is called the “Word”, or in the Greek the logos. The Greek term means more than “word”. Its possible meanings include an account or reckoning, an argument, principle, reason, or thought.

Faith is not just credulity or gullibility! It is based on evidence. Belief may be supra-rational (beyond reason), but it is not irrational. It is not undone with a healthy skepticism and willingness to use reason.

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “catholic” as when we confess, “I believe in the holy catholic Church?”

The term “catholic” means whole and refers to a church which receives the Christian faith intact without alteration or selection of matters of the faith. The opposite of catholic is heretic, one who picks and chooses which parts of the faith to accept. Thus “catholic” is more specific than “Christian” and is not a synonym for “ecumenical” or “worldwide”. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

- often when the “C” is capitalized “Catholic” is referring to the Roman Catholic Church, and when the “c” is lower case “catholic” is referring to the Church receiving the whole of the faith.

Surrender and Submit

White Surrender Flag.H02.2k.png

There is a formation process with discipleship. And this is something that does not get talked about enough!

As we have been mentioning, teaching is involved in this process. That is what Jesus indicated in Matthew 28:19-20, in what we call the Great Commission. And this catechesis is more than academic knowledge. It is the truth of God’s Word having its divine effect on our lives, bringing us to repentance and faith in Christ.

Our salvation does not depend on our work, or any contribution we make. Rather, it depends on the work God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, accomplished on our behalf. He fulfills all the Law, and he was obedient onto death on the Cross whereby he atoned for our sins.

Of course we are invited to place our faith in Jesus and what he accomplished on our behalf. But as Ephesians 2:8-9 makes clear, our ability to respond by faith to the Divine initiative is itself a gift. When we come to Jesus and trust in him, it is because the Holy Spirit draws us through the Gospel and enlightens our understanding. That makes faith, less something we do, than it is our laying down arms and surrendering. That is, trust in Jesus is when we abandon trying on our own to work out of the problems that our efforts created in the first place.

At the same time, although it is not something we can take credit for doing, the way Christ and his Word works in and through us will involve our effort. That is why the Apostle Paul could say, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!” Because he goes on to write, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

Formation by the Word is God’s work. But that does not spell easy street! We will need to surrender and submit to ongoing careful listening with lots of repetition. In fact we will need to learn to pray God’s Word and know it by heart. Drawing our life from him can be painful. But he is faithful and leads us.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of sharing the peace?

“The peace which enables people to live in unity and in the spirit of mutual forgiveness comes only from Christ whose word has been proclaimed. … The peace is a sign that those who participate in it open themselves to the healing and reconciling power of God’s love and offer themselves to be agents of that love in the world. … The personal exchange of the peace should be as unpatterned as possible, but its meaning and significance should be kept clear. It is not the occasion merely for conviviality. The choice of gesture, whether a handshake, holding hands, or an embrace, should be left to the persons themselves.”  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Restored for Good Works

In the masterplan of Lutheran Catechesis the six principal parts work to give us a comprehensive framework of the Christian Faith. What follows is a sketch of how it works; keeping in mind the goal of catechesis is leading a person to repentance and faith in Christ.

In the Commandments God’s Word is meant to lead us to repentance. The Law reflects God’s will and his expectations of us. Out of fear of punishment his law curbs evil in this world. But the flood of our sinful rebellion often overcomes the curb. Here the Law also functions as a mirror. This mirror when held closely and clearly before us, shows us to be lost and condemned sinners. Were it not for what comes next we would be lost, full of terror, and goners.

What comes next is a discussion of how God works mercifully with lost and condemned sinners. In the Creed we learn how God creates, gives life, and sustains us by his grace. In the Creed we learn how God works through his Son to redeem us from sin, death, and servitude to the evil one. And in the Creed we learn how the Holy Spirit brings us to saving faith in Christ, who in turn brings us to the Father. All this is done on our behalf by sheer grace!

