Sunday, August 31, 2008

When Does Human Life Begin?

Why is this question so difficult? At the risk of sounding downright simplistic, would not the definition of the beginning of human life be the moment of conception? I mean, it's life and it's decidedly human. How else do we explain it?

Still, the confusion goes on. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recently stated that she didn't think anyone can tell you when life begins, that is, human life. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama essentially dodged the issue. In response to the question of when does a baby get human rights, he stated that such an answer would be "above [his] pay grade." I'm not entirely sure what that means. Is he simply conceding the answer to God? If so, he's right in one sense. But the point here is that God has already answered the question. Life begins at conception.

And what about science for those who would cloud the issue by saying it's really all about religious views? In one of America's most prominent human embryology texts The Developing Human it is stated: "Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to produce a single cell - a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."

Where is the confusion here Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Obama? Is this human life or not? And if so, I would think that it should be protected. Or am I missing something?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

Check out the new kid on the Lutheran blogosphere block: Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison. Pastor Harrison is the executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care and author of the book Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action (CPH).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What is High Church?

If you have hung around Lutherans for any length of time you no doubt have heard the term "high church." Like the term "liberal," it is not a label typically used for complimentary reasons, but rather to identify a group that is out of step with where they should be. In a church body such as the LCMS, where a declining and aging membership signals a need to change for the sake of survival, "high church" is a handy term to identify those who stand in the way of progress.

"High Church,"
actually, is a term borrowed from the Anglicans, and does not originate with Lutherans. Nevertheless, there now is an identified phenomenon known as "High Church Lutheranism." That having been said, however, the use of the term "high church," from my perspective at least, is overused and abused, especially as a way of pitting evangelism against ministry, and progress against stagnation.

"High Church," in common usage, now often refers to a church that uses the established hymnal as the normal source of liturgical material for Sunday worship, which prefers the singing of hymns in place of "praise songs," values the Lord's Supper as central to Christian worship, utilizes historic vestments on her clergy, maintains a decorum of respectful formality at the altar (as one who recognizes that they are standing in the presence of a Holy God handling 'holy things'), and whose pastors preach sermons that are driven by exegesis rather than felt needs. The term "high church" is now part of a grouping of words and phrases used to describe the great variety that characterizes Lutheranism today. Worship in one church could be described service-by-service as "blended," "traditional," and "contemporary," each being seen as normal Lutheran practice. The point here is to make sure the variety is excepted and even celebrated, or seen as a means to bringing a church fully over to "contemporary". But to insist that "traditional" forms are more faithful to Lutheran theology and practice is to earn the label "high church" immediately.

The unfortunate situation here is that what is now labeled as "high church" was once the expected Lutheran practice for all churches. Even in the late 60's when I was growing up as a child in the Lutheran church one did not see using the hymnal as being overly formal or unusual, but the norm of practice. Now a country church such as mine, where I lead worship from the current hymnal, yet without chanting (not that I'm against it, but you have to understand the situation here), wearing a cassock and surplice, celebrating the Lord's Supper on the first and third Sundays (which I would love to see celebrated each Sunday!), could be labeled as "high church." Yet compared to some Lutheran churches my practices would probably be seen as virtually "bronze age," not "high"; in other words, reflective not of the "smells and bells" ritualism one associates with a Tridentine Mass (a bit over stated, but you get the point), but rather with what many might remember from the old TLH days before the liturgical renewal hit full stride.

It is unfortunate that such differences have come to pass, and more unfortunate still that they are used to label people seen as standing in the way of evangelism. When did we lose faith that the Word really did accomplish that which God purposed, and instead came to believe it was up to us and our cleverly produced programs? As with politics, so with the church. Words will mean what those who use them determine then to mean for the sake of the argument of the moment. I only hope some will begin to see through the smog of rhetoric and see the realities as they truly are.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Novel on Muhammad's Birde is Cancelled

Books that slander the Christian faith and cast aspersions on Jesus himself seem to have little trouble finding willing publishers these days. Yet books that dare talk of Islam or its founder, even when they are not slanderous, would seem to be cautiously avoided. Such was the case with the almost new novel The Jewel of Medina by journalist Sherry Jones, a story of Aisha, child bride of Islam's founder Muhammad, five years in the making. The publisher, Random House, initially showed such excitement for the book that they gave Jones a $100,000 contract for not just this work, but for a sequel as well.

