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.
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]
In 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.
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.