Lutheran Identity? – a conversation starter

In the heady early days of Lutherans blogging, I had just opened the tentative predecessor of Blog My Soul for business and somewhat regularly participated in discussions on others’ blogs. One of these discussions ended up in a personal exchange, both in blog comments and in e-mail, with “Martin,” a seminary student who, at the time of the conversation, was serving as vicar. The purpose of posting the conversation is not to evoke a defense of the Scriptures or the Confessions, but to get you thinking about what is it that defines or demonstrates a Lutheran identity (vs. a Christian identity)? Is there a difference? And if there is, what does this mean for us as Lutherans?

Martin: ScotK, Honestly! Just when I think you and I are starting to see eye-to-eye on some things. Do you really think that only the Book of Concord (BoC) has the genuine faith of Scripture?!? I really find it hard to believe that you would make such an assertion. Please tell me I am misunderstanding you.

ScotK: Martin, the only place, no. Anytime the doctrine of Scripture is truly proclaimed I rejoice. …However, what I think will annoy you is that the Symbols and Confessions of the 1580 Book of Concord-in that they faithfully expound the Scriptures-are the benchmark by which I do theology. Yes, Martin, to be Lutheran is a confession. And that confession is, in sum, in the BoC. Continue reading

Where can unity be found?

God has two messages. He speaks Law and he speaks Gospel. The Law is God’s message of judgment against my sin. The Gospel is God’s word of forgiveness in Christ. It is his gracious response to my guilt.

The Law differentiates. It distinguishes. It says that I have failed God and I have failed you, my brothers and sisters. You might have something against me, as well. The Law forces me to measure myself against the standard of the Ten Commandments. And the Law has the nasty ability of making me better or worse than you.

cross_lawThe Gospel makes us all the same. When I am serving my neighbor then I am different and unique. But when I am being served by the Gospel, then I am just like every other sinner. I am equally as sinful as you. And I am equally as forgiven as you. We are the same. We are identical. Of course my sins might be more profound, more heinous, and more creative than yours. But in Christ both you and I are declared righteous, clothed and covered in the righteousness of the heavenly Bridegroom and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb. Sin, which makes us different and which divides, is forgiven. Good works, which distinguish and divide us, are irrelevant when it comes to salvation. So we are the same. The Divine Service reflects this.

If we are all the same, the services we attend should be pretty much the same. And if all the Christians in the world are the same, if the church is really “catholic,” then the worship services throughout the world should be pretty close to the same. If the saints from age to age are the same, and they are, then the worship services from age to age reflect our oneness and sameness in Christ.

But, if worship is primarily me serving God, then my worship will be different than yours because we are different in our good works. Worship will then be far from uniform. If we get the direction of the communication right in worship then we will also understand that uniformity in worship is good.

Paul addressed the problem of divisions in the church in his letter to the Ephesians. The Christians of Jewish descent felt that they were closer to God than the Gentile Christians. They thought they were more advanced in the law and where therefore better Christians. What a divisive attitude. Christian people have always had the same temptations toward disunity. Today we hear the same. Some Christians are considered more advanced, more dynamic, more mature, more committed, more engaged, more vital, more something. How did God create unity according to the apostle Paul? Continue reading

How Lutherans Worship – 10: Excursus: What is Lutheran Worship?

Another part of my ongoing answer to the one who wanted to know about Lutheran worship. First let’s define the essence and dynamic of worship and then we’ll take a look at how the Lutheran Confessions talk about worship and the role of faith and works in the Divine Service.

What is worship?

I think Dr. Norman Nagel captured the essence of the Lutheran Gottesdienst (roughly translated as “worship”) best when he wrote in the Introduction to Lutheran Worship: “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise.” “Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his.” “The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol him. We build each other up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition”

What is worship as defined by our Lutheran confessions?

St. John Lutheran Church, Jefferson WI

From the Book of Concord. Citations are given in the following form Symbol:Paragraph

Athanasian Creed:3, 28 –that our worship is catholic
And the Catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.
For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.

Apology XXIV:27 -that we worship in spirit and in truth
Christ says, John 4, 23. 24: True worshipers shalt worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. This passage clearly condemns opinions concerning sacrifices which, they imagine, avail ex opere operato [“on account of the work having been performed”], and teaches that men ought to worship in spirit, i.e., with the dispositions of the heart and by faith.

