Theological Cataracts and Cholesterol

This is an article written by Pastor Karl Weber, author of our posts on Reliability of Scripture, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If you have written an article that you think might be useful to a wider audience, please submit it to us.

 

In our society many are plagued with cataracts and cholesterol. If not dealt with serious harm can occur to the eye and the pulmonary system and death may be the result. This lead me to think in theological terms as we pilgrimage through Lent to Good Friday, and the miracle of the resurrection.

It is finished.When Jesus said, “it is finished,” (Jn 19:30) it was not the whispered sound of a beaten man. It was the triumphant cry of a victorious man—the God Man, Christ Jesus. It was then that Jesus finished the work of forgiving our sins. What Jesus came to do he completed—he, and he alone won for us the full forgiveness of all our sins. Our Lutheran Confessions confess this clearly and beautifully:

It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5. [endnote 1]

Tragically there are churches which do not see and believe the work Christ won on the cross for us is received as a free gift with no strings attached. Cataracts of pride and works’ righteousness cloud the gospel proclamation which Jesus uttered. In particular I am thinking of the Roman Catholic Church. Rome has not changed her theological teaching since she formulated the Articles of Trent (1545-1563) which define the Roman Church. Some dismiss the teaching of Trent since they argue, it was some 450 years ago. So, to by-pass such thinking I will focus on the Catholic Catechism released in 1993. Reading from the preface: “The Catechism … is offered to every individual… who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.” [endnote 2]

CataractIn Rome’s theology cataracts obscure the work of Christ. Rome understands Jesus to say in Jn 19:30; “I have finished my part, now you need to do your part to earn salvation.” See this in the following:

No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.[endnote 3]

In Roman theology cataracts obscure the free gift of salvation which Jesus won for us on the cross. The corrective eye surgery is to focus on Christ’s work for us and to use only the Scriptures and not reason and experience for our theological understanding.

That being said there is a spiritual cholesterol within Christendom as well. This cholesterol clogs the Reformed understanding of the Means of Grace which leads them to post- pone their salutary use and deny what Scripture plainly teaches; they forgive sins. Error is always multifaceted while truth is singularly one. Without looking at all the Sacraments I will focus on the cholesterol the Reformed develop with regards to Baptism.

St. Peter was led by the Holy Spirit to pen: “… and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21).

Symbolism exits between the water of Noah’s flood and the water of Baptism. Notice the text clearly says, Baptism… saves you. Now, notice the life-impeding cholesterol in the Reformed NIV Study Bible, printed by Zondervan, found in their footnote on 1 Peter 3:21:

3:21 water symbolizes baptism. There is a double figure here. The flood symbolizes baptism, and baptism symbolizes salvation.[endnote 4]

The footnote go on but no more is necessary to understand what they teach. What a tragedy to not understand English grammar 101. Of course more is at work in Reformed theology than an aberrant understanding of English grammar. To claim; “baptism … saves you,” means, “baptism symbolizes salvation,” is to rob people of the comfort of Christ’s mercy. Within this Reformed study note is a patent falsification of what God’s Word teaches for our salvation. The cholesterol of false teaching robs people from understanding and receiving the life and salvation given in Holy Baptism.

Study these fine words from the recently released LCMS’s, The Lutheran Study Bible:

3:21 Baptism … now saves you. The flood is a figure of Baptism. In each case, water saves. The world was cleansed when Noah and his family were lifted up by the flood. Baptism cleanses and raises us to new life. By grace, Baptism is a means of salvation through which the Holy Spirit produces faith (cf Eph 5:25-27). Luther: “Now baptism is by far a greater flood than was that of Noah. … Baptism drowns all sorts of men throughout the world, from the birth of Christ even till the day of judgment. …. [Noah’s flood] was a flood of wrath, this is a flood of grace” (AE 35:32).[endnote 5]

Theological cataracts are removed when we focus on Christ’s work for us, and not on ourselves. Jesus loves us so much that out of great mercy he did not leave even the smallest responsibility for our salvation up to us. If Jesus had, which he certainly did not, it would only be one more think I would mess up in my life. How about with you?

Lipitor and other drugs remove or minimize the potential for cholesterol build up in the human distribution system of life-giving blood. Christ Jesus delivers his shed blood for us through the arteries of Word and sacrament. May reason and logic bow before the omnipotent Word which says; baptism now saves.

