Four Branches – January 2023

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Exegetical Theology:  Head & Helper: A Mixed Metaphor

Part 1: Head & Body

When discussing the roles of men and women, these terms are often used together: “head and helper.” The terms are biblical and good, but the Bible never uses the two together. Saying “head and helper” to refer to the callings of men and women according to God’s design is sort of like saying, “Off the top of my hand.” You get the idea, but it’s mixing two metaphors (like mixing “off the top of my head” and “offhand”).

I’ve found it helpful to examine the concepts of head and helper in their exegetical contexts. It has helped me better appreciate the pictures used in those contexts and has led me to prefer to keep the metaphors distinct.

Let’s start by looking at the term “head” and the scriptural metaphor that teaches the concept.

In Ephesians chapter five, the apostle Paul, speaking of the marriage relationship, said, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body” (Ephesians 5:23). He also used the terms “head and body” together to refer to Christ and his church at the beginning of his letter to the Colossians (1:18). Though the word “body” isn’t included in 1 Corinthian 11:3, it certainly seems to be implied as Paul spoke of Christ, man, and God as the “heads.”

So while the Bible doesn’t speak of “head and helper” together, it does use the metaphor of “head and body” to speak of the male/female relationship. Understanding this metaphor enriches our understanding of the callings God has for men and women. 

How do the head and body relate? There is a lot here, but at the most basic level, the head and body are constantly connected. Neither the head nor the body can survive without the other. For a person’s head to be disconnected from the body even for a minute—to quote one of my daughters: “Boom, die.” The head and body are vitally connected to each other.

The beginning of Colossians stresses this crucial connection between Christ and us, his church. Ephesians chapter five highlights this essential connection between a husband and a wife. The eleventh chapter of First Corinthians speaks of the necessary connection of men and women in general: “Nevertheless, in the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Corinthians 11:11).

We will come back to the implications of this metaphor in part three of this series. For now, consider what the Spirit shows us through the metaphor of head and body (not head and helper) for men and women. In marriage and in general as siblings in Christ, we need each other. We need to be connected to one another as men and women. To separate from each other, especially at our most important moments, is devastating: “Boom, die.”

As men and women, like the head connected to the body and Christ connected to his church, we need each other. 

Rev. Kurtis Wetzel serves as pastor at Cross of Christ in Boise and Nampa, ID.

Systematic Theology:  The Genus Idiomaticum

Recently I posed this statement to my eighth grade confirmation class: “Agree or Disagree- When Jesus died on the cross, the Son of God died.”  Faces grimaced and apprehensive hands bobbed up, then quickly back down.  One of my brightest students hesitated but worked up the courage to answer.  “Disagree, because God cannot die.” I granted her that she had stated a fine truth about our God.  She had learned that God is eternal and immortal.  And yet her answer was incorrect.  

We were wrestling with a Christological paradox: How can we say that the eternal Son of God truly suffered and died on the cross?  The key is an understanding of the communication of attributes in the person of Jesus Christ.  That terminology is a way the dogmaticians have described the fact that Jesus is a single person with both a divine and human nature.  Those two natures are distinct from each other.  Nevertheless, there is a real sharing between those two natures in the person of Christ.  “In Christ the divine nature and the human nature are so closely united that wherever the one nature is the other is, and whatever the one nature does the other participates in doing.  From the moment of his conception in the womb of his mother Mary, Jesus has been and always will be both God and man in one person.” 

This means that any name you ascribe to Jesus (Son of God, Son of Man, the eternal Word, etc.) you can use to describe an act which happened to Jesus.  Any name for Jesus can be used to describe his characteristics, whether those characteristics be according to his human nature or his divine nature.   That means it is correct to say “When Jesus died on the cross, the Son of God died,” just as it is to say, “You killed the Author of Life” (Acts 3:15).  Theologians use the Latin term genus idiomaticum to describe this aspect of the personal union of the two natures of Christ.  Professor Paul Wendland summarizes it like this: “Whatever Jesus is and does since becoming human, he is and does as a single person, as the God-man!.”

The truths of the genus idiomaticum will help us to speak carefully and will help our people to appreciate Christ’s saving work as we worship on the First Sunday in Lent (February 26), where the appointed Gospel is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  (Matthew 4:1-11, Year A).  There we encounter our High Priest who was tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15).  We can say with confidence that the Son of God faced real temptations because the Son of God has a true human nature.  At the very same time we can assert that Jesus was not able to sin because he is true God, and God is unable to sin.

Some have questioned whether Jesus could have sinned according to his human nature. In his Christian Dogmatics, Francis Pieper emphatically denies that possibility.  In fact, he goes a step further and declares such a discussion frivolous.  Why?  “Not because of the sinlessness of the human nature of Christ in itself…but because Christ’s human nature never existed as a separate person, but from the beginning constitutes one Person with the Son of God.  To assume that the man Christ could sin is assuming that the Son of God could sin, with whom the man Christ constitutes one Person…Some object that impeccability would exclude temptability, would make of Christ’s temptation a sham battle.  However, Matt.4:1 ff. does describe a real battle.” (CD II, p.76)

For an excellent and accessible review of the communication of attributes of Jesus, check out Paul Wendland’s article “Now That God is One of Us.”  It can be found in the WLS essay file.

Rev. Shane Krause serves as pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Onalaska, WI.

