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How is the Lutheran Church Different from All Other Churches?

March 1st, 2013 Comments off

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“The Lutheran Church differs from all other churches in being essentially the Church of the pure Word and unadulterated Sacraments. Not the great number of her adherents, not her organizations, not her charitable and other institutions, not her beautiful customs and liturgical forms, etc., but the precious truths confessed by her symbols in perfect agreement with the Holy Scriptures constitute the true beauty and rich treasures of our Church, as well as the never-failing source of her vitality and power.

“Wherever the Lutheran Church ignored her symbols or rejected all or some of them, there she always fell an easy prey to her enemies. But wherever she held fast to her God-given crown, esteemed and studied her confessions, and actually made them a norm and standard of her entire life and practise, there the Lutheran Church flourished and confounded all her enemies.

“Accordingly, if Lutherans truly love their Church, and desire and seek her welfare, they must be faithful to her confessions and constantly be on their guard lest any one rob her of her treasure.

“May God be pleased, as in the past, so also in the future, to bless our Church, and graciously keep her in the true and only saving Christian faith as set forth and confessed in the Lutheran symbols, whose paramount object is to maintain; the gem of Luther’s Reformation, the blessed doctrine of salvation by grace only, which most wonderfully magnifies the great glory of our God, and alone is able to impart solid comfort to poor sinners.”

— Friedrich Bente

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Concordia Triglotta—English: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, electronic ed. (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996).

Bible, Gender and Sexuality: When Man is Redefined God Must Be Redefined

February 20th, 2013 3 comments

redef_logo2A Church that redefines the doctrine of man and the resulting consequences, a redefinition of human sexuality, must embrace a false god. There is no other choice.

The reason I have been and will continue to keep sharing articles like this, from any source I find them, is that I’m convinced that this is *the* doctrinal crisis of our time. Some may mistakenly think this is merely a difference over opinions about homosexuality or how to interpret the Bible. No, in fact, this is a deep crisis in the doctrine of God. As our language about God and His nature and the nature of His Creation of man and woman changes, so also the doctrine of God changes. This is a deeply thoughtful analysis of a book calling for this very thing. HT: Gospel Coalition.

James V. Brownson. Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013. 312 pp. $29.00.

I am acquainted with this book’s author, James Brownson, and I like him. He’s always been kind and gracious to me. Among other things, he’s a leading theological voice on issues of sexuality in the denomination in which I pastor (Reformed Church of America); to say I was interested in what he’d have to say about homosexuality is an understatement. I read Bible, Gender, Sexuality thoroughly and carefully. I was touched by Brownson’s personal family story and thankful for his thoughtful writing. But his book deeply saddened me, and I believe it should sadden all others who follow Jesus. At the end of the book, Brownson writes:

Can we imagine a world in which the divine pronouncement at the beginning of creation, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), might find a range of deeply satisfying resolutions, from heterosexual marriage, to celibate communities, to gay and lesbian committed unions?. . . . For some Christians, this vision is imaginable as a form of “accommodation” in a broken world. . . . Other Christians may be more ready to acknowledge that, throughout the natural order, same-sex attraction is a naturally recurring “minority” experience. These Christians may celebrate the way in which, by the providence of God, such “queer” folk can naturally deconstruct the pervasive tendencies of majority voices to become oppressive and exclusionary. In this vision, the inclusion of committed gay and lesbian unions represents . . . [a] rather offbeat redemptive purpose in the new creation. (252, 253)

Brownson gets to this point via a complete reconstruction of the biblical narrative concerning sexuality. Unfortunately, however, he builds his biblical narrative on a shaky foundation. Below I have identified several problems with Brownson’s vision of sexuality. Though by no means exhaustive, I think they will grieve your heart like they did mine.

Fundamental Problems

One of my foundational concerns is Brownson’s complete disregard for the complementarian vision for sexuality. He writes, “Despite the fact that such gender complementarity, allegedly taught in the creation narratives, is the most commonly cited reason why commentators believe Scripture teaches that same-sex erotic relations are wrong, the text themselves do not support this claim” (35). Even Robert Gagnon’s “anatomical complementarity” is thrown out as not “directly addressing the interpretation of biblical texts” (21). To get to his vision of sexuality, Brownson must first dismantle a complementarian view. The problem, however, is that he ignores the logic of Genesis 1:26-28. Whatever else one can say about the text (not even considering how gender is an important component of how humans bear God’s image), it’s clear we are gendered beings—male and female. At the core of our gender is our God-ordained biological sexuality. Whatever else it means to be male and female in Genesis 1, then, it certainly means we’re sexually different and intended to come together in heterosexual relating. This is God’s intent for sexual beings; this is the logic of the text. His intent for sexuality—what is “normative,” to use Brownson’s language—is that a man and woman unite sexually in the bounds of marriage for life. And this coming together is one of the basic meanings of what it means to be male and female. A simple reading of the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 confirms this reality. We have gendered bodies, deliberately different from the opposite sex. All homosexual activity, therefore, is immoral—a distortion of the divine intent. Brownson gets this wrong and, in so doing, misses out on a fundamental component of God’s beautiful intent for men and women.

