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Tuesday, October 17, 2006 

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 6

Let’s take another look at the Ablaze! website’s use of scripture. The “What is Ablaze!?” site uses the following passage and explanation:

“They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’”—Luke 24:32-34.
Ablaze! is not a program or a campaign. It began as a mission vision with the hope of starting a mission movement. Each participating congregation, group, mission society, partner church, individual, etc. is challenged to pray about its own particular situation and the part of the mission endeavor it can impact and to design its own strategy to contribute to reaching 100 million people. LCMS World Mission is asking the church to develop mission models that work and can be shared with others. Ablaze! is not an answer…it’s an invitation!

Hmm, why would I spend any time on a three verses that seem to directly contradict my own argument? Just as I looked at an entire parable last post, I think it just as important here to look at what leads up to the apostles saying what they said. The road to Emmaus account is recorded in Luke 24:13-35

Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them. Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

I think the key verse for us to look at is not verse 34 “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” but rather verse 25 “ He said to them, How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” But doesn’t verse 34 make Ablaze!’s argument? No, I don’t believe it does. But I do believe this verse is crucial as to why the confessions seem to not speak to our way of evangelism in America today.

As the apostle start their journey to Emmaus, they are clearly demoralized. The guy they thought was going deliver Israel had just been crucified on a cross and had died. They can’t even mourn him properly as there is no longer a body to sorrow over. For three years they traveled with someone who they thought would be a king only to see him nailed to the cursed tree like the lowest of criminals. They wanted a messiah, and they went looking for the Anointed One at a tomb. I for one do not blame them for losing hope, I’m positive I would have done the same. (truth be told, I would have been one of the Pharisees plotting his arrest. My natural human tendency is to want to follow the Law. But that’s just me.)

Jesus meets them on the road and still they do not recognize him! Why? Because they still are not looking (does anybody blame them?) for Him where he says he will meet them. Jesus even tells them where in Scripture He is and still they do not see him. Just a few nights ago he told them where he could be found, and still they just don’t see him. But when He breaks bread, blesses it and gives it to them, their eyes are opened and they see their Lord and Savior where he said he would be; in the Word and in the Sacrament.

So what are the disciples saying when they proclaim “Did not our heart burn within us”? What was the cause of this holy heartburn? Why is there is no mention of the holy heartburn after Christ reveals Himself in the breaking of the bread? Just think about it and it should not be a surprise.

I would argue that they were looking for Christ outside where He states He’ll continue to serve us to this day. Christ has no other option on the road to Emmaus but to say “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” In these verses we see our Lord frame how His church will come to him until the end of time. The disciples did not believe and for that they were chastised by their Lord. But through the Preaching of the Word and the administration of the blessed Sacrament they met their Lord where we met him, for all time and in all places, just as at Emmaus. Their hearts were burning because they were foolish and unbelieving. After Jesus shows them once again where He meets them (and us as well) the holy heartburn goes away. Emulating the faith of a child is one thing, but emulating the faith of the foolish and slow of heart is something else entirely. We should seek Jesus where he has told us he will be.

Today we sing the Church’s first hymns when we chant the psalms. We read the lessons from the Old Testament where the Prophets spoke of the coming messiah. We hear the apostles, who have been sent by Christ Himself to preach the Word and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, speak to us in the Epistle reading. We hear our Lord himself not only speak to his hearers in ancient Galilee but to us sitting in the pews of our modern churches. In the Emmaus story, Christ gives us a model for all ages to emulate. Word and Sacrament is where he has chosen to meet us. Word and Sacrament is where we are given that saving faith that allows us to see Christ where he wants us to see him.

Now, let’s look at Ablaze!. Just as Julie Martinez stated in her paper “Is Ablaze! Evangelism?” Ablaze! gages itself by the number of critical events reported to a website. This approach is in direct contrast to the Emmaus. Instead of pointing us to the one place where Christ has told us He will be, it has as the “critical event” us and our work. Ablaze! has all the earmarks of making a visible church out of the invisible. How can people be brought to faith outside of the means of grace? As Dr Luther wrote in the large Catachism explaining the third article; “For where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call and gather the Christian church, apart from which no one can come to call the Lord Christ.” If we want to stop being Lutheran and start being PentaBaptiMethoCostal that would make Ablaze! ok and hunky-dory as well. Actually, nothing makes Ablaze! ok and hunky-dory . The teaching that faith can be obtained or sustained outside of Christ’s Church is wrong when other Christian denominations do it, and it should be clearly and obvious to all it’s wrong when we do it!

