Bob Burney, Townhall
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.
Just as Spock’s “mistake” was no minor error, so the error of the seeker sensitive movement is monumental in its scope. The foundation of thousands of American churches is now discovered to be mere sand. The one individual who has had perhaps the greatest influence on the American church in our generation has now admitted his philosophy of ministry, in large part, was a “mistake.” The extent of this error defies measurement.
Perhaps the most shocking thing of all in this revelation coming out of Willow Creek is in a summary statement by Greg Hawkins:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.
Isn’t that what we were told when this whole seeker-sensitive thing started? The church growth gurus again want to throw away their old assumptions and “take out a clean sheet of paper” and, presumably, come up with a new paradigm for ministry.
Should this be encouraging?
Please note that “rooted in Scripture” still follows “rethink,” “new insights” and “informed research.” Someone, it appears, still might not get it. Unless there is a return to simple biblical (and relevant) principles, a new faulty scheme will replace the existing one and another generation will follow along as the latest piper plays.
What we should find encouraging, at least, in this “confession” coming from the highest ranks of the Willow Creek Association is that they are coming to realize that their existing “model” does not help people grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ. Given the massive influence this organization has on the American church today, let us pray that God would be pleased to put structures in place at Willow Creek that foster not mere numeric growth, but growth in grace.
Bob Burney is Salem Communications’ award-winning host of Bob Burney Live, heard weekday afternoons on WRFD-AM 880 in Columbus, Ohio.
The Glory Has Departed
Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence
Bethany Lutheran Church Live Worship.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
"He allows the affliction to remain and to oppress; yet He employs different tactics to bestow peace; He changes the heart, removing it from the affliction, not the affliction from the heart. This is the way it is done: When you are sunk in affliction He so turns your mind from it and gives you such consolation that you imagine you are dwelling in a garden of roses."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., Lenker, III, p. 285. John 14:23-31.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
 PREACHING: CRMs/Resigned pastors (10/6) POLICY
Whereas 1 the Conference of Presidents (COP) has a number of items in our Guiding Principles and Past Practices regarding men with CRM status, and
Whereas 2 Questions continue to arise regarding the preaching privileges of men with CRM status, and
Whereas 3 It is the conviction of the Conference of Presidents (COP) that it is not in the best interests of the church to have “licensed” or “itinerant” preachers, therefore be it
Resolved a That the names of men who have CRM status not be listed in the Yearbook, and be it further
Resolved b that the names of men who have CRM status are regularly reviewed by the COP at its face to face meetings, and be it further
Resolved c that the appropriate District President list the month and year when names are posted on the COP CRM list, and be it further
Resolved d that men with CRM status are informed by their District President that their CRM status will lapse after three years on the COP CRM list, and be it further
Resolved e that men are informed, when their CRM status lapses, that they can petition their District Praesidium for one three year extension to their CRM status (a privilege which will not be granted automatically), and be it further
Resolved f that men with CRM status may preach in their home congregation and when needed as supply preachers so that their preaching skills may stay sharp, and be it finally
Resolved g that this supercedes and replaces  and  which shall be struck-through
 WEB REPORTING OF CHANGES OF MINISTRY (03-04)
The following is our adopted practice of reporting resignations or terminations of Divine calls. No detail has been posted on the web regarding resignations. (confer Policy Book, April 2001 #45)
Whereas 1) at times it is necessary for called workers to resign or to have their Divine Calls terminated; and
Whereas 2) it would be good for us to be as uniform as possible in reporting these resignations and terminations
Whereas 3) it is important for us to report in such a way that the truth is told and reputations are not harmed; therefore be it
Resolved, a) that we work with six basic terms: personal, health, cause, inability to serve, position eliminated and for the good of the ministry; and be it further
Resolved, b) that these terms be generally defined as follows:
1. personal reasons – financial, family & other non-table of duties matters
2. health reasons – physical, mental and emotional
3. cause – persistent adherence to false doctrine, scandalous life (not blameless); willful neglect of duty;
4. inability to serve; established inability to perform the duties of office
5. position eliminated.
6. for the good of the ministry.
Resolved, c) that this be communicated by the District Presidents as they feel the need within their Districts.
Resolved, d that each District President use only these terms in reporting resignations and terminations.
Since resignations and terminations are going to be posted on the web through the Synod President’s Newsletter, we recommend that when a termination takes place because a position has been eliminated it simply be reported as “position eliminated.” In their District President reports, such actions may be listed with both terms. Terminations for other reasons would be simply listed as “Divine Call terminated.”
GJ - I suggest that defenestration be used when a district pope has meddled with a divine call and forced a pastor out of the ministry in order to feed the DP's ego needs.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Christian Giving Counselors Guide You In Giving Towards the Lord's Work
Each of the 12 WELS districts has Christian giving counselors who know well the principles of Christian stewardship and can assist churches or individuals with promoting or making gifts to support WELS gospel ministry. There is no fee for the services of a counselor. He is qualified to assist you with one or more of the following services:
Assistance to Members
Giving you the latest information about WELS ministry opportunities or projects of special interest
Giving you counsel in developing a plan for regular, faithful Christian giving
Advice on which gifts are best for family and which are best for ministry
Ways to reduce taxes and increase giving
Advice in putting together or reviewing your Christian estate plan
Providing information about donor advised funds, trusts and annuities and how they can be used to accomplish charitable giving
Helping you find the professionals you need to accomplish your Christian giving
Giving you information about how you can participate in designated giving, including becoming a Mission Partner with a synod ministry
Assistance to Churches
Preaching (if counselor is trained as a pastor): especially applicable for worship services emphasizing stewardship, Mission Partners, Walking Together, or opportunities within WELS
Presentations during Bible class or a special time during the week:
Synod work and opportunities
Stewardship and financial planning
Making planned gifts
Assistance in setting up a planned giving committee that could educate members on the best ways to make planned gifts to WELS. One function of this committee could be to set up and manage an endowment fund.
Benefits of a Counselor
Confidential counsel with a fellow Christian whose only desire is to help you
Continued growth in understanding and living the scriptural principles of Christian stewardship
The joy of generously supporting the Lord’s work in your congregation, synod, or a WELS agency
Where He Fits Into Your Gift-Making Process
WELS Christian giving counselors are not attorneys, and they do not give legal advice. They offer information of a general nature about legal matters and provide counsel regarding Christian principles of stewardship.
However, he is the one you want to talk with before you meet with an attorney. Your counselor can help you get your thoughts and plans in good order before your appointment. He is a fellow Christian you know you can trust to give you good, solid advice.
Contact Your Counselor
To contact your counselor, take a look at the directory below. The file is saved in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. You may need the most recent version of Adobe Reader to view it (this is a free download). Note that highlighted links within the file are interactive.
And I came away with an overwhelming sense that to truly be a Wauwatosa theologian, you've just plain got to be PRETTY DOGGONE smart. You need to know the vonfessional languages, you need to understand philology, you need to be VERY well versed in Scripture, you need to be a god exegete, you need to know the controversies that have preceded and the way they have been dealt with.
GJ - WELS pastors never tire of praising themselves. They do tire of spell-checking. See that ABC checkmark above the window for text? A little right of center? Try that. Perhaps the comment poster does not have spell-check. There is always the job of self-editing.
Spel Chek has left a new comment on your post "Vonfessional Lutherans Are God Exegetes":
The comment you excerpted was praising Professor Brug. The writer was not praising himself.
GJ - Using the slang "you" makes the statement ambiguous. Often "you" means "I" instead of "one." I understand the writer to be saying that only the Wisconsin pastors are smart enough to Wauwatosi. They are also the only ones who want to.
I know from experience that the Wisconsin pastors are trained to consider themselves far superior to all others, to scorn Missouri pastors, and to look down on ELS pastors. All good Wisconsin anecdotes about Missouri lead to the conclusion that Missouri gets everything wrong, except when a Missouri pastor expresses his awe about WELS. "You don't realize what you have here." (So I was told more than once, about a Missouri pastor observing a WELS gathering.)
More proof of what I was saying:
There's no way anyone with the watered down Missouri type system is going to become a Wauwatosa type theologian unless he does a LOT of study elsewhere. Wauwatosa theology involves a combination of Exegetical skills, and being able to "get it" as to what really is at stake. Luther, to speak anachronistically once again, was a "Wauwatosa theologian" --demonstrated so vlearly at Marburg,....
Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther
on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther (1517)
Works of Martin Luther:
Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol.1, pp. 29-38
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.
In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.
6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.
7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.
11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.
12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.
14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.
15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.
17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.
18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.
20. Therefore by "full remission of all penalties" the pope means not actually "of all," but only of those imposed by himself.
21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;
22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.
23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.
24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.
25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.
26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.
27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].
28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.
29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.
30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.
31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.
32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.
33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;
34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.
35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.
36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.
39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.
40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].
41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;
44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.
45. 45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.
46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.
47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.
48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.
49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.
52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.
54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.
55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
56. The "treasures of the Church," out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.
57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.
58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.
59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church's poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ's merit, are that treasure;
61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.
62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.
66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.
67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the "greatest graces" are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.
68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.
69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.
70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.
71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!
72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!
73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.
74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.
75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God -- this is madness.
76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.
77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.
78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.
79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.
81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.
82. To wit: -- "Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial."
83. Again: -- "Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"
84. Again: -- "What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul's own need, free it for pure love's sake?"
85. Again: -- "Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?"
86. Again: -- "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?"
87. Again: -- "What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?"
88. Again: -- "What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?"
89. "Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?"
90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.
91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!
94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.
Who is the greatest Lutheran theologian?
Martin Luther 21 (75%)
Martin Chemnitz 2 (7%)
C. F. W. Walther 3 (10%)
Waldo Werning 2 (7%)
GJ - Werning is certainly one of the most influential (destructive). I will have to run another poll on the most influential, for weal or woe.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Paul McCain, pictured right, has issued this solemn pronouncement:
I monitor a lot of blog sites. Thanks to "Google Reader" you can scan new topics and see what's buzzing about the Blogophere. On the Lutheran blogosphere I will, routinely, bump into a blog post about blogging. Actually, it's usually a kind of self-indulgent sort of twaddle that truly strikes me as the most boring of all blog posts: the blogging about blogging post. I just read another one recently.
Advice to Lutheran bloggers: blog about what you know best. Don't bore us with blog posts about why you blog, or how you blog, or when you blog, or how you don't really care about what others say about your blog but then proceed to explain in several paragraphs of passive-aggression how you are, boo-hoo, misunderstood and under appreciated, or try to convince us of how "you are controversial" and "oh, this is going to make somebody upset."
One of his nail-bitingly inspirational posts was about about his Mac computer.
McCain knows how to do Reformation, too:
(1) The Gospel had been obscured to the point of being lost in many ways.
(2) The Reformation had to take place.
(3) Rome could have prevented it by repenting of its damning error.
(4) Yes, it is sad that it had to happen, but not sad that it did happen.
I'm not advocating some sort of "all praise be to Luther" fest either. Hermann Sasse wisely noted once that when the Luther statues started going up, that was about the same time that Luther's theology began to recede into the background in favor of rationalism, while Luther the hero was preserved.
But, don't let me hear any of this sniveling, "Oh, boo-hoo, the Reformation happened" bunk on this day. Let me hear a glorious celebration of the great blessing and gift of the Reformation of the Church, a glorious celebration of the Gospel of Christ!
Here is McCain's resume:
- Little or no graduate work.
- Three years in the parish, working as Barry's campaign manager, to save the synod from Bohlman liberals.
- Nine years in the do-nothing Barry administration, letting DP Benke, pictured upper left, skip discipline.
- A short hitch at Concordia Historical Institute.
- Hanging on at Concordia Publishing House, encouraging DP Benke to publish!
Someone who professes to love the LCMS or confessional Lutheranism so much should really get a congregation to serve. The Missouri Synod is plagued by too many pastors who are living well on offering money instead of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments. Most of CPH's work could be managed by full-time pastors with smaller congregations. St. Louis has an abundance of needy congregations. The money saved could be used to offset the Ivy League cost of seminary education. Boomer pastors have cleverly moved the cost of education onto the backs of future pastors.
My favorite two blogs are written by Lutheran laymen, one WELS, one ELS. I would like to see Lutheran pastors get more formal education and publish peer-reviewed books. Blogs are not peer-reviewed. The laity blogs are handy and fun to use.
Efficacy In The Book Of Concord
[GJ - The quotations below, many of which are used in Thy Strong Word, are all the significant uses of efficacy in the Book of Concord, where the term efficacy is explicit. The quotations are listed according to page number in the Book of Concord. The Biblical and confessional term--or word group--includes efficacy, efficacious, effectual, effects, works, energy. The ultimate question of Church Growth--What works?--is answered by the Scriptures and the Book of Concord: the Word alone works, the Word alone is effective, God wills that His Holy Spirit is always effective in His Word.]
"Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: 'The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, etc.' Matthew 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men."
Augsburg Confession, VIII. What the Church Is, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 47. Matthew 23:2. Tappert, p. 33. Heiser, p. 13.
Apology of the Augsburg Confession
"For Christ wishes to assure us, as was necessary, that we should know that the Word delivered by men is efficacious, and that no other word from heaven ought to be sought. 'He that heareth you heareth Me,' cannot be understood of traditions. For Christ requires that they teach in such a way that [by their mouth] He Himself be heard, because He says: 'He heareth Me.' Therefore He wishes His own voice, His own Word, to be heard, not human traditions."
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XXVIII. #18. Eccles. Power, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 449. Tappert, p. 284. Heiser, p. 134.
The Large Catechism
"Besides, it is an exceedingly effectual help against the devil, the world, and the flesh and all evil thoughts to be occupied with the Word of God, and to speak of it, and meditate upon it, so that the First Psalm declares those blessed who meditate upon the Law of God day and night. Undoubtedly, you will not start a stronger incense or other fumigation against the devil than by being engaged upon God's commandments and words, and speaking, singing, or thinking of them. For this is indeed the true holy water and holy sign from which he flees, and by which he may be driven away."
The Large Catechism, Preface, #10, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 570f. Tappert, p. 359f. Heiser, p. 167.
"For let me tell you this, even though you know it perfectly and be already master in all things, still you are daily in the dominion of the devil, who ceases neither day nor night to steal unawares upon you, to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against the foregoing and all the commandments. Therefore you must always have God's Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle, and the Word does not sound, he breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware. On the other hand, such is the efficacy of the Word, whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, that it is bound never to be without fruit, but always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness, and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not inoperative or dead, but creative, living words."
The Large Catechism, Third Commandment. #100. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 609. Tappert, p. 378f. Heiser, p. 175f.
"Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man; and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory."
The Large Catechism, Part Fourth, Of Baptism. #83. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 751. Tappert, p. 446. Heiser, p. 209.
Formula of Concord
"Therefore, before the conversion of man there are only two efficient causes, namely, the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, as the instrument of the Holy Ghost, by which He works conversion. This Word man is [indeed] to hear; however, it is not by his own powers, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Ghost that he can yield faith to it and accept it."
Formula of Concord, Epitome, II, Of the Free Will, #19, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 791. Tappert, p. 472. Heiser, p. 219.
"And although God, according to His just, strict sentence, has utterly cast away the fallen evil spirits forever, He has nevertheless, out of special, pure mercy, willed that poor fallen human nature might again become and be capable and participant of conversion, the grace of God and eternal life; not from its own natural, active [or effective] skill, aptness, or capacity (for the nature of man is obstinate enmity against God), but from pure grace, through the gracious efficacious working of the Holy Ghost." Luther, Psalm 90.
Formula of Concord, SD, II, #20. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House 1921, p. 889. Tappert, p. 525. Heiser, p. 243.
"Thirdly, in this manner, too, the Holy Scriptures ascribe conversion, faith in Christ, regeneration, renewal, and all that belongs to their efficacious beginning and completion, not to the human powers of the natural free will, neither entirely, nor half, nor in any, even the least or most inconsiderable part, but in solidum, that is, entirely, solely to the divine working and the Holy Ghost, as also the Apology teaches."
Formula of Concord, SD II. #25. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 891. Tappert, p. 526. Heiser, p. 244.
