Festival of All Saints

In the church calendar, today is the Festival of All Saints.

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:12-13 ESV)

The following is one of my favorite hymns for this great church festival.

LSB 676 “Behold a Host, Arrayed in White”

Passage of the Souls
“Passage of the Souls”
Anne-François-Louis Janmot (1814-1892)

1 Behold a host, arrayed in white,
Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright!
With palms they stand;
Who is this band
Before the throne of light?
Those are the saints of glorious fame,
Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood
Of Jesus’ blood
Are cleansed from guilt and shame.
They now serve God both day and night;
They sing their songs in endless light.
Their anthems ring
As they all sing
With angels shining bright.

2 Despised and scorned, they sojourned here;
But now, how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand,
A priestly band,
God’s throne forever near.
On earth they wept through bitter years;
Now God has wiped away their tears,
Transformed their strife
To heav’nly life,
And freed them form their fears.
They now enjoy the Sabbath rest,
The heav’nly banquet of the blest;
The Lamb, their Lord,
At festal board
Himself is host and guest.

3 O blessed saints in bright array
Now safely home in endless day,
Extol the Lord,
Who with His Word
Sustained you on the way.
The steep and narrow path you trod;
You toiled and sowed the Word abroad;
Rejoice and bring
Your fruits and sing
Before the throne of God.
The myriad angels raise their song;
O saints, sing with that happy throng!
Lift up one voice;
Let heav’n rejoice
In our Redeemer’s song!

Brorson, Hans Adolf, 1694-1764

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Thoughts for Pastors doing sermon preparation for Reformation Sunday

Thoughts for Pastors doing sermon preparation for Reformation Sunday

This post is intended mainly for Lutheran pastors. But you’re free to join in as well, if you like.

If I may, I would like to give you pastors some thoughts now as you prepare sermons for this Sunday, the Festival of the Reformation.

By the grace of God, the Church of the Lutheran Confession–that is, Lutherans that believe, teach and confess what their confessions actually say–still exists today. And, God-willing, we will mark the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 thesis next year.

Lutheran Puffery

We Lutherans might face the temptation to feel proud:
We got the Reformation started!
We stuck it to the Pope.
A Mighty Fortress is our fight song! Patriotism!
Lutherans are “the sleeping giant”. And so on.

This arrogant boastfulness has no place among us. It is good (even helpful) to know our heritage, but it is wrong to get our own chests puffed up about it as if we won some sociopolitical revolution.

The churches of the Lutheran Confessions are good, not because of anything wonderful in themselves, but because of that confession which they profess. Our Lutheran heritage wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans if she had strayed from God’s Word. Our church wouldn’t have anything worth celebrating if it became bored with the Law that binds people’s hearts, and the tidings of great joy that changes people’s hearts for eternity.

The church, the bride of Christ, gives glory to Jesus. Even on Reformation Sunday. If the church focuses on herself this Sunday, and thoughtlessly brags about how they triumphed over the Roman foes with righteous might, then she is a rather saddening church. Don’t let the Church of the Reformation be a Bridezilla in a Reformation-themed wedding service, consumed with her self, her image and success.

Indulgences didn’t go away

A number of pastors take opportunity on Reformation Sunday to take a slap at the Roman Catholic church. This might feel good, especially since the RC church still holds to the false teachings it did 500 years ago, and because the reformers (Luther especially) had such biting, choice words for the Catholics. You can tell of the church history, yes; but don’t make the Pope–or worse, your Catholic neighbor–to be your personal punching bag.

Lutherans should not sneer at Catholics’ selling of indulgences as some silly, foolish thing those ancient clowns did, as if Christians of today don’t have such idols or superstitions. In our own day, and in our own congregations, we have members who love the drippings of Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and a bunch of other false teachers. Rome corrupted people’s faith with coercion and threat of hell, but today’s false preachers damage people’s faith with a smile.

You preach against indulgences? Well and good (since, you know, the Roman church has brought that back again). But what about now? Are you warning your flock against the indulgences of the 21st century?

