The sum and substance of our preaching is Christ, for Christ alone saves.
One of the passages we often read at an ordination or installation brings our Lord’s clear word,
Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations…” (Luke 24:46f).
We revel in St. Paul’s “riff” in Philippians:
Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (3:7-9).
And we preachers also want our hearers to know Christ “and the power of His resurrection,” that we “may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (3:10).
Lutherans like to repeat Paul -“I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) – and we seek to follow Paul on Mars Hill, beginning at a point to which his hearers could relate, the “unknown god,” and ending with Christ proclaimed for repentance and the forgiveness of sins:
now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).
Yet even in the Lutheran Church you sometimes hear sermons essentially Christless. What do I mean? Perhaps the preacher has determined to focus on marriage. He even has Ephesians 5:21-33 for his text (it does come up in the lectionary!). He spends most of the sermon explaining how wives are to submit themselves (desperately trying not to offend too many women) and cajoling the men to self-sacrificing love, to love like Jesus did, giving up His life for His bride, the church. All the while he is extolling Christian marriage – a great thing to do, by the way! – but in the end, the preacher says little or nothing of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
What is happening? Preaching Christ as example, he is preaching law, a necessary task to be sure, but if that’s all he does, many of his hearers will be stuck in their own self-righteousness, thinking, “I’m doing my best, Jesus, to follow your lead! I may not be perfect, but I’m working at it, and I sure hope my wife notices, too!” Other men (not to mention the wives) will be crushed under the weight they perceive in the requirement. Some will be at the edge of despair. Even more will simply reject this word of God as “impossible,” “unrealistic,” “not connected to the real world.” And for them, the Christian enterprise will sound more and more like a fairy tale, a “once upon a time” thing out on the edges, rather than the nitty-gritty, down to earth, core of life thing it really is.
It doesn’t work, simply at the close of such a sermon, to tack on a few phrases, “Oh yes, Christ died for your sins, too!” when you have spent 95% of your hearers’ time developing “Six Biblical Principles to Make Your Marriage Great!” The Gospel of Christ crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification can NEVER just be tacked on, “essential” perhaps, but functionally an after-thought nonetheless.
Indeed, whatever the topic, Christ crucified and raised from the dead, FOR YOU, must be the center. Even after we extol Christ as Friend, Christ as Example, we must above all preach Him as Savior of sinners – “repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed…” Christians DO need to hear the Law as a guide for living, for we do need to know what truly pleases God, but in the end the Law always also accuses, exposes where we fall short. To continue with our example, husband and wife, as hard as they may try to follow Christ’s example, will never live in perfect sacrificial, self-submitting love. They will always need Christ’s perfect sacrifice for them both, for they are still sinner/saints. The old Adam (our sinful nature) still clings and must be drowned daily by repentance, so that Christ, who gave Himself for both, might raise both to newness of life – daily.
So Christ’s sacrificial love for the church is much more than our example to follow, but is most of all the means by which we are forgiven when we fail, and the means by which we live in spite of our failures. Our sins kill us, but Christ makes alive. Our sins would separate us from God and from one another, but Christ washes us clean daily. Paul writes of this chapter,
This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:32f).
For in the center of this teaching is the promise,
…Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
The church is holy only because Christ washes her daily. A Christian marriage is made holy only with the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ spoken and received. In the creed we confess the church to be holy, the communion of saints. This is possible only by means of the line that follows next: [I believe in] “the forgiveness of sins.” “Repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed…”
Making the Gospel promises clear is actually quite difficult work for the preacher. It is often easy to develop, for instance, a sermon on prayer, in which the preacher talks about our need for prayer, how we don’t pray enough, how God promises to hear, so why don’t we pray more? That sermon can be quickly written. But it’s usually much more work for the preacher to go deeper, to bring pointed Law and specific Gospel, in other words, Law that kills, that allows no one to say, “I’m OK for now – at least I’m better than he is.” Killing Law prepares the hearer for the preacher to come with the life-giving Gospel promise specifically applied to the particular deadly corruption thus exposed. Properly preached, the Law brings even the Christian to despair of his own efforts so that Christ alone can be Savior: Here is the One who has done all for you! His perfect life, His death for sin, His rising from the dead, His righteousness, His peace, it’s ALL YOURS! Here in the promise, your sin is forgiven you. Go in peace, you are free! You are baptized, adopted sons and daughters in God’s household. Here is your brother Jesus, the One who prays for you, who gives you the right to call God Father! When you pray, you walk right into the throne room of the Lord of all the universe with your prayers and petitions, because He has promised to hear. You have at work in you the power of His resurrection. It’s ALL FOR YOU!
