A number of political and theological controversies followed after the death of Martin Luther (in 1546). These controversies included the topics of Original Sin, Righteousness, Law and Gospel, Good Works, the Lord’s Supper, Election, and more.
In an attempt to settle these controversies and bring about a theological unity among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession, a meeting was held in Torgau from April until June of 1576. Momentum from this meeting inspired the writing of a confession, The Formula of Concord, a year later.
The two leading theologians were Jakob Andrea and Martin Chemnitz.
The Epitome of the Formula of Concord was published first in 1577. It provides profound insight into the theology of the Scriptures, and also provides an outline for approaching theological controversies.
The Epitome is published in the Book of Concord (1580), and is considered a right articulation of doctrine and a correct exposition of the Holy Scriptures.
For us, the Epitome is a beautiful and surprisingly comforting unfolding of Biblical teaching. Each theological dispute is carefully and clearly outlined, and the appropriate Scriptures are brought together to witness to the truth. Only after the case has been made from the Scriptures, the testimony of the Augsburg Confession, Martin Luther, and other fathers of the church are brought in to support the teaching.
Errors are rejected with clarity. The truth is brought forth to comfort sinners with the hope of the Gospel. All the time the Formulators have their eyes and their pens pointing at Christ, preaching and teaching His person and work for us.
To warm us up, here is some handy theological vocabulary: “The Two Tables of the Law.”
When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai they were written on two tablets (see Exodus 32:5-16). With this in mind, students of the Scripture have seen two groups of commandments, the first having to do with God, and the second having to do with our neighbor.
The “First Table of the Law,” then, describes our fear, love, and trust of God, our exclusive worship God, our prayers, and our hearing the Lord’s Word.
The “Second Table of the Law,” beginning with the commandment “Honor your father and your mother” gives shape to our love for our neighbors.
Jesus beautifully summarizes both tables when asked about the greatest commandment:
“The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:” this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Now, when it comes to good works, we normally think of the Second Table of the Law, and especially the outward works of love and kindness to our neighbor. When I help someone, give to those in need, etc., I think, “Good Work!”
Likewise, we normally think of sins according to the Second Table of the Law, those things we do to hurt our neighbor: murder, theft, adultery, etc. When you as someone to list the Ten Commandments, which comes first? “You shall not murder. You shall not steal.” Second Table.
There is no doubt that the Second Table defines good works and sin, but this is only half of the Law.
These outward works are what the Lutheran Confessions call “civil works.” They are the good works taught by the philosophers. These are the kinds of good works that we can manage with our own reason or strength.
But, and this is the point, there is an entire world of sin and good works taught in the First Table of the Law, the works that have to do with God. When the Lutheran Confessors speak of Good Works, these are the works they are thinking of.
Here is an example from The Apology to the Augsburg Confession:
It is false, too, that by its own strength reason can love God above all things and keep his law, truly fear him, truly believe that he hears prayer, willingly obey him in death and in his other visitations, and not covet.
But reason can produce civil works. (Apology IV:27)
I find this list of good works astonishing, and I hope you are surprised as well. When Philip Melanchthon thinks of true and Christian works, he lists:
These are the good works of the First Table. (Mostly. “Coveting” is covered in Commandments 9 and 10, but remember how St. Paul equates covetousness with idolatry in Colossians 3:5.)
These things cannot be accomplished by our own reason and strength. In fact, even by the strength of the Holy Spirit working through the Word, we only begin to accomplish these things.
Now, both the theological and practical results of focusing on the Second Table of the Law and forgetting the First is disastrous. Here’s some more Melanchthon (well worth our time to digest):
If the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, then the flesh sins even when it performs outward civil works. If it cannot submit to God’s law, it is certainly sinning even when it produces deeds that are excellent and praiseworthy in human eyes.
Our opponents concentrate on the commandments of the second table, which contain the civil righteousness that reason understands. Content with this, they think they satisfy the law of God. Meanwhile they do not see the first table, which commands us to love God, to be sure that God is wrathful at our sin, to fear him truly, and to be sure that he hears us.
But without the Holy Spirit, the human heart either despises the judgment of God in its smugness, or in the midst of punishment it flees and hates his judgment. So it does not obey the first table. It is inherent in man to despise God and to doubt his Word with its threats and promises.
