Pastor's May 2021 Letter
How Did He Do It?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As Martin Luther approached the Diet of Worms in April 1521, he thought it likely that his earthly life would soon be over. He had already been excommunicated by the Pope, and now he had been summoned by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the V, to present himself at the imperial assembly and give an account of his public teaching. More to the point, the cardinals, priests, and theologians representing the Pope and the Emperor himself only wanted to hear two words from Luther—“I recant.”
Luther’s writings had been judged heretical for calling into question the authority of the Papacy over the entire Christian Church. Luther dared to teach what Holy Scripture taught— that Christ alone is the Chief Shepherd and Overseer of our souls by whose wounds we have been healed (1 Peter 2:24-25); that popes, bishops, councils, teachers and all men can and do err and only the Word of God is infallible, faithful, and true—the source and norm for all doctrine and practice in the church; that the flock of Christ had the duty to listen only to the voice of Christ.
If Luther recanted, then all would be well for him, but if he refused to recant, then Luther faced condemnation as an outlaw of the Empire and almost certain execution. Trusting his life, soul, and all things to Christ Jesus the Good Shepherd who laid His life down for the sheep on the cross and took it back up again in His resurrection, Luther took his stand at the Diet of Worms. There he confessed— “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen” (LW 32:112–13).
How could Luther take such a stand in the face of almost certain death, with all the powers of the world against him pressuring him to recant, with the slander and lies of the devil accusing him that his trust in Christ and the teaching of Holy Scripture was naive arrogance, and with the weakness of his own sinful flesh that desired to live a happy life full of earthly pleasures? Certainly not by his own reason, power, or strength! Only by the Word of Christ and the Holy Spirit could he walk through the valley of the shadow of death—only by the promise of Christ the Lord’s presence with him did he fear no evil, being comforted by the rod and staff of the Good Shepherd’s Word. Luther’s confidence in Christ did not come from himself, but from the Holy Spirit calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and keeping him through the promise of the Gospel. Luther knew the voice of Christ and wherever Christ led him, there Luther was glad to follow, for Luther believed the promises of Holy Scripture.
O little flock of Christ, hear and believe the Word of Christ. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). Hold fast to the sound teaching of the Holy Scriptures, not just for an hour on the Lord’s Day but set aside at least an hour a day to read and pray the Scriptures deeply, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). By holding fast to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will enable you, like Luther, to take your stand against the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh come what may.
Pastor's April 2021 Letter
The Mind of Christ
Holy ones in Christ Jesus,
It is the good and gracious will of the Father that you who have been adopted by grace as sons of God through the eternal Son be conformed to the image and likeness of the Son by the Holy Spirit’s energizing in the Word of Christ. St. Paul writes: Have this mind among you, which is also in Christ Jesus, Who while being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, rather He emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, by becoming in the likeness of men; and by being found in outward form as man; He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8). In other words, you who are baptized into Christ are to think, act, and be like Christ.
Having the mind of Christ, being Christ like, is neither easy nor natural for you and for me. In fact, it is unnatural and impossible for us and every other natural son and daughter of Adam and Eve. The old Adam in all of us lusts to be like God in knowledge, will, and power; grasping for God’s glory even as the first man and woman seized the forbidden fruit. We are full of ourselves, so self absorbed, striving to become the masters of our own little universe. Though we were created in the image and likeness of God, we forsook goodness for evil, beauty for ugliness, and truth for falsehood. In order to make a name for ourselves, like the people at Babel, we have bent our minds and will to making great towers, cities, and empires in the vain hopes of ascending to God and attaining immortality.
Were it not for the Holy Scriptures that are powerful to make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, you and I would know nothing of the mind of Christ. But the Holy Spirit through God’s Word makes Christ known to us intimately, as a husband knows his wife. As children learn to speak and think and act through the words their parents first speak to them, even so through the Word of God, the Spirit forms the mind of Christ in us, so that by the grace of God we learn to speak and think and act like Christ.