Of course we are not redeemed so that we sit on the shelf like a turnip. We are restored so that we can get on with the stewardship and good works for which we were created. Doing this will not save us, but being saved we are put in position to fulfill the role for which we were created in the first place. But this will only happen with ongoing prayer, in fact most especially by praying for the very things our Lord Jesus taught us in his prayer – the Lord’s Prayer.

Baptism, Confession, and Holy Communion are the tangible ways we meet the Lord in his Word to us in addition to hearing the Word in preaching and teaching (catechesis).

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the Incarnation?

The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.

A Comprehensive Understanding of the Christian Faith

I cannot stress enough that the goal of Catechesis (religious instruction) is not merely knowledge. The goal of Lutheran Catechesis is to lead a person to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. And this need is ongoing!

There are three primary texts involved in historical Catechesis. They are the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. The Ten Commandments  (Ex. 20:1-17; Dt. 5:6-21) and the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9-19; Lk. 11:2-4) are the very words of Scripture! And the Apostles’ Creed is a summary of important truths taught by Scripture.

Dr. Martin Luther believed that every Christian should know these three primary texts by heart before being admitted to Holy Communion.

In addition to these three primary texts, the Lutheran Catechism added a set of questions and answers to these texts. And then it has added a consideration of three rites belonging to Christ’s Church: that of Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and Communion.

When all these components are known by heart, the disciple has a comprehensive understanding of the Christian Faith. It is comprehensive, but not exhaustive! We will never quit learning. And the mysteries of the faith are beyond our understanding and mastery. But the Lutheran Catechism is full, and provides an adequate frame for placing all additional elements taught.

Think of it this way. The Holy Spirit uses the Commandments to bring us to repentance by showing us that we are lost and condemned sinners. The Holy Spirit uses the Creed to show the love and mercy God has shown to undeserving sinners. The Holy Spirit uses the Prayer to teach us what to ask for so that we can serve God in righteousness as we serve our neighbor in love.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit works with the Word and water of Baptism to bring us to faith in Christ. And he works through Confession to continue to forgive our sins. And he works through Communion to nourish us in faith.

Since You Asked…

What is the Christian’s Hope?

In a word, it is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting in the world to come. This is more accurate and complete than just saying “life after death.” It is also more helpful than saying “going to heaven.” When Jesus returns at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead, baptized believers will be raised bodily! They will share in a resurrection similar to Jesus’ resurrection. And being in his presence on that day and for all eternity is not just a matter of escaping to heaven, but living in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The Lord intends to renew and restore his creation. So our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, with believers inheriting the Kingdom.

Making and Being Disciples

I hope you are familiar with the Great Commission. If you are not, it refers to Matthew 28:19-20 where the Risen Lord Jesus says to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Two components are identified by our Lord in the making of disciples. And let’s be clear about one thing. It is the Triune God who makes disciples. The Father works through his Son and with help from his Spirit to work saving faith in us. But we, as instruments, are used by God in the disciple-making enterprise. And we are used as we baptize and catechize – the two methods entrusted to the Church.

Baptism is the start of our Christian journey as followers and students of Christ. And the implications of baptism are lived out through daily repentance and through the fortification of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion.

Catechesis is also ongoing. I use the word “catechesis” for teaching and learning for two reasons. First, it has come to be connected with religious instruction. And second, the word’s origin from Greek and Latin implies an oral instruction.

Concerning the latter, it is important to understand religious instruction is not primarily academic! It is not just book reading and intellectual knowledge. For Christians, catechesis has as its end bringing the student to repentance and faith in Christ. It is not memorization only, mentally stored knowledge, but it is learning something by heart so that it can be prayed, hymned, and practiced.

And from early in the history of the Church, predating the Lutheran Reformation, there have been identified three primary texts for catechesis. They are the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. These primary texts every Christian should know by heart!

Since You Asked…

Why is the Triune Name of God repeated so frequently in our worship services?

The mystery of the Trinity is one of the most distinctive elements of our Christian Tradition. Christianity is not alone in claiming to be monotheistic (belief in one Supreme Being, one god). But Christianity holds that this One, True God has revealed himself to us as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches that God the Father has revealed himself through God the Son and in God the Spirit. Only the Son can be seen, and only through the Spirit are we enabled to believe in the Father and the Son. And so we often invoke the name of the Triune God in the mystery of our faith.