Apology IV:49 -the Divine Service is objective and subjective
And the difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the Gottesdienst [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the Gottesdienst [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers.

Apology IV:307-310 (186-189) -the Divine Service delivers to us God’s good gifts
But because the righteousness of Christ is given us by faith, faith is for this reason righteousness in us imputatively, i.e., it is that by which we are made acceptable to God on account of the imputation and ordinance of God, as Paul says, Rom. 4:3, 5: Faith is reckoned for righteousness. Although on account of certain captious persons we must say technically: Faith is truly righteousness, because it is obedience to the Gospel. For it is evident that obedience to the command of a superior is truly a species of distributive justice. And this obedience to the Gospel is reckoned for righteousness, so that, only on account of this, because by this we apprehend Christ as Propitiator, good works, or obedience to the Law, are pleasing. For we do not satisfy the Law, but for Christ’s sake this is forgiven us, as Paul says, Rom. 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. This faith gives God the honor, gives God that which is His own, in this, that, by receiving the promises, it obeys Him. Just as Paul also says, Rom. 4:20: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God. Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God. We can, however, offer nothing to God unless we have first been reconciled and born again. This passage, too, brings the greatest consolation, as the chief worship of the Gospel is to wish to receive remission of sins, grace, and righteousness.

Apology IV:154-158 (33-37) -through the Divine Service we recieve remission of sins and reconciliation
The woman [Luke 7:36-50, a sinful woman forgiven] came with the opinion concerning Christ that with Him the remission of sins should be sought. This worship is the highest worship of Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to Christ. To seek from Him the remission of sins was truly to acknowledge the Messiah. Now, thus to think of Christ, thus to worship Him, thus to embrace Him, is truly to believe. Christ, moreover, employed the word “love” not towards the woman, but against the Pharisee, because He contrasted the entire worship of the Pharisee with the entire worship of the woman. He reproved the Pharisee because he did not acknowledge that He was the Messiah, although he rendered Him the outward offices due to a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her worship, ointment, tears, etc., all of which were signs of faith and a confession, namely, that with Christ she sought the remission of sins. It is indeed a great example, which, not without reason, moved Christ to reprove the Pharisee, who was a wise and honorable man, but not a believer. He charges him with impiety, and admonishes him by the example of the woman, showing thereby that it is disgraceful to him, that, while an unlearned woman believes God, he, a doctor of the Law, does not believe, does not acknowledge the Messiah, and does not seek from Him remission of sins and salvation. Thus, therefore, He praises the entire worship, as it often occurs in the Scriptures that by one word we embrace many things; as below we shall speak at greater length in regard to similar passages, such as Luke 11:41: Give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. He requires not only alms, but also the righteousness of faith. Thus He here says: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much, i.e., because she has truly worshiped Me with faith and the exercises and signs of faith. He comprehends the entire worship. Meanwhile He teaches this, that the remission of sins is properly received by faith, although love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow. Wherefore He does not mean this, that these fruits are the price, or are the propitiation, because of which the remission of sins, which reconciles us to God, is given. We are disputing concerning a great subject, concerning the honor of Christ, and whence good minds may seek for sure and firm consolation, whether confidence is to be placed in Christ or in our works. Now, if it is to be placed in our works, the honor of Mediator and Propitiator will be withdrawn from Christ. And yet we shall find, in God’s judgment, that this confidence is vain, and that consciences rush thence into despair. But if the remission of sins and reconciliation do not occur freely for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of our love, no one will have remission of sins, unless when he has fulfilled the entire Law, because the Law does not justify as long as it can accuse us. Therefore it is manifest that, since justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake, we are justified by faith, because it is very certain that by faith alone the remission of sins is received.

Apology XXIV:27
In short, the worship of the New Testament is spiritual, i.e., it is the righteousness of faith in the heart and the fruits of faith.

