Saturday, March 31, 2007

On a Collision Course


His enemies have been plotting against him for three years. There have been attempts to arrest and assassinate. At times he has remained low key and away from heavily populated areas. But now he is heading south again to the capital city. Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish worship, is swelling with tens of thousands of pilgrims from throughout Palestine, a place one could easily blend into, if that was your plan. But he does not want to be anonymous, even though it would be safer.

There is talk about the recent event in Bethany: a resurrection of a man named Lazarus. A growing crowd streams in from Bethany and those now approaching Jerusalem, forming a massive parade of well-wishers as he reaches the gate at the corner of the Temple mount. This miracle is all the buzz. More and more people hear of it. There is excitement in the air.

He could slip into the city buried in the mass of humanity, but he chooses to ride in on a donkey, a symbol no pious Jew could miss. He is entering the Holy City according to the prophesy of Zechariah, a sign that he is the promised Messiah. Pilgrims wave palm branches, signs of victory for the coming king. They chant Hosanna from the psalm. The religious leaders are nervous now. What if this gets to Pilate? What if the authorities interpret this as a challenge to Caesar? They cannot let this go. He has crossed the line. He has gone too far.

As he looks down the street he knows what awaits him. The praises will fade into jeers eventually. The crowd that praises will be replaced with a crowd that condemns. Plots will thicken. He is a marked man for sure. One of his own will be courted to betray. There is no turning back now. He is on a collision course with evil and the explosion will come by week's end.

That collision, though, brought forth our salvation. He knew that it was the only course to take. The only reason it had not come earlier was that it was not yet the right time. Now the time had come. God's time. God's way. God's plan. Even though it looked as if the collision was just an unfortunate and unavoidable accident.

Evil and sin cannot be avoided. To hide from them is to simply to avoid what must be done. Yet many people today would rather excuse away evil and avoid the collision. Play nice. Be quiet. Don't make waves. Look the other way.

But this is not God's way. Sin and evil were to be hit head on. The resulting collision would bring about the death of His Son. There would be carnage and blood and pain. Many would flee in fear and disgust. Others would look sadly on the wreck and mourn what might have been. They would clear the wreckage and try to go on. Oh, why didn't he take the easier way? Why didn't he avoid this horrible accident?

Yet in the midst of this carnage one fatality is too often missed. A dark figure lays quivering in the debris. His name is Adversary, the Accuser, Prince of the Power of the Air, lord of the flies. The collision has left him mortally wounded. The death of one is the death of the other, but the latter will not recover. Only one will find life. Only one will come out victorious.

We raise palm branches again. The church is still on a collision course with evil. At every corner, every intersection of life we are colliding, and the carnage of wrecked families and damaged lives lies about like blood stains on the pavement. To any outsider it looks like another sad and unfortunate accident. And sometimes it is. But when the wreckage is cleared and the fatalities are body-bagged and removed, life is still there. Evil cannot prevail. That ancient collision in 30 AD has robbed it of its edge and it carries its own body bag under its arm. We are more than conquerors through Him who died and rose. The church lives.

It is easy to live in fear of these collisions. But such fear loses it's power when the first collision is remembered. We die daily to sin, but we rise daily to new life. We are killed all day long, but we also have crossed over from death unto life. The Adversary speeds through the intersections of our life trying to collide at every turn. But He cannot kill the life that is secure in Christ. We wave our palm branches in his face and shout: He lives!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

To What Degree Must We Obey?


Although the volume and intensity of protest is not to the point that it was in the Vietnam era, there has been a rising unrest among the masses. Driven in part by the media and in part by the natural tiring from the costs of war, it seems that more and more people are now staging rallies and events at which they might show their disapproval of the war in Iraq and their lack of support for the sitting president. In a democratic country this is part of the right of free speech. However, for the Christian, we might wonder: If I do not agree with the government, am I still obligated to obey it and honor it? What are my responsibilities to the government under the Law of God? The following essay, which I originally wrote in September of last year, addresses the Christian's obligation of obedience to the governing authorities, especially in light of Romans 13.
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Romans 13 and Submission to the Governing Authorities

Whereas our religious rights are safely protected by the constitution of our country, the early Christians of the first centuries lived under the power of an empire that was not always tolerant of their faith. Their dilemma was different than ours, for they were asked to be subordinate to an authority that often openly persecuted them. Still, the challenge they faced has not been unique even in modern history, as has been shown in the persecution of Christians under various dictatorial and totalitarian regimes such as the brutality of Nazi Germany and the communistic intolerance of China.

Christians of every era have therefore struggled with the question of obedience to the governing authorities, especially when these authorities are openly hostile to believers, or when their actions are truly evil and immoral. “Nevertheless,” Gerald Bray observes, “the Fathers consistently supported the New Testament idea that the civil authorities were divinely ordained within their own sphere.”(1) For they took seriously Paul’s words to the Romans that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.“ (2) However, does this mean that they turned a blind eye to the abuses of government, that they passively obeyed regardless of the circumstances? Are there no exceptions to their rule? Obviously they are. For when berated by the high priest for disregarding his explicit order “not to teach in this name,” Peter boldly proclaimed: “We must obey God rather than men.”(3)

Thus, it has been understood that when any authority demands actions that are clearly contrary to the express will of God, the Christian must submit to God’s Word first even if it means being in open rebellion to the authorities. The authorities which God has appointed as his servants to do his will cannot actively oppose that will and still ultimately serve Him. In the case of Peter this was a clear choice. Jesus himself had sent the disciples forth into all the world to baptize and teach. For the Jewish authorities to prohibit this was an obvious affront to God’s will.

On the other hand, living under the authoritative hand of an intolerant authority has never given believers the carte blanche right to live in open rebellion, even if the authority is obviously non- or anti-Christian, such as the Roman Empire of the days of the apostles. Jesus willingly submitted himself to both the Jewish and the Roman authorities, even though he was innocent and the case against him was clearly bogus. He spoke the truth, but did not resist either his arrest or their acts of punishment. Jesus also submitted to Pilate’s authority to impose capital punishment, telling the governor: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…”(4) He recognized and supported the state’s right to bear the sword and take life. It may have been an unjust sentence, the killing of a clearly innocent man, as Pilate himself attested.(5) Still, this did not negate the divine right of the state to exercise the sword. As Jesus noted, the “greater sin” was in the one who delivered him unjustly to the authorities. (6)

Paul likewise submitted to the same governing authority of Rome when his enemies unjustly condemned him. In his case, as a Roman citizen, he appealed to the authorities on the basis of their own justice. He too confessed the truth and pointed out that the charges against him were untrue either according to Jewish law or Roman.(7) To the governor Porcius Festus he said: “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried; to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”(8) Again, the right of the government to prosecute and punish, even by death, is affirmed, even though this government did not necessarily always protect or support his right to believe in Christ.

But we come again to a dilemma. Does submitting to the governing authorities mean that a Christian must accept the actions and demands of a given government or particular ruler even if they appear wrong and immoral? To what degree, if any, may a believer oppose such authority without opposing God’s own Word?

The early church father Chrysostom, who it is observed came into sharp conflict with the
governing rulers and society of Constantinople, reconciled this dilemma for himself by making a distinction in Paul’s choice of words in Romans 13. “He [Paul] does not speak about individual rulers but about the principle of authority itself.”(9) In speaking of Paul’s injunction to submit, he said that he did not see this as an endorsement of every individual ruler. He noted that “He [Paul] does not say, ‘For there is no ruler but of God,’ but it is the things he speaks of, and says, ‘there is no power but of God.’” Thus, Chrysostom argues for the need for order and is against anarchy wherever it may occur.(10) Yet, he distinguishes between the “order” and the ruler who exercises that order.

