Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Keeping a house of love. How is this accomplished? Are you a confessional Lutheran... married or single, old or young, male or female...who is interested in a joint blog? The blog posts will be written from a confessional Lutheran point of view and will center on family experiences, but will welcome the input of all Christians. I am open to ideas, since this wouldn't be fun if it only met my needs.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes-I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Our Easter Sunday sermon was on this passage from the book of Job. We had already sung the triumphant hymn, I Know That My Redeemer Lives. Our pastor aptly commented how we don't say"Good luck on judgement day!" to each other, but "I know my Redeemer lives." Here is a summary of his excellent message to us.
All of us need a redeemer. Our sin nature reminds us of it every day. Jesus is who He says He is. He has redeemed us. Believe it! The joy of Easter is not a rememberance of a historical event, an Easter egg hunt or getting new Easter outfits; the joy of Easter is found in my own salvation. Sure, we all have doubts at times, especially in times of trouble. Job was going through trouble that most of us will never experience and yet he was able to say, "I know that my redeemer lives...and I myself will see him with my own eyes." I will trust in God to sustain my faith to always be ready to say what Job said in the face of torment.
Repent of your sins, rejoice that you have a redeemer and join with Job in saying:
"I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"
I know that my Redeemer lives!
He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives to grant me rich supply;
He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to bless me with his love;
He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly friend;
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, all glory to his name!
Hymn # 351 from Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary
Mary Magdalene Sees the Risen Lord
But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."
Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?"
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, "Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away." said to her, "Mary!"
She turned and said to Him, "Rabboni!" (which is to say, Teacher).
Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God."'
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another. --John 13:34 NKJV
Today is Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the liturgical commemoration of our Lord's Passion.
Most of us who have grown up in the Lutheran tradition associate this day most of all with the institution of the Lord's Supper, and Christ's gift of His very body and blood in, with, and under simple bread and wine as His personal assurance to each of us, individually, that our sins are forgiven; as a way to live in us, so that we might live in Him. Lovers do not encounter each other so intimately as our Lord encounters the least sanctified of those who belong to Him in this Sacrament. He actually becomes part of us, and incorporates us anew into Himself. Through His sacramental body and blood, Christ nourishes and sustains His body, the Church.
But this day actually takes its name from the passage above, John 13:34. "Maundy" comes from the Latin word mandamus, meaning "commandment." In the next few days, Christians will assemble to hear once again the story of the greatest love of all: Christ's love for the human race, that led Him to the cross that whoever believes in Him should live forever (John 3:16).
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Part I: Popular explanations concerning our natural human condition and what does the Bible say about our natural human condition?
Part II: Three Answers to our natural human condition
Part III: Some thoughts from Walther and Senkbeil
"Having this doctrine, what exceedingly happy and blessed people (we) are! This teaching takes us to Christ by a straight route. It opens heavens to us when we feel hell in our hearts. It enables us to obtain grace at any moment without losing time by following a wrong way, striving for grace by our own effort, as we sometimes do with a good intention. We can approach Christ directly and say, "Lord Jesus, I am a poor sinner; I know it; that has been my experience. But Thou has called me by Thy Gospel. I come to Thee just as I am; for I could not come any other way. That is the saving doctrine which (we) have learned from Christ and the apostles."
"In our relativistic age, the validity of any concept is not in its truth by some objective standard, but its meaning for the individual. A wide variety of goods ranging from hamburgers to automobiles, are advertised with an appeal to personal self-interest. The consumer is reminded that what is best for him is best. Our society appears to be more concerned with subjective meaning than objective truth, even when it comes to moral values. Instead of searching for objective standards upon which to base action in achieving a consensus of opinion. "I feel" has been substituted for "I think". The obvious subjective thrust of Evangelical theology is tremendously attractive to such a world view. The individual who has "invited Jesus to come into his heart" has no need to substantiate the truth of his convictions. He "feels" like a Christian, and for him that is the most important part of believing. The ultimate absurdity of this approach to the Christian faith is best expressed in the words of the old Gospel hymn: You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart. Whether the focus is on speaking in tongues or conquering a pet sin, Evangelical Christianity regards these human actions as a demonstration of God's reality in the human experience. In our subjective age, the attraction of this brand of demonstratable Christianity can hardly be underestimated.
