Lutheran Renewal Conference @ Living Grace, Toowoomba (20-22 November 2015)

Keynote Address by Dr Edgar Mayer

 

 

Open for Dialogue and Ready for Reform

 

This keynote address has a twofold aim. Firstly, today we issue another invitation to engage in an open dialogue on renewal topics. In the past, Lutheran Renewal published a newsletter which was distributed nationally and contained wide-ranging theological reflections on the Holy Spirit, worship and mission. There was engagement by our presidents and theological commission and Dr Pfitzner, at the time lecturer at Luther Seminary in Adelaide, published the book “Led by the Spirit” (1976) which, according to its back cover, sought to “promote study and discussion on genuine spiritual renewal in the church”.

In our modern discussions on the ordination of women, we have struggled with dialogue but, in the last few years, there has been a change. Recently, we had a website with the title “Ordination – We’re listening” where everyone was invited to join the conversation. Like never before and with deliberate intent, the LCA practiced an open dialogue and the published principles of dialogue stated that, with God giving us unique perspectives, we can listen and speak to each other trusting God for a good outcome. Maybe the same is possible for a fresh dialogue on the Holy Spirit and renewal.

Secondly, making a contribution to an open dialogue, this address is submitting a theological assessment and reform agenda for the LCA, the Lutheran Church of Australia, which Lutheran Renewal, as a national movement, wants to pursue and implement (certainly in our areas of influence). Bill Johnson, the leader of another movement, writes:

 

“Through 2,000 years … no generation has ever passed its revival to the next generation effectively. No generation has raised up the next to carry the momentum of a great outpouring of the Spirit, and then has had them take it to the next level … The spiritual territory that was once occupied becomes unoccupied, and the enemy comes to repossess familiar turf” (Bill Johnson: The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2005, p155-156).

 

“Every generation of revivalists has been fatherless as it pertains to the move of the Spirit. Every generation has had to learn from scratch how to recognize the Presence, how to move with Him, how to pay a price” (Ibid, p161).

 

Lutheran Renewal had so much life and maturity in the past and existed for decades (1970s-1990s) but when I needed someone to teach me and guide me in Holy Spirit ministry, Lutheran Renewal had disappeared and I felt like a spiritual orphan (almost alone with my questions among the Lutherans I knew), pioneering what I should have inherited from my spiritual fathers. I am fifty years old and I will need a successor soon. We need to have a rightful place in the LCA and a commitment to our values.

In order to achieve the twofold aim, this keynote address will sketch the range of theological discussions which we need to have as a church denomination. Some years ago, when I was first reading Charles Finney’s autobiography, I came across a story which confronted me because it revealed flawed theological thinking on my part and what I had come to consider as good LCA teaching:

 


 

“I have spoken of the conviction of Esq. Wright, in whose office I studied law. I have also said that when I was converted it was up in a grove where I went to pray. Very soon after my conversion several other cases of conversion occurred that were reported to have taken place under similar circumstances; that is, persons went up into the grove to pray, and there made their peace with God. When Esq. Wright heard them tell their experience one after the other in our meetings, he thought that he had a parlour to pray in; and that he was not going up into the woods, and have the same story to tell that had been so often told. To this, it appeared, he strongly committed himself. Although this was a thing entirely immaterial in itself, yet it was a point on which his pride had become committed, and therefore he could not get into the kingdom of God.

I have found in my ministerial experience a great many cases of this kind, where upon some question, perhaps immaterial in itself, a sinner’s pride of heart would commit him. In all such cases the dispute must be yielded, or the sinner never will get into the kingdom of God. I have known persons to remain for weeks in great tribulation of mind, pressed by the Spirit, but they could make no progress till the point upon which they were committed was yielded. Mr. Wright’s was the first case of the kind that had ever come to my notice. After he was converted, he said that the question had frequently come up when he was in prayer, and that he had been made to see that it was pride that made him take that stand, and that kept him out of the kingdom of God. But still he was not willing to admit this, even to himself. He tried in every way to make himself believe, and to make God believe, that he was not proud. One night he said he prayed all night in his parlour that God would have mercy on him, but in the morning he felt more distressed than ever. He finally became enraged that God did not hear his prayer, and was tempted to kill himself. He was so tempted to use his penknife for that purpose, that he actually threw it as far as he could that it might be lost, so that this temptation should not prevail. One night, he said, on returning from meeting he was so pressed with a sense of his pride, and with the fact that it prevented his going up into the woods to pray, that he was determined to make himself believe, and make God believe, that he was not proud; and he sought around for a mud puddle in which to kneel down, that he might demonstrate that it was not pride which kept him from going into the woods. Thus he continued to struggle for several weeks.

But one afternoon I was sitting in our office, and a couple of the elders of the church were with me, when the young man that I met at the shoemaker’s shop as a Universalist, and who was that day converted, came hastily into the office, and exclaimed as he came, “Esq. Wright is converted!” and proceeded to say: “I went up into the woods to pray, and heard someone over in the valley shouting very loud. I went over to the brow of the hill where I could look down, and I saw Esq. Wright pacing to and fro, and singing as loud as he could sing; and every few moments he would stop and clap his hands with his full strength and shout, ‘I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!’ Then he would march and sing again, and then stop, and shout, and clap his hands.” While the young man was telling us this, behold Esq. Wright appeared in sight, coming over the hill. As he came down to the foot of the hill, we observed that he met Father Tucker, as we all called him, an aged Methodist brother. He rushed up to him, and took him right up in his arms. After setting him down and conversing a moment, he came rapidly toward the office. The moment that he came in, we observed that he was in a profuse perspiration, he was a heavy man—and he cried out, “God, I’ve got it! God, I’ve got it!” slapped his hands with all his might, and fell upon his knees and began to give thanks to God. He then gave us an account of what had been passing in his mind, and why he had not obtained a hope before. He said as soon as he gave up that point and went into the woods, his mind was relieved; and when he knelt down to pray the Spirit of God came upon him with such power as to fill him with such unspeakable joy, that it resulted in the scene which the young man witnessed. Of course from that time Esq. Wright took a decided stand for God” (Garth M. Rosell and Richard A.G. Dupuis, eds., Charles Finney: Original Memoirs of Charles G. Finney, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989, p25-27).