We as LCMS Lutherans are heirs of a rich theological heritage bequeathed to us by faithful confessors in the past. In humility may we continually return to the Scriptures as they are rightly taught in the Lutheran Confessions so we continue to receive the free uninterrupted distribution of Christ’s gifts so we live.

 

Endnotes

1 Augsburg Confession, IV, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans. and ed. Theodore Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959), 30:1-3.

2 Catechism of the Catholic Church, (New York: Image, Doubleday, 1995), p. 5, 6.

3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, (New York: Image, Doubleday, 1995), p. 545, # 2027.

4 Kenneth Barker, gen., ed., The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 1893.

5 Edward Engelbrecht, gen., ed., The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 2155.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Theological Cataracts and Cholesterol — 5 Comments

  1. Interesting comparison.
    Having had cataracts surgically removed, I can say that vision is much improved.

    Re cholesterol: what you describe is the party line.
    Lately though, people have been wondering about the rise in Alzheimer’s which (they say) parallels the rise in statin prescriptions. Their argument is that the brain needs a certain amount of fat to function well and that memory loss may be related to a shortage of cholesterol due to use of statins. They even claim it’s reversible if the patient stops taking them. It will take more information to settle this.

    Perhaps there’s a better analogy for the Reformed view of the Sacraments?

  2. St. Peter was led by the Holy Spirit to pen: “… and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21).

    Perhaps you can help with two sets of questions:

    1. I am a lifelong Lutheran, and I have never understood why Lutherans put a period where the sentence in 1 Peter actually continues in Scripture. Is the rest of the passage is a “hard saying” in Lutheran theology, so we avoid going there? I understand that the Greek doesn’t have punctuation, but for the sake of clarity in English, and as a matter of proper editing, isn’t an ellipsis (…) required?

    2. Why is verse 21 not interpreted so that the “appeal to God for a good conscience” relates directly to the importance of “having a good conscience” in the face of slander back in verse 16? Looking at the context, Peter is talking about bearing up under slander. We, however, interpret verse 21 as being saved from the righteous judgment of God. Why is the verse not, rather, about being saved from the unrighteous judgment of men?

    A paraphrase, if you will, that would interpret the passage as pertaining to persecution: “Do not despair. Though falsely accused, you are not alone. Your very baptism now saves you from succumbing to the reviling of wicked men. For in your baptism you appealed to a good and gracious God for a clean conscience, and he will not fail you. The resurrected Christ, whose name you now carry, has heavenly powers at his disposal to defend and uphold you. Indeed, this is your sure hope which, like the flood waters at the time of Noah, lifts you above and away from this false and destructive generation.”

    (I stand as a mental midget among theological giants here. Thank you for your patience with my questions.)

  3. Carl # 2:
    You ask a good question and certainly are on to something. First, I would suggest that v. 16 speaks of sanctification which flows out of the justified life which is given in Baptism. Vs. 16 speaks of sanctification while vs. 18ff transitions to the source of our sanctification, i.e., our justification.

    “… an appeal to God for a good conscience…” Stoeckhardt wrote, “… Baptism is rather an inward cleansing of man, a cleansing, or washing, of the conscience of sin. In other words, it procures a good conscience before God for him who has himself baptized.” [Pieper II, p. 275, n. 32.] When we sin our conscience becomes scared, frightened at looming punishment. Baptism forgives sin and thereby gives our conscience a pledge — appeals to God — that we are indeed forgiven and have nothing to fear before God.

    I hope this helps.

  4. @Carl H #2
    “For in your baptism you appealed to a good and gracious God for a clean conscience.

    @Rev. Karl Weber #3
    “Baptism forgives sin and thereby gives our conscience a pledge — appeals to God — that we are indeed forgiven and have nothing to fear before God.”

    Whenever I wrestle with a theological question, I stand on the solid ground of Christ crucified for us, and try to understand all of God’s Word from there. In the first sentence (from Carl with a “C”), the one doing the acting is the one who was baptized. In the second (from Karl with a “K”) the Actor is God, since He is the One who did the inward cleansing in baptism, making us part of the Body of Christ.

    “C” points our trust to ourselves (when we did the appealing); “K” points our trust to God (when He did the saving). We merely apply water with the Word; God washes the soul clean, sending us His Holy Spirit, who enables us to trust the Word applied to us in baptism. It is God who now saves us through baptism, not we ourselves. (Thank God!)

  5. The analogies of cataracts and cholesterol were helpful in understanding grace alone. I appreciate your reminder that we must “see and believe the work Christ won on the cross for us is received as a free gift with no strings attached.”

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