" In our pragmatic age, people are much more prone to ask "Does it work?" than "Is it true?" The assumption is made that if it works, then it must be true. More fascinated with results than theory, contemporary Americans are understandably impressed with Evangelicalism. Here is a theory which seems to work; here is a theology which appears to bring results. God is at work in the world; the believer only has to look to his own life to see the reality in his commitment to Christ working its way out in the lives of his people. This is no "paper god"; this is the living Lord of heaven and earth! In the lives of his people, it is held, God demonstrates his power in living reality.
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."--Luke, chapter 22
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
At the outset, I want to make it very clear that I couldn't disagree more with those who believe that a strong devotion to religion automatically curses your children for the rest of your life. In spite of thousands of angry Catholic novelists, hundreds of weeping Oprah guests and a few dozen "Fundamentalist Anonymous" groups, there are millions of us who came through a rigorous religious up-bringing with normal sex lives, no desire to be serial transsexuals and only a moderately high guilt level. I have watched secularists go about the parenting process, and I cannot see any real difference. Having a rigid code of right and wrong did not eliminate wisdom, moderation and mercy. Those who attempt to raise non-violent, politically correct, vegetarian children seem to have the same problems as the rest of us. So quit your whining.
I do believe there are hazards that many religious parents do not navigate well. Some of them are simply matters of realism, while others are particular bizarrities endemic to particular religious groups. Evangelical Christianity has bred a plague of experts, many of whom are grinning idiots, bearing the mantle of religious authority. Don't think me ignorant of their game. Desperate people buy books. Observe the traffic near any diet or self-help or parenting shelf in your local Barnes and Noble. But I would urge everyone to realize that we preachers are stupid like everyone else, we just know how to sound like we know what we are talking about. The guys preaching the twenty part series on "Foolproof Biblical Parenting" have a household like Malcolm in the Middle, too.
Great introduction. Early in my parenting, I bought all the "Christian" parenting books our meager budget could afford or I stood in the Christian bookstore and read as much as I could without buying the book. Thankfully, by the teen years, the Holy Spirit has shown me that all parenting advice begins with facing that fact that you and your children are sinners, born into sin and remaining sinners while living on this earth. Christians have the advantage of faith in the gospel, summed up in John 3:16. So knowing we are sinners who live in the promise of our salvation helps to put the daily challenges of parenting into perspective. Michael Spencer writes:
.. How do religious parents royally screw up their children?
1. By trying to raise sinless children. There are several particular beauties to Christianity. One of the most attractive is the Christian worldview's commitment to tell us that we are created in God's image, capable of wonderful things, but now we are fallen and rebellious towards God, and capable of the most heinous kinds of evil and wickedness. And despite some theological quibbling, the majority of Christians agree that we are born with this situation, and will always be sinners, until such time as Christ glorifies these bodies and transforms us for eternity. So our children are sinners, and this should be no surprise. We know why Johnny lies. He is, in his heart, a liar before he knows a word to speak. We know why Johnny is violent, disobedient and lazy, or at least how the whole ball gets rolling.
Now I am not trying to stop anyone from restraining their children from evil, but I am going to say it is darned foolish to operate on the assumption that junior's sin nature can be eradicated through Christian books, Christian videos, Christian school, Christian friends, Christian toys, scripture memory and obsessive Christian parenting. Junior is a sinner. Tell him so, so he can understand himself, and better understand why you are more interested in his conversion to Christ than in his obedience to you. Then show him the Gospel please, a message that does not apply to perfect children. Just ask that rich, young ruler in Mark 10.
