Sunday, November 24, 2013

The greatest heretic in American history

This is basic church history for some of us. But for most American Christians, it'll be an eye-opener:

If you've been hurt by the Church...

New Reformation Press provides these free of charge. Seldom has anyone done the Christian world- and especially former Christians who have been hurt by the Church- a greater online service.

A lecture by Dr. Rosenbladt, which forms a kind of "sequel," can be downloaded here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"This shall be my faith!"

Because of my inborn wickedness and weakness so far it has been impossible for me to satisfy God’s claims. 

If I may not believe that God, for Christ’s sake, will forgive me the daily mourned lag, it would be over with me. 

I would have to despair, but I won’t let that happen. 
Like Judas hang myself on a tree, I will not do that. 
I will hang myself (cling) to the neck or foot of Jesus Christ, like the sinful woman. 
Even though I am worse then her, I will hold tight to my Lord. 

Then he will speak to the Father: 

Though (he) never kept any (promises) and broke each of your commandments, 
Father, but (he) clings to me. 
Never mind! 
I died for him as well. 
Let him slip through.’ 

This shall be my faith!

--Martin Luther

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"...Help Thou mine unbelief!"

I not only believe in Christ, but I know that He is sitting at the right hand of the Father to be our Mediator and to intercede for us. I know that the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper are the body and blood of Christ and that the word of the pastor, whether he preaches or absolves, is the Word of God. Yet the flesh is weighed down by doubt, so that it does not believe these things. This is great wretchedness and is bitterer than death itself. Indeed, the reason why death is bitter is that the hindrances of the flesh prevent us from believing. Otherwise affliction would be a joy, and death would be a sleep for us who believe.
We should deplore these evils, which are implanted in us through Adam as a result of original sin, and we should pray God to increase and strengthen faith in us and to sustain us under the heaven of the forgiveness of sins...

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works, AE 5:21,
Lectures on Genesis,
Genesis 26:5

Friday, August 9, 2013

Screwtape advises Slubgub on the diabolical misdirection play

It's especially effective for people with OCD:
Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself (God) we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success of failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.
--C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters

((It's not for nothing that Martin Luther defined sin as "being turned inward on oneself.")

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Patrick Hamilton on the distinction between Law and Gospel

The law saith to the sinner. Pay thy debt; the Gospel saith, Christ hath paid it.

The law saith, Thou art a sinner, despair, thou shalt be damned; the Gospel saith, Thy sins are forgiven thee, be of good comfort, thou shalt be saved.

The law saith, Make amends for thy sins; the Gospel saith, Christ hath made it for thee.

The law saith, The Father of heaven is angry with thee; the Gospel saith, Christ hath pacified Him with His blood.

The law saith, Where is thy righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction? The Gospel saith, Christ is thy righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction.

The law saith, Thou art bound and obliged to me, to the devil, and to hell; the Gospel saith, Christ hath delivered thee from them all.

Patrick Hamilton, Scottish Lutheran theologian and martyr, sealed his testimony with his own blood on February 29, 1528 at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

How bad news can be good news

The Lutheran Confessions offer to poor sinners this sweet comfort, that, when God has given them the grace to be alarmed on account of their sins, they are in a fit condition to approach the throne of grace, where they receive forgiveness — the true remedy for their ills. They must indeed have contrition; however, not to the end of acquiring some merit by it, but in order that they may gladly accept what Jesus offers them…

When our Lutheran theologians wrote our Confessions, they sat down to their work as true Christians and did not intend to construct a system of doctrine. They knew in what way a poor sinner is given rest and the consolation of salvation. In the Apology, Melanchthon has spoken like a simple Christian. What has made this Confession all the more precious is that he speaks all that he says from the fulness of Scripture and his own experience.

In 1545 an edition of the Latin writings of Luther was published. In the preface to the first part, Luther relates what was the condition of his heart before he had received the light of the Gospel. He makes a personal confession, saying that, while he was in bondage to the Law, he had read the words of the Apostle Paul that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel and had become terrified by that statement. Having been terrified previously by the Law and reading now that in the Gospel, too, the righteousness of God is revealed, he was in an awful dilemma. The Law had condemned him, and now God sent him the Gospel to do the same thing to him! In the Gospel, too, God demanded righteousnes of the sinner!

We cannot sufficiently thank and praise God for giving Luther, shortly before his departure, leisure to relate some of the inner experiences of his life which were to prepare and fit him for the work of the Reformation.