Christ now sees YOU as His holy bride, all of you who are baptized into His name, trusting His promise. Now, in your marriage, He enables you, husband and wife, to see each other as He sees you, in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish. Now, even when we fail, He raises us, and we are alive in Him. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect,” Paul writes, “but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (Philippians 3:12). Now we see it by faith, but it’s real, because He promised. Believe it, because it’s yours in Him.
Finding fresh ways to say this is not easy, for what theologians call the “opinion of the law,” is found also in the preacher. In other words, even though we might not want to admit it, we naturally think we will impress God by our doing, by how hard we worked. Or we think we have to do God’s work for Him. But when the preacher knows that he himself is truly broken, that apart from Christ he truly is a damned sinner just like the rest of us, that recognition will compel a constant searching the Scriptures for the healing balm of Christ, and a deep well-spring of eagerness to bring that healing message to others. An observation: When I hear a sermon particularly clear and persuasive in its Gospel presentation, often when I talk with that preacher I’m confident I will find a man who himself knows what it is like to be completely broken, to be utterly desperate to hear the good news of Jesus. That’s what makes him desperate to bring it to others. Just as the same man who said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) also said, in the same letter, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (9:16).
Stated positively, we have the best news there is!
God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
What could be better? It’s Jesus, Jesus for you! There’s the sum and substance of our preaching, for Jesus alone saves!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
The ILC World Seminary Conference is held every three years. Participants at this years conference are from six continents and represent confessing Lutheran church bodies large and small.
Sub Cruce The Cross as a Mark of the Church – An Exegetical Perspective
Rev. Roberto Bustamante, New Testament Professor at Seminario Concordia in Buenos Aires, Argentina provided the exegetical reflection on the conference theme.
Suffering always retains its scandalous side. It always demands an answer to its intrinsic “Why?”
“The theme of our conference moves around what Martin Luther did with this problem in his 1539 writing Von den Consiliis ind Kirchen (On councils and the Church[es}) Luther not only accepts the Church’s suffering as a possibility or a fact, but he even lifts it up to the constitutive category of “mark of the Church”, that is to say: suffering, persecution and martyrdom, together with the other six previous marks, allow the “poor confused person” to know “what, who, and where the church is.” Is that not too much?
We will consider three narratives into which the New Testament authors frame their account of the Church’s suffering. … Our attempt is to open three of the several doors that give us an entrance into the multifaceted drama that frames our suffering within the economy of salvation. This, I hope, will help us to have at lease a provisional grasp of how Scriptures handle our hard theodician questions and how Luther’s understanding of the holy cross coheres with the New Testament account.”
Suffering as Participation in Christ’s Own Story
Working through John 15:18-21, Mark 8:34-38 among others, Bustamante made his point:
“Our sharing in this story cannot take place through a mere obedient imitation (a Kempis) 1989; Michaels 1988.262), not even through the dynamic correlation between the penultimate gift of conformatio Chrisit and the still ultimate category of imitate Christi (“imitators of God” — Bonhoeffer 1963,344) Our sharing in this story can only come to us as a gift. Only then, “when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation … the other part follows: that you take him as your example, give yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you.” (WA 10/1/1:11-12; AE 35:120)
But how is it that the Church has a share in someone else’s historical events (i.e. Jesus’ death and sufferings)? The ghosts of a medieval Christo-mysticism and a romanticist /idealist “empathy” with Christ lurk around for our Modern-shaped way of doing exegesis, in which the only possibilities remaining are the human factors either of the rebellious world’s obstinacy in mistreating us just as they did Christ or of the Church’s masochist obsession with reproducing Christ’s stigmata. The New Testament has a different answer to that question:
The Church participates in Christ’s storied-with-suffering body through sacramental mediation. For it is the water and blood that sprang out of the Crucified’s side at the precise moment when the Church was being founded with which we are baptized into His death and resurrection, into that storied-with-suffering body and are given a share in that one suffering and risen body, in spit of us being many.