 

 


 

Saving Faith

 

When I first read the story above, I realized that I would have given Mr Wright wrong advice which would have left him in his sin and separated from God. If he had come to me, an LCA pastor, in his struggles to find peace with God, I would have examined his faith and concluded that he had faith. According to my background, everything seemed to be in order. Mr Wright recognized his need for Jesus and prayed with faith for Jesus to forgive him. Further, if he had complained to me about feeling distressed and unconverted emotions, I would have counselled him to ignore the evidence of his emotions and cling to the faith which he obviously had. I would have said to him that we are justified by faith, not emotions or experiences.

Yet my advice would have been lacking because Mr Wright was right in feeling distressed because God was retaining his sins and did not forgive him. Throughout church history, pastors and church members have frequently lost their understanding of the true nature of saving faith. Finney testifies to this fact and so does Martin Luther and John Wesley and others. I give you quotes from two sources, further insight from Charles Finney and our Lutheran Confessions:

 

“I find many people trying to grasp with their intellect, and settle as theory, questions of pure experience. They are puzzling themselves by trying to comprehend with the mind what is to be received as a conscious experience through faith” (Charles Finney: Power from God, New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1996, p48-49).

“Students are pressed almost beyond endurance with study and developing the intellect, while scarcely an hour in a day is given to instruction in Christian experience … But religion is an experience. It is a consciousness. Personal fellowship with God is the secret of the whole of it” (Ibid, 51).

“I have met with this erroneous notion of the nature of Christian faith often since I was first licensed to preach. Especially in my early ministry I found that great stress was laid on believing ‘the articles of faith,’ and it was held that faith consisted in believing with an unwavering conviction the doctrines about Christ. Hence, an acceptance of the doctrines, the doctrines, the doctrines of the Gospel was very much insisted on as constituting faith. But I had been brought to accept these doctrines intellectually and firmly before I was converted. Therefore, when I was told to believe, I replied that I did believe – and no argument or assertion could convince me that I did not believe the Gospel. And up to the very moment of my conversion I was not and could not be convinced of my error.

At the moment of my conversion, or when I first exercised faith, I saw my ruinous error. I found that faith consisted not in an intellectual conviction that the things affirmed in the Bible about Christ are true, but in the heart’s trust in the person of Christ. I learned that God’s testimony concerning Christ was designed to lead me to trust Christ, to confide in His person as my Saviour, and that to stop short in merely believing about Christ was a fatal mistake that inevitably left me in my sins” (Ibid, 140).

“From personal conversation with hundreds—and I may say thousands of Christian people, I have been struck [that even today people have] stopped short in the Scriptures….They read and perhaps search the Scriptures to learn their duty and to learn about Christ. They intellectually believe all that they understand the Scriptures to say about Him. But when Christ is thus commended to their confidence, they do not by an act of personal commitment to Him so join their souls to Him as to receive from Him the influx of His life and light and love. They do not by a simple act of personal loving trust in His person receive the current of His divine life and power into their own souls. They do not thus take hold of His strength and interlock their being with His. In other words, they do not truly believe. Hence, they are not saved” (Ibid, 143,145).

 

 “From this it is clear that James is not against us when he distinguishes between dead and living faith and condemns the idle and smug minds who dream they have faith but do not … We have already shown often enough what we mean by faith. We are not talking about idle knowledge, such as even demons have, but about a faith that resists the terrors of conscience and encourages and consoles terrified hearts. Such a faith is not an easy thing, as our opponents imagine; nor is it a human power, but a divine power that makes us alive and enables us to overcome death and the devil” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV – Justification, paragraphs 248-250).

 

“The faith that justifies, however, is no mere historical knowledge, but the firm acceptance of God’s offer of promising forgiveness of sins and justification. To avoid the impression that it is merely knowledge, we add that to have faith means to want and to accept the promised offer of forgiveness of sins and justification” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV – Justification, paragraph 48).

 

“When our opponents talk about faith … they do not mean justifying but the general faith which believes that God exists, that punishments hang over the wicked, etc. Beyond such ‘faith’ we require everyone to believe that his sins are forgiven him. We are contending for this personal faith … This faith follows on our terrors, overcoming them and restoring peace to the conscience. To this faith we attribute justification and regeneration, for it frees us from our terrors and brings forth peace, joy, and a new life in the heart” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XII – Penitence, paragraph 60).

 

As an LCA pastor, I would have given wrong advice to Mr Wright. I mistook saving faith for knowledge about Jesus and then I made further mistakes. Maybe I was on my own in having my thinking wrong but, over the years, I have met numerous graduates from Lutheran schools and fringe church members who neither prayed, read the Scriptures nor submitted their lives to Jesus but confidently proclaimed: “I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins.” Did they have saving faith? What would you say?