It is true that in the original Greek Paul speaks of “authorities” or “powers” [excusais] and does not employ the more specific term for “ruler” such as archon, kosmokrator, or hegemon. But did Paul mean to make a distinction such that the Christian could disregard the individual ruler as long as he didn’t oppose order in general?

Lenski observes that this distinction was also appealed to by Calvinistic writers. They were open to the idea that God would not oppose revolution for the sake of a change of government.(11) This undoubtedly stemmed in part from the reformed principle that matters of the Faith were a concern of the state as well as the church, and in commingling their interests tended to view not two kingdoms or realms, but one that was bound by the same standards. Thus, if a government was observed to deviate from the law of Holy Scripture, then they “may be deposed with Christ’s sanction,” Zwingi noted.(12)

Lutherans, however, have kept distinct the two kingdoms, and while we acknowledge the right to oppose the authorities when they openly conflict with the divine Law (“We must obey God rather than men“), we have not taken that as license to declare the given government then in power invalid. As Luther himself writes: “In contradistinction to the Jewish conception, he [Paul] teaches that Christians must subject themselves also to the wicked and unbelievers…Even though rulers are wicked and unbelieving, yet is their governmental power good (in itself) and of God….Christians should not, under the pretense of Christian religion, refuse to obey men (in authority) even if they are wicked.”(13) As opposed to the Reformed concept which confused the work of the kingdoms by merging them, Luther observed that the church directs people as Christians, serving the inner, spiritual man, while the state directs peoples as “citizens,” serving their outward or earthly needs.(14)

Luther was also careful to keep distinct the sacred character of the state’s authority, even when it was usurped or high-jacked by evil men. Governments led by evil men, he observed, are still divinely instituted. Thus, like money, government in and of itself does not become evil through misuse.(15)

Given Luther’s and the Lutheran Church’s belief concerning the divine order of the state, it is not surprising to see that Lutherans were not all equally eager to join the American Revolution in the eighteenth century and its forceful rebellion against the rule of England. Part of this was probably due, as has been observed, to the somewhat pietistic nature of these early Lutherans to resist becoming involved in political affairs. Some early Lutherans did not even exercise their legal right to vote. Still, when Muhlenberg initially opposed the war and sided with England (as did other Lutherans of the time), it would be hard to imagine that this was not motivated in large part by the Lutheran reluctance to oppose a divinely instituted governmental authority.(16) Looking back in time it feels awkward to evaluate how one might act as a Christian today, considering the scripture’s injunction to be subject to the authorities. This author openly wonders if he could justify rebelling against a power simply because he disagreed with their political policies, no matter how unjust.

Yet, a familiar question is often begged when it comes to evil rulers and the place of the Christian in respect to rebellion. Can a believer rebel and work for the overthrow of a given ruler and still maintain his submission to the “governing authorities”? Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler within his rights as a Christian, or was he wrongfully opposing the rightful, albeit thoroughly evil, ruler of Germany as one who represented the state as instituted by God?

Turning again to Luther we might view such questions by looking at the Christian through a two-fold lens. As the believer lives simultaneously in two realms or governments, he therefore acts in two capacities: as citizen of this world and as part of the kingdom of Christ. Thus, Luther defends self-defense on the basis that as a citizen of this world the Christian represents the secular authority by opposing those who would endanger his life, which the authorities are established to protect. The Christian thus becomes, “in an extraordinary way…a substitute for the official authority.”(17) Still there is a tension in living in two kingdoms, and not all dilemmas may be so easily resolved.

So, if a person were to openly oppose or rebel against a governing authority as a citizen of this world, for the sake of the defense and justice of his fellow citizens who are being victimized by the current ruler, would their actions still be in harmony with God’s Law? And what would constitute a legitimate reason to rebel? Luther was clear that a threat to one’s life allowed the citizen to defend himself. But if my life is not threatened, “any private exercise of force is forbidden, since in such cases we ought to wait for the authorities to act.”(18) But what if the “authorities” that exist do not act? What if they are silent and unwilling to act? Or worse yet, what if they deprive me of rights and freedoms I believe I should possess, or am even guaranteed by the law of the land?

The early forefathers of this country rebelled based on the ideals of individual freedom and liberty, although these ideals were more a product of the Enlightenment sentiment of their times than what we think of as Christians. When the scriptures talk of freedom, they do not talk of political freedom, but rather freedom in the Gospel, freedom from the power of sin, death and evil. This freedom was the most important, and could be realized even if one were enslaved for a time in this world. Therefore, Paul could surprisingly encourage the slaves of his time to “be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling….”(19) In the case of Philemon, a slave owner who had a legal right to execute his runaway slave Onesimus, Paul does not argue the master’s right or the general morality of slavery, but appeals to Philemon as a brother in Christ. He even offered to pay whatever restitution is needed to cover the slave’s theft.(20)

Are there higher ethical or legal issues that would justify rebellion or revolution, or at least resistance in some way? What if the government or ruler in question works in direct opposition to its stated purpose to serve for our “good” (13:4), or becomes a “terror to good consciences” (13:3), or begins to “execute his wrath” rather on the doer of good instead of the wrongdoer (13:4b)? Does Paul condition our obedience on the success of the government to do right? Who then judges the government?

In discussing issues of grievance in the Christian church Paul reminds his hearers that “the saints will judge the world” and thus should not be held “incompetent to try trivial cases.” “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!”(21) Yet, to be true, Paul was concerning himself here with disagreements in the church that resulted in lawsuits, and was not discussing the legitimacy of the governing authorities to try cases themselves. Still, are Christians equipped to judge the moral rightness of the government’s actions? And if so, how should they act on this judgment?

Undoubtedly many of these questions have plagued Christians for generations, and the resolution of the questions has often fallen on both sides of the issue. However, there are issues of clear truth that can and do guide the Christian. The following, according to this author, would be issues of just such truth:
1.) Christians live as citizens of a particular political realm, and as such should exercise
their rights as citizens to the greatest possible degree. Thus, if given the right to vote they should exercise this right often. Christians should also be encouraged to participate in the government itself through elected or appointed office.
2.) If deciding to oppose an order or decision of the government that a Christian determines runs contrary to God’s express will, the believer should be prepared to suffer under the cross for this decision.
3.) The Christian should fulfill their obligation to serve in the military, if required. However, if serving in a combat role where the taking of human life may be required troubles the believer’s conscience, they should find a way to serve in a non-combat role.
4.) Christians are not free to oppose the government’s right to assemble an army or to go to war. However, Christian ethicists have evaluated individual acts of war under the “Just War” theory. A Christian could certainly express their disapproval of a given war that the believer felt was “unjust” and unwarranted. They could express this disapproval in any legal means at their disposal.
(5) Christians in countries ruled by governments actively opposed to the Faith have historically long endured persecution while submitting to the authorities. This began with the first believers and has continued even to this day in oppressive countries such as modern day China.
(6) Christians are called to pray for those in authority (22). If disturbed by what is going on within a particular government, the Christian’s first action should be to intercede on the ruler’s behalf that God would guide and use them in a way consistent with His will.
(7) Forceful revolution within a country where one works to overthrow one government regime in order to substitute another one, cannot be supported or justified based on Holy Scripture. The Christian is called not to rebel and overthrow the government, but to pray for it and to support it by the payment of taxes.

