16 May 2010

Thoughts upon editing an Ascension Transferred Sermon

I think I have keyed upon the main difference between American Protestants and Lutherans - how to tell if you are thinking like a Lutheran.

The Protestant will read the Scriptures to see God the Father - what He wants them to do, how He wants to bless them, etc.

The Lutheran will read the Scriptures to see Christ Jesus - that He must die and rise for our forgiveness as we hear in Luke's account of the Ascension.

And here's the test. When you hear "God" - do you think first of Jesus or the Father? When you hear "Lord" - do you think first of Jesus or the Father?

We ought think first of Jesus - He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one goes to the Father but by Him. Protestant theology pays this lip service too often - Lutheran theology strives to delight in this.



Susan said...

What about all the times in Acts when the preachers say that God raised up Jesus from the dead? In those cases, doesn't "God" refer to the Father? And there sure are a lot of times Paul refers to "God" and "Jesus" (as separate persons).

George and Colleen said...

I understand and even agree with your main point. We don't know God in His eternal glory apart from Jesus Christ. He is God made manifest.

However, I think we should try to take a truly Trinitarian point of view. Many times prayers addressed to "God" are being addressed to the person of the Father. Not as if He is separate from His Son, but that doesn't change the fact that we pray to "Our Father."

The trinitarian outlook is especially important in the Old Testament. Many times people (even me!) read LORD or God in the OT and think "Father." This may be sometimes, but especially LORD should be thought of as the whole trinity. Think of, Ex 3 (the name YHWH) in connection with Matt 28 (the Trinitarian name). Also Num 6 (the Trinitarian blessing of the LORD).

Trinitarian theology is by no means an easy street, but to keep ourselves straight, we aren't permitted to stray.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Susan - I don't mean to deny the distinction of persons -indeed, you do have those discussions, and the Father does raise Jesus - but things don't just stop there. Things continue to where the truth that Jesus is Lord is proclaimed. There is a strong focus on the Divinity of Christ which I don't always find emphasized in a lot of American Protestant Theology.

I think George and Colleen probably hit closer to the point - that we should be more Trinitarian in our thought - when we say "God" or "Lord" we refer to the Triune God - unless the context shows we are speaking of One of the persons of the Trinity.

Susan said...

I guess maybe I listen a lot to the guys who talk about The Angel of the Lord being the pre-incarnate Christ. And when the little kids at school answer "Jesus" for "Who did David trust in?" or "Who talked to Joshua?" or "Who talked with Abraham that day?" they are never told they're wrong. I suppose Pastor would be more satisfied if the answer were "the Son of God" or "the pre-incarnate Christ," but around here we have NO shortage of Jesus' being identified as the Lord. ;-D

One of my pastor's hang-ups is that we answer "the Lord" instead of "God," and that "the Lord" is "the eternal God of the promise of salvation."

Oh, and as long as I'm being all chatty here... (sorry!)... I liked what Eckardt told us once about "the Lord." The name "I AM" was revealed at the burning bush. But the fullness of the name is revealed later -- "I AM the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I'm in the heart of the bible belt - hit a funeral at a church in town - and didn't hear hardly anything about Jesus. . . that's probably what has me thinking along these lines.

George and Colleen said...

Eric's point is well-appreciated. Wherever you go, the calvinist/baptistic/evangelical crowd will talk about the Father (God) in His "naked" power or the mystical Holy Spirit manifest in their lives and churches -- but Jesus' role is over. He died/rose a long time ago, which got us over the hump, and now He's waiting on the sidelines for His big reappearance.

Susan said...

Oh, Pr Brown, that's just sad. Yeah, I can see why you want to emphasize that Jesus is the Lord and that we're not just talking about the Father all the time.

Myrtle said...

I have so much to say about this and heartily wish I had known about confessional Lutheranism whilst being raised in the Bible Belt myself. Not being from a Christian family, I came to the Body of Christ by way of summer camp and then spent many long years before I could actually go to church.

For over a year now, I have been astounded by the things I was not taught as a Protestant, chief among them the Truth of original sin, objective grace, and the sweet, sweet Gospel.

[While I have commented on this before, for reference I will again say that I have been gulping down the Book of Concord, Luther, Walther, and Krauth in huge chunks and regularly feast upon the many sermons I have found online, going back years and years on blogs and church websites, just to learn more.]

Someone once explained to me that the difference between Calvin and Luther is that Calvin started with God in heaven, while Luther started with Christ on the cross. BIG difference. Fundamental difference.

Lately, I have been trying to figure out how to say something I have discovered about another difference between Protestantism and Lutheranism, and while it is not quite cooked, I shall venture to try.

Since starting this journey, I have noted many "givens" my pastors have assumed in me, having been a Christian for a few decades, that simply do not exist...for they are not taught in the Protestant church. Because of this, I have come to understand, in great sorrow, that while many of the words of faith are the same, the definitions are not...even words as basic as salvation and forgiveness. This knowledge troubles my waters and opens the door for such great doubt.

Pastor Weedon has helped answer many a question for this struggling convert and once explained the following to me when I despaired of how the Gospel had been presented to me in the Protestant churches I had been in...justification by works is what flows from pulpit to classroom to bible study. "Do these six things to be more Godly, to enlarge your faith!"

I would think the key is "how much" of the Word of the Gospel is able to penetrate through the errors. Wherever that light shines, it shines to give and strengthen faith - but we can do MUCH to obscure it…Their fundamental error is in thinking the cross is needed to "get you saved" but not needed for living out your salvation! Rather, as a Lutheran, we know that the message of the cross is the power of God for us who are BEING saved. It's a constant need.