 

 

Repentance

 

I would also have struggled with the depth of repentance that God required from Mr Wright for his salvation. My spiritual formation occurred in the LCA and, at seminary and in our churches, I have heard many sermons on God’s grace and the free gift of salvation and I learned consistently that nothing is required of us to be saved. Especially at the Seminary, I learned to share the unease of our denomination about altar calls where unbelievers are asked to come forward for prayer and salvation. According to our understanding, this was already asking too much of the person, somehow contradicting salvation as a free gift, but – in Finney’s story – God asked Mr Wright to go into the woods and there to pray and be saved.

When our congregation first began to rediscover the teaching on discipleship, we faced solid LCA opposition. Colleagues published an anonymous paper which accused me of teaching that the blessings of God follow Christian obedience. No doubt, I am guilty as charged but the accusation itself is revealing of the state of our denomination. What is the connection between God’s blessings and obedience – salvation and repentance?

My hunch is that some of our problems stem from misreading the Lutheran doctrine that we are always “saints” and “sinners” at the same time, meaning that we are always forgiven children of God but at the same time not completely free of sin. We have taken this truth to mean that God deals with sin by forgiving us but, in the practice of daily living, we have not much of a chance to be victorious over sin. Our standard worship order has also not been helpful in this regard because it has ingrained in us that we are “poor, miserable [or helpless]” sinners. But what happens if we believe ourselves to be miserable and helpless in our struggle against sin? We can easily give up and accommodate ourselves to defeat. However, God promised that “sin shall not be your master” (Romans 6:14) and that “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).

Today we hold Dietrich Bonhoeffer in high esteem as a martyr of the church but he was a Lutheran and only last century pleaded desperately with his fellow Lutherans to become serious again about repentance and to recognize the importance of repentance for the enjoyment of grace. Maybe his words are not yet dated and also speak to us:

 

“Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners ‘even in the best life’ as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin …

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Discipleship, London: SCM Press 1959, p35-36).

 

See also a quote from our Lutheran Confessions (Formula of Concord – Righteousness III, 22): “When we teach that through the Holy Spirit’s work we are reborn and justified we do not mean that after regeneration no unrighteousness in essence and life adheres to those who have been justified and regenerated, but we hold that Christ with his perfect obedience covers all our sins which throughout this life still inhere in our nature … Nor, on the other hand, does this mean that we may or should follow in the ways of sin, abide and continue therein without repentance, conversion and improvement … there is given the Holy Spirit, who renews and sanctifies them and creates within them love toward God and their fellowman ...”

 

 

Christian Experience

 

Finney’s conversion story of Mr Wright confronted me with my inadequate understanding of saving faith and the need for repentance but the greatest problem for me was Mr Wright’s experience of God and the importance of his experience for assessing his spiritual state. He was only saved when he recognized in his emotions that he was being saved. He was only saved when God exchanged his distress for unspeakable joy. This was new for me. No one ever taught me about experiencing God and, throughout the years, I faced much Lutheran resistance to the whole concept of experiencing God. For instance, in my first book (“Surprised by the Holy Spirit”) I wrote:

 

“I remember that in 2007 our congregation studied a resource with the title ‘Experiencing God. Knowing and Doing the Will of God’. One Sunday, an older and respected church member stood up in the worship service and said, ‘When we began the course, I felt like throwing the manual across the aisle. Don’t you know, Pastor, that for us Lutherans the words “experience” and “obedience” are offensive?’ He only expressed what we all felt. Around the same time, a colleague publicly thanked our president for allowing me to address Christian experience at the Lutheran Pastors’ Conference. He had been waiting for this kind of debate for thirty years” (Edgar Mayer: Surprised by the Holy Spirit, Citta Sant’ Angelo: Evangelist Media 2012, p13).

 

Then, in my second book (“Surprised by Miracles”), I wrote:

 

“… not all Christians are comfortable with the notion that we can experience God. At least in our denomination, the Lutheran Church of Australia, we remain suspicious of those who claim to experience God. Some of us label and dismiss them as ‘enthusiasts,’ Schwaermer (a German word for ‘over-the-top enthusiasts’), ‘pietists’ and ‘theologians of glory’ (a Lutheran put-down for those who do not understand the cross).

The Bible is not shy in talking about spiritual power (see Acts 1:8; Rom. 15:13). We are shy because whatever is powerful can be experienced and we wonder, ‘Where are these powerful experiences among us?’ The apostle Paul may have operated in demonstrations of the Spirit’s power, signs, wonders, and miracles (and experienced the love, joy, and peace of the Lord) but, for us, these phenomena are difficult, confronting, and not easily accepted, even with biblical support (Edgar Mayer: Surprised by Miracles, San Giovanni Teatino: Evangelista Media 2015, p25).

 

It is worth noting that according to Regin Prenter, former chairman of the Commission of Theology of the Lutheran World Federation, “wherever in theology the Holy Spirit is taken seriously into account, we are not dealing with the theology of glory but with the theology of the cross” (Regin Prenter: Spiritus Creator, trans. John M. Jensen, Philadelphia: Fortress 1953, p111). As Lutherans understand it, a false “theology of glory” exalts human glory and pride, human self-effort and achievement, but there is also a rightful theology of glory which exalts the glory of God and praises the experiences of his goodness through the Holy Spirit:

 

“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts” (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).

 

I like what Dr John Kleinig, Emeritus Lecturer of Australian Lutheran College, has to say on active faith and Christian experience:

 

“Faith is meant to be used, and grows as it is used. We are not called to live as practical atheists, people who, theoretically, believe in God, and yet act as if God has nothing to do with their daily lives; we are called to rely on God’s provisions for us at all times and in all places. If we have faith, we do not just theoretically accept a religious ideology, but we rely on Christ practically in day-to-day living.

