Cheap Grace is the Dumbest Term in the History of Terms. And Stuff.

Dr. Michael Brown
Cheap Grace. It's a common term now days, espoused quite a bit by heterodox minglers of law and gospel. Dr. Michael Brown (Brownsville Revival, Charismatic Arminian) is one of the main opponents of cheap grace these days, but he refers to it as Hyper Grace. You know, because anything hyper is bad. Really what Dr. Brown is railing against is a sort of antinomianism. But I digress.

Anyways, the term cheap grace is completely foolish. It was actually Dietrich Bonhoeffer who popularized the term, and Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran, of all things. Granted, he was a liberal one.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
At the root of the whole cheap grace discussion is not grace (gospel) at all, but law. Bonhoeffer, Dr. Brown, and others (John MacArthur, for instance) are worried that people peddle grace as a license to do what they want to: that is, as a license to sin.

John MacArthur
Now I do get it. Grace is not, nor has ever been, a license to sin. (Rom 6:1-4) But who is doing that really? Likewise, the solutions proposed by the anti-cheap grace advocates are not solutions at all, they're just more yokes to put the law back into the gospel.

The Gospel and the Law are two different words from God Almighty Himself. The Law kills us and drives us to Christ, who gives us pure unadulterated grace as a one-sided free gift in the Gospel.

The problem is, the more law we inject into the gospel, the less good news there is. Ultimately, the people who rail against "cheap grace" are railing against the Gospel being a pure and free gift, in a sense. They're worried that people are going to start rewriting St. Paul and saying: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Heck yes!" But who does that?

They're worried that people are not going to be moral enough. They're worried that people aren't going to act right. Their problem is, the solution they come up with is to inject the law into the gospel.

The Gospel ceases to be good news when you do that. It puts conditions on the Gospel, and that is a huge error. It turns the gospel into just another command to be obeyed. In other words, it turns the gospel into law.

If they want to talk about the third use of the law or about sanctification or the new obedience, then by all means, let's talk about that. But let's not inject the law into the gospel and create a version of Christianity that teeters dangerously on works salvation.

Thus, ultimately, what these folks are worried about is cheap law, and ultimately, they're worried more about the actions of Christians (third use, sanctification) than they are with the Gospel (Christ for you outside of yourself), and they make the grievous error of mingling the two, thus downgrading the Gospel and grace and mixing our actions into it.

Ultimately, this turns Christianity into a law-based religion. And while I will not say that Dr. Brown, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or John MacArthur are not Christians (I have no reason to believe they aren't.), I will point out that all three of them have a big error when it comes to law and gospel.

They mix them badly and end up making the good news into less good news and robbing numerous Christians of assurance of their salvation by basing it upon their own changed life and actions and not on Christ crucified for the forgiveness of their sins, given to them in Word and Sacrament by promise.

Therefore, Dr. Brown, John MacArthur (who are opponents generally), and Bonhoeffer's stance on this particular topic is very heterodox. Christians are being robbed of the good news of Christ outside of them by these sorts of teachings.

And to sum, you cannot obey a promise, because it's something conditioned on the promise giver, not on you. And grace (Gospel) is a promise.



Can't Buy Me Love

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 19th Chapter.

St. Matthew 19:23-26: Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

Many Christian groups have a history of vast misinterpretation of passages such as these.

1. Jesus is not teaching that you have to literally give up everything you own to be saved.

2. Jesus is not saying that there will be no wealthy people (earthly wealth) in glory.

3. Jesus is not teaching some form of Christian socialism, or that wealth is bad.

So what is Jesus teaching us here? Very simply put, that nothing we do can earn us the kingdom of God. He uses the rich man as an example. Nobody can buy their way into heaven.

In other words, you can do nothing to save yourself. Not money, not wealth, not works. Nothing.

Jesus does it all for us. He lives a perfect life on our behalf. He dies at Calvary for us. He rises from the dead for us. Then, in the here and now, He baptizes us in the Name of the Triune God. He gives us His life-creating Word. He forgives us, and He gives us His true Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.

