* ‘THE END TIMES’ — With the impending turn of both the century and the millennium, we wanted to offer something on these pages touching on eschatology, or the “End Times.”
Once again we see how the Lord provides. Retired Pastor Paul F. Nolting has, over his years of ministry, made this subject a special area of personal interest and Scripture study. Besides presentations to congregations he was serving, Pastor Nolting has presented seminars to sister congregations on the subject of prophecy in general, and on prophetical books of the Bible such as Daniel and Revelation in particular.
More recently Pastor Nolting has been writing tracts on different “end time” subjects for the benefit of the congregation where, in his retirement, he holds membership–Messiah of Eau Claire. We were delighted when he offered these writings to us as well, so that they might be shared with an even wider audience.
In this issue (see “The Millennium”) we begin the Nolting series of up to a dozen articles on the ‘End Times.’ These troubling days (with false prophets seeking to deceive the very elect–Matthew 24:24) the Nolting articles lend a solid biblical interpretation and a reassuring Christian perspective to believing children of God.
* A CHRISTIAN WITNESS (from the bulletin of Resurrection Lutheran Church, Corpus Christi, Texas; Daniel Fleischer is pastor)
A Christian witness begins first of all with a knowledge of the truth of God drawn from the Bible. One can hardly testify to that of which he knows nothing. A Christian cannot testify to the love of God in Christ unless he has first of all been brought to a knowledge of that love through the Word of God through which the Spirit of God works. Conversely, a Christian who has been brought to a knowledge of Christ and who through faith has seen the great things of God cannot help but testify. In the fourth chapter of Acts we read how Peter and John reacted to the leaders who sought to shut them up. In the face of great risk they said: “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” They spoke the Word of God with boldness.
That witness will include the testimony against sin. Our secular society would like nothing better than that God’s people remain silent. Our secular society protects the right to speak and act as it chooses, while denying the same right to those who proclaim the Truth of God and stand for something.
Therefore, it does not like to hear that there is only one way to heaven, namely, through faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. It will go to great lengths to deny that Truth and ridicule–if not bring accusation against–such as dare to be “politically incorrect.” It has never been different, but surely we must recognize that ours is a confused and mixed-up generation.
Unfortunately, Christians contribute to the confusion when they do not practice what they preach. A Christian witness is more than just words. Indeed, how one lives says as much as how one speaks, if not more. To live contrary to how one speaks surely undermines the words.
For example, it is contradictory to use the name of Jesus in prayer and praise but then to use that same blessed name in cursing (James 3). What does the expression of love mean if it is not backed up with action? Or the verbal confession of faith that is not supported by a life of faith? Just what is one’s confession if he speaks truth but does not live it? Who can know? “Do as I say and not as I do” is not a Christian confession or witness. Can the confessing Christian stand for truth, but, when it is inconvenient to do so, flirt with error or even make common cause with it?
God forgive us and help us to speak and live in such a manner that, when the day is done, it can be said of us as it was of Peter and John. The people “took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4).
Whether that recognition brings us good or ill in our society is of little consequence. The blessing and peace is in having been with Jesus who promises: “Whosoever therefore confesses me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
* ‘VATICAN, LUTHERANS END CENTURIES-OLD DISPUTE’ (Don’t believe it!)
The above title (minus the parenthetical remark) was the heading for a column which appeared in the June 12th New Ulm (Minn.) Journal.
We admit that we have not seen a copy–or even a review–of the document which is supposed to be a settlement of a long-standing and major dispute between Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism. Yet we say without hesitation that the Lutherans who are in on the settlement do not speak for us. Indeed, we have plenty of reason to doubt that they were men whose consciences, like Luther’s in the Reformation, were bound to the Word of God. It is far more likely that the participating Lutherans were men (and women?) bent on compromise for the sake of outward harmony and unity.
We subtitle the newspaper heading therefore: “Don’t believe it!”
