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Delusional Christianity and The Antidote of Scripture

November 20th, 2010 Comments off

Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics is such a treasure of solid, doctrinal wisdom. Here’s a great comment he makes about those who would pit Christian “experience” against Scripture.

“It is sheer delusion to make the Christian “experience” take the place of Scripture. It is a delusion, because without Scripture there can be no Christian experience. Needless to say, there is a Christian experience. Without the personal Christian experience there can be no Christianity. Everyone who is a Christian has experienced, and daily experiences, both sin and grace. He knows and realizes that on account of his sin he is subject to eternal damnation. And he knows and realizes that on account of Christ’s satisfactio vicaria his sins are forgiven. But this twofold experience of the Christian is wrought solely through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, of the Law and of the Gospel—certainly not through his experience. In order to create this experience of repentance and of the forgiveness of sins, Christ commands that repentance (μετάνοιαν) and remission of sins (ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν) be preached in His name among all nations (Luke 24:46 f.), and Paul, by Christ’s command, proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God” (μετανοεῖν καἰ ἐπιστρέφειν ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, Acts 26:20). This Word, the Word of the Law and the Word of the Gospel, the Church has in the recorded Word of the Apostles, and when the Church preaches this Word, which is God’s own Word and pronounces God’s own verdict in re “sin” and “forgiveness of sins,” men learn to know what repentance (contritio) and forgiveness of sins (remissio peccatorum sire fides in Christum) is. The ideas of sin and salvation which the “grandfather” and the “father” of the Ego theology of the 19th century, Schleiermacher and Hofmann, evolved out of their own heart will never cause a man to experience contritio and fides, fides in Christum crucifixum. As for Schleiermacher, it is quite generally admitted that his Reformed-pantheistic theology ignores the concept of sin completely. And when Hofmann, his faith consciousness, which guided by operates “independently” of Scripture, denies original sin, he, too, is a poor preacher of repentance. Furthermore, both Schleiermacher and Hofmann, drawing upon their Ego, deny the satisfactio vicaria. And such teaching and preaching certainly cannot produce the experience of fides, of faith in the Savior crucified for us.

Read more…

Categories: Lutheranism

Despite Media Hype, There is No “Calvinist Resurgance”

November 19th, 2010 15 comments
Thats what Barna says.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Barna Group released findings Nov. 15 that said despite what “observers and journalists have described as … a significant trend” in terms of a Calvinism movement, numbers of Calvinists among Protestant pastors are not greater today (31 percent) than a decade ago (32 percent).

McCain Comment: Yes, I know there is no Lutheran resurgance either. Don’t bother making that comment.

The research includes four studies conducted from 2000 through 2010, each involving a minimum of 600 phone interviews with random, representative samples of clergy.

Barna’s results about the broader Christian community seemingly stand in stark contrast to reports released by Southern Baptist Convention entities showing a surge in identity with five-point Calvinism in Southern Baptist life.

In 2007, the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research released findings that nearly 30 percent of recent seminary graduates (1998-2004) serving as church pastors identified themselves as Calvinists. Details about the sample methodology and size were not released and this study is not available for public review.

This compared to 10 percent of all pastors in the SBC who affirm the five points of Calvinism, according to a 2006 LifeWay Research study of a cross-section of 413 randomly selected SBC pastors.

At the release of the research, Ed Stetzer who directs LifeWay Research, said the findings show “a growing influence” of Calvinism in SBC life and “certainly a growing influence in the graduates of our seminaries.”

Also, Christianity Today has described what it termed as a “comeback in Calvinism” in articles pointing to the SBC as “ground zero” for this resurgence (“Young, Restless, Reformed,” 2006) and as having a “bulwark of reformed theology” (“The Reformer,” 2010).

The Barna study appears to show that despite what has been reported as a spike in the numbers of Calvinism adherents among recent SBC seminary graduates, there hasn’t been a groundswell in the broader Christian community over the last decade. The numbers of those identifying themselves with Calvinism or Reformed Theology have held fairly steady around 31 percent.

However, the longitudinal study showed a much greater variation year-to-year in the number of pastors who identified themselves as either “Wesleyan” or “Arminian,” with a drop from 37 percent to 32 percent when comparing 2000 with 2010.

Theological Identity 2000 2002 2003 2010

Wesleyan, Arminian 37 pct. 26 pct. 35 pct. 32 pct.

Calvinist, Reformed 32 pct. 31 pct. 29 pct. 31 pct.

Sample Size 610 601 601 600

The Barna Group study did not define the theological identities, but left that interpretation to each participating pastor.

Other findings released by Barna include:
– On average, weekly adult attendance in Reformed or Calvinist churches grew from a median of 80 in 2000, to a median of 90 in 2010, an increase of about 13 percent. During that same period, weekly adult attendance in Wesleyan or Arminian churches increased 18 percent, growing from a median of 85 in 2000, to a median of 100 in 2010.