"For this reason we shall now relate, furthermore, from God's Word how man is converted to God, how and through what means [namely, through the oral Word and the holy Sacraments] the Holy Ghost wants to be efficacious in us, and to work and bestow in our hearts true repentance, faith, and new spiritual power and ability for good, and how we should conduct ourselves towards these means, and [how we should] use them."
Formula of Concord SD II. #48. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 901. Tappert, p. 530. Heiser, p. 246.
"Now, all who wish to be saved ought to hear this preaching [of God's Word]. For the preaching and hearing of God's Word are instruments of the Holy Ghost, by, with, and through which He desires to work efficaciously, and to convert men to God, and to work in them both to will and to do. This Word man can externally hear and read, even though he is not yet converted to God and regenerate; for in these external things, as said above, man even since the Fall has to a certain extent a free will, so that he can go to church and hear or not hear the sermon."
Formula of Concord, SD, II, #52. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House 1921, p. 901f. Tappert, p. 531. Heiser, p. 246.
"Now, although both, the planting and watering of the preacher, and the running and willing of the hearer, would be in vain, and no conversion would follow it if the power and efficacy of the Holy Ghost were not added thereto, who enlightens and converts the hearts through the Word preached and heard, so that men believe this Word and assent thereto, still, neither preacher nor hearer is to doubt this grace and efficacy of the Holy Ghost, but should be certain that when the Word of God is preached purely and truly, according to the command and will of God, and men listen attentively and earnestly and meditate upon it, God is certainly present with His grace, and grants, as has been said, what otherwise man can neither accept nor give from his own powers."
Formula of Concord SD II. #55-56. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 903. Tappert, p. 531f. Heiser, p. 246.
"The other eating of the body of Christ is oral or sacramental, when the true, essential body and blood of Christ are also orally received and partaken of in the Holy Supper, by all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper—by the believing as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are surely forgiven them, and Christ dwells and is efficacious in them, but by the unbelieving for the judgment and condemnation, as the words of the institution by Christ expressly declare...."
Formula of Concord, SD, VII. #63. Holy Supper. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House 1921, p. 995. Tappert, p. 581. Heiser, p. 270.
"For the true and almighty words of Jesus Christ which He spake at the first institution were efficacious not only at the first Supper, but they endure, are valid, operate, and are still efficacious [their force, power, and efficacy endure and avail even to the present], so that in all places where the Supper is celebrated according to the institution of Christ, and His words are used, the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed, and received, because of the power and efficacy of the words which Christ spake at the first Supper. For where His institution is observed and His words are spoken over the bread and cup [wine], and the consecrated bread and cup [wine] are distributed, Christ Himself, through the spoken words, is still efficacious by virtue of the first institution, through His word, which He wishes to be there repeated."
Formula of Concord, SD VII, #75. Holy Supper. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 999. Tappert, p. 583. Heiser, p. 270f.
"Also, Tom. III, Jena, Fol. 446: 'Thus here also, even though I should pronounce over all the words: This is Christ's body, nothing, of course, would result therefrom; but when in the Supper we say, according to His institution and command: 'This is My body,' it is His body, not on account of our speaking or word uttered [because these words, when uttered, have this efficacy], but because of His command—that He has commanded us thus to speak and to do, and has united His command and act with our speaking."
Formula of Concord, SD VII, #78. Holy Supper. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1001. Tappert, p. 583. Heiser, p. 271.
"Now, it is not our faith that makes the sacrament, but only the true word and institution of our almighty God and Savior Jesus Christ, which always is and remains efficacious in the Christian Church, and is not invalidated or rendered inefficacious by the worthiness or unworthiness of the minister, nor by the unbelief of the one who receives it."
Formula of Concord, SD VII, #89. Holy Supper. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1003. Tappert, p. 585. Heiser, p. 272.
"1. That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless [innocency] obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life. 2. That such merit and benefits of Christ shall be presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments. 3. That by His Holy Ghost, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, He will be efficacious and active in us, convert hearts to true repentance, and preserve them in the true faith. 4. That He will justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith, and will receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life." ..."God in His purpose and counsel ordained [decreed]:
Formula of Concord, SD, XI. #15. Of God's Eternal Election. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1069. 2 Corinthians 5:19ff. Tappert, p. 619. Heiser, p. 288.
"And this call of God, which is made through the preaching of the Word, we should not regard as jugglery, but know that thereby God reveals His will, that in those whom He thus calls He will work through the Word, that they may be enlightened, converted, and saved. For the Word, whereby we are called, is a ministration of the Spirit, that gives the Spirit, or whereby the Spirit is given, 2 Corinthians 3:8, and a power of God unto salvation, Romans 1:16. And since the Holy Ghost wishes to be efficacious through the Word, and to strengthen and give power and ability, it is God's will that we should receive the Word, believe and obey it."
Formula of Concord, SD XI. #29. Election. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1073. 2 Corinthians 3:8; Romans 1:16. Tappert, p. 621. Heiser, p. 289.
"For few receive the Word and follow it; the greatest number despise the Word, and will not come to the wedding, Matthew 22:3ff. The cause for this contempt for the Word is not God's foreknowledge [or predestination], but the perverse will of man, which rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Ghost, which God offers him through the call, and resists the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious, and works through the Word, as Christ says, 'How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not!' Matthew 23:37."
Formula of Concord, SD XI. #41. Election. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1077. Matthew 22:3ff.; 23:37. Tappert, p. 623. Heiser, p. 290.
"Moreover, the declaration, John 6:44, that no one can come to Christ except the Father draw him, is right and true. However, the Father will not do this without means, but has ordained for this purpose His Word and Sacraments as ordinary means and instruments; and it is the will neither of the Father nor of the Son that a man should not hear or should despise the preaching of His Word, and wait for the drawing of the Father without the Word and Sacraments. For the Father draws indeed by the power of His Holy Ghost, however, according to His usual order [the order decreed and instituted by Himself], by the hearing of His holy, divine Word, as with a net, by which the elect are plucked from the jaws of the devil. Every poor sinner should therefore repair thereto [to holy preaching], hear it attentively, and not doubt the drawing of the Father. For the Holy Ghost will be with His Word in His power, and work by it...."
Formula of Concord, SD XI. #76-77. Election. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1089. John 6:44. Tappert, p. 629. Heiser, p. 293.
Inevitable Growth in Matthew 13:33
KJV Matthew 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
One often-neglected parable simply compares the Kingdom to yeast hidden in dough until the dough is leavened. Those who have worked with yeast or sour dough can easily imagine what Christ teaches in only 19 words.
Just as we see in the True Vine, Christ gives us such a lively picture that we can no longer see the same image again without thinking of His words. The typical picture at the time of Jesus was one of a woman blending sourdough with the flour to make bread. The amount in the parable is a very large batch, a bushel basket of dough.
In Kitchener, Ontario, the women at St. Peter Lutheran Church often talked about Herman. Someone started sourdough, named it Herman, and passed samples to various women in the congregation. Herman grew and spread throughout the congregation, a parallel with the visible growth of the Gospel through the Means of Grace. Sourdough is an easier way to cultivate and preserve yeast than the yeast we buy in stores today. Yeast, once hidden in the dough, reveals its power in time.
More than one person has forgotten leavened dough in a warm place with a heavy metal lid over the pot to keep it moist. Rushing in to check the dough, the baker finds the dough risen, the lid pushed off the pan. Dough may even crawl out of the pan and rise on the kitchen floor. Yeast is humble and tiny but powerful in its mission over time. Professional bakers will save old dough in the freezer to add to the new batch, simply because it adds to the quality of the finished product.
Dough without yeast cannot be made into a worthwhile product. Our lives without the leaven of the Gospel are as spiritually lifeless as unleavened dough. The progress of the Gospel’s leaven is slow but unstoppable. If we remain in Christ, the Gospel permeates every aspect of our lives. We see many examples of this in the lives of faithful elderly Christians. They have spent so much time with the Word that their speech is permeated with Biblical wisdom. They know too well that they are sinners, but their patience, generosity, gentleness, and wisdom are remarkable to younger generations. When an elderly saintly person dies, we are to look upon the sight as an example of Christ displaying to us in advance a foretaste of heaven.