Therefore men really sin even when they do virtuous things without the Holy Spirit; for they do them with a wicked heart, and (Romans 14:23) “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Such people despise God when they do these things, as Epicurus did not believe that God cared for him or regarded or heard him. This contempt for God corrupts works that seem virtuous, for God judges the heart. (Apology IV.33-35)
If the Law is merely the Second Table it becomes “doable” by my own reason and strength. If I define righteousness only according to the Second Table, then I can achieve it with my own efforts.
And, apart from faith, that is, a trust in the promise fo the forgiveness of all my sins won for me by the death of Jesus on the cross, then all my outward civil good works are stained, and, in fact, a cause for judgment.
The good works that God require of us are much more than the outward acts of love for our neighbor. God requires our worship, our fear and love and trust, our confidence in His goodness even in the midst of trouble and death. Our flesh is much too weak to accomplish these things. We are guilty of breaking God’s Law at the primary point, at the First Commandment.
We have some hope and chance of achieving a human civil righteousness according to the Second Table of the Law. But there is no hope of righteousness in ourselves when it comes to the First Table. Our only hope is Christ.
Melanchthon will bring it all home (and don’t skip this because it is a quotation. These words are the entire reason I wrote this post.):
Paul says (Romans 4:15), “The law brings wrath.” He does not say that by the law men merit the forgiveness of sins. For the law always accuses and terrifies consciences. It does not justify, because a conscience terrified by the law flees before God’s judgment. It is an error, therefore, for men to trust that by the law and by their works they merit the forgiveness of sins.
We have said enough about the righteousness of law or of reason which our opponents teach. …
Therefore men cannot keep the law by their own strength, and they are all under sin and subject to eternal wrath and death. On this account the law cannot free us from sin or justify us, but the promise of the forgiveness of sins and justification was given because of Christ. He was given for us to make satisfaction for the sins of the world and has been appointed as the mediator and the propitiator.
This promise is not conditional upon our merits but offers the forgiveness of sins and justification freely. (Apology IV,38-41)
Trinity 2, 2017
As we arrived back from our June (2017) tour in Germany, I asked all my fellow adventurers for a review/recommendation of the trip.
I’m pleased to post them here:
(If you would like to join our trip in September, act fast! Click here for more info.)
“Simply stunning, a dream come true! Imagine following in Martin Luther’s footsteps, studying theology/worshipping with fellow Lutherans, and seeing the breath-taking sights of Germany all at the same time. It doesn’t get better than this! I haven’t even been home for 48 hours and I’m ready to pack my bags and go again!” -Krystle
“Pastor Wolfmueller puts on a great Reformation Tour! This trip is the perfect balance between theology, history, and an amazing amount of fun. Everything is Christ Centered and Bible Based. Not only will you learn things about Martin Luther that you never knew, you will be able to ask all those theological questions! Pastor Wolfmueller has a great way of explaining things so that everyone can understand. The schedule is rigorous so that you get all your money’s worth in this trip and it is so worth your time! I would highly recommend this trip!” -Allysha
“We have never been a more detailed and thoughtfully planned trip. Kudos to you, Keri, and Chuck. Thanks for a wonderful trip.” -Earl & Rita
“Understand our Christian heritage – why we are ‘Lutheran’ and what being ‘Lutheran’ means – Organized by some ‘Old Lutherans’ for Christians (Lutheran or not). Being with Pastor Wolfmueller is always interesting – and the topic at hand (Luther at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation) makes the opportunity even better. Solid christian fellowship and study during a coach tour of major Luther sites in Germany.” -Jay
“If you have the chance to go on a Reformation tour through Germany, I highly recommend Pastor Wolfmueller’s Luther/Bach Tour. You will be delighted by the sights, learn more of our Lutheran heritage, and make some of the greatest friends you’ve ever known. The tour is completely centered on Christ and it highlights the people He has used — and continues to use — to bring His Gospel to the world. You won’t be disappointed!” -Sarah
Many thanks to Pr Mark Moreno for putting together this study guide of “Has American Christianity Failed?”
Has Christianity Failed? Discussion Questions
Chapter One – Examining the Characteristics of American Christianity
- Revivalism teaches that the Christian life begins with a personal decision to accept Christ (p.14). Why is this appealing? What is the danger?
