Are all Lutherans the same?

No.  Not all Lutherans are the same for not all Lutherans teach or practice according to what God says in His Holy Word, the Bible.

The three largest Lutheran Church bodies in North America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, www.elca.org), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS, www.lcms.org), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod (WELS, www.wels.net).  Visit their respective Question/Answer pages and you will find a great deal of difference between ELCA and the other two.

ELCA fundamentally has a different understanding of the Gospel, Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the Sacraments than do the others.  If the definitions or explanations given by ELCA sound similar, it is only because they use similar words, but with entirely different meanings (meanings and usage which are foreign to Holy Scripture).  In practice, these differences clearly show themselves (i.e. the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals and of women, contrary to the Lord’s mandate; the toleration and acceptance of behavior contrary to God’s will; fellowship with “Christian” church bodies that teach doctrines contrary to God’s Word [open communion];  worship nonChristians [i.e. Jews, muslims, etc.], and not least of all, preaching which is devoid of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life through faith in Jesus [the preaching that unrepentant (nonbelieving) sinners are saved is ever increasing].

By far, the doctrine and practices of the ELCA are quite distinct from LCMS and WELS.  However, between the latter two, noticeable differences do exist.

LCMS permits women to vote in congregational assemblies.  WELS does not.  LCMS permits its young people (and even encourages in some cases) to join boy/girl scouts.  WELS encourages it young people to participate in a WELS group somewhat similar to the scouts.  LCMS has military chaplains.  WELS has civilian chaplains, but no military chaplains.  Also, LCMS and the WELS have a different teaching of The Office of the Ministry and its relation to the priesthood of all believers (however, in practice, differences are not so readily recognizable due to the fact that the LCMS seminaries and colleges in the Concordia University system of the LCMS do not consistently teach similarly, nor are pastors and laypeople always so clear on the distinctives).

LCMS and WELS both accept the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) to be God’s Word (and without error) and the only “rule and norm for faith and life.”  Both also subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions.  The ELCA does not accept either the Bible or the Lutherans Confessions as the LCMS and WELS do (if the ELCA does in word, then certainly not in practice).

Both LCMS and WELS also clearly teach Christ and Him crucified as the only means of salvation (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5).  The ELCA is not clear on the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ and fails to distinguish between what is sin before God and what is not.

There will be exceptions to the above comparisons.  ELCA pastors and congregations who seek to be more faithful to the Bible than their church body as a whole do exist.  In the same way, LCMS and WELS pastors and congregations exist who do not teach and practice according Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (i.e. using worship practices and innovations that are foreign to biblical doctrine).

Simply because someone says that they are a member of an ELCA, LCMS, WELS, or other Lutheran Congregation does not immediately mean that they are genuinely Lutheran.  Nor does the word Lutheran attached to the name of a church body immediately indicate that the church body is genuinely Lutheran.  Only by discerning according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions is one able to make such a judgment.

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Announcements for week of Sept 25, 2011

11-09-25, Pentecost 15, Announcements.pdf

This is a faithful saying…

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

1 Timothy 1:15

It is an easy thing to see what others do and to lay blame, point the finger, and criticize.  It is also an easy thing to look at another’s faults without also seeing one’s own.  This habit is common to all sinners.  We notice what others do or do not do that is not to our liking, and we immediately make judgments.  We compare ourselves with others, using our own criteria as the measuring stick.

God works differently.  St. Paul the Apostle writes that, “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11).  He judges all the same with the same judgment—guilty as charged, having fault, condemned (Romans 3:23).

This means, that before God, as the Bible says, “There is none righteous” (Romans 3:10).  All of us are in the same boat.  One is not better than another.  Nor is one worse than another.  There are only sinners here.

But the Good News is that, because of Christ, God does not hold that damning, condemning, judging sin against you.  Though everyone stands before God a sinner, on account of Christ, that very same sin which condemns no longer condemns.  Christ has born that judgment for you.  He did this on the cross when He was crucified.  There, He took away your sins that they no longer have the last word over you (Romans 6:14).  You still struggle with them, and with judging others as more sinful than yourself, but in light of God’s Law, all are humbled (or will be), either at the present, or in time to come.  Thus do we learn that it is not what we say of others that is final (nor of what others say about us), but what God says.  This and this alone is of lasting significance.

If God calls you a sinner, so you must be.  If God declares you forgiven, so also must you be.

Therefore, instead of denying the truth as God so readily reveals through His Holy Word for your salvation, believe it.  Believe that you are a sinner as God makes known to you through His inescapable Law.  See yourselves as God sees you according to His Word.