Suffering as Children of the Lord
There is a second type of narrative that we want to consider here, with which the New Testament frames the suffering of the Church, and that moves along the lines of Jewish wisdom tradition. … A particular characteristic of the wisdom tradition is its down-to-earth understanding of reality, especially in terms of its epistemology and its moral pragmatism. Though the pious or righteous life is undoubtedly understood as cormam deo, the main quest is how to live out this life in the world. God uses all suffering in order to shape us to live out His gifts.(Hebrews 12)
Suffering as Messianic Woes
Jewish apocalypticism came to learn from the prophets and their own experience that this present eon is not all that there is. Another era will be opened when Yahweh will finally manifest his justice, vindicating his “suffering righteous” (the people of Israel), and condemning “the sinners” (the wicked nations and those in Israel that did not remain pure. ) One particular feature of this apocalyptic understanding of reality is the so-called “Messianic Woes.” The story under this motif goes like this: In the very last days, there will be a great tribulation upon the earth.
Bustamante noted that there are varying views of who this suffering will affect but concluded, “In any case, the main function of the woes will be to mark and anticipate the imminent appearance of the Messiah. Thence its labels “Messianic woes” or “birth pangs of the Messiah”. He then examined three texts, Mark 13:4-13, 19-20,24-27; I Peter 4:12-19 and Revelation 12.
“Finally, how does all this cohere with Luther’s understanding of the cross as one of the marks of the Church? (AE 41:143-66) … Framing his understanding of the holy cross within the Third Article of the “Children’s Creed, … The Third Article story transforms the ineffable scandal of the cross into the evangelical indicative that exposes who these poor wretched people are: the una et sancta et catholic ecclesia. Through the cross, the Holy Spirit “mortifies the old Adam and teaches him patience, humility, gentleness, praise and thanks, and good cheer in suffering,” training him in the tres virtues theologicas that correspond to our new life in Christ:
“to believe in God[and] trust Him, to love Him, and to place our hope in Him.(AE 41:165) Finally and more fundamentally, the cross is a constitutive part of that activate with which the Holy Trinity not only creates the eschatological reality of the Church per redemption et vivification et sanctification(AE 41:144), but also “God Himself has revealed and opened to us the most profound depths of His fatherly heart and His pure, utterable love … and moreover, having granted and
bestowed upon us everything in heaven and on earth, He has also give us His Son and His Holy Spirit, through whom He brings us to Himself.” (LC II, 64)
A Confessional (Dogmatic) View of Martyrdom and the Cross
Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast, Jr, president of the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
"Those of you who know me are also aware of the fact that I am, in respect to my discipline, a historian. What that means for this presentation is that, while we will look at the confessional witness to martyrdom and the cross, we will also place this witness in a historical context for the sake of learning how Lutherans have actually lived the relationship that proceeds from their dogmatic commitments."
Noting that For Luther, the Gospel centered in the cross of Jesus Christ was the center of the biblical witness.
"His well known thesis 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation captures this reality: "He deserves to be called a theolgoian, however, who comprehends the visible and maifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross." W
With his excommunication from the church and condemnation at the Diet of Worms (1521), Luther lived under the reality, for the last quarter century of his life, knowing that his life might be forfeited at any moment.
In the context of that reality, Luther lived a remarkably "normal" life. He married and had children; he suffered health issues, as many of us do as we age; and he did rather well for himself financially. Yet each day was lived under the threat of death — of martyrdom and the cross. This realty and the difficulties of life in sixteenth century Germany, led Luther consistently to think about death. He would argue that this was not born of moribity, but that it was part of the Chrsitian Life."