However, it only takes one voice of protest to stop the presses, and the voice of Denise Spellberg, who teaches Middle Eastern studies, was just such a voice. After reading a galley of the book she declared that the novel was a "declaration of war...explosive stuff...a national security issue." Random House eventually reached a "termination agreement" with Jones due to "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

For all the rhetoric about how violent and muderous Christians were during the Crusades (and that is a topic worthy of a separate discussion itself, not to mention a discussion of Islamic war and violence by its founder in their early history), I can't recall a single story about a similar book canceled in our day due to concern over "violence by a small, radical segment" of Christians. Why are there some Muslims that are driven to "acts of violence" when they believe their religion is somehow slandered or besmirched? It has been argued that the Qu'ran (Koran) does not condone violence of this sort, yet from where else could the inspiration for such acts ultimately come? Is this a political-nationalistic-ethnic kind of issue? Is it merely a matter of some radical Muslim theologians and religious leaders?

By the way, there is yet one last 'twist' to this story that is interesting in its own right. Shahed Amanullah, a developer in Austin who runs the website, noted that: "The thing that is surreal for me is that here you had a non-Muslim write a book, and you had a non-Muslim complain about it, and a non-Muslim publisher pull the book." Could it be that we are no so overly sensitized to offending, and so fearful of terroristic violence, that we duck for cover even when there is no apparent reason to do so? How sad that we have come to this point.

[There is an article at Wikipedia on The Jewel of Medina that provides additional background and information. Information for the above article was taken from the Chicago Tribune, Sunday, August 24, in an article by Erik Lacitis.]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In God We Trust - MIchael Newdow Wants It Removed

Michael Newdow, the atheist who worked for years trying to get the Pledge of Allegiance out of public schools, has now turned his attention to the common coin. He insists that the motto "In God We Trust" imprinted on the nation's currency violates the principle of the separation of church and state. You can read about this story and the history of how our motto appeared on the currency in "Atheists Challenges 'In God We Trust'" at the MSNBC site.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What is a "Spirit-Filled Ministry"?

One of our local churches advertises itself as a "Spirit-Filled Ministry." Such a title, as I understand it, identifies the church as Pentecostal or Charismatic. These are churches that believe they have a "full gospel" ministry that includes the fullness of the Holy Spirit's work. This usually means they exercise all the so-called "gifts" of 1 Corinthians, such as speaking in tongues and miraculous healing, which are the most popular.

But where does the Bible actually define a church as "Spirit-filled" as opposed to a church that is, well, "Spirit-empty"? Doesn't Peter indicate to the Pentecost converts that they will receive THE gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism? Or is it the case, as I have observed, that "Spirit-filled" people will define gradations of filling, making a distinction between the ordinary believer who "have the Spirit", and the truly spiritual ones that are "filled with the Holy Spirit"? Yet where does Jesus or his apostles ever differentiate between those who only "have" the Spirit and whose who are "filled" with the Spirit?

There is no doubt in my mind that my church is Spirit-filled. Now we don't have anyone speaking in tongues on Sunday morning, but then Paul was always more interested in the use of intelligible words of genuine prophesy than in tongues (read 1 Cor. 14). We also don't have healing services, as such. We pray for the healing of the sick, and many times they recover. In fact, I find that a walk through a hospital on any given day is testimony enough of God's grace in action when it comes to healing. Who said that the miracle had to be preceded by some guy putting his hand on your forehead and pushing you to the ground?

I know that where the Word is, there is the Spirit. The two cannot be separated. I also know that where the waters of Baptism are, there too is the Spirit, for even Peter testified to such, if not Jesus when He said we must be "born of water and the Spirit." And then there is the Supper, where the Spirit is most certainly present, for does not this sacrament most certainly clearly testify of Christ (John 16:12ff)?

Yes, my church is Spirit-filled, but I don't think I'll change the advertisement in the paper. It would only confuse people even more than they already are.....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Nameless Saint of Persistence

Known only as a "Canaanite woman," this desperate mother of Matthew 15 (Gospel for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost) teaches us a great deal about real faith. In the comfort of our plush chairs and stable homes, we can only imagine the horror this poor woman endured on a daily basis. Can you picture her daughter overwhelmed by personal evil, disheveled and wild-eyed in rage? Can you appreciate the pain of seeing one you love so tortured and manipulated by this uncaring demonic power? And then to endure the rude indifference of the disciples who desire only to be rid of the annoyance of her cries for help. Yet the greatest test comes when she must face the Lord Himself who seems to turn away at just the moment of her greatest need. She came in true faith, believing in the mercy of God, trusting that the Messiah would care. But then she encounters silence and the face of God is initially hidden. Most would surrender in frustration and self-pity and walk away. Yet not this woman. She knows the truth of who Jesus is and why He has come. He is the Messiah come to save the world. Instead of giving in to emotion's deception, she trusts the objective truth of what she believes in the Word. This is true faith. Tested faith. Faith in the hidden God not faith dependent on contrived visions. Yet this is also persistent and gritty faith. May God grant this to us as well. And may this nameless saint of persistence encourage us never to surrender to despair, but rather to cling always to the cross of our redemption.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Is the Pastor a Leader or a Shepherd?