Endnotes
(1) Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - New Testament VI - Romans (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 323-324.
(2) Romans 13:1
(3) Acts 5:29b
(4) John 19:11a
(5) John 18:38
(6) John 19:11b
(7) Acts 25:9
(8) Acts 25:10, 11
(9) Bray, 325.
(10) George W. Forell, History of Christian Ethics, Vol, I: Form the New Testament to Augustine (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1979), 151.
(11) R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1936), 785.
(12) Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 180.
(13) Martin Luther (translated by J. Theodore Mueller), Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications1954), 179, 180.
(14) Ibid.
(15) Ibid, 181.
(16) E. Clifford Nelson, ed. The Lutheran in North America (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 76.
(17)Paul Althaus, The Ethics of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 76.
(18)Ibid.
(19) Ephesians 6:5.
(20) Philemon 15-19
(21) 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3
(22) 1 Timothy 2:1

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Anger Is All the Rage


In his most recent op-ed piece, George Will indicates that anger is "all the rage" in America today. From political attacks to the anger on our nation's roads, anger appears to be an acceptable and expected part of our culture, which is quite different from earlier eras when polite restraint was the rule of the day. Mr. Will indicates that the blogosphere is especially rife with anger. In the Sunday paper I read that the blogs in the Episcopalian sector are very red with ecclesiastical wrath at the moment, as competing parties debate the issue of homosexuality in their church.

I suspect that anger has always been with us, although its expression has usually been tempered by society itself when people were forced to deal with the issues face-to-face. The Internet, from my perspective, has been a unique outlet for anger which is protected by its semi-anonymous two-dimensional existence. In other words, you can write scathing and hateful words to people you never have to look in the eye and see their pain. It shields you from the human element of personal interaction.

Now don't get me wrong. Anger has a place. Righteous indignation should rise within us when actions are truly unjust or when the Truth is at stake. Within the church we also have a place for anger, as when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple during Holy Week. God's house was being made into a den of thieves. The divine worship of the people was at stake, as was the honor of the one true God.

But should anger be tempered or governed by some restraint, even when it is justified? "Be angry, but do not sin," Paul said to the Ephesians. He wrote that "putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." Yet how is one to "speak the truth"? "With love," Paul says earlier. For as "members one of another" this is the way God acts toward us. Thus, we "do not let the sun go down" on our anger. We do not nurse it and feed our personal desire for revenge. Anger has a season. For if left to continue unabated, it will become a useful tool of Satan. Therefore, Paul also adds that in putting limits on our anger we would "give no opportunity to the devil." Remember, Satan is a force of destruction, not edification. He tears down, he does not build up. He will use our anger, if left unchecked, to destroy all that is good.

The Episcopalians are probably at the media forefront of public ecclesiastical anger at the moment, but many others are currently in the game as well. The LCMS has it's own anger to wrestle with, and we are not any better at managing its limits. Of all people Christians should understand the devastating effects of anger and how Satan uses those forces against the church. It may be all the rage in our political places of power and on our interstate highways, but in the church such "rage" must find its natural limit before we consume one another and destroy the good that we still have.

Monday, March 26, 2007

When I Go to Heaven Do I Become an Angel?

Perceptions of heaven and eternal life are varied, and too often full of misunderstandings. The title of this post represents one that I have heard over the years, namely, that when we go to heaven we become angels. Aside from the fact that angels and humans are distinctly different creatures, one being spiritual and one being corporeal with both body and spirit, the scriptures never once hold out any hint that such a transformation takes place once the deceased are parted from their bodies. Yet that doesn't matter. Many views on heaven and the life after death are formed quite apart from the clear witness of God's Word. They sound nice. And that's enough.

Which was well illustrated in the Sunday paper I was reading this morning. In the obituary section it is customary for people to offer not only the highlighted details of a person's life, but also a heart-felt thank you or other statement at the end. In the case of the one for Willis, they went so much further. At the end of the obituary is "A Letter from Heaven To my dearest family." In the letter he shares some things he wants to say, and what God told him after he arrived in heaven.

I know that the family is simply trying to find comfort and to assure themselves that their father and husband is now in heaven free of pain and suffering. But to make up a letter that was never sent and couldn't be even if he had wanted to? Why not turn to that in which we do find comfort, namely the Word of God, and remember how he had heard the Word and received the blessed Sacrament. But alas, the obit is strangely silent on these. One cannot even determine if he was a Christian. Not once is a church membership listed. Which undoubtedly explains what I read in the "letter" from heaven.

So here is part of the letter. I don't know if the family wrote this, or if they found it somewhere. Maybe one of you has read it elsewhere. It is unfortunately full of misunderstandings of heaven and God's purposes.

"Please do not be unhappy just because I'm out of sight
Remember that I am with you every morning, noon and night.
The day I had to leave you when my life on earth was through
God picked me up and hugged me and He said 'I welcome you,
It's good to have you back again,
you were missed while you were gone,
As for your dearest family they'll be here later on.
I need you here badly, you're part of my plan
There's so much that we have to do to help our mortal man.'
God gave me a list of things that he wished for me to do
And foremost on the list was to watch and care for you
And when you lie in bed at night, the day's chores put to flight
God and I are closest to you...in the middle of the night......

I wish that I could tell you all that God has planned
If I were to tell you, you wouldn't understand...."

How far afield we go when life and death are detached from God's clear Word! "I needed you here badly"? God was short-staffed without him? What about all those "ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation" (Hebrews 1:14)? Oh, I forgot, it appears that Willis must now be an angel himself. For now his job is the "watch and care" for his family. I guess God didn't have enough resources prior to that. This is comforting?

Unfortunately in the desire to find comfort in the "sting of death," people avoid the pain and live in a type of denial. Even if the deceased did not believe, did not attend church, did not speak of God or Christ or show any signs of faith by what he confessed, we still have this inner need to tell everyone that he has gone to heaven and now assists in God's real work. What deception Satan spreads.

As a pastor I am always sensitive to the misunderstandings people have of death and life, especially when I am preaching at a funeral. Having attended a few funerals of some of my member's families, I am saddened when the grieving are offered merely a eulogy and no Christ. Somehow we need to assure ourselves that he was a good person now that he is dead, when we might have thought quite differently when he was alive. When I preach a funeral I look for objective assurance that the deceased, as a sinful human being in need of God's grace, was forgiven and strengthened by the means He has given: Word and Sacrament.

I start with Baptism and remind the hearers of God's work that began there when the deceased was buried with Christ and raised again to newness of life. The markers of the person's life that matter most now are indications of God's work in Christ as they were ministered to by their Lord by the Word. For this is all that we can find comfort in for ourselves.

The funerals that were most edifying for me to do as a pastor were two dear women of my parish who died over the last couple of years. These women not only were active in worship, and regularly fed on God's Word and Sacrament, but they left a testimony of this faith in the pages of their study Bibles, regularly used in many studies at church over the years. I took their own words and shared with the family how they found their own comfort there in God's clear Word, not in made up wishes.

I am sorry that Willis' family has only this fraudulent letter for comfort. How sad that God's closeness and presence are detached from where they can be assured of his presence. I hope if a minister preached at a funeral he offered something else. I hope he gave them Christ instead.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Wrath of God

How should a Christian handle the subject of the wrath of God? How should we view it, even in light of the cross? Pastor Peterson on his blog site CyberStones has posted a sermon he preached at Kramer Chapel in Ft. Wayne on the Lenten text from Luke 13:1-9. It is entitled "A Little Lenten Vinegar." In this sermon he addresses the role of the wrath of God and its connection to natural disasters and other tragedies. I agree with his assessment that one should always view such events as salutary warnings not to take for granted the grace of God, but to live a life of ongoing repentance, as Christ encourages. Our Lord, in the text from Luke 13 does not address the place of God's wrath in the tragedies of the Pilate massacre or the Siloam tower collapse. He simply calls on his hearers to repent, lest they perish, and in their case eternally. But again, how should we view these catastrophes in light of God's wrath?