Another problem I have is Brownson’s conviction that sexual orientation, as discussed in popular culture today, is something unknown to the biblical writers. This allows him to reconsider the biblical commands in light of this purported “new information”:

It is clear that Paul is not operating with the modern sense of sexual orientation here. Rather, he speaks of those who “leave behind” what he regards as their own true nature, which should direct them to relationships with those of the opposite sex. It would probably be inscrutable to him to speak of people who were “naturally” attracted to others of the same sex. . . . If this analysis is correct, however, it also suggests that the whole modern concept of sexual orientation and the contemporary evidence of its deeply rooted persistence . . . represent an important range of empirical data about the natural world that was not considered by the ancient Jewish or Christian writers. (229, 230)

This is important. If modern notions of sexual orientation are true and foreign to the biblical writers, then perhaps some homosexual activity is morally conceivable. At least this is where Brownson wants to go. But I see at the argument’s core an assertion that Paul (and the biblical witness) gets the root of homosexuality wrong. For Brownson, when the apostle is writing about homosexuality, his writing cannot be applied to contemporary circumstances. There are three fundamental problems with this assertion:

(1) Robert Gagnon and others convincingly demonstrate that something close to the idea of sexual orientation was a category ancient writers and Paul were likely aware of. (See The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 393ff.)

(2) Brownson’s argument is an assertion that psychological insights can change/modify the biblical vision of human sexuality and sin. But here’s the problem: the Bible and human insights aren’t equal sources. And the entire Bible, including Paul, paints a negative view of homosexuality. There isn’t one exception. What’s tragic is that Brownson is willing to change his vision of human sexuality because of a cultural shift.

(3) The jury is still out on what sexual orientation is and whether it’s immutable or changeable. Compelling research suggests orientation is something of an unfixed spectrum. (See Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.) It is deeply troublesome to use research about sexual orientation as a path to change the biblical witness concerning sexuality.

What is sad about Bible, Gender, Sexuality is Brownson’s glaring lack of exploration of what Scripture teaches about what it means to be human. We’re image bearers, deeply sinful, fractured in our sexuality and in need of a savior. We don’t need more psychological insights that confuse the issue; we need atonement for our sins. Dietrich Bonheoffer is right: “In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.” Let’s call sin “sin,” for only then can we be bold enough to offer grace to sinners—whoever they may be.

Dismantling Boundaries

The third problem I have with Bible, Gender, Sexuality is Brownson’s definition of lust:

When Paul describes same-sex eroticism as “consumed with passion” (Romans 1:27) and as an expression of the “lust of their hearts” (Romans 1:24), he has in view an expression of intense or excessive desire, which he regards also as “unnatural” and thus misdirected. It is because lust is inherently and centrally excessive, driven by self-seeking will to power that it also manifests itself in misdirected desire, as unrestrained desire burns itself out in destructive patterns. . . . The focus is not on objective behavior but on passions that are running out of control and threaten to consume one’s better judgment. (168, 169)

This is, at least in part, the reason Paul is against homosexuality, according to Brownson. Thus Paul might think differently about “a gay couple who wish to enter a marriage or marriage-like relationship in order to discipline their desire by the restraints of mutual commitment” (168). But the problem with this line of reasoning is that Brownson forgets an important, inherent dimension of lust: breaking God’s boundaries. In his excellent book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Gagnon writes:

Paul (like most in antiquity) probably viewed any infraction of God-ordained boundaries of any sort (including sexual) to be an overheating of desire simply because transgression of God’s will invariably entailed a victory of passions of the flesh over the rational mind or Spirit. If one craved anything that God had forbidden . . . and acted on that craving, then logically one was mastered by one’s passion. (388)

In other words, homosexuality is lustful not just because it has to do with excessive desire. It is lustful because by participating in homosexual behavior a person dismantles one of God’s most important sexual boundaries. Even in committed homosexual relationships, then, homosexual activity is lustful and consequently sinful. To say otherwise is unfaithful to the biblical witness. And this is what’s so sad about Brownson’s book: there often seems to be a lack of honest dealing with the biblical witness. This might be helpful in winning an argument, but it isn’t faithful to Scripture.

Destructive Love?

Further, Brownson contends that churches espousing a traditional evangelical view on homosexuality are harmful to those who consider themselves gay or lesbian:

Moreover, it is in the area of shame that the traditionalist approach to gay and lesbian persons become fraught with deep problems. The typical slogans clearly express the ambivalence: “Welcoming but not affirming”; “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” On the surface, the gay or lesbian person is welcomed into the traditionalist fellowship; but the desires and emotional orientation or disposition of the person’s sexuality are shunned. Ironically, in this context, the more deeply the gay or lesbian person is welcomed and loved by the fellowship, the more profound the problem of shame becomes. The internalized message becomes something like this: “these people love me so much, they must be right. . . . I must resist this part of myself all the more insistently.” Sometimes such a process is effective in helping a person who is confused about his or her sexual orientation to move towards embracing the wider norms of society in his or her sexuality. But research show that such change happens only in a small minority of relevant cases. And when this attempt to embrace the dominant society’s perspective on sexuality is unsuccessful, when desires for others of the same-sex persist, the result is a deeply internalized sense of shame, frustration, and self-loathing. (216)

Evangelical churches seeking to walk alongside men and women who identify as gay or lesbian and calling them to a biblical vision of life through Jesus are, Brownson avers, acting destructively. To be sure, some churches are hateful and bigoted, perhaps more than we like to admit. And I’m sure some churches care more for the sin than the sinner. But make no mistake: Scripture calls all who would follow Jesus to come and die to their sin, their lust, and their desire—no matter how innate it might feel.

