Four Branches – April 2021

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Exegetical Theology: Proclaiming Life with 1 John – Part Two

Last time, we began to look at a sampling of ways the apostle John pairs an empty tomb to fill hearts and hands for Christian living. For this month, picture an elaborate, front-yard Christmas lights display that all turns on at the flip of one switch. From rooftop to mailbox, the icicles, manger scene, and lawn ornaments are brilliantly connected. This is the feel of 1 John as we consider its structure and repetition because Christ is risen.

Make an attempt to organize this epistle yourself. As I did, the epistle seemed to have a progression. Simple beginnings highlight the clear and essential truths of our faith. You begin like one walking down the road of Christianity on an open, straight path. While that path never detours, you notice the surroundings slowly becoming more and more complex. We gradually move out of a more barren context into a rich eschatological forest. John reveals the setting with phrases like these:

      • “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (2:1)
      • I write you an old and new command “because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (2:8)
      • “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” (2:18)
      • John writes so believers may be “confident and unashamed” before Christ at his coming (2:28). “Do not let anyone lead you astray.” (3:7)
      • “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (5:13)

At the same time, the structure of 1 John has been compared to a spiral. Along the road into the woods, John circles back to topics like belief in Jesus, love for one another, keeping God’s commands, and holding to the truth. The circling is made apparent through repeated word combinations. See, for example, “born of God” and “keep his commands”.

In the first example, John connects a number of truths to someone who is “γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ”: they do not persist in sin, they confess Jesus as the incarnate Christ, and they love. “γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ” is now a three-outlet extension cord in our Christmas lights display. By doing this, John moves our eyes around the display to different features but shows how they are all connected, and we never leave the yard. Truth, eternal life, love, commands, Jesus as Son and sacrifice, status…they are all the “topic” in a way. They are all of Christ, from him, through him, to him. All are brought to life for us because Jesus lives. All are lit for the disciple’s habitus practicus, a living faith taking in its full scope.

The crucified and risen Christ is the center and source of Christian faith and life. John overlaps one element upon another to urge us to live our faith in Jesus simply and yet richly. In Christ, we share a simple, unified worldview, an Easter-based “done deal” by which we are redeemed, defined, called, corrected, rebuked, and encouraged. Yet, through John’s repetition in these examples, we have a multi-faceted motive in Christ to keep God’s commands and a multi-layered blessing of being those born of God.

There’s so much here. So much involved. So much to proclaim and to enjoy….Christ is risen!

Rev. Daniel Bondow serves at Living Savior, Littleton, CO.

Systematic Theology: The Lord’s Supper and the Moment of Presence

According to the clear meaning of the words Jesus spoke, recorded in the gospels and in 1 Corinthians, we believe and teach that Jesus gives us his true body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine in the sacrament.  One question that has arisen over the centuries, however, is this: when does the sacramental union take place?  In other words, exactly when are the body and blood of Christ truly present?

Two main theories among Lutheran theological discussion seem to cry out for a decision: consecrationism and receptionism.  The consecrationist view is often attributed to Luther and Chemnitz.  The idea is that when the words of institution are spoken by the officiant, then Christ’s body and blood are present in the sacrament.  It is Christ’s mighty gospel promise that assures us of what we are about to receive.  Emphasizing the power of the Word, therefore, consecrationists assign a moment of presence even before the distribution to the first communicant.

On the other hand, those who favor a receptionist view might claim Walther and Pieper as proponents, saying that only in the eating and drinking of the consecrated elements do we find Christ’s true body and blood.

Which is the more biblical position?  If we are looking for clear words of Scripture to tell us, we won’t find any that make a distinction between the two in our celebration of the meal.  There is no “now” or “then” that tells us precisely when Jesus’ body and blood are present; if we needed to know, we would have God’s directives laid out for us without having to speculate or debate.  Let’s be cautious not to speak authoritatively in preaching and teaching to questions that Scripture doesn’t answer.

To say it colloquially, Christ instituted his meal as a package deal: consecration, distribution, and reception.  It wasn’t meant to nor should the meal be broken apart or elements taken away.  (For instance, celebrating the Lord’s Supper without anyone present to receive it).  It is enough to know that when we come to the Lord’s table, we will be receiving his true body and true blood for our strength and forgiveness.  When we eat and drink, Christ is truly present, though our reason and our senses will never fully comprehend him.  And when we depart his table, we have the assurance of his promise that this meal was a foretaste of the banquet to come.

Rev. Eric Schroeder serves at St. John’s in Wauwatosa, WI.

Historical Theology: Luther’s Spring 1521 Part 2: The Edict and Kidnapping to the Wartburg

“Do not become excited. We are among friends.” So Luther whispered to Nicolas von Amsdorf and then was whisked into hiding.[1]

The events were not entirely a surprise to Luther, although he did not know the details. Following his refusal to recant, Luther stayed in Worms another week. During that time, further efforts were made to work with Luther for an amicable resolution. But the lines were drawn.

The Emperor refused Luther any further audience after the meeting on April 18. Thoroughly convinced that he was a heretic, Charles was immediately ready to issue an edict against him, using whatever means necessary to do away with him. However, political and social implications tempered Charles yet again.

