Four Branches September – 2019

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Exegetical Theology: Prominence Indicators – Adverbial (Circumstantial) Participles Preceding Their Main Verbs

All of God’s Word is equally inspired, but not all of God’s Word is inspired equal. Nothing in God’s Word is unimportant, but some things are more important than others. You could rely on your own intuition to figure out which are the holy writer’s main points, and which are his subsidiary points, but wouldn’t it be better to let the holy writer tell you which points are the main ones?

There are different ways a speaker/author can signal which points are more prominent, that is, more important to the communicative goal of the discourse. This month we look at how adverbial (circumstantial) participles which precede their main verbs are used to designate what is more and less prominent.[1]

When a speaker/author uses an adverbial participle before another verb, they subordinate the participle’s action to that other verb’s action. They could have chosen to depict that participle’s action with a second main verb and communicated two equally prominent actions. But in demoting the first event to a participle, they communicate that the action of the participle is relatively less prominent, while the action of the verb it modifies is relatively more prominent.

We see several good examples of how adverbial participles communicate relative prominence in Luke 15:1-10 (Gospel for Pentecost 17C and Oct. 27 in the 6-week Welcome Home series). Participle clauses preceding their main verb are italicized to mark them as less prominent:

Verses 4-6: Some man, having one hundred sheep and having lost one of them, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it? And having found it, he sets it on his shoulders rejoicing. And having come home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.”[2]

What are the more prominent points in Jesus’ parable? Not the losing. Not even the finding. It’s the searching for the one. It’s the joyful taking the found sheep onto the shoulders. It’s the summons to his friends to be joyful too.

What these participles show us in terms of relative prominence, unsurprisingly, matches the parable’s context. Jesus addresses this parable to Pharisees criticizing his interaction with sinners. Jesus’ main points through the parable (the non-participles): “Shouldn’t I eagerly seek each one lost? Shouldn’t I joyfully embrace the now found? Shouldn’t my friends be rejoicing with me (unlike what you Pharisees are doing)?”

Could you have figured out where the prominence in the parable lies without the help of the participles? Perhaps, but noting that adverbial participles which precede another verb will be less prominent than the verb that follows puts our exegesis on a little more objective footing. And our main preaching points, then, can echo Christ’s.

Blessings, brothers, friends of the Good Shepherd, as you rejoice with him over each found sheep, and summon the rest of our Savior’s friends to do the same and welcome them home.

[1] The prominence of participles which follow their main verbs is a more complicated matter which we won’t take up here.

[2] “Rejoicing” and “saying” are adverbial participles as well, but they are not italicized because they follow their main verbs. See the previous note.

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:  Prolegomena – Keep First Things First

Clean up your room!  That is a common theme from well-known internet lecturer Jordan Peterson.  In one of his lectures, Peterson elaborated on what he meant by explaining that it forces a person to think about the purpose and use of the space.[1]  Cleaning your room is a metaphor for lining up your life and world with your goals.  There’s a basic truth behind that observation: Something’s place is tied to its purpose and function.

That truth comes out clearly in systematic theology.  Where doctrines are placed in relation to one another reflects the goals of the one doing the systematizing.  That arrangement also impacts the way those who adopt a particular system function when they do theology.

As people who do theology—and by “do theology” I mean that we are to correctly handle the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), devote ourselves to the public preaching of the Scriptures, and set an example of godliness for our hearers (1 Timothy 4:12-13)—it is good for us to remember the proper place for each doctrine in relation to the others.

For now, let’s limit ourselves to the matter of prolegomena—what must be established before we can systematically arrange the doctrines of the faith.  Scripture is at the heart of prolegomena for Lutherans because Lutheranism holds (in line with the ancient church) that Scripture is how God has revealed himself to sinful man.

From the first of Luther’s 95 Theses, which appeals to Scripture to define repentance, to Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent, which takes up Scripture as its first topic of examination, the Lutheran Church has rightly placed Scripture at the beginning.  Any success Lutheranism has enjoyed can be attributed to that emphasis.

Permit an example to show what happens when Lutherans move Scripture from its proper place of primacy.  In early August of this year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America adopted “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.”  The document builds its claims on the history of ELCA’s inter-religious dialogues with a veneer of Scripture pasted on top.  Since the document does not begin with Scripture, it is not surprising that it goes on to assert, “We must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion or the individual human beings who practice it.”  Even more revealing, when a delegate appealed to John 14:6 to challenge the assertion quoted, his appeal was dismissed with the claim that God is big enough to include people of other faiths.  Over 97% of the delegates voted in favor of the original document, excluding this delegate’s amendment.

As you prepare to celebrate the Reformation this year, make sure to keep Scripture in its place!  Refresh your emphasis on Scripture alone as the source of theology by reading (or rereading) pages 35-216 in volume 1 of Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent.  Be heartened by the reminder of the good company of past believers who share that same emphasis on Scripture as the thing that should be kept first in doing theology.

[1] The relevant excerpt from this lecture can be found at:

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

Historical Theology: Lectionary History – Part 1

In an introduction to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), Horace Allen wrote: “It could be said that all preachers use a lectionary, the only questions being: who put it together, preacher or Church? And what, if any, are the operative principles by which it has been put together?”  A Christian lectionary has not yet fallen from heaven. 

The viva vox Jesu is central to everything Jesus’ Church is and does.  She’s a proclaimer.  On the Lord’s Da,y her liturgy is fundamentally proclamation (revelation) of the mystery of the presence of Christ for sinners.  She calls those who have ears to hear and she speaks aloud the Word of God.   