I know.

I’ve dealt personally with homosexual desire most of my life. When Jesus rescued me, he demanded all of me. And I’m thankful for churches that gave me a biblical vision for my life—including my sexuality. I’m more like Jesus today because of their call for me to die to the deepest desires of my broken humanity.

In Bible, Gender, Sexuality, however, Brownson elevates caricature over substance. He uses a low homosexual-to-healthy-heterosexual change rate to argue God doesn’t call gays and lesbians to repentance and purity. Really? Jesus is the one who said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14).

Gospel change is hard work that happens in those who actually decide to follow Jesus, which many don’t do precisely because of the high cost. This is true for all sinners, including those fighting homosexual sin. As a pastor, I know many people sitting in my pews are still battling besetting sins after decades of being in church. Should we accommodate for them as well?

Brownson’s words sound compassionate, but they aren’t compassionate enough, since they’re not the gospel. It’s time to reassert what’s always been true: the gospel of Jesus is the hope for sexual sinners. Whether gospel change happens through celibacy, marriage, transformation of innermost desires, or faithful purity in suffering, Jesus is the only way to live out our purposes as sexual beings. Instead of cowering behind statistics, we must declare the gospel and walk with others so they can experience its costly joy. It’s time to more fully live into our calling as the church of Jesus.

So I am sad today. Jim Brownson has given up on the biblical vision of sexuality, opting instead for one that’s palatable for himself and many others. Sadly, Bible, Gender, Sexuality is going to deceive many. I pray God will raise up others who will declare his intentions to his church and his love to a lost and dying world.

Ron Citlau is a campus pastor of Faith Church (RCA) in Dyer, Indiana.

“Christ Our Mother” – A Church That Embraces a False Understanding of Human Sexuality Inevitably Embraces a False View of God

February 15th, 2013 14 comments

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When a church embraces a false view of human sexuality, this will and does, inevitably flow from, and leads back to, a false view of God. Witness the following “blessing” offered up by in a liberal protestant church body’s worship resources, and then ask yourself what the consequences are for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

BLESSING
God our Father bless you and shield you.
Christ our Mother shelter you and carry you.
God the Holy Spirit guide your journey
+ both now and forever.
Amen.

Yes, you read that right, “Christ, our Mother.” Folks, this is not simply a confusion of languages, this is an apostasy from orthodox, Christian Trinitarian theology and language.

As observed elsewhere about this blessing by Rev. Pastor Peter Speckhard, a LCMS pastor: “Aside from ludicrously and meaninglessly referring to Christ our Mother, a Trinitarian invocation or benediction does more than name the relationship between us and God, it speaks to the Triune nature of God. To refer to “God” as our Father and then go straight into calling Christ our Mother truly, thoroughly mangles the Trinitarian theology that is part and parcel of a Trinitarian benediction.” Precisely so!

The Problem with the “Hot New Thing” in the Church

February 14th, 2013 3 comments

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Here is a fascinating interview with a person who has not one single possible bias or axe to grind or any emotional investment in any Lutheran squabbles about the liturgy. Check out what he has to say about the historic liturgy. It is always both amusing and quite pathetic to see that just when some Lutherans are breathlessly trying everything they can to out do each other coming up with new “best pratices” for conducting their ministry, the very thing we think of as irrelevant, out of touch, old, useless, only good enough for the old folks whom are shunted off to a “classical praise” service at some inconvenient hour on Sunday, the Evangelicals and others are slowly, but surely, discovering the riches of the Church’s great traditions and heritage: the ancient liturgical forms of worship being one of them! Oh, yea, and that whole “sin and grace” thing? The whole “I’m a poor miserable sinner” thing? Yup, that too. Lutheran congregations ditching their confession/absolution are doing so just while a lot of Evangelicals are viewing it now as a “best practice.” Go figure. HT: Stetzer

Daniel is the founder and lead pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and founder of Sojourn Network. Mike is one of the founding pastors of Sojourn where he serves as the pastor of worship and arts. He is also founder of Sojourn Music and has helped us with elements of The Gospel Project.

I’ve seen Sojourn Church grow from a dream that Daniel and Mandy shared with Donna and me in our living room, to an amazing church and growing network. I am so thrilled with to see that vision come into reality– and very glad they have shared about it in Faithmapping.


“Faithmapping” is a very interesting word. What does it mean?

Faithmapping is our attempt to clarify the relationship between the gospel, the church, and the world. Each of these concepts is a big, broad idea, and in the Christian life, they can become quite confusing. So in Faithmapping, we are attempting to plot out each idea on the map, showing the various routes by which they connect and depend upon one another.