Pastor Peterson makes an interesting note on the response many Christian chaplains have in the light of natural catastrophes when he writes:

"This is why the world's chaplains are so worthless. A hurricane strikes decadent New Orleans and everyone races to say that God had nothing to do with it, that of all the things that God might ever be or do, and to which ever name He might answer, He could never be angry with us because of sin, that wouldn't be nice. There can never be any consequences and everyone who dies must go to heaven just because he died and that is what all decent dead people do."

I will admit that this is an area that I struggle with. The effects of sin are still with us, that cannot be denied. We know that all suffering and death itself is a result of sin. The wrath of God, such as it detests sin and every evil, certainly is not silent. But how do we interpret it? Or should we? To what degree can we see it in the disasters of this life?

Obviously not all who die go to heaven. Some chose not to believe and thereby face the unveiled wrath of God on their own. This is the justice of God. But when we talk about God's anger against sin, we usually talk also of that wrath being vented against his own Son on the cross.

Thus, do we interpret the wrath of God in this world against sin in terms of Romans 1, where God often allows the unbeliever to suffer the consequence of his own willing rejection? And as for the Christian - is our suffering in this world both a warning that we fall not into their sin of unbelief and that we heed his call always to repent that we not perish? It would seem that this is a good approach. Going further than this could be complicated.

Friday, March 23, 2007

When Others Hurt Us


People in the church have varying ways of handling personal hurt from other members. Some lash out with tongues on fire looking to exact pain to compensate for their own hurt. Others become quiet and distant and eventually pull away from the fellowship. Still others turn in on themselves and torture their inner emotions in self-doubt and personal condemnation for perceived but nonexistent faults.

As a pastor it has been a challenge to overcome or avoid these popular routes, although, more often than not, I have probably fallen for the third option above. Thus, the pain first received grows beyond itself by our own inward torture. For many pastors there is also the temptation to lash out at those who oppose us and use our position as a place to leverage power or dominance.

Recently while reading a post by Rev. McCain on Cyberbrethren, I found some verses by the beloved hymn writer Paul Gerhardt that addressed this very issue. The hymn takes us to the cross first, and then, in light of that cross, contemplates how we might handle the suffering of our own lives. It is in that cross that we find freedom from the hate that might otherwise consume us. It is in that cross that divine forgiveness overpowers our sinful desire to withhold love from the enemy. If I understand the first verse listed here (the actual 6th verse of the hymn), it is that “faithful love” of Christ that “cleaves” to those who sinfully scorn us.

> And I will study to adorn
> My heart with meekness under scorn,
> With gentle patience in distress,
> With faithful love, that yearning cleaves
> To those o'er whom to death it grieves,
> Whose sins its very soul oppress.

> When evil tongues with stinging blame
> Would cast dishonor on my name,
> I'll curb the passions that upstart;
> And take injustice patiently,
> And pardon, as Thou pardon'st me,
> With an ungrudging generous heart.

> And I will nail me to Thy cross,
> And learn to count all things but dross
> Wherein the flesh doth pleasure take;
> Whate'er is hateful in Thine eyes,
> With all the strength that in me lies,
> Will I cast from me and forsake.

When one considers the tremendous pressure he faced in his own time, these words take on even greater significance. How easy it would have been for him to become bitter, especially after enduring the horror of the Thirty Years War, or the death of this wife and four of his five children, his own health problems or having to be deposed from his pulpit by the reformed Frederick William of Brandenberg-Prussia for his efforts to remain true to the Word of Christ and the Lutheran confessions. If any man deserved to lash out in anger and resentment, we might expect it to be him. But he found healing in the crucified Lord of Calvary. His pain instead became for us inspiring prose to heal our own inner wounds.

I pray that I might learn from this 17th century pastor in my own times of struggle within the world and church to “take injustice patiently” and “And pardon, as Thou pardon'st me, with an ungrudging generous heart…”

[Note: For additional information on Paul Gerhardt and other links, see McCain’s blog site here.]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Devotional Resources


I will confess that my devotional life needs improvement. However, I am trying. Every morning I am fairly disciplined to check my emails, so recently I have Incorporated a brief devotional moment at that time by reading the Daily Devotion on the LCMS website. It includes a psalm and one additional reading, plus a short devotional thought on the second reading.

There are many fine devotional resources available, and I have tried several. One of my favorites is the four volume set For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church (First Printing 1996). It is published by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. The full text for Morning and Evening Prayer is included in each volume, along with the entire psalter and four readings a day, again the full text as opposed to just the reference. The four readings include an Old Testament reading, an Epistle reading, a Gospel reading and a fourth reading from a Christian theologian or writer, embracing many from ancient times as well as modern.

Pastor Peter Bender's Concordia Catechetical Academy has also published a fine devotional work by Pastor Burnell Eckardt entitled Every Day I Will Bless Thee: Meditations for the Daily Office. The devotional thoughts are very straightforward, simply explaining or expanding on the concepts in the reading appointed for that day. One psalm is appointed for the week, but is not included. A form for family devotions is included at the beginning of the book. The 536 page book includes the entire church year and festivals.

Do you have a resource that you have found particularly helpful in your own devotional life?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Six Day Creation Issue Continued


My last post was prompted by some comments I heard from a fellow pastor. It seemed to me that his view was that it wasn't overly important whether one believed in the literal six days or in those "days" being millions of years, which really surprised me. I would think that people would see that there are theological issues at stake here. The article which follows was my own statement some years back in connection with an adult instruction class and similar questions. While it addresses the theological issues, it also does not shy away from addressing scientific support for a young earth either.

Why I Hold to a Literal Six Day Creation and a Young Earth

The most natural interpretation of the Genesis 1 Creation account(1) favors the translation of “yom” (Hebrew) as “day,”(2) indicating a 24 hour period. The first “day” is marked out in relation to the newly created light and its subsequent separation from darkness, with the boundaries being “And there was evening and there was morning – the first day.” [1:5] It is true that the sun and moon are not specifically created until the fourth day. However, the light was a distinct entity apart from the darkness outside or apart from the globe, which with the rotation of the earth could be seen in a “morning – evening” sequence.

A 6-day creation with the resulting “young earth”(3) fits the context of Genesis 1 if it is interpreted as the historical- narrative account (the most natural way to take it), and not as a kind of metaphorical-symbolic account which intends only to convey a general way to communicate the concept of divine creation. Taking Adam and Eve as symbolic of mankind only, and their subsequent fall into sin as equally symbolic, runs into trouble by contradicting the rest of scripture which presumes the coming of a Savior based on the results of a real Fall into sin, the effects of which were handed down to each generation. Creation suffers from this sin, as does man and woman, resulting in a state of death and decay, which was previously unknown. Evolution
describes the period as one of gradual improvement and advancement in the human form. This is not reconcilable with the biblical account. Furthermore, all things were created “good” at the moment of creation – assuming a state of perfection in the eyes of God. Evolution presumes a beginning state of chaos from which there is incomplete development.

While my belief in a “young earth” is grounded first and foremost in my understanding of the natural interpretation of the Genesis 1 account, it is encouraging to note that it is also consistent with the basic laws of science, contrary to much rhetoric that suggests the opposite. The first two Laws of Thermodynamics state quite clearly that the world of physical matter and life is in a process of conservation and disintegration (or Law of Entropy, where left to itself matter and life tend to become less ordered , not more ordered or complex), as opposed to evolutionary belief in a process of innovation and integration (self-ordering). If the earth is billions of years old, as is claimed, then according to the most basic law of science it should have disintegrated into dust millions of years ago. Observable processes in this world clearly demonstrate that things go from order to disorder, complex to simple, not the other way around.