He's not teaching us a bunch of life principles. He's telling us that we can do nothing to save ourselves. With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. (Mat 19:26)

And He alone saves us. Not ourselves.

+Grace and Peace+


This Is My Body - Response to Andrew Clover III

This will be the third and final installment of a response to Andrew Clover, who blogs over at Reformation 500. Mr. Clover wrote a three-part refutation of the Lutheran stance on the Lord's Supper. As I have asserted in my first two installments, his premise is a strawman and his argument is not only not what Lutheranism teaches, but is also illogical.

Part I

Part II

The first installment to Andrew's three-part blog is found here: (This Is My Body) There are links to the other two installments within his blog.

This final installment will address part 3 of his three-part series.
"At first blush, that rhetorical question (What would Jesus have said if He wanted His words to be taken literally?) appears to make a strong point; but I wish to head the argument off at the pass. I will do this by asking two rhetorical questions of my own. First let me acknowledge that if Jesus had meant to convey that the bread was literally his body, then he would definitely have said exactly what he said. He would have said “this is my body”. My first question though is this: What would Jesus have said in that situation if he were speaking metaphorically? Would “this is my body” not work equally as well as a metaphor? Such is the nature of a metaphor. It reads as a literal statement of fact, the context determining the reader’s understanding. Take the phrase “Teddy Roosevelt was a mountain”. What would I say if I wanted to convey the idea that Teddy Roosevelt was literally a naturally occurring pile of rock that stood over 2,000 feet tall? What if I wanted to convey the idea that Teddy Roosevelt was a really, really large human being? Would the phrase “Teddy Roosevelt was a mountain” not work just as well as a metaphor as it would a statement of literal fact as far as the grammar is concerned? Indeed it would."
I'm not sure Andrew's argument here is rock-solid, although I certain can concede that is how some metaphors function. Here is Mr. Clover's problem: He concedes (rightfully) that Jesus would have said exactly what He said if He meant for His words to be taken literally. Now I ask Mr. Clover: On what basis should we seek a metaphorical interpretation of this passage? What words in the Lord's Supper passages demand that we do so? As we will see later, Mr. Clover has to go elsewhere in Scripture to support his claim. Even more so, he has to go to other passages that are not about the Lord's Supper at all to support his claim.
"The second question is this: What statement could we not do that with? Is it not in fact rather silly to argue that a statement is not a metaphor simply because a state of being verb is present? To repeat my argument from above, doesn’t a metaphor require a state of being verb?"
This is true. But again, on what basis should we do this with the Lord's Supper passages? Are there Lord's Supper passages specifically that should lean us toward a metaphorical interpretation? Again, I would insist strongly that we draw our Eucharistic Theology from passages in Holy Scripture actually dealing with Eucharistic Theology.

Andrew quotes St. Luke 22:16-23 and then says the following:
"Christ said “this is my body which is given for you”. Was he being literal? Seems to me it would be good to establish some facts about the giving of Christ’s body before we try to answer that. So there are some questions that need to be asked. 1. What was the nature of this giving? 2. To whom was the body of Christ given? 3. Do the words of institution contain any information about the giving as it relates to those who were not the receivers of the giving?"
Here he tries to use passages outside of the Lord's Supper passages to show that the bread is not the Body of Christ. But he still has the same huge glaring problem. Namely, what did Christ give to His disciples and what did He say that it is? He broke bread. Then He said that the bread that He gave them is His body. Why all the shenanigans to say that's it's not?

