Four Branches March 2017

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Exegetical Theology: Easter – The Father Testifies

It almost sounds like a scene from modern-day, post-truth, Twitter-storm politics. The Pharisees challenge Jesus, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid” (John 8:13). Is there someone who can corroborate your version of the truth?  Because we’re not buying it.

Of course, any testimony that Jesus might give about himself would be valid. He is the truth. Yet for the sake of argument, Jesus shows how he doesn’t need to provide his own testimony. There are others who testify about him. Consider Jesus’ words on an earlier occasion:

Ἐὰν ἐγὼ μαρτυρῶ περὶ ἐμαυτοῦ, ἡ μαρτυρία μου οὐκ ἔστιν ἀληθής· ἄλλος ἐστὶν ὁ μαρτυρῶν περὶ ἐμοῦ, καὶ οἶδα ὅτι ἀληθής ἐστιν ἡ μαρτυρία ἣν μαρτυρεῖ περὶ ἐμοῦ. (John 5:31-32)

The Father testifies about Jesus, and his testimony is weightier than that of anyone else. Jesus goes on to cite four sources of valid testimony: John the Baptist, the “very work the Father has given [him] to finish,” the Father himself, and “the Scriptures that testify about [him].” Isn’t it especially the testimony of the Father that we focus on in this middle part of the festival half of the church year? At Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Father repeats testimony he had already given at Jesus’ baptism:

οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα· ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ. (Matthew 17:5)

The Father’s true testimony prepares us for the sometimes-true yet often-false human testimony that would follow. After the Palm Sunday crowd declares, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” the challenges start to come. “By what authority are you doing these things?” “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Are you the king of the Jews?” “We have no king but Caesar.”

But on Easter everything changes. Once again, the Father’s testimony rings loud and clear and true. Peter says,

τοῦτον τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀνέστησεν ὁ θεός, οὗ πάντες ἡμεῖς ἐσμεν μάρτυρες· (Acts 2:32)

And Peter declares a moment later, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). God the Father is the subject. Jesus is the object. The Father testifies about Jesus by raising him from the dead. What exactly does this testimony from the Father show? It shows us who Jesus is:

τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν (Romans 1:4)

And it shows us who we are:

ὃς παρεδόθη διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν καὶ ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν. (Romans 4:25)

Jesus could have said these things, but he didn’t have to. The Father lets Jesus’ resurrection speak for itself. Jesus is his beloved Son. And we, justified, are God’s beloved children.


Rev. Nathan Ericson serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Oshkosh, WI, as the Special Ministries coordinator for the WELS Northern Wisconsin District.


Systematic Theology: What about the Moment of Presence?

Historically confessional Lutherans have been able to agree on what we receive when we participate in the Lord’s Supper: Jesus’ true body and blood in a miraculous way in, with, and under the bread and wine (Formula of Concord, Article VII, 35).  A question that has concerned Lutherans over the centuries, however, is when the real presence of our Savior is effected.  Is it at the time of the blessing or consecration of the elements (consecrationism)?  Is it at the time the elements are consumed (receptionism)?  At some moment in between the two?

The four sections of Scripture that describe Christ’s institution of the Supper, Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-31, do not, in fact, specify when the real presence is effected.  An exegetical study of the verses similarly does not lead us to a grammatical conclusion.  We can say that Jesus’ command to “Keep on doing this” refers to and includes as a unit the consecration, the distribution, and the reception of the elements.

Reflecting Scripture, neither do the Lutheran confessions specify when the real presence is effected and neither do they treat consecration without reception (or vice versa).  All sacramental aspects of the Lord’s Supper are treated as a unit.

Through the years, some have claimed that they have found evidence of one position or another in various Lutheran theologians’ teaching, however, the conclusion often fails to take into account that the theologian in question wasn’t specifically addressing when the moment real presence is effected but rather some other doctrine in connection with the Lord’s Supper.  A more comprehensive reading of the theologian’s writings will usually remove doubt.

So, when is the real presence effected during the Lord’s Supper?  Short answer:  We cannot specify because Scripture does not.  We can focus on and rejoice in the hope and peace Christ does promise us through the use of his Supper: “Your sins are forgiven.”

