Monthly Archives: November 2009

Thanksgiving Day

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The Last Sunday in the Church Year

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Bishop and Christian, November 2009

From the Pastor

The Augsburg Confession, Conclusion of Part I

Article XX of the Augsburg Confession is the longest and most involved because it was and is at the heart of confessional differences between the Roman Church and the Evangelicals.  Its title is “Concerning Faith and Good Works.”  The question is, what is the relationship between faith and good works, and how are both related to salvation.  The Evangelical (Lutheran) position is that the faith that trusts Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for me is the only thing that can and does justify, or “make right,” with God.  The Roman position is that faith is perfected or completed by love (shown in good works), and, therefore, it is faith and love together that makes a person right with God.  We should be clear that the Roman position is not crass “works-righteousness,” in the sense that they believe they do those good works apart from the grace of God.  They believe that good works are also a result of God’s grace “infused” in us, so Roman Christians confess that a person is saved only by the grace of God.  We confess that good works do and must follow necessarily from justification; the difference is that they are not part of justification, as in the Roman system.  Next to Article IV, then, Article XX is the most significant point of disagreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. 

The contention of AC XX is that the Reformers required and encouraged good works in a better way and without detracting from the glory and merit of Christ.  “That is why this teaching concerning faith is not to be censured for prohibiting good works.  On the contrary, it should be praised for teaching the performance of good works and for offering help as to how they may be done.  For without faith and without Christ human nature and human power are much too weak to do good works: such as to call on God, to have patience in suffering, to love the neighbor, to engage in legitimate callings, to be obedient, to avoid evil lust, etc.  Such lofty and genuine works cannot be done without the help of Christ, as he himself says in John 15:5: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’” (AC XX:35-39). 

The final article in the first part of the Augsburg Confession is on the “cult of the saints,” or how people should think of the saints.  “Concerning the cult of the saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by faith.  Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the saints’ good works as an example” (AC XXI:1).  (That is a fitting quotation for November 1, which is the Festival of All Saints!)  At the same time, the confessors say: “However, it cannot be demonstrated from Scripture that a person should call upon the saints or seek help from them” (AC XXI:2).  In other words, we believe that the souls of the faithful who have gone before us are living and with Jesus.  They are not dead, and they rest with Jesus as they await the resurrection of their bodies.  However, we do not pray to them, first, because we can pray directly to Jesus, who intercedes for us with the Father.  Even though we ask other saints here on earth to pray for us, and even though we have always confessed that the saints in heaven pray for us, we do not know for sure that the saints in heaven can hear us.  And if there is any doubt, then our prayer would not be from faith; and St. Paul says that whatever does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). 

“This is nearly a complete summary of what is preached and taught in our churches for proper Christian instruction and the comfort of consciences, as well as for the improvement of believers” (Conclusion of Part One, 1).   

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”


Bishop and Christian, October 2009

From the Pastor

The Augsburg Confession, pt. 7

Though it is an unpopular belief, the Augsburg Confession in Article XVII teaches what the Church has always taught with regard to “eschatology” (es-ka-tall-o-jee), or the Last Things: resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell.  “It is also taught that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the Last Day to judge, to raise all the dead, to give eternal life and eternal joy to those who believe and are elect, but to condemn the ungodly and the devils to hell and eternal punishment” (AC XVII:1, German).  This has always been a hard position to hold.  Some Church fathers, such as Origen, as well as teachers at the time of the Reformation (not to mention people and churches today!) believed that everyone would be saved in the end.  But the Evangelicals held that God would not save people who refused the Holy Spirit’s converting work.  This, we believe, is the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, of which Jesus says in Matthew 12:32: “whoever speaks against [blasphemes] the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (ESV).  Despite attempts to remove the teaching of eschatology from the Church, resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell are clearly taught in the Scriptures, in both the Old Testament and the New.  That is what the Augsburg Confession teaches as well.

The Eighteenth Article is perhaps one of the most difficult to defend in every age of the Church’s existence, especially when many within the Church deny it.  It is the confession of free will, and particularly the limits of free will.  The Augsburg Confession teaches that humans have free will with regard to the things of this life, such as what to eat, what to wear, where to work, etc.  Further, humans can lead an “externally honorable” life (e.g., keeping human laws).  What they cannot do is please God in any way without the Holy Spirit: “without the grace, help, and operation of the Holy Spirit a human being cannot become pleasing to God, fear or believe in God with the whole heart, or expel innate evil lusts from the heart” (AC XVIII:2, German).  This applies especially to faith and conversion.  Though many Christians believe that a person must “make a decision for Christ” or “willingly accept Christ into one’s heart,” we confess that this is impossible for the person to do.  It may appear, from our perspective, that we have made that decision to believe in Jesus, but we believe that “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Small Catechism, Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed).  It is all gift, all the time.  It is necessary to confess this so that all glory goes to Jesus and His merit, which is an absolutely sure and certain foundation for our faith and hope.  Anything else, especially our own decisions and work, cannot be the basis for faith or salvation without creating doubt and uncertainty.

Connected to Free Will, Article XIX simply and succinctly makes clear that the cause of sin is not in God and His good creation, but in “the perverted will [of humans, which] causes sin in all those who are evil and despise God” (AC XIX, German).  “As soon as God withdrew his hand, [the will] turned from God to malice….” 

