+ In Nomine Jesu +
Jesus scolded the Pharisees, saying, "Laying aside the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition."
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
I waited in the waiting room during the surgery of one of our members a few weeks ago. A man came and sat down next to me. Initially he didn't say as much, but, he was a Baptist. I could tell. Since I had on a clerical collar he presumed correctly that I was not.
Baptists are generally pretty certain that the key issue in Scripture for the Church today is the issue of the Rapture, the events that will transpire at the end of the age. Of key concern for them is whether or not you believe that the Church will be left on the earth to endure what they call the tribulation, a period of intense suffering, whereby the devil is released to oppress humanity in unfathomable ways. They claim their understanding of the end times is based on the Book of Revelation, which they insist must be interpreted literally.
The man who sat down next to me believed it was his responsibility to check out my understanding of the end times, to see if I had it all straight, you know, which meant, of course, to see if I understood things the way he did.
I told him the rapture will occur when our Lord comes to judge the living and the dead, a truth the church has confessed for over 2,000 years. What about the tribulation, he said? I said we're already living in the tribulation. Jesus, having died for our sins, we are already the avowed enemy of the devil. He wants nothing more than to destroy our faith by means of the suffering we endure. Jesus, after-all, said, "In this world you will have tribulation, but, take courage for I have overcome the world."
I told the man we take the Book of Revelation in a figurative sense because it is St. John's account of the prophetic visions he experienced concerning the Church, her suffering and God's ultimate victory.
He said to me, Oh, well we take the Bible literally. I paused for moment, looked at him and said, "no you don't." I asked him, when Jesus said "take eat, this is My body," what did He mean? He said, "He meant the bread of Holy Communion represents His body." I said, I thought you said you interpret the Scriptures literally? He said, well. Shortly after that he moved back over to his seat.
There was a pretty significant principle of Biblical interpretation being bantered about in that little conversation. When it came to the Lord's Supper the Baptist wouldn't take God's Word literally. On the other hand, when it came to the Book of Revelation, I wouldn't take it all literally. I said he was wrong. He said I was wrong. The fact is, one of us was holding to the tradition of his church, while the other was holding to the actual truth of God's Word. I'll be so bold as to assume you know which was which.
The point is, at times the Bible demands a literal interpretation, while at other times is demands a figurative one. It all has to do with the genre of literature. For instance, when the Scriptures speak in poetic terms, as in the Book of Psalms, it is understood that symbols and imagery will be used. Likewise, when the Scripture reveals visions and revelations, such as in the Book of Revelation, it is understood that symbols and imagery will be used.
The greater point though is, as Lutheran Christians, can we be so bold as to insist we are right on all the articles of our faith? If we agree that we can and should assert such a thing, do we not also suggest that other teachings within the greater church are wrong? Can we say such things?
As you well know, political correctness is the law of our land. The law, if you will, is monitored by the speech police. We had a little sampling of the ruthless tactics of the speech police this past week. A political figure said something that was deemed inappropriate. It was demanded that he recuse himself from the race for the Senate seat he aspired to hold. Mind you, I'm not taking sides on the issue, I'm just pointing out that we do have sort of an unseen, and yet, all seeing speech police force that monitors what can and cannot be said in public discourse.
The Church is not immune to the all seeing eye of the speech police. There are certain things a church might say that would be considered off limits by the speech police. For instance, I believe that the man who spoke to me in the hospital the other day was wrong in his understanding of Scripture. I also believe that I was right. Mind you, I'm not saying he wasn't a Christian. I'm saying, on the issue of the end times he was flat wrong in his understanding of the Bible. And the problem is, he had taken that wrong understanding, the tradition of his denomination, if you will, and made it a central point of discussion among other Christians. Consequently, even the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, that pivotal point in all of human history, was forced to take a back seat to a discussion of what's going to happen on the last day.
But, Pastor, you may say, who is to say who is right and who is wrong in how the Bible is understood? It would seem you have a lot of audacity to say you are right and, therefore, any other view is wrong. And therein lay the trap that is waiting to ensnare us. Is it possible for any church to hold a true and proper understanding of the Scriptures? Is it possible to believe rightly about God, and about faith and life and salvation? Aren't many of our beliefs as Lutherans based on tradition? Didn't we just hear Jesus scold the Pharisees about teaching the traditions of men?
Nothing, of course, should be believed and taught in the Church that is not based on Scripture. You may have heard the Reformation principle, Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone, repeated often. Since we believe what we do about the Bible, that it is, in all of its parts the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God, we are compelled to be stubbornly immovable regarding the truth that it proclaims. A certain audacity emerges within us that neither our culture, nor the speech police find acceptable.
It was the same in Luther's day. Because he spoke against the doctrine of the church, Pope Leo X called Luther a drunken monk, a wild boar set loose in the house of God. Leo, as well as, every Pope before him and after him was certain that His understanding of the Scriptures was right. Consequently, Luther, who disagreed with him and with a host of other traditions of the church, had to be wrong. Of course, within that tradition the Pope boasts quite an advantage in that he can proclaim something as truth, even Divine truth, even though it's nowhere to be found in the Bible. Thus, millions of Roman Catholics today venerate and adore the Virgin Mary because a Pope declared her to have been immaculately conceived and thus sinless.
The only thing that will deliver us from the confusing differences of opinion regarding the Scriptures, the only that will embolden us to stand up and say what must be said, is for us to stop listening to opinions and to start reading and believing the clear Word of God.
Luther was willing to die for the privilege of taking God's Word at face value. Threatened with martyrdom he stood before kings and princes, indeed, before the Holy Roman Empire and said, "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."
You and I, of course, are heirs of that same sort of spirit. God sent His Son to give His life for us. He commended His Word to us that we might know all that He has done for us. We focus on the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, following in the steps of the Apostle Paul, God's spokesman, who said, "we preach Christ and Him crucified."
As the speech police clamor and insist that we get back in line with the weak, universal proclamation that our pluralistic culture demands we stand behind those fearless words that sparked the Reformation of Christendom… "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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