Exercising our faith involves a constant interplay between the Word of God and our experience of life, what God has to say to us each day and what happens to us each day. These two belong together; they interpret each other. God’s Word interprets our experience. Our experience of life helps us to understand what He says and so confirms our faith in His Word” (John Kleinig: Grace upon Grace, St Louis: Concordia Publishing House 2008, p45).

 

Finally, our Lutheran Confessions are quite clear that unless God is experienced, there can be no saving faith and salvation:

 

“But, although this doctrine [justification by faith] is despised by the inexperienced, nevertheless God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it brings the greatest consolation, because consciences cannot be pacified through any works, but only by faith, when they are sure that, for Christ’s sake, they have a gracious God. Paul teaches [Rom. 5:1]: ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.’ This whole doctrine is to be referred to that conflict of the terrified conscience; neither can it be understood apart from that conflict. Therefore inexperienced and profane men judge ill concerning this matter, who dream that Christian righteousness is nothing but the civil righteousness of natural reason (Augsburg Confession, Article XX – Of Good Works, paragraph 15).

 

“For it is once for all true that in genuine conversion a change, new emotion [renewal] and movement in understanding, will and heart must occur, namely, that the heart perceive sin, dread God’s wrath, turn itself from sin, perceive and accept the promise of grace in Christ, have good spiritual thoughts, a Christian purpose and diligence, and strive against the flesh. For where none of these occurs or is present there is also no true conversion” (The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article II – Free Will, paragraph 70).

 

Baptism

 

Saving faith, repentance and experiences of God come through the Holy Spirit and Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit. He even promised that he would drench and baptize us with the Holy Spirit. When does this happen? I, with the overwhelming majority in the LCA, used to believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit happens automatically at our baptism with water because the water baptism includes the Spirit baptism, so I thought. Accordingly, I assumed that I had already received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in my water baptism. I never dreamt of questioning this understanding, even though I felt spiritually dry and lacked a sense of God’s presence in my life, and my reasoning was along familiar lines, as you can still find on the LCA homepage. I quote:

 

“We reject the charismatic teaching that water baptism is incomplete, that it only bestows salvation, and that power to live a victorious life is only received by a second post-baptismal blessing, the baptism in the Spirit. The Spirit is inseparably connected with the water (John 3:5) and God’s Spirit is given whole and complete and without limit. You can never have only a part of the Spirit (John 3:34)” (http://www.lca.org.au/word-and-sacrament.html, accessed August 2015).

 

However, the truth was that I had not been baptized with the Holy Spirit at my water baptism. My Spirit baptism came later in life and I now recognize the difference between my Christian life before and after the Spirit baptism. Maybe I should not argue the point and escape censure by simply encouraging Lutherans not to quench the Holy Spirit but I do not want to tell fellow Lutherans that they already possess the fullness of the Spirit when this is not always the case. This would discourage their search for more of God. Furthermore, integrity demands that I am honest in my understanding of the Bible.

If you take a second look at the teaching on the LCA homepage, you will quite easily recognize that it is flawed. The line of argument sounds logical but is not biblical. Yes, we receive the person of the Holy Spirit at our water baptism but the presence of the person does not automatically guarantee full access to his power. For instance, when the Holy Spirit comes to us, he does not immediately give us all the spiritual gifts which he can give. Even baptized Christians are asked to keep desiring greater spiritual gifts. Furthermore, according to the Bible, you can have the Holy Spirit but nevertheless, by disobedience, quench his power in your life. The presence of the person of the Holy Spirit does not automatically mean that all of his power is available to you.

Surprisingly, the biblical case for seeing the Spirit baptism as being distinct from the water baptism is strong and – importantly – does not question anything that our Lutheran Confessions say about water baptism and its grace for salvation. I will give you an outline of the biblical teaching:

 

Water Baptism and Being Baptized with the Spirit

(With Excerpts from the Book “Surprised by the Holy Spirit”)

 

According to the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, Water Baptism is a sacrament and means of grace:

 

When another pastor baptized me with water, it was done, according to Jesus’ command, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). I have no doubt that in this baptism I was born of the Spirit (see John 3:5), became a new creation (see 2 Cor. 5:17), was raised to live a new life (see Rom. 6:4), and became a child of God (Gal. 3:26-27). Thus established in my baptism; I grew up confessing my faith and I had the Spirit in me because “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). I did not need more of the Spirit for salvation.

 

 

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit serves a different function from the Baptism with Water:

 

I realized that the experience of being baptized with the Spirit had nothing to do with salvation. It was a promise of power (see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8). After Jesus had ascended to heaven, the disciples were praising God and enjoying their salvation. At that time, they were not lacking in faith but they were waiting for the baptism with the Spirit to make them powerful in mission. They only started preaching after it happened.

Therefore, the function of the water baptism and the further gift of the Spirit are not one and the same. The immersion in water gives us salvation; and the immersion in the Spirit grants us power. There is no competition between the two.

 

 

At the beginning of the Christian life, there seems to be a threefold process of Repentance, Baptism with Water and Receiving the Holy Spirit (being baptized with the Holy Spirit):

 

In the Bible, there seems to be a threefold process for every new believer, and it became the focus of attention early on because, after the disciples had preached their very first sermon, the people responded and asked them, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). The disciples answered by encouraging the crowd to seize three distinct experiences that were available to everyone:

 

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

 

The disciples asked the people 1) to repent, and 2) to be baptized (with water) for the forgiveness of their sins, so that 3) they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (meaning here the experience of being baptized with the Spirit). These three experiences were part of the process of becoming a believer and they all belonged together in the whole package of starting out as a Christian.

