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

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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.

Discerning God's Will - Looking to Him to Provide

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In considering how we learn from the Ten Commandments God’s will, this week we will consider both the 9th and 10th Commandments. They both have to do with coveting - the 9th with coveting the physical property of our neighbor, and the 10th with coveting the living beings attached to our neighbor, as in his wife, workers, and livestock.

So when does an attraction or desire become a matter of coveting? It is coveting when the desire becomes inordinate and consuming. And it is coveting when we are jealous and resentful that the object of our desire belongs to our neighbor.

Coveting is when we make an idol out of the thing we desire. That is, when we covet something we end up believing that the object, rather than God, can truly deliver on the promise to us of a happier and more fulfilled life.

The coveting commandments are a fitting conclusion to the Ten because they have everything to do with the 1st Commandment. “You shall have no other gods!” The 9th and 10th Commandments help to describe how we get off the rails with the 1st, and then why consequently we end up violating other commandments.

King David in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 provides an example of this. Do you remember the chain of wicked events? David commits adultery with Bathsheba. To cover his sin he works deceptively. When his first deception does not work he arranges the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. But how did the whole sorry chain begin? It began when his eyes fell upon a beautiful woman bathing, and he inquired about her and sent for her. It started with “coveting” his neighbor’s wife!

So what is God’s will for our lives? It is to be content with what we have been entrusted and to look to God alone for fulfillment. It is to help our neighbor keep what has been entrusted to him, and to encourage his wife and workers to remain loyal to him. It is going to God in prayer and looking to him to provide.

Since You Asked…

Are announcements necessary? And should they be included as a part of the liturgy?

Not all announcements are necessary! Nor should they be allowed to disrupt the rhythmic flow of the service. It is likewise important that announcements be kept to a minimum. But certain announcements are important. Information that will enhance participation in the worship, information pertaining to further Christian service, and information for regarding further opportunities for spiritual edification are such announcements of importance, and they are worthwhile to promote publicly to the assembly. We have chosen the beginning of the worship service as the most helpful and least disruptive placement for announcements.

Discerning God's Will - Taking Care of Our Neighbor

In considering God’s will for our lives, this time around we will consider the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal.” In typical fashion Luther will explain the commandment in terms of what we should avoid doing, and then he will describe the good that we should be doing.

So, Luther’s explanation runs, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or property, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his property and means of making a living.”

Keep in mind there are plenty of ways that we can get our neighbor’s money or property without necessarily breaking any civil laws. We need to ask more than “Is this legal?” God’s law is perfect, our civil laws not so much.

Whoever considers that such things as not putting in an honest day’s work can be a form of stealing? Or conversely, that not paying a fair wage is another form of theft?

We could have a lengthy discussion on the subtle ways we can steal from each other, but once we consider the positive aspect of this commandment, those subtle ways will be seen for what they are. The positive thrust of the commandment is the wellbeing of my neighbor – Love your neighbor as yourself. My neighbor’s wellbeing involves his physical needs. He needs property and the means of making a living. And it is God’s will that we should help our neighbor, not only to protect these things, but also to improve them!

Think of the neglect of God’s will in this regard when we seek God’s will in our vain imaginations. There we might entertain the notion that God’s will for our lives involves some special, and privileged calling that insulates us helping our neighbor in his practical needs. Luther thought of this very thing when some in his day regarded cloistered monastic life as a “higher calling”. The vows of poverty and celibacy are not necessarily fulfilling any of the Ten Commandments.

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Discerning God's Will - Love Your Neighbor

In considering God’s will for our lives, this time around we will consider the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal.” In typical fashion Luther will explain the commandment in terms of what we should avoid doing, and then he will describe the good that we should be doing.

So, Luther’s explanation runs, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or property, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his property and means of making a living.”

Keep in mind there are plenty of ways that we can get our neighbor’s money or property without necessarily breaking any civil laws. We need to ask more than “Is this legal?” God’s law is perfect, our civil laws not so much.

Whoever considers that such things as not putting in an honest day’s work can be a form of stealing? Or conversely, that not paying a fair wage is another form of theft?

We could have a lengthy discussion on the subtle ways we can steal from each other, but once we consider the positive aspect of this commandment, those subtle ways will be seen for what they are. The positive thrust of the commandment is the wellbeing of my neighbor – Love your neighbor as yourself. My neighbor’s wellbeing involves his physical needs. He needs property and the means of making a living. And it is God’s will that we should help our neighbor, not only to protect these things, but also to improve them!

Think of the neglect of God’s will in this regard when we seek God’s will in our vain imaginations. There we might entertain the notion that God’s will for our lives involves some special, and privileged calling that insulates us helping our neighbor in his practical needs. Luther thought of this very thing when some in his day regarded cloistered monastic life as a “higher calling”. The vows of poverty and celibacy are not necessarily fulfilling any of the Ten Commandments.

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Discerning God's Will - Chastity

The Sixth Commandment is “You shall not commit adultery.” And as anyone familiar with the Bible realizes, this injunction certainly includes marital infidelity, but it also encompasses all sexual immorality. The gift of sex is designed by God to be enjoyed by a man and a woman in an exclusive and lifelong bond of marriage. By this gift new life is conceived in the womb, and the man and woman are joined as “one flesh”.

