Fire From Heaven: The Evangelical Lutheran Tennessee Synod

You’ve probably never heard of the Tennessee Synod, but you definitely should know about these remarkable men of God. Listen to learn about this group that fought the good fight of faith and were the first to publish the entire Book of Concord in English.

The history of the Tennessee Synod, written by Socrates Henkel, can be found here.

The collected works of David Henkel, some of which we will discuss in future episodes on the Tennessee Synod, may be purchased here.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 43

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Christian Apologetics

When your faith is under attack, how will you respond? Apologetics is not saying sorry for being a Christian, but giving an answer for the hope that is within you. Join us as we discuss the need of defending the faith, the major schools of thought within apologetics, and how Paul approaches this task in Acts 17.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Episode: 22

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Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21

While the Lord’s actions at Pentecost were new, the day of Pentecost was an old observance.  On the day following Passover, the Lord commanded a presentation of the firstfruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:10-11).  Such a presentation reinforced the recognition of God’s Providence, especially since it happened within the promised land.  Seven weeks later, on the fiftieth day, the Feast of Weeks involved another presentation of new grain to the Lord along with a number of burnt animal offerings (Leviticus 23:15-21; see also Numbers 28:26-31).  Not only was it a day of the firstfruits of the harvest, but Pentecost was also one of the days upon which the men of Israel were to gather together before the Lord (Exodus 34:22-23; 23:14-17).  It was a time of rejoicing and a perpetual remembrance of the great deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:10-12).

It was entirely fitting, then, on this harvest festival that the great harvest of the nations would begin.  Jesus Himself told His disciples to “lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).  The firstfruits of the nations believed in the Lord on that day, and the great harvest continues until the coming of the end.  It is also the beginning of an abundance unlike anything previously.  The time of seeding and tending came in the days of the Law and of the prophets among the nation of Israel almost exclusively, but the fullness of the harvest goes out into all the world.  Had not Jesus Himself promised that “whoever believes in me will also dot he works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12)?

The disciples, obeying the orders of Christ, waited in Jerusalem between the period of His ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:4).  Their mighty work about to begin there is not the work of men, as if their impressiveness would carry the Church out into the world.  They were shaped by a period of obedience to the will of God, taught to wait on His will and not their own.

The mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit manifested itself with visible signs:  a mighty wind and flames of fire.  These signs were not necessary for the Apostles, as if their wavering faith needed them.  They were meant to console us, because in the foundation of His Church, the Lord confirmed the gift of the Holy Spirit with an extraordinary miracle.  This is further shown by the unique character of this outpouring of the Spirit.  Jesus, after all, had promised that they would be baptized with the Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1:5), but this does not mean that it is a regular gift greater than baptism by water.  After all, Peter himself would connect the giving of the Spirit with Baptism explicitly in His Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:38).  Therefore, this baptism of the Spirit marks the beginning of the harvest, and these marvels were signs that the great day of the Lord had come.

Thus filled with the Holy Spirit, they could not help but speak as the Spirit moved them.  Eldad and Medad, filled with the Spirit, prophesied in the camp (Numbers 11:26-30).  Saul also prophesied under the inspiration of the Spirit, to the wonder of those around him (1 Samuel 10:10-13).  Yet in the Old Testament, this was a relatively rare experience, limited in number of people and times.  Now in the beginning of the last days, what was formerly restricted came to be the possession of all people, as testified by the prophecy of Joel which Peter cites (Acts 2:17-21 from Joel 2:28-32).  “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).  This explicit connection of knowledge to the last days clarifies that prophecy is not exclusively the act of preaching.  Rather, like Agabus in Acts 11:28, the hidden things of God were coming to light.  No longer would these things be heard in the dark (Luke 12:3).

