Friday, December 14, 2007

Causing faith to believe in itself.

I heard that one of the significant people in my life passed away a year ago. He was a pastor of mine. Though he and I along with the others he nurtured parted company with him based on some teachings that was introduced on the subject of prayer, I still have fond and thankful memories of him. I recall sermons after sermons which we enjoyed that came from him, sermons that focused us on Jesus' person. Those were the good days, the happy days when you walked out of the service having confidence in Christ as you go back home. He was a scholar, fluent in NT Greek and OT Hebrew. Where I came from that was no small thing. He conducted nationally televised debates with a prominent RC Bishop of Manila and these debates numbered hours and hours - I recall 6 hours of telecast in one instant.

I noticed I was mourning inside and if not for my penchant for busy-ness, I would have been dysfunctional for quite a number of days.

As I thought of the Rev, a popular passage often quoted/recited in that church was Jeremiah 17:5-8 . There were good and not so good teachings, so you do it like when you are eating a fish, you get the meat but chuck away the bones. Here is what that passage states and how it can be mis-applied and used to stress faith in faith, giving it a hue of works.
5Thus says the LORD,
"(M)Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes (N)flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the LORD.
6"For he will be like a (O)bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A (P)land of salt without inhabitant.
7"(Q)Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose (R)trust is the LORD.
8"For he will be like a (S)tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of (T)drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
Focusing on verses 5 & 7 brings a challenge, is where I am at. The promise there can easily be turned to a Law. For example, let us say, you are sick and your attitude is that - "that is ok the meds will do th job - she'll be right mate". Or you are in a financial fix and you say in your heart --"she'll be right mate, the bank will lend me money". Seems like those attitudes can easily condemn. Also it can be turned into Law when you encounter doubts about the capacity of God to deliver you, and thus it is rock crushing you. In such a case, we can easily with no help from the devil run ourselves to the ground as we frantically notice our anxieties, our heart accuses us with an alert "hey I am not trusting in God in this trouble, I am cursed". It is quite subtle in that for the case of being sick, perhaps to show faith in God, you might not go to the doctor or not take medicines and we have heard of this happened before right? For the second example, you may just look to the sky hoping that God may open up heaven and drop you a bundle of $100 bills. Silly, I know but wait...

It seems to me there is further application of this. For example, say in terms of my salvation and being accepted by God - am I internally saying to God, "I should be ok with you and you should let me in since I am a member of your one True Church", or "I should be ok with you I have been giving to the poor, I give my excess stuff to Salvation Army", or "I should be ok, I have been faithfully going to mass or services all my life, I have been coming to Bible Studies, doing my devotionals, " etc. or any such things? In this case the curse does apply, doesn't it? It is mankind trusting in their own selves, their own strength whereas the latter, the one blessed, has no other trust but in and the Lord alone. The latter strips himself of anything his heart relies on and has nothing to hang on to but God in His kindness.

The Small Catechism has this for the 2nd Commandment:
We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

From Augsburg, Article IV: Of Justification.

1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.


Carrie said...

An interesting insight. Seems like such a subtle difference, but there is a difference b/w faith in faith and faith in God.

I was actually pondering a similiar idea the other day in thinking of most non-believers who believe in a "good people go to heaven" scenario and don't seem nervous at all out their eternal destiny. The fact is, none of us have any control as to what happens to us after we die - we are completley in God's hands at the point and at his mercy (we are when alive also, but that point is easier to blow off since we have an allusion of control while alive). Why that idea doesn't strike fear in people is beyond me.

Anyway, I'm babbling. I enjoyed this post and what a great passage of scripture!

LPC said...

Dear Carrie,

It is no babble at all. The fact is that people are under delusion that God is not their problem. He is if they reject His Gospel.

I think the Gospel is not properly understood in most evangelical churches. I believe it is there but they focus on the subjective aspect of it and all muddled up. This has happened because creeds and confessions have been denied.