- Pietism teaches that the Christian life is chiefly marked by growth in good works (p.15). Why is that appealing? What is the danger?
- Mysticism teaches that we can have direct, unmediated access to God (p.18). Why is that appealing? What is the danger?
- Enthusiasm teaches that the spiritual life happens inside of us (p.21). Why is that appealing? What is the danger?
- Legalism puts the Law above the Gospel by establishing requirements for salvation beyond repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (p.22). Why is that appealing? What is the danger?
- Moralism teaches that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior (p.28). Why is that appealing? What is the danger?
- The parable of the Prodigal Son has “three slaveries”: Slavery to passion and sin, slavery to despair of God’s mercy, and slavery obedience to God’s commandments (p.33). Why do we tend towards slavery instead of sonship?
Chapter Two – God Speaks
- The three attributes that American Christianity gives the Bible are inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility (p.42). Why isn’t this enough?
- The clarity of the Bible is something we believe in as Lutherans that many other Christians simply don’t believe. Is Scripture clear?
- The Bible is sufficient, it is enough for our life and our faith. Why do some argue that it isn’t? Does the Bible answer the question “what is God’s will for my life?”?
- We believe the Bible is efficacious, it has power and authority. If one loses sight of this truth, what happens?
- Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. The Bible as instruction manual is horrible. What are the shortcomings with this approach?
- Our doctrine IS our salvation (p.51). Reaction?
- Why are these two questions important when reading Scripture? 1) What is God teaching about Himself? 2) Where is the Comfort?
- The Bible is awesome? Why and how??
Chapter Three – How Bad a Boy Are You?
- American Christianity softens the Bible’s teaching on sin (p.58). How does revivalism, pietism and/or mysticism feed into that?
- Original sin is the sin we have through Adam. Why is that an important doctrine?
- Sin, death and the devil are always together. What does that mean?
- Our sinful nature comes first, then our sinful actions. What difference does that make?
- Which of the three functions of the law (curb, mirror, guide) is most compelling to you?
- The discussion of free will (p.66ff) if critical to our understanding of our relationship to God. Do we have free will or not?
- When we see Jesus on the cross, we see what we deserve (p.70). What does Jesus suffering and death say about our sin?
Chapter Four – The One who is Always and Only for You
- Much of American Christianity is focused in the Christian and not on Christ (p.73). Have you seen this? Fallen for it?
- The Old Testament is all about Jesus. Which of the three texts made the most profound impact on you?
- In Genesis 3:15, we hear a pronouncement against the devil, and his offspring sin and death. Had you heard it unpacked that way before?
- The OT sacrificial system points us to Jesus. What does American Christianity do with the OT in general and sacrifices in particular?
- The cross is our theology; our preaching and teaching centers on it. Is the cross absent in American Christianity? More than just the sanctuary?
- Jesus suffering and death on the cross centers on physical pain, shame and spiritual agony. Why does modern theology tend to not preach or teach on this or the wrath of God?
Chapter Five – Your Name: Righteous
- What is the Great Exchange?
- The Gospel is not the fact of the cross or the event of the cross. It is the word of the cross, the promise of the cross. What does this mean?
- Repentance is the requirement and the result of God’s Word coming to mankind. How do the parables of Luke 15 demonstrate this?
- The two parts of repentance include 1) contrition that affirms we are sinners deserving of God’s wrath and 2) faith. American Christianity thinks this happens once or a handful of times. Why is that so wrong?
- Conversion is God’s work. Why isn’t it our work, our decision?
- The righteousness of the Gospel belongs to Jesus but is graciously given to us. What is “passive” righteousness?
- What does the Office of the Keys have to do with absolution? Forgiveness?
- A good conscience is not a conscience without sin…A good conscience is a forgiven conscience (p.116). Did the court room analogy help this concept for you?
Chapter Six – Go Play Outside
- Why does American Christianity seem to keep the spiritual life on the “inside”? What is lost by this?
- The kingdom of God comes by promise and by faith, and Jesus connects this promise to water. How do you find the Spirit? Feel the Spirit?
- American Christianity distrusts anything that is “outside” of us. Why? What is being missed out on?
- Baptism is Gospel: the gift of God for the salvation of sinners. Why does American Christianity deny this truth?