One woman in her nineties had endured extreme hardships, including a previous husband who had kicked her mercilessly while she was pregnant. She was filled with cancer and barely able to function at the end of her life, yet she was filled with love, joy, and peace. Her highpoint each week was receiving the Lord’s Supper. She had an uncanny ability to predict the day I would visit to give her Holy Communion. When she appeared to be wrong once, her kindly second husband gently kidded her for several days. She smiled with great joy when she learned that I had driven almost to her house, then turned around, after remembering a medical appointment. For her, death meant giving up her infirmities while enjoying the fulfillment of all the promises made in Christ. She was an excellent example of the Gospel yeast working through her entire being, until she was completely leavened.
In our society, too, we receive the benefit of the slow working of the leaven of the Gospel. Although our sinful condition remains, sincere believers reject and suppress sin through the Holy Spirit working in the Law. More importantly, the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel to make people more generous, patient, loving, forgiving, and selfless. The leaven of the Gospel in the preaching of Wilberforce in England moved the English to reject human slavery.
“Here again we see divine power, again wholly spiritual, and while operating altogether invisibly, producing any number of tangible effects, every one of them wholesome. The Gospel cannot but succeed, and the one work of the church is to preach, teach, and spread it in the world. The parable teaches faith, patience, hope, and joy.”
R. C. H. Lenski, Matthew, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1932, p. 516. [Emphasis in original]
The Mustard Seed in Matthew 13:31-32
KJV Matthew 13:31 (Mark 4:31-32; Luke 13:19)Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: 32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
“This parable shows the Kingdom in its visible growth. A number of thoughts are directly involved or necessarily implied. The power of this Kingdom is divine. It is a living organism, and its life and power are undying—all other growths of earth have the germs of decay and death in them. The growth continues all through time (Matthew 24:14).”
R. C. H. Lenski, Matthew, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1932, p. 513.
History has shown the truth of this parable. The Christian Church began in its embryonic stage with the promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15 when Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise and deserved nothing but condemnation for violating God’s clear command. When God became flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, the first believers were a few shepherds and some foreign astronomers. Surely no religious group was smaller, weaker, or less impressive at the birth of Christ. Multitudes flocked to pagan temples with gifts of gold and jewels. Judaism was reaching a highpoint as Jesus grew up, with a splendid temple in Jerusalem, built by Herod.
Jesus attracted crowds with His loving-kindness, spiritual wisdom, and astonishing miracles, but His impact was numerically small during His public ministry. The Christian Church grew miraculously across the civilized world during the brief lifetimes of the apostles, thanks to the timely construction of the inter-continental Roman road system and the use of ships. Persecution spread rather than hindered the Gospel by scattering the surviving believers in world cities like Jerusalem and Rome into new territories. Tertullian said, literally, “The more you mow us down, the faster we grow.” Historians have modified the statement to: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
The Roman Empire first executed Christians for their belief, then suffocated the Church with approval, marble temples, and a Roman bureaucracy. The Gospel persisted in Europe and, according to legend, in India, where Thomas preached. The growth of Islam during the Medieval Age threatened to devour Europe and the Church. The Turks were at the gates of Vienna in 1530, when the tide turned. The newly invented printing press sped Luther’s writings across the world on the heels of ferocious persecution.
The modern age, spurred by the freedom of Luther’s Reformation, has added every technological advantage to the spread of the Gospel, from television and radio to the Internet and video tapes. The Gospel shelters many souls, encompassing tribes in Europe that once worshiped trees and natives in Africa who once dined on their enemies.
The True Vine
The True Vine in John 15:1-8
Cultivation or husbandry is the subject of Jesus’ sermon on The True Vine.
KJV John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
To help us understand the relationship of the Father and Son, and our relationship to God, Jesus has given us a vivid, earthy sermon. Not many people raise grapes, but many have tried unsuccessfully to grow roses. Roses grow according to the same rules established by God for grape vines. This section is a perfect model for growing roses because the Lord of Creation uses His principles to explain His message. He is, as the Greek text shows us in its emphasis, the One True Vine. In other words, contrary to popular claims, there is no other vine, no alternative to salvation. “No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”
KJV John 15:2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
In one verse Jesus describes the principle of two-fold pruning, still applicable today. Bushes and vines always have deadwood. The deadwood is not only unproductive, but also injurious to the plant. Most people have poor luck with roses because they rely on luck and not the principles of Creation. Roses love to be pruned. When my sister-in-law Kris left me alone for an hour with her unproductive roses, I pruned two-thirds of each bush away. I also explained to her, when she came back, while she was still crying, “When these roses bloom, and they will in two weeks, prune the branch as soon as the rose starts to fade. It is trying to set seed. Pruning will make the branch send out a new bloom. Read John 15.”
Two weeks later, Kris phoned long distance, crying again, to say, “The roses are blooming! They are absolutely filled with blooms!” Later, when we lived on the same block with my brother, we ordered roses together and I planted them. Now the new roses are tall and productive. Two weeks before our niece Ida graduated from high school, Kris pruned her roses, cutting off the blooms. My brother Allen said, “What are you doing? Ida is going to graduate and you are cutting off the flowers!” Kris said, “Just wait.” When we arrived for the graduation, all the bushes were filled with roses. They were tall and stately plants with perfect blooms. Kris is now the neighborhood expert on roses, because her bushes are so productive.
The two-fold pruning is a warning to us. If we turn away from the Gospel and become unproductive, we will be taken away, cast into Hell. The bearing branches will be pruned (purged) so that they will be even more productive. This pruning seems mysterious, if not cruel, until it is explained in the next verse.
KJV John 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
The purging takes place through the spoken Word, which is never separated from the cross. An infinite variety of troubles and persecution will come from being faithful to the Gospel. While these afflictions seem harsh, and our Old Adam rebels and complains about them, they make us even more fruitful. Forgiveness itself is the greatest blessing of the Gospel, yielding the nine-fold fruits of the Spirit. All the blessings of the Christian life come from the forgiveness of sin.
KJV John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
Jesus’ Gospel invitation is not to do but to receive. The tender rose bud receives food from the plant. The cluster of grapes receives the energy needed to grow. Being a Christian is not defined by working for God’s but by receiving His grace. When believers hear the Word of God and receive the visible Word of Holy Communion, they bear the fruit of the Gospel. No one would argue that a separated branch could grow and produce on its own. Likewise, we should not imagine a person being fruitful in the Christian faith apart from worship, studying the Word, and receiving the Sacrament of forgiveness.
Christ promises that when we are in Him, the One True Vine, He is also in us. He is glued to us through the Word, at work in us, guiding and comforting us.
KJV John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Knowing our weakness and our need to hear the same message in different words, Christ addresses our tendency to define the Christian faith as qualifying for acceptance through our merits or good works. When we remain with the One True Vine, through the Means of Grace, Christ remains with us. We must never forget that. He is as close to us as the bud is to the plant. Being fruitful is a necessary consequence of receiving the blessings of Christ through trust in the Word. To clarify this relationship, Christ also condemns any inkling that He is merely one of many ways, various truths, and alternative life-styles.
KJV John 15:6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
The five-fold warning about removing ourselves from the Means of Grace parallels the effort of pruning deadwood. Pruned branches are removed and burned because they harbor disease and harmful insects. The warning of Christ is not against lack of doing but lack of receiving, contrary to what most church executives today imagine. The person who does not remain in Christ is:
Thrown away, no longer of value to God;
Withered, that is, spiritually dead from separating himself from Christ;
Gathered, for the Day of Judgment;
Thrown into the fire, condemned for unbelief;
Burned, suffering in Hell for eternity.
KJV John 15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Our loving Savior encourages us to pray through His gracious promises. One of many blessings of the Christian life is asking God to help us in our emotional, material, and spiritual needs. The Son of God assures us that what we ask will be given to us.
John 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
Fruitfulness necessarily follows from remaining in Christ and His teaching not to glorify man, but to glorify God. One cannot divorce a relationship with Christ from adherence to His Word, contrary to those who teach that the production of good feelings eliminates the need for sound doctrine. Resting in the Word alone unites us with Christ, makes us fruitful, moves us to pray, grants us our requests, and glorifies God the Father. All comes from God, for God the Son is the True Vine and the vinedresser is God the Father.
If we cultivate roses with John 15:1-8 in mind, every aspect of pruning, budding, and blooming reminds us of the power of the Gospel.