Apology VII, 35-36 -our works are not necessary for righteousness before God
Paul clearly teaches this to the Colossians, 2:16-17: Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Likewise, 2:20–23 sqq.: If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using), after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have, indeed, a show of wisdom in will-worship (Geistlichkeit) and humility. For the meaning is: Since righteousness of the heart is a spiritual matter, quickening hearts, and it is evident that human traditions do not quicken hearts, and are not effects of the Holy Ghost, as are love to one’s neighbor, chastity, etc., and are not instruments through which God moves hearts to believe, as are the divinely given Word and Sacraments, but are usages with regard to matters that pertain in no respect to the heart, which perish with the using, we must not believe that they are necessary for righteousness before God. [They are nothing eternal; hence, they do not procure eternal life, but are an external bodily discipline, which does not change the heart.]

Summary of the citations:

· Rites and ceremonies are not used as works to satisfy the law of God. That is what God prohibits. On the contrary, the (Gottesdienst) is the righteousness God delivered to us.

· When humanly-invented customs like gathering on the Lord’s Day for divine service (to hear God’s Word, to receive the Lord’s Supper, to praise God and to pray) are useful innovations for assisting people toward faith and a life of service to God, they should be continued and be interpreted in a Gospel way.

· A service like the Service of Holy Communion does not confer God’s grace ex opere operato or merit remission of sins as some kind of sacrifice to God. It is rather a “liturgy,” that is, a public ministry offering the forgiveness of sins, won by Christ, which is conveyed through the means of grace and received by faith.

From the Confessions we learn:

The Lutheran Confessions address central questions about worship (Gottesdienst), teaching what worship is, what it is not and how human traditions can be used in the worship of God.

The Lutheran Confessions teach that worship is a spiritual act, not an outward act. This spiritual worship is a trusting in God and a desiring of the forgiveness, grace and righteousness of God. The righteousness of faith truly honors and obeys God for through the Gospel (Word and Sacrament) the Holy Spirit overcomes distrust and creates faith. The Spirit does not come directly (subjectively), through an inner experience or by one’s own efforts, but through this ministry of the Gospel in teaching the Word of God and rightly administering the sacraments (objectively). Reliance on one’s own works as a way of making peace with God has no place in this kind of faith; Christ has earned salvation for us and God freely and graciously gives it to us. Without faith there can be no worship nor can there be any fruits of faith.

Human traditions are no divine worship yet when they contribute to order and tranquility and are used in love, without offense or confusion, they may be profitably used. They are not necessary to salvation; they are not essential to the unity of the church. However, it may be that in times of persecution, for the sake of confessing Christ, it is necessary not to give them up. When used properly, rites and ceremonies contribute to the public ministry of conveying forgiveness of sins that is received by faith. This faith also bears fruit, thanking and serving God.

Previous post: Excursus: The Trinitarian Nature of the Lord’s Supper

Next: How Lutherans  Worship – 11: Prayer and the Collect of the Day

Representatives of God’s Authority


The Source of All Authority

The Scriptures are the source of God’s authority, be it in the Church or in the civil realm. The authority God gives to the Church and government are signs of His love for us, providing for our spiritual and temporal well-being.

“The Church is the congregation of saints [Psalm 149:1] in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.” (AC VII 1)

The Church does not exercise secular, or civil, authority. She may not employ the power of the state to compel people to accept the teachings of the Gospel, to enforce Christian living, or to punish or imprison heretics. Lutherans teach that the state has the power of the sword, but the Church has the power of the Word. Christ gave His Word to His Church. The Word of the Gospel brings people to faith. Peter expresses this understanding when he speaks of the “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Not by force or fines but by teaching and the work of the Holy Spirit the Church wins people for Christ and shepherds them to life under Christ in His kingdom.

Some teach that the Church’s authority comes from both the Scriptures and sacred tradition. Lutherans believe that the authority given by God is found in Scripture alone. A Roman Catholic, for example, asks the question, “What does the Church say?” A Lutheran asks, “What do the Scriptures say?” Therein lies a critical difference in understanding Church authority from a Lutheran point of view.

The Authority of the Church: The Office of the Keys

The Office of the Keys is the term used to designate the power given by Christ to the Church on earth. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending You. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21–23). In the Book of Matthew, Jesus announces that He will give the disciples “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This power was not exclusive to the apostles, but transmitted successively by the Church to those whom the Church ordains and places in the Office of the Holy Ministry.