Also, and especially, believe yourselves to be as God declares you to be on account of Jesus-forgiven, blessed of God, God’s own child. All this apart from what you have done or have not done.  All this because of Jesus (Romans 4).

Luther

“Do not permit your sins to be merely sins; let them be your very own sins. That is, believe that Christ was given not only for the sins of others but also for yours. Hold to this firmly, and do not let anything deprive you of this sweet definition of Christ, which brings joy even to the angels in heaven: that Christ is, in the strictest of terms, not a Moses, a tormentor, or an executioner but the Mediator for sins and the Donor of grace, who gave Himself, not for our merits, holiness, glory, and holy life but for our sins.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p38).

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me faith to believe that your Son’s death covers all of my sins.  Help me not to doubt or despair Your grace in Christ towards me, an undeserving sinner, because of the sin that I know or feel.  Strengthen my confidence in You.  Amen.

 

 

Announcements for September 18, 2011

Correction: There will be no voter’s meeting on Sunday September 25. This will be rescheduled for another time.

11-09-18, Pentecost 14, Announcements.pdf

Announcements for week of Sept 11, 2011

11-09-11, Pentecost 13, Announcements.pdf

The Greatest in the Kingdom

 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

      5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

      7“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. 

      10“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

      15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:1-20

 

The greatest in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ…It is not who you think it is.  It is not who you expect it to be.  Like the disciples who had at other times debated who the greatest was (i.e. Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48), we too have certain ideas of who the greatest is—the most popular, the most generous, the most powerful, the most appreciated, the most recognized, the one who most meets the requirements that we believe makes one to be the greatest.

In truth, all of our ideas, all of our expectations, all of our ‘requirements’, all of our qualifications, and all of our conditions of who the greatest is run quite contrary and opposed to the revelation of our Lord.  Jesus clearly displays this in today’s text.

Here, the disciples asked Jesus who the greatest was.  You might think that they were not at all listening to what our Lord had been saying.  Just a bit before (Matthew 17:22), Jesus had again told the disciples what was soon to be coming—His betrayal, His death, and His resurrection.  You would think that instead of asking, “Jesus, whose the greatest?” they might have been wondering what Jesus was talking about with regard to the weightier matters of death and resurrection.

Before jumping the gun and attacking the disciples for their lack of attention, we too must confess that we often have our minds on other things than what the Lord is saying.  His Word, throughout the week, and even on Sunday in the Divine Service, is not always our top priority.  And when we do hear it, we don’t always take it as it is.

Yet Jesus does not jump on His distracted disciple.  Instead, He amazingly gives answer to their self-centered question.  He answers them in a way that also causes us to stop and consider.

The greatest in the kingdom is not the ‘king of the hill’ or the ‘A student.’  The greatest in the kingdom is not the highest paid or the one who is most well known and praised for their personality, for their compassion, or for their ability to give everyone a sense of fulfillment.  It is not the one who gets everyone motivated and going that is considered great in God’s eyes.  No—the one who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom is the one who, as Jesus says, “turns and becomes like a child.

Truly, I say to you, Jesus says, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Becoming like children, however, does not mean in the sense of blindly trusting in anything, becoming gullible, or becoming immature.  Nor does Jesus here mean becoming like children in the sense of serving one another.

When Jesus talks about turning, He is talking about turning from one’s independence from God to complete and total dependence on God.  He’s talking about becoming what you by nature are not—fully loving, trusting, and fearing God above everything else.  First Commandment stuff.

When Jesus talks about becoming like children, He is talking about becoming entirely dependent and fully trusting of God and His goodness.  He means denying oneself the honor of self-reliance to holding on to God’s help in Christ alone.

When Jesus talks about becoming like children, He means abandoning the belief that we only need God a little bit or maybe even a little more, and instead, treasuring Christ and His Word and His promises.

It is they who do these things, who acknowledge that they have no goodness or merit in themselves, who look to God alone for help, who wait only on Him whom God considers great in His kingdom.  And it His determination and Word that counts, not our own—neither yours nor mine, but God’s.

This might strike us as unsympathetic to our American upbringing and do-it-yourself I-can-do attitude.  It is supposed to.  Just as the disciples had argued about who the greatest was, thinking that it was a position to strive for and a title to possess, so we too want to achieve and become great in the sight of others.  We want to be recognized for what we do.  We want others to notice what we do, to complement us, and to make us feel good about ourselves.

The way of the Lord is different.  He puts us in our place: not as independent, but as dependent upon Him; not as self-sufficient, but as reliant upon Him; not as looking down upon others, but as caring for others and showing compassion to those that the world neglects, judges, and casts aside.

