Commemoration of Dr. Robert Barnes, Lutheran Martyr

On July 30, we commemorate Dr. Robert Barnes (1495-1540), a 16th century Augustinian friar and prior who saw the need for reform in the English Church and eventually became one of history’s first Lutheran martyrs.

After a controversial Christmas 1525 sermon in Cambridge, Barnes was convicted of heterodoxy and condemned to recant or be burnt. In 1528, he managed to escape to Antwerp, going on to meet Martin Luther in Wittenberg. Barnes published a book on his Protestant views in 1530.

An excerpt from Barnes’ writings:

“Scripture says that faith alone justifies because it is that through which alone I cling to Christ. By faith alone I am partaker of the merits and mercy purchased by Christ’s blood. It is faith alone that receives the promises made in Christ. Through our faith the merits, goodness, grace, and favour of Christ are imputed and reckoned to us.” [1]

Barnes returned to England in 1531 as a chaplain for the king and an intermediary with Lutheran Germany. Raised Catholic, King Henry VIII supported reforming the church to varying degrees, stemming from his desires to end and begin marriages with women of alternating Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. After Pope Clement VII refused to grant his annulment from Catherine of Aragon, Henry sent Barnes on an unsuccessful mission to win the support of Luther. The king broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church and secretly married Anne Boleyn in 1533. After Henry executed his second wife and lost his third to a fever following childbirth, Barnes assisted in negotiating the terms of his marriage to Anne of Cleves. Henry’s fourth marriage ending in divorce cast a shadow over Barnes and all associated with the dealings. Despite reforms, the Church of England remained largely Catholic and Barnes’ position became increasingly precarious.

During the 1540 Lenten season, Barnes preached a sermon attacking Bishop Gardiner, was arrested, and sent to the Tower of London. Barnes and two other Protestant preachers were burned to death on July 30, 1540.

Barnes’ final confession remained true to his Lutheran beliefs:

“There is none other satisfaction unto the Father, but this [Christ’s] death and passion only… That no work of man did deserve anything of God, but only [Christ’s] passion, as touching our justification… For I knowledge the best work that ever I did is unpure and unperfect… Wherefore I trust in no good work that ever I did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ.” [2]

Martin Luther had this to say of his fellow reformer’s martyrdom:

“This Dr. Robert Barnes we certainly knew, and it is a particular joy for me to hear that our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest has been so graciously called by God to pour out his blood and to become a holy martyr for the sake of His dear Son… He always had these words in his mouth: Rex meus, regem meum [“my king, my king”], as his confession indeed indicates that even until his death he was loyal toward his king with all love and faithfulness, which was repaid by Henry with evil. Hope betrayed him. For he always hoped his king would become good in the end. Let us praise and thank God! This is a blessed time for the elect saints of Christ and an unfortunate, grievous time for the devil, for blasphemers, and enemies, and it is going to get even worse. Amen.” [3]

[1] Neelak S. Tjernagel, ed., The Reformation Essays of Dr. Robert Barnes (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1963), 36.

[2] George Pearson, ed., The Remains of Myles Coverdale, Bishop of Exeter (Cambridge: University Press, 1846), 355, 379, 383, 397.

[3] “Preface to Robert Barnes Confessio Fidei (1540).” Translated by Mark DeGarmeaux from pp.449-51 of vol. 51 of D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar: Hermann Bohlau, 1883-). Found in Treasury of Daily Prayer, Scot Kinnaman, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008), 574-5.

Further reference and resource:

Dodgers, Rev. Anthony. “Robert Barnes: A Lutheran Martyr in England.” July 30, 2017.…/robert-barnes-lutheran-ma….

