Thursday, December 20, 2007

"What Does This Mean?

So, how does a Lutheran go about studying the Bible? First things first . . .

Anyone who has ever read through Martin Luther's Small Catechism will know that Dr. Luther asked the same question whenever he approached God's Word: "What does this mean?" was his question. It's important for what it does ask, AND for what it does NOT ask. Here's what I mean . . .

"What does this mean?" is the right question to ask when we consider who God is! If He truly is the Author/Creator of all people and all things, and if He is going to be the Judge of every heart, then we had better be concerned with what He thinks or wants! If the Bible truly is God's own Word to us, and if it does, in fact, tell us everything about God which He wants us to know about Him on this side of heaven, then we had better ask, and ask clearly: "What does this mean?" But then we run into the problem . . .

Our sinful pride and its resulting arrogance really does not want to know what God wants. It really does not care about God. In some respects (I'm really saying this wayyyy too gently, actually), our sinful pride actually considers God to be our enemy. It does not really care about what God means about anything . . . and especially if God labels as "sin" some of the things which we like! So, what to do? Easy, says our sinful nature, we'll find a way around that crazy "What does this mean?" question. And that is how we arrive at what, in its current form, is called "post-modernism."

Post-Modernism asserts that there is no such thing as an objective, verifiable truth about anything. Post-Modernism says that you cannot say that the sky is blue, for example, because the blueness of the sky is only your personal perception -- well, or something like that. However, the post-modernist does not want to say that he can tell you that you are not right about anything, either -- that would imply that he has an objective, verifiable truth. So . . . he comes forth with the doctrine that "You have your truth, and it is true for you; but it is not necessarily true for me!" How convenient! Then I can say, "I have my truth but I cannot insist that you embrace my truth because there is no objective, verifiable truth, so my truth really is true for me, but it is not necessarily true or binding for you." This way everyone gets to have his or her own "truth," feel good and moral about themselves, and still do whatever s/he wants. Yes, I know, it starts to make your head spin. The old farmer would have reminded you that, before you go into that particular barn, you had better put on your boots because it might get deep in there. :-)

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH "WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?" I'm getting to that . . .

When Dr. Luther asks "What does this mean?" it is important to note what he does not add to his question. In our day and age many Christian denominations ask, "What does this mean to me?" And those two little extra words get us into big trouble! They say that we are not really interested in what God has to say on a given subject. Those extra words say that we are in charge of deciding what God thinks on a given subject. Those extra words put us in the driver's seat. Those extra words tell us that we are not interested in objective, verifiable truth -- rather, those two little words tell us that we are the ones who are, ultimately, in charge (sorry, I know that I'm repeating myself here). Then, when you are in the Bible class or worship service where everyone present gets to decide what a given Bible passage means "to me," you can have as many different interpretations as there are people present. You might even decide that you can vote on what a passage of Scripture means. How very democratic of us! ;-) And how very foolish!

I am so thankful that Dr. Luther knew nothing of the above stuff. "What does this mean?" was his question. It was what had to be answered. From the Word. From God's perspective. There was no room for a creative reinterpretation of what God means. This is wonderfully useful to us! Read on, please . . .

How many husbands have gotten into trouble with their wives when they said, "Honey, what I thought you meant was . . . "? :-) How many children have gotten in trouble with their mothers or fathers when the youngster said, "But what I thought you meant was . . ."? (I remember saying dumb stuff like that when I was growing up . . . and getting into all kinds of trouble because of it.) See what I mean? There was no excuse. There really was an objective, verifiable truth, and failing to recognize it -- and playing word games about it instead -- only resulted in getting in worse trouble!

So, may the Lord help us, when Lutherans open up the Word of God, our question MUST be "What does this mean?" No extra words. No "wiggle room." No game playing. The truth really is objective, and verifiable. Thank God. Know why? . . .

Because Jesus said of Himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) Jesus would not (could not?) have said that if you would have to ask, "What does this mean . . . to me?"

Peace be with you!

5 comments:

josh said...

Rev. Wollenburg,

Good words you speak. "Relevance" is one buzzword that comes to mind. "Pastor, the Scripture just isn't relevant to my daily life." Looking for relevance equals the WDTM to me way of thinking. Is this our fault as pastors for not treating the Word of God as we ought, or it just another gust of American Evangelicalism blowing through our churches? Either way, your post is a good response to it. And props for using something as 'simple' as the catechism to do it. Keep up the good posts!

Pastor Alan Wollenburg said...

Hi, Pastor. Oh, man, what about "American Evangelicalism?" That self-aggrandizing mess will, I sometimes fear, be the death of true religion. They think more in terms of how they can manipulate God into doing what they want Him to do than in how we can respond to His grace with a simple, humble "Amen." They tend to think that "religion" is all about how we can make other people do what we think they should do (mere manipulation). Thereby people eventually get turned off to true religion.
Is it our fault as pastors? Well, when we adopt that stuff as our modus operandi, yes it is (the Lord forgive us, please!).
Have you ever noticed how easy it is for us to fall prey to that kind of theology when we become fearful? We fear falling church attendances. We fear falling offerings. We fear falling memberships. We fear falling popularity. And, in our fear, we adopt worldly ways of thinking, doing, and measuring. And then we wonder how we got so far away from God!
Yet, when we learn, hear, and teach the true Gospel, we get the perfect love of God. John says that "perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) How can we get the true Gospel? By learning the true Word of Christ and by learning the true doctrine, of course.
Ever read much about Sam Schmucker? He was the Lutheran of an earlier day and age who said that Lutheranism in the U.S. must learn to be an "American" Lutheranism. Yeah, we know where that got us, huh.
Peace, brother! May the Lord grant us a blessed Lenten Season. Where I live the methobapticostalists sometimes ask me "Don't you Lutherans ever have revivals?" I always answer: "Yep . . . it's called Lent and Easter." :-)

Dale said...

Hey, Al

I read your "What does this mean" blog. I might get back to it later with my own comments.

Dale

saxoniae said...

Pr. Wollenburg,

We put your article in our Feb/Mar congregation newsletter.

Tim

Pastor Alan Wollenburg said...

Thanks, Tim. I am encouraged to think that I might actually have something useful to contribute to confessional Lutheranism. So, I guess that it's time for me to try to blog again. :-) Peace, brother!