Dear members and friends of Christ,
It is easy to have warm, happy, memories of Christmas. We reminisce of favorite memories, most often from our childhood. I have many great stories about Christmas, which I’d love to share, as I’m sure most of you do as well. One Christmas a few years ago for me was particularly special, even though it was simpler than most. But what I remember most about this one Christmas was me simply being thankful that I could drive home to be home for Christmas.
It is 508 miles from Concordia Seminary in St Louis, Missouri (where I prepared 4 years to be a pastor) to my parents’ home in Cecil, Wisconsin. During the two-week thanksgiving/deer hunting season break I had at home, my car decided to go off-roading. As I was driving home from Gillett (my high school town), I had my favorite country song playing a little too loud, and I was driving a little too fast, and it was the first snowfall of the year. The perfect ingredients for me to skid down a fifteen foot ditch into a recently chopped cornfield (about ten feet away from a telephone pole).
First snowfall. I know how to drive in snow better than that. I’d been living in the city too long.
Thankfully, I was able to drive out, with my care “relatively” unscathed. (Thanks God). Turns out, I dented my fender, ripped up some of the undercarriage, dented a tire rim, ruined my bearings, and bent a steering arm. Mom let me drive her car back to St. Louis. For Christmas, my car got a make-over. (Thanks mom and dad).
It is 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph struggled to make that journey over mountainous terrain especially because Mary was “great with Child.” In a mystery that we can never fully explain or comprehend, God was making the journey from heaven to earth; God was making the journey with them in Mary’s womb. “And so it was that while they were there, the days were completed for Mary to deliver. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2: 6-7).
A difficult journey and a gift of love! Christmas is and always will be (for those who know) the celebration of our Heavenly Father’s gift to this lost world, of His very own Son, Jesus the Christ. “For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). It is Jesus the sinless Son of God who became “a man of sorrows and was acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). “He, Himself bore in His own body, our sins on that tree (the cross).” And yet that tree of terrifying death has become a tree of everlasting life to all those who pray, “Ah dearest Jesus holy child, make thee a bed soft, undefiled, within my heart that it may be, a quiet chamber kept for Thee.”
This really is the most amazing journey and the greatest gift of love ever given!
This Advent and Christmas season, we make that journey once again. The journey that lifts up our souls as our Savior comes down to us. Read the Christmas account in Luke, chapter two. While you’re at it, read the account in Matthew’s gospel. Notice all the historical detail that is given. This is no long, long ago, far, far away fairy tale. This is the most blessed reality. God came from heaven to save sinners! Jesus came into our world for us. Jesus came into our world, for you! So read the account.
Attend our Sunday Advent services, “Beautiful Savior, King of Creation” as we discover why the gift of Jesus is so much more important than we know. Attend our Wednesday Advent services, “God With Us”: An Old Testament Advent, which show how the prophecies Isaiah had of Jesus’ birth are still relevant today. This year, make the Christmas journey once more, and as you do, experience the wonderful love of God all over again! Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Wishing each of you a most blessed, safe, and Joyful Christmas, in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Pastor Aaron Boerst
The typical story we hear repeated is: “It’s about 2000 years ago, the evening of December 25. Mary rides into Bethlehem on a donkey, urgently needing to deliver her baby. Although it is an emergency, all the innkeepers turn them away. So they deliver baby Jesus in a stable. Then angels sing to the shepherds. Afterwards, they all join three kings with camels in worshipping the quiet, newborn.”
Was Jesus born in a stable? Or a barn? Or a cave? The Bible does not mention any of these three places in connection with Christ’s birth, only a manger. Scripture simply reports that they laid Jesus in a manger, (a feeding trough) because there was no room for him in the guest room. For “Inn,” the Greek word used in Scripture is kataluma, and can mean guest chamber, lodging place or inn. The only other time this word is used in the New Testament, it meant a large, furnished, upper room within a private house. We know this to be the room of the Last Supper. It is translated guest chamber, not inn (Mark 14: 14-15). According to Biblical archaeologists, Jesus was probably born in the house of relatives, but outside (under) the normal living and guest quarters. In Jesus’ day, animal sheds were typically attached to houses. In Palestine, a manger was not normally found in a separate stable; rather, it was in the main living room of a peasant house, where animals are brought in at night.