[Dr. Robert Barnes and his Fellow-Prisoners Seeking Forgiveness, Joseph Martin Kronheim, 1887]

Christ Academy High School Begins

Christ Academy: Timothy School and Christ Academy: Phoebe School began on Sunday, July 26. It’s a strange year for many reasons (not least of which is that we had to hold this a month later than planned and for only a week), but we’re still deeply thankful that we’re able to hold our annual summer event for high school students interested in Lutheran theology. They’ll spend the week also learning more about the vocations of pastor and deaconess, and sharing in the joy of fellowship with one another.
Rev. Matt Wietfeldt, Director of Christ Academy, introduced Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., President of CTSFW, to this year’s participants after this morning’s chapel, asking him to say a few words of welcome.  Below, we’ve transcribed his words from a recording of his address to this year’s participant’s.
PRESIDENT RAST: I know it’s kind of hard to hear in here, so if you’re having trouble hearing me, let me know. Or if you don’t want to hear me, uh, don’t say anything, okay? [Laughter.] But really, we’re delighted to see you here. We just had no idea whether this would come off or not, and we’re deeply, deeply thankful to the Lord for allowing us to gather together with you. It’s great to see you all, great to have you here on campus, great to welcome you to the community.
How many of you, this is your first time? [Hands raise.] Fantastic. We’re glad you’re here, and for those of you who are old timers: welcome back.
I’m entering my 10th year as president of the Seminary. I’m starting my 25th as a member of the faculty. So none of you were around when I started teaching here, which means that Pastor Wietfeldt really is old…I don’t know about these gray hairs. But anyways.
I’m really just delighted we’re able to push forward on this. It’s a really nice opportunity for you; those who have been here before know that, those of you who are here for the first time will learn that. It’s a unique place in which we live and serve. And it’s a unique thing that we work toward, as you’re discerning whether pastoral ministry is for you or diaconal ministry is for you.
The sermon this morning actually touched on something really important: the need for workers in the Church. The importance of those who will proclaim the Gospel in Word and in deed, and take it out to a world that is disrupted in a way that I honestly haven’t experienced in my lifetime.
But, as pastor pointed out, I am a historian, so one of the things I do is look back and see: have there been times where we’ve had these sorts of experiences before? And most people know by this time about the Spanish flu of 1918, which was a terrible, terrible pandemic, just massive disruptions around the world, but there were others as well. A few months ago I wrote a little article for the “Lutheran Witness” on the Yellow Fever epidemic (it wasn’t a pandemic), an epidemic that [was in] Philadelphia and was terribly, terribly destructive, especially for the Lutherans in Philadelphia.
Now back in the 1700s, Philadelphia was kind of a Lutheran center; there was a portion of the city called Germantown (still is), and it was founded in the early 1680s [to] kind of welcome German immigrants into America before they would disperse into the west—which meant, like, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. So not very far.
So folks would come in to Germantown—Philadelphia, Germantown—and it had a really big German population, and, of course, back then, when you had a big German population, you also had a big Lutheran population. And so they all came together and the Lutherans were the most deeply affected group by the [epidemic]. Nobody quite knew why…they didn’t know what caused it: mosquitoes carrying yellow fever, and the places where the Lutheran German immigrants lived being places where mosquitoes bred most profusely. And it ended up being just disastrous for the community.
They found themselves wondering, “What in the world do we do? Why is God punishing us? Why is God allowing this to happen?” And they struggled with those kinds of questions that sound 2020. Why is this happening? Why is God allowing this to come upon us?
I say, as an old guy particularly, “Hey, things were pretty good for most of my life and now all of a sudden we have this mess? And I have to wear this thing? (Wherever it is, let’s see if I can find it [Dr. Rast finds his face mask in his pocket and holds it up].) This thing that I don’t like to wear?” But we do it. And we put these things on, keep them on, wear them for the sake—not so much for myself, I’m old enough now that I don’t worry about dying, it’ll happen soon enough—but I feel compelled to take care of my neighbor as best I can.
Folks wonder: does this do any good? Well, who in the world knows? Since the news changes just about every other day, right? But we can serve in this small way, so we do. And so we’re doing.
That hasn’t changed. And you heard it better in the sermon. The Lord came into this world to do what? To serve. The Son of Man came to serve. Not to be a lord, but rather to give His life as the ransom for all; pay for the sins of all people. And so in our small way we continue that, and we look forward to learning more about that—and putting it into practice as we gather together over this next [week].
It’s really great; really, really great to have you here. We’ve been doing this now, we’re entering into our 175th year as a Seminary. So if I can do math, which I can’t, I can figure out what 25 years out of 175 is—some of you can do that much better than I can, I’m a theologian, it means I can’t count—but the 175 years that we’ve had here in Fort Wayne (we were in Springfield, Illinois, for a hundred years, and then back here in Fort Wayne), they’ve been characterized by this commitment to the Gospel of Christ. To be faithful to the Scriptures, confessing as Lutherans, and doing so in a world that is always in chaos.
And so when we look around 2020 and say (are you doing like I am? I mean, I get enough memes from my friends, “2020” that’s all you have to put, “That’s very 2020”), and I get that it’s different, but at the same time, what the Lord gives us to proclaim, what the Lord gives us to do, remains constant. That is, to preach Christ crucified and risen again, taking away all our sins.
So there’s a wonderful, wonderful kind of coherence, in one sense, of putting it…there’s a wonderful kind of consistency in terms of the way the Lord interacts with us frail people who live our lives for short periods of time, even while He has the scope of eternity under His feet.
And so to spend a little time with you over a few weeks in this strange summer is really, really good. And if there’s anything we can do to make your time here more beneficial, more comfortable, if you’re feeling unsafe let us know. No, let those guys know, I’m the president, I don’t do anything [laughter]. I tell other people to do that. Actually, you don’t want me to do anything, because I wouldn’t know what to do. They actually know.
But we really are blessed, and it is a blessing to have great leaders like Pastor Wietfeldt, and it’s a great blessing to have you here with us. Thank you, and I look forward to our time together.

