June 10, 2012

Talks on Luther's Catechism - June 10, 2012

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Before Jesus Christ ascended back into heaven, He told His disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. He told them to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to teach these disciples to observe everything He had commanded. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Here at Redemption Church we wish to carry out Christ's command. So, we baptize and we teach our children what our Lord has taught us. That's what our confirmation classes are all about - teaching God's things.

The essential textbook for this task is the Bible. But we also use tools like Luther's Catechism.

About four hundred and fifty years ago, Martin Luther toured the churches of Germany and found that the people who belonged to these churches knew little of Bible teaching. So, Luther wrote the Catechism. He intended the heads of each household to use this little book to instruct their families in the Word of God.

For the past three years our confirmands have been using Luther's Catechism to study God's Word. Today they will confirm their faith publicly and become members of Redemption Church. So, we take this opportunity to review the fundamental teachings of God's Word which our confirmands have studied.

"The Ten Commandments"

Luther's Catechism starts with the Ten Commandments. This is a good place to start, because all people are born with God's law written in our hearts. We instinctively know things like stealing and murder are wrong. God has given us a conscience which tells us when we have sinned and when we have done what is right.

But our conscience can't always be trusted. Sometimes it tells us something is right, when it is wrong. Sometimes it tells us something is wrong, when it is right.

God gave us a dependable summary of His will when He had the Ten Commandments written down in the Bible. Where our conscience goes astray, God's Word shows us the truth. In this way God's Law works as a guide.

But, God's law also works as a curb and a mirror.

People know that they will be punished if they do evil. So, they often refrain from sinning because they are afraid of being punished. In this way God's Law acts as a curb, causing people to shy away from unchecked sinning.

Also, when we compare our lives with what God's Law says, we find that we have not kept God's Law. We find that we are sinners who deserve punishment in this life, and hell in eternity because of our sins against God and man. In this way God's Law acts as a mirror, showing us that we are sinners who need a Savior.

The first three commandments deal with how we are to act toward God. You shall have no other Gods. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

Commandments 4-8 deal with how we are to act toward the people around us. Honor those place in authority. Don't murder. Don't steal. Don't lie.

Commandments 9-10 also deal with how we are to act toward the people around us. But, these commandments also reveal that sin is committed first in the heart before it is shown outwardly by our words and actions. These commandments tell us not to covet. That is, not to desire in a sinful way that which God has not given to us.

That sin is an internal problem is one of the greatest lesson God's Law can teach us. Outwardly we can guard the things we say and do. But we can't stop our hearts from sinning.

Think about it like this. I can change the oil in my car and polish the paint job, but if the problem is in the heart of the engine - I need a mechanic to fix that.

The Law of God is good, but it's power is limited. The Bible teaches us that the Law will not be able to help us when we stand before God on the Last Day. The Law can only show us that we are sinners who need a Savior.

Romans 3, verse 19 says...
"19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin" (Romans 3:19-20 NIV).
"The Apostles' Creed"

The second part of Luther's Catechism is the Apostles Creed. While the Law shows us our sin, the Apostles Creed speaks about our Savior.

The Gospel, also called the Good News, tells us how God solved our problem of sin. God sent His Son to become a human being. As a human being, Jesus was required to keep God's Law. Where we have failed, Jesus succeeded in obeying the Law perfectly. Then, God's Son offered Himself as an innocent sacrifice in our place. He suffered our hell on the cross. In this way, Jesus took our punishment away forever.

The two most important teachings of the Bible are Law and Gospel. Romans 6:23 expresses these two teachings like this...
"23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23 NKJV).

The Apostles Creed also echoes the Bible's teaching that that God is Triune, or "three-in-one". Though there is only one God, the Bible reveals that God has three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That's why Jesus told his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Creed teaches us that God the Father is our both our creator and preserver. He made us and provides everything that we need and everything we enjoy in this life.

The Creed also teaches that God the Spirit is our sanctifier. Sanctification is not a word we hear everyday. Here's what it means.

Sanctification in the wide sense is everything that the Holy Spirit does to bring a sinner to faith in Christ and keep that sinner trusting in Christ for forgiveness. Sanctification in the narrow sense is everything that the Holy Spirit does to create fruits of faith in the life of a Christ follower. "Fruits of faith" are good words and actions that match God's will for our lives.

"Holy Baptism"

The third part of Luther's Catechism deals with Baptism. It's clear that Jesus commanded His followers to be baptized and to baptize others. But what is baptism all about?

God understands that people learn in different ways. Some people learn best from reading, others from hearing, still others from hands on experience. As a master communicator, the Lord expresses the Good News of Jesus in a number of different ways. One of these ways is found in Holy Baptism.

