aduphoff


I’m sure the posters and readers on Planet Augsburg have encountered bumper-sticker theology before. In my experience, it is usually simplistic at best and snarky at worst. For example, a line such as “My God is too big to fit inside of your God’s box” might be brought out as a supposed “trump card” to win an argument for a universalist interpretation of what/who God is. However, such little quips are more harmful than helpful in rational arguments–no matter which side makes them. They are more for shock value than anything, and in many cases it seems as though their sole purpose isn’t to enlighten the discussion but to silence the opposition.

The specific bumper-sticker theology line that I’m thinking of is the question “Is God so powerful that He can make a rock that even He can’t lift?” There are many atheists who believe that they have the Christian by the short hairs when they ask this seemingly omnipotence-refuting question. The Christian’s answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will undoubtedly be met with the “haha gotcha!” response: “But I thought you said God was omnipotent!” Many Christians might be at a loss for an explaination to this seemingly paradoxical point in the existance of an all-powerful Deity. I believe, however, that even responding to the question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in the first place is futile because it gives validity to what is otherwise a ridiculous question. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis addresses briefly how such arguments against an all-powerful God are not quite as solid as your average bear might think:

The absolutely impossible may also be called the intrinsically impossible because it carries its impossibility within itself, instead of borrowing it from other impossibilities which in their turn depend upon others. It has no unless clause attached to it. It is impossible under all conditions and in all world and for all agents. ‘All agents’ here includes God Himself. His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it’, you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can’. It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God. [emphasis author’s]

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chapter 2: “Divine Omnipotence”

I was going to write my own summary of Lewis’ quote here, but the last sentence of the paragraph does that better than I could. Nonsense spoken about God is just that: nonsense. It would do most Christians well to realize this point and not to lose any sleep over weak, illogical arguments against the faith.

“You cannot have the true and loving God without the bloody death of Christ. God will not love you without the gruesome spectacle of His Son’s corpse. God cannot accept you except through the naked, bloody, dead Savior on Golgotha. That is the theology of the cross.” –Klemet Preus

This quote by Pastor Klemet Preus reminds me of what the evangelistic mission of the Church is: to preach Christ crucified for sinners.  It is very tempting for Christians to present extra-biblical incentives to unbelievers as to why they should become Christians or come to church.  “Who wants to hear about a bloody execution?  Who wants to be told how sinful they are?”  We reason ourselves out of proclaiming the full “bloody” Gospel because we don’t think it will be appealing to those who are outside of the faith. 

Rather, we try to bait-and-switch.  We provide incentives and reasons apart from the Cross in order to bring people in, all the while justifying doing it by telling ourselves that we’ll give them the Gospel later–we’ll tell them about the Lamb of God, sacrificed to pay for our sins later.

But do we? 

We tell people that the Church can give them the power to be more confident in life, more purpose driven, more successful, and happier–but at what point do we switch to showing them their sins and need for a savior?  Where does that transition take place?

The sad reality is that in churches where material things or emotional highs are the focus of preaching and outreach, the Gospel is largely taken for granted or forgotten. 

The unfortunate thing about false evangelism methods is that everyone is guilty of doing them.  Everyone at some time or another has presented the treasure of the Church as being something other than the Gospel of Christ.  Whether it be entertaining worship, interpersonal fellowship, beautiful liturgy, or rich history, when we put forth anything other than the bloody corpse of Christ as being our highest valued possession, we are being deceitful–we are lying. 

How terrible is it that we do not trust God to do what He has promised to do when His Word is preached?

How terrible is it that we are embarrassed by or devalue the crucifixion of our Lord so that we do not share it with other people? 

It is indeed terrible and damnable before God that we would replace the message of how He has freely reconciled Himself to us with a message of our own making. 

But, we take heart!–For these great sins against our Lord Jesus have been forgiven in the very body that we would withhold sharing with others.  His body–His beaten, bloody, and sinless body–is where our very sin of being ashamed of it is placed and forgiven.  The “naked, bloody, dead Savior on Golgotha” is where our unrighteousness has been atoned for and forgotten by our loving God. 

And for that free gift, we give thanks.

This coming weekend I will be the best man in a childhood friend’s wedding.  The service will take place in a United Methodist Church (the bride is Methodist; my friend the groom is a Campbellite/non-denom Christian).  I was informed at the tux fitting that it would also be a Communion service as well.  Both the bride and the groom know my confessional approach and stance of close Communion, so they were understanding when I told them that I could not partake. 

Here’s the dilemma:

Like any devote Lutheran, I love the Divine Service–particularly the heart and center of it: Holy Communion.  I always encourage other Lutherans I know to attend the Divine Service and go to the Lord’s Supper.  (The reason for this, I’m sure, is obvious to all of us here, for each of us knows the great gifts we receive when we eat the Body and Blood of our Lord in this heavenly feast.) 

When I found out that it would be a Communion service, my first reaction was “That’s great to hear!”, even though I knew that I would not be partaking.  The simple reason for my joy was that the Lord’s Supper is one of the best things a Christian can receive. 

I wanted to hear the opinions of everyone who lives here on Planet Augsburg and those who visit: is it really is a good thing that Communion is being offered at my friend’s wedding?  

Here are my reasons for asking: 

1. Given that the elements are Welch’s grapejuice and leavened bread, is it really the Body and Blood that the communicants will receive?

2. Given that the United Methodist Church does not confess the real presence of our Lord in the Supper, does this nullify what would be the consecration (because a Methodist minister who says “this is my body” really means “this represents my body”, therefore changing the meaning {though not the pronunciation} of our Lord’s words)?

I struggle personally with what line to walk.  Part of me wants to say “don’t go to the table–this is a heterdox church that peverts God’s word!”  On the other hand, if it really is the Supper, is it not right that I encourage Christians to partake? 

Any and all thoughts on the matter will be most appreciated!

In my first post a few days ago, I published the speech that my roommate gave to the congregation at one of his last Sunday’s at our Lutheran Student Center.  One week later, I had my own opportunity to address the congregation after the Offetory in the Divine Service. 

This is what I said: 

It has been almost three years since I first began coming to the Lutheran Student Center.  Much has happened in the past three years and much has changed about me in that time too—but rather than tell you the whole story, I will summarize in one sentence:

 

Throughout my time here at Immanuel Lutheran Student Center, I went from disliking the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to being confirmed in it with hopes of someday becoming one of her pastors.

 

What caused the change?  Was it the friendly people who welcomed me every time I kept coming back after the first day?  No—the people were most certainly friendly and welcoming, but that’s not what kept me coming back.  Was it the beautiful hymns and music that I got to sing and hear when I came that kept me coming back?  No—while Lutherans do have one of the richest repertoires of hymnody of churches, that wasn’t what kept me coming back either.

 

While many factors contributed to both my change of heart about the Missouri Synod and my desire to become a member, there is clearly one that stands out far above the rest: the clearly proclaimed Gospel message of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

 

As with many people, starting college was a tough time for me emotionally and spiritually.  There were many changes that were taking place in my life.  However, as my comfort and confidence levels were on shaky ground, there was one thing in my life that I knew would always be there: sin.  The first night I came here to Immanuel for worship and Bible study, I came in convicted of my sinful imperfection and total depravity before God—those were not things anyone needed to tell me I had, because I was already well aware of my possession of them.  In fact, I was aware of my sin to the point of despair.  Past mistakes and shortcomings coupled with sinful habits made for me a very heavy cross to bear—a cross that I actually could not bear and did not know what to do with.  If you can remember what you learned in confirmation, you might recognize that I, as a young freshman, was broken by the Law: I was convicted and convinced of my sinfulness and need for help. 

 

That help came to me when I came to the Lutheran Student Center—it was the purely proclaimed Gospel that lifted the heavy burden that I was carrying. 

 

That Gospel I heard was that of the forgiveness of sins that was sure and certain in the words of Absolution after Confession when Pastor said: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The message of Christ’s sacrificial life, death, and resurrection for the sins of the world—for my sins—was spoken in the sermons.  Here in the Lutheran Church, I found what I was looking for and am still looking for: the certainty of God’s forgiveness of my sins.  And that forgiveness, my friends, is not something that I could find anywhere else.

 

St. Paul tells us in Romans 5:

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

 

And this message is also proclaimed in Galatians 2:20—one of Bible verses that Pastor Burdick had us memorize the first semester I attended Bible Study at Immanuel:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave himself for me.”

 

No social club, party, videogame, or television show you can find has news that is this good.  Nowhere but in the Church can you hear the great depths of God’s love for us—a love so deep that He sent His one and only son to this world to live the perfect life that we could not live, and die the horrible death that we deserve so that we may be found blameless and forgiven of all our sins against God.  Nowhere but in Church is this good news found.  Nowhere but in the Church can you be made righteous by the Blood of Christ poured over you through the water and Word of Holy Baptism.  Nowhere but in the Church are such great gifts found. 

 

So come today and receive this good news—the forgiveness of sins—here in the Holy Supper. Believe this good news for your sake, and tell it to others.  

 

As you can see, I kept coming back to Immanuel.  And I kept going to Immanuel for no reason more than this—it is in this place that I hear about what Jesus has done for me.  And what he did for me is summed up nicely in the words of this stanza from one of my favorite hymns. 

 

Because the sinless Savior died,

My sinful soul is counted free;

For God, the Just, is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.    

My thanks to Matt for inviting me to blog here at Planet Augsburg.  For those of you who are curious, I am a university student in Illinois who will be attending seminary (http://www.ctsfw.edu) after a National Guard deployment to Afghanistan next year.  

Ironically, my first contribution to this blog is not something that I wrote.  Following this introduction is the address given by my roommate, JJ, a few weeks ago during the Sunday service at the church we attend here at school.  For many years it has been the practice at our Lutheran Student Center (which is apart of the local Lutheran parish) to have graduating seniors get up and say a few words during one of their last Sundays here. 

The following is JJ’s address.  As you read this, know that these are words that needed to be said–not only to our congregation here at school but also to the greater synod and Church.  I cannot add anything to what he said because, in my opinion, he hit the nail on the head in his admonition of our congregation. 

Here is what JJ said:

2 Timothy 4:2-3 says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

There’s that word that makes many Christians cringe: doctrine. Maybe it makes you cringe a little bit as you think of how many ‘doctrines’ are out there and how many different beliefs there are about it. Whatever you may think of that word, it’s biblical and it is commanded of us to keep in accord with sound doctrine. Which means this: there is truth when it comes to doctrine. There is one view that is right on Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, original sin, election of grace, etc. and all the others are not only false, they are unbiblical. 

Do not give into your itching ears. They will lead you astray. Believe me, I know. My itching ears lead me to disobey God. My itching ears want me to put aside sound doctrine.

Hold fast to sound doctrine. The way that you practice things at Immanuel Lutheran will affect what you believe and vice versa. Doctrine and practice are united in a symbiotic relationship. You cannot separate the two. Your itching ears may want something new and something more creative than the same old stuff that we do every week. Your itching ears may convince you that we need to change styles in order to attract more people, to grow as a congregation. Biblical change can be good and it is important to recognize that the only way this congregation will grow is by that very Word that you are currently hearing weekly.

So come to Church every week and listen. Recognize that Christ is serving you. Sit at His feet and let Him teach, let Him serve. It’s what He wants to do more than anything. Pay attention to what is being said to you and know that God Himself is saying it. Go to bible study. Go to Catechism class. Read the Lutheran Confessions. Let Jesus serve you as you study His Word. Spend time in God’s Word at home, in your dorms, or apartments.

Keep in accord with sound doctrine. Hold fast to the teachings of our Lord. Let Him serve. Continue to proclaim Law and Gospel. Continue to Baptize. Continue to come to the Lord’s Supper to be fed by His body and blood. You will grow if you spend time in the Word and listen to what God has to say. That growth should not be measured in numbers. Ultimately numbers are irrelevant. Christ’s command to be the Church is relevant. To be the church you must have sound doctrine. People may leave because of it. That’s ok. Pray for them and winsomely talk to them. If this church is pure in doctrine and 100 years from now there are only 8 members left because itching ears have got the best of everyone else, this church will still be strong as ever because church is not about people. Church is about doctrine and doctrine is all about Jesus. So long as Christ crucified for sinners remains the cornerstone, the church will go on and Immanuel Lutheran will be a shining light in a world of darkness.

That 2 Timothy 4 section does not end with law, it ends with Gospel. By being the Church you may one day join St. Paul in saying:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.”

Thank you for welcoming me as a brother in Christ. The peace of Christ be with you.