God Gives the Increase:
1 Corinthians 3:4-9
1 Corinthians 3:4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
St. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles placed him in danger many times, even though he did not run away from God’s presence. The apostolic letters to the Corinthians leave little doubt that he encountered a host of major problems—from childish strife to gross immorality and desecration of the Lord’s Supper. This particular passage deals with the party spirit dividing the congregation, 1 Corinthians 1:11. Some identified with Paul, some with Apollos. It should not surprise us that today conflict in the congregation is caused by exactly the same problem—an emphasis upon the person and a lack of trust in the efficacy of the Word.
Paul first attacked the problem of strife by negating the effectiveness of the individual. The ministry does not derive its divine power from personalities but from the Word. Our temptation to rely upon salvation by works, in spite of our confession, is revealed by the tendency to compare and contrast men when they are only instruments of God’s power. One cannot even compare the type of word, as Paul stated:
I have planted, Apollos watered;
but God gave the increase.
1 Corinthians 3:6
Many people find their gardening efforts thwarted because the seeds they planted did not germinate well. The proper amount of moisture needed for germination is taken for granted in America, unlike in Paul’s world.  We do not plant the last of our seed (Psalm 126:5) with tears. But where rain is rare and food is precious, the watering of the sown crop is essential. Paul’s comparison reminds us that planting and watering are both necessary, yet only God can give the growth.
"On what has now been sown
Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone
To make it spring and grow.
Do Thou in grace the harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise."
John Newton, 1779, cento, alt., "On What Has Now Been Sown," The Lutheran Hymnal, #46, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941.
“The work in Corinth was that of obtaining a spiritual crop. To Paul’s lot it fell to break the ground and to plant the seed of the Word; God caused the seed to strike root and to spring up. Then came Apollos and tended the young plants by developing the life of faith, by confirming the believers in their Christian knowledge; God’s merciful power accompanied his efforts and caused the plants to bring forth fruit. It follows, then, that neither he that plants nor he that irrigates is anything; they are mere instruments in the hand of God, the Lord of the harvest, who alone gives the growth, and to whom, therefore, all glory must be given: He is everything, He alone remains, all others are excluded.”
Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, II, p. 99.
The negation of the person is repeated in 1 Corinthians 3:7. Neither the sower nor the one who waters is anything. The only One Who causes growth is God. Paul’s inspired argument destroys the foundation for any strife about the abilities and labor of various people. The missionary who begins a congregation is nothing. The man who helps to germinate the work of the congregation is nothing. God causes the increase while we go through the motions.
"But ye have not the power to create faith. For there is a great difference between planting and giving the growth; as Paul says to the Corinthians: 'I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.' 1 Corinthians 3:6"
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 362.
“The two aorists: ‘I planted,’ ‘he watered,’ point into the past—the men did their little work and are gone. So it is still: each performs his little instrumental task and leaves. When he is describing God’s activity Paul writes the imperfect hu;xanen (gave the increase) which refers to an act begun in the past but going on and on indefinitely, for the tense is open and sets no terminus. Paul and Apollos have left Corinth, God is still there and causing the growing. Why quarrel about men when the Corinthians should unite in praising God?”
R. C. H. Lenski, Corinthians, Columbus: Wartburg Press, 1947, p. 128.
Those who doubt the power of the Word alone are exasperated by this explanation, saying, “If God can do everything and does everything, where do we fit in? Why even try?” In a world governed by Law, it does seem strange to say that God does everything, but nothing is more liberating than realizing we only need to be faithful. Pharisaical weakness makes us want to glory in our own deeds and not in God’s power, so we are inclined to adulterate the Gospel, sell it as a commodity, cheapen it, or make it appealing as a way of proving our worth. The antidote is to boast about God rather than ourselves:
KJV 1 Corinthians 1:31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)
"And it is of advantage, so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own, if they sit unoccupied and silent in obscure places, waiting for illumination, as the Enthusiasts formerly taught, and the Anabaptists now teach."
Article XIII, The Sacraments, 13, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 311. Tappert, p. 213. Heiser, p. 95.
Verse nine concludes the argument with an invocation of the Triune God. Paul holds the distinct office of the preaching ministry, making him, with all of his faults, a co-worker with God. He would have been shocked beyond measure to have all the members considered ministers too. They, with all of their faults, are the cultivation of God and the building of God. The three-fold expression emphasizes the preacher employing the power of God’s Word while the congregation enjoys the growing and the edifying accomplished by the Holy Spirit working through the Word alone. Thus we have a simple, yet profound way to remember the faithful work of the Christian Church:
The Word and Sacraments – Of God
The Growth of Souls – Of God
The Strengthening of the Congregation – Of God.
Jonah, the Reluctant Missionary to the Gentiles
Some wish to dictate the work of the Holy Spirit, telling Him how much visible growth they expect from His efforts in the next five years. Others are inclined to think of God as having no arms but theirs, no hands but theirs, no legs but theirs. Both types should study the historical example of Jonah, the reluctant missionary to the Gentiles. The work of Jonah is dated during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-25), whose reign began around 793 BC. The Word of God commanded Jonah:
Jonah 1:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
God said, “Go east to Ninevah,” and Jonah headed due west on a ship toward Joppa, at the edge of the world, as far away from his appointed mission as possible. Jonah had a different mission vision in mind. He may have been reluctant to see a notorious non-Jewish city enjoy the fruits of repentance and faith. We know from Jonah 4:1-2 that the prophet was angry over the conversion of Ninevah, that he had not expected the effectiveness of the Word.
No one is surprised that Jonah was afraid to teach the Word to an alien culture in a city known for its wickedness. Ninevah was not just one town, but a complex of four cities (Genesis 10:11-12). Arriving alone in a metropolitan complex 60 miles across (3 days journey, Jonah 3:3), armed only with the Word—most would prefer to pay double-fare for a ticket in the opposite direction, rather than undergo such a unique mission opportunity.
Here we see how God provides means to carry out His will, even when men have other plans. God sent such a powerful wind on the sea that the waves threatened to destroy the ship. The sailors threw all of the cargo, a fortune in goods, into the sea. Jonah slept in the lowest parts of the ship, exhausted perhaps from guilt and anxiety. The captain woke him and ordered him to pray for safety.
When sailors drew lots to discover the cause of the trouble, the lot fell on Jonah. Everything pointed to him. He had told them that he was running away from God. The supernatural power of the storm and the roll of the dice pointed toward the prophet. Doubtless his face was more proof of his guilt than the dice. The sailors resisted the solution of throwing Jonah into the sea, but their superhuman effort to row towards land was thwarted by an even greater storm. With the forces of Creation showing such rage, the superstitious sailors prayerfully threw Jonah into the boiling sea.
The sea becalmed at once, throwing the sailors into a paroxysm of fear. They offered a sacrifice and took vows.
God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah. He could not hide from the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the seas and the dry land, as Jonah himself had confessed to the sailors (Jonah 1:9). God sent the storm to stop Jonah’s westward progress, then appointed the whale to swallow Jonah and vomit the wayward prophet onto the shores of his mission station. Rationalists pretend to balk at the notion of a great fish, whether a whale or shark, swallowing a man, keeping him alive, and delivering him to the right place. Jonah was often the subject of debate in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the 1970s, since many pastors and professors openly doubted the Biblical account. Some conservatives think that a mounted and stuffed creature, festooned with a plaque, “Jonah slept here,” would satisfy all doubters. But the great fish is not really the focus of doubt and fear. The hidden fear, beneath the mockery of intellectual evasions, echoes Jonah’s discovery in the belly of the beast – we can run, but we cannot hide from God. He has appointed our mission. His power is so great that all of nature obeys His Word. One miracle after another can be unleashed to bring us back to the fold.
God determined that Jonah would preach repentance to the Ninevites, who must have wondered at the sight of the humbled foreigner in their midst. Jonah was not powerful, but the Sword of the Lord was so effective that the entire city repented. The king joined in showing his contrition and declared fasting and sackcloth for man and animal alike (Jonah 3:6-9). Universal wickedness, which may have included bestiality, indicated universal contrition. God relented. The threatened disaster was canceled. God turned from His fierce anger.
Skeptics fail to see the Gospel in Jonah’s preaching, but those who strain out a whale can easily miss Jonah 4:2 as well:
Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish:
for I knew that thou art a gracious God,
slow to anger,
and of great kindness,
and repentest thee of the evil.
