#25 Sixth, the Church Is Recognized by Prayer, Praise and Thanksgiving

Sixth, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God. Where you see and hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed and taught; or psalms or other spiritual songs sung, in accordance with the word of God and the true faith; also the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism used in public, you may rest assured that a holy Christian people of God are present. For prayer, too, is one of the precious holy possessions whereby everything is sanctified, as St. Paul says [I Tim. 4:5]. The psalms too are nothing but prayers in which we praise, thank, and glorify God. The creed and the Ten Commandments are also God’s word and belong to the holy possession, whereby the Holy Spirit sanctifies the holy people of Christ. However, we are now speaking of prayers and songs which are intelligible and from which we can learn and by means of which we can mend our ways. The clamor of monks and nuns and priests is not prayer, nor is it praise to God; for they do not understand it, nor do they learn anything from it; they do it like a donkey, only for the sake of the belly and not at all in quest of any reform or sanctification or of the will of God.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.164)

Picture:  Veronica window: The Face of Jesus

#24 The Minister’s Personal Qualifications: A Married Man?

The pope condemns the marriage of bishops or priests; that is now plain enough. … St. Paul says (they say) in Ephesians 4 [5:31–32] that husband and wife are a great sacrament. I say, “Yes, in Christ and the church.” My dear man, can you gather from these words of St. Paul that marriage is the kind of a sacrament of which they speak? He says that husband and wife are one body, which is a great sacrament. Then he interprets himself, saying, “I speak of Christ and the church, not of husband and wife.” But they say that he is speaking of husband and wife. Paul envisages Christ and the church as a great sacrament or “mystery”; so they say that husband and wife are a great sacrament. Why then do they regard it as virtually the least of the sacraments, indeed, as sheer impurity and sin, in which one cannot serve God?…

Therefore do not worry (as was said) about the papists’ talk concerning the personal qualifications for an ecclesiastical office, for these asses do not understand St. Paul’s words, nor do they know what St. Paul’s language calls a sacrament. He says [Eph. 5:31–32] that Christ and the church are a sacrament, that is, Christ and the church are one body, as husband and wife are, and that this is a great mystery, to be apprehended by faith. It is not visible or tangible; therefore it is a sacrament, that is, something secret, a mystery, invisible, hidden. … Now wherever you find these offices or officers, you may be assured that the holy Christian people are there; for the church cannot be without these bishops, pastors, preachers, priests; and conversely, they cannot be without the church. Both must be together.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.156, 158-159, 163-164)

Picture: The Anchor

#23 The Minister’s Office and Not his Person Matters

Just as was said earlier about the other four parts of the great, divine, holy possession by which the holy church is sanctified, that you need not care who or how those from whom you receive it are, so again you should not ask who and how he is who gives it to you or has the office. For all of it is given, not to him who has the office, but to him who is to receive it through this office, except that he can receive it together with you if he so desires. Let him be what he will. Because he is in office and is tolerated by the assembly, you put up with him too. His person will make God’s word and sacraments neither worse nor better for you. What he says or does is not his, but Christ, your Lord, and the Holy Spirit say and do everything, in so far as he adheres to correct doctrine and practice. The church, of course, cannot and should not tolerate open vices; but you yourself be content and tolerant, since you, an individual, cannot be the whole assembly or the Christian holy people.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.156)

Picture: Crown and lilies

#22 The Qualifications of Her Ministers

It is, however, true that the Holy Spirit has excepted women, children, and incompetent people from this function, but chooses (except in emergencies) only competent males to fill this office, as one reads here and there in the epistles of St. Paul that a bishop must be pious, able to teach, and the husband of one wife —and in I Corinthians 14 [:34] he says, “The women should keep silence in the churches.” In summary, it must be a competent and chosen man. Children, women, and other persons are not qualified for this office, even though they are able to hear God’s word, to receive baptism, the sacrament, absolution, and are also true, holy Christians, as St. Peter says [I Pet. 3:7]. Even nature and God’s creation makes this distinction, implying that women (much less children or fools) cannot and shall not occupy positions of sovereignty, as experience also suggests and as Moses says in Genesis 3 [:16], “You shall be subject to man.” The gospel, however, does not abrogate this natural law, but confirms it as the ordinance and creation of God.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.154-155)

