True Virtue
Monday of Easter 6
22 May 2017
There are "virtual churches" for you to join on the internet. You can join these churches without all the fuss of interacting with real sinners. There is any number of problems with these things, not least of which is how you receive the sacrament of the altar. Yes, I know you can receive the elements in the mail so you can have communion without as much as moving from your den. I suppose "virtual church" was invented on the theory that "some" church is better than no church.  However, a virtual church brings a virtual salvation to virtual people from a virtual Christ. None of these are the church, salvation, people, or Christ. There is no virtue in a virtual church.
 
At one level, virtue means "power." Where two or three are not gathered together, we call into doubt that there is the power of the Word of God. The Word of God creates the true church, it does not have the power to create a virtual church, anymore than it has the power to make or bless any other evil. The devil has come using the Word of God that encourages us to attend church, but he has transformed it from the Word of God to mere words; just talk. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us not to neglect the gathering of ourselves together (Heb 10:25). A thing called "church" where there is no gathering of the children of God around the Word of God and the holy sacraments cannot take the honorable name given by God: church, and apply it to this virtual nonsense. It would be akin to placing a steeple and cross on a doghouse and calling it a "church." We Christians need to remain in the Word of God as God intended it to be used, that is, in the church's life. The most effectively satanic fall from faith is one called "church." Baptized unbelief is the most dangerous unbelief of all.
 
We must be ever about the Word of God, because the Word of God is about our salvation. It is the bulwark against the devil's kingdom. It is the wall around the city of God. Thus surrounded, we fear no misfortune, nor flee any persecution. But if we go outside the Word of God onto the plain, the chariots of our enemy, the devil, will easily mow us down one by one, no matter how often we howl in defense: "church, church." God has staked His own person upon the Word of God, and so for that reason we must keep ourselves surrounded by it. It is not mere talk, but God's very speech to us humans. We keep watch best when we are armed with the Word of God. The Word of God is the true virtue of the church.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
 
"I myself often experienced and discovered that the devil can subtly lead a person away from the Word. Whenever he notices that I am armed and that I am occupying myself with God's Word, he leaves me in peace. However, when I give him a little latitude by not thinking of it and occupying myself with other matters, he comes after me and quickly deals a blow to me, which makes my position difficult until I can again lay hold of the Word. What would happen if I, too, were so smug and deemed myself so learned and refrained from preaching or hearing and reading the Word for half a year or a quarter of a year, since I have enough to do as it is to defend myself with daily study and prayer?
 
"Therefore, if you want to avoid being misled, St. Paul says, and losing what you have, you must be watchful and not snore (1Co 15:34). You must cultivate the Word so that you can maintain your position and defend yourself against this evil pest to keep it from gaining a foothold among you. It does not lie within your power to prevent evil talk from arising and to prevent hearing the world. However, it is proper for you to be vigilant and not to give way to it but to ward it off wherever it raises its head. For the devil will surely not slumber or snore but will assail you, too, on all sides, wherever you may be. Therefore you must also be on your guard against this, armed with God's Word wherever you are, at home or abroad, in church, in your chamber, at table, and wherever you associate with people. Thus God also commanded His people to write and inscribe His commandments everywhere before their eyes so that they could always behold them and thereby resist all kinds of temptation and offense (Dt 6:6-9)."

Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, 34
Hebrews 10:19-36

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 
 
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 
 
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (ESV)
Prayer
Almighty and everlasting God, You would have all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. By Your power and unsearchable wisdom break and hinder all the counsels of those who hate Your Word and who, by corrupt teaching, would destroy it. Enlighten them with the knowledge of Your glory that they may know the riches of Your heavenly grace and, in peace and righteousness, serve You, the only true God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 
For conferees attending the Luther Academy Reformation conference in Prague, that the eternal gospel of Christ would be proclaimed and honored
 
For Scott Murray, as he travels, that the holy angels would attend him
 
For the addicted and the despairing, that those who love them might rescue them using the grace of God
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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