Don’t say “we have Luther as our father”

I know of some people in our churches who’s confidence is placed in the Lutheran church itself. Their parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents were Lutherans. Maybe there was even a pastor in the family heritage. Well and good. But what do you believe? Despite whatever heritage we may have, the church is always one or two generations away from extinction, if it is not passed down to the next generation.

[Jesus said to them,] Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:8-10 ESV)

Lutherans: do not presume to say to yourselves: “We have ‘Lutheran’ as our church.” No, God is able to raise up Lutherans from mere stones. Your Lutheran heritage means very little (as discussions with life-long Lutherans can sometimes reveal, sadly).

Instead, we need to repent. And bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

It’s worth remembering that the first of the 95 theses reads as follows:

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Repent of what?

Your congregation will not repent of anything if your sermon consists only of a retelling of Reformation history.

Now, and in every age, people need to be called to church, to be killed by God’s Law and made alive again by God’s Gospel. So 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.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)

Let’s be that church.

Conclusion

The Reformation is, in a narrow way, sort of a tragedy. It was an enormous schism that seems to have forever fractured unity in the church. Unfortunately, 499 years ago, it was a necessary fracture, for the sake of the Gospel. Clearly, it still is necessary today.

False doctrine is a sin, and is nothing to smirk at. It is necessary to contend for truth, and sometimes, even to fight for it. But we shouldn’t celebrate the winning of the fight. Celebrate that our Lord has preserved His church, undeserving and cantankerous though she may be.

The Lutheran Confessions does battle against the teachings of the Christian faith. You really should read it! Yes, you, dear pastor. And your congregation too.

And then give thanks and glory to God that this church community and this profession of faith has been allowed to remain. Don’t take it for granted. The Word of God itself is a gift from Him.

Where have you been?!

Dear readers,

I admit it. I’m a terrible blogger.

I’m sorry I’ve left you in the lurch for months. I’ve actually been a lot more active on Twitter than on my blog.

Perhaps it’s a tyranny of the urgent? Naw, probably just me going for the new shiny rather than taking the time to write out more complete thoughts.

Anyway, I’ll try to do better soon.

By the way, I’m still a Christian. Hanging on, mercifully, by His grace. But it’s been extremely difficult. And my own congregation’s condition has deteriorated significantly.

I’ll try to write more in the following weeks. Hang in there!

 

I believe! Help my unbelief!
Lutheran Skeptic

 

Hello. I’m a Confessional Lutheran. And I have doubts.

Hello, my name is Anonymous,

I have been a Christian all my life.

I have been raised in a faithful confessional Lutheran home. I attended Lutheran parochial schools for most of my education. I have done plenty of reading of good Lutheran writers.

I love the church, her people, her Divine Service, her music, her heritage.

I have been very involved in the life of the church: music, church council, conventions, all that stuff.

I am convinced that the Lutheran Confessions are the clear exposition of Scripture. I have been confident that, in baptism, God has chosen me, a lost and condemned sinner, to be His child and has given me faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit. I have trusted in the miracle that, in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Himself is bodily present in the sacrament to give me forgiveness and life.

I’m a Confessional Lutheran.

business man shrugBut… I have doubts. Real serious doubts.

For a few years now, I’ve struggled with the core tenants of faith. And those doubts have been getting worse. And we’re talking about basic things like: there is a God, there is something beyond the natural world we see around us.

I worry that there is no supernatural at all, that all religion is antiquated cultural garbage, and that Christianity is bullshit.

It’s gotten so bad that I feel I can hardly go on anymore.

So, I’m having to tackle my struggles head-on. I’m diving head-first into everything — all the arguments, the reasoning, the evidence — in hopes that I can find clarity. Either, I’ll emerge stronger in my Christian faith, or I’ll come out as atheist.

You have an opportunity to join me.

I’ll lay out my biases at the start: I don’t want to be an atheist. I want to be a Christian. I don’t want to abandon the comfort of the Christian Gospel. I don’t like the thought of an atheist worldview that seems so dark, depressing and random. But, if one set of beliefs is a myth, and the natural world is all there is, then why should I continue living in a delusion?

I feel like my rational mind is pulling me away from Christianity, against my will.

God help me.