Certainly no one would argue that pastors must exercise leadership within the church to which they were called. However, does the aspect of leadership define their calling?

In the book Power Surge (Augsburg-Fortess, 2000), author Michael W. Foss states: "The pastor as spiritual leader is emerging as a much more dynamic and effective pastoral role than those of pastor as caregiver, teacher, and preacher. Not the pastor as spiritual authority, but as spiritual leader, guide, or mentor..." The model Foss develops in his book betrays a similar trend I 0bserved even within the " church growth" model, which he indicates he is moving beyond. Here the pastor is supposed to be more than simply a "manager," but rather the vision-setter at the head of the organization. He contrasts the model of "chaplain" with that of the new model of pastor as "spiritual leader."

In the end it still feels too much like the old "church growth" model regurgitated. There we were told to drop the shepherd and become "ranchers," where the minister helped to organize and lead a church of little volunteer ministers. They now were to do the teaching and spiritual care giving to the grieving and hurting. They were to take over other roles such as reading the scripture and helping to lead worship. The pastor was for his part to train them, but not necessarily do do the work of ministry himself.

However, how does scripture define the pastor? It is clear even from our Lord Jesus that He was looking to call undershepherds to the flock, not corporate vision people (John 21:15ff). And Timothy is clearly instructed to "devote" himself to "the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13). The early apostles recognized that they were called specifically to bring the gifts of God to people, not simply to offer spiritual vision. "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God to wait on tables....we will give our attention to the prayer [worship] and the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:2-4).

I am concerned how we are forever redefining the pastoral office as if what our Lord called into existence can somehow become outdated and ineffective simply because people and the times change - or because pastors themselves are bored or burned out. The "power surge" of the church is not energized disciples, as Foss indicates, but rather the living within the Word and Sacrament which is at the heart of the body of Christ and the public ministry of the church.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Magnificent Pipe Organ is Not Dead Yet

During my days in Traverse City, Michigan, I would hear about how some churches were literally throwing their organs away. It seemed then that the days were numbered low for the survival of this magnificent king of instruments. With the rise of contemporary worship the organ faced extinction within the one place it was most effective and needed. No other instrument equals it in the leading of worship. One can therefore imagine my delight when I read a story in Concordia University-Nebraska's Broadcaster about the purchase and dedication of a brand new Casavant Freres Opus 3868. It took seven weeks to construct the case and tune the pipes of this stately pipe organ. I was also pleased when I read that they have 15 students for which the organ is their "principal instrument," in what is considered the "largest music department in the Concordia University System."

BTW, if you ever get to Traverse City, Michigan, make sure you take time to stroll through the Music House Museum. They have a wonderful collection of organs there, in addition to many other exhibits.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Five Things You Shoud Not Say at Funerals

After preparing for a couple of funerals here recently, I was reminded of an article I read a few years back in the Concordia Journal entitled, "Five Things You Should Not Say at Funerals" (October 2003). My one pet peeve with funerals I attend as a guest is the all too frequent absence of Christ crucified and risen. Too often the content is trivial and shallow and centered on the life and times of the deceased instead of our Lord. However, even after several years of ministry, I realize that I may not have always presented the fullness of our hope as accurately as possible, even while preaching Christ. Dr. Jeff Gibbs gave me pause to think. The five things he tells us we ought not to say:

1.) "Bob has received the crown of righteousness, and he has heard the Lord say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" Gibbs reason for not saying this: Like some of the phrases to follow, these are words that point to the final Day of Judgment, not to the moment of death or the intermediate period when the disembodied soul awaits the resurrection. Too often in our preaching we neglect to proclaim the fullness of our hope by forgetting that the fulfillment of all our Lord won for us is on the Last Day when the dead are raised and death itself is finally swallowed up in victory.

