Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
United in Christ - January 26, 2014 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Today we continue following along in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And as we said last week, so I remind you this week, as Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, so God is writing to us, through Paul, here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, 2014. These are not my words to you. These are not Paul’s words to us. These are none other than God’s Word to us and we are to hear them as God’s Word to us.
Paul writes, appealing to the Corinthians and us that there be no divisions among us. Certainly his plea is that we have no individual divisions among us, yet, how often are we reminded, especially when we have a disagreement with someone that where two or three are gathered there are four or five opinions. Or, and since I am German I can say this, we are reminded, you can tell a German, but you can’t tell him much. Might I suggest that on a daily basis we are reminded of our sinful human nature, our prideful nature and the like. We all have opinions and we all like to think that we are right, which usually means that everyone else is wrong.
And of course, no one wants to be wrong. Perhaps you have noticed, in our tolerant society, how we get around being wrong. You may have noticed that not too many people talk about what they know or believe anymore. Now we talk about how we feel. We talk about how we feel, so that we are never wrong, because our feelings cannot be questioned, our feelings are not right or wrong. And not being right or wrong is a good thing, at least according to our tolerant society.
I would suppose that some of this thought process has made its way, even into our own church and congregation. We have some strong feelings on topics such as creation and evolution, politics, guns, gambling, abortion, euthanasia, as well as on other issues of our church. Yet, how often do we actually go back to the handbook, the Bible and see what God says. Here again, I would suggest that the naturalistic teachings of the world and what is being touted as scientific fact has turned our heads to question God’s Word rather than man’s opinion in science. So, it only follows that our tolerance has much of its roots in our denial of the ultimate authority of a Creator God, and our own responsibility to our Creator God. Interestingly enough, if we believe there is an ultimate authority and an ultimate Creator God, then we would refer to His Word as the one and only authority, without trying to distort that same word, but we will say something about that in a minute. Personally I use the rule of thumb that if the opinion of fallible human thinking, often stated as fact, is contrary to the Word of God, often stated as a belief, I will stick with the unchanging, inerrant Word of God and realize that man has made an error someplace which needs to be reexamined.
Paul talks about divisions on a personal level, but what about divisions on what we would call a denominational level? Why do we have Denominations among our churches? We have Denominations because we disagree on doctrines and teachings of the Bible. Now, let me say that personally, I do not think that denominations are necessarily a bad thing and they may even be a good thing. They are good, because they make us continually look at our doctrines and teachings, at our beliefs to make sure they line up with what God tells us in His Word. Think about the church of Luther’s day, when there was only one church and no one was allowed to question what was going on. Today we have sort of a checks and balances among denominations.
When it comes to fellowship among denominations, we understand that this fellowship is based on agreement of, and I would say, all doctrines and teachings. In other words, we cannot be in fellowship with someone with whom we disagree. And we talked about this in Bible Class, the circle of agreement, that is the number of doctrines and teachings with which we should agree, should be a large circle, a large number of doctrines and teachings in order to truly say we are in agreement and fellowship. And, again as we said last week, agreeing to disagree is not agreement.
So, what is the problem? Why is there disagreement, especially since we all have the same Bible? The heart of the disagreement among those who have the same Bible is simply this, is the Bible the Word of God, or does it merely contain the Word of God. In other words, do we subject the Bible to our own reason or do we subject ourselves to the reason of the Bible. What you will find is that those who subject the Bible to their own reason usually do so in order to justify any behavior they wish to justify and the examples are many in our world today from homosexual behavior, to women in the pastoral office, to infanticide, to polygamy, to abortion, and to whatever else one might want to justify. We hear this subjection of the Bible to our own reason when we hear arguments like those in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say?” In other words, when we hear those with an agenda to justify deviant sinful behavior go back to those Bible passages which denounce such behavior and question whether or not God was really denouncing such behavior. That questioning is a subtle way of saying, “Did God really say?” On the other hand, those of us, who subject ourselves to the Bible as the Word of God, whether we like it or not, and certainly all of us would like to throw out a commandment or two, we understand that all of the Bible is God’s Word and so we must be subject to all of it, whether we like it or not, whether it runs with the opinions of our tolerant society or not. Thus, we get back to the fact that our sinful human nature plays a big role in our disagreements.