Deaconess Intensives Come to an End

Today marks the end of a two-week deaconess intensive, held virtually and on campus here at CTSFW.
A few words on what it means to be a part of the program from Associate Director Deaconess Amy Rast, MSW, MA in Deaconess Studies:
Recently I’ve heard people describe our program as “social work” due to its focus on “acts of mercy.” Should you hear these types of comments, please do help them try to understand the depth and breadth and height of God’s mercy. True, God’s mercy is certainly present in the physical acts of clothing, feeding, sheltering, healing and the like. However, mercy is central to who God is, as evidenced in the Father’s compassionate giving of His son, in Christ’s bearing of our sins, and His sacrificial work on the cross for us, and in the faith-creating and sustaining work of the Spirit. Mercy is a way of life for God’s people, as they respond to His mercy in faith toward Him and in love toward one another. Therefore, mercy is central to the life of a deaconess, as she attends to physical needs, shares God’s Word, teaches the faith, encourages believers in the Christian life, consoles the suffering, confronts the sinning, and tells the Good News of salvation. CTSFW deaconesses teach, reach and care – and that is a life of mercy, not social work.
It has been wonderful having these ladies with us. We pray their training serves them well and God richly blesses their ministries.
For more information about our deaconess program visit our website at

Church Planting with Dr. Adam Koontz

The Rev. Dr. Adam Koontz, Assistant Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, discusses his experiences in church planting with Communication Specialist Rebecca Ahlersmeyer.

Continuing Education & Celebration of Herman Sasse

Though we have had to cancel a number of Continuing Education courses this year (due to COVID restrictions and typically along geographical lines; the site coordinators make the call as per their home state regulations and other considerations), we have still been able to hold a number of these courses. It is a particular joy to fellowship with one another in person again.
This photo is from Prof. John T. Pless’s CE course on “Luther’s Catechism in the Congregation” at St. James Lutheran Church in Gonzales, Louisiana. Or, as Prof. Pless also calls it: Cajun Catechetics.
Pastors from Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Nebraska attended the course. This is Prof. Pless’s third time in Gonzales. In addition to daily instruction and, as per tradition, the pastors enjoyed a shrimp boil and a crab boil, hosted by Rev. Karl Hollibaugh of St. James. The class met from June 22-24.
Thanks go to Rev. Hollibaugh and Rev. Josh Leigeber for the photos, and to Prof. Pless for the write-up on his class.
On Friday, July 17, Prof. Pless also joined with other theologians from North America, Germany, and Brazil for a virtual celebration of the 125th birthday of Hermann Sasse (1895-1976). Sasse was a leading confessional Lutheran theologian of the 20th century known for his opposition to Nazism and his unflinching commitment to the Lutheran Confessions. Sasse was a visiting lecturer at Concordia Theological Seminary when it was located at Springfield and he was awarded an honorary D.D. by our seminary. CTSFW is home to the Sasse archives.