The greatest in the kingdom are those who trust alone in the Lord Jesus for salvation.  These are looked down upon and despised by the world, but loved by God.  The greatest in God’s kingdom are they who humble themselves before God and receive His mercy and compassion, the very thing that they do not receive from the world.

These are the greatest in God’s kingdom, however, because they take God at His Word and repent of their sin.  They do not despise preaching and His Word, but gladly hear and learn it.  They look to Christ and find in Him means of salvation.

Through Isaiah the prophet, God says it this way, On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word  (Isaiah 66:2).

The one who is the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus says, is the one who confesses his sin, who recognizes his own ability to save himself, and who takes God at His Word.

In the eyes of the world, such a one would not be considered great.  In the eyes of the world, greatness has to do with ability, fame, prominence, popularity, and reputation.  It has to do with how we in the world look at you and how we look at ourselves through the world’s glasses.

In the eyes of God, things are different.  In the eyes of God, greatness does not have to do with how others see you, how others define you, or how others characterize you.  In the eyes of God, greatness has everything to do with how God sees you, and believing the way that God sees you, according to His Word.  In this is true greatness, not because you have anything to contribute or add to your status before God, but because of what God, of His kindness, freely gives and declares to you, in Christ.

Just as the child is dependent on his or her parent for food, clothing, shelter, nurture, so are you dependent on God for your everything.  And just as the child receives what is given, so you also receive what God gives to you.  Of course, this does not meant that you will always be satisfied or content with what the Lord gives, just like the child who complains about not having this food or that toy.  You still struggle with your selfishness and greediness.  And on this side of heaven, with these you will continue to struggle.

As long as you are in the flesh, you will continue to fight against the tendency to want things your own way rather than God’s way.  You will continue to wrestle with the will of God that is not your own.  You will continue to wage war against your members that seek to usurp God’s Word and ways.

As God’s child, however, you will also recognize that these your tendencies to want things your own way and not God’s are not the way of the Lord.  From these you will turn, and in turning, you will again become as children, waiting upon the Lord, depending on Him for life, trusting in Him for strength, and believing His Word.  Then you will rejoice in having God’s favor in Christ.  You will not continue to despise the promises of God.  You will not continue to neglect His Word.  You will not continue to look down and despise others.  Instead, you will give thanks for the Word that the Lord speaks to you.  You will praise Him for His forgiveness.  And  you will seek to please Him according to His own Word, in the way that He desires you to do, not comparing yourself to others, but seeing others the way that God sees them.

First, you will see yourself as God sees you, a poor miserable sinner, forgiven in Christ.  And then, you will see others the way that God sees them.  You will begin to see that it is not what I or the world say about another that really matters, but what God says.  And what God says is the truth.

Therefore, if the one who turns from his self-centeredness and idolatry and humbles himself as a child is who God considers greatest in His kingdom, so will I also consider that one to be greatest.   And if one of those little ones who believe in Him are so precious in God’s sight, so will they be precious in my sight.

This means that I will seek not to cause other Christians to doubt, despair, become concerned, or question the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ because of what I say or do.  Instead, I will seek to build them up in the true doctrine with my words and by my actions.  I will watch my own life closely and not try to hurt another that they lose sight of Christ and His forgiveness because of me.

Where I have hurt, I will seek forgiveness, first from God, and then from the one I have hurt.  Where I am unsure, I will look to the Lord for certainty.  Where I have fallen, I will seek the Lord’s strength.

All the while, because of God’s forgiveness of my sin and His love for me and for others, I will also seek to show that forgiveness and love that God has for me to others for whom Christ has died.

The greatest in the kingdom is not oneself.  The Christian does not boastfully and unashamedly say, “I am the greatest in the kingdom.”  Rather, in humility, they see themselves as not deserving anything from God, only what He deems to give them.

Yet instead of death, He gives life.  Instead of everlasting fire in hell, He promises heaven. Instead of condemnation for your sins, He forgives you your sins.

Such is God’s compassion for sinners.  Such is God’s compassion for you.

Because of God’s great love and compassion and mercy for you, you, as God’s child, you begin and continue to have the same love, compassion and mercy for others.  The ‘little ones’ that the Lord does not neglect, you too do not neglect.  Your concern will be God’s concern.  Thus will you watch what you say, watch what you do, and seek to help others remain in God’s gracious care.

Should your brother sin, you will seek to warn him of his sin, not once, but continually.  You will talk with him personally and not talk behind his back or damage his reputation.  Because you have his best interest at heart and desire his repentance, you will keep from spreading the news and keep it to yourself.