Why is there so much confusion among churches today about what the gospel actually is?

There are many reasons for this. One is our addiction to sound bites. Another is the perpetual fads that surround the church – the newest book, conference, or blogger that is the Hot New Thing.

But ultimately, the gospel itself is a message – an announcement really – that is simultaneously simple and complex, easily summarized and worthy of lifelong reflection and meditation. In the face of complexity, we’re often tempted to be reductionistic. Faithmapping aims to resist that temptation, painting a broad, multi-dimensional picture of the gospel.

Why is grace such a stumbling block for Christians?

Because most of us would love to believe that we can be good enough, smart enough, and righteous enough to earn God’s favor. The gospel demands that we encounter and acknowledge our sinfulness, and only then can we understand grace in its fullness. That’s an unattractive message to many.

Some have narrowly defined the gospel as kingdom, cross, or grace–but rarely connect all three. What are the dangers of over-emphasizing one facet of the gospel against the others?

We miss out on the life-shaping impact of the scriptures. The Bible has no problem with revealing a gospel that is multi-dimensional (referencing it as the gospel of the Kingdom, the cross, and grace, as well as many other modifiers), and that depth enriches our understanding of Jesus’ work. If we emphasize the cross without grace, we can end up being nothing but miserable sinners. If we emphasize grace without the cross, we get a sentimentalism that doesn’t understand sin. On the other hand, when we understand the whole thing as complex, and interdependent, it’s a much richer picture. At times, we particularly need to hear on or the other aspects.

Only by holding them aspects in tension and dialogue with one another can we fully understand the message of the gospel.

Why can it be dangerous to measure one’s spiritual health by their quiet time or prayer performance?

Because our standing before God isn’t defined by our performance. It’s defined by Jesus’ finished work! Our prayer and Bible reading is an absurdly insufficient effort to please a God who can only be satisfied by perfect, unblemished sacrifice. By a miracle of grace, our messy, flawed, insufficient lives are wrapped up in Jesus and offered to God as a “living sacrifice,” which he joyfully receives on our behalf! It all has very little to do with our actions.

If we see that God’s acceptance of us is primary, and prior to any of our spiritual disciplines, then we can understand these disciplines as invitations to the good life – to life with God in a world he’s at work redeeming.

How does viewing your life (even in the mundane, ordinary, or secular areas of life) as worship revolutionize the way you work? Parent? Do ministry?

It’s crucial that we see these mundane and “secular” areas of life as worship. Worship isn’t just a gathering of people, or a set of actions; it’s a way of life. It’s a life lived for the glory of God, and it’s rooted first and foremost in trusting Jesus’ finished work on our behalf.

If we know that Jesus is our brother and God is our father, and that our lives are lived before his gaze, the ordinary moments of life are transformed. Every moment – at work, at home, or in a drive-thru – is a call to worship, an opportunity to live in a way that says, “yes” and “amen” to God’s work in the world.

How do you fight for unity in your church? Or deal with conflict in your church?

Rather than call people to a vision statement, or a particular leader, we call them again and again to the gospel. It really is the key to all of life and ministry: it’s the rallying cry for the church, the point at which unity is possible, where sinners gather before God. Practically speaking, if you call all of your ministries to be centered on the gospel, then it unifies their language and opens doors for a lot of commonality. In other words, you don’t learn one vision and set of language for mercy ministry, and another for music ministry; both are calling people to serve others for the sake of the gospel.

In dealing with conflict, Paul’s words to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry have become more and more important to me as a leader. Most of the time, when conflict emerges, one or both parties just needs to be heard. Great leaders listen, and work hard to acknowledge that the other person has been heard and understood. That’s where conflict resolution will always begin.

How do you cultivate an authenticity among staff and leaders at your church?

You have to fight for an atmosphere where sin is expected. You have to act as though it isn’t surprising when a staff full of sinners demonstrates sinfulness. If people feel safe confessing sin, weakness, sadness, and frustration, then you can have real authenticity.

That said, you have to fight for joy as well. Sometimes, the church can spiral down a well of sin-hunting misery, and you have to guard from that too; it’s as inauthentic as plastic-faced joy. So laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep; allow for highs and lows in the life of the church culture.

With “gospel-centered” as a current buzzword, how can we keep the familiarity of the gospel message from becoming something that no longer stirs and moves us?

This is a great question. I think there are some great answers from church history. The old Liturgy of the church was a dialogue between the congregation and the word of God, rehearsing the basics of the gospel story: God is holy, I’m a sinner, Jesus saves me from my sins and sends me into the world. In many ways, historic worship never got past that basic story.

While I don’t think everyone needs to resurrect a historic liturgy in their congregation, I think they definitely need to consider ways in which their gatherings – whether they’re a house church or a church of 10,000 – rehearse the gospel story beyond just preaching. We absolutely need good, Christ-centered preaching too, don’t get me wrong! But the gospel is a story we live in as well.