He goes on to give a list of eight mistakes Christian parents make. Personally, I think that strong confessional Lutherans won't have trouble with #1, but they might fall prey to #8:
8. By ignoring culture, and isolating your children from it. I am not suggesting you get the Playboy channel for Junior's room or introduce him to the joys of marijuana yourself. I am saying parents who attempt to build a bunker and hide their children from culture make two mistakes: First, you probably make secular culture more appealing than it really is, and second, you lose a lot of good influence. I am certain that I have accomplished more by discussing the inanities of MTV with my kids than by forbidding it. It is now a regular laughing stock in our parent-child interactions. My kids have learned to think "Christianly" with my help. I think they will be the better for it. We see movies together and talk about them. My daughter introduced all of us to CSI, and it brings up lots of discussions. And we ridicule TBN together.
We also take in Shakespeare as a family, listen to one another's music, kick around the last sermon we heard and discuss politics. Should we be doing longer devotions instead? Should Shakespeare and MTV give way to the 700 Club and CCM? Should we give up those TV shows for reading the latest scintillating Christian fiction? Not as far as I am concerned. Life outside the bunker is more interesting and more beneficial.
Hat tip to Hapax Legomena who appears to have lived firsthand through Michael Spencer's list, or at least most of it, ironically with very loving, giving, caring, and well-meaning, Christian parents. He has recently been sharing his life, so far, on his blog. His experiences should be read by all parents.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Today, my son's hockey team played against his daughter's hockey team in her club's spring hockey tournament. It was the championship match. Why did she play? She was the only goalie left for the team and she's a fierce competitor. It probably never occurred to her not to play. The family left the rink after the game to shower Sophie up and go to the reviewal. He has been the hockey association president since 2002. That told me a lot about him. My guess is that he didn't even have to tell his daughter that it was OK to help her team out on the day before his funeral.
I also found his picture in a very recent (2-17-05) issue of Let's Play Hockey. In today's city newspaper, I learned even more:
Butch, age 53, passed away March 16, 2005. Butch was born in 1951 in Melrose, MN to Agnes and Cyril. He was raised in Freeport, MN or as he liked to refer to it "Lake Wobegon". He attended St. Cloud State and the University of Minnesota to receive his Masters in Electrical Engineering. In 1986, he married Jean, in Pinecreek, MN. He was a long time employee of Medtronic, Inc where he was a Technical Fellow and Distinguished Engineer. He was president of the hockey asociation from 2002 to present. Butch is survived by his wife, Jean; and daughters, Tess and Sophie.
Butch was gifted with tremendous energy and drive and couldn't resist a project whether at work, for a friend or one of his own. He tackled them with great gusto and followed them to completion. As far as we know the only project left unfinished was his retirement home, but we know that God had a better retirement plan for Butch than any we could have come up with.
Butch was diagnosed with untreatable cancer very few weeks ago. Since that time, the 7th grade class has been practicing a song to sing for Butch's funeral. I'm having a hard time imagining how I will keep my composure tomorrow when I hear the sweet sounds of 13 year old voices singing to the family of their sweet Sophie and to the glory of God.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Journalistic Jargon: A Hymn for Holy Week Meditation
Erica has done a good job in posting on my new favorite hymn, Abide With Me. We have been singing it at each Lenten service. The slow, melodic hymn causes me to reflect on my life and my faith. It seems as though many people know the various parts: bass, alto, etc. Each time I sing it, I tell myself that I want to able to sing or at least hum it to myself...or have my children sing it in my ear. There...I made myself cry writing that just now. The beauty of raising my kids in such a wonderful church that teaches us such great hymns is so that we can all turn to hymns at various points in life.
Abide With Me
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me. I
need thy presence ev'ry passing hour;
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's pow'r?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if thou abide with me!
This is the verse I want to know as I go to Jesus:
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
ELS Hymnal #561
Is it in your hymnal?