The Augsburg Confession and Life Under the Cross
Walking participants through the history of the Second Diet of Speyer (1529) Diet of Augsburg (1530), Rast noted that the church was about to fracture and proceeded to uwrap the Augsburg Confession in terms of its nature as a representative document of the evangelical cause.
“The first article of the Augsburg Confession treats God. …The Evangelicals placed this article first, not only because it is a fundamental teaching of the Srciptures but also to show the catholic nature of the evangelical movement.
Articles II and III, which speak of original sin and the Son of God respectively, also are catholic in nature. In them, “Melancthon has still provided a clear espousal of the Reformation teaching of sola gratia and sola fide.”
Articles IV-VI form the heart and center of the Augsburg Confession and inform all of the preceding and following articles. These brief articles define what it means to be evangelical. Foremost among these is article IV.
Immediately following the affirmation of justification by faith apart from works is the article on the ministry of the church. … This article takes the thought of article IV and develops the thought more fully.
Furthermore, article VI also develops the personal ramifications of the article of justification as it pertains to the individual and his Christian life when it begins, “Item docent, quod fides debat bonos furctus parere:
The Death of Luther and the Interims–Context for Martyrdom and Confession
Luther had consistently expected to die during the great part of his adult life — either from bad health or at the hand of his antagonists. He lived until February 18, 1546. Shorty after his death, martyrdom and the cross came upon his followers through the efforts of Moritz of Saxony and Charles the V.
The Magdeburg Confession
In Magdeburg were Lutherans who held that they were truly committed to Luther’s doctrine, which they believed Melancthon and Wittenberg had surrendered. From this small pocket of resistance was soon to come forth one of the most significant Lutheran Confessions of the sixteenth century.
The Magdeburgers professed that they were following the tradition of thought first established by Luther and as such were not the ones who had transgressed the law. …Their actions arose from a responsible conviction that they held to the true teaching of Luther and that it was their God-given responsibility to ensure that the maintained the evangelical principle, even if it meant that they and to face persecution because of it.”
Rast made the connection between the Magdeburg confession and the formal principle in Augsburg IV-VI “derived from and standing in the stream of the church catholic.”
Examples of Martyrdom: Antonious Corvinus and Baldo Lupetino
Two examples of Luther’s followers among whom suffered imprisonment and deprivation of their livelihoods were recounted.
Conclusion– Peace, the Cross, and The The Formula of Concord
By 1555, the political and military situation had calmed. … Perhaps because the threat of martyrdom at the hands of the state had largely been removed, martyrdom and the cross were largely translate into the arena of the individual Christian. In The Formula of Concord (1577), persecution and the cross appear, notably int the article on the election of grace. (Paragraphs 20, 30 and 48)
Seminary Education Worldwide
Through out the day on Friday, representatives from each world region shared the state of seminary education in their region. The range of the seminaries in regard to student body and faculty size was interesting to note. Each one expressed the concern to form pastors who are faithfully Lutheran. In this photo are representatives from the Latin American countries making their presentation.
Several common themes arose:
- Faculty Development
- Fiscal Challenges
- Liturgy and Hymnody
- Library and technology resources
- Textbooks and new technology
- Challenge of building and maintaining Lutheran identity
- Development or proper inclusion of Distance Learning Models
- Continuing education for parish pastors
- Move toward accreditation
The greatest challenge facing Confessional Lutheran Seminaries Worldwide: Imparting a theological attitude
World Region Conferences
In the afternoon, small meetings by world region took place allowing participants to discuss specific joys and challenges, compare notes and encourage one another.
The European Delegation
The Latin American Delegation
The North American Delegation
The Asian Delegation
The African Delegation
The day ended with Vespers, Supper and a social hour prepared by the gracious hosts at Palanga Lutheran Church.
In Friday’s Matins service participants remembered the life and witness of the first Lutheran Martyrs, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch. A bit about them follows:
Esch and Voes were Augustinian monks of Saint Augustine’s Monastery in Antwerp. When in 1522 all the monks there publicly professed Lutheran doctrine, the Bishop of Cambrai had them all arrested and imprisoned in Vilvorde, where they were interrogated by Jacob van Hoogstraten from Cologne and some dependably Catholic professors. When the monks realized that they risked being burned alive if they did not recant, all except three—Johann Esch, Heinrich Voes, and Lampertus Thorn—recanted. The recanting monks were released but were not returned to the monastery, which instead was declared defiled and soon demolished.
