Luther’s Theology of The Cross

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Today, October 31, in the year 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Though it was Luther’s first attempt of many at writing or speaking against the theological thinking of his day, it was and continues to be a defining moment in history. The Ninety-Five Theses ushered in the dawn of the reformation.

Of the ninety-five theses, it is Luther’s ninety-fifth that leads us to consider what some say is the heart of understanding Luther’s theology. It reads: Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross! Luther is concerned with those who speak peace without the cross and offer glory without suffering.

In 1518, in another set of theses prepared for a debate at Heidelburg, Luther further defined his theology of the cross. He wrote: That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. He wrote further that he deserves to be a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

In the Heidelberg Disputation, it is important to understand that Luther is contrasting his theology of the cross with what he termed a theology of glory. A theology of glory was the medieval practice of theology that involved mere metaphysical speculation and attempted to find God by one’s own reasoning and wisdom. In contrast, a theology of the cross finds God on the cross through faith. Luther wrote that he who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.

For Luther, to know God is to know him on the cross. Walter Von Loewenich writes in regard to this principle that God reveals himself in concealment, God’s wisdom appears to men as foolishness, God’s power is perfected in weakness, God’s glory parades in lowliness, God’s life becomes effective in the death of his Son.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. Would we have chosen the cross and suffering as God’s mode of saving the world? The cross is so scandalous and is only for the severest of criminals. Who would look for God on the cross? And yet Paul, and Luther, directs our gaze at God on the cross hidden in the midst of suffering.

Luther, beginning with his 95 Theses begins to direct the church of his day back to the cross. The question we must ask is do we need to recover a theology of the cross as a church? Do we prefer glory, strength, and wisdom compared to humility, weakness, and foolishness? Knowing that following Christ involves taking up our cross, are we willing to live sacrificial lives for the sake of gospel and others?

Douglas John Hall writes that a theology of the cross insists that God, who wills to meet us, love us, redeem us, meets, loves, and redeems us precisely where we are: in the valley of the shadow of death. As a result, will we engage the world around us and meet others with the truth of the gospel in the midst of their pain and struggle?

May we stand as Luther and proclaim and live life under the cross. And, may we daily remind ourselves that the word of the cross…to us who are being saved…is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18) Therefore, far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).

Around The Web

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Here’s Where Your Neighbors Are Theologically – A recent poll by LifeWay Research, sponsored by Ligonier Ministries, surveyed Americans on a variety of theological issues in order to, in the words of Stephen Nichols, “take the temperature of America’s theological health.”

Did “The Church” Hurt You Or “A Church?” – No one has ever been hurt by THE church. Many people have been hurt by A church. And the difference matters.

The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music – If the ratio of contemporary-to-traditional was rising twenty years ago, it is falling now; the ratio is now in decline, and I suspect that decline will continue for the foreseeable future. What follows is a painfully abbreviated list of eight reasons why I think this change is happening.

Evangelism Is Fueled By Knowing God Is At Work –  Have you become discouraged in evangelism? Have your eyes grown weary from looking for fruit? Are you wondering if the problem is more with you than them?

The Most Honest Atheist In The World – What a refreshing blast of humble and honest air! You cannot but admire such a sincere, transparent, and honorable atheist.

7 Reasons Some Churches Experience Revitalization (While Others Don’t) – I recently categorized those reasons some churches experience revitalization. I then compared them to churches that have not been revitalized. I found seven differences between the two sets of churches. These are the seven traits unique to the revitalized churches…

How Evangelism Creates Consumers

Speak & They Will Hear, Believe, & Call

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For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

These words from Paul present an incredible promise and an incredible challenge. Let’s think through what Paul is saying…

  • If people call on the name of the Lord, they will be saved.
  • But how will they call on one they have not believed in?
  • And how can they believe unless they hear?
  • And how can they hear unless someone tells them?
  • So we must go and speak!

Do you see the promise? If anyone calls upon the name of the Lord they will be saved. A few verses earlier in Romans 10, Paul writes that 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 (Rom. 10:9).

God is working. He is saving those who call upon Him. When we as Christ-followers go and speak the gospel, then people hear. And when people hear, they will believe. And when they believe, they will respond and call upon the Lord for salvation.