– Among pastors 27 to 45 years old, 29 percent described themselves as Reformed compared to 34 percent who self-identified with the Wesleyan tradition. Those between 46 and 64 years old were evenly split theologically, with 34 percent claiming Reformed roots and 33 percent citing a Wesleyan perspective. Pastors 65 years-old-and-up were least likely to place themselves in either camp, with only 26 percent naming a Reformed background and an almost equal number, 27 percent, pointing to a Wesleyan foundation.

– Reformed churches were most common in the Northeast and least common in the Midwest. Wesleyan congregations were equally likely to be in each of the four regions of the U.S.

– 47 percent of pastors of mainline churches (American Baptist Churches, Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, and United Church of Christ) named their congregations as Wesleyan or Arminian compared to 29 percent of mainline pastors who chose a Reformed or Calvinist label.

– Among pastors of non-mainline churches, 35 percent said they were Reformed or Calvinists, and 30 percent said they were Wesleyans or Arminians.

– Among charismatic and Pentecostal denominations generally viewed as coming from Wesleyan or Holiness traditions (Assembly of God, Vineyard, Foursquare, Church of God – Cleveland), 31 percent called themselves Reformed/Calvinists compared to 27 percent who called themselves Wesleyan/Arminian.

– A greater number of Reformed/Calvinist pastors identified themselves as theologically liberal (17 percent) than did Wesleyan/Arminian pastors (13 percent).

– Of the pastors who took part in the Barna study, 65 percent of Wesleyans/Arminians reported having completed seminary, and a statistically equivalent 62 percent of Reformed/Calvinists said they had, too.
–30–
Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.

HT: Pastor Alms at Incarnatus Est
Categories: Calvinism

New Volume of Luther Sermons Available

November 18th, 2010 3 comments

I’m pleased to announce that the next volume in the continuation of the American Edition of Luther’s Works is now available. It is volume 58, a collection of sermons, most never before translated into English. Here is where you can order a copy. There is the standard 20%  worker discount available to all rostered church workers of any church body. Additionally, those who subscribe to the continuation series receive an additional discount. More information about subscribing is available here. If you have forgotten, or have not seen, the prospectus for the entire continuation series, you can download a PDF copy of it and read it. Here is more detailed information about the latest volume.

This volume contains a selection of Luther’s preaching from between January 1539 and his death in 1546. Aware of his own mortality and deeply committed to the proclamation of the Gospel in the last days of the world, Luther preached during these years with a special sense of urgency, seeking to make a final confession and testament of his teaching and to issue a public rejection of its opponents. In that effort, he returned frequently to theological themes from the early years of his public career and to autobiographical reflection, working to convey the significance of the Reformation to a new generation ignorant of the circumstances that had called for reform, who had experienced “nothing of these distresses and heartbreak under the pope and what a joyful thing the Gospel is.”

The recent expansion of the Reformation to previously hostile territories and cities provided Luther, despite his health, with opportunities to travel and to preach to newly Evangelical communities, expounding the basic elements of his theology. In these sermons, Luther emphasized catechesis in the heart of the Gospel as he understood it, but he was also concerned with warning against a return to old abuses and with encouraging the new organization and support of Evangelical clergy and schools to ensure the survival of the Reformation. In his ongoing preaching in Wittenberg itself, Luther was intensely concerned with the life and welfare of the congregation with whose life he had been most intimately involved. In addition to preaching on the broader theological conflicts with which he dealt in his published treatises, Luther dealt with local tensions—which culminated in his own brief, self-imposed “exile” from Wittenberg in the summer of 1545. He defended his own role within and responsibility for the Wittenberg church and dealt concretely with the Antinomians’ rejection of the Law for Christians by assiduously preaching both the Law and the Gospel to the congregation. When, as it often did, the life of the Wittenbergers seemed to fall short in both good works and faithful devotion, Luther could be uncompromising and unrestrained in his admonitions, whether in denouncing the university jurists who sought to reimpose the standards of papal canon law or in rebuking the Wittenbergers for immorality and, especially, for their greed.

Nevertheless, even Luther’s most bitter complaints about Evangelical congregations do not suggest that the old reformer had fallen into despair. His admonitions to faithful hearing of the Word and amendment of life appear alongside his confident declarations that, in fact, the Gospel was being faithfully taught. Luther boasted that the Gospel was being preached and proclaimed, not only in the churches by faithful pastors, not only in the schools, but also in homes, among parents and children, as he says in his last sermon: “You hear [God’s Word] at home in your house, father and mother and children sing and speak of it, the preacher speaks of it in the parish church.” The Gospel is thus communicated from one generation to the next, from parents to children—and also back again, from children to parents. It is to the children, learning the Catechism, that Luther refers adults who have questions about Christian faith, and upon the youth, “the seedlings with which the Church of God, like a beautiful garden, is cultivated and propagated,” that the reformer continues to place undiminished hopes. These sermons thus bear witness to Luther’s understanding that the Reformation is neither an accomplished, once-for-all event nor a step along the progressive way to the full purification of the Church, but a continual struggle, carried out through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, to be renewed from generation to generation until the Last Day.

