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O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain- if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith- just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
Devour Christ
Wednesday of Pentecost 15
9 September 2015
A couple of years ago, while lecturing at a local Roman Catholic Seminary, the students complained to me about the inconsistency of Lutheran teaching; one Lutheran church body teaching this and another Lutheran church body teaching that. As a Lutheran, I could sympathize with their confusion. They pointed out that because they have a pope their teaching is clear and unambiguous. To which I replied, "Don't you have the Jesuits?" which caused laughter in the class. Factionalism can arise in the church where people seek glory outside the cross of Christ; campaigning for their little faction, organization or auxiliary. People with a very small conception of the church vie with one another to become the head, dean, president, or presiding bishop of their little corner of the world. The medieval church was famous for the rivalries among the monastic communities which were so passionately prosecuted that they sometimes erupted in downright violence and even murder. The Franciscans sought to extirpate the Dominicans and vice versa. Riots and gang violence erupted at the University of Paris at the time of Thomas Aquinas over the differences of opinion that arose between these two monastic communities.
Sometimes pastors want to drain the swamp to get rid of their "alligators;" members whom they consider pesky or even vicious. However, after getting to the bottom of the swamp they find that there is nothing left alive. The pastor creates a tiny fiefdom, even if he becomes the head (and only) toad. It is well and good to seek to purify the church, but the Lord does not permit us to purify it on legalistic grounds. Thomas Müntzer already tried it with tragic results. There can only be reformation in teaching, which will lead to reformation in morals. Only as we teach the "alligators" will their attitude change. Only the gospel can change the swamp, turning it into the Garden of Eden, where Christ is all in all and is serving His people with His Word. The law way can never suffice, because it only multiplies the alligators, causing them to turn on one another and devour each other.
It seems to be a law of nature that when a splinter group breaks off from a larger church body, the splinter group, like Guppies, will begin to devour its own members. Where control through the coercive power of the law is used, the guns of the law can be swiveled every direction, like a civil war battery when captured could be turned on retreating troops and with devastating effects. Everyone can be taken down by law. If our relations do not center in the gospel gifts we will too easily demand obedience from others, rather than invite their joy at the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ. Where the gifts of God in preaching and sacraments are the focus of our life and work, there are far too many benefits to spend our time with legalistic approaches to church governance. If we bite and devour one another, the meal will not be too tasty. If we feed on Christ, then other foods will not be necessary.


Martin Luther

"'If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another' (Gal 5:15). With these words Paul testifies that peace and concord cannot be maintained in the churches, either in doctrine or in life, if the foundation, that is, faith in Christ, is undermined by wicked teachers. Immediately there will arise more and more opinions and dissensions over doctrine and life. Once the concord of the church has been violated, there is neither limit nor end to this dissension. The authors of the schism disagree among themselves, with one demanding this work as necessary for righteousness and the other demanding another work. Some support his own opinion and superstition but rejects that of another. Here it is inevitable that disagreements and factions arise, which then bite and devour one another, that is, judge and condemn, until finally they are all consumed.
"In addition to Scripture, this is demonstrated by the example of all times. When Africa had been overthrown by the Manichaeans, the Donatists soon followed. They disagreed among themselves and were split into three sects, etc. In our own time the Sacramentarians first defected from us; then the Anabaptists, none of whom agree with each other. Thus a sect always produces sects, and each condemns the others. According to the mathematicians, beyond the unit there is an infinite progression of numbers. Thus if the unity of the Spirit is injured and destroyed, it is impossible for concord to remain either in doctrine or in morals; but in both areas new errors will go on being produced into infinity.
"We saw this very well under the papacy. Because the doctrine of faith lay neglected, it was impossible for the concord of the Spirit to remain. When this was removed by the doctrine of works, entirely endless sects of monks arose. They debated among themselves in measuring their holiness on the basis of the strictness of their orders and the difficulty of the superstitious works they themselves had thought up. Here they wanted to be regarded as more holy than the others. In addition, monks not only of differing orders but even of the same order disagreed with one another. One Franciscan would criticize another, as one potter looks critically at the work of another. Ultimately there were as many different opinions in any monastery as there were monks. Therefore they nourished rivalries, contention, quarrels, virulences, backbiting, and devouring back and forth in their midst so long that finally, in accordance with this saying of Paul's, they were consumed, etc."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.15
Almighty and everlasting God, since You govern and sanctify the whole Christian Church by Your Holy Spirit, hear our prayers for all believers. Mercifully grant that, by Your grace, we may serve You in true faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For all military personnel that the Lord would watch over them in the performance of their duty
For Leslie Roch, that the Lord Jesus would watch over her and grant her healing
For President Dan Gard and the faculty of Concordia University Chicago, that the Lord would give them zeal in fulfilling their mission
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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