But what to put on the table when the feast of divine word is too much to consume in one setting (or 52 or 156)?  A purposeful selection used freely but consistently, has proven beneficial for catholicity, providing context, catechesis, focus and balance. 

We’ve been given rich menu selections to place before the Faithful in Christian lectionaries.  This and two following articles aim to briefly trace out Christian lectionary history, especially noting the principles of selection where available.

Publicly reading the Word from Josiah to Jesus

Jesus is in the Synagogue for the Sabbath Service in Luke 4. Toward the end of the service, a haphtaroth from the prophets might be read, usually connected to the teaching of the Torah for the day (with Midrash perhaps following).  Our Lord stood and a scroll was brought to Him (it would not be unusual if Isaiah was being read in a lectio continua).  “He found the place.” (Lk 4:17)  What does that mean?  The place He was looking for?  Or the incipit, the marking on the scroll that marked the beginning of the selected lesson?  Either way, Isaiah 61 and 58 were the divinely appointed lection for that momentous moment. 

That the Word was to be read in public assembly is clear in Scripture; what was to be read is less so.  King Josiah read from the Book of the Covenant (2 Kings 23:1-3).  Moses prescribed certain Scripture for certain times (Deuteronomy 31:9-12).  St James says that Moses is read in the synagogues every Sabbath (Acts 15:21) and St. Paul heard the Law and the Prophets on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14-15)

What we know of synagogue worship offers substantially more.  The earliest extant complete synagogue lectionaries are from the tenth to twelfth centuries A.D., but they likely represent earlier lectionaries.  Though the continuous reading of the Torah perhaps became fixed before the birth of Christ, a system of reading from the Prophets isn’t well-attested until the sixth or seventh century A.D.  We are aware of a three-year cycle in Palestine that divided the Pentateuch into 153 to 167 lessons, and a one-year Babylonian cycle of 54 lessons by that point.  On the Feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles,) the texts spoke directly of the historical event surrounding the feast.

It seems the Christians quickly adapted the synagogue service of Word and Prayer, adding the Sacrament and including writings of the evangelists and apostles as they were available (Ac 13:14-15; 1 Thess 5:27; Col 4:16).

Justin Martyr in the 2nd century and the Apostolic Constitutions of 4th century indicate continuous reading (lectio continua) in two parts.  Saints Ambrose and Augustine both refer to a tripartite reading of the prophets, apostles and gospels in the 4th century AD. 

To come: developments from Charlemagne to Vatican II.

For further reading, consider Pastor Joel Gawrisch’s six part series in Volume 21 of Preach the Word, a valuable resource to help a preacher think through the value of and making the best use of a lectionary, available at

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: Everyday Evangelism

When is the last time you as pastor invited a community member to your church?  When was the last time you shared your faith with someone outside of your church?

When considering those questions hear the comfort of Luther’s explanation to the 2nd Petition.  “Your kingdom come.”  What does this mean?  “God’s kingdom certainly comes by itself even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.”  

There it is!  We have the sweet assurance that God is going to extend his kingdom with or without us.  “I will build my church,” says Jesus. (Matthew 16:18)  Mirroring the Gospel of our salvation is the idea that the great work of evangelism relies on the perfect works of Christ and not our imperfect efforts.  

Yet, we crave for God to use us for this great work!  We hear our Lord tell us the fields are ripe.  We are thrilled every time we see God bring the harvest in through the power of the Holy Spirit in Baptism or in sharing the Gospel!

God has given our synod and our pastors a heart for outreach.  Yet, because contexts and personalities are different, there isn’t a one size fits all approach.  What I set before you are 3 simple ideas for everyday evangelism.  

Strategically move the conversation to the question, “Do you have a church home?”  Consider the use of strategy in Fantasy Football.  People study weeks before the draft, analyze the matchups, and consider prior performance.  They do that because they want a lineup that it is calculated and based on knowledge.  Your strategy may even lead to a measure of success.

When is the last time you applied strategy to a conversation?  As pastors there are countless ways of strategically moving the conversation to the spiritual.  You could ask what they do for work, and they might ask what you do.  If they ask how your day is going, you can refer to the work you are doing.  These are easy ways to strategically move the conversation to, “Do you have a church home?”  The spiritual conversations that happen from there can be guided by your knowledge and the Spirit and may naturally finish with an invitation to your church.

Be ready to share the Gospel conversationally.  It is awesome to know Gospel presentations like God’s Great Exchange or the Bridge.  Those can be effective in following up with visitors when people ask what your church is all about.  There is a place for them.  Yet, they are hard to use at the haircutters.  In his book Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out, Alvin Reid argues, “Increasingly in our world, presentations are less effective, and conversations connect better, especially with the younger generation.”

I have found it helpful to be ready to answer the question, “Why are you a pastor?”  I’ll say, “I just love being a pastor because I believe so many people deal with guilt, fear, and shame.  But I get to tell people in Jesus they have the right for peace, joy, and freedom…”

Promote, talk, and preach about your evangelism efforts.  When your people know you’re about the good work of evangelism, it inspires them to about it as well.  I was part of our synods Home Missions and remember reporting on evangelism activity.  I have carried this practice to our Leadership Team where I report on evangelistic efforts.  I talk about and share in sermons what God is doing through street evangelism and the work he is doing in the hearts of his people.  Currently, we have a monthly small group where we talk about and pray for specific people we are reaching out to.  What might you do to spur your people on for the good work of evangelism?

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