Saturday, March 12, 2005
I have been studying the biblical reasons to baptize/not baptize infants. Being raised in the WELS, I was not a believer. Later in life after many trials, God touched my heart, and I gave my life to Jesus. I was babtized as an infant, but when I truly came to know Jesus as my savior, I wanted to be obedient and publicly repent and confess Christ, and I was baptized. As an infant I didn't get to do that.
In many verses, the word "repent" comes before "baptize". The two always seem to go together. In fact it seems that if one has not repented one should not be baptized. I am now married to a man who loves the Lord too, and we are studying to know what the Word says. Yes, it says to baptize all nations, and yes we are sinful from conception, but how can an infant be repentant until it is more mature and understands? Is a baptism really valid without being repentant? And wouldn't repentance indicate that the Holy Spirit has already done a work in the person's heart. Can a baby really be saved by a work of the parents, though the Word is clear that we are not saved by works? Has God in Scripture given babies any other provision?
The emphasis is not on what parents or others are doing in Baptism. The emphasis is on what God is doing, on what he has promised, and on what we receive by his grace in Baptism. People are not saved by my work when I tell them that Jesus died to save them from their sins. Rather the Holy Spirit uses that message to work faith in their hearts. In the same way babies are not saved by some law work of their parents when their parents have them baptized. Rather the parents are simply using the means of grace given to them, trusting that the Holy Spirit will work through baptism as Scripture promises.
You are making a couple of assumptions that are not warranted. First of all, “repent” and “baptize” do not always appear together. In fact, in the Great Commission the command to baptize even comes before the command to teach. Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 18:19-20).
Secondly, repentance is not a decision we make on our own. Repentance is something that God works in our hearts through his law and gospel. Both adults and infants are by nature spiritually dead in their transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1-5) and have no ability to please God in any way (Romans 8:7-8). The Holy Spirit must work repentance in the heart of both adults and babies. Since coming to faith is not a decision on our part but something that the Holy Spirit works in us, it is no greater miracle for him to bring a baby to faith than to bring an adult to faith.
You are looking at baptism as a legal requirement by which you show your love and obedience to God. In baptism, however, we do not do something for God, rather he does something for us and in us. He works to either create or to strengthen faith. It is true that neither baptism nor the proclamation of the gospel will benefit anyone apart from faith. However, through the proclamation of the gospel and through baptism the Holy Spirit works faith. The means of grace have the power to create the faith they require.
Do you doubt that babies can believe? St. Paul writes to Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Luke records, “People were also bring babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child will never enter it’” (Luke 18:15-17).
The only way anyone can enter the kingdom of heaven is through faith. Jesus not only is indicating that little children can believe, he is telling us that adults need to become like children, approaching him in child-like faith. Both Paul and Luke use a Greek word that means infant, a baby that must be carried. They are not speaking about children who have reached some sort of age of accountability (a concept that has no scriptural warrant). I might not understand exactly how babies can believe but that does not mean that they cannot believe, particularly when Scripture teaches that they can. If people fail to bring children to baptism and the means of grace, they are in fact hindering the children from coming to Jesus.
Let me summarize:The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are received by faith alone (John 3:16-18, Ephesians 2:8-9). The Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament (Romans 10:11-17, Titus 3:4-7, Acts 2:38-39). The forgiveness of sins is therefore always received by faith and faith is created and strengthened only by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. The gospel promise of forgiveness offered and proclaimed in Word and Sacrament has the Holy Spirit's power to create or strengthen the very faith that receives the forgiveness that is promised (Romans 1:16-17).
Through baptism the Holy Spirit works to create faith or to strengthen faith. As Paul writes to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). St. Peter explains baptism in this way, “In it (Noah's ark) only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21).
Baptism saves because through baptism the Holy Spirit works faith and brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. As Peter told the crowd on Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:38-39). Please note that children are included in the command and promise Peter speaks about.
