Monday, April 17, 2023

In Christ. . .

Faith is so often misunderstood -- not the tenets of faith but what faith itself is.  The great divide between infant baptism and believers baptism has less to do with what baptism is than how you understand faith.  It matters not what Scripture says, those opposed to infant baptism have decided that faith is an act of the will, a subscription to a certain set of beliefs of truths, a decision made at a moment in time, and an understanding of the self.  Because this defines what faith is, infants and small children cannot possibly have faith and therefore baptism is inaccessible to them.  On the other hand, it is precisely because faith is trust, a trust enabled and empowered not by human will but by the work of the Spirit, that infants and small children must be included in the baptismal command and promise.  That said, too many sacramental Christians have largely succumbed to the idea that faith is more about me than about God.  For us as Lutherans, this is critical.

As long as we listen to those who chart church growth using models of affinity or appeal we will be tempted for forget or diminish the role and work of the Spirit to bring us to faith and sustain that faith through the appointed means of the Word and the Sacraments.  And that is exactly what we have done.  We have subtly shifted the way we worship and the way we talk to try and fit into the parameters of a choice or decision of the will, a reflection of preference or desire, and the realm of individual and personal experience that we are almost embarrassed to hear Luther's explanation of the Third Article of the Creed.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life.

We have come to trust in our efforts more than the work of the Spirit and we have accepted the whole idea that the Church is merely some voluntary association for those who desire it and not essential to believing or to the sustenance of that faith.  Why else would we keep as members people who have not darkened the doors of the Church for ages or who come only once in a blue moon?  Why else would hesitate to tell those who do not attend that it is sinful to absent themselves from the preaching of the Word and the fellowship of the Table?  Why else would we replace the centrality of altar and pulpit with mood music and inspirational talks that focus more on the improvement of this life than obtaining eternal life?  Why else would we accept the reality that many of our folks live as virtual strangers to the sound of God's voice in His Word and seek an experience or an emotion as sign and ground of their faith?

Faith is not primarily the subscription to a set of fixed belief statements nor is it living according to rules of behavior.  Faith is trust in Christ, trust bestowed by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace.  The life of faith is not a life of rule keeping or tracking propositions of what is believed but living in Christ the new life He has bestowed in Baptism and which He maintains by your life around the Word, absolution, and the Eucharist. 

The life of holiness we are given and to which we have been called is not some set of behavioral rules we can argue about.  It means living in Christ as His, His new creation.  This Christian life is the experience of grace in every aspect of our living and not within some neatly defined compartments or behind the convenient walls of sacred and secular.  The dogmatic content of the Church's teaching is the expression of this new creation and life -- building knowledge and understanding to be sure, but mostly to build trust in the mercy of God, the wisdom of God, the order of God, and the promise of God.  This does not in any way diminish doctrinal statements or confessions or creeds but places them within the obvious context of worship and life.  Martin Franzmann said that theology must sing, that all true theology is doxology.  This is where we live as the new people born of the baptismal womb by the power of the Spirit.  When we dislocate this doctrinal truth from this context, it becomes merely a set of truth propositions to be agreed upon or a set of rules we must follow.  

Nowhere is this more clear than in sexual behavior.  It might be enough for the world to hear that certain behaviors are simply wrong as the Law declares but for the Christian it is precisely that we are new creatures who live in Christ and for Christ that sexual desire is ordered by Christ and not by what we think or feel.  The moral voice of God is not simply the rule but the call to strive to reflect His goodness in our daily lives.  We love not because we have found someone to love or because that love feels good -- we love because He first loved us.  As much as this applies to the neighbor around us, it also applies to the husband or wife with whom we live in marriage and the children and parents that are also part of our vocation.  Love is not ours to express or define but it is God's love for us and now in us by baptism and faith.  

At some point in time we forgot that life in Christ and life in the Church are one.  They are not different lives but the same life.  Morality became a set of rules to constrain our wanton desires instead of Christ living in us and now through us by ordering our lives toward a higher good than self or moment -- one consistent with the heavenly calling.  Doctrine became a litmus test of orthodoxy instead the Spirit informing our minds.  Scripture became a book of facts instead of the living voice of God.  The Sacraments became things we did for God instead of God bestowing His gifts upon us, strengthening our faith and sustaining that new life in Christ to everlasting life.  Worship became a program defined by and its success determined by numbers instead of faithfulness.  And where has it left us?  People tune into talking heads who claim to make our lives in Christ easy and to use our faith to get what we want in this life.  They buy books that are written by people who do not even share what faith and life in Christ is.  They listen to music that hits on emotional and experiential levels instead of building us up in the Word of the Lord and the doctrine that flows from that Word.  Now we are at a point where we find it hard to say what is Christian and what is not but all the while have lost our focus on what it means to life in Christ the life Christ alone gives by the means of grace that feed and nourish this life to holiness now and to everlasting life.


Timothy Carter said...

Excellent Blog, Pastor. Trust is basic definition of Faith. God does what Him has promised.
Enjoyed your reference to Luther's Explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostle's Creed.. it was my Confirmation recitation some 60 years ago. Indeed memory work chosen by Pastor Charles Nenow brought me back to the LCMS after 12 years of non-belief...the Holy Spirit plants faith through the Means of Grace...mainly in church on Sunday...Good solid Confessional Doctrine.
Thank you.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon, Kingsport, TN.

Anonymous said...

Melanchthon defines the Lutheran understanding of faith well in Apology IV: faith is knowledge, assent, and trust.

“But that faith which justifies is not merely a knowledge of history, but it is to assent to the promise of God, in which, for Christ’s sake, the remission of sins and justification are freely offered. And that no one may suppose that it is mere knowledge, we will add further: it is to wish and to receive the offered promise of the remission of sins and of justification. [Faith is that my whole heart takes to itself this treasure. It is not my doing, not my presenting or giving, not my work or preparation, but that a heart comforts itself, and is perfectly confident with respect to this, namely, that God makes a present and gift to us, and not we to Him, that He sheds upon us every treasure of grace in Christ].”