He writes (St. L. Ed. XIV, 446 ff.) : “I verily had a hearty desire, indeed, I was yearning, to understand the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. So far nothing had hindered me except only the single phrase justitia Dei [the righteousness of God] in v. 17 of the first chapter, where Paul says: ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel.’ I was very wroth at this term ‘righteousness of God’ because my training had been according to the usage and practise of all teachers at that time, and I had been told that I must understand this term after the manner of philosophers as signifying that righteousness by which God is righteous in His essence, does right, and works righteousness, and punishes all sinners and unrighteous persons, — what is called justitia formalis seu activa (essential, or active, righteousness). Now, my condition was this: Although I was leading the life of a holy and blameless monk, I discovered that in the sight of God I was a great sinner. Moreover, my conscience was troubled and distressed, nor did I venture to reconcile God with my own satisfactions and merits. For this reason I did not at all love this righteous and angry God, who punishes sinners, but I hated Him and was full of secret anger against Him, and that, in all seriousness. (I am afraid that this was, or may have to be accounted as, blasphemy.) Frequently I would say: Is God not satisfied with having loaded all manner of misery and affliction, besides the terrors and threatenings of the Law, on us poor, miserable sinners, who are already condemned to everlasting death on account of hereditary sin? Must He increase this misery and heartache still more by the Gospel and by its preaching and its message proclaim His righteousness and serious anger and add to our terror? In my confused conscience I was full of indignation. Nevertheless I continued my meditation on blessed Paul, endeavoring, with a great thirst for knowledge and a hearty desire, to ascertain his meaning in this passage. I spent days and nights in these musings, until by the grace of God I perceived the connection of these words in the passage, thus: The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel, as is written: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ From this connection I learned to understand that righteousness of God by which the righteous lives by the gracious gift of God, through faith alone, and I perceived this to be the apostle’s meaning: By the Gospel that righteousness is revealed which is valid in the sight of God and by which God, from grace and pure mercy, makes us righteous by faith. In Latin this righteousness is called justitia passiva, and to this righteousness the fact refers which says: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ At this point I immediately felt that I had been entirely born anew and had found a door wide open, leading straight into paradise.”

CFW Walther, Law and Gospel, Twenty-second Evening Lecture (March 13, 1885.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Awake, My Heart, with Gladness

By: Paul Gerhardt

Awake, my heart, with gladness,
See what today is done;
Now, after gloom and sadness,
Comes forth the glorious sun.
My savior there was laid
Where our bed must be made
When to the realms of light
Our spirit wings it flight.

The foe triumph shouted
When Christ lay in the tomb;
But lo, he now is routed,
His boast is turned to gloom.
For Christ again is free;
In glorious victory
He who is strong to save
Has triumphed over the grave.

This is a sight that gladdens
What peace it does impart!
Now nothing ever saddens
The joy within my heart.
No gloom shall ever shake,
No foe shall ever take
The hope which God’s own Son
In love for me has won.

Now hell, its prince, the devil,
Of all their power are shorn;
Now I am safe from evil,
And sin I laugh to scorn.
Grim death with all its might
Cannot my soul affright;
It is a powerless form,
However it rave and storm.

Now I will cling forever
To Christ, my Savior true;
My Lord will leave me never,
Whatever he passes through.
He rends death’s iron chain;
He breaks through sin and pain;
He shatters hell’s grim thrall’
I follow him through all.

He brings me to the portal
That leads to bliss untold,
Whereon this rhyme immortal
Is found is script of gold:
"Who there my cross has shard
Finds here a crown prepared;
Who there with me has died
Shall here be glorified."

Friday, March 29, 2013

Just answer me this:

Do you really think that the One Who went through this to get you into heaven is going to send you to hell on a technicality?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On cheering when there's no game going on

I wish I had a buck for every time I heard an "evangelical" Christian tell me that God "told him" (or her) something.

It's amazing the number of out-and-out delusions which arise from the believe that God speaks to us directly and reliably through subjective impressions, apart from the Word. This is especially true for people with OCD.

A simple reading of history, of course, will impress anyone with an eye open for the phenomenon with how many amazing- and often gruesome- things God has allegedly "told" people down through the ages. A great many people are dead because God allegedly told others to kill them. In most cases, I think it's a reasonable conclusion that the message was either garbled, or- more likely- not authentic to begin with.

In the case of OCD, "God" usually tells people the very things they want least to hear. Sometimes it's to perform some sort of essentially meaningless ritual. Sometimes it's to make a particular decision in a particular way they have no reason- Scriptural or otherwise- to believe would be God-pleasing or particularly beneficial. With people who do not suffer from OCD, it's amazing how often  what "God" tells us is exactly what we want Him to tell us, even if they are not conscious of that fact.