The Great Commission is a general command-– “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19; see also Mark 16:15-16). General commands must be taking generally unless Scripture limits the command in some way. Babies are also included in this general command. If someone would say that infants are not specifically mentioned in the Great Commission, I would answer that no particular group is mentioned whether women or teenagers or old men or young ladies or Americans, Germans, Chinese, Africans, or the British. The Great Commission includes all of these groups.
Scripture, however, not only does not exclude infants from baptism but also indicates that they need to be baptized because they are conceived and born in sin. They need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God (Psalm 51:5, John 3:5-6). Through baptism the Holy Spirit works to create or strengthen faith and brings the gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (Titus, 3:4-7, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38-39).
For more information on infant baptism you might want to read Baptized into God's Family: The Doctrine of Infant Baptism for Today by A. Andrew Das and Baptism: My Adoption into God's Family by Prof. Gaylin R. Schmeling. You might also want to look at Conversion: Not by My Own Choosing by Prof. John M. Brenner. The latter two books are part of the People's Bible Teachings Series. All three books are available from Northwestern Publishing House - www.nph.net
Friday, March 11, 2005
Baptized and confirmed in a conservative Presbyterian church, I was taught that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is why I didn't go to a liberal Presbyterian seminary. Dallas Theological Seminary had the best reputation among those I knew and respected. And, to this day, I am very thankful for my education there and the rigorous commitment to Bible knowledge and the biblical languages. But it was during my time there that I began to ask a question I never thought I would ask: What is the Gospel? One professor taught that the Gospel cannot be summed up by a "formula" or a creed. The Gospel is one's understanding that leads to salvation. Whatever moves the human will is Gospel—and what moves some may not move others. This teaching disturbed me and forced me to search deeper into the Bible...
He goes on to write about the difficulties a starting a church within the PCA. Church planters gave him advise that had nothing to do with preaching the gospel:
Several of them recommended that I stop using a bulletin and "liturgy." They told me I should stop using the piano in worship and start using a guitar. They advised that I wear a golf-shirt instead of a suit and tie. They recommended "praise songs" instead of traditional hymns. They were telling me that I needed to give the people in El Paso "a worship experience" that would lead to successful numerical growth. I was shocked. I felt as if I was hearing the same teaching I had heard years earlier: a person's understanding or experience is more important than the objective truth of the Gospel.
Thankfully, those in El Paso supported my conviction that if God wanted a church, He would build it by His Word and Sacraments. And two years later, our church did become a self-governing church and financially sound. Throughout this time, I enjoyed the support and counsel of a friend in Austin, Texas. He was the chief musician at a Presbyterian church there and had helped me with music and liturgy. I was floored when he told me he was going to seminary to become a Lutheran pastor. He recommended that I read Spirituality of the Cross and helped introduce me to Lutheranism.
Be sure to read the whole article, espeically the ending paragaph that begins:
"Why did I become Lutheran? By the grace of God. In Lutheranism, my mind is now free to marvel at God's truth... My faith has been set free to believe that God is doing extraordinary things through otherwise ordinary things—the spoken word, water, bread and wine."
I could have written that! What a great testimony Tom Johnson gives us.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Part II: Three Answers to our natural human condition
The five points of Calvinism are: 1. Total Depravity; 2. Unconditional Election; 3. Limited Atonement; 4. Irresistible Grace; 5. Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinism restricts saving grace to the elect. The sins of the elect are forgiven when God brings them to faith. The implications of Calvinism leave one wondering: "Can I find evidence of faith to be sure I am one of God's elect?" To answer that, a person has to look within his own heart.
The five points of Arminianism are: 1. Predestination in view of faith (conditional election); 2. Atonement for all people; 3. Free will enables a person to cooperate in his conversion; 4. Grace can be resisted; 5. A believer may fall from grace. Arminianism extends saving grace to all on condition of faith. The sins of a believer are forgiven when he decides to receive Jesus into his heart. The implications of Arminianism cause one to ask, "Am I obedient to the gospel (as evidence of having made my decision for Christ)?" To answer that, a person has to look within his own heart.
