Four Branches October 2018

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Exegetical Theology: Little Words, Big Worth – δέ

Particles can be extremely helpful in exegesis because of what they do: they show how the various statements of the inspired author are connected. This month we look at another upcoming pericope (Hebrews 9:24-28, the CWS epistle for Last Judgment—Nov. 11) and see how little words help us follow the train of thought.

δέ, while often translated “and” or “but,” does not inherently communicate either connection or contrast. Instead it signals some sort of a shift or development in the speech. For example, when used correlatively with μέν (which points attention to the clause ahead), δέ shifts the conversation away from the first clause toward the second clause. This can be seen in the verse preceding our text. Hebrews 9:23: “So μέν it was necessary that the copies of the things in these heavens be cleansed, δέ it was necessary that the heavenly things themselves be cleansed with better sacrifices than these.”

But other shifts are common too. Within our text, verse 26 uses δέ to transition from the unreal situation of “since he would have to suffer many times from the creation of the world” to the real situation of “he has appeared once at the culmination of the ages to remove sin through the sacrifice of himself.” (νῦν/νυνί signals the present state of affairs not only in contrast with the past, but also often, unlike the English “now,” in contrast with the hypothetical or unreal.) Other kinds of shifts that δέ can signal would include shifts to parenthetical comments or plot/discourse developments.

So let’s look at how the particle δέ helps guide us through the logic of the last sentence of the text—which, being the one that specifically talks about judgment and Christ’s return, is probably the one you’ll focus on in your preaching.

27-28: And just as it is destined for people to die once, δέ after that comes judgment, so also Christ, having been offered once to take up the sins of many, will appear a second time without sin to save those who wait for him.

What is the shift or development that δέ signals here? It probably serves to shift the clause “after that comes judgment” out of the comparison being set up here. Just as other people die only once, so also Christ only had to die once. But the judgment that comes after that for people? Well, the δέ signals that that isn’t part of the similarity. So what comes after Christ’s death is not similar to the judgment faced by people post mortem. In fact, it is categorically different than judgment. He no longer has to die for sin, because he finished that the first time. For those who wait for him by faith his second coming means not judgment but the opposite of judgment: salvation.

Blessings, brothers, as you show people the risen Jesus who shifts the last judgment for us from judgment to salvation.

For further reading on what different particles do, and how they organize the logic of a text, read Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament.

Rev. Aaron Jensen serves as associate pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Adrian, MI and is the author of research articles on the biblical languages published in a number of academic journals.

Systematic Theology for Everyman: A Lutheran Heritage

“Our children should be used to reciting them daily when they rise in the morning, when they sit down to their meals, and when they go to bed at night. And until they repeat them, they should not be given food or drink.  Likewise, every head of a household is bound to do the same with his household.”[1]   That’s not from a training manual about the Muslim call to prayer or an overly zealous parenting guide. It’s Martin Luther’s preface to the Large Catechism.  When Luther urged parents to impress the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer on their children, he was encouraging dogmatics.  After all, those items give a systematic presentation of law and gospel; faith and love; creation, redemption and sanctification—the basic teachings of the Christian life.

From its first days the Lutheran Church has had a heritage of stressing the importance of this simple dogmatic framework.  Luther’s Small Catechism has been a staple for pastors in the training of youth.  However, like Scripture (cf. Deut. 6:4-9 and Eph. 6:4), Luther did not envision this doctrinal instruction as primarily the work of pastors.  His encouragement was for parents to do this work.  He wrote the Large Catechism as a sort of “teacher’s guide” for the head of a household.

The Large Catechism is an integral part of the dogmatic heritage of the Lutheran Church.  It is a dogmatics text for the family.  Get it in the hands of your people and get them to use it.  Confirmation class is a great opportunity to make that happen.  As you cover each part of the catechism, assign the corresponding section from the Large Catechism as a reading assignment.  But don’t just make the kids do it.  Make it an assignment the parents have to read to their kids.  There are even copies of the Large Catechism that come with study questions you can assign for discussion at home.[2]   Another way to get people into the Large Catechism, especially those without kids, is to just read and discuss your way through it in Bible Class.  You might be surprised at how many adult members love the opportunity to ask the questions they felt embarrassed to ask as teens in confirmation class.  Above all, let your people see that you have the same attitude as Luther—you feel a need to continue to study the catechism yourself in your home.  It’s hard to expect members to have and use the Large Catechism if there isn’t a well-used copy in their pastor’s hands.

[1] Luther’s Large Catechism.  Martin Luther. Ed. Rodney Rathmann. Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, MO. 2010. p. 14.

[2] Concordia Publishing House prints two versions of the Large Catechism as a stand-alone book.  One uses the translation from the Triglot (if you like retro).  The other uses the translation from newer reader’s edition of the confessions (if you are a modern sort of guy).  Both have study questions that can be used either in the home setting, or for easy Bible Class prep.

Pastor Joshua Becker serves Christ Lutheran Church in Saginaw, MI.