The richness of the Bible and the depths of the gospel are such that I believe a determined pastor, looking The story itself is the story of our lives, and it’s the challenge of pastors to make sure that the story is connecting – that people are seeing themselves inside the story.

Your chapter on being a servant contains a striking sentence: “We might fly across the world to feed children in a ghetto, but ignore our neighbors who need help carrying in their groceries.” Why do you think it’s sometimes seems easier to serve in high-profile ways? How can we learn to love and serve those in our everyday lives, especially when there is no chance of being recognized for doing so?

This is a tremendous challenge for our culture. In our day, even carrying a neighbor’s groceries is something that can become high-profile; we can broadcast it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, and Google Plus in seconds. We have trained ourselves – and to a much larger degree, we’re training our children – to tell the world every time they do a good deed (or eat a good cheeseburger). Marketers have caught on to this. They know we want to do good and get credit. The whole phenomenon of Tom’s shoes (a company that gives away a pair of shoes for every pair sold) is simultaneously a good, generous thing, and a brilliant bit of marketing. People who wear Tom’s are not only making a fashion statement, they’re making a values statement, and that has made them a huge-selling phenomenon.

The cure for this is a spiritual discipline that church fathers before us called “secrecy,” which was a practice of doing good and keeping your mouth shut. Choose some opportunities to do good – to serve neighbors or family members – and not tell anyone about it. It’s small disciplines like this that help to shape our hearts, transforming us into the kind of people who are serving others in small ways, with no recognition, but with great joy.

The Three Types of Churches

February 8th, 2013 4 comments

How to Write a Worship Song in Five Minutes or Less

February 6th, 2013 8 comments

I’m taking up the ukelele again after a lot of years away, and one of the delightful aspects of it is that there are about a bazillion songs you can play and sing that are only three or four chords. I may add worship song composition to my ukelele playing, and if so, I expect CPH to publish my Praise Songs for Ukelele volume. Lots of great hints and tips on this video for all budding praise song composers (and, hey, who isn’t these days?).

 

 

Southern Baptists and the Lord’s Supper — But What About Lutherans?

September 18th, 2012 12 comments

It should come as little surprise to learn that, in the most recent survey of Southern Baptist pastors, the Lord’s Supper is offered only once a quarter and even less often by the vast majority of SBC congregations. This is a natural result of the SBC’s lack of a means of grace theology. The Supper functions as memorial meal that is done, well, perhaps out of a sense of duty more than any sense that the Lord actually gives through it, to His people the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.

The question for Lutherans to ponder is this: is the Supper the beating heart of the Church’s life together, as well it should and must be, or is it simply a nice “extra” that adds fifteen minutes to the length of the worship service? I am casting this question in as starkly a way as I can.

Here’s the link to the survey

Which One is Your Church?

January 14th, 2012 8 comments

What’s Up with the Evangelicals and Reformed?

December 28th, 2011 34 comments

Last June, an Evangelical/Reformed blogger, Kevin DeYoung, wrote an article on his blog asking what’s up with the Lutherans? In it he expressed concern that Lutherans don’t seem to be very active or present in his blogging and theological circles. I think Kevin was attempting to offer a gentle criticism and somewhat laying the blame for this on Lutherans.

The response to his post by a number of pretty well known blogging Lutherans was very vigorous and positive, with offers to be more involved in whatever forum, or conferences, or gatherings, or organizations Evangelicals have where they would welcome Lutheran input.

Despite some polite expressions of thanks for this offer, including even an interview with yours truly featured on Kevin’s blog, the response now sounds like chirping crickets, for, you see, I honestly do not believe Evangelicals or Calvinists or Reformed, or whatever term they wish to use to describe themselves, actually really do want Lutheran input nor are they really interested in the Lutheran Church. What they actually like is Martin Luther, or, frankly, the version of Luther that Evangelicals/Reformed/Calvinists have created, a Luther that does not challenge many of the core presuppositions about things like the nature of original sin, the nature of grace, faith, the sacraments. Reading many Evangelical/Reformed blogs out there I remain convince there is a deep amnesia in these circles about Church History and a very low view of and understanding of the Church as being, one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

This reality is no different than the one Hermann Sasse experienced in his many contacts across Christendom, both East and West, Reformed or Roman. He termed the path of the Lutheran Church to be the “lonely way” precisely because in spite of polite expressions of interest, and expressions of love for Martin Luther, the reality is that Lutheranism is not compatible with, nor supportive of, Calvinism and all its various offshoots, up to and including various forms of Evangelicalism.

But, of course, this does not mean we Lutherans won’t stop doing our best to be a positive influence in Evangelical and Calvinist circles, but we will still keep being Lutheran. And that’s probably going to continue to be a problem for those who wonder where the Lutherans are. We are right where we have always been, and we will continue to be here and eager to contribute to your conversations. We are still waiting and asking ourselves “What’s up with the Evangelicals?”

Congregation Struggles to Learn New Mission Statement

December 2nd, 2011 7 comments

 “First Covenant Church exists for the passion and purpose of inspiring, discipling, equipping and sending out Christ followers with the destiny of transforming the world to the glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and fostering a graceful yet convicting church environment in which people of all faith experiences and backgrounds are molded into the image and reflection of Christ, together creating a God-honoring community of authentic worshipers deliberately focused on reaching their community, the nation, the next generation of believers and the world through missions works, innovative programs and prayer.”