Beloved in Christ, Jesus humbled Himself even to death on a cross in order to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil. By the washing of water with the Word of Christ, the Holy Spirit has restored the image and likeness of God in you and made you children of God. As you hold sacred the Word of God and preaching, gladly hearing and learning the sound teaching of Christ, the Holy Spirit will continue to form the mind of Christ in you.
Pastor's Letter concerning COVID-19
Beloved in Christ,
Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3). Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33). Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28). These are the blessed Words and Promises of Christ Jesus our Lord, Words and Promises for you who are baptized into Christ, Words and Promises that you would do well to remember and trust in each and every day that God grants you life in this fallen world.
As you know the Word of God creates and defines all reality, gives us knowledge about God and things that otherwise would remain hidden, makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. The Word of God does not reveal all truth to us, but the Word of God does teach us all the truth that we need in order to be saved. God’s Word is faithful, true, and trustworthy even as God Himself is. The Lord Jesus Christ is no liar, rather He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father (John 14:6). St. Paul writes: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The sudden onset of COVID-19 caused a lot of fear and confusion for all people and institutions. We were told that an unprecedented emergency and global pandemic was upon us. People of goodwill have sought to respond to the crisis in helpful and reasonable ways, be they governing officials, scientists, physicians, citizens, or congregations. However, unlike God and His Word, none of us are infallible. Our God-given gift of reason has limits. Furthermore, our reason and understanding have been tainted and corrupted by sin. There is much that we don’t know and much that we get wrong. Governing officials, scientists, physicians, citizens, and congregations are all sinners—naturally selfish, with ideas, values, goals, and beliefs that are contrary to the Word of God. Upon review, there have been plenty of good and bad responses to COVID-19. No matter what governing officials, scientists, physicians, citizens, and other congregations decide, suggest, or mandate, we as Christians are bound to the teaching of God’s Word, people and pastor.
As the servant of Christ, called to preach and teach God’s Word and administer the Holy Sacraments according to Christ’s institution to you, the dear people of God in Christ at Bethel Lutheran Church, I have followed Christ’s mandate to make His Word and Sacraments available to you every Lord’s Day and others. In Christian love for the safety of all, we gathered in only groups of ten or less to receive the gifts of Christ, then we returned to one service and spaced ourselves. For a time we have not knelt at Holy Communion or kept hymnals in the pews. For a time I asked you all to consider wearing masks in the Divine Service. However, the time for these things is at an end. It is now the time for us to return to the normal that Christ has given us to do; this includes singing, which the wearing of masks has impeded— Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). If you want to wear a mask and socially distance, of course you have the freedom in Christ to do so. However, as your Pastor, I can no longer ask you to consider to do such things, for the time of emergency, when the normal order of things gets interrupted by necessity, has passed.
Yes, people do get sick and die from COVID-19, as people get sick and die from a great number of sicknesses and diseases. Yes, some people may be more susceptible than others to the negative effects of the virus, including death. But according to the CDC numbers, the total death rate of those infected is less than 2%, which means 98% of all people infected with the virus in the U.S. go on living. COVID-19 is not nearly as deadly as other diseases and plagues that Christians have had to endure previously. The current trend of infections and deaths is dropping—probably because the virus is running its course as viruses do, also because of those with natural built up immunity, and because of the vaccines that many have gotten.
It is impossible to hold public worship with zero risk to physical health, but not to gather for public worship entails far graver dangers of a spiritual nature, ultimately falling from faith in Christ. If you get out of your house to work, shop or eat, then you can find a way to safely gather with the saints and receive the gifts of Christ in the Divine Service. The Lord wills that you gather where He has promised to be present with His gifts. He wants to give you His body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. The Lord wills your life and salvation. Jesus said: Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (John 6:54-56).
I know many of you have a number of fears, worries, and anxieties. Therefore, be encouraged with these Words and Promises of Christ— And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:28-31). Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28).