Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two watches... no right time...

A person with one watch knows what time it is; one with two watches is never quite sure. So says an old saying that addresses the same issue of Scripture when Jesus says no man can serve two masters.  This is the problem with the kind of diversity in which we present two (or more) different faces.  We are never sure which face is the real one.  It reminds me of my Grandma telling me that if you tell the truth you don't have to remember how you spun the lie when you have to say it again.

Quite apart from anything else, Lutherans faces the problem of several watches and therefore no sure time.  For our early history and for much of the time following, who we are was shaped by our Confessions.  Our practice flowed from those Confessions.  We wore one watch.  Oh, to be sure, there were folks who deviated from our Confessions and those whose practices conflicted with those Confessions.  There will always be.  But the difference was that those who deviated in confession and practice were both seen and identified as exceptions, challenges, and even errors.  They were not the showing the correct time of Lutheranism (to extend the metaphor).  Now, the whole culture of diversity has said that Lutheranism wears many watches and we are have our own time.  It may be close but the preciseness of the time is less important than the fact that we all have our own watches.  In other words, Lutheranism has many faces, many definitions, and none of them is necessarily wrong or not authentic.  Lutheranism can exist in the form of a seeker service with contemporary music pumped out by a praise band and Lutheranism can exist in the form of the sung Divine Service and pipe organ and chanting and incense.  In this sense, Lutheranism is more of an idea than an entity.

The problem with this is that when we wear many watches we don't really know what time it is.  When Lutheranism wears many faces, no one knows what Lutheranism looks like.  When we embrace many confessions and practices we have no set confession or practice.  We don't know who we are among ourselves as a Lutheran family and so we don't know how to present Lutheranism to the world.  Nearly all of us know how untenable this is so we fight internally over contemporary vs traditional, maintenance vs mission, progressive vs repristination, modern vs ancient, etc...  What the world sees is a Lutheranism wherein even the Lutherans are not sure who they are.  Who wants to join such a church?

I am tired of the worship wars and the debates between inward focus or outreach.  We fight the same straw men over and over again and no one wins.  It seems to me we are arguing about something we say is already settled by our Confessions.  It seems to me that the only authentic face of Lutheranism is the one that still confesses what we have always confessed and the one that looks like those Confessions on Sunday morning.  If we want to be something other than this kind of Lutheranism, then we need to either ditch our Confessions or join a church body whose faith and practice corresponds to what we think and want to do.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want anyone to leave Lutheranism.  I would much rather that all Lutherans simply decided to be who we say we are in our Confessions and to make our liturgical, mission, and parish practice conform to those Confessions.

If you wear two watches, you never know which one tells the right time.  If Lutherans confess many confessions and wear many faces before the world and tolerate many practices on Sunday morning, we are like the man with many watches but who cannot answer what time it is.  The world pays attention to those who know what time it is -- they may reject them but the world has little respect for those who have no confidence in their convictions.  Think how we show our disdain for politicians who have no firm positions.  Again, my plea is not for anyone to leave but for us all to look at what we have said we believe and how this Confession is lived out in practice and to be what we are.  Period.


Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: I apologize in advance for doing two consecutive postings, but the subject simply does not allow for one posting within the space limitations.

The allegory with the watches is indeed a good one. Taking it further, if we assume that our watch is perfect, then we never have to worry once we have set it correctly. But in real life, even Patriarch Kiryll’s watch (the one that only reflects in a desk top) is not totally accurate. So we don’t really know if we have the correct time, unless we continually compare it to a known standard.

But here the allegory falls short: since we decided centuries ago that our watch, the Book of Concord, is perfect, we feel no need to compare it to the known standard, Holy Scripture. In fact, we highly discourage any questioning along those lines, because if we admit even one major doctrinal error in our Confessions, we think that all of our beliefs will collapse (remember the “Domino Theory” – that one did not come true either).

Following are four examples in which I believe our Confessions err in major doctrine, to the detriment of the proclamation of the Gospel and the faith of God’s people:

1. Apology, Art III, “2] It is written in the prophet, Jer. 31:33: I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. And in Rom. 3:31, Paul says: Do we, then, make void the Law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the Law. And Christ says, Matt. 19:17: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Likewise, 1 Cor. 13:3: If I have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 3] These and similar sentences testify that the Law ought to be begun in us, and be kept by us more and more [that we are to keep the Law when we have been justified by faith, and thus increase more and more in the Spirit]. Moreover, we speak not of ceremonies, but of that Law which gives commandment concerning the movements of the heart, namely, the Decalogue.”
The word which is translated as “Law” is “Torah”. Scripture never uses this word to mean the Ten Commandments. In its widest sense, it means “the mind of God”, to which St. Paul refers in 1 Cor. 2, when he writes, v16, “but we have the mind of Christ.” Also, in 2 Cor. 3, when he writes about the writing on our hearts with the “Spirit of the living God,” he contrasts the ministry of death “on stone tablets” with the ministry of the Spirit. Why would God inscribe the ministry of death on our hearts? I have read several papers by learned Lutheran theologians which refer to the “fact” of the Decalogue being written in our hearts. This is a clear denial of the Doctrine of Baptism, according to which we teach that a new creature rises out of the waters of Baptism, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.
Continued in the next posting.

Anonymous said...

