"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Law and Gospel - Thesis 1

Thesis I
The doctrinal contents of all Holy Scripture, both of the Old and the New Testament, consist of two doctrines that differ fundamentally from each other. These two doctrines are Law and Gospel.

In his first thesis Walther covers six differences between law and gospel to help the Christian and Christian teachers identify the difference when they read the scripture.
1. They differ as to how they were revealed to humans.
2. They differ regarding their contents.
3. The differ regarding the promises held out by each doctrine.
4. They differ regarding their threats. (Gospel has no threats whatsoever - only words for consolation.)
5. They differ regarding the function and the effect of either doctrine.
6. They differ regarding the persons to whom each of them is to be preached.

This doctrine is important not to skip over in our Christian Churches. As Walther states:
...you can gather how foolish it is-in fact, how terribly deceived so many people obviously are - when they ridicule pure doctrine and say to us, "Enough already with your 'Pure doctrine, pure doctrine'! That can lead only to dead orthodoxy. Focus on pure living instead. That way you will plant the seeds of righteous Christianity." That would be like saying to a farmer, "Stop fretting about good seed! Be concerned about good fruit instead."

So how does pure doctrine of law and gospel together lead to true Christian experience and understanding?
Again Walther:
"The Law tells us what to do and charges us with not having done it, no matter how holy we are. Thus the Law makes us uncertain; it chases us about and thus makes us thirsty. Now when Christ invites those who thirst, He means those who have been crushed under the hammer blows of the Law. These persons Christ invites directly to come to Him; of course, indirectly he invites all people. A person who is thirsting like this only needs to drink-and receive the consolation of the Gospel. When a person is really thirsty and is handed even a small glass of water, how greatly refreshed he feels! But when a person is not thirsty, you can hand him one glass of water after another - it will do him no good; it will not refresh him."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

O Heart Bereaved and Lonely

So Fanny Crosby wasn't always the best in theology. But when she's good, she's great. A hymn I've enjoyed lately, O Heart Bereaved and Lonely. One may enjoy how it incorporates the Incarnation and our Savior's sympathy into our every sorrow. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. " (Hebrews 4:15-16)

1. O heart bereaved and lonely,
Whose brightest dreams have fled
Whose hopes like summer roses,
Are withered crushed and dead
Though link by link be broken,
And tears unseen may fall
Look up amid thy sorrow,
To Him who knows it all

2. O cling to thy Redeemer,
Thy Savior, Brother, Friend
Believe and trust His promise,
To keep you till the end
O watch and wait with patience,
And question all you will
His arms of love and mercy,
Are round about thee still

3. Look up, the clouds are breaking,
The storm will soon be o'er
And thou shall reach the haven,
Where sorrows are no more
Look up, be not discouraged;
Trust on, whate'er befall
Remember, O remember,
Thy Savior knows it all

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Bible in a Sentence

This was an interesting exercise in summarizing the Bible in one sentence. My favorite was:

Mark Dever:
God has made promises to bring His people to Himself and He is fulfilling them all through Christ.
With honorable mention to

Kevin DeYoung:
A holy God sends his righteous Son to die for unrighteous sinners so we can be holy and live happily with God forever.

And if I might say this, Doug Wilson's answer was the most ridiculous, making the Bible sound like a bad medieval fairy-tale. However, it does illustrate the wackyness of FV guys who seem to want to show off their poetic or symbolic language wrapped in obscure theology:

Doug Wilson:
Scripture tells us the story of how a Garden is transformed into a Garden City, but only after a dragon had turned that Garden into a howling wilderness, a haunt of owls and jackals, which lasted until an appointed warrior came to slay the dragon, giving up his life in the process, but with his blood effecting the transformation of the wilderness into the Garden City.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Original Sin, Pastoral Care, and the Courage to Speak Truth

I've met a similar scene multiple times: I enter a room where a mother is holding a small, blanket-wrapped package. The room is thick with grief; the mother crying and the husband with a look of stress on his face. I am there to talk about what they want to do with the remains of their miscarried child. It was in those moments that some of the discussions I had earlier in some seminary classrooms came back to mind, much to my displeasure and a bit to my anger.

In two theology classes, two different professors brought up the subject of infant death and salvation. In both professors, the doctrine of Original Sin loomed large, sufficient to damn from the moment of birth. When asked about infants that die, one replied, “I know you won't like it, but you have to have the courage to say that they are sinful, without faith, and therefore, under any criteria we can measure, condemned.” The argument was that if you allow for one instance of salvation without faith, you are soon on the road to universalism, then atheism, all over the question of if infants that die are damned.

The question I asked then was about 2 Samuel 12, where David's son dies at seven days old (a day before circumcision). When informed of the death, David replies “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23) I was then informed that was a bad text to use, partly because the son died for David's sin and David was merely talking about the place of the dead, and judgment occurs later, where we would assume they will be parted again with David heading heavenward and the infant, towards damnation. The answer seemed at the time a poor one, for it seemed to dismiss rather than explain the reaction of David. Who would be happy to briefly see their child again before they are ushered off to hell? Was that David's relief?

Here, I stood before a woman and father who had just lost a child, even before seven days. They did not care to hear about my former professor's “courage” in declaring the probable damnation of their child or dismissal of David's source of hope. The pastoral comment I often told believers was, with that most inappropriate text rolling around my mind, was something along the lines of: "though he won't return to be with you, know you will go to meet him someday."

My first professor may not be happy that I used the very text he warned us not to use, but he wasn't in the room. I do remember the same discussion in another class with a bit of a different answer from my other professor. He said faith seems to be what the Scripture always tells us we ought to have to be assured of salvation. Yet, salvation also involves God's election/choice and his grace. This other professor ended the question by saying he wouldn't answer the question definitively, because it wasn't his decision to make. Original Sin is sufficient to damn, God's grace is sufficient to save.

The question seems not to be between “courage” and "weakness" but between presumption and humility. The second seems much more appropriate for pastoral care. It is also where the Westminster Confession comes out where in Ch 10.3 it states: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth:” No observable faith is mentioned and I don't think the Westminster Confession is an inclusivist document or on the road to universalism because it allows for salvation without observable faith. God needs no permission or logical justification from us to save whom he will, whether we see faith, or give the child the sign of the covenant.

Indeed, Jesus often seems to welcome children and especially the children of believers well before they have an observable faith by which to respond. Mothers bring, carry even, babies to Jesus to touch/bless (Luke 18:15-17). Fascinating to me is that Jesus did not reject these little heathens. He did not ask the mothers to delay until they had faith and could be proven disciples, but just blessed the babies as these mothers wanted. Would we wish to say that Jesus lacked the courage to correct these mothers in their ignorant theology which valued the children of believers as blessable and valuable, and as belonging to the kingdom of heaven?

David's words about going to his son were spoken before his son was circumcised, before his son had observable faith, and with a hope that was unexplainable if he thought his son to be damned. The same man who declared his culpability from conception (Psalm 51) also declares his hope for his son (2 Samuel 12). And when walking into a room of grieving parents, when being a pastor to those parents that lose children, I can't say that God saves all children. But I can't say God damns them either. I can say: David had a hope, Christ welcomed the children of believers and we are called to trust God's goodness and election. These together give me a strong inclination to share David's hope for the reunion of believers and their departed infant children.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Interrupting these deep thoughts…

…for a really cool picture of C.F.W. Walther.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Machen on historical Christianity

"If the saving work of Christ were confined to what He does now for every Christian, there would be no such thing as a Christian gospel...It is the connection of the present experience of the believer with an actual historic appearance of Jesus in the world which prevents our religion from being mysticism and causes it to be Christianity.

It must certainly must be admitted, then, that Christianity does depend upon something that happened; our religion must be abandoned altogether unless at a definite point in history Jesus died as a propitiation for the sins of men. Christianity is certainly dependent upon history."

-J. Gresham Machen. Christianity and Liberalism. pg. 120-121

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Augustine on Psalm 59 (sounding like Luther)

It tickles me that sometimes when reading Augustine, I have to look at the book cover again to remind myself I am not reading Luther. Here is Augustine commenting on Psalm 59:3 "For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me"

"There are also other men strong, not because of riches, not because of the powers of the body, not because of any temporally pre-eminent power of station, but relying on their righteousness. This sort of strong men must be guarded against, feared, repulsed, not imitated: of men relying, I say, not on body, not on means, not on descent, not on honour; for all such things who would not see to be temporal, fleeting, falling, flying? but relying on their own righteousness.…“Wherefore,” say they, doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners? (Matt 9:11) O ye strong men, to whom a Physician is not needful! This strength to soundness belongeth not, but to insanity. For even than men frenzied nothing can be stronger, more mighty they are than whole men: but by how much greater their powers are, by so much nearer is their death. May God therefore turn away from our imitation these strong men.…The same are therefore the strong men, that assailed Christ, commending their own justice. Hear ye these strong men: when certain men of Jerusalem were speaking, having been sent by them to take Christ, and not daring to take Him (because when he would, then was He taken, that truly was strong): Why therefore, say they, “could ye not take Him?” And they made answer, “No one of men did ever so speak as He.” And these strong men, “Hath by any means any one of the Pharisees believed on Him, or any one of the Scribes, but this people knowing not the Law?” (John 7:45-49). They preferred themselves to the sick multitude, that was running to the Physician: whence but because they were themselves strong? and what is worse, by their strength, all the multitude also they brought over unto themselves, and slew the Physician of all.…"

And on Verse 10: Behold what is, “My strength, to Thee I will keep:” on myself I will in no ways at all rely. For what good thing have I brought, that thou shouldest have mercy on me, and shouldest justify me? What in me hast Thou found, save sins alone? Of Thine there is nothing else but the nature which Thou hast created: the other things are mine own evil things which Thou hast blotted out. I have not first risen up to Thee, but to awake me Thou hast come: for “His mercy shall come before me.” Before that anything of good I shall do, “His mercy shall come before me.”