Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 12, Number 4
Luther once said, "A preacher must not only feed [the flock], in this way that he instructs the sheep how they should be proper Christians, but also along with this [he must] defend from wolves, that they do not attack the sheep and entice them with false teaching and lead them into error."
This issue of Table Talk deals mainly with the second of this twofold task. This was the concern of the Confessional Lutherans gathered in Berlin-Spandau this past summer (p. 1). This is the concern defines the remnant (p. 4). The concern for purity of the "message once for all entrusted to the saints" was a concern of the apostles (p. 6, 7) This concern points to the need that Scripture Alone be our guiding principle in life (p. 10).
In this Issue:
The Biannual ILC Conference, Berlin-Spandau
by Rev. Ralph Spears
The Conference of the International Lutheran council held in Berlin-Spandau, Germany, this past summer was a most remarkable and refreshing event. Although it was not so advertised, the seven day meeting provided a well-spring of renewal almost totally unexpected and an opportunity for a unique rededication to the Gospel and its translation into the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Land of Luther! If these words sound exuberant, they strain to describe what nearly each of us felt in those days together and brought home to our churches.
The LMS was one of six observer groups invited to participate with representatives of thirty member groups from around the world including: Europe (5), Asia (4), Africa (5), North America (3), South and Central America (8), and Southeast Asia/Australia (5). Some bodies represent many thousands and a few were smaller than our group - but all centrist Lutherans in a bond that could be sensed almost immediately. Six translators assisted our services of worship during the week in four different languages, although many other native languages of course, were represented there. Dr. Diethart Roth of the S.E.L.K. independent (non-state) Lutheran Church of Germany was host, assisted by several of his hard working pastors at the Evangelishe Johannesstift Hotel and Convention Center in Spandau - northwest Berlin.
Dr. Werner Klaen, a German theological professor, provided the daily bible study on Romans with break down discussion groups by areas including one for the wives. Drs. Robert Kolb and Robert Rosin from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, provided incisive and highly original papers on their expertise such as "Luther discovers the Gospel," "Luther stands before the emperor," and "Luther at Wartburg." A final presentation provided very informative material on the years of maturity of the Lutheran Church following the death of Luther and the pulls and twists in the fabric of the tapestry of the fledging body. (Perhaps Melanthon takes some criticisms that are not entirely of his making!)
A highlight, although there were so many, was the group trip to Witten-berg, the town of the Reformation where remarkably - so little has changed in 500 years. To stand in his (peasant) church and his home, the converted Franciscan Friary - almost gives one the opportunity to heft the job that he took on, the formidable task with its responsibility and difficulty not to mention its measure of raw loneliness that must have been his, especially before the light of Romans shown through that "gateway to heaven" as he called it - "the Just shall live by Faith!" For us together singing "Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word" (the theme of the Conference) in his Church - provided a most remarkable experience that helped to make real the experience for all. A friend of mine, a Roman Catholic historian, told me later that he got goose bumps just standing where Luther stood when he uttered the famous, "Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me!"
More than a sense of history is there! There is a fellowship with all who stood alone with only God to help them: Luther, Augustine, Paul, Jesus, Elijah, Moses, and Abraham.
After I had been called upon to bring greetings from our LMS as an applicant group, and had expressed to this gathered body my profound thanks for their authentic confessional stand, the President of the Lutheran church of Sudan, a country so recently wracked by so much internal trouble, came up to me immediately and extended my thoughts by stating how important he thought that the ILC is and how much care needs to be taken in admitting new members. His group, numbering well into the thousands, itself has been an observer group like ours to the past two biannual meetings.
When the leader of the largest body present, this time from North America, spoke at the final chapel service of the loneliness on the road and the criticisms from without and within, there was hardly any secret that he was speaking of his own experience and that his own pain was being expressed - which as he said, could only be resolved in the prayer, "Lord keep us steadfast in Thy Word!"
But loneliness and isolation is nowhere so evident as in this land, the Land of Luther, where less than 10% of the population is baptized and far less than that attend worship services, as one of our S.E.L.K. pastors informed us.