What is the “Righteousness of God”?

November 18th, 2010 Comments off

At the heart of the Reformation recovery of the Gospel, was Luther’s return to the Biblical meaning of key terms and phrases. One of the most signficant is the phrase “the righteousness of God.” Martin Chemnitz lays out the meaning of the word “righteousness” in his Loci Theologici in the following manner:

“It is useful to show on the basis of the correct foundations what the term “the righteousness of God” properly means in this article. It is absolutely clear that the correct meaning in this passage is not the one about which we have now spoken. For this kind of “righteousness of God” is revealed in the Law, and Paul says that, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel.

“We have said that the sum and substance of the Gospel is that we are exempted from the rigor of the tribunal of stern righteousness and that we flee to the throne of grace. And what the proper meaning of the Gospel of justification is cannot be understood nor correctly taught if we understand “the righteousness of God” in a legal sense; indeed, the most pernicious corruptions follow …. It seems indeed to be taken in the legal sense in Rom. 1:32: “Though they know God’s decree [or righteousness, dikaiōma], that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve of those who practice them.” But the words are different. The dikaiōma of God refers to the rule of righteousness in God as revealed in the Law. It is used this way in Rom. 1:32; 2:26; and 8:4. The word dikaiōsis is used in Rom. 5:18 in opposition to condemnation; hence, it is manifest what it means.

Read more…

World’s Largest Jesus

November 17th, 2010 4 comments

Polish church ready to unveil world’s largest Christ statue
ENI-10-0759

By Jonathan Luxmoore
Warsaw, 17 November (ENInews)–A Polish bishop has invited fellow Roman Catholics at home and abroad to attend an unveiling on 21 November of the world’s largest statue of Christ.

The statue stands in a town on the plains near the German border. On its mound, it rises to 65 metres (213 feet), and is visible for at least 16 kilometres (10 miles) in any direction.

“This is an act of homage, through which we seek to honour the saviour, and recognise his universal reign,” Zygmunt Regmunt, bishop of Zielona Gora-Gorzow, told members of his western diocese.

“Being full of trust in Christ, the faith cannot remain only an internal act. It should also be expressed externally; firstly, through a life worthy of the Gospel. The faith also needs certain material signs to give it testimony, and this monument is just such a testimony of faith.”

The bishop issued his invitation in a pastoral letter as final work was being carried out on the statue at the Divine Mercy parish in Swiebodzin, 32 kilometres from Poland’s border with Germany. The reinforced concrete statue will be at least 40 feet (12 metres) higher than that of Brazil’s famous 80-year-old Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

Regmunt said the new edifice, to be dedicated on 21 November, had been a personal project of the local parish rector, Sylwester Zawadzki, to commemorate the town’s dedication to “Christ the King” in 2000. Some reports indicate that originally Zawadzki had wanted a “small garden sculpture” but over time his ambitions grew.

The bishop said that he wished to thank Polish Catholics at home and abroad who had donated money, as well as municipal and county officials who had supported the venture.

Controversy has accompanied the building project, with some Catholics claiming the statue is a waste of money. There have also been worries about the sculpture’s safety, and a crane collapsed when builders tried to place the head. As it fell, the head crushed a builder’s foot, leading some sceptics to call the accident a sign of God’s disapproval.

In his invitation to the dedication service, Regmunt said, “After overcoming many impediments, the installation of this figure is now happily complete. Let participation in the ceremony of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, be a challenge to our faith and an expression of our will to build our lives on the foundation of Christ’s gospel, in order to help us submit ever more deeply to the royal power of Christ.”

Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI, said installation work was still being done in early November on the arms and 15-ton head of the gigantic figure, which has already attracted sightseers to the small town of 20 000 inhabitants. [465 words]

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Categories: Uncategorized

The Grace of Justification is Completed in the Resurrection of the Body

November 17th, 2010 3 comments

Fulgentius of Ruspe, commenting on Revelation 12:10-11: Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

“This then is done in them through grace so that the change brought about by divine gift may begin in them here. The change begins first through justification, in which there is a spiritual resurrection, and afterwards, in the resurrection of the body, in which the change of the justified is brought to completion; the perfected glorification, remaining for eternity, is not changed. To this end, first the grace of justification,  then the grace of glorification changes them so that the glorification itself remains, unchangeable and eternal in them. For here they are changed through the first resurrection by which they are enlightened that they may be converted. That is, they change from death to life by this, from iniquity to justice, from infidelity to faith, and from evil acts to a holy way of life. Therefore, the second death has no power over them. Concerning such people, it is said in the Apocalypse: “Blessed is the one who shares in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them.” Again it is said in the same book: “The victor shall not be harmed by the second death.” Therefore, just as the first resurrection is found in conversion of the heart, so the second death is found in eternal punishment. Let every person who does not wish to be condemned by eternal punishment of the second death hasten here to become a participant of the first resurrection.

