A Bold Church in an Age of Terrorism—Part II

— By Fredrik Sidenvall

Translated By Bror Erickson

Kyrka och Folk Nr. 37 Sept 10 2015

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three part installment. The first part may be found here: Part I

The Basis for a Bold Church

Let us return to the besieged Jerusalem during the time of King Hezekiah. Two events made it so that Hezekiah and his friends could not push the accusing words of the Assyrians away from them, namely the tangible truth of the vast military advantage of the Assyrians and that their consciences were stung by the realization that they had placed their faith and trust in Egypt rather than the Lord. In this setting King Hezekiah responds in a manner that is in complete accord with the handbook for victims of temptation; he does not flee from the Lord in despair, but seeks the presence of the Lord in the temple; he doesn’t make excuses for himself but goes and confesses his sin, he speaks to God from out his distress in prayers, and he asks for the word of the Lord. And what does the Lord say? Yes, the Lord speaks through his prophet Isaiah concerning the overpowering enemy:  “he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” (Isaiah 37:34–35 ESV)

We encounter the gospel in these words, the good and joyous message that is addressed to both areas that the kakangelium previously attacked, the truth and the conscience. The truth that is revealed is that the Lord shall intervene. The revealed truth will soon become the apparent truth when 185,000 Assyrians die in camp and the overpowering army was pressed into a retreat. But to timid consciences who do not think they have any right to demand or expect any help from the Lord, the Lord says that he shall help for his own sake and the sake of his servant. They should not look within themselves for any basis for grace, but in God’s heart and for his servant’s sake. Hezekiah who was disheartened and went through the deepest agony which was the fruit of Sennacherib, the prince of the world’s kakangelium, was through Isaiah’s gospel a living member in a bold church and could say with newly awakened courage: “The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:20 ESV)

The basis for a bold church is the same today: grace and truth. When the church becomes the mother of ravaged street children like Europe was after the Migration Period and the cultural unity of the Middle Ages grew forth from the coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas day in the year 800, then it is shown that the power of truth is not dependent upon blood ties and territory, that it doesn’t grow up from below, but is given from above. The separated people and tribes were united before Christ in the body and blood of the altar and in a common adoration of the Agnus Dei. But for the church of the Middle Ages truth was not only liturgical and turned in, it reached out to all of the known world. Thomas Aquinas wanted to put everything and everyone into the context of truth. Certainly it wasn’t some lifeless pedantry that drove him, but instead the desire that the truth should make God’s people free and bold. We know that the kakangelium could penetrate the church’s holy city for various reasons. The people on the walls reached by the harassing word and the law of God and man accuse the consciences of people and the boldness was turned to anxiety and painful uncertainty again in the medieval church. He who was then sent to the beleaguered and anxious Zion in the footsteps of Isaiah was Martin Luther and his disciples. With newly acquired ability to read the original languages of Scripture he rediscovered that the Lord’s promise of help was not based upon the righteousness of man or hindered by man’s sin, but has its basis in God’s grace and righteousness. In the Greater Galatians Commentary, Luther uses the telling expression monstrum incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty) for the spiritual powers that are both behind the kakangelium, and are also its fruit. Yet Luther found the effective counter measure in the pure and clear gospel of the justification of the sinner through faith alone. Luther writes: “may we also thank God that we are freed from this behemoth of uncertainty, and can now be certain that the Holy Spirit cries, and his ineffable sigh proceeds and enters our hearts:  and the basis is this: the gospel commands us to consider not our good deeds, and our perfection, but God himself who gives the promise and Christ himself, the Mediator. However, the Pope wanted one to direct his eyes, not to God in his promise, not to the High Priest Christ, but to our works and our merit. If uncertainty and despair necessarily follow from this, then certainty and joy in the Spirit necessarily follow when you cling to God who cannot lie. He says: ‘Behold I give my son into death for you so that he may redeem you from sin and death with his blood’.”[1]

Nothing in life and death can bestow such a boldness as this gospel. We find one of the most radical expressions of the gospel’s boldness in 1 John 4:17: “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17 ESV) This gospel is the basis for the bold church. We are now offered this foundation not though our own spiritual performance or strength or pious feelings, but through hands on things like the plain and clear gospel and through the real Sacrament. 

The Pastor and Doctor Tom G A Hardt, who was a congenial disciple of Hermann Sasse, who as early as between 1930 and 1976 gave many genuine contributions to confessional theology and church life in Sweden and  the world at large, writes in an essay on the Lord’s Supper, “It would be much better if the useless fear of Catholicism that is guilty of such erroneous and unhealthy excesses in its attacks against the teaching of Transubstantiation, would instead want to explain the Lutheran content . . . It is instructive to note that there is often great ignorance concerning the battle lines that actually run here. Even churchly Protestants accept the common notion that the reformation loosed the ties between the means of grace and spiritual forgiveness, and that faith means that the importance of an individual replaced the importance the priest and the means of grace had earlier. One such description disfigures the most essential difference between Rome and Lutheranism in such a manner that the opponents change sides. If it is at all possible to give a simple, summary of the question then it can be said of the reformation- nota bene the Lutheran Reformation- offered a real forgiveness of sins through the means of grace to men, who through all the years before had used the means of grace in the conviction that these did not give the forgiveness of sins with certainty. This was the true nature of the medieval theology’s monstrum incertitudinis; the spiritual monster of uncertainty that commanded, and today still do command, that no one may apply the promise of the gospel and the sacraments to himself with full certainty." (Hardt, Tom G. A. The Sacrament of the Altar s. 37, art. Övers)[2]

To be continued . . . 

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[1] Greater Galatians Commentary, pg. 323 (WA pg. 589)

[2] Tom G. A. Hardt, The Sacrament of the Altar s. 37, art. Övers