These pastors work hard for relatively little against some real odds, led by Bishop Roth who will be retiring soon. One of the older men acted as our tour guide on our trip to Wittenberg and related the difficulties of working through Russian occupation of the divided Germany when it was very difficult even to get paint for their church buildings. Another recalled how their sermons had been monitored not only during the Second World War, but also by the Russian occupation in the Potsdam section south of Berlin. Members of these small congregations were eager to meet us and try out their conversational English while serving as most gracious hosts for our tour of the historic areas of Potsdam and for the lunch that followed. The worship at 11:00 A.M., so well done, provided the "fellowship of the Spirit in the bonds of peace!"
While in Berlin, contact was made with a seminary exchange friend from decades ago. Now retired from the state German Church, my old friend related that he continues to work at visitations and the leading of services at old folks' homes and mental institutions - for as he said, "If I stop doing these things, there is no one to take my place."
Although difficult the road, the "harvest is (still) plentiful and ripe to harvest" worldwide. We are called to be faithful where we are. And as even the great prophet Elijah learned, he was not alone. There were others who were still faithful and ready to serve in the fields of the Lord! And in these difficult times, we are not alone! O
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Only a Remnant Shall Remain
by Rev. Ralph Spears
'Only A Remnant Shall Remain' is not a direct quote from Scripture but it might as well be! Enough is spoken about the minorities of number from Noah as one of but a few righteous ones, to the singular Faith of Abraham and the many who seemingly - stood alone - like Elijah, so that the understanding of the numbers game is as much an Old Testament fact as a modern day phenomenon. Among the Major Prophets there is frequent mention of the Remnant of Israel from the predictions of the shattering of the Covenant from the long Babylonian captivity into Judaism after the exile. However, like Noah, Abraham and Elijah there emerges an important mention of a righteous remnant that remains faithful and carries the promises for the whole 'nation' - those of the generation that "seek the face of The God of Jacob". This implies that there are always those who attend to the true faith in every generation even though greatly in the minority. This is a part of that illusive and comforting promise that 'no generation shall be without a witness' to the true faith delivered to the (saints) Children of Israel.
Conventional wisdom holds that there is strength in numbers whereas the lonely and singular struggles of a Martin Luther or the modern day Christian whose rightful conviction puts him at cross purposes to the majority of the day reminds us of the embattled minority "who follow in His train" as the old hymn says! This was of course mentioned by Jesus and validated in the earliest part of the Sermon on the Mount in the Blesseds which singled out those who were poor in pride, meek, merciful and pure in heart, for instance. For this reason such blessed ones said Jesus when in His cause, would be subject to various persecutions just like the Prophets - who were before them in the "train".
Needless to say, the Prophets themselves were a part of that righteous remnant of which they spoke (witness the frequent petitions to God by Jeremiah who faced certain repercussion for the very words which the Almighty directed that he should speak in His name). Jeremiah was thrown into a dry well and apparently carried into the very exile which he had been given vision to predict.
Of course it doesn't make for a pleasant sermon to the faithful on a Sunday morning to suggest that if they remain faithful - the same will be in store for them as well. But in this manner, Jesus told His remaining Apostles and followers that they would be hauled into court and suffer death for His name. When Peter persisted to know the future of his fate, Jesus told him certain details in the closing verses of John which by Church tradition did in fact come to pass, that when old, He would 'stretch out his hands, and another would gird him and take him where he did not wish to go'. Peter was crucified upside down after being suspended in chains in a ghastly chasm. Perhaps this knowledge helped him when it actually took place as he remember that Jesus "had told him so" before the fact.
And if "fear and dread is the Christians daily bread" as Bach's Cantata #34 says, remember the case of one of the most celebrated of Old Testaments prophets, Elijah. Following his greatest victory over the prophets of Baal, he was thoroughly frightened by Jezebel and her singular warning to him. Quite alone, he fled in the fear and trembling of full retreat to a cave overlooking the sea - and hid. From this place, God coaxed him out to complete the task he had begun. He had told those false prophets that he was the last remaining prophet of the Lord, but the Lord then informed Elijah that there were others who had not bowed the knee to Baal and that - at least - he was not alone. And having gained strength in this knowledge of the faith of others, he has able to go on. Even a single individual can be a majority of one and carry on in the strength that God affords him. True, we would prefer better odds.