“The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.” (SC Confession)

The Lutheran Confessions teach “It must be recognized that the Keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church. . . . This is why it is first the Church that has the right of calling” (Tr 24). The Church exercises the Office of the Keys through her ministers, who, in the stead of Christ, and on behalf of the congregation, assure that the Means of Grace are administered. Through these means the Holy Spirit imparts to people the blessings of Christ’s redemption. Christ obtained the forgiveness of sins and salvation for all people. Through the Means of Grace, the Holy Spirit imparts these blessings to the people. Through her ministers, the church administers these means.

“Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.” (AC XIV)

The Releasing Key

The releasing key is the power to remit sins (that is, to cancel the punishment of God against sin) and absolve the sinner (that is, declare the sinner free from the guilt of sin). This power is not separate from or above the Gospel of Christ, but is a specific application of the Gospel. The Lutheran Confessions hold that “the Power of the Keys administers and presents the Gospel through Absolution, which is the true voice of the Gospel” (Ap XIIA 39). In Christ, sinners are forgiven. In Absolution, the message of grace and forgiveness is applied to the individual in a more direct way.

The called ministers of Christ, who speak God’s Word in the Christian congregation, have the power and authority to remit sins.

The Binding Key

The binding key is the power to retain sins. To retain sins, or bind them to someone, does not mean that these sins were not atoned for by Jesus or that they are not forgiven before God. Instead, it is the announcement that the unrepentant sinner, by desiring to remain in sin, has rejected the gift of grace offered by Christ for all those who have faith in Him. Forgiveness is received in no other way than by faith (Romans 3:28). The impenitent, because they refuse to believe it, have excluded themselves from the general amnesty proclaimed by God, and hold themselves outside of God’s forgiveness.

Using the Power of the Keys

The Church does not use the power of the keys lightly. Instead, she strictly follows the instructions of Christ. The Church remits sins to penitent sinners and retains the sins of impenitent sinners as long as they do not repent. Whenever the Church on earth through her ministers deals with sinners in this way, her actions are certain and sure also in heaven (Matthew 18:18).

So, What about the Rest of Us?

While it is given to pastors to serve in their particular way, all of God’s people are given many opportunities to serve both God and others. There is a “flow” in every Christian’s life. The flow is to receive God’s gifts and then to serve God by serving others in daily vocations. The service of laypeople in the Church is referred to by Lutherans as “the priesthood of all believers.”

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Pastors serve as God’s representative in a congregation, but all believers have a role in serving God. Those who have received the gifts of God cannot help but thank and praise the Lord who gives them. As Christians live their daily lives fulfilling their vocations, they also have opportunity to tell about the gifts they have received from Jesus to those around them.

All Christians have the responsibility to grow in their faith and understanding of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ. All Christians have the privilege to serve as members of the “royal priesthood” by telling others about Jesus and pointing them to His gifts given in the Word and Sacraments in the Church.

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

There is no “ranking” of service among Lutherans. Lutherans do not view the service of pastors as more important or holy than that of laypeople. Pastors are given certain things to do, and laypeople are given certain things to do. Together as the Church they work to the glory of God.

Authority Given to the Government

The Scriptures tell us that God has also given authority to the civil government. Instead of forgiving sin as the Church does, the government rules for the sake of order, safety, and peace in the world. God tells us to obey those who are in authority over us unless they command us to sin.

Civil power and authority to rule and govern originates with God. The apostle Paul writes: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). It is the will of God that there should be government because anarchy is contrary to His will. This power of government is not invested in any particular person, family, or class but in God’s Word. With this understanding, you can understand that the vocation of governing is divinely instituted and through it, God works in the world.

Purpose of Government

Since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, humanity’s relationship with God has been disrupted. By means of civil government God works to provide for security and peace. Governments, therefore, are to protect the lives, the property, the honor, and the reputation of the people. Those in civil authority are to preserve order, discipline, and safeguard the people as they pursue their occupations and enjoy their liberties. Government wields the sword of God’s justice as “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4).

The government may also engage in other activities that will promote and secure the general welfare of the people. This would include the education of its citizens, conservation and promotion of natural resources, the improvement of adverse conditions and suffering, combating those who threaten the peace, both within and from outside its borders, and improving living conditions in general.