Discerning God's Will - The Guidance of the Spirit

fire-flames-PH6YWMP.jpg

Perhaps my final word on knowing the “will of the Lord” before I leave this topic for another is what follows.

With the celebration of the Day of Pentecost upcoming this Sunday it is appropriate to mention the Holy Spirit’s guidance in helping us to know the will of God. You will remember that it was on the Jewish Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Lord’s resurrection, that the promised sending of the Holy Spirit came upon the believers. This same gift of the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence was then promised to all those who upon hearing the Gospel repent and are baptized!

Although in rare circumstances the Holy Spirit made personal, direct, and specific instructions for the Apostles in Scripture, this is not the manner in which we have been instructed in the Faith to seek the Holy Spirit’s direction in our lives.

The primary work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to bear witness to the incarnate Christ, who lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven for us. It is this Third Person of the Holy Trinity who calls us through the Gospel so that we might have faith in Christ. It is he who gathers us into the community of believers – the Church. It is he who enlightens our minds and hearts so that we see Christ for who he is and what he has done for us. It is he who along with the Word that makes the Sacraments effective. And it is the Holy Spirit who through the Word makes us holy.

When we have a choice to make, Christians are free to use their God-given wisdom as informed by the Bible to make our choices. Often there will be more than one choice that is pleasing to God – that is, that will honor God and serve our neighbor and family. Look for the fruit of the Spirit in your lives which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of the Day of Pentecost?

A principal Festival, The Day of Pentecost (Jewish harvest festival) was the occasion when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was sent and poured out on the expectant church. It accordingly marks the culmination of the Easter Season. It occurs 50 days after Easter Sunday. Jesus had promised his followers that when he departed from them (the ascension, not the crucifixion) that he would not leave them as orphans. In fact, until his return at the end of the age, it would be to their advantage that he was departing, for then he would send the Holy Spirit as one called alongside them to comfort them, teach them, guide them, and empower them, even as the Holy Spirit continued to sanctify them (to make holy).

God Speaks to Us in His Word

The summary expectation of the Ten Commandments can be found in Exodus 20:5-6 with these words, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Luther explains the meaning to this in his Small Catechism when he says, “God warns that he will punish all who break these commandments. Therefore we are to fear his wrath and not disobey him. But he promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore we are to love and trust him, and gladly do what he commands.”

We have been discussing what it means to “do what he commands,” and I have been emphasizing that it is not only a matter of refraining from something, but also acting positively in accord with the commandment. So, for instance, we are forbidden to murder, but in keeping with our neighbor’s wellbeing we are to assist him in his physical needs. Or, for yet another example, we are forbidden to bear false witness against our neighbor, but in keeping with our neighbor’s good name and reputation we are to speak well of him, defend him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.

God’s commandments are the surest way to know God’s will. Of course his directives are not confined to the Ten Commandments. He provides plenty of other demands and instructions in Scripture. All these let us know what God’s will is for our lives. But the Ten Commandments are certainly a summary of all the rest that God orders.

So when we want to know God’s will, we should study his Word, know what he commands, and ask for wisdom to apply his word to our lives. Don’t read tea leaves, or try to listen to voices speaking from within. God speaks to us in his Word!

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of The Ascension Day Commemoration?

Forty days following Easter the Resurrected Christ ascended to heaven, where as we confess in the Creed, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. The account of the ascension of our Lord occurs in both Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11. As described in these passages Jesus led his disciples up Mount Olivet near Jerusalem where suddenly they witnessed his being elevated up into the sky until a cloud took him away from their sight. This signified his return to heaven where, as we confess in the Creed, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. This enthronement is a description of the all-inclusive authority he is given by the Father. Christ’s going away necessarily preceded his promised sending of the Holy Spirit. Other hints at the significance of his ascension have to do with his promise to go and prepare a place for his followers to be with him, and to serve as a High Priest interceding for his Church.