What these experiences have in common with the "messages from God" is their origin: the psychology of the hearer. Whether the "messages" are wish-fulfillment or obsessions arising from faulty cerebral wiring, they are our own voices, not God's. And they are voices that usually lead us either to indulgence of the baser parts of ourselves, or to confusion.  Neither are characteristic of God.

It says a great deal about the validity of the widespread claim that God converses with Christians that an unbeliever claims that she has the same experience. Tanya Luhrman- who isn't even sure what the word "God" truly signifies- is fascinated by the fact that she has had the same "revelatory" experiences the charistmatic Christians she has been studying put so much stock in.

Not surprising; skeptical journalists and zealous Christians alike have personal psychologies. Sometimes they express themselves by claiming divine sanction for their own desires and wishes. Sometimes they represent random and utterly meaningless thoughts which miswired brains interpret as having significance they in fact lack. And sometimes- just often enough to help even the less credulous among us to believe on occasion- they represent insights of and conclusions which are the result of reasoning at a level of which we are not consciously aware. In the latter case, they sometimes are verified- and therefore qualified as significant and presumably external in origin- by subsequent events.

No Christian will deny that one often has truths or verses from Scripture suddenly come to mind while praying about the subject in question. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in the Word- to be sure, in the Law that is written (though obscured by sin) on the human heart, but more specifically in the Law and the Gospel which addresses us in Scripture, speaking of our sin and God's love. Every serious Christian prays for guidance when facing a significant decision, and believes that he or she finds it when the truths one learns about God in Scripture are correlated with the circumstances of life by the Holy Spirit Who comes to us in the Word.

But God, as St. Paul assures us, is not the Author of confusion. No, the "fuzzy radio station, 95.2, 94.9, which needs more tuning" is emphatically not the voice of God. Count on it: if God wants you to know something, you will have no trouble understanding it- unless, of course, you want to. Luhrman is closer to the truth when she sums up the experience this way:
What I saw was that they were learning to pay attention to their inner world in a different way. The church taught that words from God should feel as if they “pop” into the mind, a spontaneous break from the flow of thought.
Let us put to one side the question of whether God is really speaking, and examine the practice anthropologically. The first thing to notice is that the practice takes advantage of what we might call the “texture” of mental experience. We have thoughts that are more startling and surprising than others; thoughts that seem a piece of the psychic river of awareness and thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. These Christians treat these contours as significant.
But- as secularists and theological liberals seem to have so much trouble realizing- one cannot put such questions aside quite so easily. In fact, Luhrman answers that question- correctly, I believe, in the negative- when she chooses not to take it at face value. Like an historical-critical scholar who thinks that he can "objectively" study Scripture while disregarding its claim to a supernatural origin, the moment Luhrman chooses to examine the claim of charismatics that God "speaks to them" anthropologically, she has thereby dismissed it. The conclusion Luhrman comes to is, I think, the simple truth: what the charismatics are listening to when they pray is not the voice of God, but "a piece of the psychic river of awareness and thoughts." The voice they are hearing is not God's, but their own. Luhrman continues:
But they do more than attend to thought differently. The church teaches congregants to pay attention only to certain of these striking thoughts—to good thoughts, thoughts that are the kinds of things God should say. That is, those thoughts should be relevant, wise, and loving. (“God does not tell you to hurt yourself,” people said.) You should feel calm when you have them. When you hear God correctly, you should feel peace, and if you didn’t feel peaceful, it wasn’t God.
The logic seems to be that since God is wise and loving, if unexpected thoughts come to one in prayer that are relevant to the subject at hand, they must come from God. In other words, since all cats have four legs, and all dogs have four legs, all cats are dogs. Can kind, loving and even wise thoughts not come from ourselves? Do not even nice people who are not believers, like Tanya Luhrman, have kind, loving and wise thoughts?  Yes, the unscriptural and presumptuous teachings of their churches, which confuse the extremely rare biblical precident of direct revelation from God with the normal, every day experience of the average believer (and do so totally without biblical support) do indeed form a filter through which charismatics interpret merely psychological phenomena common to all human beings, with or without the Holy Spirit. And who says that a feeling of peace is in any sense an indication of a thought's divine origin? If the teaching of Christ tells us anything, it is that the Holy Spirit's ministry will provoke violent opposition from the Old Self that continues to exist within us and war against the New. If the Old Self is cool with something, how is that proof that it comes from God?