— ON THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS 2.12.3–4.35

William C. Weinrich, Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 12, 27-28 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005).

Categories: Church Fathers

Updating the New International Version of the Bible: Translator’s Notes

November 16th, 2010 26 comments

There has been a great deal of anticipation about the new edition of The New International Version translation of the Bible. It was first released in 1984 and took off like a rocket, particularly among generally conservative American Evangelicals. Since then, there have been many other translations produced, as well as a growing level of concern that the NIV is not actually, in many respects, a translation, as much as it is a dynamic equivalence. The LCMS moved to accept the English Standard Version as its translation of choice in all worship materials and consequently the Synod’s publishing arm, Concordia Publishing House, has moved to use the ESV as its translation of choice in all published materials. The ESV is a more accurate translation and lends itself well to a study Bible due to its consistency in translating key terms in the original languages.

But, the NIV remains popular among some conservative Lutherans, like the Wisconsin Synod, and those who “grew up with it.” I share Gene Edward Veith’s recent comment about the NIV that what is most irksome about, on a consistent basis, and grated on my ears for the many years I was forced to endure it in church is “the utter tone-deaf resistance to metaphor, poetry, and beauty of language.” Zondervan has released a statement explaining what the changes are that have been made to the NIV. You can read the document by downloading it here: Translators-Notes I have found several much more detailed listings of changes here and here and here.

You can also review the entire new NIV translation at Bible Gateway, which is now owned by Zondervan, the publishers of the NIV. I have said this often, but it always catches people by surprise when they find out that Zondervan is owned by Harper-Collins, which in turn, is part of the Ruppert Murdoch media empire. It is important for Christians to realize that supporting the NIV contributes to the support of Murdoch’s corporation, which is one of the world’s largest providers of pornography. Something to think about.

The question now becomes what are publishers going to be asked to do with the new NIV. We at CPH have heard from Zondervan asking us to agree to use only the NIV by 2013, this is the same request that has been sent out to many other publishers. Much remains unclear about what this means for existing publications, like the Concordia Self-Study Bible which was based largely on the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Will we be permitted to keep that book, as it is, in print, or would we have to entirely revise it to use the newest NIV edition. Churches like the WELS which remain strongly attached to the NIV will need to evaluate the changes in the latest edition of the NIV, some of which I find personally very disturbing, particularly when it comes to key theological concepts.

Here is a graphic display of what has changed over the years in the NIV and the present level of changes in the 2011 NIV. HT, for the graphic and the comparative details, to John Dyer.

How Lutherans Regard the Errors of the Church Fathers

November 16th, 2010 3 comments

Martin Chemnitz, in his magisterial work, Loci Theologici, or “Chief Theological Topics,” has a comment about how we are to regard and deal with the errors of the early church fathers. We do not ignore them or overlook them, but neither do we dwell so much on them that we fail to recognize the benefit and blessing of reading them and gaining what wisdom is to be found in their writings and so Chemnitz says:

It is not our purpose to be like Ham, who uncovered his father’s shame. Thus we shall not deal with the lapses of those by whose labors we have been aided and whose gray hairs we ought to honor, but we will refer to them only as warnings so that we may be cautioned by their examples to be more careful and diligent in preserving the purity of this doctrine, so that we never give occasion to anyone to follow in these footsteps.

Martin Chemnitz and Jacob A. O. Preus, Loci Theologici, electronic ed., 470 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).

Categories: Church Fathers

Why I Still Recommend the Kindle Platform for E-Book Reading

November 16th, 2010 6 comments

Christmas is right around the corner and there are going to be a lot of people buying eBook readers or asking for them, so here is my take on the situation.

If you would have told me, a few years ago, that I would be recommending the Amazon Kindle platform above any other method for e-book reading I would have told you that you were crazy. Well, I would not have said that, but I may have thought it. Why? The Kindle was poorly designed when it first came out. It was far overpriced. You had to lug it with you in order to read whatever Kindle titles you owned. So that meant you would probably find yourself carrying the Kindle, a cell phone, and a laptop computer, not to mention the cords and plugs required to keep them all charged.

But ask me today, as many do, and I quickly recommend the Kindle platform above any other e-reading system. Please notice my choice of words carefully. I use the word “platform” not “device.” That is very intentional. And now, in light of the release by Amazon of the latest and greatest versions of the Kindle, I am even more strongly recommending people buy a Kindle if they are interested in having a great eBook reading experience. Hands down, Kindle is the way to go. The latest basic version of the Kindle is wonderful, and for a few tanks of gas more, you can get the one that uses a touch interface exclusively, instead of buttons.

Pay close attention here: Forget the Barnes and Noble Nook. The Amazon Fire is a Nook Killer, no doubt about it. Here’s a strong word of advice: Before you buy an e-book reader make sure that the books you want to read are easily/readily available for it. For instance: Concordia Publishing House is providing our titles in Kindle format. We have not seen much point in supporting any other format, particularly since you can read Kindle titles on just about any gizmo out there.