What this all means is that often for the right reasons of persistence and faithfulness, the Believer finds himself singled out; alone and afraid facing his own "dark night of the soul" and wondering in those moments if he had done something wrong rather than right! In the history of both Testaments and the years following, this is very often the situation. Cases have abounded in my hearing, pastors are driven from their jobs, faithful lay men and women quit in disgust and there are no safe 'caves' where one might go and hide. Luther's story is so often compared to John Hus who a hundred years before him, having no wise prince to protect him, suffered burning at the stake. As one friend once mentioned - extreme as that was for Hus and others like him, at least he got it over with in short order and went on to rest as a righteous martyr.
In the later chapters of Isaiah also is that image of the "Suffering Servant" often compared to, if not synonymous with, the Teacher of Righteous of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Not to compare his description with Jesus in detail, of especially the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah is nearly impossible, for their similarities are very close, "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" - and to include the redemptive nature - "a man by whose stripes - we are healed!"
In this profile, the image of Christ is chiseled in stone in the life of Jesus, a path which He foresaw and followed in His remarkable steps of perfection, meeting head on, the fears, the loneliness and heart break - yet not cracking under the pressure. This Way, as the whole movement of Christianity was first called, or path in the very steps of Jesus, was both predictive as the Sermon on the Mount more than hints, and comforting to us who find our feet on the same path fraught with sorrows and grief. This is comforting because HE, our Redeemer, blazed the path Himself and therefore stands ready to help us along that same path. Now that may not seem comforting enough especially as we are at the worst stages along our way. Elijah in the midst of his fear was unreachable and preferred it that way. It took some earth shaking events therefore to move him off his own center and begin to listen to the Lord.
In these profiles of courage, often times cowardice comes first, a gnawing loneliness and frustration and well - pain, pure and simple. No wonder that there is only a remnant remaining that is righteous, who can or will endure and walk the way of the Cross! We would rather not, but we are called on to walk with Him or with a brother or sister - this way. O
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A Brief Bible Study
Tanner ~ on The Church
From the book, Exploring God's Word, by Jacob Tanner, originally published by Augsburg Publishing House. p.139
Read - I Peter 2:9; Matthew 16:18; II Timothy 2:19; John 18:36; Acts 2:38.
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Contending For The Faith
by Rev. John Erickson
|"Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord."|
Jesus, very early on, warned the disciples, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (Matt. 7:15). Now, within what seems like maybe no more than a generation or a generation and a half, Jude finds himself writing an urgent letter to a number of "dear friends" (i.e., pastors? church leaders? congregations?) urging them of the need to "contend for the faith" that had been "once for all" delivered to... entrusted to... the saints.
It is most interesting to note what it was that stirred up this sense of urgency in Jude. It was that there were "certain persons," "ungodly men," who had "slipped in," "secretly gained admission," "surreptitiously entered" in among them, who were "turning/perverting the grace of God into lasciviousness/a license for immorality," and, they were "denying," "rejecting," "turning against," "refusing to recognize," "Jesus as our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."
Jude [but he was not alone - see Peter (2 Peter 2) and Paul (1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 4:3ff], although giving warning, does not share with us how we should go about rooting out these false preachers and teachers, but history bears witness to the fact that the early church did work to do just that.
There is an old volume (1839) by Samuel Miller, D. D., titled, The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions Addressed particularly To Candidates For The Ministry, in which the "faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" is clearly seen as a concern of the Church.
