Against All Comers
Monday of Pentecost 3
1 July 2019
One of the false narratives foisted upon those who have only a passing knowledge of the history of the church, is that the church on earth was an idyllic, unified institution until that noisy German boar in the Lord's vineyard, Martin Luther, came along and wrecked the church's unity. Perfect external unity is only possible where God is alone reigning, as He will in the kingdom to come. His perfect reign was already wrecked in the primeval garden, when the serpent slithered in to sell what was God's to give. And like the proverbial salesman who gets Eskimos to buy ice, the serpent sold Adam and Eve a promise which he could not fulfill and in return they despised their perfect fellowship with God their Father, ending there the perfect external unity of the church with her Head. The Serpent has ever after slithered into the vineyard of the Lord seeking those who are unwary or unprepared. He has always sown the seeds of discord and strife by playing to human wisdom and self-generated religious sensibility. An abundant harvest of heresy flourishes from such seeds. Here is where the Serpent can do much damage: in the church. In our present day, he has certainly been most successful where he should have been least successful. Yet, we should be forewarned that the Antichrist arises out of the bosom of the church (2Th 2:4; 1Jn 2:19) and that Satan can appear as an angel of light (2Co 11:14), resplendent with counterfeit holiness.
Every New Testament epistle includes warnings about false teachings and false teachers. Some, such as Jude, were written exclusively to correct the heretical teaching that had arisen in the apostolic era. Jesus Himself is forced to rebuke even the primate of the disciples, Peter, in the most shocking terms (Mt 16:23), establishing the principle that every human voice is subject to the correction of the divine Word. When Scripture testifies, "All mankind are liars," (Ps 116:11), it is excluding no one. Peter, pastor, pope, and president are ultimately subject to the divine Word. There is no one over the Word to tell us what it means. The Word is over all of us, telling us what we mean. Therefore, the church must remain on a war footing until the final peace is revealed when the Head of the church returns in His glory. She remains the ecclesia militans, the church militant. We must be ready to battle our enemy both when he mounts full frontal assaults and when he tries to undermine our defenses from within. The serpent is a skillful sapper and does most damage to the church from inside the church.
Ultimate vindication must remain an eschatological reality. That is why the church militant lives by faith, she only sees and hopes for the ultimate unity now promised by God's Word. If there is to be unity in the church only the Word of Christ can and does guarantee it, so "that they might be one" (Jn 17:11). Church councils, committees, votes, movements, programs, and renovations can never do it. Only the eternal God can through His Word. Christ, the crucified conqueror, alone guarantees anything to us and He guarantees everything to us. Anything that does not square with that Word must be rooted out and cast aside so that all that remains is the Word as the church's true weapon against all comers. And if so, then even the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church (Mt 16:18).

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Cyprian of Carthage
"Since the Lord warns us, saying, 'You are the salt of the earth' (Mt 5:13) and since He commands the simple unto innocence, and yet with our simplicity to be prudent, what else, beloved brothers, befits us, than to use foresight and watching with an anxious heart, both to perceive and to beware of the wiles of the crafty foe, that we, who have put on Christ the wisdom of God the Father, may not seem to be wanting in wisdom in the matter of providing for our salvation. For it is not persecution alone that is to be feared; nor those things which advance by open attack to overwhelm and cast down the servants of God. Caution is easier where danger is manifest, and the mind is prepared beforehand for the contest when the adversary openly declares himself. The enemy is more to be feared and to be guarded against, when he creeps on us secretly; when, deceiving by the appearance of peace, he steals forward by hidden approaches, because of which he has received the name of the Serpent. That is always his subtlety; that is his dark and stealthy cunning for circumventing man. Thus from the very beginning of the world he deceived; and flattering with lying words, he misled inexperienced souls by an incautious gullibility. Thus he endeavored to tempt the Lord Himself. He secretly approached Him, as if he would creep upon Him again, and deceive. Yet he was understood, and beaten back, and therefore prostrated, because he was recognized and detected.
"From which an example is given us to avoid the way of the old man, to take a stand in the footsteps of the conquering Christ, that we may not again be incautiously turned back into the snares of death, but, foreseeing our danger, may possess the immortality that we have received." 

Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, 1-2
Matthew 16:13-28

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
O conquering Christ, set us in Your footsteps that we might follow You as a soldier follows a victorious general. Keep us from being ensnared by false teaching and false teachers. Establish us in Your Word alone. Give us the strength that might not weary of our calling to the redoubt of Your Church. Amen.
For those who have become lax in their vigilance against the incursions of our enemy, that the Word would awaken them to stand fast in the gospel once again
For Ann Olson, that the Lord would send His holy angels to surround her
For Za Johnson, that the Lord of the church would send him the healing and strength than he needs
For all our friends in Canada as they celebrate their independence on Canada Day, that they would rejoice in their freedom which God has hitherto granted them
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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