Here are the statements and passages Mr. Clover uses in support of his position:
1. Christ’s giving up of his body was a propitiatory sacrifice (1 Jon 2:2). A propitiation is a sacrifice which removes the wrath of an offended party. 
2. The giving of Christ’s body was a giving toward God The Father, in sacrifice. Christ’s body was given to God. “It pleased Yahweh to crush him“. 
3. The words of institution make it clear that the giving of Christ’s body was for mankind. “Given for you”. I note that Christ did not say “This is my body, given to you”. Why not? I submit that it is because the disciples, and we, do not need Christ’s body in us. We need what his given body provided for us.
The first statement he makes is an either/or fallacy. In effect, He is implying that Christ's body is a propitiatory sacrifice given on the cross *only.* I know he would reject that line of thought. However, it is essentially what he is using as a defense. Christ is eternal God. Why can't Christ's body be given at Calvary as a propitiation for our sins...and the whole world (1Jo 2:2), as well as given for us in the Eucharist? Why can't Christ do that when Scripture is clear that He does? In fact, Christ Himself told us that "...And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt 28:20b) Why can't Christ be present with us in the Eucharist, especially when He says that it is His body and blood?

My point is, there are a lot of both/and situations in Scripture.

The second statement says absolutely nothing about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Of course the body of Christ was given to God. Who disputes that? But Scripture is also clear that the body of Christ is also given to us. Here we have another both/and situation. His second statement is a non-argument.

The third statement is nothing more than philosophical nitpicking. When Christ gives the bread, He gives us something tangible and objective and says it is "for you." The absence of the word "to" is really a weak argument, since Christ is also giving the bread and wine to His disciples. And by the way, He says it is His body and blood.

Clover continues,
"The words of institution do not in any way demand a woodenly literal understanding of the phrases “this is my body” and “this is my blood”. To insist on such a thing is to fail to take into account the very nature of Christ’s sacrifice, the internal logic of the atonement, if you will."
Unless you can find good reason to take them metaphorically within the Words of Institution themselves, yeah, they do need to be taken at face value. And likewise, it certainly does not fail to take into account the nature of Christ's sacrifice for all humanity. Why can't Christ make that sacrifice present for us in the Eucharist by giving us His body and blood? Christ is God. Why can't He do that again? Can we have a both/and here? If not, why not?
"One last point needs to be addressed. Often Baptists are chided for believing that Christ’s Supper is a memorial meal and not a consuming of Christ’s *real* body and blood. However it often goes overlooked that the only reason Jesus actually gives the disciples for the church’s observing the ritual in perpetuity is “in remembrance of me”. He never says “do this for the forgiveness of sins” or “do this” for any reason other than “in remembrance of me”. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be that the supper is primarily a “perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death” as the London Baptist Confession states?"
The "in remembrance of me" clause in no way speaks to either stance really. It actually doesn't say anything about His presence in one way or the other. Is it to be done in remembrance of Christ as a bare memorial? Or is it a Real Presence where He comes to us to be done in remembrance? Either way is completely possible.

And actually, Christ does link the Holy Eucharist with the forgiveness of sins.

St. Matthew 26:27-28: And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Christ says directly that the cup is the blood of the new covenant. The cup which He gave them, containing wine, is the blood of the new covenant. And it is poured out (the blood of the new covenant, the wine in the Eucharist) for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The cup which He gives them is the blood of Christ and is for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the text says.
"To conclude, the words of institution do not demand a literal understanding as is so often claimed. This is seen to be so in light of the facts concerning the nature of metaphors, the internal logic of the atonement, the grammar of the entire account of Christ’s words at the supper, and Christ’s own stated purpose for the observing of the ceremony. Surely, given all of this, the case is in reality such that a symbolic understanding of Christ’s words is the only really tenable understanding of the words; and the sacramentally literal understanding of Lutherans and others is in fact the one foreign to the text itself."
And hopefully I have shown that Mr. Clover's conclusion is faulty and that his critiques of the Lutheran stance of the Eucharist are based on faulty premises, are strawmen, and are illogical.

+Grace and Peace+ 

This Is My Body - Response To Andrew Clover II

I decided to take up responding to Andrew Clover's articles over at Reformation 500 that argue against the Lutheran stance on the Lord's Supper. I'll pick up the argument more in this blog, but to be honest, I might sound a little like a broken record, since I am convinced his argumentation lies firmly on faulty conflations.