The attributes of God confessed by Jonah, and certainly preached by him to Ninevah, (Jonah 3:9) are exclusively from the Gospel. The Law always condemns and can never offer grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, or peace.
"All preaching of sin and God's wrath is a preaching of the Law, no matter how or when it may be done. On the other hand, the Gospel is such preaching as sets forth and bestows nothing but grace and forgiveness in Christ. And yet it is true that the Apostles and preachers of the Gospel sanctioned the preaching of the Law, as Christ Himself did, and began with this in the case of those who had not yet acknowledged their sins and had felt no fear of God's anger."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, IV, p. 158.
The Book of Jonah is clearly Law and Gospel, because Jonah is a figure of Christ, as Jesus taught in Matthew 12:40. The ending of the book also illustrates the Gospel with ironic humor. Jonah was so angry and displeased about God sparing the repentant city that he wanted to die. God allowed Jonah his bitter brooding in the hot sun, causing a fast-growing vine to grow up and shade him, then causing a worm to kill the plant, exposing the prophet to the sun and an appointed withering wind. (Jonah 4:8) The prophet wanted to die rather than endure the heat. He was morbidly angry over the loss of his plant.
God used the loss of the plant to teach Jonah the meaning of mercy. If Jonah could have pity on a plant he did not work to grow or create, something so short-lived, then why could he not understand the mercy of God shown to a city with 120,000 young children (babies too young to know their right hands from their left)? In this conclusion we see especially the loving-kindness of God, that He would appoint Jonah to Ninevah for the sake of these children, send a storm to cut off his escape from the mission, appoint a great fish to rescue Jonah from the sea, work upon the entire city through the Law and Gospel, then work upon the bitter prophet’s heart through a vine and a worm.
 Similar doubts are expressed in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a novel dependent upon Jonah for its major themes, a foil for the author’s skepticism.
 Romans 1 warns us three times (1:24, 26, 28) that God will let us go if we continue to rebel against Him. It is no surprise that the anti-Jonah seminary, Seminex, became the designated school for the training of ministers for the exclusively homosexual denomination called Metropolitan Community Church.
 The reaction of the elder brother to the Prodigal Son’s return is similar. Luke 15:25.
The Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30
KJV Matthew 13:24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
Parable of the Tares Explained in Matthew 13:36-43
KJV Matthew 13:36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. 37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; 38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; 39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Luther said that we would not understand this parable at all if the Lord had not explained it to us. Sincere Biblical students can become confused between this parable and the Sower and the Seed. In the earlier parable, the seed is the Word of God. In this parable the good seed represents genuine Christians. Tares are the weed seeds that illustrate the work of false Christians who really belong to Satan.
An herbalist said, “Every plant has a weed that looks exactly like it at first. Once the weed gets big enough to produce a flower or seed the difference is obvious, but the weed is a lot harder to remove. A gardener showed me how to pull weeds from his carefully cultivated flowerbeds at our first parsonage. I tore away with youthful enthusiasm and a beginner’s eye for horticulture. The judgment was swift and absolute. The gardener said to my astonished wife, “I never want your husband to touch the flowerbeds again!” I did not, but overcompensated later by writing a gardening book.
Christ alone sows the good seed, but Satan plants counterfeit seed, tares, in the Christian Church, so that nothing good, worthwhile, or spiritual is allowed to remain unpersecuted. Although the parable seems to be depressing and pessimistic at first, Christ intends to comfort rather than alarm us. This is an accurate portrayal of the world, where Satan’s followers are so perfectly blended with sincere Christians that few can discern the difference. The Word bristles the hides of Satan’s disciples, so we should not be shocked that the cross is never far from the Gospel. The parable does not forbid doctrinal discipline in the Church, for the field is the world, not the Church (Matthew 13:37). The parable forbids issuing death sentences for heretics, since God’s angels will make suitable arrangements.
The Anabaptists cited this parable as a reason they should be tolerated. Luther agreed, stating that the State had no business using the secular sword to solve religious problems. As he wisely noted, death separates the heretic from any additional ministration of the Word. Anyone who has found the pure Word of God after spending years among the heterodox will understand and appreciate the value of giving the Word a chance to accomplish God’s will.
"For this parable treats not of false Christians, who are so only outwardly in their lives, but of those who are unchristian in their doctrine and faith under the name Christian, who beautifully play the hypocrite and work harm. It is a matter of the conscience and not of the hand. And they must be very spiritual servants to be able to identify the tares among the wheat. And the sum of all is that we should not marvel nor be terrified if there spring up among us many different false teachings and false faiths. Satan is constantly among the children of God. Job 1:6"
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 101f.
Another lesson of the parable comes naturally to gardeners and farmers. Weed seeds are amazingly vital at first. They last for decades in the soil and germinate without provocation. They require little water and the plants develop deep taproots or extensive, invasive shallow roots. Weeds tolerate the worst soil but thrive in the best soil. The story is told of a blind farmer who is looking for a new farm in uncultivated land. He said to his son, “Tie the mule to the nearest thistle.” The son replied, “No thistle is strong enough to hold the mule.” The farmer concluded, “We will move on. This soil is not healthy enough for our crops.” Therefore, we can observe how Satan’s disciples are strongest where the Bible is held in the highest esteem. Their weedy network grows green and lush. Extraordinary donations confirm them in their error. But they yield nothing at the harvest. They are sterile.
No one gathers and sells weed seeds. No one values weed seeds. No one wants to have weed seeds in the good seed they buy. Similarly, no one wants the Unitarianism, bitter strife, carnality, and destruction predestined by the work of false teachers, flashy revivals, super churches, movements without the Means of Grace, and union movements based on doctrinal compromise. Impressive religious groups should not intimidate or alarm the ordinary Christian or faithful congregation. Their boastfulness about themselves should alert the believer not to covet the weeds for their lush growth.
"Let us learn more and more to look upon the Lutheran Church with the right kind of spiritual eyes: it is the most beautiful and glorious Church; for it is adorned with God's pure Word. This adornment is so precious, that even though an orthodox congregation were to consist of very poor people - let us say nothing but woodchoppers - and met in a barn (as the Lord Christ also lay here on earth in a barn, on hay and straw), every Christian should much, much rather prefer to affiliate himself with this outwardly so insignificant congregation, rather than with a heterodox congregation, even if its members were all bank presidents and assembled in a church built of pure marble. Let us be sure that our flesh, and the talk of others does not darken the glory of the orthodox Church, or crowd it out of our sight."
Francis Pieper, The Difference between Orthodox and Heterodox Churches, and Supplement, Coos Bay, Oregon: St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 1981, p. 47.
"Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan sows nothing but evil seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold the place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are among Christians in the church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 103.
The Sower and the Seed in Mark 4:3-9
(Luke 8:5; Matthew 13:3)
KJV Mark 4:3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: 4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. 5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. 9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Mark 4:14-20 Explanation of the Parable
KJV Mark 4:14 The sower soweth the word. 15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. 18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. 20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
"Christ compares the Word of God to a seed, to a grain of wheat sown in the ground. (Matthew 13:3-23) A seed possesses power and life in itself. Power and life belong to the properties of the seed. Power is not communicated to the seed only now and then, under certain circumstances, in peculiar cases. But the Word of God is an incorruptible seed, that is able to regenerate, a Word which liveth and abideth forever. (1 Peter 1:23)"
E. Hove, Christian Doctrine, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1930, p. 27. Matthew 13:3-23; 1 Peter 1:23.
The Sower and the Seed is explained by Jesus Himself. In the Means of Grace chapter of Isaiah, the Word is compared to rain and snow, which invariably cause growth. In this comparison, the Word is similar to seed, full of potential growth. If God gave us only one illustration, or a few, we would have more than enough to consider. But our gracious Heavenly Father shows His abundance in providing many different ways for His Scriptures to illustrate the whole counsel of God.
Seed is a marvel because it is a storehouse of life in a portable package. Seed will endure heat, cold, storage, travel, and perhaps many years of hardships before taking root and growing. Seed travels by wind, animal, and human transportation. Each seed has its own destiny programmed within its genetic structure. The vitality of seed is easy to appreciate when a few beans or peas are placed in a damp towel to germinate. The dry, rough seed swells with moisture at first, then sends both a root to drink water and absorb moisture, and a cotyledon (baby plant) to search for the rays of the sun.