|Even in the days of the Apostles, when all their inspiration and all their miraculous powers, were insufficient to deter heretics from spreading their poison; - men, calling themselves Christians, and professing to preach the religion of Christ, perverted his truth, and brought "another gospel," which He had not taught. In this exigency, how did the churches proceed? An inspired apostle directed them not to be contented with a general profession of belief in the religion of Christ on the part of those who came to them as Christian teachers; but to examine and try them, and to ascertain whether their teaching were agreeable to the "form of sound words" which they had been taught by him: and he adds with awful solemnity- "If any man bring any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Here was, in effect, an instance, and that by Divine warrant, of employing a Creed as a test of orthodoxy: that is, men making a general profession of Christianity, are expressly directed by an inspired apostle, to be brought to the test, in what sense they understood that gospel, of which, in general terms, they declared their reception; and how they explained its leading doctrines. It would seem, indeed, that the Confession of Faith then required was very short and simple. This, the peculiar circumstances of the times, and the no less peculiar administration of the Church, rendered entirely sufficient. Still, whether the Confession were long or short; whether it consisted of three articles or of thirty, the principle was the same.|
|In the second century, in the writings of Irenaqeus; and, in the third, in the writings of Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and Lucian, the martyr, we find a number of Creeds and Confessions, more formally drawn out, more minute, and more extensive than those of earlier date. They were intended to bear testimony against the various forms of error which had arisen; and plainly show that, as the arts and corruptions of heretics increased, the orthodox church found more attention to the adoption and maintenance of these formularies indispensably necessary.|
|In the fourth century, when the church was still more agitated by the prevalence of heresy, there was a still louder demand for accredited tests, by which the heretics were to be tried and detected. Of this demand there never was a more striking instance than in the Council of Nice, when the heresy of Arius was under the consideration of that far-famed assembly. When the Council entered on the examination of the subject, it was found extremely difficult to obtain from Arius any satisfactory explanation of his views. He was not only as ready as the most orthodox divine present, to profess that he believed the Bible; but he also declared himself willing to adopt, as his own, all the language of the Scriptures, in detail; concerning the person and character of the blessed Redeemer. But when the members of the Council wished to ascertain in what sense he understood this language, he discovered a disposition to evade and equivocate, and actually, for a considerable time, baffled the attempts of the most ingenious of the orthodox to specify his errors, and to bring them to light. He declared that he was perfectly willing to employ the popular language on the subject in controversy; and wished to have it believed that he differed very little from the body of the church. Accordingly the orthodox went over the various titles of Christ plainly expressive of Divinity, -such as "God" - the true God" - the "express image of God," &c. - to every one of which Arius and his followers most readily subscribed; - claiming a right, however, to put their own construction on the scriptural titles in question. After employing much time and ingenuity in vain, in endeavouring to drag this artful chief from his lurking places, and to obtain from him an explanation of his views, the Council found it would be impossible to accomplish their object as long as they permitted him to intrench himself behind a mere general profession of belief in the Bible. They therefore, did, what common sense, as well as the word of God, had taught the church to do in all preceding times, and what alone can enable her to detect the artful advocate of error. They expressed, in their own language, what they supposed to be the doctrine of Scripture concerning the Divinity of the Saviour; in other words, they drew up a Confession of Faith on this subject, which they called upon Arius and his disciples to subscribe. This the heretics refused: and were thus virtually brought to the acknowledgment that they did not understand the Scriptures as the rest of the Council understood them, and, of course, that the charge against them was correct.|
|The same course was taken by all the pious witnesses of the truth in the dark ages, when, amidst the surrounding corruption and desolation, they found themselves called upon to bear "witness to the truth." They all professed their belief in the Bible, and their love to it; they constantly appealed to it, as the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and they studied it with incomparably more veneration and diligence than any of the errorists around them. This all history plainly evinces. But at the same time, they saw the futility of doing nothing more than proclaim in general, their adherence to the sacred volume. This would have been no distinction, and, of course, no testimony at all. It would have been nothing more than the bitterest enemies of the truth were proclaiming busily, and even clamorously, every day. They, therefore, did what the friends of orthodoxy had been in the habit of doing from the earliest ages. They framed creeds, from time to time, as the exigencies of the Church demanded, by means of which they were enabled to bear their testimony for God; to vindicate his truth; and to transmit the memorials of their fidelity to distant generations. And finally, at the glorious Reformation from Popery, by which the great Head of the Church may be said again to have "set his people free," and the memory of which shall never die; in drawing the line between "the precious and the vile," the friends of truth followed the same course. They, with one accord, formed their Creeds and Confessions, which served, at once, as a plea for the truth, and a barrier against heresy. And it is not, perhaps, too much to say, that the volume which contains the collection of these Creeds, is one of the most precious and imperishable monuments of the piety, wisdom, and zeal of the sixteenth century.|
|What, now, is the inference, from all this experience of the Church of God, so universal and so uniform? It cannot be misunderstood. It speaks volumes. When the friends of truth in all ages and situations, even those who were most tenacious of the rights of private judgment, and most happy in the enjoyment of Christian liberty, have invariably found it necessary to resort to the adoption of Creeds, in order to ascertain for themselves, as a social body, and to communicate to others, for their benefit, their sense of the holy scriptures; we are naturally led to conclude, not only that the resort is neither so "unreasonable" nor so "baneful" as many would persuade us to believe; but that there is really no other practicable method of maintaining unity and purity in the Church of Christ.|
It is so important for us to realize the treasure we have as Lutherans in our Confessions. In his article in the May 2005 issue of Table Talk, Rev. Jeffrey A. Iverson wrote of the Confessions, "Evangelical Lutheranism is firmly grounded in the historic, orthodox, and catholic faith of the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers. Lutheranism seeks to add nothing to the Scriptures or the received faith. For Lutherans, the Confessions serve as 'a presentation and explanation of the pure doctrine of the Word of God and a valid summary of the faith.' In a time when the Roman church (and later the Reformed and Annabaptist sects) taught doctrines and practices that were contrary to the Word of God, the Lutheran confessions served to clarify the faith against these innovations. They still serve that function for us today."