Esch, Voes, and Thorn, still held in custody, were questioned again by the ecclesiastical inquisition court, but they refused to recant. They were then handed over to the secular court and sentenced to death. They were taken to Brussels and held until the appointed day of execution on 1523 July 1. New attempts were made meanwhile to get them to renounce. Voes was brought first to the inquisitors, but he refused to recant. Esch also refused to renounce Lutheranism. Thorn asked for an additional four-day period to study the scriptures with respect to his views, and thus he was not executed then with Esch and Voes. Esch and Voes were summarily delivered to the executioner, brought to the marketplace in Brussels, and burned alive. For some reason, the charges against them were not read aloud as was the established practice; it has been conjectured that the authorities were concerned that hearing the charges might cause Lutheran ideas to spread among the public witnesses or that the ideas were already there and would ignite a protest.
On learning of the execution of Esch and Voes, Martin Luther wrote what is thought to be his first hymn, “Ein neues Lied wir heben an” (“A new song we raise”) which was printed in the Erfurt Enchiridion of 1524. This is generally known in English as John C. Messenger’s translation by the first line and title “Flung to the Heedless Winds” and sung to tune IBSTONE composed in 1875 by Maria C. Tiddeman or to tune DENBY composed in 1904 by Charles J. Dale).
A New Song Here Shall Be Begun
“Among Luther’s most faithful followers were members of his own order. As early as 1519 Jakob Spreng, the prior of the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp, defended Luther’s teachings. In 1521 the Diet of Worms put Luther under the ban, called him a devil in human form, and branded his teaching heretical. In the parts of Germany where Lutheranism was strongest, the terms of this edict were never carried out. Luther’s own prince, Frederick the Wise, refused to set his name to it, and, instead of prosecuting Luther, he had him taken into protective custody on the Wartburg.
In the Netherlands, however, political conditions were different. These lands were directly under the emperor. Here the Edict of Worms was carried out to the letter. In Antwerp Jakob Spreng and his successor Henry von Zütphen were arrested and threatened with execution. The remaining Augustinians were undeterred and continued to preach with great success, and so the whole monastery was laid to the ground and all the monks imprisoned. When the scholastics of the famous University of Louvain made it known that the friars would either have to recant or be burned at the stake, all but three renounced Lutheran teaching. The three confessors were convicted of heresy and condemned to death at the stake. The fate of one of them, Lambert Thorn, is not quite clear. He remained in prison and was not executed until 1528. Luther sent him a letter of comfort in 1524. But the other two, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, died martyrs’ deaths at the market place in Brussels on July 1, 1523, the first blood witnesses of the Reformation.
Naturally, Luther was deeply moved. Instead of pitying these men for the sacrifice which they had been forced to offer, he considered their faithfulness a victory and their martyrdom an honor. But he was incensed by the rumors quickly spread by his enemies who claimed that Heinrich and Johann had with their dying breath disavowed their own teaching and made their “peace with the church.” He wanted the blood witness of these two men to be known and the lies of his enemies to be exposed. And so he availed himself of the mass media most commonly used in his day for broadcasting important news. In an age without newspapers, radio, or television, when many people were illiterate, the folk song was the most common form of mass communication. Folk ballads told the stories of kings and villains, of treason and heroism, of battles and banditry. They were printed on broadsheets and widely sold. Wandering minstrels sang them in the market place, the roadside, and the tavern. The ballads quickly made their way from town to town, and soon they were known by heart. Their style was dramatic and direct, their language simple. Often they began with an introductory verse, such as “What shah we now take up and sing?”
Luther was thoroughly familiar with ballads such as these. In his student days he mastered the lute. On the way to the Diet of Worms he entertained the guests at an inn in Frankfurt, singing and accompanying himself on the lute.