Historical Theology:  Treasured Lutheran Prayer Books, Part 1

In this and the next two installments, I will remind you of, or introduce you to, three prayer books published by Lutherans that were reprinted multiple times in multiple editions and were treasured by many Lutheran Christians.

This month we look at the prayers compiled by Andreas Musculus. Born in 1514 in Schneeberg, Saxony, Musculus received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Leipzig in 1534. He then briefly returned to his hometown, where he was won over to the Lutheran Reformation. He enrolled at the University of Wittenberg in 1538 where he studied under Melanchthon and Luther. He received his master’s degree the following year. He moved to Frankfurt on the Oder River in 1541 where he remained active until his death. In Frankfurt he served both as a pastor and as a professor of theology at the university, receiving his doctorate in 1546. There he also contributed to what became the Formula of Concord. He passed away in 1581.

In 1553, he had the first edition of his prayer book published, Precandi Formulae piae et selectae (Pious and Select Formulas for Praying). In 1561, he published an enlarged edition: Precationes Ex Veteribus Orthodoxis Doctoribus: Ex Ecclesiae Hymnis et Canticis: Ex Psalmis denique Davidis collectae, & in certos locos digestae (Prayers Collected—and, in Certain Places, Broken Up—from the Ancient Orthodox Teachers, from the Hymns and Songs of the Church, and Finally from the Psalms of David). Whenever he included prayers or hymns in his prayer book that were originally stained with Mariolatry and other false ideas (e.g. the hymns “Stabat Mater” and “Ave Mundi Spes”), he cleaned them up and redirected the focus to Christ.

Musculus also published a German translation of his prayer book, but his original Latin version seems to have had the greater longevity. It proved quite popular among well-educated Lutherans, going through multiple posthumous editions stretching well into the seventeenth century. Those known to have used it regularly include the composers and musicians Michael Praetorius (whose brother Andreas was Musculus’s son-in-law), Heinrich Schütz, and Johann Heermann. Heermann’s popular Lent hymn, “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Have You Broken” (Christian Worship 432), is based on a prayer found in the sixth section of Musculus’s prayer book, falsely attributed to Augustine and likely written by Jean de Fécamp (d. 1078).

In the English sampling of Musculus’s prayers linked below (for morning and evening), notice the assumption of increased threats to body and soul whenever darkness sets in. Our ancient Christian ancestors viewed waking up safe, healthy, and cheerful in the morning as little short of a miracle. The link to an original edition of his work is for those of you with Latin acquaintance. Translating prayers can be a great way to brush up on one’s Latin skills. They are comparatively brief and contain relatively simple grammar and familiar vocabulary.

English Sampling of Musculus’s Prayers

Precationes (1561 Frankfurt Edition)

Schütz Motets Based on Musculus’s Prayers:

SWV 56, 57, 58

SWV 307

SWV 336

Rev. Nathaniel Biebert serves as pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Winner, SD.

Practical Theology:  Planting Gospel Seeds Because God Gives the Growth

When we started initial outreach for our mission church in August of 2018, the launch team had a good idea of different ways they wanted to reach the community. One way would be to participate in community festivals that are held throughout the year.  There are two big neighborhoods that sponsor these community-wide events at least 3-4 times a year.  For a small fee, we could set up some tables, sponsor a face-painter or other artist, put up our EZ-up tent, and start sharing the gospel with our community.

In those early days, we gathered as many e-mail addresses as we possibly could by asking people to take a survey about community needs.  It was our hope that through these interactions and continued follow-up we would uncover prospects for our church.  At the end of every survey, there was an opportunity for people to sign-up for more information about our church, baptism, contact from the pastor, or receive an e-mail devotion from the pastor.  We had dozens of people sign-up for the e-devotion I would write, but as is usually the case, not many of those people actually came to church.  And yet, faithfully every Monday morning I would send out my newest devotion to that list of emails, and then check who would open them. 

I did not count exactly, but I have sent over 200 of those devotions.  What kind of an effect are they having?  A couple months ago I found out.  I received a reply to one of those emails.  The person had been on the original sign-up list in September of 2018.  He told me he reads them regularly and then passes them on to his family.  He thanked me for sharing Jesus clearly so he could see his Savior.  As a result, his wife found tremendous comfort before she died.  

That was it.  I wish I had some big “and the whole family is now baptized and our attendance shot up 20%” story.  That isn’t what this is about.  It is a simple reminder and encouragement to do the following:

  • Be persistent in sharing the gospel.  Find ways whether through an email service like Mailchimp or a video series, to share the gospel with prospects and members.  Keep on planting the seeds and watering them.  God does give increase.  We just don’t always get to see it.
  • Be consistent in sharing the gospel.  I will admit there are some weeks I come up blank for my e-devotion.  There are other times I forgot to write it and had to wake up super early on a Monday morning to send it out by my self-imposed 6:00 am deadline.  However, people need to hear the gospel consistently.  The message of Jesus is not part of our nature.  People need to hear it regularly and often and you are the person to do that.
  • Be prepared for God to bring return on your planting.  We know it is true because God promises it, but don’t forget that God does bring forth fruit from the gospel seeds you plant.  Expect that you won’t see most of the results here on earth, but expect it is happening.  God promised it so we can be prepared for it. 

Rev. Jeremy Belter serves as pastor at Shepherd of the Valley, a mission church in Arvada, CO.