I also understand that Evolution is, strictly speaking, only a theory, unproven as much as Creationism is in the sense that it is not a repeatable, testable event(4). Evolution, like Creationism, attempts to explain the origin of the universe and this planet, yet no one living was present to actually witness the event. Thus, both systems are based on faith, not on actual sight and first-hand observation.(5) We are not differing on such things as the existence of dinosaurs or other extinct animals for which fossilized evidence is constantly discovered, but on the broader question of origins of these organisms and the belief by some that some organisms were only transitory to higher forms, rather than forms unique and basically unchanging in themselves. There is no denying what has been called micro evolution, where changes within individual species are observed because of breeding and environmental forces. What is denied is the claim that changes extend from one species to another, something never observed in any species living, and only extrapolated from fossilized evidence thus far uncovered.(6)

Another area of science that argues against Evolution is the sheer statistical improbability that such immense changes could occur that resulted in such intricate development. A honest look at the intricacies of the human mind, for example, leaves one to admit that there must be an intelligent author of such a complex matter.

Footnotes:
1- Assumed here is my belief in an inerrant and infallible Bible as a trustworthy record of the word and will of God. Without such a belief all that follows would not be necessary, since I would not have a need to feel responsible to faithfully transmit a message divinely authored.
2- “yom” can be interpreted also as “a period of time.” Such an interpretation has led some scholars to suggest either that the so-called “days” were indefinite periods of time stretching thousands , even millions of years (the “day-age” theory), or that there were large expanses of time between the days. There is nothing in the text to suggest such theories. These have been suggested not because the text demands this interpretation, but because of a supposed discrepancy between the theory of Evolution and its suggestion that living organisms came into being by a very long process of change spanning millions of years, and the literal Genesis account.
3- “Young earth” means an earth in the range of 10,000 years or less, as opposed to “millions and millions” of years old, as evolutionists claim.
4- Science is a discipline whose “laws” result from repeated observation and testing of known results and substances. Very often supposed “facts” may appear to contradict themselves, and one must either except the supposed contradiction and hope for a later resolution, or attempt a theory to reconcile and explain it. There are many “facts” that support a young earth and a worldwide deluge which are ignored by some in science today, thus showing that science can be manipulated by ideology and presumptions as much as any discipline can.
5- Some might say that such things as Carbon 14 dating which supposedly documents the rate of decay and change observable in nature, is an indicator of how things would “decay and change” well into the past. This is called Uniformitarianism and assumes that based on present observed processes the earth has always operated in this way. However, can we be so sure that events in the geology and biology of the earth have always proceeded at one, consistent rate? Who can produce facts to substantiate such a claim, given the fact that human knowledge extends only so far into the past? And is not the rate of change not influenced by a host of other events too numerous to control and predict? Event evolutionists will concede to the possibility of sudden change preceded or followed by long periods of time where nothing substantial happens in terms of substantial change.
6- It should be noted that the theory of Spontaneous generation, where life emerges from non-living matter, has never been observed. All observations have consistently shown that life only comes from life (The Law of Biogenesis).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Is a Six Day Creation Critical to the Faith?

Is it important to the Faith whether the creation of the world took place in the span of six literal days, or in epochs spanning millions or billions of years? Some seem to think that it is not. The important thing, they would claim, is simply affirming the fact that God was the divine creator. Aside from that the details are not all that important.

But I would affirm that they are. If you affirm evolution as a viable theory into which one must fit the creation of the world, several problems present themselves:
1.) The normal reading of scripture is made to bend to the current scientific understanding. Reason is placed over revelation.
2.) The uniqueness of man as a special creation made in the image of God is compromised. Man 'happens' instead as a process. He develops from something else as a progression of events. He appears on the the stage of cosmic history not as a deliberate act of a divine being, but because he was allowed to happen as a consequence of other actions.
3.) The doctrine of sin is compromised. According to Genesis sin occurs because a man and a woman made a conscious decision to violate God's will after being tempted by the devil. At what point in man's development over these great spans of time does man become responsible for making a conscious break with God's law? Surely one cannot hold a sub-human creature responsible for sinful actions, especially if they are unable to understand what that will is. Furthermore, do those who embrace evolution, and take Genesis in a strictly symbolic fashion, believe that God specifically revealed his will; that he delineated actual boundaries that separated right and wrong? And at what point was this done? Did God start holding man responsible many years after he came to be? Also, with the doctrine of sin compromised, we know that the entire doctrine of salvation also is altered.

I fail to understand how one can effectively combine an evolutionary theory and the revelation of Holy Scripture without doing injustice to Holy Scripture. Scripture and its teachings always have to take a back seat to accommodate the evolutionary view.

Misunderstanding the Absolution

On February 18 I had written a post on the nature of the absolution and what it meant for the pastor to say "I forgive you..." In Bible class this morning we were again discussing the topic and it was mentioned that some people have refused to join the Lutheran church based on the fact that they misunderstand the absolution. That is, it seemed preposterous to them that a mere man could claim to do what God alone could do. Now the class did not disagree that there is scriptural support for the absolution (John 20, et. al.). But some wondered why we would use a form of the absolution that had the potential for such misunderstanding, and why we didn't just use another one.

In doing some research I found it interesting that the declarative form (I forgive you) has not historically been a universal practice among Lutherans. In the Service Book and Hymnal of the old ALC and LCA, the indicative use is exclusive (simply indicating that God has forgiven us, rather than putting it in the first person singular.) For those in the LCMS both forms of the absolution are provided. Apparently there was some discussion when they were putting together the LBW back in the late 70's as to whether the "LCMS version" shoudl be included. Admittedly, I have used the declarative exclusively.

Now I am not opposed to using the indicative use on occasion. It has an honored use, at least within the Lutheran tradition. However, for the sake of confession, I could not cease using the declarative use, no matter how a few might understand it wrongly. People misunderstand the doctrine of the church all the time, and it is the ongoing responsibility of the church to teach and explain and clarify. This is catechesis.

For any reading this who are from traditions outside of Lutheranism: what form of the absolution does your church employ? Or for those within Lutheranism, what form does your pastor use? I believe that in the Catholic tradition the declarative use does have a place in private confession, but I am unsure of the practice for public pronouncements during a service of reconciliation.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Godmen" - A New Movement to Make Relgious Men More Manly

On ABC's Good Morning America this morning, a story was featured about a new Christian men's movement. Move over Promise Keepers, and step up Godmen. The founder and host of the Godmen events (I don't think they call it worship), is comedian Brad Stine. With only 4 in 10 church goers nationwide being men, it is claimed that Christianity, as it is usually practiced, is too feminine. Now there is a movement that will make men out of Christians.

Brad Stine already has an article on Wikipedia, which is informative, although brief. The inaugural 'event' of his new movement was held in October of 2006 and the second one was supposedly held in January. Mr. Stine also has his own blog site called Brad Stine's Blog Nation. There is also an official web site separate from this.

Mr. Stine describes the origin of the movement on his blog:
"Last year my manager and I began to formulate a conference for men called Godmen. We wanted to do something unique, edgy, and a little dangerous in order to reach men emotionally and spiritually in ways the church isn't. Nothing against the church, it just can't talk on men specific areas in a mixed crowd of women and children. I didn't see this as my MINISTRY mind you, but as a supplemental way to reach non-Christians and Christians with the gospel outside of my comedy alone."

I appreciate the fact that he didn't want to simply develop another "ministry," as this word is already stretched way beyond recognition these days. However, by the end of his web post he gives in. Oh, well....

Mr. Stine is tapping into the same trend that is so popular in Christianity these days. We compartmentalize the faith to suit specialty groups and cater to individual needs. Whether its reaching out to macho men or X-generation people or whoever, it's all the same. The Church is a unity, a "body," gathered around Word and Sacrament. Its means reach and renew all people. The Word is not ineffective. It's about people with "itching ears" and closed hearts that don't allow the Truth to find a hearing. And there is nothing essentially masculine or feminine about the Faith. This is a modern label, a false dichotomy. It is about Christ, period. No thanks, Mr. Stine. Promise Keepers didn't suit me, and I'm not drawn to Godmen. If I need a "macho moment" I'll grab my 12-gauge and go hunting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Solving the Worship Wars?