What about the angels? Sorry, no beautiful winged women. In a verse of the Christmas carol, “It Came upon a Midnight Clear,” we read that the angels song from “the cloven skies” with “peaceful wings unfurled.” Or in the carol “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” they are summoned to “Wing your flight o’er all the world.” The Bible speaks of angelic beings such as cherubim and seraphim as having wings (see Isaiah 6). However, what most people do not remember is that the specific use of the word “angel” (messenger) in scripture indicates that they do not have wings. Angels in the Bible never appear as cute, chubby infants. When angels do appear, they always appear in the form of full-grown men…and always strike fear into those who they visit! The archangel Michael had special charge of Israel as a nation. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and Mary.
Did baby Jesus cry? As the familiar line from “Away in a Manger” states, “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” This picture presents a Jesus who apparently never cried as an infant—and perhaps never soiled his diapers or made a mess with his food. We must be careful about overemphasizing Jesus deity and underemphasizing his humanity. This is the heresy of “Docetism.” (The word Docetism is derived from the Greek dokeo, meaning, “appear; seem.” The docetic Christ seemed human but really was not.) As true God, Jesus cannot sin, but as true man, he has the capability to suffer, experience pain, and perhaps even get sick or cry. Being God, however, he may not have succumbed to though he those ailments, even could.
Did three kings riding camels come to Jesus’ birth? Scripture does not say that any kings or camels visited young Jesus. In the Gospel according to Matthew, it does report wise men “magi” came, but it does not say how many. None of the Early Church Fathers suggested the magi were kings. Since the word “magi” used is Scripture is plural, there were apparently at least two, and there could have been several more. The Bible simply mentions three costly gifts they presented—gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but this does not necessarily indicate the number of magi. There is an Armenian tradition, identifying the "Magi of Bethlehem" as Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India. However, there no proof of what country the magi came from, except that they came from the East (The traditional origin of these three figures is based on where these gifts are found in abundance). Also, the wise men clearly did not arrive to see Jesus until sometime after Christ’s presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2: 22-39). At this time, Scripture calls Jesus a “child,” not an “infant.” It is possible that little Jesus was walking and talking by then. While traditional nativity scenes depict three "kings" visiting the infant Jesus on the night of his birth, in a manger accompanied by the shepherds and angels, the Biblical account simply presents an unnumbered party of unnamed "wise men" visiting much later after his birth, with Jesus described not as a babe but a child, and residing in a house, not a stable, with only "his mother" present. Based on the calculations of King Herod and the magi (Matthew 2:16), Jesus could have been two years old or under. The visit of the Magi is commemorated in most Christian churches by the observance of Epiphany, 6 January.
Was Jesus born on December 25 or in December at all? Although it is not impossible, it seems highly unlikely. The Bible does not specify a date or month. One problem with December is that it would be unusual for shepherds to be “abiding in the field” (Luke 2:8) at this cold time of year when fields were unproductive. The normal practice was to keep the flocks in the fields from Spring to Autumn. Also, winter would likely be an especially difficult time for pregnant Mary to travel the long distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem (70 miles). A more probable time would be late September, the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles, when such travel was commonly accepted. Thus, it is rather commonly believed that Jesus’ birth was around the last of September. The conception of Christ, and the angelic visitation to Mary, however, may have taken place in late December of the previous year. Our Christmas celebration may well be recognized as an honored observation of the incarnation of the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14). (The word “Christmas” means “Christ Mass,” a special celebration of the Lords Supper—called a Mass in the Roman Catholic Church).
Why do Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25, if that is not when he was born? The date was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church. Because Rome dominated most of the Christian world for centuries, the date became tradition throughout most of Christendom. The original significance of December 25 is that it was a well-known pagan festival day celebrating the annual return of the sun. December 21 is the winter solstice (shortest day of the year), and December 25 is the first day that ancients could clearly note that the days of sunlight were definitely getting longer. Since no one knows the day of Christ’s birth, the Roman Catholic Church felt free to choose this date and wished to replace the pagan festival with a Christian holy day (holiday).
Despite human misconceptions, the facts about Jesus are more marvelous than words can express. He was indeed born of a virgin (prophesied by Isaiah 7:14), in the city of Bethlehem (exactly as prophesied by Micah 5: 2-5). Jesus was conceived in Mary, not by man, but by the Holy Spirit of God (Luke 1:35). As the apostle John reveals, Jesus existed before the Creation of the world (John 1). He is part of the Holy Trinity we know of as God (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit) (Philippians 2:6-11). The Son of God came into human form for a purpose—to die as a willing (and only true) sacrifice in payment for the sins of humanity…for your sins—to win victory over death, and the power of evil…to win victory for you!
Pastor Aaron Boerst
The Gift of Listening: But you must REALLY listen. No interrupting, no daydreaming, no planning your response. Just listening.