For more reading on this topic, please see Professor John Brug’s The Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in The Lord’s Supper: Contemporary Issues Concerning the Sacramental Union and Professor Thomas Nass’ The Moment Of The Real Presence In The Lord’s Supper.

Rev. Robert Wendland serves as a missionary in Malawi, Africa.

Historical Theology: Letters from Luther – A Musical Note

Luther’s Works are a treasure trove of theological wisdom and insight.  There is so much good stuff there.  But Luther’s Works can also be intimidating.  They sit on the shelf in their fifty plus volumes (and the number is growing now) and beg to be read.  But where does one begin?  Sometimes there really is no time to plow through a volume or even a substantial treatise.  But not every journey into Luther’s words needs to be so daunting.  The next few articles will be based on letters Luther wrote.  The letters are not very long, but hopefully these articles will point out a few worthy thoughts Luther shares in them and perhaps encourage the busy pastor to pull a volume off the shelf.

On 4 October 1530 from the Coburg Castle, Martin Luther wrote to Louis Senfl, a well-known composer and conductor of his day.  Luther had an interest in finding, or having composed if none existed, a piece of music based on an antiphon drawn from the words of Psalm 4:8, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”  He had loved the tune since he was young, but he only grew to appreciate the fullness of the words in his later years, especially as he felt that his own death would be coming soon.

During his days at the Coburg while the Diet of Augsburg played out farther south, it would seem Luther thought quite a bit about music and its service to the Gospel.  Luther often encouraged the singing of both “A Mighty Fortress” and “From Depths of Woe” during his stay there.  In this letter to Louis Senfl, Luther also expresses a number of thoughts on how valuable music can be when it comes to proclaiming the Word and touching the heart with God’s truth.  All Christians can find value in those wise words from Luther, but that statement is especially true for pastors in their own lives and to help those they are called to serve.

Consider giving this letter from Luther a quick read.  You will find it in Luther’s Works Vol. 49, pp. 426-429.

Rev. Jason Oakland serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Neenah, WI.


Practical Theology: Three Keys to Recruiting Volunteers – Permission

Recruiting volunteers is connected to three things: permission, a clear vision and systems to carry out that vision.

I think you would agree that volunteers are the one of the most valuable resources in your congregation. However, recruiting volunteers often proves to be frustrating, time-consuming and at times flat out disappointing.  Gone are the days when you could just put out a sign-up sheet and a have a whole list of people willing to serve.  Some congregations build a member time/talent database, but in my limited experience, they were hard to keep up-to-date and even more difficult to utilize.

When I came to Castle Rock to start Eternal Rock, one of our primary goals was to gather a core or team of people to help launch the church.  One of the benefits of having a core group is that you have automatic permission to ask for their help. Need someone to help with kids? Just ask. Need someone to brainstorm? Just ask. Need someone to talk you out of quitting the ministry? Just ask.

This worked great until it didn’t.  Castle Rock is a very transient community.  As core people moved away, many of their “core level” duties or jobs slowly migrated to me.  Why? At the root of it, I didn’t feel that we had yet earned the right to ask the new members to step up in the same way the core members had. In a word, permission.  So what was the solution? To come up with a better system to recruit volunteers.

Once a quarter we determine what volunteer help will be needed. We then print the needed positions with a short description in a bulletin insert (sample).  We run it 2-4 weeks.

Our announcement sounds something like this: “Inside your service folder you will find something very important to us, because we value people and we value you as volunteers. Our goal is to place you where you are gifted and were needed, but sometimes we just need help.  You will find jobs and positions on our “step-up sheet” that we could use your help with right now.  Putting your name down does not lock you into that spot, but instead, you are giving us permission to talk to you and see if it a good fit. We will follow up with you over the next few weeks (sample email). You can just put your completed sheet in the offering plate.”

Each time we have included it, we have had 10-20 responses for jobs or positions we needed help with at the very moment.  Not too complicated, but it has proved to help us get over the permission hurdle of recruiting volunteers.

Rev. Jared Oldenburg serves Eternal Rock Lutheran Church in Castle Rock, Colorado, and is the author of the e-book “Who Is Jesus?”