Continued from the previous posting.
2. Small Catechism, The Second Petition.
“Thy kingdom come.
What does this mean?--Answer.
The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.
How is this done?--Answer.
When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and yonder in eternity.” In the Greek, the verb ἐλθέτω in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:10/Lk 11:2) is an Active Aorist Imperative 3rd person singular of the Middle verb ἔρχομαι (= to come). It means “to come” only when used in the literal sense, of something that moves, as on legs. But when used metaphorically, it can mean many other things. In this case the sense is in all likelihood something like, “May Your Kingdom Prosper”, or “may Your Kingdom increase.” But it has nothing to say about the Kingdom coming to us, inasmuch as we are already in the Kingdom, Colossians 1: 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” To the best of my knowledge, of the many times the Kingdom is spoken of in Scripture, there is only one when it is referred to as being within us, Luke 17:21, where our Lord says, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Do we then receive the Holy Spirit every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Do we get more “Kingdom”? This is a confusion of justification and sanctification.

3. “The Smalcald Articles
Of the False Repentance of the Papists.
43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost].”
Clearly this cannot be true, because David prays in Psalm 51, “and do not take your Holy Spirit from me” when “the prophet David came to him, after he had gone to Bathsheba”. If he had not lost the Holy Spirit by then, surely he did not loose Him after Nathan said, “Now the Lord has put away your sin.” This is a clear contradiction of a narrative in Scripture, designed to promote a false Doctrine of Faith and the Holy Spirit.

4. Small Catechism, Baptism, “Fourthly.
What does such baptizing with water signify?--Answer.
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?--Answer.
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Nowhere in Scripture, not even in Romans 6, which Luther claims in support of his statement, does it say that “a new man daily come forth and arise …” A new man arises out of the waters of Baptism – one time- not daily. To be “simul iustus et peccator” means that, what Luther calls the old Adam, will always be with us. This is a clear contradiction of the Doctrine of Baptism.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...


"unless we continually compare it to a known standard" seems to mean that always and ever the Confessions (or the creeds, for that matter) have to be proven against Scripture so that they never can simply be said to be true. When we say the Confessions are true and faithful to Scripture, we at some point can accept this without constant examination of the Confessions over and over again. The Confessions do not sit above Scripture but we affirm that their teaching is the same as what Scripture teaches.

Pastor Peters said...


"The word which is translated as “Law” is “Torah”. Scripture never uses this word to mean the Ten Commandments..."

The LXX uses nomos (law) almost exclusively in place of Torah and the Septuagint and NT relationship is well attested. Secondly, while it is most certainly true that Torah has ripples of meaning in which God's good word of His gracious acts is part of it as much as God's specific commands to be obeyed, it is hardly false doctrine here but nuances of meaning that are being discussed.

Secondly, even the Law (commands) are God's gracious word when baptism kills and gives new life so that the so-called Third Use of the Law applies. Not seeking nor using the works of the law to justify, we nevertheless look to that law to guide and direct us to live out the righteousness which is out baptismal clothing -- not as our own works but as Christ living in us, as Paul would say.

Pastor Peters said...


"This is a confusion of justification and sanctification."

Only in the most extreme sense, I believe. In fact, I think this is hardly as unclear to folks as you may presume. While the Kingdom comes once in baptism, the grace of that Kingdom come to us regularly through the means of grace, to nurture the new life created in us, to reclaim it when temptation and fear threaten, and to give us strength to endure in that kingdom to eternal life. Again, this is not what I would call a genuine doctrinal issue but the nuances of meaning. Do we read the Confessions against Scripture or in the light of Scripture?

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: First, as I have written many times, I believe that the Lutheran Confessions are the best exposition of the Christian faith. Secondly, I believe that Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and free of error in the originals. Variants within different manuscripts sometimes make it difficult to know the true meaning of a text, but in the vast majority of cases this does not affect our faith.

As to the truth of the Confessions, we freely admit that they contain miscellaneous error, such as attributing to St. Augustine what he did not write. But how did we reach the conclusion that there is no substantive error? We simply decreed it to be so, and if anyone objected, they were removed from the church. I am not suggesting that we constantly comb through the Confession in search of error. What I am proposing is that if someone claims to have found such an error, and the claim does not appear too outrageous, that we consider the matter, rather than dismissing it, because “it cannot be so.” Even with the Creeds, there is still that matter of “filioque”. Whether or not you agree with it, it is a change made after the original was written.

As to the “Law written in our hearts” it is much more than nuance of meaning. Because Greek culture and literature have never had a concept equal to “Torah”, the language has never developed a word to adequately reflect its meaning. The Old Testament uses about 10 different words (I forget the exact number, but I checked it out and 10 is about right), which are translated as “nomos” into the Greek, and “law” into English. But “Torah” never means “the Ten Commandments.” Never! To describe these, the Hebrew uses either “the words”, or “the Ten Words.” “Nomos” is the only word used in the New Testament to mean “Law”, and it occurs, together with some derivatives, 197 times. That is simply a deficiency in the Greek and English languages.

Everything you write about the Law is true. But that does not mean that the Ten Commandments are written on our hearts (they are included in Torah, but are not all of Torah) according to the prophecy of Jeremiah or the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 2, when he writes, v16, “but we have the mind of Christ.” Is the difference between “The Ten Commandments” and “the mind of Christ” nuance? In that difference is the entire Doctrine of Regeneration. Because we have a Third Use in our Confessions, do we have to excise the words of St. Paul from the New Testament where he refers to the Ten Commandments as “the proclamation of death”? The answers to these questions are critical to an understanding of the “pure Gospel”; they are not nuance.

With regard to your response about the Second Petition, “grace coming to us” is a Roman Catholic concept. I am sure you remember about “favor Dei”, rather than some substance. But do we receive either the Holy Spirit or anything else when we pray this petition? Do we, when we pray the First or the Third? No, these deal with our Father and our worship of Him. It is His name that we desire to be hallowed, His Kingdom we want to prosper, and His will to be done. It isn’t always about us and our asking for something.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart