Four Branches October – 2019

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Exegetical Theology: Prominence Indicators – γάρ

We continue a look at different ways speakers/writers indicate prominence, as in, what are the main points and what are the supporting points. This time we see how that is communicated with the subordinating conjunction γάρ.

γάρ, often translated “because” or “for,” signals that the information it introduces is not the main point, but is instead given as supporting material for the main point. There can be very important theological information found in these γάρ-clauses, but the γάρ shows us the reason it is mentioned.  It intends to support the previous material, which is the more primary point of the two that the speaker/writer is intending to communicate at this particular time.

Let’s see some examples of how this works in Romans 3:19-28 (Epistle for Reformation Day).

Verse 20: Therefore no flesh will be justified before him through works of the Law, γάρ through the Law is a knowledge of sin.

The final clause of the verse shows us clearly the use of the Law as a mirror. One of the good things the Law does for us is reflect our sinfulness back to us. But note why Paul mentions this fact, shown us by the γάρ: to support the more central thesis that the works of the Law do not justify. The fact that the Law shows our sin is a good thing.  However, here Paul refers to it here to show the Law’s absolute lack of qualifications when it comes to justifying us.

Verses 22-23: The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, γάρ there is no distinction, γάρ all sinned and lack the glory of God.[1]

The final clause reveals to us the universal nature of sinfulness. But look at what that clause supports. The universal nature of sin confirms the lack of any distinction between people when it comes to justification. (Primarily in view for Paul would be the Jew-Gentile question, but other distinctions are, of course, ruled out too.) The lack of any distinction between people when it comes to justification confirms that the righteousness of God is for all who believe.  It’s not just for some believers or even certain kinds of believers.  All believers are justified through faith, even ones that don’t look like they have the resume or pedigree.

When preaching these texts, we can bring out the important doctrinal truths communicated in the γάρ-clauses, while at the same time using them to support the more central and prominent points that the Apostle wants them to support. The Law shows us well our sinfulness, which shows the Law is dreadfully unable to justify us. All have sinned, which means no one is better than anyone else in a way that counts before God.  When God says the righteousness of faith is for all who believe, he means it. And he means you.

A blessed Reformation Day!

[1] How exactly the following participial clause (“being justified freely…”) connects to this verse is a rather complicated and debated question, which we don’t have room to take up here, but regardless, it does not affect how the thought of the cited clauses connect.

Rev. Aaron Jensen serves as associate pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Adrian, MI.

Systematic Theology: A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place:  Christology – Keeping the Heart Right

In roughly a month, many Christian churches will celebrate Christ the King Sunday.  While this Sunday is widely recognized and observed, its origin is less familiar to most people.  Christ the King Sunday was introduced in 1925 by Pope Pius the XI.  The reason Pope Pius XI inaugurated Christ the King Sunday was to highlight Christ’s rule over all creation.  Specifically, he instituted this festival to highlight the need for people in an increasingly secular age to recognize their need to submit to Christ.  Of course, when Pius spoke of this submission to Christ, he had more in mind than obedience to the gospel.  In fact, Quas Primas (the papal encyclical that instituted the festival of Christ the King) quickly passes from speaking of Christ’s authority as Redeemer to his authority as law-maker.1 One of the concluding paragraphs offers the following as a “blessing” Pius hoped this festival would produce in the church and society:

Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.[2]

Certainly the Catholic festival of Christ the King highlights the importance of Christ, but in doing so it highlights the flaws in Catholic Christology.  This is worth pointing out because Christology is the heart of Christianity.  That is why the earliest and most significant battles in the early church tended to center on matters of Christology.

As Since we have an interest in preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified, we would do well to review Christology, and not only so that we get Christ the King Sunday right!  The Sunday after Christ the King begins the Lord’s half of the church year.  What better way to enrich your sermon work for the great festivals of the church year and your ability to hold Christ before your people for the next few months than by reviewing your Christology?  Crack open the appropriate volume of Pieper or Hoenecke.  Reread Article 8 of the Formula of Concord.  Review the portion of whatever church history book you have that covers the Christological controversies.  If you are feeling extra ambitious, tackle Chemnitz’ The Two Natures in Christ.  Such reading and review will take you to the heart of your faith and help keep that heart right.

1 Quas Primas, par. 14,

2 Quas Primas, par. 32,

Rev. Joshua Becker serves at Christ Lutheran Church in Saginaw, MI.

Historical Theology: Lectionary History – Part 2

The Historic Lectionary of western Christianity, which some have called the “canon of the Canon”, has roots in the first centuries of the ancient Church.  It really began to take a firm shape in the 8th century A.D.  Sermons of Chrysostom in the 5th century reflect a lectionary with an epistle and gospel pericope, but there’s no evidence of a widespread standard until Venerius, bishop of Marseilles appointed feast day readings in the middle of the 5th century.  The earliest extant full Roman lectionary is the Wurtzburg lectionary in the late 6th century. By the 9th century the propers, chants, introits, and graduals are collected in a diocesan missal. (The Lutheran Liturgy, pgs 47, 290)

It appears that Charlemagne had one of his brightest men, Alcuin of York, standardize a lectionary for preachers in his kingdom in the late 700s.  Alcuin is credited with putting together the Gospel lections of Gregory the Great (ca 600 A.D.) and the Epistle lections in use in Gallic churches at the time.  This year long lectionary of two lessons (138 total pericopes – with year-long Epistles and Gospels but Old Testament selections only in Holy Week) mainly held in the Church until it was adapted, and a version was codified in 1570.  It remained relatively unchanged in the Roman Church until 1970.  The Anglican and Lutheran lectionaries had minor revisions and transferred pericopes occasionally, but generally also held close to the arrangement under Charlemagne.  It seems Trinity III may have been the only Sunday with no variations in the Epistle and Gospel through the centuries.   

Luther was critical of the Epistle selections.  “These seem to have been chosen by a singularly unlearned and superstitious advocate of works.  But for the service those sections in which faith in Christ is taught should have been given preference.” (Luther’s Works, AE 53, pp. 23-24) He did not, however, make sweeping revisions to those epistles.  He and Veit Dietrich did provide new lessons for the end of the church year with an eschatological focus. 

The development of a Western lectionary is fairly obscure; as far as history is concerned, the historic lectionary is essentially designed anonymously.  Professor Arthur Just suggests that’s exactly one of the lectionary’s great virtues.  It comes from and belongs to the Church, not an individual.

The three-year lectionaries devised in the 20th century were born out of the Historic Lectionary but with much clearer principles of selection which we’ll trace out in the next article.

For more on the factors that shaped a lectionary in Western Christendom, you might consider chapters four and fifteen in Luther Reed’s A Lutheran Liturgy or an article by John Reumann in the Journal Interpretation, titled “A History of Lectionaries: From the Synagogue at Nazareth to Post-Vatican II

Pastor Tyler Peil is associate pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, Utah,  a member of the Scripture Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project and Secretary of the WELS Nebraska District.

Practical Theology: Unleashing the Power of Prayer

If you were to rank your prayer life on a scale of 1-10 where would you be?  (10 being the strongest possible) Thankfully with time in the ministry I’ve seen my prayer life increase.  Unfortunately, I’m not near a 10.  

Martin Luther is held in high regard for his prayer life.  He was known for spending two hours a day in prayer.  Veit Dietrich observed Luther praying and commented to Melanchthon, “One time I had the opportunity of hearing him praying.  Good God, what spirit, what faith was in his words!  He prayed for things with such reverence – as befits God – and with such hope and faith that he seemed to be holding a conversation with a father or a friend.1

I wonder what people would say if they observed our prayer life as pastors.  Would they find reason to imitate our faith life, or reasons to look for other examples?  

Is the current status of our prayer life the reason for our right standing with God?  Of course not!  One of my favorite Gospel phrases is that “we stand in grace.” (Romans 5:2) We don’t play hokey pokey in our status with God.  I’m not in God’s grace because of my good prayer life, and out because of a poor one. 

However, as under shepherds is there anything more powerful than going to the Good Shepherd in prayer?  Is there room for you to unleash the power of prayer even more in your life and ministry?  

Take this further with me.  What might God continue to do when we simply use the awesome opportunity of prayer?  Tim Keller writes, “Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us.  Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we desire most.2. With that a few practical suggestions:

Double down on adoration – Right now God knows what is happening in the furthest galaxy and also knows the numbers of hairs on your head.  When we adore him we start to get a sense of peace and joy versus a sense of despair and fear over the issues we face.  He is the Almighty Sovereign God who chooses to love us!  Praise him!

Present challenges and requests with thanksgiving – We all have tough days in ministry.  Let’s say someone unfairly attacks you and your ministry.  That hurts.  Can’t you still legitimately pray, “Father, I thank you for this challenge for I am convinced you will refine either me or someone else in the process.” Remember the prayers of Paul and Job, who said something similar during their hardship. 

Pray through the Psalms or other Scriptures – In your devotional life not only meditate on Scripture but use those Scriptures in prayer.  Speak of the Lord’s renown and the great things he has done.  Use his promises, his character, and his fame of old to boldly pray for the day.

Encourage your members to pray with and for you – We are to prepare the saints for works of service.  Their prayers to the Father are just as valid as ours.  As appropriate have them lead the prayer at the end of a meeting or conversation.

Consider a weekly/monthly schedule to prayer – Set aside certain days to pray for specific things.  Whether it be certain members on one day, and prospects on another day etc.  A schedule might help you prioritize all the various needs of your church and your life.

Plan when it will happen – If you feel there is room to improve your prayer life, the first priority is to carve out time and to commit to it.  Look at your schedule and visualize when it will happen and what it will look like.  For a good book on establishing or improving habits may I recommend, “Atomic Habits.”

1  Melanchthon’s Briefwechsel

2 Tim Keller’s book entitled Prayer

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