We in this country have a problem with very poor catechesis. We seem to think Christianity started the day we were confirmed. Or, for the masses with a more bronze tinge, as soon as the ink was dry on the first copy of TLH. Christianity starts and ends at the cross. To look elsewhere, especially at our own works, is foolishness.

We need to reach the “unchurched” by preaching the Law so that the sinner understand his (or her) sinful nature that has existed since Adam’s fall. Whether or not he wants to hear it (the Law) is irrelevant, he needs to hear it. The second part of the equation is once he understands that he falls under the curse of the Law, he needs to hear the sweet message of God’s saving faith in Christ given to us freely for the sake of and on account of Christ.

Ablaze! points to events outside of the Church as critical. This is why Christ tells the apostles and us today to stop being foolish and look to Scripture for those things concerning himself. (“And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself”).

Ablaze! is a foolish attempt to appeal to our inner theologians of glory and make us the subject of the verbs. We need to stop being so foolish and make Christ the subject our evangelism. When we run the verbs, we do it wrong!

The confessors rightfully understood that we only find Christ where he says he is; in Word and Sacrament! We should understand that as well!

“But”, you might say, “Ablaze! is about sharing Jesus. And besides, the website says “Ablaze! is not an answer…it’s an invitation!””

We’ll go over what exactly we’re being invited to in the next post.

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Frank, I've heard that there are some trying to blast Ablaze! by criticizing the use of this verse. Frankly, no pun intended, this is just silly.

Their hearts were "burning within them" precisely because of the Lord's Word He was speaking to them! It was the external Word that was being proclaimed that moved them. And that's precisely the point of this story. Christ does not "appear" to us as He did to them. He does not show up before our eyes, but...He comes today to us through Word and Sacrament. That's the point of the story.

Their "holy heartburn" was precisely because of the Word that Christ was opening to them.

Rev. McCain:

I think you fail to engage Frank's argument in your comment. He isn't denying the Lord encounters the Emmaus two with His word. Of course He does! What I hear Frank saying is that the Word Jesus speaks to them that makes their hearts burn is chiefly a Word of Law, rebuking them for their foolishness and lack of faith. Was it good that Christ opened the Scriptures? Sure! Did it lead them to faith? Eventually! But the burning heart in and of itself is a bad thing, something you want over as quickly as possible. Is it a good thing the bodies of the unbelievers will burn eternally in the lake of fire where the worm doesn't die and the fire is never quenched? Sure it is--it's God's judgment and the saints say "Yea!" and "Amen!" to all His judgments. But is it a pleasant thing for those burning? Uh, no. Is it a state they would want to continue in? I think not (no more than you would want to remain perpetually stupid and slow to believe Christ's Word). Is it a necessary state for all sinners to pass through? Sure! But you'd like to pass that burning part as fast as possible. And I think that's Frank's point, which frankly (pun intended) I think you are missing. The Ablaze! folks love to cite the "holy heartburn" of the disciples as a good thing. It is good--but only in the way the unbelievers burning in the lake of fire is good. As the destruction of the Old Adam and his unbelief it's good. But it's not a state in which you'd want to remain (or wish on others if you are a forgiving sort). It's the Law doing it's killing, not the Gospel making alive. Fire kills. The cool water of Baptism, the body and blood of the Lord indeed puts out the fire and gives life. The burning hearts cease burning after the Lord reveals Himself through His Gospel promise in the Supper. That's Frank's point I think and I think you have not shown where he has made any mistake IMHO.

A. Blaise

The whole argument is simply wrong-headed. The text says that their hearts burned within them precisely as Christ "opened" the Scriptures to them and showed them how the Scriptures all pointed to Him. That's Gospel. Did He rebuke them for their lack of faith? Yes, and then He gave them the Gospel.

I would urge people to get their emotions in check and stop attacking Ablaze! so foolishly like this.

The point is simply wrong. Blaise, you are simply wrong.

Your points lack any foundation in the text, but are speculations that all of what Christ said was Law, when in fact, that simply is not so.