On the same day that someone repented, he or she could be baptized and receive the Spirit. Yet, there could also be time delays between repentance, baptism, and receiving the Spirit. For instance, in response to an encounter with Jesus, Saul repented but was not baptized before three days (see Acts 9:3-19).

 

Even though Water Baptism and Spirit Baptism are meant to come together at the beginning of the Christian life, there is a distinction between them. They are not the same:

 

1)       Acts 8:14-17

 

It took some time for the new Christians in Samaria to receive the Spirit after their baptism:

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).

In the case of the Samaritans, the delay between baptism and receiving the Spirit was unusual; therefore it was immediately rectified—but confirms the basic distinction between water baptism and the gift of the Spirit in the process of becoming a Christian.

 

 

2)       Acts 10:44-48

 

At one time, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the preaching of Jesus before anyone could baptize them with water (see Acts 10:44-48). The Spirit baptism and the water baptism were not the same.

 

 

3)       Acts 19:5-6

 

Once again, the water baptism came with the promise of the Holy Spirit (the infilling with the Holy Spirit) but the Spirit baptism did not occur at the water baptism but – subsequently – through the laying on of hands:

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:5-6).

 

 

4)       Luke 3:21-22

 

Jesus’ own baptism with water and the Spirit foreshadowed our experiences as we follow Him. He was also baptized with water first (John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins foreshadowing the later baptism in Jesus’ name) and then was baptized with the Spirit. As other people repented and were baptized, Jesus Himself was also baptized, and when He emerged from the water, He was immediately immersed in the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit descended on him:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).

To this day, numerous people emerge from the water of their baptism with the same experience of being also immersed in the Holy Spirit. In fact, not disputing possible time delays, this is to be expected because these two experiences, with the experience of repentance, belong together at the beginning of the Christian life, but they are distinct from each other.

 

 

5)       Hebrews 6:1-2

 

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).

Matthew Henry: “It will be observed that the plural form is used here – ‘baptisms.’ There are two baptisms whose necessity is taught by the Christian religion – baptism by water, and by the Holy Spirit …”

 

In a conversation with a member of last year’s assessment panel, which was charged with investigating my theology, I queried the understanding of the assessment panel. The assessment panel member said: “But this is the Lutheran position.” I replied: “Says who? I have presented a case for what I am saying. Now you have to present a case for what you are saying. You cannot simply make a claim without providing evidence. I cannot find an official Lutheran teaching that pronounces the Spirit baptism and water baptism to be the same event.”

Dr Vic Pfitzner, Emeritus Lecturer of Australian Lutheran College, concedes in his book that if the episode in Acts 8 means what it says, then the argument that the Spirit baptism and water baptism are not one and the same event, the case that I have presented above, “seems incontestable. It is literal, and obvious in its direct simplicity” (Victor Pfitzner: Led by the Spirit, Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House 1976, p53). And is this not Lutheran to trust the simple meaning of the words? We certainly apply the principle of believing the plain meaning of Scripture when we argue that Jesus’ words “this is my body” (Matthew 26:26) and “this is my blood” (Matthew 26:28) point to his real presence in Holy Communion.

 

 

Church

 

I think that we are paying a price for having set up our denomination on the wrong foundations. We have built a denomination on unanimous thinking and uniform practice. In 1966, we adopted a Document of Union which states:

 

“… Nevertheless, according to the Word of God and our Lutheran Confessions, church fellowship, that is, mutual recognition as brethren, altar and pulpit fellowship and resultant cooperation in the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, presupposes unanimity in the pure doctrine of the Gospel and in the right administration of the Sacraments.

We reject all religious syncretism or unionism (see Theses of Agreement II, 2, and V, 14,15). Accordingly, we cannot acknowledge ourselves to be in fellowship with Churches with which we are not one in doctrine and practice” (Document of Union – Church Fellowship and Cooperation, 5-6).

 

[See also the Model Constitution for Congregation & Parishes, III, 2: “In common with the Church the Congregation regards unity in doctrine and its application in practice as the necessary prerequisite for church fellowship, and it rejects religious syncretism or unionism in all its forms.  It therefore adheres to the principle: Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran pastors only; Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants only.”]

 

We have been very proud. I am not sure whether everyone can see this but you have to take colossal pride in your own perfection before you would dream about making your current standard of theological thinking and practice the basis for lasting church unity, the foundation of a denomination and any further church fellowship.

In our founding statements, we warn that care must be taken “against sinful unionism” (Theses of Agreement II, 10) and by the term “sinful unionism” we denounce as sin any mixing and mingling with other Christians when it leads to an impression of unity in faith and fellowship which falls short of our perfection, our confident standards of unanimity and uniformity in the LCA denomination (Thesis of Agreement II, 2d). Therefore, in our relations with other Christians, we warn against the “failure to reject and denounce every opposing error” (Theses of Agreement II, 2b) and we counsel our church members not to attend worship services of other churches to “avoid promiscuous worship” (Theses of Agreement II, 4).

The clearest expression of what our church foundations mean in practice can be seen in our 1968 synod resolution regarding the Billy Graham campaign. In 1959, Billy Graham’s preaching of Jesus in Australia held up Jesus to our nation and the statistics are still staggering today, unsurpassed. The overall attendance of all the meetings was three million people (record attendance of 143,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground). The preaching of Jesus was front page news in all of the metropolitan newspapers. Every TV station covered his visit in prime time. But nine years later, delegates from LCA congregations across the country chose to keep their distance from what was happening and we backed up the pride of our church foundations with these words:

 

“We acknowledge that God has used Dr Graham – as far as we can judge – in many parts of the world … We cannot, however, recommend participation or cooperation of our pastors and congregations in Dr Graham’s campaign. Dr Graham does not proclaim the Gospel in its whole truth and purity. He expresses no adequate view of the Sacraments, particularly of Baptism. And he stresses man’s act of decision in such a way that the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion is not given its proper scope.

