Monday, August 29, 2005

On "In the context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the “righteousness” to be sought with the kingdom (6:33) includes obedience to the law of Moses..."

Seeking God's "righteousness" might instead mean seeking God's will, not in the sense of moral goodness, but "in the sense of God's saving activity," and thus "righteousness" may be an explanation of "kingdom" in Matthew 6:33 (D. A. Hagner, 1993, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary, Word). This has the strength of identifying righteousness with the kingdom as the "one thing" needed. The ethical definition has also been combined with the redemptive-historical definition: "The command to seek this righteousness means seeking what God has righteously done in Jesus. In the Christian community, prayers for wealth and for ordinary, necessary things are to be replaced with prayers asking for God's righteousness of love and reconciliation. The person who prays for this righteousness need not pray for anything else, as all these things will be given to him" (p. 224 of D. P. Scaer, The Sermon on the Mount: The Church's First Statement of the Gospel, 2000, Concordia Publishing House). This Christological interpretation holds that "Christ's promise in the Sermon to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (5:18) is his own affirmation of their authority for requiring his death (26:24, 31, 54), but by fulfilling them, he assumes them into himself and preserves them in his teachings. His words now take the place of honor (28:20). The Father's command to listen to Jesus (17:5) applies first to the Sermon on the Mount and then to the entire gospel of Matthew" (p. 270). Indeed, Jesus did not come as yet another legal expert: he denounced those teachers of the law whose rigidly literal interpretations ironically underemphasized its most demanding commands while at the same time laying heavy burdens on the Jewish people (e.g. 12:1-14; 15:1-20; 23:1-39). In sharp contrast, Jesus gently invited those who bore heavy burdens to come to him for rest (11:28-30).

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On "“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who builds his house upon the rock...” (Matt 7:24)"

Those struggling with the assurance of salvation will benefit from holding Jesus' call to daily self-denial in balance with the repeated sins of his disciples. All of the original apostles repented and received his forgiveness except for Judas Iscariot, who had been a thief from the beginning. Mark, even more than Matthew and Luke, frankly portrays the failures of the eleven elect apostles while clearly distinguishing them from those who refuse to repent.

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The above Gospel quotation is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

On "...[Calvin's perseverance] doctrine is usually denied, misinterpreted as eternal security without the need for righteousness, or underemphasized."

The Reformed (Calvinistic) system must itself bear some of the responsibility for such antinomianism, in spite of the strong Puritan emphasis on the law of Moses. The earlier Augustinian soteriology, as represented in the Lutheran confessions, more reliably presents not only Jesus' heartfelt offer of salvation, but also his unbending demand for ultimate loyalty from all who receive that gift. This is not to discount exceptional Calvinistic efforts in this direction such as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and John Piper's Future Grace. In practice, however, consistent Calvinists cannot really be motivated by Christ's repeated warnings about falling away from saving faith since they do not recognize that possibility. Perhaps for this reason, few confessional Presbyterians regularly follow their Smaller Catechism (Q.102) in praying that they would be kept in God's kingdom. Consistent Lutherans, by contrast, perceive the need to persevere on the narrow path in order to attain "treasure in heaven," not out of uncertainty, but in grateful response to the exciting news that the kingdom is at hand and inherited through faith alone. Their theologians do not avoid the paradox; for example, The Strong Declaration of the Formula of Concord ( and The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (C. S. W. Walther) accurately preserve the synoptic tension between unconditional election and Jesus' teaching that all who remain in the kingdom do so by taking heed that their hearts are not weighed down with hedonism or the cares of this age. The Olivet Discourse in particular reflects this mysterious nature of predestination (Matthew 24:12-13, 22, 24).

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

The gospel really is good news!

Some English translations are clearer than others in conveying the joy of the message of Jesus.

For example, Jesus' answer to the question of whether he was the Messiah is obscured when the word gospel is used: "The blind are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news" (Matthew 11:5, CEV). As is clear from that translation, the poor heard the good news that Jesus brought healing and life even before he predicted his death, the death that would purchase the spiritual healing and bodily resurrection anticipated by the Messianic signs.

How many heresies might be exposed simply by using, in both spoken and written communication, good news in place of every occurrence of gospel? One instance is the legalistic teaching that one must repent in the sense of having a pious hatred of sin, not merely a fear of deserved punishment, before coming to Christ for forgiveness through the "gospel." Requirements like this one do not bring gladness, as they are heavy burdens, not good news.

What is this good news?

Friday, August 05, 2005

The life-giving flesh: The God-Man shares the life of his Father with believers

John 6:51-57 "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh... As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me."

In the light of such passages as these [John 5:17-19; 8:28-29; 9:4] it is clear that the relation described in the words, "I in the Father in the Father in Me," is conceived as a dynamic and not a static relation... It may be described as obedience to the word of the Father, or imitation of His works, but at bottom is nothing so external as mere obedience or imitation. It is the sharing of one life, which is of course life eternal or absolute... "As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself" [John 5:26]. We cannot miss here the reference to the "living God" of the Old Testament. Finally this sharing of life and activity is rooted in the love of God... If we put these passages [John 3:35; 5:20-26; 6:56-57; 13:32; 14:8-31] together, the thought is clear. At every point the unity of Father and Son is reproduced in the unity of Christ and believers. As the love of the Father for the Son, returned by Him in obedience, establishes a community of life between Father and Son, which exhibits itself in that He speaks the Father's word and does His works, so the disciples are loved by Christ and return his love in obedience; in doing so, they share His life, which manifests itself in doing His works; it is really He who does them (just as the works of Christ are done by the Father), and by the doing of them the Father is glorified in the Son. This is what is meant by the expression, "I in you and you in me." ...all these passages [John 5:19-47; 6:54; 11:25-26] affirm, first, that eternal life may be enjoyed here and now by those who respond to the word of Christ, and, secondly, that the same power which assures eternal life to believers during their earthly existence will, after the death of the body, raise the dead to renewed existence in the world beyond.
– C. H. Dodd (1963) The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge University Press, pp. 194-196, 364.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Does paedocommunion profane the consecrated elements?

That infants may receive baptism does not imply they should receive the Lord's Supper: the former is the sacrament of initiation into Christ's body, whereas the latter is the sacrament of remaining in him (1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3; John 6; Bischof, 1999).

Further, baptism involves no action performed by the baptized, but the Lord's Supper requires the communicants to eat and drink in such a way that they regard the bread and wine as holy, not as common food and drink. To desecrate the body and blood of the Lord is to invite his judgment (1 Corinthians 11).

Bischof, J. C. John 6 and the Lord's Supper. Master of Sacred Theology, Concordia Seminary, 1999.

Views on the sacraments