Do your research and make sure you are buying what you really think you are going to use. If you want a media consumption device, the Kindle Fire may be for you, but it has the same “downsides” for reading an eBook as does the iPad or any mobile device that has a backlit display: glare and you can’t read it comfortably outside or in any bright light. That’s why I say that if you want to read eBooks, get one of the two basic Kindle models. Here are your choices. Click on the image below to go to Amazon’s Kindle store.

Amazon has not made much of this fact, but the reason the Amazon Kindle platform is, in my opinion, by far the best e-book reading system out there today is because you do not even have to own an actual Kindle device, to use the Kindle platform. Let me explain. And forgive me, in advance, if you already know all this, but I don’t think many people do.

Amazon made a brilliant move when it decided to release software applications to enable as many devices as possible to use Kindle formatted e-books. The fact that Amazon is the single largest reseller and distributor of intellectual property in the world makes the Kindle platform absolutely irresistible for publishers, and that’s good for readers.

If you own a computer of any kind, no matter MAC or PC, you can use Kindle formatted e-books on it. Desktop or laptop? Doesn’t matter. Netbook? Sure. How about all those nifty devices collectively now referred to as “smartphones.” Amazon’s got you covered: Android? iPhone? No worries, you can read Kindle files on those devices. iTouch? Blackberry? Yup, those too. And no doubt all the up and coming tablet/iPad imitators will be able to use Kindle files as well.

How about the iPad? No problems, you have a very well implemented and well executed Kindle app for it too, and all Kindle apps now offer searching of the text, and instant connectivity to Wikipedia and dictionary for quick reference and research. And no doubt all the up and coming tablet/iPad imitators will be able to use Kindle files as well.

So, here’s my thinking. If you are going to invest in an e-book, and it is an investment and a somewhat risky one at that*, why not buy a format that you can read on virtually any device out there, including, oh, yes, the actual Kindle device itself, which in its latest iteration has become even more attractively priced and better provisioned with useful features. You can get a nicely designed and improved Kindle now for only $80. Yes, $80.

And, what’s more, you’ll find, usually, the best prices on e-books are also to be found with Amazon’s Kindle platform.

What about the iPad? Well, as much as I hate to say it, I enjoy reading my Kindle formatted e-books on it better than iBookstore titles. Why? Simple: price. By and large, I find that Kindle titles are priced lower on Amazon, than the same e-book formatted for the iBookstore. I’ve got to tell you, at this point, I really don’t know why I, as a publisher, would even be all that anxious to release my titles in Apple’s much more restrictive and less diverse format, just to sell it in the iBookstore.

So, at this point, I’m still a big advocate for Amazon’s Kindle platform for e-book reading. What are your thoughts?

*Why is purchasing an e-book a somewhat risky proposition? Who knows if you will be able to use it in the future. Can we expect, for example, that Amazon will make all future versions of whatever its e-book reading platform is backward compatible with all previous editions/formats and versions? I don’t know. There’s the rub and there’s the advantage of a physical book over an e-book, any day and every day. Plus, trying to copy and paste sections elsewhere for reference? Forget it. Proper citation and page numbers? Nope. Well, not yet anyway.

Categories: e-books

Ten Fixtures of American Evangelicalism

November 15th, 2010 13 comments

How many of these “fixtures” do we find creeping into Lutheran congregations? Here is a great blog post by Joe Carter of First Things.

There are two types of evangelicals in America: those who naively embrace whatever trendy items happen to be hot sellers at “Christian” bookstores—WWJD? bracelets, Testamints, prayer of Jabez scented candles—and those who shun such kitsch. I am solidly of the second type. Like a good Pharisee, I thank God every day that I’m not like those people.

But I take comfort in knowing that most of this stuff is rather harmless and nothing more than a passing fad. It is not the dernier cri that will soon be gone that concerns me but the faddage that becomes a fixture. Fads still receive scrutiny; fixtures remain largely unquestioned.

The following are ten fixtures that I find particularly harmful not just to evangelicalism but to evangelism. None of them are inherently pernicious (well, except for #10) but evangelicals use them in ways that do not serve their intended purposes.

#1 Making Converts. I’ve always felt uneasy about the idea that Christians should be seeking to make converts. Am I wrong in thinking that the making of converts is a task associated with Islam, rather than Christianity? Perhaps I have a flawed understanding of the Gospel, but I always thought the purpose of evangelism is not to make converts but to make, as Christ commanded, disciples—and to make disciples of nations, not just individuals. Indeed, my primary complaint against each of the other nine methods on this list is that they are not useful for instigating true conversion, much less make true disciples.

#2 The Sinner’s Prayer. The gates of hell have a special entrance reserved for people who thought that they had a ticket into heaven because someone told them all they needed to do was recite the “sinner’s prayer.” I’ve searched through the entire New Testament and can’t find an example of anyone who was “saved” after reciting such a prayer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that such prayer is worthless or that it can’t be used by the Holy Spirit. But salvation is not obtained by reciting a magical incantation, as far too many “Christians” will discover after it’s far too late.