Participation in the preliminary prayer meetings and cooperation in the campaign can hardly avoid compromise of the truth or entanglement in unionism …” (Doctrinal Statements and Theological Opinions of the Lutheran Church of Australia, G10).

 

The price that we have been paying for our pride is high. We have missed out on so much. And we have done harm to ourselves. If the mindset of 1966 sets the standard of unanimity and uniformity for all times, then we are doomed to be frozen in time because any new thought – any new revelation – any correction – will immediately threaten to upset the very foundations of our existence, the unity that has been carefully constructed around the unanimous and uniform thinking and practice of 1966. If we have been perfect in 1966, we have to remain as we were.

Yet, Lutherans subscribe to the Latin phrase, “Ecclesia semper reformanda” (“the church must always be reforming”). The work of church reformation is an ongoing work. It is never finished because we are never perfect. And Luther spelled it out in the very first of his ninety-five theses which sparked the Reformation: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

According to the Bible, unanimity in theological thinking is a result of church unity and not a precondition for it:

 

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peaceuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:3-13).

 

I am not trying to be radical here. I absolutely believe the Bible and uphold our Lutheran Confessions but unanimous and uniform standards of teaching and practice as a precondition for denominational unity is insisting on too much.

My feeling is that much of our current culture can be explained from our flawed foundations. First and foremost, our current efforts on studying women’s ordination notwithstanding, we struggle with open and honest dialogue. Why? Because, so it appears, we are not quite ready to admit that we are not and may have never been a unanimous and uniform church body but, according to our own definitions, live in “sinful unionism” with ourselves. Even in 1966, there were disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture and other issues such as membership of the Lutheran World Federation. Changes have come, such as diversity in worship styles, but we have struggled.

 

 

Preaching

 

It is possible to preach sound sermons without power. When Jesus rose from the dead, he explained once again the purpose of his suffering and confronted the disciples with clear Bible teaching:

 

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47 NIV; see also Luke 24:25-27).

 

Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to the Bible truths about his person so they would recognize that everything about him was already foreshadowed and foretold in the Scriptures. With great care, Jesus prepared the disciples to help them write sound sermons. However, at the same time, Jesus cautioned them not to rush into preaching but wait in Jerusalem. Something else was needed besides knowledge. This is what Jesus said to them:

 

“… Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8; see also Luke 24:49).

 

For many years, in my personal practice, I had missed Jesus’ instructions to wait for the Holy Spirit. It never even occurred to me that I needed to pay attention to the Holy Spirit. I happily delivered my sermons always assuming that the Holy Spirit was present with power whenever the Word was preached with soundness. Later, I discovered the difference that prayer makes and the value of pursuing the fullness of the Holy Spirit. My preaching changed with a greater infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lutheran Confessions warn against practicing the Christian faith “ex opere operato” (“by the doing it is done”) which means trusting that there is a spiritual outcome whenever the religious exercise has been performed:

 

“… Nowhere can our opponents say how the Holy Spirit is given. They imagine that the Sacraments confer the Holy Spirit ex opere operato, without a good emotion in the recipient, as though indeed, the gift of the Holy Ghost were an idle matter.

But we are talking about a faith that is not an idle thought, but frees us from death, brings forth a new life in our hearts, and is a work of the Holy Spirit …” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV – Justification, paragraphs 63-64).

 

“Now the rest are … called ‘sacrifices of praise’: the preaching of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of the saints, yea, all the good works of the saints. These sacrifices are not satisfactions for those making them, or applicable on behalf of others, so as to merit for these, ex opere operato, the remission of sins or reconciliation. For they are made by those who have been reconciled. And such are the sacrifices of the New Testament, as Peter teaches, 1 Peter 2:5: ‘A holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.’

Spiritual sacrifices, however, are contrasted not only with those of cattle, but even with human works offered ex opere operato, because spiritual refers to the movements of the Holy Ghost in us. Paul teaches the same thing Romans 12:1: ‘Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, which is your spiritual worship.’ ‘Spiritual worship’ is a worship in which the spirit knows and takes hold of God, as it does when it fears and trust him. Therefore the contrast is not only with Levitical worship, where cattle were slaughtered, but with any worship where men suppose they are offering God a work ex opere operato …” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV – The Mass, paragraphs 25-26).

 

It is possible to preach sound sermons without power and I certainly lacked what I needed for many years (and I am still hungry for more).

As I was paying greater attention to the Holy Spirit in my preaching, I also discovered that preaching always sets up an encounter with God, an experience of God through the Holy Spirit, and therefore needs to be followed by purposeful ministry. The Holy Spirit always desires to do what has been preached. If we preach on healing, the Holy Spirit wants to heal. If we preach on conversion, the Holy Spirit wants to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. If we preach on spiritual warfare, the Holy Spirit wants to free people from unclean spirits. If we preach on marriage restoration, the Holy Spirit wants to heal marriages. According to the Bible, the foremost key for experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit is the preaching of God’s word: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (Acts 10:44).

Further study revealed more new insights, such as the role of miracles in preaching, and I now summarize the essential connection between God’s word and the Spirit in three foundational statements:

 

 

1. The Word has no power without the Spirit.

 

“… repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations…but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:47,49 NIV).