My first installment is found here: Response Part I

Mr. Clover continues,
"Upon reading the article a couple of my Lutheran friends suggested that my source for dogmatic definitions concerning the Lord’s supper was not a great one. I quoted two or three times from Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics, which I understood to be a standard Lutheran work. But I must have missed something because my Lutheran friends seem to view Mueller as somewhat rationalistic and too Reformed sounding(rationalistic and Reformed are almost synonymous to many Lutherans). So I decided, given the general lukewarmness of my Lutheran friends for Mueller, that it would only be fair to examine The Book of Concord (BoC hereafter) and see from the source whether my observations have any merit. For the purposes of this article I will be referencing The Formula of Concord, Epitome, section VII."
Kudos to Andrew for heading to the Lutheran Confessions. If you are going to get a feel for the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord's Supper, the Book of Concord is definitely where you should go. He continues by quoting some of the statements made in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Section VII. If you want to read it, here is the Epitome on the Lord's Supper: Epitome VII: The Lord's Supper

Specifically, he quotes theses 1, 2, and 6. They read,
“We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine.” (Ep. VII, 6)
“We believe, teach, and confess that the words of the testament of Christ are not to be understood otherwise than as they read, according to the letter, so that the bread does not signify the absent body and the wine the absent blood of Christ, but that, on account of the sacramental union, they [the bread and wine] are truly the body and blood of Christ.” (Ep. VII, 7)
“We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink, as was also done by the apostles; for it is written Mark 14:23: And they all drank of it. St. Paul likewise says, 1 Cor. 10:16: The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? that is: He who eats this bread eats the body of Christ, which also the chief ancient teachers of the Church, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, unanimously testify.” (Ep. VII, 15)

After quoting the Epitome, Mr. Clover continues,
"So do the Lutheran confessions give us a doctrine of the Lord’s supper that simply takes Jesus’ words at face value? I suggest that they do not. I do not see an essential difference between what Mueller had to say about the Lord’s supper and the confessional definition found in the Formula of Concord. How is “this is my body” in any way propositionally equative with “the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine“? Jesus did not say “my body is truly and essentially present with this bread and wine“. He said “this is my body”. So how can a Lutheran claim to just take Jesus’ words at face value all the while chiding other Christians for not doing so? I am afraid my critique on this point stands. The Lutheran position and the attendant polemical argumentation fails to bear the weight of its own demand."
I know it's an overused term, especially in polemical circles, but Mr. Clover here is intent on banging down the same old strawman. He is conflating two things. The first thing is the question: What is it? And we answer: This is My Body. The true Body of Christ, per Scripture. He then proceeds to answer the question: How is it present? (Sacramental Union) The problem is, he takes the "how is it present?" question and says we're not taking "this is My body" literally because we say is answers the question of how it is present.

Thus, the only way Mr. Clover's point stands is if we allow his strawman to stand. I however, will not concede a strawman as a valid argument. He continues with more of the same:
"But again I ask, is this explanation arrived at simply by taking Christ’s words at face value? Or is the “sacramental union” marshaled as a philosophical rescue device? When the confessional document quoted above designates the nature of the eating of Christ’s body and drinking of His blood as not done in a Capernaitic manner, ie not cannibalism, but rather in a supernatural, heavenly way, does this not go well beyond the simple statement that “this is my body”?"
And again I answer in the negative. It's not a philosophical rescue device at all. It's actually the opposite. The Sacramental Union is a way of saying that in some mysterious way, the bread truly is Christ's body. We're not trying to rationalize or philosophize the Eucharist. We're actually saying that it truly is the body and blood, and we don't know exactly how God does that; but He certainly does do that in the Sacrament. Hence, Sacramental Union.
"If the bread is the body of Christ, then it is. If it is present with His body, then it isn’t His body. He did not say “this accompanies my body”. Nor did He say “take, eat, but not in a Capernaitic way, in a supernatural, heavenly way. My body is present with this bread through the sacramental union”. No, my Lutheran friends, yours is not an understanding of Christ’s words “as the read, according to the letter”. You could never pull these dogmatic definitions out of that simple phrase “this is my body”. The question then as it pertains to Lutherans and the rest of Protestantism is not the question of who takes Christ’s words of institution literally, or according to the letter. The question is rather which non-literal understanding is correct?"
And again Mr. Clover fires off more of the same. Ultimately Mr. Clover's problem regarding his argumentation here is that every single argument he makes and every single direction he comes at us from are based on the same faulty premise which does not hold up in light of Scripture or in light of Philosophy and Logic, two things the Reformed are big on.