What it means for us (for the Church) to be confessional, is that we stand with Jude in his concern that nothing be added or taken away from the message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone, as found in the Word alone, which was "once for all" entrusted to the Church. It means that we accept the challenge of Jude, to "Fight... to fight diligently for the faith!" O
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God's Word a Compass
I will meditate on thy precepts, and fix my eyes on thy ways. Psalm 119:15.
A compass is needed by any man walking through the woods. A few years ago a friend and I, who were hunting in a large woods without a compass, got lost and did not find our way out until nearly midnight. We learned a lesson then that we will never forget. Since then it has been a joy to find our way through the thickest forests with the aid of a compass.
The compass often preaches to me. Let me share some of its sermons:
To travel without a compass is dangerous, for it is easy to get lost. A lost man gets so confused that he no longer has any sense of direction. He walks in circles until he becomes utterly exhausted. He has nothing to guide him except his own fancies, and one direction looks as hopeful as another. Many a man has found himself spending a night in the woods just because he neglected to carry a compass. What regrets grip a lost man when the shadows of night begin to overtake him! If only he had a compass to point the way out!
There is real similarity between a lost hunter who has neglected his compass and an individual who is traveling through life's wilderness without the guidance of God's Word. He who neglects God's Word will also, sooner or later, find himself in confusion, bewilderment, and exhaustion, and will finally face eternity's night hopelessly lost. The Lord has warned us that "he who despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who respects the commandment will be rewarded" (Prov. 13 :13).
A compass is useless unless you locate yourself. You must remember where you entered the woods and in what direction you were going so that you can ascertain your location and reverse your steps. A lost soul needs to sit down quietly, like the prodigal son of old, and ask himself where it was that he entered his life of sin and confusion. Was it by the side of the forest of passion, lust, dishonesty, disobedience, carelessness, impatience~ quarreling, drunkenness, or selfishness? It is important to remember what wrong turns have led you to your present helplessness. Then take a reading of God's compass and see what it says. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). This particular compass reading has led many a despairing soul to peace and joy.
A compass is of no value unless you obey it. Many times the compass seems contrary to what we think it should be. A true compass user has learned to distrust his feelings and fancies. His motto is "Obey the compass." The compass is always right, but our feelings and fancies are always changing. God's Word is like the compass: it is always right. Its readings have never led one soul astray. All weary and discouraged people who have in faith obeyed its readings have been led to peace and joy. On the other hand, all who have disobeyed its readings because they did not suit their thinking have been plunged into even greater darkness. "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Prov. 14:12). "Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping thy statutes! Then shall I not be put to shame" (Ps. 119:5, 6.)
A compass must be used often. Our nature is to turn either to the right or to the left. There are many obstacles, such as trees, logs, windfalls, or rocks, which tend to steer a hunter off his course. When walking gets hard some men will even walk with the compass in their hands, looking at it constantly. What a lesson for all who find the going difficult in this world. We need to proceed with God's Word before us constantly, referring to it often. Our nature is bent to go astray. Let us heed the advice the Lord gave to Joshua as he was about to enter into the promised land: "This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success" (Joshua 1 :8).
He who uses God's compass is a wise man. He confesses his inability to lead himself. He is teachable. He shows a determination to go in the right direction. He has a destination in view. Such a person can testify: "Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105).
From the book, Our Refuge and Strength, Sermons and Meditatins, by Maynard A. Force, Augustana Book Concern, Reprinted with permission of Augsburg Fortress Press.
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