 

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait…in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-5; 8).

 

“…our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction…you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 NIV).

 

(See also Acts 19:11-20; First Corinthians 4:20; Second Timothy 3:5; Zechariah 4:6.)

 

 

2. The Spirit does nothing without the Word.

 

“… sustaining all things by his powerful word …” (Hebrews 1:3).

 

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (Acts 10:44).

 

“Take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

 

(See also Genesis 1:1-25; Psalms 107:20; Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 8:8,16, 16:19; Mark 7:33-35; Luke 8:4-15; John 6:63; 20:22-23; Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20; Ephesians 5:26; Philippians 2:15-16; Colossians 1:6; First Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8; First Timothy 4:5; Second Timothy 4:1-2; Titus 1:3; First Peter 1:23-25; Second Peter 3:5; James 1:18; Revelation 19:11-16.)

 

 

3. The Spirit confirms the Word with power.

 

“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31 NIV).

 

“Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20).

 

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power …” (1 Corinthians 2:4).

 

(See also Mark 2:9-12; Luke 19:37; John 2:11; 6:2; 7:31; 10:38; 14:11-12; Acts 2:22,43; 4:29-30; 6:8; 8:6,13; 9:36-42; 13:12; 14:3; 15:12; Romans 15:18-19; Second Corinthians 12:11-12; Galatians 3:5; Hebrews 2:3-4.)

 

 

Prayer

 

In 2007, our congregation studied a resource by Henry Blackaby who said:

 

“God has not changed. He still speaks to His people. If you have trouble hearing God speak, you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience (Henry T. Blackaby, co-authored by Claude V. King: Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Nashville: Lifeway Press 1990, p36).

 

I will not go into details but this resource has completely changed our congregation and me. First our leadership board studied the book over the course of a year and then all members committed to working through the lessons. It was a revelation to discover that God is still seeking to guide us by speaking to us and that he is precise in revealing his will to us. Church meetings transformed from a democratic process to a process where we would all come together, asking the question: “What is God saying to us? What does he want us to do?” It was no longer about what the pastor wants or a particular lobby group wants. It was all about what God wants and we were growing in expectation that God had his own ideas about whether we should employ more staff or run certain programs. This was exciting and new for many of us Lutherans.

 

“When God wants to reveal his will to a church, he will begin by speaking to one or more individuals. Because of the nature of his call and assignment from God, this is often the pastor, although it may be another member of the body. The pastor’s job is to bear witness to the church about what he senses God is saying. Other members may also express what they sense God is saying. The whole body looks to Christ – the Head of the church – for guidance. He guides all the members of the body to understand his will fully …

In Saskatoon, as God moved and expressed his will to church members, I guided them as their pastor to share with the others members of the body. All were given an opportunity and encouraged to share. Each was encouraged to respond as God guided him or her. This happened, not only in worship (usually at the close of a service), but also in prayer meetings, committee meetings, business meetings, Sunday School classes, home Bible studies, and in personal conversations. Many called the church office and shared what God was saying to them in their quiet times. Still others shared what they experienced at word or at school. The entire church became experientially and practically aware of Christ’s presence in our midst” (Ibid, p166).

 

Mark Virkler provided us with another great resource, the book “Dialogue with God” and the course “4 Keys to Hearing God”, and his own background spoke to us because he was also a conservative theologian that never expected God to speak and guide us still today:

 

“Theologically, I began as a Baptist (Calvinist) and then, at Rob­erts Wesleyan College, moved more toward Wesleyan Methodist doctrine (i.e. Arminianism). Both of these theological em­phases were evangelical, fundamentalist, rational, and anti-super­natural. I embraced these teachings fully. I was taught that God no longer spoke to His children, because now we have the Bible. I was taught that there is no longer any need for the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, because now we have the Bible. I was taught that dream and vision were no longer for today, because now we have the Bible …

I was taught that clear, well-thought-out theology is what is important. Growth in the Lord is equivalent to one’s theologi­cal maturation. Therefore, I loved theology (especially applied theology, as it is more practical) and studied it and taught it continuously, even to the extent of graphing and charting every book of the Bible …

However, my heart was hungry for more of God. I would read the book of Acts and hunger to have the same experiences they had—to hear the voice of God, to do the miraculous, to see vi­sion …

What I was far too young to realize during those early years was that I, along with much of the Western Church, was trapped in the western culture’s worldview of rational humanism …

Not only did my culture and my church lead me astray in my early years, but I was created by God with a stronger left brain than right brain. And I was created with the personality of a choleric. Unfortunately, I allowed both of these to encourage me along the path of rational humanism …

The bottom line concerning myself is that I prefer logic and theology over vision and intuition. I suspect I was born with this bent, and I believe it was over-nurtured as I grew up in the western world. I was taught that what came naturally to me was correct and reliable, and that those who were right-brain were somewhat unstable …

The beautiful thing is, God didn’t die. He is still alive, and He still lives within the hearts of His children, giving them dream, vision, His voice, His emotions, and His anointing. We do not have to participate in a dead religion. We can have a living relationship, if we want it …” (Mark Virkler: Wading Deeper into the River of God, Lamad Publishing 2004, p4-15).

 

Mark Virkler rediscovered that the Bible never cancelled God’s heart for dialogue with us. God just loves to communicate with his children and learning to listen to him is life-changing and exciting.

 

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth …” (John 16:12-13).

 

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14).