2.) "Margaret has now entered into eternal life." Gibbs reminds us that to say this is to "imply that the body is not destined to participate in eternal life." We enter into eternal life soul and body.

3.) "John has gone to his eternal home." Gibbs admits that this contains an "echo of a Biblical way of thinking." However, it is still misleading. "Until he puts on that dwelling [eternal home], Paul and all believers groan along with the whole creation" [see 2 Corinthians 5)] "A Christian who dies most certainly is, in some important sense, 'at home with the Lord.' But at death, the believer does not go to his or her eternal home - not yet." Again, we see him differentiating between the temporary disembodied intermediate state, and the final state of eternal resurrected existence.

4.) "Julia is with the Lord now forever." Gibbs says that this too "implies that the resurrection of the body is an afterthought." "The blessed condition of the dead believers is rest, paradise, a being 'with the Lord' - but it will not always be that way." "Things will change on the Last day also for the dead - they will be raised and in that condition, 'we will always be with the Lord' (1 Thess. 4:17)."

5.) "This is not a funeral - it's Craig's victory celebration!" Gibbs says that "This is perhaps the most objectionable of all - and it is patently false, as even many unbelievers instinctively know. It is true, of course, that when a Christian dies, he is now 'out of danger' - he can no longer be tempted. In addition, when tragic and prolonged physical or mental suffering precede the death of a Christian, there can be great relief and release for both the deceased and for those who loved him and have cared for him." Still, calling the funeral a 'victory' misses the point that "the death even of a Christian is always and only a sign that sin has not yet fully been abolished by the Lord Jesus Christ; the last enemy has not yet gone under His feet." Thus, he says, funerals are not victory celebrations, they are funerals. We always acknowledge the 'now-not yet' aspect of our journey here.

Gibbs notes an interesting point of how our theology may or may not inform our practice in the case of death and funerals: "When the second coming plays no functional role in one's working theology, it will not show up in funeral sermons. When the theological understanding of death as the enemy is hidden behind cliches that are not true, then there is less opportunity for speaking the Good News. When the pastor, even though he believes that it will happen, is not himself actually looking for and longing for the return of Christ - then he will say at funerals things that he should not say. And he will not deliver the fullness of the Gospel. "

So, if we should not say what was mentioned above, what then can we say? The Good News. "The Law is there, staring everyone in the face - death. And the sermon should speak explicitly of sin and its effects and its manifestations - including the death of this brother or sister. And one can also proclaim the Biblical message of the soul of the dead Christian - the soul is 'with Christ,' or 'at rest,' or 'in Paradise.' These are Biblical ways of speaking , and they can offer true Christian comfort."

"But in the face of death," Gibbs writes, "the pastor must proclaim the Good News of God's solution to sin and all its effects. And God's solution for bodily death is bodily resurrection! The resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits of the final resurrection on the Last Day - and this is very good news indeed for all who are in Christ Jesus."

Gibbs reminds us, in a way, how Easter is best proclaimed at funerals. I always make a point of sharing the Easter Greeting at the graveside at the very end - "Christ is risen - He is risen indeed!" I also read Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 15 about the Final Resurrection. Yet I see how this important truth can virtually be 'glossed over' by our preaching prior to the burial. Our hope needs to include more than just the moment of relief. For the resurrection is the great climax to all we have hoped for, and the implication even our our baptisms themselves!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Is Freemasonry a Religion?

A debate has long raged on whether Freemasonry is a religion. Christian denominations such as my own (LCMS) have long opposed Freemasonry on the grounds of its incompatibility with the orthodox Christian faith and its overt religious rituals that honor and worship a generic god equally acceptable to Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. Freemasonry, of course, denies being a religion, or that it is a substitute for one.

Yet, how is that understood by the many practicing masons in the world today? In the obituary section of my local paper I read about a man who was identified as being with the Knights Templar, one of the many branches of Freemasonry. It was interesting that this was the first thing he was identified with, even before the date of his death and year of his birth were given. No church affiliation was listed in the obituary, although a Christian minister was found to conduct his service. And where will the service be held? The Knights Templar Clubhouse.

Despite the official denial of masonry, how many masons, I wonder, see their membership as equivalent to that of regular church membership? I have found that given the choice a mason will actually choose his masonic membership over church membership, if the pastor or church objects to the tenets and practices of masonry. What does that say about Freemasonry as a religion?

Can Those Who Cheat Be Trusted?

