MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV 2 Corinthians 13:4 For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. 5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
I chose this particular text by accident. I was working on the bulletin when the epistle lesson I marked on the computer became corrupted with another section of 2 Corinthians.
(I don’t know how I did it. I think it could be compared to the professional field goal kicker in football who hits the upright dead on and sees it bounce back at him during the big game. If someone paid him to do it, he could not imagine how he could hit such a small target with so much pressure on him.)
I decided to follow through with these verses because they relate to Lent and to current doctrinal issues in Lutheranism. I heard a sermon on videotape where the Lutheran pastor said, “We dare not ask whether we are believers.” That was one of the more obvious errors in his sermon, and something worth considering.
The context of Paul’s remark is his remarkable defense of his ministry. There are two main reasons why 2 Corinthians is a defense of his ministry (and of all ministry through the Means of Grace). First of all, Paul upset the Corinthians by dealing with issues the way he had to as an apostle or any faithful pastor would. First Corinthians is an extensive discussion of many different matters, such as conduct at the Lord’s Supper, women speaking in church, tongue-speakers, and gross immorality. Secondly, others stepped in and claimed authority over Paul and tried to take away the Corinthian congregation.
Therefore, if you want to read what the ministry is or should be, read Second Corinthians and the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus), which are the only books on the topic written by the Holy Spirit.
This verse, “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith,” is Paul’s answer to those who question his apostolic ministry. Rather than teach that we “dare not ask if we are believers,” as the mixed up Lutheran pastor once taught, God reveals to us in this passage that we should do that very thing.
As Luther, Walther, and the Book of Concord all teach with one accord, the answer to sin is not the Law but the Gospel. The Law identifies sin, as it should, but the Gospel promises give us forgiveness of sin, strengthening our faith, and motivating us to desire God’s will and to carry it out. Therefore, faith in the Word is absolutely essential for the Christian.
There are many different types of tests for whether we are in the faith. One is when we go through times of trial and temptation. Then we see difficulties all around us and we are supposed to believe at that moment that God is loving and merciful and all-powerful. Ted Turner, the media billionaire, is supposed to have lost his faith when his sister died of lupus. Obviously his loss of faith has had a great impact on our culture but most of all on him.
Many turn away from God when they think God has hidden His love from them. The lives of the genuine saints and martyrs show us that this has happened many times before and often to better Christians than we are. When my friend was being pushed out of the ministry, I said, “Don’t worry. Better men than you have been kicked out.” He laughed because he knew what I meant. The very best pastors have been pushed aside, often for the silliest reason. Very few well known theologians have survived parish politics. One famous Preus relative was kicked out on Good Friday for refusing to compromise. The famous New England preacher, Jonathan Edwards, was dismissed because he was getting expensive. Martin Chemnitz was run out of one territory for doing his job, which offended the ruler. Selnecker, another Concordist, had similar problems. Paul Gerhardt had all the political problems and the loss of his family.
Robert Barnes was burned at the stake in the sight of his church, in front of his family, including his newborn baby. He was murdered by the Church for being a Lutheran, but his son studied to be a pastor anyway. That is faith: to believe in God’s mercy when man shows none.
William Tyndale was murdered by the Church for translating the Bible into English. In effect he created the King James Version of the Bible. Experts claim that as much as 90% of the KJV came from his hands. He had to translate, print, and sell the Bibles while agents of the Church of England sought to kill him. He was not hard to find. All an agent had to do was ask printers if anyone had large orders for English Bibles on the docket. A false friend betrayed Tyndale and he was killed. He prayed, “Open the King of England’s eyes” before he died. One king killed him but another king, to pacify a minority in the clergy, approved the King James as the official and only English Bible. How much faith did Tyndale have, to do so much for the Word of God and find his reward in being executed by the Christian Church? He had enough faith to pray in the moment of his death, just as the first martyr, Stephen, prayed and preached when he was dying at the hands of a religious mob. Stephen’s prayer, too, was efficacious, as the Scripture promises, because Paul held the robes of the murderers so they could throw their rocks better. Yet Paul became that man of faith that Stephen was at his death.
