Four Branches September 2018

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Exegetical Theology: Little Words, Big Worth – ἀλλά

Often the littlest words get the longest entries in dictionaries. With the many different glosses offered for particles like καί and γάρ, you might think these words can mean almost anything. You also might be tempted to skip the and’s and for’s to focus on bigger words that would seem to pack more exegetical punch.

But these little words are often the most important ones in exegesis, because they tell you how the different statements relate to each other. Instead of thinking about how these particles might be translated, try thinking in terms of what they do. Consider how a particle connects two statements together. Consider the logic behind the connection.

For example, consider ἀλλά (“but”). ἀλλά marks a “correction” to the previous statement. Often it “corrects” a “negative” with a “positive,” such as in Ephesians 5:29 (CWS epistle for Oct. 7): “For no one ever hated his own flesh, ἀλλά he nourishes and cherishes it.” The first clause gave the negative—what isn’t. The second “corrected” with the positive—what is.

ἀλλά can “correct” statements in more subtle ways too. Sometimes it “corrects” something that was not said but might be wrongly inferred. (“But here’s what that means.”) Sometimes it “corrects” a statement in that simply more needs to be said to get the full picture (“But wait! There’s more!”) Sometimes it “corrects” the discussion by returning it to its primary topic (“But back to my main point.”) Thinking about how ἀλλά is “correcting” one clause with another helps you get at the inspired writer’s point.

The same text from Ephesians gives a great opportunity to consider what Paul is “correcting” with ἀλλά (and its synonym πλήν).

5:23-24: For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church, himself the Savior of the body. ἀλλά just as the church submits to Christ, so also wives submit to your husbands in everything.

5:32-33: This is a great mystery. (I’m speaking of Christ and the church). πλήν each one of you too should love his wife as himself, and a wife is to respect her husband.

What’s being “corrected” here? Maybe it’s the possible wrong inference that in speaking of marriage, Paul is only presenting a picture of Christ and the church and not something people are actually to do. Or maybe he’s bringing the topic each time back to his main point (husbands and wives) from the digression Paul keeps making (Christ and the church). In either case, the but’s show us a text where the inspired author’s main intent was to teach sanctification, and yet he keeps finding himself drawn (by the Spirit of God) to proclaiming and extolling the greater love of Christ for us.

Whatever the topic, Paul couldn’t help but gush about Jesus. May the same be said of us. Blessings, brothers, as you teach God’s wonderful design for marriage, and as you, like Paul, find yourself enthralled in the delightful “digression” of the even more wonderful gospel of Christ. 

For further reading on what different particles do, and how they organize the logic of a text, read Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament.

Rev. Aaron Jensen serves as associate pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Adrian, MI and is the author of research articles on the biblical languages published in a number of academic journals.

Systematic Theology for Everyman: A Lutheran Birthright

Could that be true?  Of the four branches of theology, systematics often seems the most esoteric and least accessible.  If that is often true for pastors, just imagine how inaccessible systematic theology is for laymen.  Drop terms like providence, genus apostelesmaticum, habitus practicus, and mystic union into everyday conversations and you will likely notice eyes glaze over.

However, systematic theology is for every Christian.  Just think back to the birthday of the Lutheran Church.  No, not October 31, 1517, the birthday of the Reformation.  Think about June 25, 1530.  On that day in Augsburg, a group of Christian laymen presented a confession of their faith.  Still today, that confession defines what it means to be a Lutheran.  Not only is this confession thoroughly Scriptural[1], it is indisputably a work of systematic theology.  The Augsburg Confession presents the chief articles of the Christian faith in a logical way.  It also addresses the chief articles of controversy with the Roman Catholic Church—all of this in a document that can be read aloud in about two hours.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that the Augsburg Confession was systematic theology intended for laymen.  Yes, theologians had a hand in preparing it.  However it was addressed to an emperor.  All of the original signers were statesmen, not pastors.  It was read by a chancellor, not a preacher.  Thus, from its birth, the Lutheran church has been a church of laymen willing to dig into systematic theology.

What does all of this mean still today?  Systematic theology, especially as presented in the Augsburg Confession, is for every Lutheran.  Allow this author to illustrate the use of the Augsburg Confession with a few examples from his own ministry.

The Augsburg Confession served as the subject of study at an informal summer Bible study.  The class read an article.  Then there was an opportunity for members to ask questions and for the pastor to offer a few thought questions as well.  Members enjoyed the review of some basic and some not so basic teachings of the Bible.  It was striking how the Augsburg Confession stirred up many questions that connected to people’s daily lives.

After taking a young couple through premarriage counseling, they asked for more information about the differences between Lutherans and Catholics.  The young man was Catholic in background while the young woman was a member.  Both appreciated and were engaged by the study that put portions of the Augsburg Confession and the Catechism of the Catholic Church side by side with appropriate Scripture passages.

To add some variety to a four-year catechism program, one year, the students studied most of the articles in the Augsburg Confession.  The class included 5th graders, so extra time was spent explaining terms.  However that was a helpful review for the older students, and prepared the younger ones for the future.

Below are links to samples of the items mentioned above.  If you would like complete materials or have materials you are willing to share, e-mail the author at:

[1] In his Historical Introduction to the Symbolic Books, Bente writes: “Duke William of Bavaria declared: ‘Never before has this matter and doctrine been presented to me in this manner.’  And when Eck assured him that he would undertake to refute the Lutheran doctrine with the Fathers, but not with the Scriptures, the Duke responded, ‘Then the Lutherans, I understand, sit in the Scriptures and we of the Pope’s Church beside the Scriptures!’” (p. 19).