Thus, I would argue that by his own Reformed hermeneutic and manner of argumentation, his argument fails since it is illogical. It's a conflation of two things and ultimately a strawman.


This Is My Body - Response to Andrew Clover I

An old friend of mine (a former Lutheran, now a Calvinist) recently came to this blog to challenge some of the Lutheran interpretations of the Lord's Supper. And while the exchange was less than irenic, I hope we can get to the bottom of some of this. The exchange can be found in the comments section here: Where Are You Looking For God

In the process, my friend Mr. Clover posted three blogs that he wrote over at the Reformation 500 site in which he lays out some arguments against the Lutheran interpretation of the Holy Eucharist. They can be found here: Part I, Part II, Part III

I would like to thank Mr. Clover for interacting with the Lutheran position on the topic. I do however think his argumentation falls short of any sort of refutation of the Lutheran position, and indeed I believe much of it is based on faulty conflations and argumentation.

It seems that Mr. Clover's main premise is that when Lutheranism insists that "is means is" we mean something else by it and don't take the words of Christ literally; at least not any more than anyone else. I intend to show that his argumentation falls short.

Mr. Clover begins his argument in Part I by saying the following:
"When describing their view of the supper, Lutherans will almost invariably say something along the lines of “We take Christ at His word. When The Lord says ‘this is my body’ we acknowledge that it ‘is’ His body.” It is a source of pride for the Lutheran, not pride in a sinful sense, that their theology doesn’t require them to change the words of institution or play logical and philosophical games or do mental gymnastics with the text. Often times the argument from a Lutheran is as simple as “Hey, is=is.” While I admire the approach to scripture that insists on letting the word speak and not making it say what it doesn’t, I believe that this claim to take Christ’s words literally while others do not is where the Lutheran argument falls on it’s own petard."
While I am glad that Mr. Clover gives a nod to Lutheranism's approach to the Holy Scriptures, it kind of seems to me that he is baiting and switching here. It sounds like "hey, I love how you guys look at Scripture. Too bad you're dead wrong." Anyhow, that's neither here nor there. I appreciate Mr. Clover's attempt to be gracious to his Lutheran brothers. He continues:
"As I said, Lutherans are fond of claiming that their understanding of communion avoids the mental gymnastics of the “sacramentarians”, a word which refers to non-sacramental Christians in the Lutheran confessions. But it doesn’t take long for the Lutheran argument to end up doing what the Reformed position is itself accused of doing. Why do I say that? The Lutheran position in reality, and I know I am going to elicit some anger here, does not believe that the bread “is” the body of Christ. It is in fact the case that Lutherans believe in what they call the real presence (explained, among other places, in Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics beginning at page 506). They believe that Christ’s body and blood is present “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine."
The main point he is making here is that we Lutherans don't really believe that "is means is" in the Words of Institution. In reality, he is leveling the claim that we rationalize our explanation of the Eucharist just like the Reformed do. He doesn't use that terminology, but that's ultimately what he is saying. Not only that, but he is conceding that Reformed Theology does not believe the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ.