This is not any way to proceed for faithful Lutherans, by making up such ridiculous criticisms.

Rev. McCain,
First, I’m not aware of anyone using these verses to “attack” Ablaze!. In fact, I only know of two or maybe three website that have anything bad to express about our beloved synod’s latest fad. If someone else out there is making the point I am, I am in no way aware of it.

As the previous commenter stated, I wasn’t so sure what your issue with my exegesis of the text was. But your second comment certainly cleared that up. I just don’t believe that we should even want to emulate these two in the state they are in on the road to Emmaus. Can anyone make the argument that they are even believers at this stage? I would say no! Why do we wish to emulate two dullards?

I believe your statement that “speculations that all of what Christ said was Law, when in fact, that simply is not so.” is wrong. Lack of faith is unbelief here, and to the unbeliever, all is law, whether the Word preached is truly Gospel or Law. If they were believers at the time they certainly would have recognized our Lord. As proof text for this part of my argument look at John 10:24-27 “Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of
My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” These sheep are not His as they do not recognize their Shepard. So to them, all is law.

As far as checking my emotions, I believe I’m doing just that. What I’m not looking for is that warm fuzzy feeling that makes me feel like I’m one of the elect. I look for Christ where he has told me he will be, in Word and Sacrament. No emotions involved other than joy in knowing my Lord is where he says he is.

Now in context, what does Ablaze! count? “Seeds of faith” and “critical events” are the things to be measured. My whole point here, in all the posts I’ve written, is we need to point to the means of grace as those things to be measured. Is the Word preached purely and are the Sacraments administered rightly? If so than the Church is doing her job. No emotions involved.

Pastor McCain,
You write "This is not any way to proceed for faithful Lutherans, by making up such ridiculous criticisms." Ablaze isn't about faithful Lutherans, it's about the unchurched, and Lutheran identity isn't even an option here. You better than most should know that Lutheran identity is considered a hindrance to most. And I seem to recall Frank defending you over the "McCain" edition of Concordia when it came down to Lutheran identity.
While Frank might be reaching here a little bit, his overall point is sound.

The point simply is this. We do not serve any purpose well by criticizing on the basis of bad exegesis. I believe peoples' emotions are being carried away and better thinking and reflection is being left behind.

If some choose to, go down this road, you can certainly count me out.

Our Lord Christ opened the Christ-centered nature of the Scriptures to the dejected disciples and gave them a special measure of His grace when He permitted them to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.

It is simply incorrect to suggest that they were "unbelievers" until the moment He allowed them the blessing of recognizing Him physically before their eyes. It was one of his post-resurrection appearances, and the whole point of this story is to confirm and very the great "blessed are those who have not seen, but yet believed" on the basis of the WORD, which in this case was not merely/only/just LAW. Yes, He preached Law to their doubt and unbelief and slow understanding, but then GOSPEL as he showed them precisely how the entire Scriptures testify to them.

People, in their zeal, to attack a LCMS program are simply going down a poor path on this this use/abuse of Luke 24. That is what bothers me and what is my concern.

Frank is not creating this argument, but reflecting one I've read elsewhere by pastors who should know better.

Rev. McCain, do I understand you correctly that you do not mind people’s zeal to attack Ablaze! per se, but their “use/abuse” of this particular Scripture and/or argument to do so? That the crux of the matter is whether the “heartburn” is one of torment or one of balm? I assume that is the case since you have not commented on Frank’s other “What’s Wrong with Ablaze!” posts thus far. Would you please post some links to your Cyberbrethren site (or tell me what category to click on) where you have gone down the roads of better thinking and reflection in critiquing Ablaze!? I do not mean for this request to sound as though I am throwing down some sort of sarcastic gauntlet. I really want to know and read (or re-read) them. I have a great deal of respect for you, sir, but your last paragraph honestly sounds as though you do not believe Frank when he says, “If someone else out there is making the point I am, I am in no way aware of it.” If his point is but one “reflecting one I've read elsewhere by pastors who should know better,” please link us to those pastors’ arguments, so that all may be weighed in the debate. Finally, it has taken a great deal of courage to confront such an imposing figure of the LCMS and the blogosphere. I know your are not fond of anonymous bloggers/post-er, so please do not wield the staff of correction harshly across the back of this sheep. The smoke rising from the landscape after Ablaze! has passed through closes my throat, and the scorched bodies left behind torment me to the very core. Both shepherds and sheep are being slaughtered in the name of this “vision," and it is very hard to keep my emotions in check.