KJV James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Another form of trial is to have everything, peace, and harmony, and yet remain thankful to God for all his blessings. Many times the increase of prosperity will make people overly concerned about the future, so they cling to their abundance as if material things are god. It is a subtle change.
I recently heard from a woman who grew up without plumbing or electricity. She lived in the mountains with her family, bathed in the creek in the summer, went to school barefoot when it was warm, and never saw a TV until she grew up. The family did not own a car or use one. I mentioned that this is what made Y2K so frightening for all the city people, because we didn’t know what to do without plumbing and electricity.
We can see the effect of wealth in society as a whole. During times of great wealth, very few if any societies can remain thankful to God. When war threatens, when disease costs the lives of a large percentage of people, when economic depression hits so many people at once, then people implore God to help them. Public exhortations to believe in God are common during national crises. Now that we imagine we have no threats, doctrinal orthodoxy is viewed as “bigotry” and narrow-mindedness. Doctrinal compromise, such as the ELCA/Church of Rome accord, is hailed as a great accomplishment.
One way to test our faith is to go through the catechism and apply the Word of God to our lives. We can ask ourselves, “Do I fear, love, and trust God above all things?” That is a good question to keep before us. Many different episodes will remind us of that question.
Or when we read about the meaning of daily bread, do we really think about God providing us with all those things which comprise our daily bread? Are we thankful for those everyday blessings, knowing that they come from God?
When we look at God’s creation around us, do we thank Him for all the beauty and abundance that surrounds us? Let me go on a little digression about this.
I was born in Moline, Illinois, the heart of the long-grass prairie. I knew that Moline was in the center of the farm belt. One could hardly miss the references to John Deere, farming, the Midwest, the Great Plains, and so forth. One book produced at our college was called Prairie Grass Dividing. Naturally, since I grew up there, I took it all for granted, never knowing that the tractors that fueled the local economy would be the objects of adoration for many men I would meet later.
Recently I re-read a book about the prairie, a careful examination of the history, plants, and animals of the Great Plains. When America expanded at first, it was through a solid wall of forest, at least 1000 miles from the coast. Every single farmer had to spend years clearing the trees and their roots to have enough land for crops. Then as the population explosion pushed into the interior of America, they came upon the prairie, with no trees. They suspected that the land was too poor to support trees.
Now we know that the prairie grass created top soil as much as 30 feet deep. The organic material and nitrogen compounds produced were unlike any other area on earth. As I have mentioned before, the newly plowed soil in southern Minnesota and Iowa looks like chocolate cake dough. When we combine the effects of the global flood, the creation of the Great Lakes, and the Great Plains, we can see how God formed an area on His planet that would feed the world.
Similarly, the great ocean that lay over much of the Midwest had its effects too. In Michigan we can find areas where they drill 600 feet through salt left behind by the ocean. That became the reason for Dow to begin Dow Chemical, to manufacture chemicals from the brine. The ocean also left behind salty oil that is being pumped in areas of the state. Rehwinkel argues for oil being created by the Flood, when fish died at once and were buried in huge groups under great pressure.
Although we have more mysteries than we can every answer about the ancient history of the world, we know that God provided for us today in those early events. (E. von Danniken’s Chariots of the Gods argues for extra-terrestrials giving mankind all the technological marvels of the ancient past that remain unexplained, such as the Great Pyramid. He never suggests that God gave man the wisdom before the Flood to do these things, that the Flood exterminated a great world wide civilization.)
We cannot answer those events from the past, but we can examine what the Scriptures say to us. When we set aside what the Bible teaches us, the intrusion of doubt begins. For some it is a question like this: How can God create in six days? Or, How can a whale or fish swallow a man and vomit him up on the shores of Ninevah shortly afterwards? Or how can one man’s death promise and give forgiveness to all those who believe in Him?
Satan begins at the weak point in each Christian and works his way in through that weak area. Therefore, we should examine whether we are in the faith, and believe in the Scriptures with all our hearts.