Baptism has been called, "the visible Gospel". Following our Lord's command we simply put water on a person and say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

Some churches teach that Baptism is only a symbol, and that it has no real power to save. But the Word of God says otherwise in numerous places. That baptism saves is clear from passages like Acts 22:16. There Peter says...
"...why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’" (Acts 22:16 NKJV).
We know from the rest of the Bible that a sinner can only be saved through trust in the Savior, Jesus Christ. So, we teach that Holy Baptism creates and seals faith through the powerful Word of God.

Some churches teach that only adults should be baptized, as if Baptism was something that we do for God and not the other way around. But the Bible teaches us that human beings are sinful from the point of conception, so children need salvation just as much as adults. Jesus told His followers to baptize "all nations", which certainly includes infants. Finally, we know that infants trust their parents who love them. Through the Bible we are taught that they can also trust in God who loves them more than any parent every could.

It's important to remember that Jesus told his followers to baptize AND teach. If we don't raise our baptized children to know the Gospel, their faith will die.

Think about it like this: Baptism is like planting a seed. Without continual watering, that seed cannot live and thrive. So, we follow the faith planting of Holy Baptism with the faith watering of instruction in God's Word - especially the saving message of sins forgiven through Jesus' cross.

Before we move on, I'd like to share one more Bible passage about Baptism. This passage shows that Baptism creates an amazing connection between a person and Christ Jesus Himself. Romans 6, verse 3 says...
"...do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4 NKJV).
Through the faith connection to Christ that Baptism creates, we get credit for all that Jesus did. Though we didn't feel the nails of the crucifixion, we were there. Though we didn't feel the cold tomb, we were buried with Him. And when Jesus was raised from death to life, we were spiritually raised with Him. In this new life we shun sin and embrace God's ways.

Galatians 3, verse 26 expresses the visible Gospel of Baptism like this...
"26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27 NKJV).
"Keys and Confession"

Faith in God is a matter of the heart. Outward membership in a church does not connect a person to God. While there are many faithful believers in God in churches, there are also hypocrites. People who have strayed away from faith only retain the name "Christian".

Part of being a fellowship of believers is guarding each other from hypocrisy. To help us do this our Savior, Jesus Christ, has given His believers a gift called the "Office of the Keys".

The fourth part of Luther's Catechism deals with the Office of the Keys. It says...
"The Office of the Keys is the special power Christ gave to His Church on earth to forgive sins of penitent sinners and to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent" (Sydow Catechism).
One of the places in the Bible where this teaching comes from is John 20, verse 22. There it says...
"[Jesus] breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:22-23 NKJV).

In connection with the Keys, it's important to note the distinction between "sins of weakness" and "unrepentant sin".

Sins of weakness are sins that a person does daily simply because we have an inner sinful nature. A Christian doesn't defend these sins, but rejects them as evil and looks to Jesus for forgiveness and for the power to avoid them in the future.

Unrepentant sins, on the other hand, are sins done by a person that they aren't sorry for. They dismiss these sins as "okay" or even defend them as right and good. Unrepentant sin is a sign of unbelief.

Jesus instructs us to use the "loosing key" on sinners who are sorry for their sins and willing to change. In other words, we are commanded to reassure the repentant person that because of what Jesus did on the cross, their sins are forgiven and heaven is open to them.

Jesus instructs us to use the "locking key" on sinners who are not sorry for their sins and are not willing to change. In other words, we are commanded to tell them the sad truth that as long as they remain unrepentant, their sin separates them from Christ's forgiveness. Jesus wants us to do this in order to rattle the unrepentant sinner and lead them back to repentance and the salvation which is found in Christ Jesus.

First Timothy 2, verse 4 says...
"[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4 NKJV).
Luther's Catechism says...
"A Christian congregation, with its pastor, uses the Keys according to Christ's command, either by forgiving those who repent of their sins and are willing to change, or by excluding those who are obviously impenitent from the Christian congregation. These actions are as valid and certain in heaven also as if Christ our dear Lord were dealing with us Himself" (Sydow Catechism).

The portion of Luther's Catechism that teaches about the Keys, also talks about Confession. In the Bible God encourages us to confess our sins. In James 5, verse 16 we are told...
"...confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed..." (James 5:16 NASB).
To God we confess all our sins, even the ones we don't know we have done. In Psalm 19, verse 12 the Psalm writer prays...
"12 But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12 NIV).
To each other we confess the sins that we have done against one other. Also we can confess sins that weigh heavy on our conscience.