God's grace extends to all, unconditionally. The sins of all people were forgiven when Jesus died on the cross. The implications of Lutheranism cause a person to ask, "Has God done all that needs to be done to restore me to right standing with him?" To answer that, the person looks to God's Word to read "God so loved the world" and " God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ". God directs us to look, not into our hearts, but into His Word for certainty.
Each of these three systems has important implications with regard to how a person understands the gospel. Both Calvinism and Arminianism direct a person to look in to his or her own heart for the answer to the question about where one stands with God. The Lutheran understanding of the gospel, on the other hand, teaches us to look away from our hearts and to focus only on the promises that God has made to us in Christ. The focus of our faith is never subjective (inward). It is always objective (outward). This difference has far-reaching consequences on our outlook, our motivation for faithfully serving the Lord, and on the way we worship God in our liturgy and our hymns.
Next...Part III: Some thoughts from Walther and Senkbeil
" It won't be long until I start getting these two questions:
1. This guy is Lutheran, aren't you Lutheran too?
2. What kind of person is a murderer like that, and what kind of religion permits that kind of thing.It would be real easy to distance myself from the BTK killer.
Technically, he DOES belong to a different branch of Lutheran teaching. That doesn't get to the heart of the matter, but does go back to a conversation I had with "Texas Easy Rider" at my church several years ago..." Read on
Do We Have A "Right" To Baptism?
There's an interesting dustup going on at the Catholic Heart, Mind, and Strength weblog about under what circumstances (if any) a priest should refuse a parent's request to baptize a baby. HMS contributor Greg Popcak started it (not knowing the powderkeg he was touching off) by suggesting that the Church should have higher expectations of her members. Greg started with the general idea (he called it the Mercedes principle) that if something costs you a lot, you'll value it more and take better care of it. Applying that to Christianity, Greg says
... if we wish to evangelize in an effective way, we cannot water things down. In fact, we have to raise the bar. ... The evangelistic message needs to be, "Yes, come as you are, but be prepared to give everything you are in service of the gospel" This is the Mercedes Principle and it results in strong growth with strong committment.
Welborn (of In Between Naps fame) countered that the pastoral strictness that Greg was recommending often has the effect of driving marginal Catholics away from the Church:
you know, believe it or not, many of the people come to church seeking answers and meaning are coming out of very messy, complicated personal situations. Sometimes the Mercedes principle can be used to discourage these people, rather than bring them out of their messes. We can risk giving the impression that God is only for the perfect, and until you have reached that exalted state - don't bother.
and she brought up the specific situation about baptism:
I say this as a former parish minister who worked all day and night with people who were creeping back into church, sometimes after years or decades out, only to have their heads and souls reeled around for them by a priest, other parish minister or legalistic volunteer who ... wouldn't let a couple get their baby baptized until their marriage was validated in the Church. Never mind that the woman was married to a non-Catholic man unwilling and uncomprehending as to why his first marriage in the Methodist church needed annulling by the Catholic Church, and that getting this couple to the point where both could see the importance of that might take a while...And so the baby went unbaptized.
Well, after that it was off to the races. I recommend you go over to HMS and read the whole thing. The two camps seem to be (1) if they want to be in the Church, make sure they're in it for the long haul - no cheap grace; and (2) get them in the door by any fair means, and trust that baptismal grace will do its work in the long run.
I have some sympathy for both sides in this debate. Theologically I think Popcak has the better position; but though he acknowledges the need for pastoral sensitivities, he doesn't give us an idea of how that would work in practice, which leaves us thinking that he just thinks the priests should be more hardass.
What I saw as missing from the debate are some simple theological and pastoral principles:
- Despite the fact that, numerically, most baptisms are infant baptisms, theologically and liturgically the norm is adult baptism. The baptismal liturgy makes it clear that baptism is predicated on the new Christian's free and conscious confession of faith in Jesus Christ. The normative pattern for becoming a Christian is (1) hearing the proclamation of the Gospel; (2) believing in the Gospel; (3) catechesis; (4) entering the Church through Holy Baptism; and (5) participating in the full sacramental life of the Church.