Luther states the meaning of this commandment, “We are to fear and love God so that in matters of sex our words and conduct are pure and honorable, and husband and wife love and respect each other.”

It goes without saying that this commandment has fallen upon hard times in the post 60’s “sexual revolution” in Western culture. It isn’t just that the commandment is often broken. That has been the case throughout history. But it is the fact that the commandment has been either dismissed altogether, or it has been radically redefined. It no long serves as a cultural standard.

So again, my interest in this series is in learning what God’s will is for our lives. And from the Sixth Commandment we learn that it is God’s will that we live chaste lives. Like other bodily appetites, and perhaps stronger than most, the sexual desire in fallen humanity can be voracious, inordinate, and indiscriminate. Contrary to hip psychology, restraint does not result in repressive behavior. It instead results in a healthier lifestyle.

At the same time, chastity is coupled with God’s desire that we honor marriage and the family. In Hebrews chapter 13 we read, “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

It is God’s will for us in marriage to be good husbands and wives. We are to be faithful, loving, serving, deferential, obedient, and merciful. And if single, we are to honor other marriages, and if not gifted with celibacy, patiently practice chastity while pursuing the possibility of marriage.

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose and meaning of our Votive Prayer Candles?

To “light a candle for someone” means that you will say a prayer for them. The candle symbolizes your prayers. When we light a candle it is a sign of attentiveness and that we are being purposeful in offering intercessory prayer. It is an important act in which we are involved! To be in prayer is to be spiritually awake and vigilant. And as the candle continues to burn it symbolizes our ongoing prayers. It is a sign to others that prayers are being offered. In such an atmosphere, indeed the darkness gives way to light.

Discerning God's Will - Helping Our Neighbor

If there is one Commandment most of us feel we do pretty well with it is the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill.” We may have done a lot of things we are not proud of, but the numbers dwindle of those who have actually fatally shot, stabbed, or by some other means ended someone’s life.

So if we are looking to what God’s will is here, we may think it is as simple as “it is not his will for me to murder someone.” But it is so much more than that! And you get the sense of how much more when we read Luther’s explanation, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbor in any way, but help him in all his physical needs.”

So where does Luther come up with all this explanation? I’m glad you asked! He comes up with it where he typically comes up with stuff. He comes up with these insights from the Scriptures. He would have had Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in mind, where in Matthew 5 Jesus declares that being angry with another, or giving insult to another is tantamount to breaking the Fifth Commandment. Luther would also have been aware of passages in James 2 and in 1 John 3 where the hearer is warned of the absence of love when we do not share food, clothing, and other goods needed for life with our neighbor in need. The absence of love is hate, and hate is at the root of murder.

So in our discernment of God’s will, toss out the crystal ball and other cryptic methods of discernment, and learn from the Fifth Commandment it is God’s will for me to help my neighbor is all his physical needs. As has been said and is worth repeating. Learning God’s will take a little effort, for it is taught in God’s Word. But doing God’s will is really difficult. It will require prayer and God’s mercy.

SINCE YOU ASKED...

How are we to under- stand the Easter Feast?

“Easter is to be understood as the crown of the whole year, the queen of feasts, and as such it lasts not for a day, not for a week, but for a week of weeks – a week not made up of seven days

but of seven weeks. So the Sundays of this season are called the Sundays of Easter. It is one extended feast. ... The Gospels for the Sundays of Easter present the themes of resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit as aspects or stages of the Easter Mystery...”

(from the Manual on the Liturgy a companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, publ. by Augsburg)

Discerning the Will of God - Parents and Other Authorities

With the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” we move from what is sometimes called the First Table of the Law to the Second. That is, we move from commandments having to do directly with our Lord, to those that have to do with our neighbor.

Having two tables of the Law already indicates, as mentioned before, that God’s will has to do with loving and honoring our Lord and loving and serving our neighbor. I started this series by stating that knowing God’s will was not such a mysterious, hard to know, matter! Rather, it is doing God’s will that is difficult.

We have also already discussed the priority of the First Table, while at the same time indicating that the First Table leads into the Second. That is to say, we love and honor God also by loving and serving our neighbor.

In the Fourth Commandment loving and serving our neighbor starts with respect and obedience to God-delegated authorities. The highest such authority is that of father and mother. But God’s authority is reflected in many other offices that reflect parental authority. This is why Luther explains the meaning of the Fourth Commandment as, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and others in authority, but respect, obey, love, and serve them.”

Rebellion is nothing new, but we live in an especially rebellious age when it comes to authorities. We see this in the disrespect shown elected officials, officers of the law, teachers, administrators, judges, and pastors. The Scriptures are clear, unless the authority commands something contrary to what God has commanded we are to obey. We are always to show respect. We are to pray for those who are over us.

So what is the will of God here? It is to honor and love God by showing respect, obedience, love, and service to our parents and other authorities.

Since You Asked…

What are we observing on “The Sunday of the Passion”?

The Sunday of the Passion mixes triumph and tragedy, the palms and the passion, observing Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem as well as looking ahead to his passion and death on the cross.

As the prelude to the Sunday of the Passion focuses on reading the Passion Narrative, the Procession with Palms provides an appropriate burst of joy which does not lose sight of the solemn goal of Jesus’ triumphal entry. (taken from the Lutheran Planning Calendar, publ. by Augsburg Fortress)