#3 ”Do you know Jesus as . . . “. As I’ve said before, this is one question that needs never be asked since it reveals (a) you do not know the person well enough, or (b) the answer is yes and the person is a lousy Christian, or (c) the answer is no, in which case you just activated their fundie-alert system and caused them to switch their brains into “ignore” mode. Instead of asking about a “personal savior” you might want to simply try to get to personally know the person.

#4 Tribulationism. Ask a non-believer to give a rudimentary explanation of the “end times” and chances are he can provide a fairly accurate description of popular eschatology. Ask the same person to give a basic explanation of the Gospel message, though, and he is likely to be stumped.

The reason for this curious state of affairs is that evangelicals have promoted what I would call “Tribulationism”: an overemphasis on pre-millennial dispensational eschatology. I’m sure that somewhere in the three-dozen novels that comprise the Left Behind series the Gospel message is presented. But there is something horribly wrong when the greatest story ever told is buried beneath a third-rate tale of the apocalypse.

#5 Testimonies. Several years ago, during a job interview for a Christian organization, my prospective employer asked me to tell him my “testimony.” The fact that I was a Christian apparently wasn’t enough. I had to have a good conversion story to go along with my faith.

Now you may have a great story about how “the hound of Heaven” chased you down and gnawed on your leg until you surrendered. No doubt your story would make for a gripping movie of the week on Lifetime and lead to the making of numerous converts (see #1). But the harsh truth is that as compelling, and even useful, as your story may be, it is not the most important story you could tell.

You are only a very, very minor character in the narrative; the starring role goes to the Divine Protagonist. In fact, he already has a pretty good story, so why not just tell that one instead?

#6 The Altar Call. In the 1820’s evangelist Charles Finney introduced the “anxious seat,” a front pew left vacant where at the end of the meeting “the anxious may come and be addressed particularly—and sometimes be conversed with individually.” At the end of his sermon, he would say, “There is the anxious seat; come out, and avow determination to be on the Lord’s side.” The problem with this approach, as theologian J.I. Packer, explains is,

The gospel of God requires an immediate response from all; but it does not require the same response from all. The immediate duty of the unprepared sinner is not to try and believe on Christ, which he is not able to do, but to read, enquire, pray, use the means of grace and learn what he needs to be saved from. It is not in his power to accept Christ at any moment, as Finney supposed; and it is God’s prerogative, not the evangelist’s, to fix the time when men shall first savingly believe.

#7 Witnessing. Evangelism isn’t Amway. It is not a form of Multi-Level Marketing in which you get extra credit for the number of people in your network and you don’t get a great commission for the Great Commission. If you want to sell something door-to-door, make it the good products of Avon, not the good news of Jesus.

If you want to be a more effective “witness for Christ” why not start by actively loving our neighbors? Start by loving the unlovable—the smelly, unbathed men down at the mission, the annoying kids at church, the inconsiderate jerk who cuts you off in traffic. Yes, you need to tell people about the Gospel. But that is evangelism, not “witnessing.” In the context of the Christian life, witness should be a noun more often than a verb.

#8 Protestant Prayers. A few years ago a fellow coworker, a young Catholic man, was asked to open a meeting with a prayer. Without hesitation he began reciting the “Lord’s prayer.” Afterward I joked that, having come up with such a fine prayer, he might want to write it down for future use. What I didn’t say was how his recitation of the prayer made me uncomfortable.

First, I’m not used to hearing prayers that don’t contain the word “just” (as in “We just want to thank you Lord. . .”) so it sounded strangely unprayer-like. Second, it seemed to violate the accepted standards for public prayer. I had always assumed that praying in public required being able to interlace some just-want-to’s in with some Lord-thank-you-for’s and be-with-us-as-we’s in a coherent fashion before capping it all with a hearty, but humble, Amen.

Third, I thought that prayers are supposed to be spontaneous—from the heart, off the top of the head—emanations, rather than prepackaged recitations. If it ain’t original, it ain’t prayer, right? Can I get an amen?

But where did that idea come from? We evangelicals have bookshelves filled with tomes to teach us how to pray. Yet somehow Jesus managed to wrap up the lesson in less than forty words. Why isn’t his prayer good enough for evangelicals to use? Why do our prayers sound nothing like his example?

#9 The Church Growth Movement. Sadly, this has moved from fad to fixture. Think I’m wrong? Ask the next evangelical you see to define that phrase. In fact, ask the next hundred evangelicals you see. Let me know if you find anyone that tells you they think the church growth movement is a movement in the church to grow disciples.

#10 Chick Tracts. Chick Tracts are a tool of the devil—pamphlets that provoke fear, pervert the Gospel, and divide the body of Christ. That fact—and yes it is a fact—is not changed just because you know a guy who knows a guy who heard testimony about a guy who said the Sinner’s Prayer after finding Chick’s “The Long Trip” on the floor of a truck stop restroom outside of Tucson.