The Gift of Affection: Be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and handholds. Let these small actions demonstrate the love you have for family and friends.
The Gift of Laughter: Clip cartoons. Share articles and funny stories. Your gift will say, “I love to laugh with you.”
The Gift of a Written Note: It can be a simple “Thanks for the help” note or a full sonnet. A brief, handwritten note may be remembered for a lifetime, and may even change a life.
The Gift of a Compliment: A simple and sincere, “You look great in red,” “You did a super job,” or “That was a wonderful meal” can make someone’s day.
The Gift of a Favor: Every day, go out of your way to do something kind.
The Gift of Solitude: There are times when we want nothing more than to be left alone. Be sensitive to those times and give the gift of solitude to others.
The Gift of Cheerful Disposition: The easiest way to feel good is to extend a kind word to someone. Really, it’s not that hard to say “Hello” or “Thank You.”
First Recognized Thanksgiving Celebration for the Pilgrim colonists in America:
Why did the Pilgrims come to the colonies in America?
To flee religious persecution, find a new home where they could freely practice their faith; gain prosperity and land ownership in the New World.
How many colonists were on the first ship, The Mayflower?
What groups of people attended the celebration?
53 Plymouth colonists, 90 Wampanoag Indians; Chief Massasoit
What did they eat in their Thanksgiving feast?
Swans, geese, duck, shellfish, lobster, pumpkin, deer, corn.
When was the first national day of Thanksgiving held in the United States?
In 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
When did Thanksgiving become an annually recognized national holiday?
1863, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that all Americans ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year.
What was the driving force behind the selection of the current date for Thanksgiving?
In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. But when met with opposition in 1941, the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV of the Roman Catholic Church consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to all martyrs. The feast associated has been celebrated in Rome ever since.
The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Lutheran Church and now assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead and of loved ones. In many Lutheran churches, because All Saints Day follows Halloween, (All Hallows Eve; All Saints Eve), it is moved to the first Sunday of November to be recognized. Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints on earth, as we are simultaneously saint/sinner. Simul iustus et peccator: It’s a Latin phrase that means, “at the same time sinner and saint.” This description of the Christian life can be used to wiggle out of lots of those “why” questions. Why did that church treasurer abscond with the money? Saints can be sinners. Why did the Sunday School teacher curse out the six year olds? Saints can be sinners. Why did we see our pastor at the pub last Friday with a third beer? (Yes, they do count.) Saints can be sinners.
Yes, we are simultaneously saint/sinner each day we live in God’s grace despite our sin, but observe All Saints Day to remember and give thanks for all Christians both past and present who have been eternally sainted with Christ. We remember all saints November 1.
The month of November brings with it many exciting things, including a year’s end harvest for farmers, deer hunting season, and most notably, the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Even though the holiday’s roots surrounded the religious freedom of the Pilgrims of our nation, Thanksgiving today is not associated with a specific religious observance. However, you and I know we have many things (good and bad) for which we can thank God.
Although not a holiday directly associated with the Church, we can faithfully observe the goodness that Thanksgiving first represented and give thanks to God, who has provided all that we have out of his divine goodness and mercy. In fact, one of the words for Holy Communion is the “Eucharist,” which means “thanksgiving.” It is in the Eucharist that we hear these words: Hoc est corpus meum: “This is my body.” You may be surprised that this Latin phrase, used in the ancient Roman Catholic church, is the origin of the phrase “Hocus Pocus”—which is what peasants heard when they couldn’t understand Latin, and which is what peasants thought was magically happening when bread and wine were consecrated.
As we see trees lose their leaves and plants go into dormancy, take some time to see all that you have gained in this past year, and what you will gain this year ahead (and no, I’m not talking about gaining weight!). Give thanks that Christ has entered into our decaying world and is our source of daily renewal. It is this renewal - which we enjoy in baptism - that we can all look forward to when Christ returns not only in spirit, but body, to restore our world and restore our bodies to eternal life. Therefore, in this month of November, we can join those who have faithfully departed this world to be with Christ, those saints whom we remember on “All Saints Day” (Nov. 1). We can join them in our plea, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is this plea that we will hear echoing in our lives and in the season of Advent.
Thankful for you,
Pastor Aaron Boerst
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1: 3-6
Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517.
Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" ( Matthew 4:17 ), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept ( Matthew 13:25 ).
12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.
15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually mean "all penalties," but only those imposed by himself.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.
23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.
26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.
34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them -- at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath.