VISALIA, Calif. — First Covenant Church unveiled a new mission statement last week, hoping to launch the church into an era of greater unity and spiritual effectiveness.

But response to the two-page statement has been decidedly mixed among church members who despair of memorizing it as the church has requested.

“It’s a verbal tangle of quasi-eloquent nothingness,” grumbles one man. “I can’t even say it right when it’s projected on the screen. I end up with a mouthful of blah.”

The church has gone into a full-court press to get members to memorize the statement. The full text is posted on every door in the church, in bathroom stalls, in the bulletin and on all church correspondence and emails. The church is running a half-page ad featuring the statement in the local newspaper for two weeks. They were unable to fit it into their usual quarter-page space.

Services now begin with everyone holding up their Bibles and reading the statement off the screens together with the pastor. All church-sanctioned events, from small groups to softball games, must now begin with participants reciting it together.

“It takes longer to get through than the national anthem,” says one softball team captain. “The other teams laugh at us.”

Pastor Jack Lewine says he felt obligated to promote the statement mainly because his associate pastor Glen Pamplin had labored over it for six months before presenting it to the church. But even Lewine admits he had to delay the unveiling for two weeks so he could “get my own head around it.” He can now recite it in less than 90 seconds, of which he is proud.

Pamplin is reportedly irritated by people’s “reluctance to get on board with what God is doing at First Covenant.” He says the statement’s length simply reflects that God has a lot in store for the church in the future. Bristling at the criticism, Pamplin recently floated the idea of throwing a contest with a cash prize to see if anyone in the congregation can come up with a better statement “that still fully encompasses, embodies and encourages our fundamental mission as an outpost of grace, joy and love for Christ in the city to which he has called us at this time in history,” he says.

Suggestions are already rolling in.

“How about, ‘Jesus rules,’” says one seventh grader. “They should pay me by how many words I didn’t use.” •

Source: Lark News

File under: Humor with a point.

Apostasy in the Raw: United Church of Christ Scratches “Heavenly Father” Out

July 11th, 2011 14 comments

 

UCC spokesperson Barb Powell told World Net Daily: “In the UCC, our language for God, Christ and the Holy Spirit … is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity. Heavenly Father is just one vision.”

If you have not heard about this already, you need to be aware that the United Church of Christ has recently, quite literally, lined through reference to God as Father in their governing documents. Friends, you will hear some theologians and pastors, perhaps even ones that claim to be conservative, try to justify this, or make excuse for it, or explain it away, or try to ignore this reality, but here it is: this is apostasy in the raw. There is no fuzz on this peach, no grey areas here. This is nothing more and nothing less than open rebellion against the Holy Triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But here is where this raises huge questions for all Christians. Let me put a few of them forward.

How can a baptism performed in a United Church of Christ congregation be recognized as valid and legitimate any longer since the UCC has taken this step?

What implications does the fact that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in full communion with the UCC have for that church body’s commitment to the holy, catholic faith? If the ELCA does not sever its full communion with the UCC over this, that means, frankly, that the ELCA is giving its de facto and tacit approval of this action? And in that case, the implications for any baptism performed in the ELCA are ominous, since full communion is an expression of fundamental agreement and unity in doctrine between church bodies.

Pastor Peters blogged about this and he wisely notes that this decision has implications for all parish pastors in all church bodies. He writes, “It seems that from now on we better check any baptism from the UCC on a case by case basis because any baptism not in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit cannot in confidence be a baptism at all…. just something to think about….”

I don’t think we can afford to stick our heads in the sand on this one.

Here are the important details of this disaster from the Louisville newspaper, the Courier-Journal

“According to a United Church of Christ spokesman, it isn’t news that the liberal Protestant denomination is moving to delete a reference in its constitution from “Heavenly Father” to “Triune God.” Decades of theological change lay behind it. Yet now it is putting the change on record.

The Rev. Bennett Guess told my colleague Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today:

“We no longer use exclusively male language to refer to God. We haven’t for a long time.”

The deletion prompted alarm among from a conservative activist group in the predominately liberal denomination.

It may not be new, but it’s still eye-catching to see the words crossed out in the constitutional change, even if the main point of the change was to merge five boards into one. The change would require ratification by two-thirds of the denomination’s 38 regional conferences by 2013. [PTM Note: I can't do a line through, so the words I've underlined are literally crossed out in the resolution passed by the UCC]

Here’s the salient paragraph from 13 pages of bylaw changes, with the revised language in blue and the deleted language crossed out. It was approved Monday at the denomination’s biennial governance meeting.

ARTICLE V. LOCAL CHURCHES

The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the Local Church. A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in the triune God as heavenly Father, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are organized for Christian worship, for the furtherance of Christian fellowship, and for the ongoing work of Christian witness.

Guess said the denomination was dealing “with bylaws written decades ago, before the denomination’s commitment to using inclusive and expansive imagery for God.” (The term “bylaws” sounds more perfunctory than “constitution,” especially when the “basic unit” of the church is described.) Another spokeswoman said members are free to refer to God as father or mother.