If you do not have the integrity, let alone simple courtesy, to provide your name and location, then do not expect to be taken seriously and to receive a response.

If you wish to contact me privately, you may certainly do so.

Rev. McCain,
First things first, your comment “Frank is not creating this argument, but reflecting one I've read elsewhere by pastors who should know better.” could not be more wrong in my case. The sites I do visit are pretty much those in my blogroll with few exceptions. (I’m most guilty of being a fan of the comic book medium and related websites. In this case I am creating this argument. If I understand your comment correctly, you are implying that I’m taking my cue from others. Everyone who reads this blog should be clear that the thoughts that I write down, unless I credit someone else, are mine and mine alone. For anyone to say otherwise, would be breaking the whole fifth commandment thingy.

Second, if I were to concede to your point that the disciples on the road are believers, are they still people we wish to emulate? Do we want to be foolish and slow of heart? No.

Again, if they are believers at this point, then they are no better than Peter who after his confession “you are the Christ, the son of the living God” was rebuked by our Lord and and called Satan for coming up with his own idea about what the promised Christ would be. If the two are believers then we should in no way want to emulate them, anymore than we would want to emulate Peter when he goes off the reservation. Does simply hearing the Word make one a believer, no it does not. If this were the case, all those who were amazed during Jesus’ earthly ministry when He spoke about things concerning Himself could be counted by Ablaze!. But all who were amazed still abandoned our Lord in Jerusalem. I still believe that the road to Emmaus account is model for the church today. Our eyes are opened only when we seek Him where he says he is, Word and Sacrament.

Frank, fair enough. You came up with this line of reasoning on your own. I have stated why I believe it is wrong. I won't add to that.

Anonymous, see my previous remark about anonymous comments.

Rev. McCain:
I admit I do find some emotionally charged language in this discussion, i.e.: calling arguments "wrong-headed" "foolish" and telling people they are "simply wrong" but such charged language seems to be present also (if not mainly) in your posts, sir. I certainly apologize for any insulting words in my posts to you, as no insult or disrespect was intended. On the contrary, I do respect your learning and scholarship quite a lot and would be sincerely sorry if I gave any other impression in saying I thought you were missing the gist of the argument. I certainly failed to be clear in making my point and would consider failure to get my point to be my fault essentially and not the reader's! I shall try to be more clear here:

Twiceburned clarified things nicely (I thought) when he said the question at issue is whether the burning hearts of the Emmaus two reflect "torment or balm". This was my interest and it seems to me a reasonable exegetical point for brethren in Christ to debate(in a hopefully genteel fashion).

I was not accurate when I said that the Word Jesus spoke to the two on the road was mainly Law and you have quite properly corrected me on that point--that the things in Scripture which point to Christ are often Gospel, even mainly Gospel. But Frank makes the point I was aiming at much better when he notes that simple hearing of the Gospel does not automatically or instantly make one a true believer as in the case of Peter in Matt. 16 or (I would add) the Jews in John 8.

To be more precise, I would say what Jesus preached to the Emmaus two on the road was the word of the cross--all things in Scripture that point to Him, the Crucified One, as Lord and Christ. I assert this because of Christ's words "Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" which frame His expounding to the Emmaus two of the things in Scripture concerning Himself.

St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:18 that "the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Insofar as we do not walk by faith (which would be some of us all the time and all of us some of the time, I'd say), we would have to be numbered among the perishing, would we not? Our old Adam needs continual, daily putting to death, does he not? I would assume the same can be said of the Emmaus two.

The word of the Cross is Gospel when received by faith but foolishness, perishing, and stern rebuke when spoken to those who have not taken up the cross in faith themselves. The rebuke of the cross can be far more devastating than even the 10 commandments! Dr. Luther notes in the Heidelberg disputation that the theologian of glory calls good evil and evil good, and only the theologian of the cross calls a thing what it truly is. I would contend that, on the road, the Emmaus two were having the theologian of glory that lived in them (and lives in us all) burned up by the word of the cross, and that only in the Supper did faith come and open their eyes to see who was speaking to them (the word of the cross alone certainly could have opened their eyes, as a Gospel word, but I don't see evidence from the text that it actually did so all by itself in this instance). The burning heart was a good thing, insofar as that old adam (that old glory theologian) always needs killing--in my heart first of all! But I think such burning is experience as pain and torment, even when it is leading to faith, and that when the burning stops, most consider that a relief!