46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
55. It is certainly the pope's sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.
58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
61. For it is clear that the pope's power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last ( Matthew 20:16 ).
64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.
71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.
76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel,spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written, 1 Corinthians 12:28 ).
79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
82. Such as: "Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church? The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
83. Again, "Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"
84. Again, "What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love's sake?"
85. Again, "Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?"
86. Again, "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?"
87. Again, "What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?"
88. Again, "What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?"
89. "Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?"
90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace! ( Jeremiah 6:14 )
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!
94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace ( Acts 14:22 ).
Other than the Cross of Jesus Christ itself, there are few symbols in the Lutheran Church that are as commonly known as Martin Luther’s Seal, or Luther’s Rose.
In a July 8, 1530 letter to Lazarus Spengler, Luther interprets his seal:
Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. "For one who believes from the heart will be justified" (Romans 10:10). Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17) but by faith in the crucified. Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (Matthew 28:3; John 20:12). Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal. This is my summary of theology. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation. May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen.
This month of October brings with it the recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation that started on October 31, 1517, as Dr Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk and professor posted 95 theses for debate. These theses (or arguments) attacked the Roman Catholic practice of selling Indulgences, paper certificates that granted forgiveness and the hope of releasing a loved one from the false concept of “Purgatory.”
Although Luther was trying to improve a corrupted Christian Church at the time, inadvertently he caused Protestant churches to spit from Roman Catholicism and spring up all over. One of those Protestant church bodies became known as Lutherans. It seems to me that many Lutherans seem to have no idea why it is important to be a Lutheran. Or they don't understand why. Or they are just Lutheran because they were brought up that way. Those of us who are life-long Lutherans, especially, often take for granted what a Gospel-rich blessing it is to be a Lutheran. There are numerous reasons why it is good to be a Lutheran, (that is belong to a Lutheran church while being part of the greater Christian Church). Here are just a few:
Christ Always at the Center
Confessional Lutherans are clear that the test of our worship is, "Is it Christ-driven?" Though it is so common to the point of being cliché for Christians to speak of being "Christ-centered," Lutheran theology makes a careful distinction that I find to be absent in most other Christian churches. Lutherans distinguish between being faith-centered and being Christ-centered. Much of what passes for Christ-centered is really faith-centered. What Christ will do for us is often said to depend on the greatness of our faith. When talk of assurance of salvation ultimately comes to focus on the question “How do I know I have faith?" or "What is the evidence in my Christian living that I am saved?" one can be sure that the power of one's faith has become the center and taken priority over Christ. This is wrong.
We don’t gather together to celebrate our faith but to celebrate Christ as the object of our faith and to receive the grace he gives to renew and increase our faith.
Liturgy, sacraments, and absolution, and the preached Word all come together in Lutheran worship to more highly exalt Christ and his power.
Perhaps more significant than any other part of Lutheran theology is having a scriptural view of the sacraments. If we are to point to a single reason why we are Lutheran, it would be the sacraments. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are where God has chosen to reveal to us his grace and forgiveness. We need what the sacraments give. In the sacraments we have "forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation." In preaching, baptism, and the Lord's Supper, the Word of God comes to us. It is here that Christ is present and given for us. This is certainly the most difficult pill of Lutheran doctrine for other Protestants to swallow. Yet, the theology of the sacraments is far too vital for the life of Lutheran churches to be downplayed. The sacraments are means of grace (the ways in which God chooses to give us what he has to give) by which the work of Christ is further given to us.
When we reject those means of grace which God has identified, or we confuse the mystery of Christ and therefore make God fit into our reason, we substitute the sacraments with makeshift sacraments of our own device.
To be Christ-centered is to be sacrament-centered (though the reverse is not necessarily true). That’s why it is so important to receive all sinners to the Lord’s Table, yet teach why it is careful to know what you believe because many people may not acknowledge the same faith and understanding of the sacraments. If we want Christ alone, then we must seek him in those means which God has chosen.
A church without a structure or liturgy is too dependent on the preaching of one person. In the liturgy a Divine Service unifies each person who comes to church. Here we confess our sins, pray for each other, hear God’s word, sing, and confess our faith. Where preaching is clear, biblical, and instructional, a high dependence on one person's preaching is, of course, less problematic. But preaching that fits this description is far too uncommon in churches, and even the best preachers are prone to idiosyncrasies, tangents and weaknesses. Liturgy can guard us against all of this. Where liturgy is present, it guarantees that people will hear and confess the Word of God even when preaching is unsound and weak.