Over on the Consensus website, David Pierson has offered a brief article entitled "Solving the Worship Wars." I certainly agree with his solution, and I bemoan the damage uncontrolled variety has done to our church's identity and witness. However, I am sure the author knows that this dilemma in our church body is beyond "solving." Views on both sides are very entrenched and immovable. The 2004 convention of the LCMS even instructed the Commission on Worship to intentionally develop more diverse worship resources for those who ecshew hymnals and traditional liturgies. The LSB in another day and time might have been the answer to the unity we dream about today. But the damage is done. We can only hope and pray that in time fads will fade, and the benefits of our beloved heritage will again be found, treasured and appreciated.

Lutheran Membership Grows in Third World

According to a recent RNS report, "Lutheran church membership soared in Africa and Asia between 2005 and 2006, but continued its steady decline in the modern West according to the Lutheran World Federation..."

RNS did not speculate on why this has occurred, but there are certainly theories easy to come by. For one thing the West, here speaking mainly of Europe, has been in a "steady decline" morally and theologically for generations. Why join a church that stands for nothing and believes even less?

As for the West in our country one can see that the church is becoming more and more materialistic and culture-accommodating. Africans and Asians often live in some of the poorest and most war-ravaged areas of the world where faith is uncomplicated by "health and wealth" preachers and church malls and other trappings of our western so-called comfortable Christian culture. Suffering and death is part of their theological understanding of the Christian faith, and they understand that the mission of the church is not simply to recycle bored believers into more exciting places. Theology is still important to these people, not self-help lectures and pop psychology. They live under the cross.

We have recently seen the East instrumental in calling the Anglican communion to repentance, especially regarding the US church's push for priests and bishops who are actively homosexual. As those who trust the Word they do not have the luxury of stretching the truth to accommodate every life-style. They see the horrible effects of AIDS, which, I believe is much more prominent in Africa. They see the effects of prostitution on a wider scale; and of human slavery unimagined in the West. Obviously, endorsing "alternative lifestyles" is not going to stem the tide of this disaster or offer a vision to the despairing masses. Only the Gospel, unadorned and without compromise, offers hope.

I find it interesting that while the West struggles to become relevant to the modern world, they are just as quickly becoming obsolete. On the other hand, the East is soaring. When will we realize that simply being the church is all that we must do? When will it occur to us that preaching Christ and Him crucified is the most relevant work we can accomplish?

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Importance and Necessity of Baptism


[I had written the following back on September 7 of 2005 for an adult instruction class and posted it to another site. We had talked a lot in that class about the sacrament of Baptism, its necessity, infant faith and many other topics related to the sacrament. I reprinted two other articles from the class on infant faith and infant baptism back in mid-February, which should be in the archives. Recently the issue of Baptism's necessity came up again at church, and I was reminded of what I originally wrote. Note that the numbers in parenthesis are footnotes referenced at the end of the article.]

WHY IS BAPTISM IMPORTANT ?
An Apologia for the Lutheran Practice

If I had no more than the command to baptize I would be compelled to gladly obey. For the force of God’s Word I cannot, in true faith, resist. I am God’s servant; my will is subservient to His. And even if I could not understand, I would nevertheless carry out his command in trust of what He has promised. His ways are beyond our complete comprehension. (1) How he carries out the fullness of his will in our lives remains partly hidden in the mystery that is God.(2) Yet we do know from Holy Scripture that our Lord has connected wonderful promises to Baptism: salvation, rebirth, cleansing, forgiveness, life.(3)

Yet questions persist. Is Baptism absolutely necessary, in that salvation is forfeited without it? Certainly we cannot assent to this, and we know that some have indeed come to faith by the Word alone.(4) Do the blessings of forgiveness, new life and salvation come in other ways? Yes, the living Word of God, from which Baptism draws its power, remains the source of my salvation in Christ and the strength of my faith. So why baptize? What does it offer that is so unique?

First it must be realized that Baptism is the normal and usual way that a person comes to faith and thereby enters into the Kingdom of God. Thus, when the apostles went forth at Christ’s command to make disciples, they did so by “baptizing and teaching.”(5) The Book of Acts, the earliest history of the Church, demonstrates over and over that a child of God comes into the Kingdom normally in connection with the waters of Baptism.(6) Jesus Himself set the stage for this way of proceeding when He told Nicodemus that to enter into the Kingdom of God one had to be “born of water and the Spirit.” (7) Likewise Paul talks about that Christ made his people holy, “having cleansed [them] by the washing of water with the Word.”(8) And in Titus 3 he writes that God our Savior “saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit…”(9) When they built churches in the earlier history of the Faith this order was understood as the usual way, and they therefore placed their baptismal fonts at the door where one entered the sanctuary, conscious that this was how one normally entered into the Kingdom: through the Word and through water, by which the Spirit is active, and where Christ is present. Given the holy nature of God, one would not dare enter the Kingdom unless one where cleansed. As Paul writes: “Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man….has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ.”(10) No, such will not enter the Kingdom of God as he tells the Corinthians, but “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”(11) To be saved is to be washed.

Secondly, we are thankful that our Lord provided means for his grace that are objective and visible to our outward senses. Salvation and faith are not matters of my feelings or impressions of the inner heart. We are tempted to look inside ourselves for assurance (Did I really believe? Was I truly sincere?), yet “out of the heart come evil thoughts….,” Jesus tells us.(12) My feelings are also laced with doubts and insecurities and a flood of conflicting thoughts. Salvation is not dependant on my personal act of assent to His Will, for as Jesus also said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (13) Salvation comes from without, not from within. We need something outside of ourselves for true assurance. One author wrote: “The confidence that these promises apply to me, that I am a Christian and have been saved, is established not by the vagaries of memories, decisions, or sensations of being elected or not, but by an objective, tangible historical event. ‘When our sins or conscience oppress us,’ Luther writes, we must retort, ‘But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’”(14)

My baptism is thus a moment of purest grace. I find no comfort in any work that I have done. At the last day I will say with the righteous: “Lord, when…? as I hear him give testimony of the fruits of my faith.(15) To me right now the benefit of these are hidden. My so-called good deeds are stained with sin and nothing more than filthy rags compared to the holiness of my God.(16) And my salvation is even further from my natural strength. I was dead in my trespasses and sins, a spiritual corpse when Christ found me and made me his own.(17) The day my mother arranged my baptism at Hollywood Children’s Hospital on February 6, 1961, I was not even two months old and facing life-threatening surgery. It was a fragile existence and I was vulnerable and weak. Yet God chose me. And claimed me. And washed me. And regenerated my heart by the Spirit working through the water and the Word. Grace. Gift. Unearned. Dependant on God, not me. And how can I claim this? The Word of Promise in Christ connected to that water of regeneration. To this I cling.

That day was a beginning from which I mark my own personal history. To it I return like one in need of always needing to know from where I came. My family tree is full of missing limbs and the leaves of most branches are bare. I really don’t even know my father, except by name. But my lineage in Christ is assured. God is my father and I am his child with the full rights of inheritance. This will not be taken from me. To the day I die I may claim my rights in Christ. My adoption papers are signed by my Lord.(18) This is not a general proclamation, but a personal claim on my life. And in that Baptism takes on special meaning and importance for me personally. We talk much about God’s general declarations of grace and love and salvation. But here these promises are given with a name tag attached!

As my mother did, so I have done with my children by having them baptized. No, they did not choose this for themselves, but then as we have seen, we cannot by ourselves chose Christ. He chooses us. It is grace. Pure gift.