The newspaper article which reported the end of the dispute contains this quote from a participating Roman Catholic Cardinal: “It (the document supposedly ending the ‘dispute’) is not a document of compromise. It’s a document based on truth, but in a spirit of reconciliation.” We are all for truth, and even for reconciliation, rightly understood. Yet our concern would be: what was used as the basis for truth and for the supposed reconciliation? Was the Bible and only the Bible–apart from papal decrees, documents, and ‘tradition’–used as the objective source and norm for determining the outcome? Again, there is every reason to doubt it.
These Catholic/Lutheran discussions (Lutherans participating are those belonging to the Lutheran World Federation, which includes chiefly the liberal ELCA) have been going on for some years. Previous “agreements” arrived at haven’t received the headlines this one has. Why the national attention this time? We assume it’s because it’s the central doctrine of the Bible, the doctrine of justification–the teaching of how a sinner is saved–where a resolution has supposedly taken place after these many centuries.
It would be worthy of national–and international–attention if Rome indeed did an about-face in this area. Fact is, since the supposed agreement was announced the Vatican has issued a statement which in so many words denies that the “Lutheran agreement” is “a repudiation of the past.” For truth to have won the day and honest reconciliation to have taken place, the past which needs repudiating, at least as far as we are concerned, is what was said at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). At that official Council of the Roman Catholic Church, the (scriptural!) doctrine of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ was anathematized (condemned).
We have spoken to a fellow pastor who has read the document. His report is that the agreement “sounds good” but “can be interpreted in different ways.” That supports our initial skepticism. It takes a trained ear sometimes to sift through the theological jargon–especially in doctrinal writings intended to achieve agreement between one-time opposing parties. When it comes to Lutheran/Catholic dialogue, for example, it needs to be remembered that there have always been two definitions for the word ‘grace.’ To Luther and his true heirs ‘grace’ has always referred to a quality in God (His undeserved love for sinners); by contrast, Catholicism has consistently defined ‘grace’ as a quality infused into man, albeit by the Spirit. This is not insignificant. The theological difference is as far-reaching as any other doctrinal disagreement you might name.
The Reformer himself understood well that a proper (scriptural!) understanding of ‘grace’ gets to the nub of the matter as to how poor sinners are saved before holy God. When he, led by the Spirit, came to understand that ‘grace’ is a quality in God which moved Him to rescue and redeem sinners, Luther saw no other recourse but that a church be formed which would keep this doctrine central in all its teaching and preaching. He wrote (and with him we confess): Nothing in this article [that sinners are justified by grace alone through faith in Christ alone] can be given up or compromised, nor can any believer concede or permit anything contrary to it, even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed. For as St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). (Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article I, paragraph 5).
The number of those who, confessionally-speaking, are true heirs of the Lutheran Reformation is decreasing steadily. We ourselves are but a small voice in the visible Lutheran community. Nevertheless, God help us to stand fast on all teachings of Scripture, including on “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls”–the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from the works of the law!
(Adapted from the bulletin of Grace Lutheran Church, Sleepy Eye, Minn. Paul Fleischer is pastor.)
* ‘THANK YOU’
A year ago now (July, 1998) the Spokesman carried a report on a tornado which devastated the small Minnesota community of Comfrey, just 15 miles from your editor’s home city of Sleepy Eye. The same tornado damaged other cities (Hanska, St. Peter, LeCenter etc.) and destroyed farm sites along a ninety mile swath through the southern part of the state.
Thanks to a neighborly American spirit which rallied people and financial resources to aid in the cause, the area has rebounded. The severely damaged city of Comfrey, for example, decided to rebuild, using funds contributed by such as our own CLC people who contributed over $3,800.00 through a fund established by and disseminated by Grace congregation, our CLC church in Sleepy Eye.
Almost a year later a card of appreciation has been received by Grace Church. See the cover of the card below. The message on the inside reads: “You have touched us . . . whether it was through a donation of money, goods, or your time. We are most grateful. — Community of Comfrey, MN.”