1) "Preach you the Word and plant it home
To men who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand
When flowers and men shall be forgot.
2) We know how hard, O Lord, the task
Your servant bade us undertake:
To preach your Word and never ask
What prideful profit it may make.
3) The sower sows; his reckless love
Scatters abroad the goodly seed,
Intent alone that men may have
The wholesome loaves that all men need.
4) Though some be snatched and some be scorched
And some be chocked and matted flat,
The sower sows; his heart cries out,
'Oh, what of that, and what of that?'
4) Preach you the Word and plant it home
And never faint; the Harvest Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow
Will watch and tend his planted Word."
Martin H. Franzmann, 1907-76, "Preach You the Word," Lutheran Worship, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1982, Hymn #259.
The parable teaches us about four groups of people who hear the Word.
Satan takes away the seed
The first group is represented by those who have the Word snatched from their hearts by Satan. When the sower casts his seed, some will fall upon the hard footpaths that border the planting area. These footpaths were well known to Jesus’ audience and not unknown today. If a path is worn in grass from frequent traffic, sowing seed on it alone will not restore the growth. First the soil must be softened and turned to promote germination. So it is when people with hardened hearts hear the Gospel but do not grasp it. It goes in one ear and out the other. They are hearers only and not doers. They may acknowledge the faith in some minor way, even earn a living as ministers or teachers, but they do not sincerely believe and therefore do not act upon faith. Luther emphasizes in the strongest terms that synodical unbelievers belong to Satan.
"The first class of disciples are those who hear the Word but neither understand nor esteem it. And these are not the mean people of the world, but the greatest, wisest and the most saintly, in short they are the greatest part of mankind; for Christ does not speak here of those who persecute the Word nor of those who fail to give their ear to it, but of those who hear it and are students of it, who also wish to be called true Christian and to live in Christian fellowship with Christians and are partakers of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. But they are of a carnal heart, and remain so, failing to appropriate the Word of God to themselves, it goes in one ear and out the other, just like the seed along the wayside did not fall into the earth, but remained lying on the ground..."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 114.
Satan is always at war against Christianity and never stops stealing faith from people, just as birds never seem to stop feeding. As Lenksi has noted in his commentary on Mark, Satan snatches away faith in many different ways:
“Once he tells a man, that the Word which disturbs his conscience is a mere exaggeration, sin is not so deadly, God cannot have wrath, we must not allow our enlightened minds to be moved by such outworn notions; again, it is all uncertain, no uncontested fact in it, and no up-to-date man believes such things; then, the preachers themselves do not really believe what they say, they preach only to make an easy living, and are really hypocrites, as their own actions often show.”
R. C. H. Lenski, Mark, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1934, p. 108.
The second group is similar to seed sown on rocky soil. A grain crop will send down deep roots, but rocky soil will first promote rapid germination by soaking up the warmth of the sun and then kill the plant by preventing proper root growth. Often sunflower seeds will germinate and grow on a flat roof with some soil blown onto it. But the seedlings quickly die from the heat as well as the lack of moisture and soil. In the same way, people will hear the Gospel and rejoice in the forgiveness of their sins. However, they cannot tolerate any hardship from illness or poverty. They are like Sloth, who falls into the Slough of Despond in Pilgrim’s Progress. “If this is how the journey begins, then how can I finish?” These people miss the joys of being a Christian during times of affliction and persecution, for the Light shines all the more brightly in the dark night of the soul.
"The second class of hearers are those who receive the Word with joy, but they do not persevere. These are also a large multitude who understand the Word correctly and lay hold of it in its purity without any spirit of sect, division or fanaticism, they rejoice also in that they know the real truth, and are able to know how they may be saved without works through faith...But when the sun shines hot it withers, because it has no soil and moisture, and only rock is there. So these do; in times of persecution they deny or keep silence about the Word and work, speak and suffer all that their persecutors mention or wish, who formerly went forth and spoke, and confessed with a fresh and joyful spirit the same, while there was peace and no heat, so that there was hope they would bear much fruit and serve the people."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 116.
Lenski adds that the rockiness of the soil is the hidden hardness of men’s hearts, revealed only when persecution comes because of the Word. Rocky soil can look outwardly soft and fertile, like the front yard of our last parsonage. Digging a few inches revealed construction trash, rocks, and excess concrete dumped in the ground. No gardener would expect long-term growth in such soil.
Jesus compares the third group to seed sown where thorns grow and choke the crop. How many have returned from a long vacation in August to find their favorite crops choked by weeds? The plants may grow, but they will not produce well and be fruitful. Thus many different cares push the Gospel from the hearts of believers: ordinary concerns, lust for money, self-centered pleasure. Many are too busy working for their daily bread, and luxuries, to thank their Creator for their material and spiritual blessings. One would be hard-pressed to find many faithful and thankful Christians on the Forbes magazine list of the wealthiest people in America. In the parable, not wealth, but “the deceitfulness of riches” is compared to the thorns. Lenski wrote: “Wealth as such, whether one has it or not, always tends to deceive, by promising a satisfaction which it can not and does not bring, thus deceiving him who has it or who longs for it (Mark 10:24, p).” Weeds have the ability to seem harmless at first. Many believers have fallen away from the faith by saying to themselves, “This particular evil desire (alcohol, gambling, prestige, power, another person’s spouse, another man’s divine call) will not harm me.” Slowly the weed chokes the plant. We are inclined to praise ourselves for withstanding one obvious temptation while letting our faith be strangled by a different evil desire, one more subtle.
"Therefore they [who are fallen among thorns] do not earnestly give themselves to the Word, but become indifferent and sink in the cares, riches and pleasures of this life, so that they are of no benefit to anyone. Therefore they are like the seed that fell among the thorns...They know their duty but do it not, they teach but do not practice what they teach, and are this year as they were last."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 117.
The three groups are meant to warn listeners to avoid the dangers of 1) letting go of the Word because of Satan’s work; 2) running from the Gospel during difficult and dangerous times; and 3) letting anything displace God from our hearts.
The fourth comparison, the seed sown on good soil, assures us that the fruitfulness of the Word will be evident in the yield: 30 fold, 60 fold, 100 fold. When children are handed packets of sunflower seeds in the spring and told to plant them, they soon find out how the parable repeats itself in their own experience. Some seeds are lost on the way home. Others are eaten by the children. Some plants begin to grow but fail. However, one sunflower seed-head alone is always more than all the seeds originally given away. When a few children bring their largest seed-heads to church, they see the power of God in Creation and in the Gospel. The baptized children themselves are testimony to the growth of the Gospel through the visible Word. (See Chapter Eight, Thy Strong Word.)
The perfect harmony of the Scriptures is illustrated in St. Peter’s use of the seed image:
Incorruptible Seed in 1 Peter 1:23
KJV 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
The Vacation Bible School class got into an old musty closet in the basement of the church in New Ulm, Minnesota. Lining the shelves of the closet were large glass jars of seed: corn, grass, and wheat. No one knew how long the jars had been stored there. Two bats had died in the closet and dried up, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown. So we took the seed outside and spread it on the ground. The seed retained its appearance but years of storage robbed it of vitality. Time corrupted the seed and made it unappealing to the birds. Instead of swarming to the seed, they left it alone.
The born-again language in this passage is a refrain from the introduction:
KJV 1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
Baptists walk all over Lutherans with their version of “You must be born again.” The apostle Peter does not connect being born again to “making a decision” any more than the apostle John does. The spiritually dead are given a new birth through the preaching of the Word. The opening of the epistle speaks of being born again by the resurrection of Christ, and verse 23 through the Word. This is not a contradiction. The power of the resurrection of Christ comes from the proclamation of that central truth. The Gospel gives life and defeats death. A corollary is that the resurrection of Christ reveals that death is defeated through the Savior. The Gospel is both forgiveness of sin and resurrection, so we are born again by the Word and by the resurrection of our Lord.