Regarding the tongues they spoke, it is first worth noting that they were intelligible without an interpreter, making them ordinary human languages rather than heavenly ones in need of explanation.  “How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language” (Acts 2:8)?  Yet the presence of such a sign is not a proof of the Holy Spirit all by itself.  Prophets had and could deceive others while calling on the name of God (Deuteronomy 18:22).  Satan himself can work great signs (Revelation 13:13-14).  Even Paul’s concern for interpreting tongues shows that a man could lovelessly exercise such a gift (1 Corinthians 14:26-33).  Rather, the solid proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit consisted in Peter’s proclamation of Christ and the corresponding reception of that Word unto faith (Acts 2:41).  Together with the Word, therefore, the languages of the Apostles were a tremendous confirmation of the work of God that day.

Finally, the long list of the nations at Pentecost points in every direction.  Parthia, Media, Elam, and Mesopotamia all lie east of Judea, and the Jews who dwelled there largely spoke Aramaic.  Not only was this the first place to which Israel was scattered in the Exile (2 Kings 17), but by the time of the Persian Empire, they dwelled among virtually all the provinces without a great concern for returning back to the promised land (Esther 3:8, among others).  Setting aside Judea, the areas of Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia fall largely to the north, likely speaking forms of Greek.  It is also largely in this area that Paul would later do most of his work.  Egypt and Lybia fall to the south.  Notably, however, Rome is also part of this picture, coming from the west.  It is a major indicator not only of the goal of the whole book of Acts, ending in Rome, but also of the mission of the Church.  It would go out to the Gentiles, even if Peter does not yet fully grasp this as he will in Acts 10.  Yet in this moment, the words of Christ find their fulfillment:  “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

Witnessing Like Boniface

The voice of the living God, given to us in the Scriptures, builds up the Church from age to age.  In no other source do we find the living Word.  Yet this does not mean that other writings are useless.  The lives of the saints give us concrete examples of how the Word of the Lord has borne fruit in every time.

Boniface gives us one such example.  Born in the late 600s in Anglo-Saxon England, the Lord called him to labor as a missionary in Germania, including parts of what is today Germany and the Netherlands.  His work lasted for decades until he was finally martyred on June 5, 754.  While he is known for his extensive correspondence and for being made the Archbishop of Mainz in 745, one event in his life stands out above the others.

Somewhere in what is now Hesse, Germany, a great oak tree stood.  This tree, called “Donar’s Oak,” was a symbol of the pagan practices of the area.  This sacred tree formed a sort of “natural sanctuary” for the pagans, a living temple or perhaps a copy of the world-tree of Germanic mythology.  As long as the tree still stood, it seemed to be a confirmation of the strength of the pagan gods.

Boniface was not the first Christian to labor in the area, however.  There were many Christians who lived there, but many were being seduced by the strength of this pagan cult.  In order to strengthen the faith of these wavering Christians and to give a bold testimony of the superiority of Christ, Boniface picked up an ax and prepared to cut down the tree.  What happened next is a matter of debate, however.  The biographies of Boniface all attribute to him a miracle.  Boniface had barely begun to chop down the tree when the whole mighty oak fell over and burst into four pieces.  Did a miracle occur?  Maybe, for the Lord is certainly capable of using miracles to strengthen the witness of the Church, as He does throughout the book of Acts.  Maybe not, because early medieval biographies like this attribute all sorts of miracles to the saints, some of which even the people of that day regarded as outlandish.  What is certain is that the tree was cut down.  Christ’s servant had done what no pagan had dared to do.  He then used the wood of the tree as part of a new oratory, a small church dedicated to prayer.

Miraculous or not, there are two important examples that we can draw from this account.  One is the strength of Christ.  The pagans were caught in a cycle of fear.  As long as their gods were happy, no misfortune would come upon them, and so things like this sacred tree provided a way of keeping them happy.  Victory proved that their gods still favored them, and so the strength of their gods meant a lot to them.  Boniface proved by cutting down the oak that Christ was stronger still.  This might seem odd to us today, since we don’t usually think of Christ in these terms.  Waiting to see whether Christ will lead our armies to victory seems almost foolish to us.  Yet Christ is in fact stronger than anything which the world brings.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Romans 8:35)?  Boniface reminds us that there is no reason to be caught in a cycle of fear, for Christ reigns triumphant.  As missionaries, too, we should remember that the peace which Christ brings, shown forth in our lives, is often a powerful means of witnessing for Christ.