The focus of the celebration last Friday was on the publication of a festschrift in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Sasse’s birth. The book was edited by Dr. Werner Klan, emeritus professor at our sister seminary in Oberursel, Germany. Prof. Pless is one of twelve authors in this volume.
More information on the book can be found by clicking here.

175th Anniversary: St. Paul Installation

The bird’s eye view of Fort Wayne is from 1868. St. Paul’s is number 14 on the map, on Barr St, where you can still find it today.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago on this date in 1845, Rev. Wilhelm Sihler was installed as pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne (as well as Zion Lutheran Church of Friedheim). This is the Sihler after whom Sihler Auditorium here on campus—where most of our Symposia lectures take place—is named. He lived and served in Indiana for 40 years, helping to found CTSFW as well as the LCMS, among other accomplishments. From the “What Does This Mean?” blog, by Rev. Bob Smith, CTSFW librarian:
In 1843, a copy of Wyneken’s ‘Distress of the German Lutherans of North America’ fell into [Sihler’s] hands. Moved to help German immigrants on the American frontier, he came to America as a teacher, but was soon called as a pastor in Pomeroy, Ohio. Wyneken and Löhe convinced him to embrace F. C. D.’s idea to found a seminary for second career pastors nicknamed Nothilfer (“Emergency Helpers”) and Sendlinge (“Sent Ones”) By then, Tens of Thousands of Germans each year poured onto the American frontier, looking to carve new lives out of virgin forests and swamp land. There was little time to follow the usual path of identifying future pastors in their middle school years, provide a classical high school education followed by seminary. Löhe provided an initial education in Germany and Sihler and his assistant pastor would complete it.
Photograph of St. Paul’s uploaded to on April 30, 2011. St. Paul’s has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982.

COVID Update: Coffee Hour

On-campus life continues to open up here at CTSFW, with prudence and caution still playing a major role in all decision-making. All visitors, students, staff, and faculty are required to wear face masks, with exceptions for those teaching a class who need to be heard clearly (so that no one has to try and understand Greek through a mask). Physical distance remains the expected norm and the absentee policy also remains flexible, to allow students, faculty, and staff to make prudent decisions about their health, especially if they are showing any symptoms.
That said, we are also happy to announce these particular changes:
Chapel attendance opened to visitors and families of students on July 6. All attending the morning chapel service are asked to practice social distancing by spreading out in designated seating areas (though families may sit together). Protective face coverings must be worn during the morning chapel service by all, except infants and those leading worship. Weekly Holy Communion will resume on August 5.
Coffee Hour after chapel resumed this morning. We had a line of students, faculty, and staff waiting their turn for coffee, set up outside the Student Commons.

Going forward, it will be held outdoors on the plaza as weather permits, and held in the Student Commons when the weather is inclement. Friday afternoon Gemütlichkeit will resume in September.
Today was also the beginning of Summer Session III, which means chapel was more full than usual this morning as we welcomed our Graduate Studies and MA in Deaconess Studies students to intensives. The chapel staff marked off the pews with tape to indicate where each individual or family unit should stand, which created something of a checkerboard pattern in the congregational sitting/standing layout.
The Dining Hall has opened to visitors and family members of seminary students, staff, and faculty. All who are using the Dining Hall must respect any guidelines that Creative Dining will have in place for meals.
Library services will remain closed to everyone except library staff until September 1. The library staff are available online, during normal work hours, to assist with research needs such as scanning materials or arranging for book pick-up. However, the central area of the campus, including the gym, has also opened this week. Rental of some seminary facilities to the general public has resumed as well.
And, of course, these changes have been implemented with the understanding that circumstances in the weeks ahead may cause immediate changes in our guidelines. We’ll keep you informed. God’s richest blessings to you this week!

Military Project Thank You

Deaconess Carolyn Brinkley shared this picture, posted to her page two days ago by Chaplain Jacob Scott with the following caption:

“Thanks so much, Deaconess Carolyn and the CTSFW Military Project! (How’d she know it was on my Amazon list?)”

