Category Archives: Ponderings

“Jesus Book”

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.
-Psalm 8:2

We have a nightly routine in my house: at bedtime our boys pick a bedtime book, and when that is through we read a story from The Story Bible before saying our prayers and singing the doxology. This is an important part of their Christian formation. Though they are only four, two, and in the womb, they still need to hear, learn, and digest Scripture. But why? Is it worth fighting the squiggles and distractions? Is it really that important when they don’t yet comprehend all words and ideas that are being communicated? Jesus seemed to think so.

In Matthew 18 we read of the disciples coming to Jesus and asking Him who is the greatest in the rule and reign of God.

     And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
     “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” -Matthew 18:1-4

Jesus held up children as an example of faith, but lest we become like Nicodemus (who asked how we could be ‘born again’ since we cannot enter back into our mother’s womb) without understanding, we need to realize that Jesus is speaking of life in the Spirit. We do not become humble like children by acting childish or being ignorant (in fact Paul says we are supposed to grow in the faith and put ‘childish ways behind us’), but by acknowledging our complete dependence upon our heavenly father. We do not become puffed up in our knowledge and thoughts, but resolve ourselves to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Unless we humble ourselves and completely dependence upon Christ for our salvation, and even our very faith (as faith itself is a gift of God and not something we of ourselves can do or hold to or boast about), we will never enter the kingdom of God. Then Christ goes on to warn his disciples that whoever would hinder such *faith* of these children will face a horrific fate.

These children, our children have faith, not of themselves, but as a gift from God. This faith must be fed by the bread He supplies.  Scripture is one of the means of grace, one of the ‘avenues’ through which God delivers, nourishes, and strengthens faith. Many question if such young children can even have faith since they don’t yet understand, but Jesus didn’t seem to have any doubt. Later, He rebukes His disciples when they prevent parents from bringing their children (and the Greek word includes even the youngest of children) to Jesus for a blessing. When Jesus saw this He said,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away. – Matthew 19:14-15

God’s kingdom can only be received through faith, so if the Kingdom belongs to little children, then they must have the faith to receive it! Thus, Jesus does not dismiss the notion of the children coming to Him because He is the creator, sustainer, and perfecter of *faith*. He gives faith through His blessing and He blesses these children. It is instead the disciples, who tried to prevent these children from coming to Jesus, Jesus rebuked for their lack of faith!

Children, like anyone else, are able to hear the Word of God and grow in the faith given within. In fact, their humility allows them pure faith that trusts God’s Word without doubt and without question! As we grow older and gain more “experience”, that “experience” we gain often leads us to question faith, for example, whether God’s will toward us is actually good, or if God’s Word is actually just a collection of man-made fairy tales meant to teach morality and don’t reflect reality. Yet children, lacking this “worldly experience” are willing to trust and believe what God has told and promised them.

Thus, it is not surprising when Children make the clearest confessions of faith, uncomplicated by sin and the world’s lack of understanding.  Again, even Jesus acknowledges the power of the confessions of faith of children:

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?” -Matthew 21:15-17

When it is time to read from the Bible, my two year old calls it his “Jesus book.” Such a profound confession of faith and praise from such a little one. How profound it is this, when many adult Christians still don’t even know what the Bible is! Many who call themselves Christians believe it is the Word of God, though not all who call themselves Christian do. Of those who do, many still don’t understand the reason God gave to us His Word. Many believe that the Bible is God’s “Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth.” Others believe that it was written to only inform the faith of the original audience, but has no bearing on us now because we have the Spirit. What all these people fail to realize, my two year old confesses clearly: it is his “Jesus book.” My two year old stands in like with the great Apostle John when He writes in his Gospel account, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” and in his first epistle, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

So it is important to start reading the Word of God to those even in the womb, because God works faith in us though His Word despite our understanding or lack thereof. Just look at the example of John who lept in the womb at the voice of Mary, and again at the disciples who were clueless before the Spirit enlightened them at Pentecost but still manage to make clear confessions of faith: i.e. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and “My Lord and My God.” Children need to hear the Scriptures, their “Jesus book”, read to them by their parents so that their faith may be created, sustained, and perfected by His Word. The Bible is not like any other book, but it is the very Word of God that reveals to us our savior and it DOES what it SAYS. It GIVES us Jesus, and in Him the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation! It is our “Jesus book.” Amen.