But do we do that? I don't think so. Certainly many Lutherans have tried to explain the "how" of the Real Presence. We don't dispute that. But if one is familiar with Lutheran Theology, we hold to something called the Sacramental Union. More on this as we go along.

Here I think is where Mr. Clover starts going off the rails. He states:
"I hasten to point out, as have others, that if “is” must mean literally “is” in it’s most literal sense, then as soon as is means “present in, with, and under” the Lutheran argument no longer bears the weight of it’s own demand for a literal reading of the words of institution. But the convenient literalism of the Lutheran argument goes further. The “in, with, and under” concept is often explained as a “sacramental presence”."
He is essentially arguing that we say that "is means in, with, and under," or that "is means Sacramental Presence." But the problem with that argument is that we do not mean that at all. Mr. Clover is conflating two things into one thing here, and he ends up arguing erratically against the Lutheran position. We do not say that "is means Sacramental Presence." We say that "is means is." The bread truly is the body. The wine truly is the blood. The Sacramental Union is not our definition of "is." This is where Mr. Clover's argumentation falls on its own petard, to use his terminology.
"I am not really sure how one can chide another for engaging in mental gymnastics, as Lutherans often do other Protestants, and then in the same breath introduce a category like “illocal presence” claiming all the while to simply be taking the word “is” at face value. This is a problem particularly in light of the demand on the part of Lutherans that we glean our understanding of this doctrine primarily from the passages that deal directly with the issue of the supper (I agree in principle). Martin Chemnitz, one of the great Lutheran dogmaticians of history, is quite insistent on this point in his work “The Lord’s Supper”. So my question is: Is the definition “Present in, with, and under in an illocal, supernatural, yet real way” really just a plain understanding of the word “is”? No, rather the allegedly literal, or plain reading as they are want to call it, ends up defining “is” as “is present with” and then redefining “is present with” as “is not physically present with”. Whatever this interpretation of the words of institution is, it isn’t a literal one. It may be non-literal in a different way than the memorialist view; but it is non-literal all the same."
Here again, Mr. Clover continues this line of thought. Here is the problem: When we say all this stuff about the Sacramental Union, we are not trying to define the word "is" in the Words of Institution. I have to wonder if Mr. Clover knows what the word "Sacrament" means. A Sacrament is essentially a mystery. That is what the Latin term means. So when we talk about the Sacramental Union, we're not saying that "is equals Sacramental Union." We're saying that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ, in some mysterious way (Sacramental). Far from being a rationalistic explanation, we are simply saying that the bread and wine are Christ's body and blood, and we can't explain exactly how they are Christ's body and blood. Hence, the terminology of Sacramental Union.

The Sacramental Union, in other words, is us saying that we can't completely explain the *how* of how the bread and wine are Christ's body and blood. Nor do we need to. Scripture never gives us any rationalistic definition of how this occurs. It does not teach transubstantiation or consubstantiation, for instance. It simply says that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ.

Therefore, our interpretation of the Words of Institution is literal, while we freely admit that we cannot explain how this comes about (hence, Sacramental Union...mystery). The only thing Scripture gives us are the Words of Institution.



Are Lutherans Guilty of Picking and Choosing?

A friend of mine, who happens to be a Reformed Baptist pastor, said the following the other day:

"If the texts that say "this is my body" and "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you,.." are plain and simple why does "you see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone"(James 2:24) now require the whole counsel of God to speak? Why one and not the other two?" ~Fernando Ramirez

This statement is worth addressing because I think there are clear Scriptural answers to this. He raises a legitimate question, to be sure. The answer to this lies in Scripture itself.

He posits that if we Lutherans are taking the Sacramental passages literally, we also ought to take the justification by works passage literally. There is good reason why we interpret them how we do of course.

First and foremost, all three of the statements require the whole counsel of God to speak. And therein lies the rub. We're not lifting the Sacramental passages out of the whole counsel of God and interpreting them in a vacuum. There is a clear reason as to why James 2:24 is interpreted in the light we interpret it (and I suspect it's the same way in which my Baptist friend interprets it).

