Pastor’s Blog: Called, Again, to Be His

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true” (Martin Luther, Explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Small Catechism).

Most Christians are familiar with Paul’s description of the Church as “in but not of” the world (Romans 12:1-2). And, if you ask most pastors and active Christian worshipers, they would be able to identify the phrase as from Paul and from his letter to the Romans. If you ask most pastors and active Christian worshipers, they would be able to give some kind of account as to what that phrase means for them and for their congregation. But if you tracked more closely how pastors and active Christian worshipers live, you would find, as many researchers have, that pastors and active Christian worshipers are often indistinguishable from their neighbors outside Christ’s Church.

The problem begins not so much in the homes of those who don’t identify as Christians or even as religiously affiliated. The problem begins in the homes of those who are and have been for generations. Many of the children I grew up with who left church behind did so because of the incongruity between Sunday morning and the rest of the week. Some left church behind, because, like Demas, they fell in love with the world and deserted their fathers and mothers in the faith (2 Timothy 4:10). So, it must be said, that catechesis, instruction in the faith, is much more than what happens in a class with a pastor or Sunday School teacher. Christian Catechesis is being formed in the faith by Christian parents and godparents in tandem with the local church and pastor as a way of life. Worldly catechesis is being formed as if one belongs to the world and to some other story. Adult converts to the Christian faith enter into the Church by the washing of Holy Baptism, and they must be treated as little children in the faith. That does not mean to be treated childishly. It means they do not yet know how to follow Jesus in lives of limitless service.

In the baptismal rite, the pastor asks three questions, which are, in fact, an exorcism. Calling the person by name, the pastor asks: “Do you renounce the devil?” And the candidate or the godparent of a small child answers: “Yes, I renounce him.” Then, the pastor asks: “Do you renounce all his works?” The candidate or godparent answers: “Yes, I renounce them.” Finally, the pastor asks, “Do you renounce all his ways?” Again, the candidate or godparent answers: “Yes. I renounce them.”

The intent is very clear. There is a way of death, and it must be renounced not only on the day of one’s Baptism into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. It must be renounced daily, and, in difficult times, more frequently than that. The culture of death is the culture of the old evil one who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The culture of death is the way of the world that catechizes people in the way of death.

Then, the pastor asks four more questions. Reciting the Apostles’ Creed article by article, the pastor asks the candidate if he or she believes in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the one true God in three persons. The candidate or godparent answers: “Yes, I believe” to each. After that, the pastor asks: “Do you desire to be baptized?” And the candidate or godparent responds: “Yes, I do.”

The intent is very clear. There is a way of life, and it must be confessed day by day, sometimes minute by minute. The culture of life is the culture of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who came that all might have abundant life that extends eternally beyond biological existence. The culture of life is, paradoxically, the way of the Servant Son of God, who humbled Himself even unto death on a cross, that none might be lost and all saved. Because He joyfully served His Father and His neighbors, even you and me, without fear of biological death and without fear of not gaining the whole world and its fleeting pleasures and impermanent treasures, He destroyed the power of sin, death, and evil. They can never have the last word again over those who are His. The way of life does not and cannot end in the grave. For Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Many do not understand that Paul is talking about the baptismal way of life in Galatians 2: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is now no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (2:20). If you are baptized, you are no longer your own. You have been called in the washing of Holy Baptism to be Christ’s. Day after day, you are called, again, to be His! When we fail to be His, and we all fail, then private confession and forgiveness is needed to be restored.

Christian parents, grandparents, and godparents, you are catechists. Either you are catechizing children for the way of death or the way of life. Sadly, if you do not marry a Christian who actually practices the faith daily, you will each be catechizing the child for a different way. Make no mistake. There is no in-between. Those who straddle barbed wire fences end up in a most painful predicament.

If you are breathing, you are in the world. But you are not of the world when you are His through the washing of Holy Baptism. You cannot skip the services of God’s house, fail to receive Christ’s true Body and most precious Blood in the Blessed Sacrament, and avoid reading and studying the Scriptures, and yet make a credible claim that you are His! You cannot buy wholesale the world’s goods in the marketplace of ideas and continue to claim to be catechized by the One who has purchased you at great price on Calvary’s tree.

If you plan to marry according to God’s plan, one man and one woman in a lifelong covenant of faithfulness and open to the gift of children, there are some people and some places and even some false churches you will have to scrupulously avoid when you are His. So, renounce daily the way of death and those who choose the devil, his works, and his ways. Lay hold of the gift of eternal life given without cost to you save the daily confession of faith in the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a daily confession that is not merely with the lips but with one’s life!

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

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The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.