What does it mean to be “Lutheran”? Part 1: Confession of Faith

There are so many Christian denominations out there, what is “Lutheranism” and what does it mean to be “Lutheran”?

Despite what it may seem, Lutherans are not ones who follow Martin Luther. Though we recognize Martin Luther as a great teacher of the faith, he is only a man and a witness to someone greater than himself. That someone greater is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Jesus is the object of our faith and focus of Lutheranism. The term “Lutheranism” only comes into play to help distinguish our confession of the Christian faith from the other confessions, or denominations. Luther himself hated the designation, but for the sake of clarity the term stuck.

So when we say “Lutherans”, we are not talking about followers of Martin Luther, but ones who stand in agreement with Luther on his devotion to Christ and interpretation of His Word. This, then, forms our confession of faith. Each confession of faith, what we more commonly call “denominations” or “movements” or even “independent churches”, has something to say about Christ and His Word.  This confession underpins their teaching and lays the foundation for their proclamation, whether it is publicly acknowledged or not. In other words, when someone asks you what you believe about Jesus you will share with them your confession of faith, and this is what we are called to do:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Romans 10:8-10

So what is it that Lutherans have to say about Christ and His Word?  The Lutheran confession of faith is contained in the Book of Concord. This book is a collection of documents which lay out the creeds and the basic teachings of the Lutheran Church. It is a summary of Scripture as it lays out the doctrines, or teachings, found within. Therefore, the Book of Concord is not looked at by Lutherans as authoritative in and of itself, but authoritative because it contains the truths of Scripture. For apart from Scripture, no confession of faith has any authority whatsoever to speak. Therefore, the Book of Concord is careful to only say what Scripture says: not any more, not any less. To do otherwise would go against Christ’s command and warning found in Revelation 22:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (v. 18-19)

Our confession begins with the three ecumenical creeds: Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian.  This is to show that what we have to say concerning Christ and His Word is in line with the historical confession of the ancient Church. Then come the documents that lay out exactly what Lutherans “believe, teach, and confess”: The Augsburg Confession, The Apology to the Augsburg Confession, The Smalcald Articles, and The Power and Primacy of the Pope.  Next are two instructional documents: The Small and Large Catechisms.  Last is the Formula of Concord, meant to address controversies that arose early on in the Lutheran Church.

These documents compiled into the Book of Concord form the basis for the Lutheran confession of faith and all point to the person and work of Christ as the center of our faith, and His Word as the ultimate authority. As the ultimate authority, Lutherans take great care to handle God’s Word rightly. Our main framework for interpreting the Scripture is “context, context, context.” The Word of God is a comprehensive witness, and not simply a “collection of pearls from heaven”. Therefore, each and every verse is connected to the verses around it to form a whole thought, a whole paragraph, a whole letter/book, a whole testament, the whole Bible. Therefore, when interpreting a single verse, a Lutheran keeps in mind the whole witness of Scripture for Scripture never contradicts itself.

We also pay close attention to the genre: is it narrative, is it wisdom literature, is it prophetic, is it didactic, is it exhortation, and so on? It would be reckless to interpret the the Song of Solomon the same as the Gospel of Matthew, or the Book of Revelation the same as the Letter to the Romans. Poetic and prophetic books make use of symbolic language (such as the 144,000 in Revelation that becomes the great multitude that no one can number), while narratives use more concrete language. The genre of the verse also impacts how we interpret the verse. Ultimately, the goal and aim of Lutheranism and Lutherans in general, is faithfulness to Christ and His Word in all we say and do.

In fact, Lutherans will claim that anything that is faithful to the Word of God is “Lutheran”, even if the person who wrote/composed it is not Lutheran themself. Thus, we count many hymns as “Lutheran” even though a Methodist, etc. wrote it, or we count parts of the liturgy as “Lutheran” even though it came from Roman Catholicism, etc.  If it is faithful to the witness of Christ and His Word, then it can rightly be called Lutheran and we will use it as such.  This focus and devotion to placing Christ at the center of all we do is truly what it means to be a Lutheran.