Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why Pastors are Bad for Politics

First it was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy. Now comes more flak over yet another preacher, the Rev. Rod Parsley, well-known TV evangelist and senior pastor of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, Ohio. Wright was the fiery and controversial pastor of Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. Parsley, however, did not seem to be the prior pastor of Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain. Instead, it would appear that McCain specifically sought his endorsement in order to court the Evangelical vote. Nevertheless, he is just as fiery as Wright, except with a good old fashioned Pentecostal flavor, as opposed to Wright's UCC old fashioned liberalism.

Theology aside (and I could write much on that subject alone), I would have thought that McCain would have learned from the Wright issue that pastors are bad for politics. Of course Wright and Parsley are political lightening rods, to be sure. Still, pastors, by and large, speak a language different than politics, and the attempted translation of one tongue to the other is bound to result in misunderstanding. Take the subject of Islam. Just this past Sunday, on the great festival of the Holy Trinity, I quoted the Koran (or Qu'ran) in contrast to the orthodox teaching of the true Godhead. I have highlighted the teaching of Islam on other occasions, as well. Now if some high level politician were associated with me (an extreme stretch to be sure, but hang with me on this....), it is certainly possible that they would use such excerpts from my sermons as evidence that I am anti-Isalm and a "hate monger," as I believe the word is now being used of Parseley. Yet my points are purely theological, not geo-political, and in no way intend to reflect how we should deal with individual proponents of Islam, or Islamic nations, aside from my Christian commitment to evangelize, which in itself is another liability, politically speaking.

I am not sure how I would advise a candidate for high office, if I were so asked. However, I do think I would have steered McCain away from Parsley, even if he is desperate for the Evangelical vote. Each person is entitled to pastoral counsel, and McCain certainly needs it. But to seek a political endorsement was just plain misguided. And for the record - Parsley should never have given one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Same Old Issue that Caused So Much Trouble Before

I shouldn't be surprised by anything on the DayStar site. In fact, I should probably anticipate it before it comes. In the latest online installment of The DayStar Journal, they offer articles that revisit the old issue of the form and function of Holy Scripture. In other words, they are calling us once again to question the teaching of the inerrancy of the Bible. In an "introduction" to the 1960 statement of the St. Louis faculty which is reprinted as a second article, the editor make the following remarks:

The Easter issue of the DAYSTAR JOURNAL is devoted to theological literature, new and old. The following document on the form and function of the Holy Scriptures was suggested as a possible starting point for discussions on the topic of the “inerrancy” of the Scriptures.
Not only has the concept of inerrancy arisen in the current discussion of what Lutherans in the LCMS believe; it also figured prominently in the firing of the Saint Louis seminary faculty in 1973, the debate about the authorship and dating of Biblical documents, the teaching of creation and evolution and our understanding of many Biblical accounts.

Written nearly fifty years ago, the document reflects the language of the time which the modern reader might find sexist. Nonetheless, the document is valuable in underscoring the utter reliability of the Scriptures for faith and practice, yet it also opens the door to further examination and exploration of the texts and the thought world of their human authors.
At a time when thousands are leaving the church because they simply find the Biblical stories impossible to believe and other thousands are turning to a literalistic understanding of the Biblical materials to prop up their faith, it may be time for a new discussion of the “form and function of the Holy Scriptures.” The following document might well serve as the foundation for such a new conversation.

I find the statement "other thousands are turning to a literalistic understanding of the Biblical materials to prop up their faith" to be a rather curious indictment. To "prop up their faith"? I suppose a commitment to an inerrant Bible is simply a sign of weak faith then. Well, then, count me in. Forgive me for wishing to take God at His Word and trust that the transmission of that word is faithful in its entirety.

Yet I understand where they're going with this, to which his first paragraph hints. The point here is to 'loosen up' all the prohibitions on doctrines that the Synod has heretofore condemned, such as Evolution, Women's Ordination, and ecumenical unionism, to name but a few. If one can call into question the traditional interpretation of a passage by questioning its authorship, then one can call into question the teaching.

I hope this is not where the Synod is going again, but I continue to feel the vibrations from approaching hoof beats.....

Monday, May 12, 2008

Forsaking the First Love

As I listen to the angry couples argue in my office I often wonder - How did they lose that love that first brought them together? Was it a gradual drift from the initial infatuation, settling into the daily routine of work and child-rearing? Or was it personal frustrations and failures projected onto the other partner? The precise answers often elude me, but one thing is clear: they lost sight of that first love in which they pledged their lifelong union.

I though about this as I reflected on our Sunday morning Bible study of Revelation where we read about the Lord's admonition to the church at Ephesus: "You have forsaken your first love" (Rev. 2:4). As the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5), it is clear that this love is the love of the Savior Himself. But how could a church forsake this?

The Ephesian church is commended for its faithfulness in guarding against false doctrine and their perseverance in suffering for the name of Christ. It seems out of character for a church so commended to also be guilty of forsaking the very love of Christ that defines it. Yet, it happened.

But the question that lingers is, how? Using the illustration of marriage again, I suspect that churches, like couples, can lose sight of the love that unites them as they turn in on themselves. For love often means sacrifice and giving, and by nature we are selfish. How many voters' meetings can we all recall that spent precious minutes arguing over relatively minor issues of maintenance and procedure, to the neglect of the primary mission of the church which is proclaiming Christ and Him crucified? How often did personalities and opinions become the focus instead of our Lord? And how often do peripheral and ancillary activities demand more resources and time than the central mission of the church itself?

And even when we are discussing the very event where the love of Christ is proclaimed and shared - Divine Worship - we too often get distracted by issues of convenience and cost. Why was the service so long? Why did we have to sing such difficult hymns? The offerings are down, what can we do to increase them so we can pay all the bills?

Are we guilty of forsaking our first love? From the perspective of a pastor of more than a few years, I see how it can happen. And I see how it occurs in the most innocent of ways. When you scrape away all the rhetoric that too often creates division in the church between its members and between the pastor and his people, the issue at hand is always the same: the love of Christ was left behind.....