Four Branches January 2018

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Exegetical Theology: The Lord Will Provide

Isaac was the son of the promise and evidence of God’s gracious providence. And it appeared that he would be taken away in the most unusual of ways – sacrificed by his father according to the will of the Father!  We, of course, know how the account ends. With knife in hand, Abraham is directed by the angel of the Lord to stand down. In Isaac’s place, a ram was provided for the sacrifice. As a result Abraham called the place:  יְהֹוָה  יִרְאֵה (Gen 22:14).

A closer look at that name offers enhanced insight into a well-treasured section of Scripture. There is nothing complicated with the grammar of Jehovah Jireh. The Hebrew word ha’r’ is common and the Qal imperfect form is straightforward. What is of note, however, is that most English translations opt for “The LORD will provide.”  It is good to recall the connection between seeing and providing.  The same connection is made in the English word “provision.” When we make provisions, we take proper steps because we “see beforehand” what is needed.   So also to provide is to “see to” something.

Hebrews 11:17-19 offers an inspired glimpse into Abraham’s mind during this account. There is confidence that the God who made a promise would provide. God would “see to” it, even when the very actions that Abraham was prepared to take defied all human logic. Abraham was willing to faithfully carry out the Lord’s will and leave the seemingly impossible logistics to God.

Do we fail to note the personal connection between seeing and providing when it comes to our discussions on God’s providence? The essence of our trust in God’s providence is the confidence that God will “see to” what we need – whether we can see it or not.  Through the eyes of faith, we have confidence that the Lord will see to things according to his perfect will in line with his love for us.  Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the event some 2000 years later in the same area that Abraham named Jehovah Jireh.  Through Christ’s life and vicarious death, the Lord provided. And because of that we continue to confidently trust: The Lord will provide!

Rev. David Bivens serves Christ the Lord Lutheran Church and Sienna Lutheran Academy in Sienna Plantation, TX, and as chairman of the BWM’s Administrative Committee for African Missions.


For further study: What about the conclusion of Genesis 22:14? The final phrase (בְּהַ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה יֵרָאֶֽה) has some textual questions. Possible translations include: “On the mountain of the LORD he is seen”, “On the mountain of the LORD he shall be seen”’; “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided”; “On the mountain the LORD is seen”; and “On the mountain the LORD sees.” Which translation do you prefer? A summary of the options can be found in Victor Hamilton’s The Book of Genesis, chapters 18-50 (NICOT).

Systematic Theology: Making Too Little of the Natural Knowledge

Lutheran theologians have often divided natural knowledge into that which is innate (an inborn idea of God, not developed by experience) and that which is acquired (obtained by observing God’s works in creation). One of the first objections to innate knowledge came from within Lutheranism itself by Matthias Flacius (1520-75).[1] Flacius objected to the idea that humans were born with an idea of God and his law.[2] You can hear this in his explanation of Romans 1:19: “It is only from the effects in the world that man infers the existence of a supreme cause.”[3] It seems Flacius’ understanding of original sin influenced his position on the innate knowledge of God.  If sin had so thoroughly destroyed the image of God, how could there be any “innate knowledge of God?”

Does Scripture speak about innate knowledge of God? The teacher in Ecclesiastes seems to be alluding to it when he writes, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ec 3:11a). Isaiah appeals to a basic knowledge that the clay (us) should have of the potter (our Creator) and in Romans the Apostle Paul mentions Gentiles “doing by nature things required by the law” (2:14).

While we can understand Flacius’ concern about the natural knowledge of God and even praise his desire to defend the doctrine of original sin (in the cause of sola gratia), he seemed to have gone a little far in denying innate knowledge. Lutheran theologians can distinguish between a general knowledge of God’s attributes, and knowledge of the Gospel that can only be revealed by God and implanted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. [4]  In other words, sinful human beings can have knowledge about God without truly knowing him (see Ro 1:21).

We could think of the innate knowledge of God as being the ability to see a ray of light coming through a crack in the wall of a cave. It knows that this is light, but it has no idea about the true glory of its source.[5] Innate knowledge, of course, by itself, does not lead to the true God or deserve any credit for salvation. But it is still something. This way of thinking about innate knowledge seems to honor the testimony of Scripture while at the same time preserving the teaching that a person can only know God by faith.

Next time we will look at how some have fallen into the other ditch by making too much of the natural knowledge of God.

Rev. Justin Cloute serves Living Savior Lutheran Church in Missoula, MT.

For further reading and an excellent overview of natural knowledge check out the LCMS CTCR Report on the Natural Knowledge of God 2013 ( and also The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism by Robert Preus (especially pp.173-180).

[1] You may remember Flacius from the controversy over the terminology used to describe the sinful nature (accidens or substantia). This controversy is addressed without naming Flacius in The Formula of Concord, Article I: Original Sin. Also see F. Bente, Historical Introductions to the Book of Concord (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965), 144–52

[2] Interesting that around this same time, John Locke (1632-1704), for philosophical reasons, would deny any innate knowledge.

[3] Bente, 148.

[4] see Robert D. Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, Vol 1 (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), 176

[5] All apologies to Plato and his analogy of the cave.

Historical Theology: Mendelssohn – A Student of Scripture

Born into a nominally Jewish family, in an age of rationalism and mixed confessions, with both political radicalism and anti-Semitism on the rise, it is amazing that Mendelssohn was anything but cynical. That he was a kind-hearted and convinced Christian was anything but accidental. It was God’s grace in action.