The United Church of Christ recorded 1.08 million members last year, down nearly 3 percent from the previous year and down by about half since its peak in the 1960s.

It was formed by a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church — itself formed by a merger of two historically German Protestant groups, with several congregations in the Louisville area — and the Congregational Christian Churches, whose organizational ancestors included the Puritans. Therein lies a tale.

In more recent years, the denomination has made headlines as the affiliate of President Obama’s former church in Chicago, headed by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; and a controversial TV ad showing bouncers keeping people out of church (in contrast to the UCC’s declared inclusiveness.)”

A Serious Argument Against the Ordination of Women

June 10th, 2011 6 comments

 

I appreciated these words from an Anglican bishop in Rwanda, perhaps you will too.

A Serious Argument Against the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood and Episcopate

by The Rt. Rev. John Rodgers
June 6, 2011

A Case for the Male-Only Priesthood

God, being a God of order and being all-wise, good, and gracious, has ordered all things in creation for our good. This order in the creation he has retained and renewed in redemption. As part of this good order God has appointed the man to be the head of the family and to be the elder (presbyter) or priest in the wider family of the Church. God’s good order does not envision nor permit women to exercise the ministry of “headship” in the family, nor the ministry of oversight involved in the offices of the priesthood and episcopate as they are understood and practiced by Anglicans. This is in no way detrimental to women for God has an equally significant, different, and complementary ministry for women in the family and in the Church. This godly order is to be enjoyed and respected. When men and women are thus united in partnership we walk in the path of freedom and fulfillment. Other paths may seem attractive and promise much but in the end they prove deceptive and full of contention.

The reasons we hold these convictions are primarily drawn from Scripture. Attempts have been made to interpret the Scriptures to allow women to serve as co-heads of the family and as priests and bishops in the Church. Responsible exegesis simply will not support these interpretations nor does experience confirm them. Alongside Scripture there are other significant reasons found in the experience of God’s people in history and in God’s other book-the book of creation or nature-that corroborate the biblical reasons. We will mention only the most significant of them in this brief chapter.

The primary and chief factual point that we wish to make is this: nowhere in Scripture do we read of a woman being either a priest in the Old Testament or an elder in the New Testament. In the New Testament no woman was chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve apostles. Jesus could have chosen one of the women who accompanied him, prepared her along with the other apostles-in-training, and after the resurrection appointed her an apostle had he felt that to be appropriate. He did not do so. The same is true of the apostles. Not once did they appoint a woman to be a presbyter or bishop. It was the unvarying practice of God’s people from beginning of Israel to the close of Scripture to call men to these official, stated positions in the people of God. Israel did this in sustained and self-conscious contrast to the practice of the surrounding nations and religions.

Read more…

Condemning Millennialism as False Doctrine: The Real Lesson in the Camping Prediction

May 21st, 2011 15 comments

 

“Where is the Promise of His Coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the Creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)

Harold Camping managed to attract a lot of media attention with his prediction that today the so-called “rapture” would happen today. Consequently, he has made it possible for non-believers to do what they have always done: scoff and laugh and poke fun. But Harold Camping has done far worse than merely confess what the Bible teaches: that Christ will return again on the last day, he has subjected the entire Christian church to scorn and ridicule because of fanciful predictions, which are all grounded in a common false teaching among many protestant evangelical Christians: believe in a literal millennial rule and reign of Christ. Such teachings, and teachers, and church bodies that tolerate in their midst the heretical view that there will be a literal reign of Christ, on earth for 1000 years, must be rebuked and rejected.

All these teachings subject the Church and all Christians to ridicule. When we suffer persecution, it must be persecution for the truth, not because of a nut making crazy predictions. But he is not alone. Look at the fortune raked in by the authors and publishers of the “Left Behind” books. Shame on any Christian who read those and “enjoyed” them. Shame on those church bodies and church leaders that teach a “millennium” and encourage others to do so.

It is interesting to me to see how silent churches that advance these teachings have been during Mr. Camping’s predictions. They are complicit with such predictions. Mr. Camping just happens to have taken matters further than they are willing to go, but for how long have we been bombarded by apocalyptic predictions, claiming the Book of Revelation is a “road map” to the end times and to fanciful and fanatical distortions of the text of Scripture. Far too many Christians have been willing to be caught up in spending to much time thinking and talking about the “End Times” that they truly have become “so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.”

Holy Scripture explicitly warns against those who claim to know when the end of all things shall be. Our Lord says to be prepared for the end, much as one might prepare for a thief to come in the night. You make your preparations, you get ready, but you never know when He will return.

So, rather than chuckle and make fun and jokes, let us lament that Mr. Camping is simply taking what is latent in much of American protestantism to an extreme degree, but it is rotten fruit born of the rotten tree of millennialism. Repent therefore of any temptation you have felt to believe all this false teaching and nonsense and then, dear friend, turn to the Lord of the Ages who welcomes you into His eternal kingdom, in the hear and now, through the precious Gospel that gives you complete forgiveness and a home forever in heaven with all the saints and those who have gone before.