When Deaconess Brinkley asked Chaplain Scott if we could share his photo with everyone on our CTSFW Facebook page, he agreed, but also wanted to add this quote:

“Thanks to ‘our’ Deaconess Carolyn Brinkley and the CTSFW Military Project for faithfully encouraging so many of us while we serve America’s sons and daughters around the globe. Her thoughtful gifts of books and worship materials have been personally edifying and undoubtedly a blessing to my soldiers.”

Deaconess Brinkley runs the CTSFW Military Project. She provides resources to chaplains (and, through them, to the men and women in the Armed Forces), also praying for those who serve and connecting them with gifts from individuals, congregations, and other groups across the Missouri Synod. She’s the hand behind the notes of encouragement the CTSFW community writes to chaplains and military personnel connected to our community that go out each quarter. You can learn more about the CTSFW Military Project at

She also wanted to point out that the book Chaplain Scott is holding, “Making Christian Counseling More Christ Centered” by Rick W. Marrs, PhD, was purchased and can be purchased from our CTSFW bookstore. You can contact the store at or (260) 452-2160.

Online Communion Addendum

The LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) put together an addendum on Communion and COVID-19. It was written to address a document on online/home communion that has been circulating in the LCMS, endorsing communion at home through an online format (“Communion in Homes During Times of Crisis: Scriptural and Confessional Principles”). Four of our faculty members serve on the CTCR: Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., President; Prof. John Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions; Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Professor of Systematic Theology; and Dr. James Bushur, The Carl and Erna Weinrich Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Church Studies. The addendum was written at the request of Dr. Matthew Harrison, President of the LCMS.

While the CTCR finds both common ground and empathy with their brothers in the ministry who seek to serve their people and congregations faithfully through online Communion (see, in particular, reason 1), they disagree with the conclusions that these brothers draw, fearing that, when practiced in such a way, the Sacrament raises doubts rather than strengthens faith.

From reason 2. It is the Lord’s Supper, not our supper:

The Sacrament of the Altar is not ours to do with it as we please. It is the Lord’s Supper and He is the true “officiant” since it is He who acts in the Words of Institution — and who instructs us regarding the proper use of His Supper.

“Our Lord Our Lord [sic] Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’

“In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

In these words, He calls us (His disciples) to repeat His holy meal (Do this) in His remembrance. He tells us what to do (taking bread and the cup of wine), what we are eating and drinking (His body and blood) and what we receive with it (forgiveness). The synoptic Gospels reinforce one another in these essential facts while St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians corroborates them in the earliest church, showing both how they may be wrongly and rightly enacted…

“It is not a question of can one communion alone; rather, it is a question of should one commune alone.”* Similarly, the CTCR’s primary concern with online Communion is whether one can do it with certainty — whether it is a right use (“truly good, right and salutary”) of the Sacrament “according to Christ’s institution.”

Concern over right use is clearly evident in the Formula of Concord… These are matters of right use — the usus or actio that the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration discusses:

“In order to preserve this true Christian teaching on the Holy Supper and to avoid and eliminate many kinds of idolatrous abuses and perversions of this testament, this useful rule and guide is taken from the Words of Institution: nothing has the character of a sacrament apart from the use [usus] instituted by Christ or the divinely instituted action [actio]. (That is, when Christ’s institution is not observed as he established it, there is no sacrament.) This rule dare not be rejected in any way, but it can and should be followed and preserved in the church of God with great benefit. The usus or actio (that is, the practice or administration) does not refer primarily to faith or to the oral partaking, but to the entire external, visible administration of the Supper, as Christ established the administration of the Supper: the consecration, or Words of Institution, and the distribution and reception or oral partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood. Apart from this practice it is not to be regarded as a sacrament — for example, when in the papistic Mass the bread is not distributed but is made into a sacrifice, or enclosed [in a tabernacle], or carried about in a procession, or displayed for adoration.”

This is very much pertinent to this conversation about online Communion. The “useful rule and guide” offered here is that “when Christ’s institution is not observed as he established it, there is no sacrament.” It has to do with “the entire external, visible administration of the Supper” and includes consecration, distribution and reception according to Christ’s institution.