God is calling people unto himself and saving them. Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  He did not come to be served but to offer his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45) and gave his life for us (Gal. 2:20). How marvelous is the grace of God!

But alongside such a merciful promise is our challenge as Christ’s disciples to make the gospel known. People will respond and believe, but they will do so only if they are able to hear. And how do they hear? It’s by our speaking.

Our calling is to “make disciples” (Mt 28:16-20) and to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world” (Acts 1:8). We have been given the ministry of reconciliation therefore, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20).

We are a sent people, by Christ’s authority, to make known the glorious mysteries of the gospel. We can be confident as we go that as we speak, people will hear, believe, and respond. And when they call on the Lord, they will be saved.

Let’s not be ashamed of the gospel therefore, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). Let’s be bold with all kindness and gentleness and patience and love and go and speak the gospel. And as we do, let’s remember the promise that God will save.

 

 

 

Decorator Spirituality?

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Spiritual theology, using Scripture as text, does not present us with a moral code and tell us “Live up to this”; nor does it set out a system of doctrine and say, “Think like this and you will live well.” The biblical way is to tell a story and in the telling invite: “Live into this–This is what it looks like to be human in this God-made and God-ruled world; this is what is involved in becoming and maturing as a human being.”

We do violence to the biblical revelation when we “use” it for what we can get out of it or what we think will provide color and spice to our otherwise bland lives. That always results in a kind of “decorator spirituality” — God as enhancement. Christian are not interested in that; we are after something far bigger. When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.

(taken from Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book)

A Hymn We Need To Sing

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This is a great hymn by Isaac Watts. It has been reworked by Caedmon’s Call. Powerful words of the gospel. We need to sing this more!!!

No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of Thy Son.

Now, for the love I bear His name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to His cross.

Yes, and I must and will esteem
All things but loss for Jesus’ sake:
O may my soul be found in Him,
And of His righteousness partake!

The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before Thy throne;
But faith can answer Thy demands
By pleading what my Lord has done.

Around The Web

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Your iPhone Might Be Making You Less ReligiousA new paper titled “Finding Brands and Losing Your Religion” in the Journal of Experimental Psychology opens with some lines you might not expect to find in a business journal: “What leads individuals to turn their backs on an omnipresent God? Another omnipresent force may be a viable culprit: brand name products.

This Coke’s [Not] For You: Life On The Margins – Coca-Cola printed over two hundred of the most popular names that represent the United States’ diverse population, but what of those whose names were not listed? 

How To REALLY Help Someone Change – You’ve got this person in your life, and they really need to change. What the heck are you supposed to do? Fortunately, the Bible gives us straight forward wisdom on how to really, actually help a person change. And odds are, the Bible’s wisdom probably runs contrary to your own ideas of how to help a person change. It certainly runs contrary to mine!

Bible Ignorance – People who have an excellent understanding of the Scriptures really impress me. If there’s one thing I detest, besides Manchester United, it’s Bible studies or theological discussions where the Scriptures function like the crumbs in a bag of chips: you get to them only if you’re desperate. 

Steve Jobs On Leadership And The Idol Of Approval – Jony Ive is the senior vice president of design at Apple and is known as the great design mind behind the products at Apple. In a rare interview, Jony shares some lessons he learned from working with Steve Jobs. In the interview, he recounts a conversation with Steve where Steve rebukes him for leading to be approved, for wanting approval from his team more than anything else.

Some Uncomfortable Questions “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Would you like others to remember your failings as long as you remember theirs?

Making Disciples

 

The Ministry Of Proclaiming

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The highest service to perform, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is the proclamation of the Word. This ministry of the Word is the fourth and final service in which Bonhoeffer believes the Christian community owes to each other.

Though Bonhoeffer does believe the proclamation of the Word is the most crucial service, this does not negate the others. He writes that “where the ministry of listening, active helpfulness, and bearing with others is faithfully performed, the ultimate and highest service can also be rendered, namely, the ministry of the Word of God.”

It is only when we listen, help, and bear with others that the door is opened to speak the word into their lives. Bonhoeffer writes:

If [speaking the word] is not accompanied by worthy listening, how can it really be the right word for the other person? If it is contradicted by one’s own lack of active helpfulness, how can it be a convincing and sincere word? If it issues, not from a spirit of bearing and forbearing, but from impatience and the desire to force its acceptance, how can it be the liberating and healing word?