Right of Government

To fulfill its purpose, the government has the right to enact suitable laws (1 Peter 2:13), to enforce these laws, to judge people in accordance with these laws (John 18:31), and to impose penalties on those who break these laws. To support these activities and other purposes, the government has the right to levy taxes (Matthew 22:17–21; Romans 13:7). The government has the right to wage war for the protection of its citizens.

Some churches teach that Christians should not be involved in politics or government. But not Lutherans! Our Confessions encourage us to be as involved as possible so that our Christian lives can witness to and shape society. The Lutheran Confessions hold that Christians who serve as government authorities may “impose just punishments . . . engage in just wars, [and] serve as soldiers” (AC XVI 2). Also, it is not sinful for Christians to take an oath when required to do so by the magistrates.

“Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to take oaths when required by the magistrates, for a man to marry a wife, or a woman to be given in marriage.” (AC XVI 1–2)

The Basic Principle of Government

God appoints the governing authority, but this does not mean that the authority must govern according to the Scriptures or make the Bible the fundamental law book of the land. The Roman emperor Nero certainly did not rule according to the precepts of the Bible. However, the authority he represented was appointed by God. The Bible is the sole authority in the Church or the kingdom of grace. It is not the sole authority in those institutions that, like civil government, belong to the kingdom of power.

The basic principle in civil government is human reason, which turns natural knowledge of God into the organization and laws that promise and promote the achievement of the purpose of government. It is by the structures and laws that government rules, and government enforces these laws by the power of the sword.

It should be noted. This article was written for, and subsequently included in Lutheranism 101 © 2010 Concordia Publishing House.

You Are Dying

Note: That which follows is a presentation made by me to a teacher’s symposium, held June 19, 2002 at Peterschule (the St. Peter School), St. Petersburg, Russia. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce to the group the book by Rev. Dr. Harold Senkbeil, Dying to Live, a volume that had just been translated into Russian by Lutheran Heritage Foundation.]

… In Adam all Sin: An Introduction to
Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness

by The Rev. Dr. Harold L. Senkbeil

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:10-15) –From the book


One day you will be dead. Hopefully not today, hopefully not even tomorrow, but with certainty I can say “you are dying and one day you will be dead.”

“The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23

“Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12

From the account of Adam’s sin in Genesis, to the teachings and writings of the Apostle Saint Paul years after the death of Jesus, all of salvation, surely all of history, is predicated on the fact that because of sin you and I will die. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, you and I are walking the road to our grave.

Dying to Live, Russian Edition

Dying to Live, Russian edition

Yet we were not created to die. Man was created by God to live with him forever. This knowledge, this shadow of what was to be, causes us to revolt against the idea of our death. We make laws to, ultimately, protect and safeguard life and a way to live. We send our men and women to war, to die, that a country may continue to protect the lives of many more of its citizens. We go to doctors when we are sick, we pay for research to find wonderful new cures for illness; we transplant hearts and livers and we employ amazing drugs to lengthen the number of our days as long as possible

The fact of our death scares us, and we will do nearly anything to prevent it or put it off as long as humanly possible. We can create life in a test tube, we can recombine DNA to make a better human, we can make five sheep out of one through cloning, but we have not found a way to stop death. For all have sinned (Romans 3:22), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

In the United States we have an idiom “I would die for…” Since we fear death and would rather do just about anything but die, to say “I would die for” shows the terrific need or desire that one has for something. An alcoholic might say, “I would die for a shot of vodka.” “A smoker might be “dying for” his next cigarette. A young woman in love would just die, if only her true love would ask her to marry. Our desire is expressed as we offer to give up that which is most dear to us—our life. Continue reading

Vatican sometimes out of touch, Lutheran tells synod

I snickered when I read this! How does the clearly out-of-touch LWF tell the Roman Catholic Church it is out of touch by upholding the ban against open communion? And the argument the LWFs representative?: faulty practice, that is practice out of line with RC theology, should be accepted and acknowledged to be good and right — it is the ecumenical thing to do.

Here’s the story: “Vatican sometimes out of touch, Lutheran tells synod”