Paul writes to encourage unity. As we said last week, there is only one Church, one Holy Christian Church (capital C), and it is the invisible Church as we call it, the Church of all those who have faith in Jesus alone for salvation. This one Church spans the many Christian denominations and only God, who can look in our hearts, knows the members.
At the same time that there is the one Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints, the invisible Church, there are also many local denominations. Among these local denominations there are orthodox congregations and heterodox congregations. An orthodox congregation is one in which the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administer the same. A heterodox congregation is one in which the Word of God is taught to some degree, but it is over powered by the use of man’s own reason and intellect.
In the third commandment we are reminded, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it”. We despise preaching and His Word when we over power it with our own reason and intellect. And that leads down the road of heterodox. We despise the Word of God when we fail to recognize and believe that Word which tells us how precious we are to our Lord, from the moment of conception, and instead allow the thoughts and opinions of our society to be tolerant of those with a different opinion. God does not and will not tolerate sin. Why should we?
God calls us to be faithful. Nowhere in His Word does God call us to be successful. He never even gives us a definition for success. Instead we are to be faithful. We are to constantly be on guard making sure that God’s Word reigns over our own reason and intellect. And please, do not misunderstand, I do not intend to say that we do not think, certainly we are to think, yet we are to remember that whenever our thinking contradicts the Word of God, it is our thinking that needs to be changed, not the Word of God.
So, what does this mean? This means that as always we continue to shy away from preaching and teaching a theology of Glory, that is that we simply talk about Jesus and His power and His making us powerful and rulers and the like. We shy away from talk of how good we are or how good we can be, how we think we can be the people God would have us to be. How we do not need to be in Divine Service and/or Bible class every Sunday, after all, we are already saved, and we are pretty good people. Instead, we will always and ever, this side of eternity, keep our focus on a theology of the cross. Paul says that the cross is folly to those perishing. The cross is folly to those who are perishing, because the cross is itself a symbol of death. How can death be a good thing? How can a cross be a symbol of victory instead of defeat? When it comes to the cross, we understand that this symbol of death, for our sins, is the power of God. Our sins brought death. Our sins of omission and commission. Our sins of thought, word and deed. Our continual, daily sinning much. Indeed, as we grow in our faith, we realize more and more just how sinful we are and how much we need Jesus. The theology of the cross reminds us that Jesus took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sin. Because He paid the price for our sins they are no longer counted against us. No matter what our sin, nor how big we might think our sin to be, even no matter how small we might think our sin, Jesus paid the price for that sin and all sins. There are no sins too big or too small for which Jesus did not die to pay. His death paid the price for all sins of all people of all places of all times.
Simply stated, we know we get it right when we get our focus right. If our focus is on ourselves, we get it wrong. When our focus is on the cross of Christ then we know we are getting it right. If our focus is on people and this world, we are getting it wrong. When our focus is on our Lord and His Word and Sacrament, then we are getting it right. As Paul so well tells us, we are, all Christians, in fellowship together. We, all Christians, do have a unity by faith in Jesus. At the same time, as churches of specific denominations, we do not have an outward fellowship or unity because we do not have a unity of doctrine and teaching and as I said last week, this side of heaven, because of our sinful nature, we never will have such a unity and fellowship, and that is okay.
I would encourage you, each one of you, to not be discouraged. I would encourage to you be faithful. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God so that you might make right decisions concerning right and wrong. And I would encourage you to stand firm in your faith, especially in your faith in Jesus whose cross, for us that are being saved, is the power of God. So that when our last hour on this earth arrives we will be caught up on the clouds with our Lord and we will be brought to stand before His throne with all the saints and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.