The other example is the fearlessness of Boniface.  Regardless of how much actual danger he was in, it still took tremendous courage to cut down that tree.  Being a witness for Christ is not always a comfortable or easy thing.  It may very well mean taking tremendous risks or even suffering at the hands of unbelievers, just as Boniface himself would be martyred years later.  Yet in the midst of all of it comes the clear promise that “he who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16).  “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:27-28).  “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).  Boldness, Christians, boldness for the kingdom!  You have nothing to lose, because you have everything in Christ.

Witnessing to Christ

Jesus says that the fields are ripe for the harvest. How should we work in his harvest fields as good laborers? Join us as we discuss some difficulties in evangelism and how to overcome them in order to extend God’s reign.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 11

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Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity: Proverbs 25:6-14

Unlike the two previous readings from Proverbs, the Old Testament reading for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity comes from the main section of the book and not from the introduction. As I have said in previous studies, Proverbs resists easy outlining. The beginning of this chapter from Proverbs 25 proves this: “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” In other words, Proverbs is a collection of sayings, and their compilers seem to have put them into one book for the sake of having them all together.

That being said, there are sometimes correlations between the smaller subsections of the chapters. Proverbs 25 is a good example of this, since it seems that Proverbs 25:1-14 can be subdivided into three smaller parts. I have included Proverbs 25:1-5 in this consideration, because verses 6 and 7 are part of the first section and form its concluding thought.

The first subsection focuses on the righteousness of kings and is further divided into four points. God conceals, but kings search out. The righteous king therefore seeks out that which God has concealed, and wisdom consists in pursuing the things of God. Even so, as the heavens above and the earth beneath are beyond our ability to know fully, so also the heart of kings. David on several occasions is compared to the “angel of God,” who is full of discernment (2 Samuel 14:17), wisdom (2 Samuel 14:20), judgment (2 Samuel 19:27), and blameless (1 Samuel 29:9). Since the king is in this way similar to God, there is a close comparison between them, which is much of the point of this section.

Moving to the next point, silver free of dross is the same as a king free of the wicked in his presence. Solomon referenced this idea earlier in Proverbs 16:12-13. Wise kings, in this way, pursue righteousness and have no part in the way of wickedness (Psalm 2:10-12). As the Lord cannot abide wickedness in His presence, so also the righteous king.

Finally, Solomon closes this subsection with the only major point of contact with the Gospel reading of Luke 14:1-11. Setting yourself forward in the presence of the king is self-exaltation. Such a man will be set lower in disgrace. It is better to be told “Come up here,” for “let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). But the key here is the close connection between the king and God. As such presumption before a king is shameful, how much more before God? The exalted will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted. The righteous king, therefore, is in the place of the righteous God, not as a replacement, but as God, so the king.

The second subsection focuses on the second great Commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40). Specifically, it is an exposition of “you shall not bear false witness.” A man who seeks to rush to be vindicated in court or elsewhere may very likely be operating with partial information. Better to be fully informed before doing what is right, or even better, to rebuke in private (Matthew 18:15-20).

The third subsection—from which the name of this site comes—praises wisdom. A word fitly spoken, that is, a wise word, is like gold framed in silver. The commandments of the Lord are more valuable “than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

This fit word, however, is especially the word of a sent messenger. If the rich man in torment imagined a great comfort in even a drop of water (Luke 16:24), how much greater will an actual comfort of the Word be (Isaiah 40:1-2)! A wise and faithful messenger, however, conforms in holiness to the Lord and His Word and has “no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “The one who hears you hears me,” but this promise is for those who abide in His Word (Luke 10:16). “If you utter what is precious and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jeremiah 15:19). But the faithless messenger are “waterless clouds, swept along by winds” (Jude 12). Such will be recognized “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20), “for when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:7).