Traditional liturgy unifies the Church, present and past. Traditional liturgy keeps us from an individualistic, “my needs/my feelings first” spirituality that thinks only of a vertical relationship between us and God. Liturgy connects us to the heavenly worship of saints and angels. This is most clearly seen in confession/absolution, the Sanctus, and service of the sacraments. Liturgy also connects us to each other in worship. It's true that liturgy can become repetitious and lifeless, but that's no reason to fault the liturgy. Any activity in the church has this potential. Still, even in cases where the recitation loses its passion, liturgy is still advantaged, since what is confessed in the liturgy remains true and calls us to rejoice in the truth.
Though liturgy is closely related to creeds and historic confessions, liturgy may, however, be modern and does not necessarily indicate the confession of a historic expression of faith. For this reason, confessional Lutheran churches place a great deal of importance on historic creeds and celebrating theological heritage. The Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed are all included in the Lutheran confessional documents known collectively as The Book of Concord. These historic documents along with the rest of the Lutheran confessions (Augsburg Confession, Small/Large Catechisms, Smalcald Articles, Formula of Concord), identify the theology of Lutheranism and unite confessing Lutherans around more than simply a particular view..
Though there are numerous aspects to Christian liberty, I'll look only at one matter that relates to this subject. Some church bodies for risk of being un-Christian become too legalistic and tell people that they cannot do things, for which Christ has set free. The role of women in worship, praying with other Christians, and namely the practice of the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Today, Lutherans likewise see that we may rightly enjoy all gifts of God, but that we must not abuse them. Despising the good things of life and naming them as a sin is an attack on God’s grace. It is not only true that one is free to be a Christian, but it is also true that we are not to despise what God has called good (Psalm 104:15).
For further explanation on what it means to be Lutheran, I recommend checking out the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod website: www.LCMS.org, or the book: Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.
What are the Lutheran Confessions?
Drawn from God's Word, the Lutheran Confessions are a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and serve as authoritative texts for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers of the LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod).
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod accepts the Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and subscribes unconditionally to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God.
We accept the Lutheran Confessions as articulated in the Book of Concord of 1580 because they are drawn from the Word of God and on that account regard their doctrinal content as a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and as authoritative for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Often times, the Lutheran Confessions are called the Book of Concord, when they are assembled in one volume. The Book of Concord contains documents which Christians from the fourth to the 16th century A.D. explained what they believed and taught on the basis of the Holy Scriptures. It includes, first, the three creeds which originated in the ancient church, the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. It contains, secondly, the Reformation writings known as the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Luther's Small and Large Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord.
The Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles came from the pen of Martin Luther; the Augsburg Confession, its Apology, and the Treatise were written by Luther's co-worker, the scholarly Phillip Melanchthon; the Formula of Concord was given its final form chiefly by Jacob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, and Nickolaus Selnecker.
Individually the Lutheran Confessions contain these documents:
2nd Century A.D.
Baptismal Creed used in Rome.
325, 381 A.D.
Assembled church leaders at the Council of Nicea (325) and the Council of Constantinople.
This Creed intends to clearly state on the basis of Scripture that Jesus Christ is true God equal with the Father and that the Holy Spirit is also true God, equal with the Father and the Son.
6th-8th Century A.D.
Unknown. Named after the great church father Athanasius, who was instrumental in the drafting of the Nicene Creed.
Confesses the teaching of the Trinity and the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
A short work that was to educate the laity in the fundamentals of the Christian Faith.
Though covering the same chief parts of Christian doctrine as the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism is really a series of re-edited sermons that Luther preached.
June 25, 1530
Often viewed as the chief Lutheran Confession; it was presented by the Lutherans to Emperor Charles V at the imperial diet of Augsburg as a statement of the chief articles of the Christian faith as understood by Lutherans; also contained here is a listing of abuses that the Lutherans had corrected.
Apology of the Augsburg Confession
After the Roman theologians had condemned many of the teachings of the Augsburg Confession (AC), Melanchthon authored this lengthy defense of AC. Rightly considered a Christian classic.
Articles of faith intended by Luther to be an ecumenical platform for an upcoming ecumenical council. Stated what the Lutherans could not compromise and why.
Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
Was intended to serve as a supplement to the Augsburg Confession, giving the Lutheran position on the Pope.
Formula of Concord
A restatement of some teachings in the Augsburg Confession over which Lutherans had become divided. The Solid Declaration is the unabridged version. The Epitome is an abridged version intended for congregations to study. Over 8,100 pastors and theologians signed it, as well as over 50 government leaders.