A Prayer for Holy Saturday 2011

Descent from the Cross

Heavenly Father, I am silenced at the grave of Your Son. In justice You called for Him, who knew no sin, to be made sin for us. Yet You permitted Your Son to die in innocence. In love He came to us but He was rejected by hate. He taught us obedience but men rebelled against Him.

I confess that a great mystery confronts me at this tomb of sin and death. He was buried behind the great seal of my sin and my death. By faith I know also that He who died is the One who unlocked the great secret of Your love. His tomb is my tomb. He carried with Him to the grave my sin and my death that He might break their hold on me.

Trusting in the Lord’s promise that He would rise again on the third day, I come not to mourn Him but to confess the sin that He would leave buried. Have mercy on me O God! Have mercy on me. Amen.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.
–Ah, Holy Jesus, Johann Heermann (1585-1647)

Martin Luther’s Writings on the Web

Eventually, when you want to learn more about Lutheranism, you will want to read the work of Martin Luther. For those of us who don’t necessarily want to add the American edition of Luther’s Worksto the library, it is fortunate that a number of websites that have the writings of Martin Luther for the reading. Here are some I have found.

Martin Luther: Man Who Changed the World, CPH

• The first place to go to read Luther are his most beloved texts: the Small Catechism (sometimes called Luther’s Little Instruction Book) and the Large Catechism. These can be readily found  within the Book of Concord. You will also find here Luther’s Schmalkald Articles.

• Project Wittenberg is probably the most extensive and well-known on-line collection of Luther’s writings.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) page for Martin Luther mirrors some of Project Wittenberg content but also has a few more writings.

GodRules.net has a great collection of Luther’s sermons along with a few other writings.

The Internet Sacred Texts Collection features a collection of  nine of Luther’s sermons.

Two site of note don’t have content of their own, but point to primary source document elsewhere on the Web:

• The Lutheran Theology Website has a great list of links to Luther’s writings as well as tons of great information.

Beggars All has aggregated a great list of Luther’s writings.

Did I miss a site with a nice collection of Luther’s works?

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

New Blog Feature: The Morning Office from Concordia Theological Seminary

The Concordia Theological Seminary community invites you to listen to the Morning Office held daily at 10:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. The audio from the Chapel service is posted daily, and is typically available by 12:00 p.m. (Eastern).

You can access these recordings directly from the links in the new sidebar feature, Daily Morning Office.

Lutherans Sought for Survey

I received this after having participated in the first part of the survey. Dr Burkee was appreciative of the idea of opening up to the widest possible Lutheran audience using this and other blogs to get the word out — he called it an innovative idea.

Link to this post or cut-and-paste into your own forum. Let’s give the guys at Concordia University Wisconsin a hand. I think we can blow the doors off of their 3,000 lay participant goal. Let’s demonstrate that in deed, the Lutheran blogosphere is an innovative place.

Dear Fellow Lutherans,

We need your help.

In 1972 the last major study of Lutherans was completed. Merton Strommen’s Study of Generations surveyed 5,000 Lutheran pastors and lay members on religious, political and social attitudes.

Last year, with generous grants from The Luther Institute and Concordia University Wisconsin, we launched an ambitious project to again survey thousands of Lutherans – in part, to see how much those attitudes have changed since 1972. We have already surveyed 2,000 pastors and have now launched the study second phase – a survey of 3,000 lay members.

For this, we need your help. The web-based survey of lay members takes about 25 minutes to complete and can be taken from your home computer.

Simply send an e-mail to LutheranSurveyATcuwDOTedu. We will save your e-mail address and, within a few weeks, send you an e-mail invitation with a link to the survey.

Your e-mail address will be kept confidential and used ONLY for the survey. And no connection will be made between your e-mail address and the responses you give.

Please consider participating in this important study. Just a few minutes of your time will be of great service to your church and to the church at large. Thank you!

James Burkee, Ph.D.
Jeff Walz, Ph.D.
Concordia University Wisconsin