Very simply put, there is nowhere in Scripture that leaves us to interpret the Sacramental passages in any other manner. In short, every passage about the Eucharist never even hints that "this is NOT My body." Nowhere do the Holy Scriptures intimate that Christ's body is not present in the Eucharist. Thus, we are left with the plain and simple meaning of Scripture on this one. "This is My body" means just that.

This sounds like a simplistic explanation of this one, but what else can we do? Why should we go looking for alternate interpretations of clear statements when Scripture never gives us any? Look up all the Eucharistic passages. This is not My body (or something like that) is nowhere to be found.

The same line of thought applies to Holy Baptism. Baptism passages in the New Testament are loaded with salvation. The didactic epistles are chock full of language that directly says that Baptism now saves us, buries us with Christ, raises us in faith, washes us clean, and so on. And again, nowhere does Scripture ever say anything about Baptism not saving us, or not uniting us to Christ, or being an outward profession of an inward change.

However, James 2:24 is a different animal. In that case, we have very plain passages that say the opposite. I refer specifically to Romans 4 and Ephesians 2.

Romans 4:4-5 (ESV): Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness

Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV): For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Thus, I would argue that passages like James 2 are strong correlations to passages like Ephesians 2:8-10. Faith in Christ desires to obey Him and thus works. With all the Reformers and Scripture, we assert that faith works in love, but the grounds of our justification is the finished work of Christ, given by grace and received in Word and Sacrament through faith alone.

But if we hold to justification by works, we make St. Paul and St. James contradict each other. That is a large problem. But in the case of Baptism and the Eucharist, this is not so, because Scripture never gives us any passages that would have us interpret the Sacraments in a different manner. Someone may object by using the justification by faith passages, but this is not a good argument. I addressed that here:

Baptism and Sola Fide

Interpreting James 2:24 in that manner however, is to directly contradict St. Paul. In other words, to interpret James 2:24 in a sense that we are justified before God by what we do (we earn it) is an error. And if it's not an error, then St. Paul is flat wrong!

On the other hand, we do not have that problem with the texts about the Sacraments. All the other inspired Scriptures regarding them support the interpretation of the Lutheran Church. Scripture never hints that Baptism is not salvific in nature. Likewise, Scripture never hints that the Eucharist is not the true body and blood of Christ.

It's very different with James 2.

+Grace and Peace+


Sermon for Trinity 3

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” It is statements like these that make it so easy to demonize the scribes and Pharisees. We even have a word for it in our modern language. “How could they be so pharisaical?!?” we ask. The dictionary defines that words as “hypocritically self-righteous and condemnatory”. Nobody, of course, wants to be “hypocritically self-righteous and condemnatory”! They are the ultimate theological boogeymen.

It's easy for a pastor to preach about how mean and nasty these folks were, about how they raised their noses at all those “sinners” and demonstrated a number of arrogant haughty attitudes. It certainly would seem to be a lot like the preaching of Jesus. For surely he had a lot of angry things to say about this class of men in Palestine two thousand years ago. The problem is, we don't live in Palestine two thousand years ago. It's not really a sermon at all if it doesn't address the people sitting in the room.

Dead men don't need the hear the Law and Gospel. We do. Like good little Lutherans, we have been well trained to nod our heads and say, “Yes, I am a poor miserable sinner. My righteous deeds are like filthy rags. ” It is a comfortable and familiar thing to say, almost as if “sinner” is a good thing. And so we read or hear the parables and teachings of Jesus and he is yelling at the scribes and pharisees and getting all chummy with tax collectors and sinners and immediately we think, “Ooo, I want to be in the latter group. I want to be a tax collector and sinner!”