There aren't many false teachings which have caused more spiritual misery and have led people to such profound and even ridiculous spiritual dead ends than the notion that God whispers in their ears- or that He can be expected to. Yes, we pray about our decisions and our circumstances. Yes, the Spirit brings the truth of His Word to our awareness, and helps us to apply it in the context of our lives. But in the last analysis, we are capable of being deceived, usually with the active complicity of our own fallen natures. Calling the products of our own psychology the voice of God doesn't protect us from being wrong. And while they are very good at rationalizing the experience away, those who rely on "God" to whisper advice directly into their ears while circumventing their own psychology very often are wrong.

The late Professor Kurt Marquart of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne used to tell the story of a "message" that came to a man at a Pentecostal church service that said that if the pastor would ride all over the county on a black horse preaching the Gospel, a great revival would take place. The congregation searched far and wide, but nowhere in the county were they able to find a black horse. So "God" sent them another message: Not to worry. A brown one would do.

Think about it.

I once heard a pastor describe the phenomenon known to theologians as "Enthusiasm" by inviting us to imagine the local high school football stadium filled to capacity some Friday night, and the fans enthusiastically cheering the efforts of the local eleven down on the field.  Now imagine the same stadium, he said, on a Tuesday night. The same crowd is there, and they're cheering and hollering just as enthusiastically. Except when you look down on the field, there's no game going on.

Cheering and hollering are indeed real phenomena. But they do not necessarily mean that there's a football game going on, except in the imaginations of the crowd. And the only place God speaks to us clearly and unambiguously is in the Word.

Where there is confusion, doubt, and a lack of clarity- all symptoms of OCD, by the way- there is one thing we can be absolutely certain of- it is not the voice of God.

HT: Real Clear Religion

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Avoiding the "F word"

Feel, feel! That is just what is wrong. Don’t you believe the Bible is God’s Word just as truly, no matter how you may feel? Don’t you see, Brother, that this won’t do? Here you are with your sore conscience and your awakening by the law, and you are as sensitive to every single threat of that law as a sore tooth to ice water. But since the conscience is dead as clay toward all the Gospel promises ... you feel nothing when God’s Word speaks about Jesus, who died for us sinners, and about the righteousness that comes from God and which one may believe in spite of every accusation of one’s conscience. Because you make your feelings your barometer, you pass by the Gospel and are held fast in the law. Look in your Bible and see if the passages you have especially marked are not just those that speak of what you shall do. But you have not given half the attention to that which tells what Christ has done through his atonement ... Read God’s Word now as God’s Word, without skipping anything. Underline heavily everything about what our Savior has done for us. And if you like, write `For me’ in the margin. You need this yourself, and it is your duty to preach it to your congregation, as well. -- Bo GIertz, "The Hammer of God"

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No, He isn't.

People often ask, "Pastor, I feel God is calling me to do…" Or, "I feel God has put it on my heart to…" Or, "I think God is speaking to me to tell me that I should…" Then comes the question, "How do I know if this is really what God wants for my life or if it's just me?" Simple. It's just you. The Holy Spirit works through a preacher, speaking His particular Word through "the office of Gospel preaching and administering the sacraments." Anything you feel in you is just you wishing it was God stirring up those feelings. We call this "enthusiasm," or, "God-within-ism." It's been around since Adam fell. It's the basest rebellion against God and His Word for you. 
--Rev. Donavan Riley

Here's another thing about Enthusiasm: if you have OCD, it will eat you for lunch. God is not the Author of confusion. If He is calling you to do something or to be something, He will have no trouble making it clear to you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just to clear up some OCD-induced confusion on this point....

We don't repent, we are repented. Repentance is passive, worked by the Spirit of God through His Word. The new man in Christ trusts this repenting in faith, which is also worked by the Spirit of God in us.
The old man in Adam loathes this work, because by it he is put to death. Not content with sitting passive while he is killed, the old man in Adam tries to find choices- always, he thinks, under the protection of the law. More law means more choices, he thinks- but not God's law. Not content with waiting for God to work when and where He chooses, the old man in Adam goes to work adding his own laws on to God's law.
Thus we see again and again the old man in Adam call for more law, less forgiveness. More doing, less waiting. The law solves everything, he says, that is why our church and the world are going to hell. We need to repent, we need to have faith, and we need to build up the barricades that hold back the incursion of this old, evil world, or God will forsake us, he says. We must make a choice, he says. Are we for the kingdom or against it, he says.
We must decide now! Our livelihoods depend on it, he says.
--The Rev. Donovan Riley.

He (the Old Adam) is, as Pr. Riley suggests, wrong. It isn't about us. It's about Jesus. Anything He doesn't do doesn't need doing.