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Leviticus 25:8-22


"You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.


"In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God. "Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely. The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely. And if you say, 'What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?' I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives. (ESV)

Never Did, Never Will

Friday of Pentecost 16 

3 October 2014

The church establishes ceremonial law. "What? I thought all that was abolished at the coming of Christ!" Yes and no. The church is no longer bound to the Old Testament ceremonial law, and especially not as a source of righteousness; although the ceremonial law never gave righteousness through the external performance of its requirements. Those whose hearts were far from the Lord, when they offered their sacrifices in the temple, were never accepted by God purely on the basis of their offerings (Mt 15:8-9). In the Old Testament the people of God were counted righteous through faith in what was prefigured in the sacrificial victims that bloodied the Jewish altar (Hebrews 11). The Old Testament is a continuous protest against the human delusion that God can be propitiated by our meritorious efforts.


The New Testament makes much clearer the status of ceremonial law in that it denies that obedience to such precepts can change our status in the sight of God. Only God changes our status in His sight, not we ourselves. The problem is not ceremonial law, but the human fantasy that our obedience to some external precept will please God. We see a great deal of this among fundamentalist Evangelicals in America. For example, they will require that women not cut their hair, arguing that it keeps the precept about head covering taught by Paul in 1Co 11:6, 14-15. They glory in the mere fact that they are able to keep their women from cutting their hair, as though being a Breck girl is pleasing to God. This is a legalistic ceremonialism of the coif.  


However, this does not invalidate ceremonial law as a way of teaching and preserving order in the church. Such ceremonial law does not make holy in God's sight, nor does it bring divine wrath if it is omitted in good conscience. Yet, ceremonial law does have beneficial purposes. A pistol may be a good and useful tool if used in the field to serve as protection from poisonous snakes. The same pistol has no place in a church meeting. The difference is the purpose for which it is being carried. A pistol is useful to kill vermin, not to intimidate brothers in Christ. It is the same pistol, however, just being used for radically different purposes. So it is with ceremonial law. If used for ordering our lives together in the church, it is useful. If used to earn God's favor, it is a Christ-killing abuse.


For example, if we did not begin church services on a specific time schedule, people would not know when to gather to hear the Word of God. We could not hold services just whenever the whim struck us. Such a practice would merely silence the divine Word by assuring that the church would be empty at service time. We account for the church seasons and saints days by marking Easter, Christmas, Epiphany, and others. These are the structures on which the truth of the divine Word is often hung, especially for the benefit of children and the uninstructed. Without such structures people would be at loose ends about practicing their faith. Such requirements are good in the same way in which fences in rural areas are good. They demarcate the boundaries from farm to farm. However, they do not plant the crops or cultivated them. Putting up a fence does not make anyone a farmer, but it remains necessary to put up fences for any number of reasons. Our pastoral practice in ordering the liturgy, days, and season are those fences. Ceremonial law is good, just not justifying before God. Never did. Never will.


Martin Luther

"We are not bound by the ceremonies of Moses either, much less by those of the pope. But because this life in the body cannot be completely free of ceremonies and rituals, since there must be some sort of discipline, the gospel permits ordinances to be established in the church regarding festivals, prescribed times, prescribed places, etc., so that the people may know on what day, at what time, and in what place they should gather to hear the Word of God. It permits the appointment of certain lessons, just as in school, especially for the sake of children and uneducated people, so that they can be taught more easily. But it permits such things to be established with the purpose that all things in the church should be done decently and according to order (1Co 14:40), not that those who observe such ordinances merit the forgiveness of sins, etc. Besides, they can be omitted without sinning, so long as this is done without offending the weak. Therefore it is an error to say that after Christ has been revealed, the ceremonies of Moses are fatal; otherwise Christians would sin because they observe the festivals of Easter and Pentecost, which the ancient church instituted to be celebrated on the basis of the example of the law of Moses, although in a far different manner and for a different purpose." 


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.27

Dear Lord Christ, we thank You for our church traditions handed down to us by our fathers in the faith. Help us to respect these things as useful demarcations that keep You at the center of our faith and life. Keep us from investing such practices with the odor of holiness in Your sight, for You alone are the Lord our righteousness. Amen.


For Mamisoa Randrianasolo, who will undergo surgery at the Lutheran Hospital of Andranomadio-Antsirabe, Madagascar, that the Lord Jesus would be with the surgeon and medical team and that He would grant healing and a full recovery


For Rhett Wilkens, that the Lord would send him strength and healing


For Gretchen Gaub, that the Lord would grant her renewed strength as she recovers from surgery


For President Ken Hennings of the Texas District of the LCMS, that he would be strengthened in his resolve to serve the parishes and support the pastors under his supervision 


Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057