 

 

Worship

 

In the LCA, we used to have “worship wars” where, for years, we argued fiercely about the rights and wrongs of “traditional” and “contemporary” worship styles. Our own congregation and I were caught up in the conflict and I was convinced that “contemporary” worship was the answer to the decline of the church in the region that I served. We planted a new congregation, the first (Lutheran congregation) that had weekly “contemporary” services in our city, and it was an amazing success, apparently proving our case. But I discovered that many Sundays my hunger for God was not satisfied, even though there were great numbers in church and the whole atmosphere was upbeat. I liked everything but was missing God.

It took a long time but then God showed me the errors of my thinking. In all of the debates on worship styles, I had never questioned the assumption that the soundness of the content, the quality of our words in worship (which we would express in different styles), would determine the spiritual success of worship, whether we would encounter God or not. All of our LCA debates seemed to revolve around doctrinal soundness. Hence, we used to insist that our Bishops approve worship orders before we use them and trust them in Sunday worship. Yet, the soundness of the running sheet – the songs, prayers and responses – was no guarantee that we would actually draw close to God.

In the Bible, God made Moses construct a tabernacle for worship that was modelled on the sanctuary in heaven, meaning that it would contain principles of worship that were eternal:

 

“See that you make them [the entire tent and all of the worship utensils] according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40).

 

“They [human priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5).

 

The number one principle that I learned from the ancient tabernacle was that the presence of God in worship is progressive and intensifies. Like Moses and all of God’s people, we begin worship in the “Outer Court” and then his presence intensifies until we receive his greater glory in the “Holy of Holies”. Even today, following our diverse liturgies, we start at the “Outer Court” and then God moves us into the “Holy Place” and then finally into the “Holy of Holies”.

I had never paid any attention to this dynamic of God’s presence intensifying. As long as the running sheet was sound and approved, I went through it and expected worship to deliver good spiritual outcomes. But, many a time, I was grieving the Holy Spirit. I never allowed him to have us linger in singing worship songs or deepen our sense of repentance. I never watched what he was doing with the congregation; therefore was never ready to modify the running sheet accordingly. Yet, the Holy Spirit wants to guide our worship.

Some people manage to follow the Spirit, despite fixed worship orders, because they allow their minds and emotions to wander from the script. Dr John Kleinig, Emeritus Lecturer of Australian Lutheran College, writes:

 

“At that time I was most distressed by the apparent distractions that I experienced during the Divine Service, even when I was listening to a good sermon, reading the Bible, or saying my prayers in my daily devotions. Distraction upset me so much that I eventually gained enough courage to seek help from one of my teachers, Dr Hermann Sasse. He listened, attentively and patiently, as I explained at some length how the devil always seemed to distract me at inappropriate times. When I had finished, he stopped, turned to face me, and said, ‘Who says that is the devil? Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit.’ With that he went on his way, leaving me shocked by what he had said.

That bit of advice has proved to be the best spiritual counsel I have ever received … Since then, I have learned to regard the distractions that I experience in public worship and in my devotions as the summons of the Holy Spirit, who uses these distractions to connect my life with God’s Word and to apply God’s Word to my life. Whenever I remember, I note the distractions that interrupt my worship and devotions and take each of them, if possible, as an instruction from the Holy Spirit – an instruction about something that I need to repent of or to pray for; an instruction about who to pray for and how; an instruction about what to enjoy as a good gift from God or to receive with thanksgiving … In this way I let God to set the agenda for me week by week in church …” (John Kleinig: Grace upon Grace, St Louis: Concordia Publishing House 2008, p84-85).

 

However, it is not only possible for individuals to follow the “distractions” of the Holy Spirit in worship. Leaders of corporate worship can also be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and follow his lead as he moves to bring people into the “Holy of Holies”.

Here I may also add a few words about spiritual gifts. In the LCA, most of us seem to agree that spiritual gifts are still available today, including the gift of speaking in tongues and prophecy. If this is the case, they are not optional and we need to make room for them in public worship. They will further upset our running sheet but in a good way:

 

“… When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:26-31).

 

Worship is not different from preaching. We always need to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and this lies at the heart of Lutheran theology. Staying in tune with the Holy Spirit is an art and, according to Luther, it is not an easy art but the Spirit must guide us in how we are to speak to the congregation:

 

“The distinction between law [what God commands us to do] and Gospel [what God does for us] is an especially brilliant light which serves the purpose that the Word of God may be … explained and understood correctly” (Formula of Concord, Article V – Law and Gospel, paragraph 1).

 

“There is no person on earth who knows how properly to divide Law from the Gospel … The Holy Spirit alone knows this art ...” (Luther as quoted in C.F.W Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986, p47).

 

“The whole power lies in rightly dividing the two [Law and Gospel] … to use it and bring it into practice is a high art and hard to do. The papists and fanatics know nothing of it … It is soon told how the law is another Word and doctrine than the gospel, but practice to divide it and the art of applying it is an effort and work” (Martin Luther, Sermon on the Differentiation of Law and Gospel, Galatians 3:23-24, 1532, in: Luther’s Family Devotions, Dearborn: Mark V Publications 1996, p86).

 

 

Conclusion

 

In closing, I do not expect that everyone will agree on all points but I do expect that everyone will agree on having further conversations. What this keynote address has presented on saving faith, repentance, Christian experience, baptism, church, preaching, prayer and worship does not warrant the filing of more anonymous complaints or assessments behind closed doors. It is time for open dialogue.

Lutheran Renewal is emerging as a national movement in the LCA and also in New Zealand. What I have been saying in this keynote address is more widely supported and appreciated, not least by our national Lutheran Renewal Steering Group, and I think that now is the time to join the dialogue, speak out without fear and pursue the change of thinking and practice that are necessary for renewal. In short, it is time to repent.