“Through a seed are we born again, for nothing grows as we see except from seed. Did the old birth spring from a seed? Then must the new birth also spring from a seed. But what is this seed? Not flesh and blood! What then? It is not a corruptible, but an eternal Word. It is moreover that on which we live; our food and nourishment. But especially is it the seed from which we are born again, as he here says. But how does this take place? After this manner: God lets the word, the Gospel, be scattered abroad, and the seed falls in the hearts of men. Now wherever it sticks in the heart, the Holy Spirit is present and makes a new man. Then there will indeed be another man, of other thoughts, of other words, and works. Thus you are entirely changed. All that you before avoided you now seek, and what you before sought that you now avoid. In respect to the birth of the body, it is a fact that when conception takes place the seed is changed, so that it is seed no longer. But this is a seed that cannot be changed; it remains forever. It changes me, so that I am transformed in it, and whatever is evil in me from my nature passes away. Therefore it is indeed a wonderful birth, and of extraordinary seed.”
Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, ed. John Lenker, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990.
“Just why the fact of our regeneration should prove such a strong motive to us to give evidence of our faith in love is shown in the description of regeneration, when the apostle states that this new birth in our hearts is not the result of perishable, corruptible seed, as the growth of earthly plants would be, but of an incorruptible, imperishable seed, the Word of God, The Gospel of the Savior Jesus Christ. This Word of God is in itself living, full of life and of life-giving power. And it abides in eternity; even after the form of the Word, in Scripture and preaching, has passed away, the content of the Gospel will remain in eternity. Thus the life which is wrought in the hearts of men through the Gospel is a true, divine, and therefore imperishable life, and it will continue in the life of eternity.”
Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 19 , II, p. 523.
Many of those who love the classical Lutheran authors of the past find themselves bewildered by the rejection of these men by their own synodical publication houses. Superb old volumes go out of print, while dreadful new books of false doctrine get promoted as required reading. In the last days of a mad old world, these things must take place. Unbelievers in charge of Lutheran synods do not want to associate with the imperishable Word. They prefer the worldly wisdom that promises them—not eternal life—but material blessings. Those who love the voice of the Shepherd follow Him. They are not gathered by the synod or by the newest methods, but by the Word.
“They that trust in the things of this world will find themselves bitterly disappointed at the last. For only God’s Word has lasting value; it endures throughout eternity, it alone stands firm and unmoved in the midst of this world of death. If we but place our trust in this Word, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it will lift and take us safe through the uncertainty and decay and misery and wretchedness of this world to the eternal life of salvation. Once more, then, the apostle calls out: But this is the Word which in the Gospel is preached to you. If we place our trust in this Word, in this glorious Gospel, then we are safe, here in time and hereafter in eternity.”
Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 19 , II, p. 523.
The Engrafted Word in James 1:21
James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Another example of Biblical harmony can be found in James’ concise yet powerful reference to the Sower and the Seed. The author urges his listeners to receive the Word with meekness, the very quality of Christ Himself. The vineyard and orchard workers would understand immediately the image of the Word grafted onto their hearts and growing, pushing aside the works of the flesh and promoting the fruits of the Spirit.
”To be sure, the readers are also to hear it [the Word] again and again, James himself in this epistle continuing this implanting; what he means is that they shall completely accept the Word, which they have already heard and will continue to hear. James may, indeed, have in mind the parable of the Sower and the Seed, and the good soil that produces a hundred fold.”
R. C. H. Lenski, James, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1938, p. 561.
“It is not the man but the Word that multiplies. The Word indeed, in itself, is a fixed entity, and as such neither to be increased or decreased. Its multiplication is in its spread more and more in one heart, and more and more from one heart to other hearts. It is thus that the hearers bear fruit. When thus the Word remains and flourishes in a heart, repentance, faith, Christian virtues and works result, whereby the Word spreads more and more.”
R. C. H. Lenski, Mark, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1934, p. 111.
“The disposition of the believers rather is this, that they daily and ever again receive the implanted Word, accept anew the message of their salvation and sanctification as it is brought to them in the Gospel. The seed which has sprouted in their hearts is supposed to grow into a strong, healthy plant, and therefore it is necessary that they hear and learn the Word, which alone is able to save their souls, day after day, never growing weary of its wonderful truths.”
Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, II, p. 501.
1) Almighty God, thy word is cast
Like seed into the ground,
Now let the dew of heaven descend
And righteous fruits abound.
2) Let not the foe of Christ and man
This holy seed remove,
But give it root in every heart
To bring forth fruits of love.
3) Let not the world's deceitful cares
The rising plant destroy,
But let it yield a hundredfold
The fruits of peace and joy.
4) Oft as the precious seed is sown
Thy quickening grace bestow,
That all whose souls the truth receive
Its saving power may know."
John Cawood, 1775-1852, "Almighty God, Thy Word Is Cast," Service Book and Hymnal, Philadephia: Board of Publication, 1958, Hymn #196. TLH Hymn #49.
The parable does not teach that we should test the soil before we proclaim the Word. A farmer, using this logic, would know which seed and even what plants would produce well. Those with actual experience in growing plants are too humble to predict the future, knowing that their field is in God’s hands, even today, with satellite weather services, advanced drainage, scientific fertilizers, and hybrid seed. Experienced pastors also realize that they must preach the Word faithfully without trying to measure when and how God will bless the labor.
"The efficacy of the Word, unlike that of the seed, always has a result. The man to whom the Word of God comes, and who repels it, is not as he was before. Where long and persistently refused, hardening at last comes, Exodus 8:15; 9:12; John 12:40; Hebrews 4:1, and the Word becomes a 'savor of death unto death,' 2 Corinthians 2:16. Every word heard or read, every privilege and opportunity enjoyed, leaves its impress either for good or for evil. It is not so properly the Word, as man's abuse of the Word; not so much the efficacy of the Word, as the sin taking occasion of the efficacy that produces this result, Romans 7:8."
Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion, Philadelphia, Board of Publication, General Council , 1919, p. 155.
The parable does not teach the exact percentage of results from proclaiming the Gospel. The four groups are not meant to represent to us that one fourth of our work will be fruitful and three fourths unproductive. Instead, we see that God’s Word will multiply in spite of all the discouraging things that work against it. Soil-testing, a Church Growth concept, is nonsense based upon Zwinglian doctrine.
"Soil Testing. An evangelistic strategy that seeks out those people who are open to receiving the gospel at the present time."
C. Peter Wagner, ed., with Win Arn and Elmer Towns, Church Growth: The State of the Art, Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986, p. 300.
"In my opinion, therefore, Church Growth receptivity and 'soil testing' techniques are often unfairly criticized as if they were by definition synergistic. It is a fact that some fields are, for various historical and sociological reasons, more receptive to the preaching of the gospel and church planting than others. Our home and world mission boards make these judgments all the time in deciding where to begin churches or send missionaries."
Rev. Curtis Peterson, former WELS World Mission Board, "A Second and Third Look at Church Growth Principles," Metro South Pastors Conference Mishicot, Wisconsin, February 3, 1993 p. 12.
"Those, however, who set the time, place and measure, tempt God, and believe not that they are heard or that they have obtained what they asked; therefore, they also receive nothing."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 172.
Management by Objective in Luther
"If the world were willing to take advice from a simple, plain man—that is, our Lord God (who, after all, has some experience too and knows how to rule)—the best advice would be that in his office and sphere of jurisdiction everybody simply direct his thoughts and plans to carrying out honestly and doing in good faith what has been commanded him and that, whatever he does, he depend not on his own plans and thoughts but commit the care to God. Such a man would certainly find out in the end who does and accomplishes more, he who trusts God or he who would bring success to his cause through his own wisdom and thoughts or his own power and strength."
What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, III, p. 1151. Luke 5:1-11.
The first three groups of hearers are not enemies of the Gospel, for Jesus taught this parable to warn us within the visible Church, that many have no genuine relationship with Him. They have heard the Word, but the Gospel has been snatched away, scorched, and choked to death. Jesus also taught the parable to help us realize the abundant harvest that will take place from the growth of the Word. The parable illustrates the ultimate fate of the proclaimed Gospel, so we are not to reckon, worry, predict, or assume, but simply to fear, love, and trust God above all else. God will accomplish what He has promised, through His efficacious Word.
“We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine and soft refreshing rain.”
Matthias Claudius, 1740-1815, “We Plow the Fields,” The Lutheran Book of Worship, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978, #362.