Luther's Catechism gives us these directions...
"Examine your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Have you been faithful as a father, mother, son, daughter, employer or employee? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you injured anyone by what you have said or done? Have you stolen anything, neglected your duty, been careless, or damaged anything?" (Sydow Catechism).
When a fellow Christian confesses their sins to us, Luther's Catechism instructs us to reply like this...
"According to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen" (Sydow Catechism).
Because of Jesus, whenever we confess our sins, we are assured that our sins stand forgiven. As it says in 1 John 1, verse 9...
"9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 ESV).
"The Lord's Supper"

The fifth part of Luther's Catechism teaches us about the Lord's Supper, also called Holy Communion or the Sacrament of the Altar.

The word "sacrament" means "sacred act". In the Bible we find two such acts that (1) have been instituted by Christ Jesus Himself, (2) involve the use of earthly elements connected to God's Word, and (3) offer and seal the forgiveness of sins that Christ has won for us on the cross. Baptism is one such sacrament, the Lord's Supper is another.

The Bible tells us about how Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper in a number of places. In our hymnal we combine these accounts to say...

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread. And when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, 'Take, eat. This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.'”

"In the same way He took the cup, after supper, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, 'Drink of it, all of you. This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'”

Since our Lord Jesus says this is His body and blood, that is what we believe and teach. The bread and wine are not outwardly transformed, for we see no change. Even so, the body and blood of Christ are truly offered here in a real, though supernatural, way. We call this the "real presence".

Some churches teach that this is nonsense. They say that surely Christ's body and blood cannot be here since we cannot detect them. But we remember that before Jesus took His visible presence from this earth, He promised His disciples that He would be with them "even to the end of the age". We cannot see Him with us, but we trust His promise. It is the same thing with the real presence in the Lord's Supper.

Also, in First Corinthians 11 it says...
"...whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27 NIV).
It does not say that person will be guilty of sinning against Christ, but specifically against the body and blood of Christ.

This is a great mystery and a matter of faith. But the purpose is clear. The Lord's Supper is a gracious way that our Savior comes to us to strengthen our trust in Him.

The book of Corinthians also instructs us to examine our hearts before approaching the Lord's Supper so that we will be blessed and not harmed by taking the Lord's Supper. It's kinda like weight lifting. If you do it properly, it makes you stronger. If you don't, you can be seriously injured.

So, we ask: Just how is a person properly prepared to receive the Lord's Supper? Luther's Catechism says...
"Customs in connection with eating and drinking are indeed a fine preparation. However, a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, 'Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.' Whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared. The words, 'for you,' require nothing but believing hearts" (Sydow Catechism).

At Redemption Church we ask that only members of our church come forward to receive the Lord's Supper when we celebrate it. In this way we try to ensure that none receive the Lord's Supper to their harm.

Also, when we gather to share in this blessing, we are expressing our unity as a fellowship. Since this unity is based on the shared confession of faith that our members hold, we ask that people fully understand our teachings before partaking.

"The Lord's Prayer"

The sixth and final part of Luther's Catechism speaks about the Lord's Prayer. During Jesus' ministry, His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. Jesus responded by giving them what we call "The Lord's Prayer".

The Lord's Prayer is both a prayer that we can pray, and a template to use in constructing our own prayers.

First of all, this prayer is directed to God. No where in the Bible are we taught to pray to dead relatives, past Christians, angels, or anyone other than to the Triune God. Prayer is a heart to heart talk with God, and God only.

Jesus' prayer also teaches us to get to the point. It's just about impossible to condense the Lord's Prayer. It has no flowery church words, no rambling and empty phrases, it gets right to the point. This too is how we should endeavor to pray.

Jesus' prayer also teaches us to focus on spiritual things. Of the seven petitions found in the Lord's Prayer, only ONE of them is about physical things - "give us this day our daily bread". In this way Jesus reminds us that when we seek first the things of God's Kingdom, we can be sure that He will take care of all the smaller details that we humans so often fret and worry about. (see Matthew 6:25-34).

"Closing Thoughts"

We are grateful to Christians like Martin Luther whom the Lord has used to bring His Word into our lives. But more so, we are grateful to God Himself. Ultimately HE is the one who teaches us about the sin found in our hearts, and the grace and forgiveness found in Christ Jesus. Ultimately HE is the one who teaches us about all the different ways He comes to us to strengthen our trust in Christ. Ultimately HE is the one who teaches us how to guard against hypocrisy and how to pray to our heaven Father with confidence.

May the Lord bring us all to trust in Him more fully, as we await the return of Jesus, our great God and Savior, with peace and joy. Amen.

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