A Reformation message from our CLC President (first written by President Fleischer for his congregation in Corpus Christi, Texas as one of a series of bulletin articles)–
Encouragement to an active Christian life is clearly a part of Christian teaching drawn from the Bible. Fruits of faith in Christ are evidence of the work of the Spirit in the heart of the Christian. It is as impossible for the Christian to say, “I choose not to bring forth fruit,” as it would be for an apple tree not to bear apples. But everything in its proper order!
What has become the primary focus in the “evangelical world” today is the promotion of the “Christian life.” Fine, except that the emphasis on the Christian life with the evident de-emphasis of law and gospel preaching has engendered subtle work-righteousness. It has created an emotionalism and enthusiasm that measures holiness by deeds while showing disrespect for doctrine–Bible teaching. “Deeds, not creeds” is the rallying cry as efforts are made to promote what is perceived to be a more genuine Christianity. The emphasis today is on what one has done or should do, rather than what Christ has done for us and is still doing for us!
For our part as children of the Reformation, we begin with substance, with doctrine. Of doctrine Luther said, “It is true, where doctrine is not right, it is impossible for life to be right and good; for life is fathered and fashioned by doctrine” (What Luther Says, Vol.1, Para. 1229, p. 417). Not any doctrine, but that which is set forth in and drawn from the Scripture.
Absolutely, faith is to be lived. Christianity is not merely a “condition.” Genuine faith is not sterile. Christianity cannot be real or faith genuinely fruitful without the Word of God, from which true doctrine is drawn. Again Luther said, “Everything depends on doctrine. Where doctrine is right, everything is right. . . . Where doctrine is not right, everything is vain” (ibid., Para. 1226, p. 416). Thus a blessing of the Reformation was a return to an appreciation of Bible doctrine. From the doctrine of the law we gain an understanding of sin. By the law, sin and its consequence are known. The substance of the doctrine of the gospel is the message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ. Through the gospel alone is the saving grace of God known for the instruction and comfort of the troubled sinner.
The doctrine of justification is the foundation of the Christian hope in that God the Father has in Christ justified the world–that is, declared it not guilty–for which reason all who by the power of the Spirit are brought to believe in Christ (doctrine of conversion) have eternal life. Without preaching of the doctrine of justification, any encouragement to fruits is simply veiled work-righteousness. The denial or compromise of the doctrine of justification undermines the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8).
It is God’s promise that when all the doctrines of Scripture–from the doctrine of inspiration to the doctrine of salvation and the doctrine of the last times, and every other doctrine of Scripture–are taught as our Lord has revealed them, fruits will follow. On the other hand it is equally true that where the emphasis is on fruits without doctrine, there will be neither truth nor fruits of the Spirit.
The strength of historic Lutheran theology lies in the fact that the doctrine set forth in the church and its confessions is Scripture and only Scripture. It was long ago that this promise was spoken, “I solemnly promise before Almighty God that all my teachings shall be in conformity with His Word, and with the aforementioned confessions,” namely, those of the Book of Concord of 1580, (Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and its Theology, p. 165). That confession is no longer spoken without reservation in the church in which C. P. Krauth was considered a respected champion of conservative Lutheran theology over a century ago. The Lutheran Church of which he was part has moved consistently farther away from the sound doctrine of Scripture. One may say, “But he lived over one hundred years ago, and we are in a new millennium.” To that we answer, “True, but God’s Word does not change!”
God’s Word, the Bible, is still the source of our doctrine and our confession of faith today. Unfortunately the public press usually headlines reference to the ELCA with “Lutherans . . . decide . . declare. . . join. . . etc.” While it probably is not so much a lack of honesty as it is a lack of understanding, the fact is that the ELCA or any other Lutheran Church today does not speak for all Lutherans–any more than the Church of the Lutheran Confession which still treasures the heritage of the Reformation speaks for all Lutherans!
In a day when there is little tolerance for sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:1), and until the Lord comes, “Give attention to . . . doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13). The fruits in the Christian’s life and the fruit of eternal salvation in Christ will follow.
–Pastor Daniel Fleischer