Far from it being only the pastor’s job to go and speak with the one who is in the wrong, you will go, out of love for the one who is erring, for such things brothers and sisters in Christ do for one another.  God’s family cares for one another.  The one who is erring, the one who is sinning, even the one who doesn’t know that he is doing wrong, is to know that what he’s doing is wrong.  God would have the sinner saved from his sin.  But if that sinner doesn’t recognize his sin, how will he know that he needs saving?

If you don’t tell him, who will?  How can there be repentance, a turning to the Lord, and humbling oneself like a child, unless the word gets out?  And how can you have the same love for the erring brother or sister that God has if you don’t go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone?  Indeed, if you don’t go, you can’t show that same love, because you do not have it.

God’s love goes out, bursting forth from one’s own heart to others.  It does not seek it’s own, but the other’s well being.  It is not self-serving, but sacrificial and self-giving.  God’s people have such love, for they are God’s family, and have love towards one another.  If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Being the greatest in the kingdom is not about independence, boastfulness, or making comparison.  It is not about how we want to define greatness, but how God defines it.  And it is not about becoming great, but recognizing yourself for what you are before God—in need Jesus.

All are in need of this Savior.  No one is excluded from the necessity of God’s forgiveness and salvation.  And yet, it is the neediest who need Him the most.  And the greatest are those who so see themselves, and so see others.  Amen.

Mt18.1-20, Pentecost 12, 2011A, SermonNotes

What shall we say to these things?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Romans 8:31-34

 

What confidence is here in these words of St. Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us”!  How much comfort and consolation is right here for the sinner trapped in his sin, the doubter who worries about God’s help, the sufferer bearing the weight of his heavy cross!

These words are the very Word of God, reminding us of WHO it is that is for us, WHO it is that delivered His own Son, WHO it is who will give us all things, WHO it is who justifies (declares us to be not guilty before God because of our sin).

Because God does not condemn you, you are not condemned.  Because God justifies you on account of His Son, you are justified.  Because God delivered Jesus to death on the cross for you, He will indeed give you all things.  You thus have no need to worry about any lack.  Only continue to trust in the Lord, for His Word will indeed come to pass.

Because God is for you (see Romans 5:1ff), no one and no thing can be against you (Romans 8:35ff).  Not even Satan is able to accuse you before your Heavenly Father.

So then, why is it that we doubt these tremendous blessings of God, lay blame upon others, grumble, complain, point the finger, and say, “woe are we”?  Are God’s Word and His promises not ‘good enough’?  Do they not apply to our situation?  Of course they do!

The Psalmist confidently writes, “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling (Psalm 46:1-3).

Such words may sound inapplicable.  What of local, national, and international catastrophes and turmoil?  Do you, as a baptized child of God, have any reason to fear any of these things or anything else, whether it be with regard to yourself, others, or God’s church?  Not at all, for in Christ, you have peace with God.  In Christ, you have everlasting life and salvation.  In Christ, you have nothing but certainty and confidence of God’s will toward you.

So “Sing praise to the LORD, You saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name” (Psalm 30:4).

Listen to the mercies of the Lord and trust in Him.  Cast away all doubt and fear and turn to the Lord Christ.  Believe in Him, for He alone is your hope and you stay, tomorrow and today.

Luther

“When the devil accuses us and says: “You are a sinner; therefore you are damned,” then we can answer him and say: “Because you say that I am a sinner, therefore I shall be righteous and be saved.” “No,” says the devil, “you will be damned.” “No,” I say, “for I take refuge in Christ, who has given Himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, you will not prevail against me as you try to frighten me by showing me the magnitude of my sins and to plunge me into anguish, loss of faith, despair, hatred, contempt of God, and blasphemy. In fact, when you say that I am a sinner, you provide me with armor and weapons against yourself, so that I may slit your throat with your own sword and trample you underfoot. You yourself are preaching the glory of God to me; for you are reminding me, a miserable and condemned sinner, of the fatherly love of God, who ‘so loved the world that He gave His only Son, etc.’ (John 3:16). You are reminding me of the blessing of Christ my Redeemer. On His shoulders, not on mine, lie all my sins. For ‘the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all,’ and ‘for the transgressions of His people He was stricken’ (Is. 53:6, 8). Therefore when you say that I am a sinner, you do not frighten me; but you bring me immense consolation.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p36-37).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep me from doubting Your mighty Word. Help me to trust, not what I see, but what you say.  Give me confidence, not in my doings, but in Yours alone, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

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