Mendelssohn was baptized at the age of seven on March 21, 1816 by Pastor Jakob Stegemann of the Neue-Kirche in Berlin (Reformed). Technically, Mendelssohn was baptized Lutheran at the Jerusalems-Kirche. Mendelssohn’s baptism provides us with a fascinating window into the confused ecclesiastical landscape in Berlin on the eve of the Prussian Union.[1]

What seems even murkier than Pastor Stegemann’s confession was the motivation behind Mendelssohn’s parents baptizing their children. It seems likely that baptism was intended to provide a means of escape from the omnipresent anti-Semitism of the day. Felix’s uncle Jacob wrote to Mendelssohn’s parents, “You may remain faithful to an oppressed, persecuted religion; you may leave it to your children as a prospect of lifelong martyrdom, as long as you believe it to be absolute truth. But when you have ceased to believe that, it is barbarism. I advise you to adopt the name of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy[2] as a distinction from the other Mendelssohn’s.” Mendelssohn’s father, Abraham, raised in the home of a thorough-going rationalist, was – at most – culturally Jewish. The leap therefore to cultural Protestantism was not a long one. What mattered to Abraham was being “true, faithful, and good.”

A baptism that began with expediency later grew into a Christian faith of remarkable depth and consistency. Felix’s flowering Christian faith is evident in a confirmation essay that he wrote during his teenage years. It is stunning in its depth and maturity. He had come to possess a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.[3]

Mendelssohn’s love of Scripture was not a teenage infatuation. It proved to be genuine, life-long, and well-known by his colleagues. The French composer, Hector Berlioz, would comment about Mendelssohn, “He believed firmly in his Lutheran religion and I sometimes shocked him profoundly by laughing at the Bible.” A friend of the Mendelssohn’s wrote, “He felt that all faith must be based on Holy Writ.” Through family letters, we know that the Mendelssohn children prayed Revelation 2:10 when they went to bed at night. Not only did Mendelssohn base his life on “Holy Writ,” he was careful to ensure that his musical compositions were as well. “I have time after time had to restore the precise text of the Bible. It is the best in the end.”

One of Mendelssohn’s greatest works is the Oratorio Paulus. It tells the well-known story of the Jewish zealot turned Christian apostle. St. Paul was the Lord’s unlikely missionary. So too, Paulus traces the trajectory of Mendelssohn’s life – from Jewish rationalist to Romanticism’s greatest church composer. Mendelssohn is truly Lutheranism’s most unlikely musician!

[1] An agreement was in place that the pastor of the Reformed Neue-Kirche was licensed to perform the baptisms at the Lutheran-leaning Jerusalems-Kirche.

[2] Bartholdy was the Hungarian family that owned an estate the Mendelssohn family purchased. The hyphenated name Mendelssohn-Bartholdy became the “Christian” name of the Christian branches of the family tree.

[3] Growing up in an age of mixed confessions, Mendelssohn was great when it came to explaining John 3:16. He fell short when it came to explaining “This is my body.”

Rev. Aaron Christie serves Trinity Lutheran Church in Waukesha, WI, and is chairman of the Hymnody Committee for the WELS hymnal project.

For a devotional activity in the quiet days before Lent, take some time to listen to Mendelssohn’s music based upon the text that “is best in the end.” His musical settings of the Psalms are lovely. Start up Bibleworks or another software program with the Luther Bible next to your preferred English translation. Then listen to Mendelssohn’s “musical exegesis” of the Songs of David. His Five Psalm Cantatas (especially Psalm 42) make for lovely listening. They are readily available on both Spotify and Youtube.

Practical Theology: Are Church Records George’s Responsibility?

“Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. Let George do it.”

Glenn was a mechanic. There wasn’t an engine problem he couldn’t diagnose. And if it was broken, he could fix it. Glenn was also a Sea-Bee, a marine and a Coastie who kept icebreakers on Lake Michigan functioning. He fought in WWII and Korea and while serving in the Reserves he was certified to load items he was not allowed to talk about to go to places he could not mention. (Glenn’s in heaven now, but our records show any future pastor the congregational connections to his wife, son and grandchildren.) Early in my ministry, Glenn also served as a trustee, an elder and president of our congregation. Glenn knew how to work hard. He worked hard. He knew how to get things done. He got things done. He saw to it that others got done what was their responsibility. That’s where those two sentences come from.

I first heard those two sentences from Glenn and I think that they apply well to church records. If it is everybody’s responsibility to keep good church records, then expect them to be sloppy, duplicated or non-existent – Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. Besides, certainly someone else will do what needs to be done, so there is no sense in you doing it – Let George do it.

Keeping good church records is not easy. It’s certainly not glamorous. It is time-consuming, can be tedious and sometimes is very frustrating, depending upon your record-keeping system. Some might even go so far as to say that record keeping is work that is beneath the high calling of the pastor of a congregation. Because of all those things, remember that record keeping is ministry in the sense that it is service.

But, is it your job as a busy parish pastor, concerned about serving and saving souls, to spend time with church records? Perhaps it would help to remember that the Lord has called you to be an overseer, to watch over souls and to care for them in an evangelical manner, and that the man who follows you will be called to do the same. It will help him to know who the souls are; what care they have received; and what ongoing care they may need. After all, this isn’t just about you and your time, it’s about the ongoing care of souls. Somebody does need to do the work of keeping records. Somebody does need to be responsible for overseeing that it’s done.

If you’re too busy doing ministry to keep good records or even to oversee that it’s done – you may find a value in reading or re-reading #1.

If you wonder how to do it and what to do – that’s the next installment.

Rev. John Seifert serves Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Midland, MI, and as president of the Michigan District.