It was this role Luther assumed when he wrote the ballad of the two Brussels martyrs, probably early in August, 1523. Beginning with the characteristic folk song phrase, “A new song here has be begun,” it became the first hymn of the Reformation. Overnight, as it were, Luther became aware of his gift as a hymnist, and the bulk of his hymns appeared within the next few months. Although Luther wrote no other hymns in the form of a ballad, his martyrs’ hymn served as the pattern for countless Anabaptist hymns that appeared in the following years, describing the fate of their martyrs in as many as one hundred stanzas.”
Martin Luther, vol. 53, Luther’s Works, Vol. 53: Liturgy and Hymns, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 211-12.
“A New Song Here Shall Be Begun”
1 Walter’s Wittenberg hymnal of 1524 and most later hymnals have the final cadence lead to the dominant instead of the tonic:
2 The first right fitly John was named,
So rich he in God’s favor;
His brother, Henry—one unblamed,
Whose salt lost not its savor.
From this world they are gone away,
The diadem they’ve gained;
Honest, like God’s good children, they
For his word life disdained,
And have become his martyrs.
3 The old arch-fiend did them immure
With terrors did enwrap them.
He bade them God’s dear Word abjure,
With cunning he would trap them:
From Louvain many sophists came,
In their curst nets to take them,
By him are gathered to the game:
The Spirit fools doth make them—
They could get nothing by it.
4 Oh! they sang sweet, and they sang sour;
Oh! they tried every double;
The boys they stood firm as a tower,
And mocked the sophists’ trouble.
The ancient foe it filled with hate
That he was thus defeated
By two such youngsters—he, so great!
His wrath grew sevenfold heated,
He laid his plans to burn them.
5 Their cloister-garments off they tore,
Took off their consecrations;
All this the boys were ready for,
They said Amen with patience.
To God their Father they gave thanks
That they would soon be rescued
From Satan’s scoffs and mumming pranks,
With which, in falsehood masked,
The world he so befooleth.
6 Then gracious God did grant to them
To pass true priesthood’s border,
And offer up themselves to him,
And enter Christ’s own order,
Unto the world to die outright,
With falsehood made a schism,
And come to heaven all pure and white,
To monkery be the besom,
And leave men’s toys behind them.
7 They wrote for them a paper small,
And made them read it over;
The parts they showed them therein all
Which their belief did cover.
Their greatest fault was saying this:
“In God we should trust solely;
For man is always full of lies,
We should distrust him wholly:”
So they must burn to ashes.
8 Two huge great fires they kindled then,
The boys they carried to them;
Great wonder seized on every man,
For with contempt they view them.
To all with joy they yielded quite,
With singing and God-praising;
The sophs had little appetite
For these new things so dazing.
Which God was thus revealing.
9 They now repent the deed of blame,
Would gladly gloze it over;
They dare not glory in their shame,
The facts almost they cover.
In their hearts gnaweth infamy—
They to their friends deplore it;
The Spirit cannot silent be:
Good Abel’s blood out-poured
Must still besmear Cain’s forehead.
10 Leave off their ashes never will;
Into all lands they scatter;
Stream, hole, ditch, grave—nought keeps them still
With shame the foe they spatter.
Those whom in life with bloody hand
He drove to silence triple,
When dead, he them in every land,
In tongues of every people,
Must hear go gladly singing.
11 But yet their lies they will not leave,
To trim and dress the murther;
The fable false which out they gave,
Shows conscience grinds them further.
God’s holy ones, e’en after death,
They still go on belying;
They say that with their latest breath,
The boys, in act of dying,
Repented and recanted.
12 Let them lie on for evermore—
No refuge so is reared;
For us, we thank our God therefore,
His word has reappeared.
Even at the door is summer nigh,
The winter now is ended,
The tender flowers come out and spy;
His hand when once extended
Withdraws not till he’s finished.
Martin Luther, vol. 53, Luther’s Works, Vol. 53: Liturgy and Hymns, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 214-16.
Lutheran church and seminary leaders from around the world descended upon Lithuania over the course of the past 24 hours, traveling from every corner of the globe. They are here to consider the conference theme: Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom as Marks of the Church, a theme many of these confessing Lutherans know much about from personal experience. The conference is organized by the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a worldwide association of Confessional Lutheran Churches.
Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania, a member church of the Lutheran World Federation greeted the group assembled at the Palanga Lutheran Church. In his remarks he noted that for Christians in Lithuania, persecution, in one form or another, has been nearly constant during the past 400 years.
Welcoming the group on behalf of the ILC was Dr. Albert Collver III, Executive Secretary.
“In the Book of Revelation, “those who had been slain” cried out with a loud voice to the Lord, “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Rev. 6:10) The word used to describe the martyrs who cried out to the Lord from the altar in heaven is from the greek verb sphazo,the very same word used to describe Jesus as the “the Lamb who had been slain.” The martyrs had been slain like their Lord, Jesus. Like the blood of Abel, the blood of the martyrs calls out to the Lord for justice and the vengeance of the Lord upon the wicked. In a similar way the Lord’s church on earth cries out to be a witness to the work, and for deliverance from all evil. Ironically, the more the church prays to be a witness to the world, the more likely the church is to experience the cross and suffering, which in itself becomes a witness.”
Collver noted that the theme of suffering, persecution and martyrdom has been a topic of theological reflection since the Book of Acts. “At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, the church has passed through a century where more Christians, numerically, have been persecuted and martyred than at any other time in history. “At the same time, Islam is spreading among peoples and through lands where the Gospel once held sway. If the external threats of secular humanism and Islam were not enough, the church is under attack from within,” said Collver.
“Through the crosses, that is, the sufferings in our lives predestined for us before the foundation of the world, The Lord conforms us into the image of His Son. What sort of Lord predestines the Holy Cross? The sort of Lord who in His divine foreknowledge ensured that no suffering, cross, or martyrdom would wrest you from His loving hand. This is the sort of Lord who has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. This is the sort of Lord who in the words of the Augsburg Confession said the church perpetual mansura, that is, will endure forever. Be assured that suffering, persecution and martyrdom as evil as it is, will turn into blessing by The Lord.”
Martyrdom and the Cross
The keynote presenter Dr. William Weinrich, Professor of Church History at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Ind. provided a historical view of martyrdom and the cross walking participants through the accounts of the early church martyrs.
Underscoring the relevance of the topic for our time, Weinrich noted that credible research has reached the estimate that more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith each year, others are either displaced,see the destruction of their houses of worship, experience rape or the abduction of their leaders. In Western countries where the church has historically been an integral part of society, a trend emerges that increasingly marginalizes and restricts the ability of the faith community to bear mercy in the world.
“Today, being a Christian in the world is contested and is facing serious challenge, in some places with murderous consequences.”
Weinrich noted that, “To commune with the Body and Blood of Christ was to be bound with Him who was Himself the “faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5) and received the crown of life: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” “Luke 23:46) Union with Christ’s Body and Blood unites the faithful to the goal and destiny of Christian faith, namely, to that perfection whereby the confession of the mouth in instantiated by the sacrifice of ones’ life for the true confession. The death of the martyr was itself “witness” and “demonstration” that in Christ God had overcome death by the new creation of the resurrection.
As we think about the present circumstances of our Lutheran churches in the world and about how best to prepare our people fro further suffering, we should not forget the great resource we have in the Sacrament of the Altar. For it is not merely that which “strengths” faith but is itself the reality of life over death: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” (John 6:54)”
Suffering, Persecution, Martyrdom as a Mark of the Church
In the afternoon, the Rev. Dr. Darius Petkunas pastor of the Palanga Lutheran Church, walked the group through the persecutions which took place under the Marxist-Lenninist regimes of the 20th Century.
The Life of the Church has been marked from the beginning by the presence of the cross, that particular form of suffering borne by those who confess the name of Christ. … In the both century Marxist-Lenninist communism clearly stated that for communism to succeed, the Church and its superstitions must be destroyed, and that the very idea of God must be erased from man’s heart and soul. It was at first thought that scientific-atheistic propaganda could accomplish this, for the Christian faith was thought to be nothing more or less than ignorant superstition which could be easily combated and overcome by reason and education. History shows that it was soon found necessary to employ more direct means to destroy the Church. Thousands of priests and bishops of all the traditional Christian confessions in the Soviet Union were sent to the gulags and for many of them it was a death sentence. By the mid 1930’s the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches in Soviet Russia had disappeared from the scene.