Do I believe that they received faith through this Baptism? Yes, but not because of sentimentality or wishful thinking. And I believe this against what human logic and so-called common sense might believe to the contrary. I brought my children to the waters of Baptism based on the simple promises of God’s Word. I took it at face value, just as the word read, careful not to project into it what I thought it should say or even what others might think it should mean. Jesus welcomed little children to himself and said that these “little ones” actually “believe,” that is, they “have faith.”(19) I also hear Him as he says that even infants can “receive” the “kingdom of God,” and I know that one does not receive the kingdom without faith.(20)

As I search the scriptures reading the actual commands to baptize or the instances where baptism was carried out in the history of the church, I see not one reference to any limits of age, gender, or nationality.(21) I agree with one author that it cannot be a later introduction into the life of the Church, for “a later introduction of infant baptism would have provoked a profound upset in the church and would have left distinct traces in the history of the church.” (22) In fact, I actually find many references supporting the presence and practice of infant baptism from the earliest days of the church’s history.(23) There is no reason to believe that the Church is doing anything but reflecting the intent of our Lord and his apostles from the beginning.

Yet, one might ask, why was it so necessary, so compelling to baptize them? Even despite the truth that one can come to faith by the power of the Word alone, I see in Baptism a mean of God’s grace well-suited to little children. While I am convinced from Scripture that they can believe, as has been shown, I know that their cognitive abilities were still in a developing state and I could not expect them to be able to attentively listen to me while I instructed them verbally by the naked letter of the Word. I certainly could have assured myself at that time that in such a developing state of seeming innocence they would not be held accountable for their sins. But that would not have squared with the Word. For I know that despite their seeming innocent demeanor, they were nevertheless “conceived in sin” and “brought forth in iniquity.”(24) But can such a little one actually commit a sin? Some would claim we are judged not on the basis of our inherited sin, but on actual sins committed.(25) Still, does not St. Paul say that “Sin entered the world through one man, and death came through sin….?”(26) Yet we are saved by faith alone (27) and not because of our many good works, and therefore if condemned, condemned on the lack of faith, not because of the preponderance of our many sins.(28)

Luther in dealing with infants who died before baptism did hold out the hope that “Even though infants bring with them inborn sin, which we call original sin, it is nevertheless important that they have committed no sin against the Law. Since God is by nature merciful, He will not let their condition be worse because they were unable to obtain…Baptism.”(29) Still, there is more silence than sound when we search for comfort outside of God’s appointed means to create faith and save. While we appeal to the mercy of God rightly (30), there is little more we can say, for scripture is silent here and the will of God beyond this hidden. “We are entering the field of the unsearchable judgments of God…”(31) Baptism, on the other hand, grants abundant comfort and assurance, and we are freely invited to have its benefits from infancy on. As a parent I could see no reason to not afford my children this blessing, especially since I am convinced by Scripture of its promises and power in Christ for all.

FOOTNOTES:
(1) Rom. 11:33, 34.
(2) Colossians 1:26, 2:2; Eph. 1:9, 3:3, 4, 9
(3) Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21, Romans 6, Titus 3, John 3, et. al.
(4) Mark 16:16 reminds us that he who “believes not is condemned,” not he who is not baptized.” Also, we know from the example of the thief on the cross that one can come to faith by the Word alone.
(5) Matt. 28:19
(6) Acts 2:38, 41 (Pentecost), 8:12-16 (Philip among the Samaritans), 8: 36-38 (Philip and the Ethiopian eunich) 9:18 (Paul), 10:47, 48 (Paul in Caesaria), 16:15 (Lydia and her household), 16:33 (the jailer and his family), 18:8 (the Corinthians), 19:5 (Ephesians), 22:16 (Paul).
(7) John 3:5 – Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
(8) Eph. 5:26
(9) Titus 3:4, 5
(10) Eph. 5:5
(11) 1 Cor. 6:9-11
(12) Matt. 15:19
(13) John 15:16
(14) Edward Veith, Jr, The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals (St. Louis: CPH, 1999), 49; from Luther’s Large Catechism, 442.
(15) Matthew 25: 31ff, esp. vss. 37-40.
(16) Isaiah 64:6
(17) Eph. 2:1 – “And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins….”
(18) Galatians 3: 26-4:7. Note how Paul goes from “baptized into Christ” to “you are Abraham’s offspring” to “heirs according to promise” to “receiv[ing] adoption as sons.”
(19) Matthew 18:6.
(20) Luke 18:15-17.
(21) Matthew 28:19 – “all nations”, Acts 2:38 – “to you and your children”, Acts 16: 15 – “with her household”, Acts 16: 33 – “with all his family.”
(22) Herman Sasse, We Confess the Sacraments (St. Louis: CPH, 1985), 39.
(23) Irenaeus (cir. 185), Polycarp (circa before AD 70), etc. See Sasse, 38.
(24) Psalm 51:5.
(25) One author (Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.), a Baptist, states that “we will face the judgment seat of Chrsit and be judged, not on the basis of original sin, but for sins committed during our own lifetimes….But what about infants? Have those who die in infancy committed such sins in the body? We believe not.” – http://www.sbts.edu/mohler/FidellitasRead.php?article+fidel1036.
(26) Romans 5:12a. The entire verse reads: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way dead cam to all men, because all sined.”
(27) Eph. 2:8, 9, et. al.
(28) Matthew 22;1-10, Luke 14:16-24. Being left out of the wedding was for refusal to accept the invitation to come.
(29) Scaer, 159.
(30) God is by nature merciful (Jer. 3;12), and we know that our salvation is “because of His mercy” (Titus 3:5). God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but calls them to turn and live (Ezek. 33:11). Yes, God “desires all men to be saved,” but as Paul adds in the very next clause, this is connected with the fact that “they come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:3).
(31) Quotation of Pieper in Scaer, 159. Ref. to Romans 11:33 – “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and how inscrutable his ways!” See also vs. 34: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Is. 40:13ff).

Friday, March 9, 2007

Biblical Illiteracy


Are you biblically literate? On his daily talk show at Relevant Radio, Drew Mariani posed a simple ten question quiz for his call-in listeners. For an active Christian engaged in some kind of regular Bible study it was quite easy - at least the portion I could hear before I drove out of listening range. And, I might add, it was geared to Catholics, who I suspect may be less familiar with the Bible, traditionally, since they were not encouraged to study it until recently (last 20 years or so.) The one question on the second pope tripped this Lutheran easily (I would have said Clement, but it was Linus, c. 66-c. 77 AD.)

The quiz did make me think about the biblical literacy, or perhaps we might also add "doctrinal literacy" among Lutherans. I add this last category because I don't think that being able to identify Seth as the third son of Adam and Eve or Andrew as Peter's brother is as critical for our people today as knowing why we believe in the real presence in the Lord's Supper, or why we don't espouse the Millennial kingdom at the end of time as do the Baptists.

Now Christians do need to know their Bibles if they are to know their doctrine. That is abundantly true. In fact, I regularly drill my kids in confirmation to identify the source of our doctrines in terms of the book and chapter of the Bible. I want them to know that Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, and that the 10 Commandments are found in Exodus 20, and so on. While Luther's Small Catechism has often been referred to as the "layman's bible," I believe our people need to be clear that the source of its teachings come straight from the pages of Holy Scripture, not first from the mouth of the blessed Reformer.

Having said this, however, I am still concerned about the "doctrinal literacy" of our people. It is, admittedly, an issue of catechesis, which I am trying to address in every venue possible. Still, what people hear on Christian radio stations (evangelical especially) often undermines their understanding of the doctrine once taught to them. We need to constantly reteach our people. The Left Behind series was a classic example of how easy it would be to end up believing in the rapture and the Millennial kingdom by means of a seemingly believable novel.