This I believe, this I understand, because forgiveness to me was that fire insurance policy gained on the cross that I will cash in when I die...forgiveness gained then, one moment in time. After all, if you are struggling with sin, they you are simply not trusting Jesus enough, you need to deepen your relationship with God, get right with Him, and your struggles will be resolved. Just build up your faith and all will be fine.

Futile. Desperately so.

Myrtle said...


Stemming from this realization that many definitions are different, something else has come to mind: the Lamb of God is basically missing from all the Protestant churches I have attended over the years.

Oh, Christ died for us, to be sure, but that was then, not now. This whole Lamb of God, with whom we die in our Baptism so that we might also rise, who daily and richly forgives our sins, stuff simply was not taught.

Lately, I have started counting up in my head how many times Christ as Lamb is mentioned in liturgy, hymnody, prayer, and sermon. It has begun to stagger me for I know that the dearth of Christ as our Lamb in my in-doctrination is a true stumbling block.

I mean, Luther has taught me how much greater is my sin than I even thought, despite having to hide my struggles with sin in the Protestant church lest I burdened others with my “weak” faith. But what ought to show me how even greater was His sacrifice merely deepens my anguish over my sin. For I go first to the image of God, sovereign, omnipresent, who wants me to be out there doing things for Him to be a good witness for Him, to be a good “Bible,” the only Bible some people might ever read. My worship is what I do for Him. My “living sacrifice” is what I do for Him. My “light to the nations” is what I do for Him. And I continue to fail at all of that…even after joining the Lutheran confession!

Despite the fact that I am very greedy about having the sweet, sweet Gospel poured over me, practically begging for it to be sung, whispered, crooned, spoken, and even shouted (in the case of needing to be heard over my Law-based protestations of how unworthy I am), works-righteousness is still the measuring stick I oft find in my hand. It is with a certain amount of despair that I realize I have once again taken up that which I now eschew.

I do not go first to the cross, even though I long for this not to be so.

I had realized a while ago how very absent was the Holy Spirit from sermons, Sunday School, and bible studies all those years. This makes sense, though, if faith is something we do rather than a gift of the Holy Spirit. I first thought this to be my greatest obstacle in trying to shed the works righteousness mentality. But while it is rather easy for me to accept and acknowledge that faith is a gift since I UTTERLY failed at enlarging mine, despite all the “good works” and faith-enlarging-programs I followed, it is still hard to wrap my ex-Protestant heart and mind around the beginning, the middle, and the end being Christ crucified…and all that means…for me.

So, Pastor Brown, this is a very long-winded way of saying that I believe you are absolutely correct and wish you’d write more about it…especially some good lessoning on how to have the Gospel be the final word with me rather than the Law.

[If you care for a pointer or two, you could explore how in the Protestant church Christ is primarily relegated to the New Testament, except for the few “Jesus” verses here and there in the Old Testament. Learning to pray the Psalter has been amazing in that I have started to see Christ, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper all throughout the psalms. Even so, I found myself in utter shock last Friday night to discover Jesus in Exodus 15, when a pastor was reading aloud this passage as Words of comfort during absolution. I am still trying to wrap my mind around that one!]

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


The Psalms are just astonishing, aren't they? My Wednesday morning Catechism review for adults turned into a Psalms study -- and what has astonished me isn't just how rich Christ is in the Psalms, but just how quickly the folks attending the class have picked up on this - how quickly they are seeing this. For most of the folks in this class, I had seen them less then 5 times at a bible class in 5 years - and now things are simply jumping out. I think the Psalms might be a great place to start learning how to read the Scriptures.

Whenever the centrality of Christ is diminished, I go a little crazy. Our Lord said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life - no man cometh to the Father but by Me." Jesus is the Way, the path, central to all the actions of our life. Jesus is the Truth - anything that is true or good or right must flow from Him. Indeed, He is the life - any and all things in our life come from Him. He is the Word of God - so whenever we hear the Word proclaimed in Truth and purity He is active and present (along with the Holy Spirit).

But this is forgotten when someone like Calvin puts Jesus in a lockbox in heaven.

One other things - as for works righteousness - remember that you are not alone in that temptation. Indeed, everyone (and I mean everyone) wants to default to works righteousness. Works righteousness is simply competition - am I good enough, or at least better than (fill in the blank, all the way back to "this woman You put with me who gave me the fruit"). Plenty of life-long Lutherans get tempted towards works righteousness - plenty of Pastors as well (a constant temptation, especially for the pastor who is underappreciated).

I will say this - when those thoughts arise, look to Christ, for He is and has done your righteous works -- and, as strange as it sounds, don't be too upset when you notice the works righteous thoughts pop up. Give thanks to God that He has causes you to spot the Devil's temptation so as to lead you from it.

mlorfeld said...

What you are getting at is a beef I have with the Reformed. They love to talk about the Sovereignty of God. His invisible attributes... and so their focus, often times is on the "hidden God"... who is quite far off, and to the one who is not holy, is downright scary.
The Lutheran approach is essentially to put God against God. Pitting the revealed God "against" the hidden God. When confronted with God's all-holiness and our not-holiness, we point to Christ: God in the flesh, God with us, God for us.

mlorfeld said...

Myrtle, I loved reading your comments! A thought that I had as I was reading it was a comment one of the confirmation students made on my vicarage as we went through the old testament: "Vicar, we sure talk about lambs a lot."
Exactly! Just look at it. Adam and Eve... clothed with animal skins (let's just presume it's a lamb); Abel's sacrifice: a lamb; Noah sacrificed a lamb (among others), Abraham's covenant cut with among others... a ram and a goat; Isaac gets to swap places with a ram; Jacob wears the skin of goat to get Esau's blessing; when Joseph was sold into slavery his cloak was covered in goat's blood... you get the picture and that's just Genesis.