Archeologists Discover Letter Written to St. Paul

March 25th, 2011 31 comments

Word is now coming out that a letter has been discovered that was written to St. Paul, in response to his letter to the churches in Galatia. Here is an English translation.

Parodios, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, to our brother Paulos.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our church recently received a copy of the letter that you sent to the church of Galatia. We hope you will not mind hearing our humble concerns. In the past we have noticed you are more interested in confronting people rather than conversing with them, but we hope you will receive this letter as an invitation to further dialogue.

First of all, we are uncomfortable with your tone throughout the correspondence. We know it is difficult sometimes to discern tone of voice from written communication, but you should keep this in mind as well. One could gather from your careless use of words that you are losing your temper. You certainly sound angry. This is unbecoming a spokesperson for the faith. As you say yourself, one of the manifest fruit of God’s Spirit is gentleness.

Aren’t you being a hypocrite to preach grace but not show it to our Judaizer brothers? They may not worship as you do or emphasize the same teachings you do, but our Lord has “sheep not of this fold,” and there is certainly room within the broader Way for these brothers. Their methodology may differ from yours, but certainly their hearts are in the right place.

You yourself know that our Lord required personal contact when we have a grievance against another. Have you personally contacted any of these men? Have you sat down to reason with them personally? Have you issued a personal invitation? Some of them may even reconsider their viewpoints if you had taken a different tack. We know that your position is likely that public teaching is open to public criticism, but we can do better than what is expected, can’t we?

In one portion of your letter, you indicate you don’t even know these persons! “Whoever he is,” you write. Our dear Paulos, how can you rightly criticize them when you don’t know them? It’s clear you haven’t even read their material, because you never quote them. We implore you to see that they are plainly within the tradition of Moses and of the Prophets. They understand the context of the covenant in ways you appear deaf to.

Similarly, we find your tone and resorting to harsh language not in keeping with the love of Christ. “Foolish Galatians.” “Let him be accursed.” “Emasculate themselves.” Really? Can you not hear yourself? You think this is Christlike? Does this sound like something our Lord would say? Do you think this flippant, outrageous, personal, vindictive manner of speech speaks well of God’s love or the church? It is clear you are taking this way too personally. Indeed, you ask the Galatians if you are now their enemy. Does everything have to be so black and white to you?

Paulos, what will unbelievers think when they read this letter? Do you think this will commend the gospel to them? This kind of harsh language just makes us look like a bunch of angry people. They see we can’t even love each other, and over what? Circumcision? This is a terrible advertisement for God’s love to an unbelieving world. You have given plenty of people permission now to disregard Jesus, if this is what his mouthpieces sound like.

We hope you will reconsider your approach. We know that you catch much more flies with honey than with vinegar. We are concerned that your ill-worded letter signals a divisiveness that threatens to fracture the church. We beg you to reconsider how important these minor issues are, and how in the future you may speak in ways that better reflect God’s love.

The grace—and the love!—of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brother.

HT: Justin Taylor

Rob Bell’s Deceitful Use of Martin Luther to Advance His False Doctrine

March 17th, 2011 Comments off

 

One of the many examples of deceit and sloppy scholarship in Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins, is his assertion that Martin Luther supports his theories. Dr. Gene Edward Veith has an excellent blog post on this:

The evangelical blogosphere is all abuzz over a new book entitled Love Wins by the influential evangelical pastor and author Rob Bell, in which he argues for universalism, the notion that God will save everyone, whether or not they have faith in Christ.   I had assumed that this debate did not concern us Lutherans, since we have our theology thoroughly worked out and this is just not an issue in our circles.  But now I learn that Bell enlisted Martin Luther in his cause, quoting a letter from 1522 in which he  said that no one could doubt that God could save someone after death.
Now Luther, in his long and tumultuous and developing career, said all kinds of things, including things that were flat out wrong.  They mean nothing for Lutheran theology, which is defined by the confessional statements collected in the Book of Concord.  But Westminster Theological Seminary Professor Carl Trueman dug out what  Luther actually said (with Bell’s quotation in italics):
If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie; yes, he would deny himself. And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself [II Tim. 2:13]. It is as impossible for God to save without faith as it is impossible for divine truth to lie. That is clear, obvious, and easily understood, no matter how reluctant the old wineskin is to hold this wine–yes, is unable to hold and contain it.
It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some in the hour of death or after death so that these people could be saved through faith. Who would doubt God’s ability to do that? No one, however, can prove that he does do this. For all that we read is that he has already raised people from the dead and thus granted them faith. But whether he gives faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise every sermon, the gospel, and faith would be vain, false, and deceptive, since the entire gospel makes faith necessary. (Works, 43, ed. and trans. G. Wienke and H. T. Lehmann [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968], 53-54; WA 10.ii, 324.25-325.11)
Talk about taking something out of context!  Bell takes a sentence out of Luther while ignoring what he says about it!  And ignoring Luther’s conclusion, that, yes, faith in Christ is necessary for salvation.
HT:  Cap Stewart