Am I saying that all of these ten fixtures are worthless? No, I’m not (well, except for #10). I may be pharisaical, but I’m not a complete legalist. All I’m saying is that we evangelicals don’t need these tools of evangelism. We don’t need any fads and fixtures at all. We don’t need anything more than the Gospel. For that is one fixture of our faith that will never go out of style.

Joe Carter is web editor of First Things.

Caps for Troops: Great Opportunity to Show You Care

November 13th, 2010 4 comments

A friend of mine alerted me to a great program underway to show our troops that we care about them. Here’s the information he shared.

My wife received a phone call the other day from Harriet Fritz, a member of Redeemer, Springfield / Nixa, MO. She wanted to tell my wife how she admired her knitting compared to her own as she had received my wife’s shipment (along with laundry instructions and a card hand written by my wife with prayer, etc. with each cap). My wife was first in contact with Harriet after she saw the article, “Knitters or Crocheters Needed, Whole-Life Stewardship in Action” that appeared in the April / May 2010 issue of “The Voice of Missouri” (MO Dist., LCMS). My wife, and other lady volunteers, are knitting wool caps for servicemen in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Wool (100% black worsted) is required as it does not burn and still keeps one warm even when wet. They are knitted to military specs (specifications). Harriet and husband, Harold, then ship them on (I believe to our chaplains) to be given to the troops. Some may be given to “locals” as well.

Since you had the Veterans’ Day Thank You on Cyberbrethren, I thought you might like to hear about this. It is doing something tangible for the troops while at the same time reminding them of their faith or help those on their faith journey. POC for Harriet is harifritz@aol.com Her phone number.

Thanks!

Old Trooper

Categories: Uncategorized

Plain and Direct is Better than Long and Vague: Tips for Writers from C.S. Lewis

November 13th, 2010 7 comments

From a post by David C. Downing, author of the recently published novel, Looking For The King: An Inklings Novel (Ignatius Press, 2010), relating advice from C.S. Lewis about writing: (HT: Ignatius Press blog).

Lewis was a diligent reader of writing samples submitted to him, both from close friends and from complete strangers. He offered general evaluative remarks, but also comments on specific lines and particular word choices. Sometimes he replied by offering a quick primer on the art of writing. To a little girl from Florida he offered these five principles:

“Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean, and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.”

“Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t say implement promises, but keep them.”

Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean ‘more people died,’ don’t say ‘mortality rose.’
“Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing.” Under this heading, Lewis goes on to say that the writing should delight readers, not just label an event delightful; or it should make them feel terror, not just to learn that an event was terrifying. He says that emotional labeling is really just a way of asking readers, ‘Please, will you do my job for me?’

“Don’t use words that are too big for the subject.” Lewis illustrates this point by saying if you use infinitely as an intensifier instead of the simple word very, you won’t have any word left when you need to describe something that is truly infinite. (CL, 3, 766).

Lewis recommended these same principles to many other correspondents. He frequently emphasized that one’s writing should be simple, clear, concrete, and jargon-free. He also reiterated that one should Show, not Tell, that writers should capture sensory impressions and evoke emotions instead of simply offering an emotional label for what the reader is supposed to feel.

Lewis also believed that one should always write for the ear as well as for the eye. He recommended that a piece of prose be read aloud, to make sure that its sounds reinforce its sense. In discussing Greek and Latin texts, he said it wasn’t enough to work out the literal meaning of the lines; the translator should also recognize the “sound and savor of the language” (CL 1, 422).

Most certainly, Lewis felt the same way about English prose. To his friend Arthur Greeves, for example, he defined style as “the art of expressing a given thought in the most beautiful words and rhythms of words.” To illustrate, he offered first this phrase: “When the constellations which appear at early morning joined in musical exercises and the angelic spirits loudly testified to their satisfaction.” Then he gave the actual phrase as it appears in the King James Bible: “When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:70).

Read the entire post.

Related:

Looking For The King (E-Book) - Electronic Book Download
Categories: Culture

Don’t Play With Fire! A Warning About Sin in the Life of a Christian

November 12th, 2010 4 comments

Christians must be very careful about their behavior and never allow themselves to think, “It doesn’t matter what I do, God is going to forgive me no matter what.” No, dear friends. Do not play with fire! Here is how Martin Chemnitz explains it in his “Enchiridion.”