And from reason 4. Emergency Baptism? Yes. Emergency Communion? No:

As we have noted, both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have much in common. Both are instituted by Christ and depend entirely on the Gospel Word that empowers them and that defines their benefit — that both bestow forgiveness, life and salvation.

Yet, the different Means of Grace are also unique. The written Word can be disseminated in a variety of forms, while always retaining its character of divine inspiration and truth and offering throughout its pages the Gospel of salvation (e.g., John 5:39; Acts 17:1–2, 10–11; Rom. 1:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:16). The spoken Word of the Gospel, proclaimed individually by countless members of the royal priesthood and preached from pulpits as well as scattered abroad (“broadcast”) as far and wide as sound can be carried and without any restrictions on who would hear it, always retaining its character as the power of God for salvation (e.g., Matt. 13:3–9; Rom. 10:17; Luke 24:34). Baptism, administered always with water and always to a particular individual (even if thousands are baptized on the same day), retains its individual character as a means by which we receive discipleship, adoption, the Holy Spirit and new birth. And, in an emergency, any Christian baptizes (e.g., Matt. 3:11; 28:19; John 1:33; Acts 2:38–41; Rom. 6:3–4; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

So also, then, we receive the Lord’s Supper as a unique means of grace. It is not received by meditative reading alone, like the written Word. It is not scattered abroad, like the spoken Word. Unlike Baptism, it is not administered to the isolated individual except for when the pastor, who is called by the assembled church, carries the Sacrament on behalf of the assembly to the sick member. We value the Sacrament highly, but we restrict its administration rather than sharing it freely, having those with doubts and questions, visitors from other confessions and even our own children wait until they can share our confession (1 Cor. 1:10), examine themselves and rightly discern Christ’s body and blood. This is especially true in view of the sobering fact that the apostle’s instructions for the right use of the Supper contain a unique warning that its misuse can actually be harmful to the uninstructed and unprepared communicant both physically and spiritually (1 Cor. 11:27–32; see below under #5). Each of the Means of Grace is rightly used in a manner appropriate to it.

You can read the full 13-page addendum, positing ten reasons to question online Communion as good, right, and salutary by clicking here.

*Another resource is an unpublished paper written by Pr. Trevor Sutton (LCMS). His paper is “Making Sense of Online Communion: A Certain and Best Celebration of the Lord’s Supper,” dated January 17, 2020, available from the author.

Feast: St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Today is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. The two readings shared below are from Acts 15 and Galatians 2, which relate some of the way these brothers in Christ interacted with one another in accordance with the authority given to them in the days of the early Church. Peter preached most often to the circumcised (Jews) and Paul to the uncircumcised (Gentiles).

Much of the controversies and debates that raged in the early Church revolved around the tension between Jews and Gentiles and what made a person a Christian, such as whether the old ceremonial laws were still necessary for salvation–circumcision in particular. The answer here was (and is) no: we have been justified by faith through Jesus Christ alone.

Peter, an influential apostle/elder in the early Church’s Jerusalem Council, agreed with his brother in the ministry, Paul, who most often and clearly spoke out against the circumcision party. That said, Christ’s first-called fisher of men also struggled with the temptation to give way. In Galatians 2, Paul refers to a time when he called Peter out for his hypocritical behavior, for drawing back from his Gentile brothers in Christ out of fear of the circumcision party. The same Peter who was first of the disciples to confess Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16 (then rebuked only a few short verses later for speaking against His death and resurrection); and Paul, who breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, before Christ converted him on the road to Damascus.

As iron sharpens iron, God used these men to refine one another and to speak clearly on the issues facing the early Church, already–even in these early days–beset by heresy and trouble. Their epistles stand as books of the Bible, serving not only those specific sheep to whom they were writing, but generations upon generations of Christians who also struggle with the temptation to doubt God’s Word. Thanks be to God, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, faithful unto death and forgiven to everlasting glory in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Acts 15:1-21

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

“‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

Galatians 2

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is 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 for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

“Saint Peter and Saint Paul disputants” by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, late 1500s to early 1600s.