Luther, on the other hand, remained steadfastly convinced of his position. He was agreeable to further examination of his works, but the only acceptable authority to judge them would be the Word of God.[2] It had become clear By April 25 that nothing more would be accomplished at Worms. Therefore, Luther petitioned the Emperor for permission to leave and safe-passage home. Granted for twenty-one days, Luther and his escorts headed out of town on the morning of April 26.

By this time, Luther had been made aware of the plan his Elector was arranging to keep him safe. While neither Luther nor Frederick knew the details, they both knew the stakes involved. As early as April 30, the Emperor again made it clear his intention to place Luther under the ban. Even though the final draft of the Edict of Worms would not be signed by Charles until May 26, 1521 – after the official closing of the Diet – there was no time to waste. Once signed by the Charles, Luther would be declared “vogelfrei,” the legal status of outlaw, and could be killed on sight.[3]

Luther reluctantly assented. In a letter to his trusted friend Lucas Cranach, dated April 28, 1521, Luther wrote, “I shall submit to being ‘imprisoned’ and hidden away, though as yet I do not know where. I would have preferred to suffer death at the hands of the tyrants, especially those of the furious Duke George of Saxony, but I must not disregard the counsel of good men; [I must await] his appointed time.”[4]

Above it all, however, Luther entrusted himself to the Word, and the Lord of the Church who spoke it.[5] Several days after his departure from Worms, Luther’s traveling party split up. After spending the night with relatives in the village of Möhra, the final traveling party of Luther and two companions set out on May 4, traveling through the Thuringian forest near Waltershausen. Here they were met by a group of armed horsemen. To make it convincing, Luther was roughly abducted before being placed in disguise and taken by a circuitous route to the Wartburg castle.

While it is unclear how much Amsdorf knew of the ruse at the time, Luther’s confidence was evident. One cannot help but think of the prophet Elisha’s powerful words to his servant, “Don’t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16) Luther was well-cared-for, not just by his Elector and earthly friends, but by the angels who do his Master’s bidding. No true harm would overtake him.

Rev. Matthew Kiecker serves at St. John’s in Lomira, WI.

[1] E.G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 515

[2] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 32: Career of the Reformer II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 32, p. 118, 122). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[3] Schwiebert, pp. 509, 512.

[4] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 48: Letters I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 48, p. 201). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[5] See Luther’s letter written to Emperor Charles V on the same day he wrote to Cranach, April 28, 1521: LW, 48, 203ff.

Practical Theology: Greco-Roman Rhetoric for Preachers: Pathos

In his Rhetoric (1.b.3), Aristotle distinguishes three rhetorical proofs: logos, pathos, and ethos.  Pathos is more difficult.  It refers to the emotion a speaker uses and the emotions he wishes to instill in his audience.  Aristotle defines it as “putting the hearer into a certain frame of mind.”  He explains further that an orator persuades his hearers “when we are influenced by joy and sorrow, love or hate” (1.b.5). Once again, we’ll look at the biblical precedent in 1 Thessalonians and then note some applications.

Particularly Lutheran preachers, sensitive to 17th-18th century Pietism and 21st century manipulative advertising, may object that any consideration of pathos seems to diminish the objective nature of law/gospel proclamation.   However, in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-9, Paul confidently asserts that he speaks “as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.”  He also asserts that his visit “was not a failure.”  He proclaimed the gospel “in spite of strong opposition.”  His appeal is not “from impure motives,” because he works to please God, “who tests our hearts.”  The emotion flows, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. … Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship.”  Consider the rhetorical function.  Paul’s appeal intends to lead his hearers to recall all the persecutions recorded in Acts 17:5-9, which would bring up a host of emotions for those who lived through that experience.  Paul so easily blends objective gospel proclamation with appropriate, yet powerful, emotional appeals.  Do our sermons look like that?

Here are three applications (mostly open questions) as preachers today consider pathos:

      1. Preachers need to understand their own personalities first. How well do you express your emotions – especially as a man?  If you do express emotions well, you may need to guard against over-emotionalization; if you don’t, you will need to work at opening up.  (Here’s a recent example, note highlights – and after announcements that Sunday my daughter walked up into my arms in front of church!)
      2. Earlier, I argued for substantial time to be devoted to logos-preparation. How much time do you spend preparing your delivery?  Is pathos neglected?
      3. Communication studies routinely focus on the importance of non-verbal language. What happens when your body language shows you are not truly grieved by law proclamation, truly joyful at gospel proclamation, or truly excited about sanctification living?  At best, our people will leave confused or uninspired; at worst, Chapell’s warning may prove true, “failing to speak with conviction appropriate to one’s subject and personality about the truths of eternity – to appear to be unmoved or unaffected by the joy of salvation or the plight of the lost – actually miscommunicates Scripture’s meaning.”[1]  Our people will notice when we preach the sermon to ourselves first.

Rev. Jacob Haag is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, MI, and a member of the Michigan District Commission on Worship.

[1] Bryan Chapell, Christ Centered-Preaching, 35.