What If We Indulge and Delight in Evil Lusts and Seek Occasions to Give Them Free Rein (Ro 6:12; MI 2:1; Ja 1:15)?
Then they become mortal sins (Ro 8:13; Ja 1:15), because there surely is no room for true repentance and faith where the lusts of the flesh are served and given rein, so that they break out into action. 1 Ti 1:19; 5:8; 2 Ptr 1:9. It is the nature and particular character of true faith that it does not seek how to commit, continue, and heap up sins freely, but rather hungers and thirsts after the righteousness that releases and frees from sins. Therefore, where there is no true repentance, the Holy Spirit pronounces a very solemn sentence. Jer 5:3, 9; Ro 2:5, 9; Lk 13:3; Rv 2:5. And where there is no true faith, there is neither Christ, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the grace of God, nor forgiveness of sins, nor any salvation. Therefore what? Doubtless the wrath of God, death, and eternal condemnation, unless the fallen are turned to God again. Cl 3:6; Ro 8:13. As a result of this, therefore, and for this reason mortal sins occur in the reborn, namely when repentance, faith, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are driven out and lost.

How, Then, Should One Deal with Those Who Have Fallen into This Kind of Sins?
Their sins are not to be disguised by silence, camouflaged, excused, or defended, but solemnly and earnestly censured and rebuked. Is 56:10; 58:1; Eze 13:10, 18; 2 Ti 4:2; Tts 1:13: “Reprove them sharply,” in such a way that the fearful judgment of God is threatened on them; 1 Co 6:10; Gl 5:21; Cl 3:6; 1 Jn 3:15; Mt 11:21; 2 Ptr 2:10. For he that regards those people as true Christians, and charms and misrepresents them, not only miserably misleads them, but also makes himself partaker of their damnation. Is 3:12; Jer 8:11; 23:17; Eze 3:18; 33:8. Now, the preaching of repentance, rebuking sins, is the instrument and means by which God wants to lead fallen sinners back to the way and convert them. Jer 26:2–3. But if the wicked, neglecting this means, will persevere and continue in his wickedness, he indeed shall perish, but the word of the minister shall deliver his soul. Eze 3:19.

But What If the Fallen Rise Again by the Grace of God and Earnestly Repent?
Then they are indeed to be received with joy and are to be restored and supported with the declaration of the forgiveness of sins. Jer 3:12; 18:8; Eze 18:21; 33:15; Mt 18:13, 27; Lk 15:7. This is what the examples of Scripture testify, e.g., Peter, David, the prodigal, the Corinthians and Galatians. And this indeed not only seven times, but seventy times seven times, Mt 18:22.

Martin Chemnitz and Luther Poellot, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments : An Enchiridion, electronic ed., 104-05 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).

Categories: Christian Life

Thank You Veterans, and God Bless!

November 11th, 2010 Comments off

Categories: Uncategorized

Martin Luther Top Ten List: Happy Birthday Dear Martin!

November 10th, 2010 7 comments

Today is Blessed Martin Luther’s birthday. Our father in the faith, Dr. Martin Luther, is described in the Lutheran Confessions as the “chief teacher of the churches of the Augsburg Confession” and as such he is honored, not for his person, but for the blessings that God gave to His church through this great Reformer and Confessor. Often people ask me, “What are the best things I can read that Martin Luther wrote?” Here’s a great list, courtesy of the Lutheranism 101 blog site. I took the liberty of putting Bondage of the Will last, since it is such a heavily philosophical tome, strong medicine, I would recommend it be read last in this list, rather than at number six.

Top Ten List of Luther’s Writings, beginning at #10:

* 10. Bondage of the Will (1525) Sinful human beings are not free to choose between God or the devil, good or evil, salvation or damnation. Luther shows that, instead, God chose us Christians.
* 9. Genesis (1535–45) Luther spent his last years lecturing to students on Genesis. This work shows God the Holy Trinity at work in the Old Testament to teach and save His people.
* 8. Confession concerning Christ’s Supper (1528) Luther’s disagreement with Ulrich Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper was crucially important. Luther holds to the literal understanding of Jesus’ words in the Supper and concludes with his own statement of faith.
* 7. Galatians (1535) “The Epistle to the Galatians,” Luther said, “is my epistle, to which I am betrothed.” Here is Luther’s teaching of salvation in all its clarity and beauty.
* 6. On the Councils and the Church (1539) Did Luther start a “new” church? This work first explains the great ancient councils of the Christian Church and then shows ways in which we can recognize where the true Church of Christ can be found today.
* 5. Freedom of a Christian (1520) This early work helped clarify Luther’s theology: a Christian is totally free from sin through faith in Christ but must also serve his or her neighbor in love.
* 4. Church Postil and House Postil. After Luther’s catechisms, his sermons have been his most popular writings through the centuries. These sermons follow the life of Christ through the Church Year and provide a wealth of Christian teaching.
* 3. Smalcald Articles (1537) Luther prepared this statement of faith for a council announced by Pope Paul III in 1536, a council that did not actually take place until after Luther’s death. With the two catechisms, this writing was included in the Book of Concord (see p. 186) and is a standard for Lutheran teaching and practice.
* 2. Large Catechism (1529) Based on sermons in 1529, this book explains the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar in a conversational style.
* 1. Small Catechism (1529) After visiting the churches in Saxony, Luther was convinced that people needed a short manual on the basics of Christianity. The Small Catechism has been Luther’s most popular and important work ever since.

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