Moments ago in our Nicene Creed, we confessed that we believe in one holy Christian and Apostolic Church. This means that the true Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles of Christ. On this day, we remember especially Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, one of those Apostles.
The Epistle does not focus on Bartholomew in particular, but upon Apostles in general. Saint Paul writes that the Apostles were appointed by God. So the Church today is built upon the teaching of the Apostles, which is none other than the teaching of Christ.
We have these Apostolic teachings in the Holy Scriptures. If the teaching of a congregation agrees with them, then it is the Apostolic Church.
We do not follow the Apostles as mere men. Certainly they were sinners like each of us. A sinful man is no foundation upon which to build. Peter denied Christ three times. Bartholomew scorned Nazareth and doubted Jesus. Therefore we do not follow mere men, just as we should not follow a pastor as a mere man. Instead, we follow Apostles and pastors because they speak the true doctrine, the pure faith.
Nor do we pray to these Apostles. Nor do we idolize these men. We may mimic their finer virtues, but especially we hold to the faith that they preached. We follow their teaching, and no other. As they followed Christ, so we follow them.
Many people do not want to follow the Apostles. The Apostles lived long ago and had all kinds of outdated teachings. Why should we follow them? Indeed, the teachings of the Apostles do not usually fit with the ideas of our present age. But we must choose them above the frail wisdom of the world. We must not discard the teachings of the Apostles simply because we do not feel like listening.
It is our calling as the Church to be faithful to the Word. That is a difficult calling. One challenge of faithfulness that faces us is to condemn homosexuality as sinful, as the Apostles did. Many denominations, even some bearing the name "Lutheran" have embraced homosexuality, and have even ordained openly practicing homosexuals to the pastoral ministry. There is a pressure in the world to compromise on this issue in order to appear more loving. We in the Missouri Synod, for the most part, still resist this modern trend. By God's grace, may we continue to hold to the Apostolic doctrine against the pressures of the world.
Another challenge to the Apostolic teaching are so-called "women pastors". The Apostles clearly write that women are not to occupy the holy ministry. Yet that is unAmerican. We are tempted by the world to give in to this pressure so that we will appear more loving. But Christ appointed no women Apostles. Are we greater than Christ and the Apostles? Yet many denominations, including some bearing the name "Lutheran" have given in to the pressure of the world. Even some in our Missouri Synod want the same thing in our church body. If we give in to that pressure, then we depart from the Apostolic foundation of the Church.
We may be tempted to ask, "Would it really hurt the Church if we were more open to homosexuals? Would it really hurt the Church if we had women pastors? Would it not be more loving?
The answer to that last question is "No, it would not be more loving." True love points to Christ alone as Savior. Those who deny sin cannot believe in a Savior from sin. If a person is hardened in their sin so that they refuse to repent, then how can they trust in the merits of Christ? Instead, the true way to show love to a person who has committed homosexual sins is the same as with any other sinner. Tell them, "Repent, and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." So also we must repent, for we are sinners as great as any. We also must trust in Jesus Christ, who gives us forgiveness.
Furthermore, the Apostolic Gospel message is not an abstraction. It is not merely a piece of information. The Gospel comes to us in concrete ways, through the pastoral ministry established by Christ. The Church must have called pastors. They are appointed by God to be His mouthpieces, to declare forgiveness in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. No man can claim the authority to forgive sins this way, or he commits blasphemy. So we must be certain that the men in the holy ministry are truly called by God, not simply hired according to our own standards. Putting women into the office or calling men who are not fit for it would seize the office of the keys by human authority, instead of God's.
If we move away from the foundation of the Apostles and their teaching, then we move away from Christ.
So what shall we do? Lutherans are already looked down upon by many, both inside and outside, for its strong stand upon such issues as these. We are attacked by the world and by false brethren in our midst. How shall we overcome such pressures? If the whole world is against us, how shall we stand?
We shall stand with certainty and confidence and strength upon the immoveable foundation of the Apostles. The Church has stood against persecutions and heresies for centuries upon this one and only foundation. Let us hold firmly to this great heritage of doctrine that has been passed down to us, for there is no other foundation that can be laid. This foundation is Christ Jesus and Him crucified. This foundation is His Blood shed for us. We build upon no human righteousness, for all of us would be scattered by our own sinfulness like dead leaves scattered by the wind. But upon Christ we are built into the great body of the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. We are made one by our Lord and one in His death. Our Church is not built up by what we achieve by our love. Far from it! We are nothing. Christ is everything.
Shall we abandon Christ? Never! Shall we tell Christ that we know better than He? Heaven forbid! Instead, let us submit to Him who is our Head. He shall direct us through the doctrine of the Apostles and Prophets. In their teaching, we are made wise unto salvation in Christ Jesus. We shall not lean upon our own understanding, but cast all our troubles upon God who delivers us.
In His Name alone, and by His authority: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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