In Dear Abby yesterday a series of letters continued a discussion on cheating in school, a disturbing reality with implications far beyond the classroom. I clipped the article to save for use with my youth group, realizing the topic has huge implications for young Christian people especially. However, one of those responding to the topic caught my attention with his simple, but powerful observation. For young people just thinking about their careers and future lives, this bears remembering the next time they are tempted to cheat:

"DEAR ABBY: After teaching in public and private schools for 44 years, I believe that most students are honest the majority of the time. However, I would advise 'Valedictorian' to pay attention. Make mental notes of the names of her classmates who cheat every chance they get. Do not forget who they are. She will be meeting them all the rest of her life.

If they go into business, shop elsewhere. If they become bankers, put your money elsewhere. If they go into the service industries, get your car or your teeth repaired somewhere else.

Above all, do not let your siblings marry one of them - marriage is the biggest 'test' of all. - E.B. LINDEN. ALA."

Habitual cheating reveals a character that is not trustworthy. If a student cheats on a math test in school, what is to say they will not employ such tactics in the 'real world'? No doubt this explains part of the frustration I am having with couples today who have such a hard time remaining faithful to the promise they made at the altar, or those who simply can't bring themselves to make one, yet live as if they are married - Maybe they know deep down that many people today compromise their integrity and can't be trusted - even themselves!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Is Doctrine Important?

During my seminary education we spent many semesters discussing and learning the finer points of Christians doctrine. Franz Pieper's multi-volume set of Christian Dogmatics occupied our waking moments well into the night as we digested the hundreds, if not thousands of pages of detail. After seminary some pastors gave a sigh of relief. Finally, they said, I don't have to concern myself with all that doctrine. I can now do the work of ministry.

Yet, can we be about the work of church and ministry, including missions and evangelism, without careful attention to the doctrine and teaching of the church? All you have to do is to believe in Jesus and salvation. The rest is secondary, some would claim. Anyway, all that discussion of doctrine only gets in the way of Christians working together for a common cause and confuses people.

I remember a community women's Bible study in the city where my last parish was, which attracted some of the lady's from my church. What struck me at the time was that they completely avoided any discussion of the sacraments for fear of offending the ecumenical makeup of the group. Naturally, when you mix Baptists and Catholics and Lutherans you are going to have differences on matters such as the Lord's Supper and Baptism. But how can you study the Bible and avoid speaking of these things? Furthermore, how can one even avoid the plain fact of their great importance within Holy Scripture?

Also, if one were to discuss these things and honestly confront the differences of belief, one would quickly realize that the differences also involve very fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures, such as the communication of attributes in the person of Christ. Real presence in the Lord's Supper hinges on the critical truth of whether the divine attributes of God are indeed shared by the human nature of our Lord, and also about where our Lord is (some Reformed hold to the belief that his human nature is now in heaven.)

By ignoring doctrine or treating it as secondary, many churches have slipped into any number of damaging errors, even though they sincerely want to do the right thing. For example, many an evangelical Christian passionately seeks the salvation of those who do not yet believe. However, in the process they erroneously turn them to their own efforts and initially away from Christ when they tell them they must make a decision to let Jesus into their heart. It is the old debate on the freedom vs. the bondage of the will. The bottom line here is whether we believe that the sole responsibility of salvation and conversion belongs to God, or whether we want to be Pelagian about it and fall into the grievous error of claiming partial human credit for one's salvation.

Doctrine does matter if the message we are proclaiming matters. And one cannot separate the Word from the Truth of that Word. Error at one point can very well corrupt the whole enterprise in the end. Yes, doctrine is important.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Survival Skills

Although the time I spend in the woods rarely takes me far from home or far from the main trail, I am fascinated by the art of outdoor survival. Bear Grylls in Man vs. Wild and Les Stroud of Survivorman rank among my favorite TV personalities. I have probably watched most of the episodes by now.

Some may think the skills of outdoor survival benefit only those in extreme situations, and their applicability to everyday life is limited. But I beg to differ. There is a lot to general survival that can be carried over into normal life, and life as a Christian in an evil world.

Recently I picked up the August copy of National Geographic's Adventure magazine, lured by the lead article: "How to Survive (Almost) Anything." What was particularly interesting was that the article was not so much about outdoor skills, as such, but about the psychological aspect of survival. Laurence Gonzales, the author, noted that "After more than three decades of analyzing who lives, who dies, and why, I realized that character, emotion, personality, styles of thinking, and ways of viewing the world had more to do with how well people cope with adversity than any type of equipment or training."

