Bible Study Summary, 9/20/15

[We are using Pr. Matt Richard‘s helpful study, “How Do We View Christianity?” which sums up two ways of looking at the various aspects of human beings, sin, free will, salvation, and more.]

We continued our discussion on the Sacraments, on p. 8 of the study guide.

Our discussion revolved around the Lutheran (and formerly universal) practice of “closed Communion.”  Some issues were raised about how our practice comes across: as though we are judging people, or considering them lesser Christians, or acting as if we could know someone’s heart.

We used an illustration from this book to ask the question: who, actually, is claiming to know another person’s heart?  The pastor who speaks about fellowship in terms of where a person communes (and, hence, makes a public confession, even if the person does not understand the nature of that confession)?  Or the person who claims that someone else is a “sincere Christian”?

I also made the point that the decision about who communes should not be made by the pastor.  Then, the Church becomes fragmented according to each pastor’s practice, even in differing practice from pastor to pastor within a single congregation.  Rather, outward, altar fellowship is the only firm basis for who communes where.  Since neither the pastor–nor anyone else–can see a person’s heart, the decision is actually being made by the individual, based on where he or she communes currently.

We discussed a number of other questions of practice, but they are best discussed in person, within our congregation!  So please come in two weeks (Pr. Winterstein will be gone at the LWML retreat this week), when we take up the discussion again.

Bible Study Summary, 9/13/15

[We are using Pr. Matt Richard‘s helpful study, “How Do We View Christianity?” which sums up two ways of looking at the various aspects of human beings, sin, free will, salvation, and more.]

Today we discussed the Sacraments, starting on p. 8 of the study guide.  We looked at Matthew 26:27-28; 1 Peter 3:20-22; and Acts 2:38-39, as well as Titus 3.

The question running through the different positions on the Sacraments is: which direction does the activity go between God and us?  If we think of God above and us below, are the Sacraments my action up toward God, or are they God’s action in Christ down toward us?  Are they my obedience and commitment toward God (the things I do in response to the salvation God has given me)?  Or are they God’s saving action in Christ given to me in concrete ways?  Are they powerless signs of something that happens apart from the Sacraments within me?  Or are they powerful signs of Christ’s saving presence that come to me from outside myself?

The difference between these two positions is everything.  If they are signs of my obedience and commitment, what if my obedience and commitment seems to flag and wane?  Then the only place for me to turn is to an increased effort on my part to demonstrate my commitment and obedience.  There is no Gospel that way; only despair.  On the other hand, if the Sacraments are God’s action toward and for me, flowing from and based in Christ’s death and resurrection, then it is exactly to the promises contained in the Sacraments that I should turn.  There I can know that I have a gracious God, because He has said it, and He continues to distribute His mercy–unlimited and eternal.

We talked briefly about how these questions highlight the fundamental differences between traditions in the Christian Church.  This is not for the purpose of tearing down others, but of being honest about where those differences lie.  If we can’t agree on where the disagreement is, we’re never going to agree on the substance of what is at stake.

Our discussion will continue next Sunday on whether unity is achieved or whether it is demonstrated by sharing the Lord’s Supper.  We had great participation today, with numerous questions and comments, and we hope you will join us next week to share your contribution as we study God’s Word together.

Bible Study Summary, 9/6/15

[We are using Pr. Matt Richard‘s helpful study, “How Do We View Christianity?” which sums up two ways of looking at the various aspects of human beings, sin, free will, salvation, and more.]

Our discussion on Sunday revolved around where Justification (being right with God) is located (p. 7 in the study guide): is it something that happens individually, within each person?  Is the primary meaning of justification my internal transformation: that justification is something that happens within my heart?  Or is it something that happens outside me, in Christ, because of His death and resurrection?  We might be tempted to go with the first option, since that seems to make it more personal.  But our discussion of the location of our assurance of salvation made it clear that if justification happens inside us, then we are going to look for the assurance of our justification also within ourselves.  But to look within for assurance is always uncertain and changing, since our emotions, circumstances, and experiences are always changing.  In the midst of a changing world and changing circumstances, we needs a certain word and an unchanging promise–which can only be found outside us in Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

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Bishop and Christian*, September 2015

“In many and various ways long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets; in the last of these days He spoke to us by the Son” (Hebrews 1:1). How does God tell us what He wants us to know? How does He make known to us His will? How do we discern what really is God’s word to us, especially when all sorts of people are running around telling us that God has said this or God has said that?
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Bible Study Summary, 8/30/15

[We are using Pr. Matt Richard‘s helpful study, “How Do We View Christianity?” which sums up two ways of looking at the various aspects of human beings, sin, free will, salvation, and more.]

On Sunday we discussed questions on p. 6-7 in the study guide.  We talked about what difference it makes in how we present the Gospel if (A) we believe that faith is a person’s decision to accept God’s grace, or (B) we believe that faith itself is a gift from God by which we receive the Gospel.  If faith is an individual’s decision, then you would present the Gospel so as to make the case for the Gospel, about which the other person would have to decide.  But if the Scriptures show us that individuals apart from the Holy Spirit are deaf, blind, and dead in their sin, then they cannot make a decision about the Gospel, and will always choose the opposite of the Gospel.  On the other hand, if that’s true about people, then our sole responsibility is for the Gospel and for telling it to people.  The Holy Spirit does the entire work, when and where He wills, of converting, enlightening, and granting faith in that Gospel.

We also talked about the Bible, and whether it contains the Word of God, or whether it is the Word of God.  Someone made the point that throughout, “Plan A” in the study puts the individual person in control, whereas “Plan B” makes God the subject of the verbs.  In this question, the same is true.  If the Bible only contains the Word of God (i.e., some things in the Bible are not the Word of God, but solely the words of men), who decides which words are God’s and which words are merely human?  The reader of the Scriptures is put over the Scriptures, rather than the Scriptures over the person.  We also made the point that this belief in the Scriptures as wholly the Word of God is only true because Jesus is the Word of God.  If the words of the Scriptures are all true, it is because Jesus is the Truth.  If the words of the Scriptures show us the way, it is because Jesus is the Way.  If the Scriptures shine a light for us to walk by, it is because Jesus is the Light of the World.  All the words of the Scriptures are true because they all testify of Him.