- Infant baptism is so anathema to American Christianity. Why should infants be baptized?
- The Lord’s Supper IS the body and blood, it IS the bread and wine. It brings life and salvation! Why would American Christianity minimize it by saying it is just symbolic?
Chapter Seven – The How of Good Works
- American Christianity is confused about the how, what and the why of good works. What is the proper view of these?
- How is baptism the battleground of the Christian life?
- The four states of man’s will (and charts on p.149) is a compelling topic. Did it clear anything up?
- The four parts of the Christian good work includes what (p.154)? Why does that matter?
- All good works are completely impossible without faith. True or false? Why?
- Of the three danger consciences (p.158ff) which is the one you battle most?
- How does suffering fit into the Christian life?
Chapter Eight – The Gift of a Neighbor and the Beginning of Love
- Christian love is sacrifice, it is selfless, it is death (p.169). What is wrong with loving yourself?
- Scriptures locate good works first in our homes and then with the folks we live and work with (p. 172). Why is vocation essential to understanding good works?
- Worship is being served by Jesus (p.176). It’s about God’s work and Word, His speaking and giving. How does that challenge us? American Christianity?
- What’s wrong with “Relationship theology”?
- Piety is the way our doctrine looks when lived (p.184). Piety flows from baptism, not a decision to follow Christ. How does baptism connect to daily life?
- Of the three theological truths on page 187, which one stands out to you? Why?
Chapter Nine – Wrestling with God: Why Prayer is Suffering
- The Command of Prayer is an invitation. How is this comforting?
- The Promise of Prayer includes that He hears and answers! Have you thought that all along?
- Jesus teaches us what we really need in this life. What is that?
- The words we pray from scripture have an advantage over our “heart felt” prayers. What?
- Prayer is taught! What have you learned about prayer from this chapter?
- Prayer is warfare. Have you heard the term prayer warrior? How is that accurate?
- Evangelism and mission are not to be motivated by worry or anxiety. Is Hope guilty of this?
Chapter Ten – The End of the World as We Know It
- Why is American Christianity obsessed with the End Times?
- American Christianity tends to premillennialism which teaches Jesus will come again to establish His Kingdom on Earth. How does that reflect in other parts of their theology?
- Why do dispensationalists make a distinction between Israel and the Church? What danger does that pose?
- What is the danger of the so-called “consistent, literal interpretation”?
- Is history about the glory of God or the salvation of mankind?
- The author gave five rules to reading the Book of Revelation (p.227ff). Which of those jumps out at you?
Chapter Eleven – Surprised by the Gospel
- The Gospel is always a surprise. Is that true? Why?
- Sin forgiven for you, sin destroyed for you, death swallowed up for you; how is this Gospel surprising?
- Jesus undoes so much with a word; how does He have that power?
- How is the Lutheran Church an alternative to American Christianity? What can we do to proclaim the treasure that is the Gospel?
+ SDG +
Rev. Dr. Mark Moreno
Listen here: http://tabletalkradio.org/content/node/522
On this episode we skip right past Buzzwords and emails so Pastor Chris Rosebrough, The Captain of Pirate Christian Radio, can join us for a lively game of Iron Preacher against Pastor Wolfmueller. The preaching is based on Luke 22:47-53 and judging this game is Pastor Carl Fickenscher! AVAST (Be Steadfast) YE MATEYS!!
from Table Talk Radio Podcasts SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST: http://tabletalkradio.org/content/
Listen here: http://tabletalkradio.org/content/node/521
What do Listener Emails about ACXIV and the games What Verse Is Luther Commenting On and 10 Commandments In The News have to do with great radio? We don’t know. But give a listen anyway!
from Table Talk Radio Podcasts SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST: http://tabletalkradio.org/content/
Issues, Etc. is the world’s best place for continuing theological education.
Visit their website: www.issuesetc.org
Listen here: http://tabletalkradio.org/content/node/524
First we do a little more Preaching to Hollywood about the song Chocolate Jesus. Then … What is the Ultra Mega Super Bible Bee ? Well, When the Old Testament verses are quoted in the New Testament can we guess both books? Grab a piece of paper and play along! You might even get all wet if Pastor Wolfmueller shares a Baptism Verse of the Day!!
from Table Talk Radio Podcasts SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST: http://tabletalkradio.org/content/