Picture: Cross and Lilies

#21 Fifth, the Church Is Recognized by Her Ministers

Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul states in Ephesians 4 [:8], “He received gifts among men …”—his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some teachers and governors, etc. The people as a whole cannot do these things, but must entrust or have them entrusted to one person. Otherwise, what would happen if everyone wanted to speak or administer, and no one wanted to give way to the other? It must be entrusted to one person, and he alone should be allowed to preach, to baptize, to absolve, and to administer the sacraments. The others should be content with this arrangement and agree to it. Wherever you see this done, be assured that God’s people, the holy Christian people, are present.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.154)

Picture: Baptismal font stained glass

#20 The Office of the Keys Do Not Belong to the Pope

You must pay no heed here to the two keys of the pope, which he converted into two skeleton keys to the treasure chests and crowns of all kings. If he does not want to bind or reprove sin, whether it be publicly or privately (as he really does not), let it be reproved and bound in your parish. If he will not loose, or forgive it, let it be loosed and forgiven in your parish, for his retaining or binding, his remitting or releasing, makes you neither holy nor unholy, since he can only have skeleton keys, not the true keys. The keys belong not to the pope (as he lies) but to the church, that is, to God’s people, or to the holy Christian people throughout the entire world, or wherever there are Christians. They cannot all be in Rome, unless it be that the whole world is there first—which will not happen in a long time. The keys are the pope’s as little as baptism, the sacrament, and the word of God are, for they belong to the people of Christ and are called “the church’s keys” not “the pope’s keys.” (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.153-154)

Picture: Office of the Keys

#19 Fourth, the Church Is Recognized by the Office of the Keys

Fourth, God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly.  That is, as Christ decrees in Matthew 18 [:15–20], if a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways, he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the office of the keys. Now the use of the keys is twofold, public and private. There are some people with consciences so tender and despairing that even if they have not been publicly condemned, they cannot find comfort until they have been individually absolved by the pastor. On the other hand, there are also some who are so obdurate that they neither recant in their heart and want their sins forgiven individually by the pastor, nor desist from their sins. Therefore the keys must be used differently, publicly and privately. Now where you see sins forgiven or reproved in some persons, be it publicly or privately, you may know that God’s people are there. If God’s people are not there, the keys are not there either; and if the keys are not present for Christ, God’s people are not present. Christ bequeathed them as a public sign and a holy possession, whereby the Holy Spirit again sanctifies the fallen sinners redeemed by Christ’s death, and whereby the Christians confess that they are a holy people in this world under Christ. And those who refuse to be converted or sanctified again shall be cast out from this holy people, that is, bound and excluded by means of the keys, as happened to the unrepentant Antinomians.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.153)

Picture:  Beehive, A symbol of the unity of the communion of saints.

21.5 – Teaching for Lenten Preparation

“…on this day(Ash Wednesday) the Church begins a holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection.”  The season of Lent is a 40-day season in which God’s baptized people dwell confidently upon God’s Word giving attention “to the holy sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  As we study God’s Word, we examine ourselves so that with repentant hearts we may practice self-denial and put away any obstacles to God’s grace that His kingdom may come.

All of this repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is done with a specific goal in mind.  “…that we may come to Easter with glad hearts and keep the feast in sincerity and truth.”  That feast for us is the Lord’s Supper at the break of day on Easter morning.  On that sacred {Saturday} night we passover from sin and death to holiness and new life in the Resurrection of Our Lord.

Lent is nothing new to us.  Our entire Christian life is a daily drowning of the old man in our baptism that through Christ’s resurrection, we may live a new life and when our last day comes pass over from death to eternal life.