Bad guys versus good guys... Pharisees? Bad! Tax collectors and sinners? Good! This is a simple and moralistic way of understanding the Bible... and it's completely wrong. There are not two classes of people; Pharisees versus non-Pharisees, haughty versus humble, boogeyman versus pious believer. In fact, what we have seen most clearly in the Gospel readings the last few weeks is that Jesus makes no distinction between people at all. Jesus is not teaching “Tortoise and the Hare” morality fables. He is teaching about Himself.

He is the only one who is any different from the rest of humanity. The Pharisee and the tax collector are the same. The scribe and the sinner are the same. Only our Lord was without sin. Yes, Pharisees could be “hypocritically self-righteous and condemnatory”...but so could gentiles and Samaritans. Yes, the scribe could be haughty and judgmental... but so could the illiterate prostitute. Yes, the rich men of this world can be greedy money grubbing pigs, but so can the poor. There is no distinction of persons among men except that which we have imagined ourselves. All are simply dust, the grass of the field that withers and crumbles.

That is why the prophet Micah rejoices in God's forgiveness and mercy saying:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?  He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

And now, in the person of Jesus Christ, the God who is like none other has become the man who is like none other. He is the one hope of the world. He the one way. He is Truth and Life. He is the merciful father who joyfully receives the prodigal son later in this chapter.  Like rest of Scripture, all the parables are about who Jesus is and what he has done. Today we see that our Lord is the shepherd who left everything to rescue his people. The folks put in charge of caring for the flock failed big time so, as the saying goes, “if you want something done right, do it yourself”. That is what God did. Ezekiel says:

I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness… I will tend them in a good pasture… I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.

This parables talks about how Jesus leave the ninety nine “righteous people who do not need to repent” in order to save the one. This does not mean that the ninety nine were any less lost than the one stray. The phrase “righteous people who do not need to repent” is biblical sarcasm. What it means is that they think they are righteous. It is like when Jesus says that the healthy don't need a doctor, but the sick. Every single human being is still sick; most simply are not aware of it.

We we're all lost, cruising down the road to perdition late at night, humming to the radio without a clue in to the world, until the semi-truck of the Law blazed down upon us in our lane. And so we quickly pull off the one way street and end up in a low rent truck stop in the middle of nowhere. We realize we have no money, the whole place stinks and the phone's broken. Various unsavory characters sleep on the sticky vinyl benches and you notice an old rusty penny jammed into a crevice of cracked linoleum.

Then, by God's grace, you realize “that penny is you.” You are the lost coin. Jesus Christ came down to seek and save... and now he has found. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who surveys a property and discovers a pearl of great price in the field. Then he goes and sells all that he has in order to buy the field and have the pearl. That pearl is you. The church is Jesus' priceless treasure.

And so for every single soul found and brought back into the fold, there is a great party in heaven.  Heaven rejoices when Christ seeks and saves the lost… when God brings us to repentance and faith. We join in a lit bit of that celebration today in the Divine Service. We began by recognizing our own sin and unworthiness and then heard about His amazing grace in Jesus Christ... who is a God like you?

Who is a God who empties himself of all glory and honor and crawls around on the floor for hours with a boar-hair brush and a flashlight searching for a penny fallen under the hardwood floor? Who is a God who “welcomes sinners and eats with them”? There is only One, and he has proved it this morning, as he does week after week. For, he comes to you, to you the tax collector and to you the Pharisee. And here, he pours out his own blood and righteousness for all. Forgiven by that blood, bathed in pure water, Jesus sinners doth receive.

This man welcomes Pharisees and eats with them. The man Christ Jesus welcomes you despite all the secret baggage, the angry thoughts and rebellious attitudes you've nurtured during the week. He eats with you, prepares the table, serves you, waits on you hand and foot, despite the fact that you're probably thinking more about lunch.

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”. Yes and praise God that he does! This morning we only get a small “foretaste of the feast to come,” but we are assured herein that forever and always we will be welcome guests at the great heavenly celebration with our savior Jesus Christ. For he has sought you. He has found you. He takes you joyfully upon his shoulders and shouts “Rejoice with me…I have found my lost sheep!”

+ Amen +