Next month we will cover the final two articles of Part 1.   

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”


Bishop and Christian, September 2009

From the Pastor

The Augsburg Confession, pt. 6

We have discussed God, sin, the Gospel, the Office of the Holy Ministry, the New Obedience, the Church, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession, Repentance, and the use of the Sacraments.  There is a very observable progression from the Creator and how He chose (chooses) to deal with His sinful creatures by the free gift of grace through the Son.  That free grace is delivered in the Church, by the means of the Word, Baptism, and the Supper.  It is through the “office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments” (AC V:1) that God has chosen to grant faith by the Holy Spirit.  But how can we know if God has indeed chosen this man to be His secondary means of delivering forgiveness of sins and salvation?  Article XIV answers that question.  It is one of the shortest articles: “Concerning church government it is taught [by the Evangelicals (Lutherans)] that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (AC XIV, German).  In other words, if a particular man (or woman!) claims to have a call from God, it should only be recognized in the Church of God if the call has been publicly affirmed by the Church.  It is good that a man should feel the “inner call” to serve God’s people, but if there is no “external call” through the Church, then that person should not preach, teach (i.e., teach the Faith publicly), or administer the sacraments.  This is to ensure that the person teaching the Faith knows the Faith and is competent to hand it on, as well as fitting the criteria St. Paul lays down in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. 

Articles XV speaks about regulations within the Church, especially human traditions.  “Concerning church rites they teach that those rites should be observed that can be observed without sin and that contribute to peace and good order in the church, for example, certain holy days, festivals and the like” (AC XV:1, Latin).  However, the AC is quick to say that such rites and regulations are not necessary for salvation, and they should not “burden consciences.” 

Article XVI turns to the State and “civic affairs,” on which “they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God and that Christians are permitted to hold civil office, to work in law courts, to decide matters by imperial and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to wage just war, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to take an oath when required by magistrates, to take a wife, to be given in marriage” (AC XVI:1-2, Latin).  Because of this, the Gospel does not infringe on or overthrow existing orders, but “intends that a person keep all this as a true order of God and demonstrate in these walks of life Christian love and true good works according to each person’s calling” (AC XVI:5, German).  Everything that does not fall in the Church’s realm of Gospel, forgiveness, Jesus, sacraments, grace, etc., falls in the realm of the secular order, which is also a gift and institution of God.  In this realm, Christians live out their particular vocations within the established order, loving their neighbors and doing good works.  For Lutherans, the Church and the State are distinct, yet both created by God.  They also are connected and intertwined because Christians live in both realms at the same time. 

In the next two months, we will discuss the last five articles of Part I of the Augsburg Confession, and then take a break until next summer.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”


Bishop and Pastor, August 2009

From the Pastor

The Augsburg Confession, pt. 5

Once a sinner has entered the Church of Christ by baptism, the rest of one’s life is lived under the sign of that baptism: “[Such baptizing with water] signifies 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” (Small Catechism, Baptism, part IV).  The new life that is given in baptism and received by faith is fed by the same Christ in the Supper that He gave as a continual remembrance of His suffering and death.  So Article X of the Augsburg Confession confesses very simply: “Concerning the Lord’s Supper, it is taught that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper and are distributed and received there.  Rejected, therefore, is the contrary teaching.”  As Luther later said, “I regard them all [the deniers of Christ’s true presence] as being part of the same cake, as indeed they are.  For they do not want to believe that the Lord’s bread in the Supper is his true, natural body which the godless person or Judas receives orally just as well as St. Peter and all the saints.  Whoever (I say) does not want to believe that should not trouble me…and should not expect to have fellowship with me.  That is final” (quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, 33). 

This Supper is the Christian’s food until he reaches the full Feast of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church.  Baptismal confession and repentance are like the air in the Christian’s lungs.  So Article XI holds firmly to the comfort of private confession and absolution “because of absolution (which is confession’s principal and foremost part) for the comfort of terrified consciences and because of other reasons” (AC XXV, 13).  Confession and absolution find their place under Article XII: “Concerning Repentance.”  “Now, properly speaking, true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror about sin, and yet at the same time to believe in the gospel and absolution that sin is forgiven and grace is obtained through Christ.  Such faith, in turn, comforts the heart and puts it at peace” (AC XII, 3-5).  So repentance includes both confession and absolution, or sorrow for sin and assurance of forgiveness for sin.  In Greek, the word for repentance means to have a “new mind,” or to make a 180-degree turn.  To turn away from sin and toward God in Christ.  The whole of repentance is the work of God; when repentance is accomplished in a sinner, “improvement should also follow, and a person should refrain from sins.  For these should be the fruits of repentance…” (AC XII, 6).

This true repentance is the purpose of the right use of the Sacraments (AC XIII).  The Sacraments are not only signs of where someone can find Christians, but they are primarily “signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us in order thereby to awaken and strengthen our faith” (AC XIII, 1).  Faith runs through all of this, which is created and strengthened through the baptismal life, fed by Christ’s body and blood in His Supper, lived out in true repentance consisting of confession and absolution.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”


The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

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