Article 2 sample  |  Article 2 (Teacher)

Article 7 sample  |  Article 7 (Teacher)

Lutheran / Catholic study sample  | Augsburg Confession sample

Pastor Joshua Becker serves Christ Lutheran Church in Saginaw, MI.

Historical Theology: Classics – St. Augustine’s The City of God

“All of western theology is a footnote to Augustine.”  That’s a huge historical statement. It’s also a compelling invitation to theologians to learn something more of ourselves and how our tradition took its shape by listening to Augustine in his own words.  Luther, who studied in an Augustinian Order, favorably quotes or references Augustine more than any other Church Father. Johann Gerhard is replete with lines like, “As Augustine says it…”   The Lutheran tradition is rooted in Augustinian Christianity, to say the least.

“Among the solutions which Christians have offered to the problem of the origin of evil in God’s good world, St. Augustine’s City of God is still classic,” wrote Jaroslav Pelikan.[1]  In this monumental work, written over fifteen years, Augustine responds to those who claimed that the fall of Rome, the “Eternal City” as it was called, at the invasion of Alaric and his Goths in 410 AD was the result of the Empire adopting Christianity.  But this immediate cause is rather incidental to the main purposes he reaches by the end of the long journey.  The problem of evil is examined in light of God’s revelation from Creation to the End and in relation to original sin and the incarnation of Christ and the providence of God.  There are few points of Christian doctrine untouched and unapplied.

Trained as a rhetorician, Augustine begins by carefully dismantling the pagan arguments against the Christians, using their terms and philosophers.  He moves into a history of the world from the biblical record.  His exegesis often doesn’t sit so well with a Lutheran pastor, but his polemic against a culture that is overly attached to its earthly “city” and false gods is as fitting in this century as it was in the 5th.  But this is all a set up for Augustine to move into Christian encouragement and instruction. As the Roman world seems to be falling apart, he preaches a broader view with an enduring city as the goal of humanity.  He is pastoral and pedagogical in telling in the story of two cities, one of man and one of God, and in that wants to lead the reader to see and embrace his or her position in this world while not being of this world.

In the coming articles, we’ll quickly overview of The City of God and highlight a few main conclusions.

The size of the work alone, at something like two million words, may well discourage a busy man from adding St. Augustine’s City of God to the list of “books I’m meaning to read”.  Abridged versions remove and summarize some of the many tangential chapters so that it becomes more like 500 pages.  If someone wished only to read a portion, the heart of the work arguably lies especially in the final books (XIX to XXII).  Online versions are available in pdf for free.

You’ve already read the City of God three times and are looking for something else? For a thoughtful consideration of Luther’s relationship to St. Augustine, see the WLS essay file, “Martin Luther, Augustinian” by Richard Balge.

[1] Some Anti-Pelagian Echoes in Augustine’s City of God, Concordia Theological Monthly, Volume 23, Number 6 (1952), page 448.

Pastor Tyler Peil serves as associate pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, secretary of the WELS Nebraska District and on the Scripture Committee of the new hymnal project.

Practical Theology: The Importance of the Invite

There are no magic bullets when it comes to outreach.  Perhaps you can relate to this example.  You pour yourself into an outreach event like a soccer camp or VBS, but you see no fruit from that event.[1]  Yet, God sends people in from the side because they saw your street sign, or simply Googled “Lutheran Church.”[2]  God reminds us who is in control.

And while there are no magic bullets we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the invite.  Who of us doesn’t think of Andrew who invited Simon Peter to see Jesus? (John 1:41) Word of mouth is still king for businesses and for churches.  Statistics show that 60-80% connect to a church through an invitation.[3]

It’s amazing to observe how many people have connected to our church through one active inviter.[4]  As I look at the current make-up of our church I see a string of invitations linking one family to another to another.  There exists this evangelical snowball effect when the invited becomes the inviter.

Consider a beautiful vision of the future painted by Pastor Jon Hein: “The goal of our evangelism emphasis in coming years is no less than a cultural change. It would be odd for a WELS member to say, “I go to Peace Lutheran, but I never give any offerings to Peace.” We want it to be just as odd for someone to say, “I go to Peace Lutheran, but I never try inviting my neighbor/friend to come with me to worship.”[5]

So how well is your church doing with the invitation?  It’s so important to us we included “inviting” as one of our church’s core values.

I wanted to do my best to use these moments to empower you to have a culture of invitation.  So consider these ideas and resources.

  • Business card invites. They fit in any wallet or purse.  They are great whenever you introduce yourself as pastor, or talk about your church.
  • Facebook Invites. Ask your Facebook friends from your church page or your personal page to share it. To make your own social media invite go to  You can customize it based on the season.  Here’s one example.
  • Eliminate obstacles by providing an invitational script. People have good intentions, but they often don’t know how to go about inviting.  Teach them how.
  • Before Christmas or Easter services highlight the opportunity of an invitation through a video announcement like this or this.
  • Regularly share the stories of how you invited others, or how your members invited others.
  • Ask your members if they are inviting others. If they are not, ask why.  Really listen to the reasons they are not inviting.  These conversations could guide your counsel or open your eyes to blind spots within your church.

Pastor Dustin Blumer serves Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, IL.

[1] It’s still good to do these outreach events.

[2] The actual examples of people who came to Amazing Love within the last 6 months and became WELS members.

[3] Taken from “Ignite” by Nelson Searcy

[4] Thank you Leslie Busse.

[5] 2017 BORAM “Commission on Congregational Counseling.”