That is why we say - we are not saved by our faith, we are saved objectively by Jesus CHrist at the Cross, faith receives that promise. It adds nothing and merits nothing. For even if the person denies it the fact is that the atonement happened in history. The denier of course forfeits the gift as Jesus said in Mk 16:16.

Justification by faith says we are not saved by works (ours) but that of another CHrist's.

I am glad of your faith journey, you will find company here, I am an ex-Roman myself.

More later...


Anonymous said...

One problem that you have identified is the objective verses subjective view of faith. If we look to ourselves as the evidence of faith, we can land either in despair of that we continue to be sinners and our faith isn't enough or in pride that we see evidence in our lives that faith is making us better.

Also, heaven will be filled with sinners just as hell will be filled with "good people". It's about justification not behavior.

Past Elder said...

A couple of things --

I understand the feeling of on the one hand being grateful for that which someone has contributed to one's life, even though now that would not constitute full agreement. In my case, that came more through their books and telecasts rather than in person. I think of Bishop Sheen and Rabbi Hertz in that context, and Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading. In college, I had a professor for ancient literature (pre PC days, so that really means Greek and Roman) Fr Conrad Diekmann, whose lectures, if you can call being all over the room and at times on top of the desk acting out a part of Homer or something in Benedictine habit lectures, were just stunning to me. In case you recognise the last name, yes, his brother was the better known Diekmann, Fr Godfrey, one of those leading the charge at Vatican II, whom I also knew and was one of several from whom I came to understand this whole movement from the inside rather than its public institutional face.

I think the problem you identify re faith is the same one we have re worship -- all the talk about Jesus obscures that it is really all about me, what I am feeling, what I am doing, a latter day Pietism. The problem being, when I cannot identify in what I am feeling or doing something that seems good enough, doubt! Kind of like the Parking Lot (or Car Park) God -- what does it mean when he doesn't find you a parking place, literally or as a figure from a more serious desired outcome.

I think in all these cases, whether we trust in being in the supposed one true church, or in having done spiritual and/or corporal works of mercy (as the RCC puts it), or in feeling real good about oneself in relation to God, we have traded the real thing for something else, which doesn't seem like something else because of all the Jesus talk that disguises that it isn't about Jesus at all but about me re Jesus.

The Gospel message is hard to believe -- if one is trying to believe on the basis of one's personal decision or efforts at sanctification. Faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit is something altogether different. Here's another phrase I learned in WELS -- speaking of things where I gained much though now do not fully agree -- we do good works not to be saved, but because we are saved.

LPC said...


I hope the brothers here do not get bored with posts like these. I have plenty of experience on making faith a form of works from the previous teachings I got. The teaching does lead to condemnation too.


LPC said...


The Diekmann guy I have encountered before, though lightly.

Yes the worship wars I think is quite out of focus. I like what the White Horse Inn guys said== first what is worship for, is it for us to give to God or is it for God to give to us. If the attitude is the former, then you will hear justifications for modern as well as traditionalist arguments all winding down the same thing -- it is for you to feel good -- either using tradition or modern styles.

It is quite correct when you say -- people rallying for Jesus but it is actually with them riding on Jesus.

BTW, you need to blog on Nietzche as the only philosopher worth reading.


Past Elder said...


You are the first to pick on this, that whenever I mention Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, I always add the phrase "the only philosopher worth reading".

Now we'll see if the obscure Fraser reads this blog -- my practice is a reference to a passage from Nietzsche, and he correctly identified another such practice on another blog (Schuetz's, I think).

Pastor Mays on his excellent blog mentioned an essay on Nietzsche in the current issue of First Things. But one has to subscribe to read it, even online. As a recovering academic, subscription to anything close to an academic journal would constitute a slip.

You are right that one sometimes hears from defenders of traditional liturgy that it will do the same thing as non-liturgical worship -- which each age styles "contemporary" -- if given the chance. Which is no defence at all, ignoring the gulf between two completely different understandings of the encounter between God and Man in worship.