If this is poor exegesis, I'm happy to be corrected by those who see better, but it seems to fit with the text fairly well to my eye and to be consistent with how fire is seen in the rest of Scripture--as something that burns up sinners and is extinguished by the mercy of Christ Jesus. I've just never seen heartburn as good here or elsewhere but maybe that's just me!

A. Blaise

Rev. McCain,
Will you please address Twice Burned's comment concerning Frank's other posts? Specifically, do you agree with his handling of Luke 15:1-7?
Also your comment "You came up with this line of reasoning on your own." sort of falls in line Twiced Burned's statement " sir, but your last paragraph honestly sounds as though you do not believe Frank when he says." Sounds like you still don't give him his due whether you agree or disagree with his take Luke 24.
Paul Greer, NY

I don't understand Rev. McCain's problem with anonymous comments (and wonder if he might share a little more on that with us). I thought the point of discussion was to engage arguments, ideas, thoughts, exegesis... not personalities. Why do you need to know a person's name and address before you can engage their argument? I didn't see in this thread any comments by the anonymous or pseudonymous contributers that were rude, unkind, or hostile, so what's the big deal?

Rev. Martin,
Rev. McCain has experience dealing with people that hide their unchristian comments behind anonymity. Since I don’t have a very big profile, certainly not as big as president of a publishing house, I’ve chosen to allow such comments.
I'm going to cut Rev. McCain a little slack here.

I, too, cut Rev. McCain a little slack. In fact, I respect his no-anonymity policy a great deal. Yes, his reply to me here stung, but if any of you think he actually wronged me, please read the latest post at my own blog. I posted it there due to its length.

Rev. McCain,
In my Friday night bible study I got to study the story of the rich man and Lazarus recorded in Luke 16:19-31. Verse 31 reads “But he said to him, “if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” concerning the rich man wanting Abraham to send Lazarus to bear witness to his five brothers so his brothers are not suffering the same torment of the flames of Hades.

The Reverend Dr. Arthur A. Just Jr., who’s certainly not a political hack who gets involved with the bickering that we seem to be doing, writes the following concerning verse 31;

“Moreover, Jesus is clearly alluding to his own resurrection from the dead, and the hearer cannot help but think of the Emmaus story. Those two disciples knew all about the empty tomb and the angels’ words but were still downcast. But then they become enrolled into catechesis on the road when Jesus journeys from the dead to them and opens up “Moses and the Prophets” by interpreting them Christologically (Lk 24:27). This Jesus causes their hearts to burn (24:32) but their eyes are not yet opened to see the crucified and risen Christ before them. Only after he breaks bread – portending the eschatological banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob- are they to see Jesus. At that moment, the Emmaus disciples enter into the ongoing feast; they receive a foretaste of the messianic banquet with Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. Their participation begins when they become hearers of the Word and Repentant guests at Jesus’ Table. And to be hearers of the Word is to be drawn into God’s Great Reversal in Jesus Christ. Through radical repentance and a violent break with the past, one enters the kingdom where one shows mercy as the Father in heaven has shown mercy.” (Luke 9:51-24:53, Concordia Commentary, cf. 637,638.)

While Dr. Just may not be using sarcastic terms like “holy heartburn”, he still ends up saying the exact same thing that I am as well as others posting comments; Word and Sacrament is where we meet our Lord, not along the road looking inward to what may be, in our case, just a bad piece of meat for dinner causing indigestion and disguising itself as the “holy heartburn”.

Whether you or anyone else thinks my exegetical skills are poor, or whether you or anyone else think I can’t come up with this line of thinking without consulting other pastors, this much no one can deny; the Rev. Dr. Just’s (who by all accounts, is our synods foremost authority on Lukan text) second volume on Luke DID pass doctrinal review with ease.

If folks want to look inward to their “holy heartburn” instead of Word and Sacrament for their lord, then, then count ME out.

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