Over the years I have noticed that different churches teach at widely different levels. In the ELCA tradition, I suspect that catechesis of the young people is light, compared to many in LCMS, although I don't have enough concrete data to support this completely. Denominations outside of Lutherans sometimes have little to no real catechesis prior to membership in a church. Aside from "I believe in Jesus," it appears that little is taught. As for Roman Catholics, Drew realized that his church also has a problem, especially in the area where Evangelical denominations are stronger. While strong on the sacramental life of the church, they are detached, in large part, from the scriptural linkage to those teachings. A good example I have used in the past is to ask a Catholic where the "Hail Mary" comes from? I suspect many do not realize that a large part is taken from Luke.

So how biblically and doctrinally literate do you think you are? Could you defend your beliefs and back them up with appropriate scripture? Do you think that many of the people you worship with are weak on their biblical and doctrinal knowledge? Should pastors be stressing classes that teach the doctrines of our faith more these days? What do you think - do we have a problem here?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Did Jesus Have Siblings?

In the Third Word from the Cross (John 19: 26), Jesus commends his mother to the disciple John. From my study on this text for my midweek sermon last night, I discovered again that there is a dispute as to the exact nature of Jesus' family. I brought this up in a previous post regarding the perpetual virginity of Mary, as claimed by some. Admittedly it is curious why Jesus' mother and her sister and John are by the cross, and the rest of Jesus' family is missing. True, if those so mentioned in the gospels were his brothers, they did not yet believe in Jesus as the Messiah (John 7:5). This is one reason used to explain why Jesus chose John to care for his mother instead of the so-called siblings.

It is clear that Joseph is now deceased by this point. He is omitted from discussion from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry. Jesus is the eldest, and it is responsibility to care for Mary. Committing her to John's care would be one reasonable argument to explain that those called "brothers" are missing. Using the alternate translation they were simply "cousins" or other relatives who did not have the responsibility to care for Mary as a son would.

The question of Jesus' siblings, for me, is an "open question." I think that the witness in the gospels allows for it, but I can understand the argument against it as well. I realize that Luther is said to have held to the perpetual virginity of Mary. However, that being said, I don't think that this elevates it to a point of doctrine.

Back to that previous post I mentioned a moment ago, a reader noted that it had to do with the doctrine of Christology (if I am recalling correctly.) Yet, how would believing that he had brothers and a sister take away from his status as the "only Son" of the Father? How would it diminish his divinity? Perhaps I am missing something here. Is there a reference in the Confessions that illuminates this point? Or, is it, as I noted before, simply an "open question"?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Exorcism and the Lutheran Church

This is an area that the Lutheran church has spent little time examining, and probably has little interest to do so now. Recently I obtained a copy of Darrell McCulley's book The House Swept Clean: A Biblically Balanced Pattern for the Diagnosis, Exorcism, and Pastoral Care of the Victims of Demonic Possession (2002), which explores, to some degree, the reason for this lack of interest. I have yet to digest its contents, so a review of it will have to come later. To date I have not found a parallel to his work. Currently I also picked up a copy of The Vatican's Exorcists: Driving Out the Devil in the 21st Century (2007) by Los Angeles Time's writer Tracy Wilkinson. So far it's an interesting read. My interest in this area goes back several years, but it is also born of pastoral experience and concerns. My one and only STM paper concerned the role of exorcism and Baptism, which seems to be the only place this is seen in Lutheran practice. Other than this the information appears scant.

I have decided to conduct some specific research into this area, mainly for the future benefit of pastors like myself who will undoubtedly be on the front lines of a spiritual struggle that is sure to intensify in the coming years. We live in a time of pagan fascination with the occult and Eastern religious experience that is a historical throw-back to a time well before Luther.

My concern is that we are not fully equipped for this. Thus my research. If you know of anything that may be helpful in this area, let me know. Or if you have any resources worth finding.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

LCMS - Churchly and Sectarian at the Same Time?

Although his lecture was one of the few that I missed at the Symposia, Robert Benne has done me a favor by writing of his experience in the most recent issue of the Forum Letter (March '07). I had heard that his remarks were not all well received, and it made me curious as to what he really said (and disappointed that I chose that lecture to skip!). In short, he both praises and criticises the participants at the Symposia. The faculty and students he has high marks for (as well as for the Ft. Wayne seminary.) Several of the participants, which I imagine included many clergy, were less kind. So what prompted the negative comments?

Dr. Benne, it would seem, is not what I would label as a "confessional ELCA" person. These I have met and studied with, and now reading his remarks in Forum, I can see why some participants were upset (although admittedly their remarks could be seen as "boorish," as Benne describes them.) Benne, even though he sees huge problems with the ELCA far-left, still called for Missouri to have a "freer and more pacific spirit." He also noted "fundamentalist assumptions" in some of the "guiding documents" of our church, such as the Brief Statement of 1932 and The Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles of 1973.

In addressing one pastor's question on these remarks, Benne writes:
"One pastor asked me what I meant by fundamentalist themes in the founding documents. I told the audience that commitment to a literal six-day creation was a Missouri Synod accretion on the Lutheran tradition, and served as a false gate to get into the Lutheran confessional tradition. And I, for one, found it was too much to reject all forms of evolution. I added that such unwarranted hurdles would cost them many young people and theologians. I then said: 'I doubt if everyone in this room believes in the six-day creation!' Whereupon at last half the room jumped from their chairs and shouted: "I do, I do." But I publicly observed that half didn't stand up."

"Then someone asked me about Eucharistic sharing and I allowed that I thought I was confessional enough to share the Eucharist with the gathered group. Whereupon a small number shouted: 'No! You're not confessional enough!' 'We don't want to share with you!' It was enough to bring scores of apologies to me from the many who may have been somewhat sympathetic to what I said."

Sympathetic to what he said? Maybe. Then maybe it was just common courtesy and embarrassment over the "boorish" response from the others.

Dr. Benne lives in a middle zone between the left of ELCA and the right of Missouri, not quite having both feet in either area. Admittedly he deplores the liberal political-correctness of his own church body, but he also wants to be considered 'confessional' while playing fast and loose with the foundational security of our whole confession: the Word of God. Yes, that's what is at stake, as far as I would observe. The six-day creation is embraced simply because that is a faithful and honest reading of the Genesis account on its own terms. Furthermore , our fellowship at the Eucharist is not about Dr. Benne being "confessional enough" (that is, identifying himself with confessional thought and concerns), but about his identification with a church body that openly denies the full historicity and infallibility of that Word. We assume that by virtue of his membership he agrees with their doctrine. His remarks betray that he agrees with them a lot more than he may know.

I am pleased by the fine complements he pays to my alma mater and the high regard with which he holds the seminary. And I understand his view of my synod as "sectarian," even though I disagree. If we were truly sectarian I can't imagine that we would ask speakers like Benne to address a symposia set aside to discuss the confessions of the church. Sectarians have no interest in speaking and entering into dialogue with others outside their group. That is not Missouri, although he may see us that way, or at least a few of us.

Sectarian or not, embracing a six-day creation is about our loyalty and faithfulness to God's Word. Dr. Benne is caught in the classic bind between the ministerial and the magisterial use of reason. Through the scientific theory of evolution he has chosen to elevate reason above the scriptures and allow them to speak with more authority. That is niether safe nor wise. For where does one stop? You can't have it both ways. You can't say "I embrace God's Word of truth!" and then say that it is subject to the drifting whims of human thinking. Do we declare some to be "symbolic" because science will not allow us to take it literally? Revealed knowledge is always more authoritative than what we are able to glean from natural knowledge.

Maybe Benne thinks that this means we will be less of a synod for such views. So be it. I still think that many confessionally minded people around the world are praying we don't let go of what we have.