Historical Theology: Classics – St. Augustine’s The City of God

A pastor said, “The job of a preacher boils down to helping the hearers see rightly; to see God, to see the world, themselves and their neighbors, rightly.  To see as God sees.”

I think it becomes obvious, quickly, that this is what St. Augustine is after in City of God:

In it [this work] I am undertaking nothing less than the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to its Founder.    (City of God, Book I, chapter 1)

Augustine spends Books I-X dismantling claims that Christianity led to the fall of Rome.  Chief among other charges was that the Christians have such an otherworldly focus that they neglected the duties of citizenship in the empire.  The Christians lacked patriotism and they were prone to be pacifists because of the teachings of Christ.

Books I-V are Augustine’s extended critique of the Roman Empire. He strikes at core beliefs and engages with their philosophers.  He points out that many of the virtues extolled by Christ were the very same virtues that were the strength of Rome; it was their own decadence that led to their fall, not Christian virtues. In support of his case, Augustine takes lengths to point out that Rome was no better off before the dawn of Christianity than after it.

Reaching into that history, Augustine claims that the Romans who found greatness in seeing themselves as the force to civilize the world did not see that their hope for happiness in worldly conquest was never capable of delivering true happiness.  They could not be properly political or worldly because they had no connection to their Founder, the true God.  Maybe one of his deepest blows is to suggest that Rome’s glory days were really built on lust for power and the thing that bonded the community was simply the need for conquest.

Augustine takes on Cicero’s definition of a city/society as a group with a common understanding of justice and invites his readers to think about how much more power love has to bind a community.  He stands up Virgil’s pride against Christian humility and asks the reader to see which supports a happier life together.

In Books VI-X, Augustine begins his “positive apologetic,” contrasting Roman philosophers with Jesus Christ as the greatest good, the ultimate Philosopher, sacrifice and mediator who brings his followers to a compassion and goodness, even now, in this earthly city.  His conclusion is that the Christians are the most equipped to be good citizens of the state because they recognize God’s providence and are inspired by Christ’s love.

Augustine wants to reorient the Romans away from the wrong gods.  By the end of Book X, he’s ready to launch into the history of the City of God in this world and point the reader toward the right God.  In other words, he’s taken this journey so far to help the reader see this world and themselves rightly, as God sees them.

Next month we’ll consider Books XI – XXII.

Pastor Tyler Peil serves as associate pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, secretary of the WELS Nebraska District and on the Scripture Committee of the new hymnal project.

Practical Theology: The #MeToo Movement and Its Impact on Ministry

The #MeToo movement has been an influential cultural force in 2017-2018.  The movement stands as a voice against sexual harassment and sexual assault.  Because of the #MeToo movement sexual offenders and presumed offenders have been called to the carpet.

So how does the #MeToo movement impact ministry today?  I believe we can learn from two different pastors named Bill.

Bill Hybels’ resigned as senior pastor from Willow Creek Community Church on Easter Sunday, 2018.  His resignation was due to allegations of misconduct which included “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms.”[1]  Four months later another article was released implicating Hybels.[2]

Heed God’s Word: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).  I never imagined extended hugs would ever be part of allegations against a pastor.  May we as pastors set the tone in pursuing sexual purity, honoring younger women as sisters and older women as mothers.  May we double down in enjoying life with our spouses, or if necessary in pursuing a spouse so we don’t dishonor God with an abuse of the gift of sexuality.

We can also learn from the other Bill – Billy Graham.  Billy Graham lived by a principle that he would never be alone with another woman except his wife.  Some ministries have adopted this principle as part of their church policy.  The “Billy Graham rule” is that you are never alone with a person of the opposite sex.  This rule changes travel, counseling, conferences, and even elevator rides.

I’m not sure every small church and ministry is ready to adopt the Billy Graham rule, though it may not hurt.  But we should consider our interactions with the opposite sex.  An accusation can end a ministry whether it’s true or not.

We all know the devastation caused by a bad example, but there also exists the power of a positive example.  Enabled by the Holy Spirit and compelled by the love of Christ let us strive for that!

Here are some things you might consider in your own ministries:

  • Counseling members of the opposite sex in public places, by phone or Facetime, or when staff are around.[3]
  • Careful planning when it comes to traveling with a co-worker of the opposite sex
  • Side hugs and careful conversations.[4]
  • Guarding our hearts in all situations and asking the Lord to empower us to be lights.

Pastor Dustin Blumer serves Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, IL.

[1] The Chicago Tribune.  “Hybels steps down from Willow Creek following allegations of misconduct”  April 11, 2018

[2] The New York Times. “He’s a Superstar Pastor. She Worked for Him and Says He Groped Her Repeatedly.” August 5, 2018

[3] I have a 10 hour/week assistant and I try to plan meeting with the opposite sex when my assistant is present.  Other times I will offer to counsel via phone.

[4] Different kinds of hugs was a conversation that came up in our Pastoral Theology class.  This advice may seem legalistic and perhaps unloving, but I believe wise as loving intent will still be seen.