Saturday, October 08, 2005

A tale of three communities: Glory, Comfort and Death

Christ in Glory
Mattia Preti, Italian Painter,
Oil on canvas, 220 x 253 cm
held at Museo del Prado, Madrid

Romans 5: 1-11: Peace and Joy
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Community of Glory

Postmodern "communion" service

Recently, I read a Zondervan advertisement for a new series of kids' book based on verses from Proverbs. Right away I noticed that the books had a very legalistic tone. I investigated further and found that the books are also based on the curriculum of Promiseland, the children's ministry branch for the Willow Creek church movement. As I read through the vision, and mission and values of Promiseland, I was struck by the lack of mention of sin and Savior. NO MENTION OF SIN OR A SAVIOR. How RELEVANT, CONTEMPORARY, INTENTIONAL, THRIVING and PREVAILING can a children's ministry be if the children aren't taught that they are sinners by nature and are in need of a savior? Of course, many communities of glory deny that children are sinners; therefore those children are not baptized and do not have the seed of faith God promises planted in them. These communities of glory also deny that God works forgiveness and strengthen through the bread and the wine. Thankfully, those children are still hearing God's Word proclaimed, but not all of it. The full proclamation of the gospel will be limited by the false teachings that once you make a decision for Christ and choose to be baptized, you are saved forever. As the children of those communities of glory become teenagers and young adults, many will begin wonder why they have not acheived the feeling of the assurance of salvation promised to them and why they have not acheived victory over sin.

Contrast Promiseland's many promises of glory and perfectly devoted children to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's thoughts on what he calls visionary dreaming:

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.

The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community, the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.

When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
hat tip to What You Do, Do Quickly: God Hates Visionary Dreaming

The mission statement for a church's Sunday School program should be pretty simple. No claims of it being the best hour of anyone's week and no promises of fun, although both could be true on any given Sunday. (I would hope that my own children don't ever claim that Sunday School is the best thing that ever happened to them in the week.) Separate Sunday morning Bible classes should be offered apart from Sunday services and should be for all ages: preschool, kindergarten through eighth grade, teens and adults. Here's an example of a solid Sunday School program preaching the full gospel:

It is our goal to teach everyone that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes on Him will not die but have everlasting life. This joyous news saves not only the little children but gives all of us a reason to respond to the Lord with gratitude and thanksgiving.


Community of Comfort

Pastor Russow preaches to the children of King of Grace

Our pastor recently made the heart-wrenching decision to leave the comfort and love of his congregation to accept a synod call to begin a missionary church and school in a new and rapidly growing suburban area of the Twin Cities. At first, I struggled with his decision. "How could he leave us?", I railed against God. "He's my father figure...if he loved us, truly loved us, then he would stay here with us and continue building up our wonderful, growing congregation." After a few days of selfish anger and sorrow, the Holy Spirit moved me to repent of my selfish anger and reconcile with my departing pastor. I do not think it was coincidence that the Holy Spirit was able to move my heart following my confession of sins and reception of absolution in Divine Service and the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith at Holy Communion.

My pastor's departing sermon was preached in a most Lutheranesque manner. He asked us to remember two things: the wages of sin is death and the gift of God is Christ Jesus our Lord. He asked us not to remember his many sins, his failings and personality quirks. He reminded us that we are not to be building a comfortable congregation, but a kingdom in heaven.


Community of Death

The sailors of the Enhiørningen and the Lamprenen prepare for winter harboring at "Jens Munk's Bay", on the western coast of the Hudson Bay. Munk's account from this expedition, and the 1619-1620 winter stay, are recorded in his Navigatio Septentrionalis (1624)

This past Sunday, our departing pastor was commissioned by our congregation and by a group of area ELS and WELS pastors. The sermon was preached by Reverend Steve Petersen. Pastor Petersen began with the story of the first Lutheran pastor to be buried in North America.

In 1619, King Christian IV of Norway and Denmark sent two ships and 64 men to search for the Northwest Passage to India. They got as far as the site of Churchill, Manitoba, on the western shore of Hudson Bay. There, locked in by ice, they spent the winter, and were ravaged by scurvy. Their captain was Jens Munk , a thoroughly experienced naval officer. Their chaplain was a Lutheran pastor, Rasmus Jensen. The captain's journal relates:

The Holy Christmas day, we all celebrated and observed Solemnly, as a Christian's duty is. We had a sermon and Mass.... On the 23rd of January... the priest sat up in his berth and gave the people a sermon, which sermon was the last he delivered in this world....On the 20th of February, in the evening, died the priest, Mr. Rasmus Jensen as aforesaid, who had been ill and kept his bed a long time.... Only four, besides myself, had strength enough to sit up in the berth and listen to the homily for Good Friday.

And when the ice finally opened, in June 1620, there were only three survivors left. Jens Munk was one of them. Incredibly, he and the remaining two men managed to sail one of the vessels across the Atlantic to Norway, which they reached at the end of September 1620.
From: The Northern Lights Route website

Pastor Petersen commented that while this story appeared to be a story of suffering and death, it was really story of faith and hope. This brave crew started out as a community, bringing their good pastor with them. They fell upon bad times and started to die. Pastor Jenson had been bedridden for some time when they came to him, their pastor, for a good word... for proclamation of the gospel I don't think I'll ever forget the picture Pastor Petersen painted of Pastor Jensen being propped up in his bed...his death read scripture to his remaining congregation. Pastor Petersen then went on to say that it is ironic that missionaries, the ones we send out to bring cure to the sin sick, are themselves infected with the disease of sin.

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