Don’t Fear!

We must not fear this responsibility to speak the Word to one another. If we cannot bring ourselves to speak God’s Word, then we need to reexamine our view of our Christian brother or sister. Regardless of “how old or highly placed or distinguished [a Christian brother] may be,” writes Bonhoeffer, “he is still a man like us, a sinner in crying need of God’s grace. He has the same great necessities that we have, and needs help, encouragement, and forgiveness as we do.”

One thing that helps us in speaking the Word to others is allowing others to speak the Word to us. If we humbly accept reproof from God’s Word spoken by others, then “the more free and objective will we be in speaking ourselves.” Bonhoeffer writes that “the person whose touchiness and vanity make him spurn a brother’s earnest censure cannot speak the truth in humility to others; he is afraid of being rebuffed and of feeling that he has been aggrieved.” But let humility reign and we will speak the word because the humble “seeks nothing for himself and has no fears for himself, [so] he can help his brother through the Word.”

Speak It In Everyday Life

What Bonhoeffer means by speaking the Word to one another is important to understand. It is not necessarily done in a formal gathering but in the day to day activities with one another. He writes that “what we are concerned with here is the free communication of the Word from person to person, not by the ordained ministry which is bound to a particular office, time, and place.”

“God has put His Word in our mouth,” writes Bonhoeffer. “He wants it to be spoken through us. If we hinder His Word, the blood of the sinning brother will be upon us. If we carry out His Word, God will save our brother through us.” Fairly strong words for us to speak the Word. But we must remember that it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

Let’s not back away from speaking the Word to others today. For all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But let’s do so only as we listen, help, and bear one another’s burden.

 

The Ministry Of Bearing

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What does it mean to serve one another? This is the question that I have been thinking through as I have been highlighting a portion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together (chapter 4). Bonhoeffer writes of four acts of service in which he believes the Christian community owes each other. So far, I have posted about the ministry of listening and the ministry of helpfulness. Today, we discuss the third act of service, the ministry of bearing.

The Ministry of Bearing

Paul wrote that we should bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). “Thus,” writes Bonhoeffer, “the law of Christ is a law of bearing. Bearing means forbearing and sustaining. The brother is a burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian. For the pagan the other person never becomes a burden at all. He simply sidesteps every burden that others may impose upon him.”

For Bonhoeffer, “the Christian must bear the burden of a brother” for “it is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated.” It is our duty as believers to bear with one another and therefore show to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. Jesus said: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35). Is not love exhibited as we bear with one another?

What Does It Mean To Bear With One Another?

Bonhoeffers lists two things that we bear for one another. The first is freedom. We do not “play God” in the brother’s life and seek to control or manipulate, but we let “God create His image in him” instead of us “stamping our image upon him.”

“The freedom of the other person,” writes Bonhoeffer, “includes all that we mean by a person’s nature, individuality, endowment. It also includes his weaknesses and oddities, which are such a trial to our patience, everything that produces frictions, conflicts, and collisions among us.” But we bear with them. We are not quick to judge or coerce but instead, walk with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2).

The second thing we bear is sin. Sin is much harder to bear than freedom for “here the Christian suffers the rupture of his fellowship with the other person that had its basis in Jesus Christ.” However, “it is only in bearing with him that the great grace of God becomes wholly plain.” Did not Christ welcome and receive us in the midst of our sin? Did he not bear our sin and forgive? How much more should we forgive one another?

It is the bearing of sins that should lead one to self-examination instead of judgment. Bonhoeffer writes that “when does sin ever occur in the community that he must not examine and blame himself for his own unfaithfulness in prayer and intercession, his lack of brotherly service, of fraternal reproof and encouragement, indeed for his own personal sin and spiritual laxity, by which he has done inure to himself, the fellowship, and the brethren?”

The Strength To Bear With One Another

The power to bear with one another is to know that “he who is bearing others knows that he himself is being borne, and only in this strength can he go on bearing.” It’s humbling to realize that someone is “bearing our burdens” and that we stand in continual need of forgiveness for our offenses.

The Christian community forgives, however, and accepts us in all our quirkiness trusting that God is transforming us. So when we are quick to judge and wish to push off bearing with our Christian brother or sister, may we remember that first, Christ has borne our sins, and second, so have many in our Christian community.