Lectionary 15 B

Hey, it's been like a month since we talked about Formula of Concord, Article 11: Election, so guess what? Strap in for an walk through FC 11 because of Ephesians. And an unhelpful reminder of what predestination might look like--thanks John.

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 (Semicontinuous First Reading)

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord.
-- 2 Samuel 6:17

Verse 17 is cited in a footnote to Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 24: The Mass (AP 24.20, n. 500) as one of the places in scripture where the two kinds of sacrifices are named. For Melanchthon, the two were the atoning sacrifice and the eucharistic sacrifice, or as in this verse, the burnt offerings for atonement and the offerings of well-being as thanksgiving. The Reformers' argument here was that the mass is not a resacrificing of Jesus, but a thanksgiving for what God does and promises through Jesus.

Ephesians 1:3-14

There are a lot of citations in the Formula of Concord around five of these verses, but they're intertwined. So rather than tackle them in the order of the reading, I'll be presenting them in the order in which they are cited. Here are the verses:

... just as [God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
-- Ephesians 1:4-6
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will...
-- Ephesians 1:11
In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
-- Ephesians 1:13-14

To set the stage, we start with a quote of verse 4 in Formula of ConcordSolid Declaration, Epitome, Article 11: Election, Affirmative Thesis 6 (Ep 11.7) as a reminder that any conversation about election should ground itself in what God has done for us in Christ. Yes, the elect are chosen before the foundation of the world, but in Christ and not elsewhere.

All the rest of the citations from this passage will come from Formula of ConcordSolid Declaration, Article 11: Election.

Verses 4 and 5 are partly quoted (Ep 11.5) as a reminder that preordination to salvation only applies to the children of God. This is the strange Lutheran understanding of single predestination--that God knows who will be in heaven at the end of time. This is different that the more widely known double predestination, which insists that God knows both who will be in heaven and who will be in hell and works things in their lives to those ends. The Lutheran point is that God preordains only those who will be saved. Why does this matter?

Because verse 4 could be misread so that someone might decide that since their salvation was set before the foundation of the world, then no sin can harm them, they never need to bother with church, and they never need to repent or believe or pray or be faithful; and conversely, if they are preordained to damnation, then no good work or sacrament or repentance or prayer or faith will help (Ep 11.10). But this is the trap that single predestination helps avoid because there is a difference, argue the Reformers, between God's foreknowledge and God's preordination. This distinction an bolster faithfulness in difficult times because scripture directs us to God's foreknowledge so that we might spend time in God's Word (a citation here of verses 13 and 14 in Ep 11.12), call us to repentance, faithfulness, and trust.

Teachings about election that do not make the distinction between foreknowledge and preordination harm faith and life because in such teaching there is a pretense to being able to know the eternal mind of God. As all of this section (verse 4 and following, cited in Ep 11.14) models "the entire teaching of God's intention, counsel, will, and preordiantion concerning our redemption, calling, justification, and salvation must be taken as a unity" (Ep 11.14).

Point 5 (Ep 11.19) of the eight point explanation of God's preordination (Ep 11.15 thru 22) returns us to verse 4 to show that one of God's goals of preordination is to make us holy in Christ's love. Preordination thus emphasizes the importance of how we live in this life as those who are being formed in Christ's love. Indeed, there are some outward actions and attitudes that can be seen in the elect who are destined according to his purpose (verse 11) as pledge of this inheritance (verse 14): they "hear the gospel, believe in Christ, pray, give thanks, are sanctified in love, have hope, patience, and comfort in their crosses" (Ep 11.30).

When properly taught, the idea of predestination can drive home the Lutheran argument against works being salvific, for if true, those who are save were save before any human had any chance to exist, much less to any kind of work (verse 4 cited in Ep 11.43)! This timeless election can only be done in Christ through whom God's grace is bestowed on us (verse 4 and 6, Ep 11.65).

The focus here (Ep 11.87) is to make sure we give God the glory for this doctrine of election. The children of God are preordianed by God according to God's purpose (verse 11) entirely out of God's desire to make us his children (verses 5 thru 6)! There is nothing in us that is the cause of our election, only God's will, and that is eternal (verse4, Ep 11.88).

Mark 6:14-29

 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.
-- Mark 6:17-20

Verses 17 thru 20 are cited in a footnote to The Large Catechism, The First Part: The Ten Commandment, The Ninth and Tenth Commandments (LC 1.305, n. 121) where Luther points out the Herod had lured his brother's wife away from him and married her, thus breaking the last commandment. Luther hopes that such a things doesn't happen anymore, but still might happen before the wedding or among good workers. But this still breaks the last commandment. 

TheoThru

The Church generally agrees that John the Baptist is a saint, and thus we say he was one of those who has been preordained for salvation from before the foundation of the world. But look at how his life ended! A prisoner, beheaded at the whim of a girl!

Maybe being children of God is not the same as what the world wants us to think success looks like. Maybe God making us holy in love is about speaking truth to power, even if you die because of it. Maybe praising God's glory is about standing up for those who are despised or forgotten. Maybe God preordaining you to salvation is about what the Spirit can do for others through you and not about you.