His address led participants through the following points:
1. Luther on the Seventh Mark of the Church
“Luther elaborates on the seventh sign by stating that Christians “…must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil…” In this way they are conformed to their head not by their own action and decision, but by the work of the Holy Spirit. They are punished not because they have done wrong or because “… they are adulterers, murderers, thieves, or rogues, but because they want to have none but Christ, and no other God. Wherever you see or hear this, you may know the Holy Christian Church is there…”
2. The Shape of “the World” and its relation to the Church
What Luther referred to as the seventh sign or mark of the CHurch is called into play when temporal, secular authority oversteps its omits and intrudes into spiritual affairs where God’s Word and will should reign supreme. When this happens Christians are to follow the example of St. Peter who when he was told by the Jewis authorities that he must not proclaim the person and work of Christ, responded that in such matters one must follow “God rather than men.”
3. The Seventh Sign in Historical Perspective
This seventh sign of the Church manifested itself most evidently when and where the faithfulness of the Church was put to the test by a strong state or government hostile to the Gospel. In the 16th century Lutherans most often found themselves in the minority in many territories. They were ready and willing to affirm by word and action the faith which they confessed. Indeed the CHurch and Christians who are determined to be faithful regardless the cost who are most likely to find themselves at the receiving en of trials and tribulations. … The example of the Prussian Church shows what happens when the CHurch either sees no need to make a clear confession of the truth of God’s Word or has allowed itself to be rendered incapable of articulating such a confession. If the CHurch has nothing for which it is willing to suffer it will not suffer, and it will not reeve the blessing which hardship brings with it. Here as Luther had correctly stated, the willingness to endure what a clear confession brings with it and the unwillingness to allow the secular realm to interfere in Church affairs together with the determination to make a bold and clear confession and bear the cross is a clear mark of the church.
4. The Situation Today: Some Observations
The seventh sign has always been regarded as a secondary mark of the Church. Its absence at a particular time and at particular place does not necessarily mean that the CHurch is no longer the true Church. However, it often happens that where the Church is unwilling to bear the pain of the cross, other marks and signs of the Church, including the pure proclamation of the Gospel, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the proper ordering of the Holy Ministry disappears as well.
Luther would insist that one must move beyond a simple consideration of the empirical evidence to a recognition that behind it stands the ancient consolation of “the Devil, the World, and the sinful flesh.” The Church and her people contend with forces which are not merely empirical and material, they are instead higher and stronger powers in heavily places. (Eph. 6:12) They must be combated by the power of God whom the Church confesses and proclaims.
Rev. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of LUtheran Theological Seminnary, Novosibirsk, Siberia, was one of the responders to the morning presentations and reflected on the nature and shape of suffering:
How much suffering does there have to be to call it suffering? Sometimes people who have some mild inconveniences call it suffering. But what we talk about here is a really an existential experience, when one is faced with such suffering the Holy Spirit is there to give counsel and aid.
In the culture I come from there has been much reflection on the theme of suffering and death. Not many [here] have gone through such experiences. But we have to realize that some in this room or our family and friends will face this in the future.
In the book 1984, George Orwell discusses how early Christian martyrs knew that when they would go to death they would be remembered by the church and this would bring them some glory. However, to think that when people are confronted with martyrdom today you likely will not be remembered. Whether this is the case or not, we should praise God for those Christians who no one remembers.
In secular culture, suffering is viewed as something to get over and then to have a winsome and positive attitude. No, when suffering comes it is not something to get over, it may never go away, it may only increase. Around us [today] it doesn’t look like things will get better. This history of the martyrs will help prepare us for what is to come.
Rev. Dr. John Stephenson, Concordia Seminary, Ontario, Canada, responded by reflecting on the existential nature of suffering for the sake of Christ.
Rev. Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana spoke about the situation in Africa and the rapid growth of the Church. The need for more pastors and resources is large. He encouraged the group to be boldly and faithfully Lutheran because we have the truth of the Gospel.