Some of the disciplines of thinking include the following:
--Develop the capacity to break down the event you are faced with into small manageable tasks. Forcing the brain to think sequentially at times of crisis helps to quiet dangerous emotions.
--Learn to recognize your tendency to see things not as they are, but how you wish them to be. Gonzales notes that denial plays a large role in wilderness accidents. So too with life in an evil, sinful world. We fall into the trap of endless frustration when we live in constant denial.
--Think positive. Now I'm not going off on a "Robert-Schuller-power-of-positive-thinking" thing here. According to the research of Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, "individuals with a 'growth mindset' - those who are not discouraged in the face of a challenge, who think positively, and who are not afraid to make or admit mistakes - are able to learn and adjust faster and more easily overcome obstacles."
--Don't celebrate the summit. Gonzales says that climbers learn this the hard way. "Statistically speaking, most mountaineering accidents happen on the descent. Celebrating at the halfway point encourages you to let down your guard when you''re already tired and stressed." Good advice for life in general. We let our guard down at the wrong times too often.
--When facing a hazard, always ask: What is the most I'm willing to pay for it? What is the reward I'm seeking? Too often when we are invested in a goal we become less willing to turn back, even when the risk outweighs the reward. Many times in the ministry I've applied this under the similar principle of "picking your battles," or as I like to put it - What hill are you willing to die on?
--Know Plan B. Always have a backup plan.
--Help others. "In a survival situation, tending to others transforms you from a victim into a rescuer and improves your chances."
--Surrender, but don't give up. "A good survivor says: 'I may die. I'll probably die. But I'm going to keep going anyway.'"

Two other survival models that come from manuals on survival may also prove helpful:
S.T.O.P. = Sit - Think - Observe - Plan. Too often we rush into decisions that are rash and half-baked. Those who survive resist the temptation to panic.

This one comes from the U.S. Army's Survival Manual and is based on the word survival broken down into an acronym:
-Size up the situation.
-Undue haste makes waste.
-Remember where you are (This one is related to the one on acting like the natives. Remember that you are not in friendly territory.)
-Vanquish fear and panic.
-Value living.
-Act like the natives.
-Learn basic skills.

Now not all of these may be as applicable in our everyday situations, but some are. I have seen in the ministry too often people who leave the church and ministry defeated, beat up, and embittered. Their bridges are burned, their families are fractured, their relationships in shambles. Life in the sinful world is in many ways a survival situation. Even Paul encouraged the Ephesians to adopt the "armor" Christ. Let us, as Jesus said, we "wise as serpents and as innocent as doves." Survival is not a bad word. It is just the art of making it in the face of danger and suffering.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Missionary Activity = Agression?

While looking for information on a Christian child sponsorship organization, I stumbled across an interesting site called What I 'stumbled' onto, actually, was a "blacklist" of Christian organizations deemed "aggressive" against the culture and religions of other countries. Turns out that my own denomination, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is on that list.

Although directed primarily against Christian mission activity in India, the site's purpose appears to be to educate people that all missionary activity is inherently aggressive and dangerous. They state:

"Christians believe that they have been commanded by Christ to go and “save” (convert) the people of this world. This is also supposed to give them special merit when it comes to the day of final judgment.

While there are many Christians who today do not believe in this exclusivity, there are a still large number of misguided Christians who still believe that in the exclusivity of Christianity and the concept of saving souls.

It is this misguided belief that causes breeds a hatred and intolerance for other religions. and from this hatred, these Christian Fundamentalists begin their aggression to convert. And often they will go to any means to convert even if it means violence.

This website seeks to educate the world about the atrocities that conversions bring and to bring this aggressive nature of Christianity to an end."

Aside from the theological errors and misunderstandings of Christian belief (e.g. the special merit supposedly earned by Christians for their missionary activity), they also unfortunately paint all missionary activity as potentially violent and harmful.

The primary problem of Christian missions, according to them, is "exclusivity." Some churches don't believe in this, and therefore they are good. However, if you believe in what the Scriptures day, namely, that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we might be saved (i.e. the name of Jesus), then you are a fundamentalist who will stop at nothing, ethical or otherwise, to achieve your goal of conversion.

Unfortunately, Christianity, if it takes the words of Jesus seriously, cannot be anything but exclusive. That, however, does not mean it is against the right of people to believe as they choose. It also does not mean that we will go to any means necessary to effect a conversion. These are stereotypes of Christians and only serve to bring about the same animosity and aggression against Christians that this group is supposedly fighting against in the first place.