Our own Catechism acknowledges, “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training” (Sacrament of the Altar).  Though we must constantly stress that it is faith alone which makes a person worthy, we should not disdain or at least not ignore the bodily preparation or discipline.

If you do choose to fast during Lent, understand that Christians do not fast to be like Jesus or to undergo some pseudo-religious suffering or discomfort.  Christians don’t fast to give up something sinful, just so they can pick it up again later.

FASTING IS DONE AS AN AID TOWARD REMEMBERING AND MEDITATING ON OUR LORD’S PASSION, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.    We fast on Friday as a reminder that this is the day that our crucified Savior died.  We refrain from red meat as a reminder of his flesh that hung on the cross.      Prayer:  “Blessed Savior, on this day(at this hour) You hung upon the cross, stretching out Your loving arms.  Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to You and be saved;  for Your mercy’s sake.  Amen”(Hymnal Supplement, p.30).

Collect for Lent

Merciful and everlasting God, who has not spared Your only Son, but delivered Him up for us all that He might bear our sins upon the cross, grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him that we may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Picture:

#18 Third, the Church Is Recognized by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar

Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution. This too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession left behind by Christ by which his people are sanctified so that they also exercise themselves in faith and openly confess that they are Christian, just as they do with the word and with baptism. And here too you need not be disturbed if the pope does not say mass for you, does not consecrate, anoint, or vest you with a chasuble. Indeed, you may, like a patient in bed, receive this sacrament without wearing any garb, except that
outward decency obliges you to be properly covered. Moreover, you need not ask whether you have a tonsure or are anointed. In addition, the question of whether you are male or female, young or old, need not be argued—just as little as it matters in baptism and the preached word. It is enough that you are consecrated and anointed with the sublime and holy chrism of God, with the word of God, with baptism, and also this sacrament; then you are anointed highly and gloriously enough and sufficiently vested with priestly garments.

Moreover, don’t be led astray by the question of whether the man who administers the sacrament is holy, or whether or not he has two wives.  The sacrament belongs to him who receives it, not to him who administers it, unless he also receives it. In that case he is one of those who receives it, and thus it is also given to him. Wherever you see this sacrament properly administered, there you may be assured of the presence of God’s people. For, as was said above of the word, wherever God’s word is, there the church must be; likewise, wherever baptism and the sacrament are, God’s people must be, and vice versa. No others have, give, practice, use, and confess these holy possessions save God’s people alone, even though some false and unbelieving Christians are secretly among them. They, however, do not profane the people of God because they are not known; the church, or God’s people, does not tolerate known sinners in its midst, but reproves them and also makes them holy. Or, if they refuse, it casts them out from the sanctuary by means of the ban and regards them as heathen, Matthew 18 [:17].  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.152-153)

Picture:  The left pane of the Good Shepherd window includes the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.  I-III. Love God, IV-X Love Neighbor

#17 Second, the Church Is Recognized by the Holy Sacrament of Baptism

Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance. That too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession by which God’s people are sanctified. It is the holy bath of regeneration through the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5], in which we bathe and with which we are washed of sin and death by the Holy Spirit, as in the innocent holy blood of the Lamb of God. Wherever you see this sign you may know that the church, or the holy Christian people, must surely be present, even if the pope does not baptize you or even if you know nothing of his holiness and power—just as the little children know nothing of it, although when they are grown, they are, sad to say, estranged from their baptism, as St. Peter laments in II Peter 2 [:18], “They entice with licentious passions of the flesh men who have barely escaped from those who live in error,” etc. Indeed, you should not even pay attention to who baptizes, for baptism does not belong to the baptizer, nor is it given to him, but it belongs to the baptized. It was ordained for him by God, and given to him by God, just as the word of God is not the preacher’s (except in so far as he too hears and believes it) but belongs to the disciple who hears and believes it; to him is it given.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.151)

Picture:  The right pane of the Good Shepherd window includes a picture of the Holy Bible (German: Heilige Schrift.)