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  • Writer's pictureVicar Matt Doebler

Matins Devotion: June 29, 2023

The Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

In our reading from Acts, we see a helpful example of how the faithful church responds to the work of God in each generation. When confronted with problems, the faithful church never seeks to invent new theology, but always looks to be guided by the Word of God. In the early days of the church, as the gospel began going beyond the borders of Jerusalem and Judea—as the Samaritans and gentiles began to believe in the name of Jesus—as they were baptized and as they also received the Holy Spirit—the question arose, “What now?” Should the non-Jews who had believed in Jesus now become Jews themselves? Or are there two Christian churches: one for the Jews and the other for the gentiles?

But, as we heard in the reading, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, James and other faithful men who were present at this Jerusalem council were given the wisdom to see that Israel’s selection as a chosen people had always been so that one day God could bring every nation together under one roof. We find this everywhere in the Old Testament. Remember what God said to Abraham? “In your offspring, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Here at the Jerusalem Council, James cites the prophets Amos and Jeremiah and says that the words of these prophets agree that the rebuilt ruins of the house of David have been restored so that all the gentile nations may seek the Lord.

As I said, in every generation, the faithful church—when confronted by challenges—follows in this pattern. We see this in the early church councils of the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries. After Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire after three hundred years of persecution. All of a sudden, the church found itself infiltrated by all kinds of new and heretical teachings. And so the faithful church responded, not by inventing new doctrine, but by mining the depths of the wisdom of God’s Word. Why? So that they could address these new problems by speaking clearly, and precisely, and faithfully. So it was also with the Lutheran reformers—who constantly were demonstrating how their teachings were not something new, but grounded in the Word of God and in continuity with the faithful teachings of the church from its inception. So it was even just fifty years ago, when, our synod held fast to the authority of Holy Scripture against the onslaught of the modernist thinking that had infiltrated the theological instruction taking place in our colleges and seminaries and even some of our pulpits.

In all this, we see two things: 1) the church can expect challenges in each and every generation—including our own. And 2) we need not fear these challenges—we need simply to remain faithful to the clear teachings of the Word of God that have been handed down to us from all the faithful generations that have come before. There certainly may be moments when we need to do our homework. When we need to look deeply into the pages of Scripture and pray that the Holy Spirit would give us the wisdom to make a clear, precise, and faithful confession in response to the falsehoods that arise in order to destroy the church. And he will. That’s why James, writing the epistle that bears his name, will—many years after this critical moment for the church at the Jerusalem council—say: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (1: 2,5) The lies of the devil will never overcome the true Word that comes from God. The gates of hell will never prevail against Christ’s church. In every generation, as we sang a moment ago, “God’s Word forever shall abide.”

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