Infant baptism, at first glance, seems to stand this pattern on its head. Baptism comes first, not fourth; evangelization and catechesis are all mixed up together; participation in the sacraments (confession and communion) comes in middle childhood; and the personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ comes whenever it comes (if ever). One can see where the Baptists are coming from. But the key that makes infant baptism make sense is that the child is born into a household where the Christian faith is being lived in a serious, consistent way. The theory is that in a genuinely Christian household, evangelization and catechesis will like the air the child breathes. If the child will not, in fact, be raised in such a household, baptizing the child is certainly valid, but pastorally questionable.
I agree with Greg that baptism in that situation is being treated as a "get out of hell free" card, when it should represent a "take up your Cross and follow Me" card.The problem with infant baptism without the Christian household is that the child will end up living in this fallen world without proper evangelization, catechesis, and consistent use of the means of grace. What are his chances of successfully following the way of salvation?
So what is a pastor to do? It seems to me that, given that infant baptism is theologically predicated on the existence of a genuinely Christian household, the pastor's first goal is not to baptize the child, but to create that household. In other words, to evangelize and catechize the parents. The parents, after all, are the primary evangelists to the child; and they cannot pass on what they have not got.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Popular explanations concerning our natural human condition
"Mankind has the potential for good."
"Mankind is innocent/good by nature."
"Mankind by nature is sinful and spiritually is dead, unable to do anything positive before God, for self or others, not for life nor salvation."
As you read each of the above popular explanations, ask yourself these questions:
1. Who embraces this explanation?
2 What does baptism do in this system?
What does the Bible say about our natural human condition?
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created then male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man". When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likenss, in his own image; and he named him Seth." Genesis 5:1-3
" The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time, " Genesis 6:5
"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me, " Psalm 51:5
"For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean', " Mark 7:21-22
"Flesh gives birth to flesh." John 3:6
"Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin," John 8:34
"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." Romans 7:18
"...the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Romans 8:7
"There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23
"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Corinthians 2:14
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins...we were by nature objects of wrath." Ephesians 2:1,3
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." 1 John 1:8
"He who does what is sinful is of the devil." 1 John 3:8
Sunday, March 06, 2005
"Christianity in the modern western world isn't broken, it has failed and continues to fail. God has not failed us, WE have failed God. Most people have no interest in overcoming sin. They do not want to know what dying to self means. In short, they do not want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This cuts across ALL groups and denominations. These are diseases called self and flesh and pride. They have infected every Christian group, whether charismatic, evangelical, fundmentalist or any other. Some of the groups that claim to be Full Gospel are the worst. I beleive only a small group of people in the United States (Maybe one percent of the whole population, at best) have any interest in obeying Jesus. They are not a part of any single group or denomination. They are the only reason God has not already destroyed this country. Everyone else just makes excuses. Jesus will reward those who OVERCOME SIN."
I hope that no one decides to accuse me of denying that there is any victory over sin through Jesus. There certainly is! That's not what the anonymous comments are speaking about. Do you think I'm overreacting? It is interesting that our Bible Study this morning was on sanctification. I will be posting on that topic this week. Our pastor gave an excellent lesson on that important topic. How do we know we are saved and going to heaven? The Bible tells us so!
Friday, March 04, 2005
I've been using Bloglines to read the feeds from about fifty Christian blogs. The service works well and allows a person a quick way of scanning updated feeds. I can read through those fifty blogs as they post in less than fifteen minutes. It's almost like reading through a copy of Christianity Today, except with a far looser editorial standard. And that's a problem.
Since 2001, I've had a blog up. Cerulean Sanctum came about in late 2003 because I saw a need that was going unfilled, a blog that called people back to the heart of the first century Church. I've considered this blog to be a ministry for me; I've received many letters over the last eighteen months from people who have been blessed by this blog.
But now as I read all over the blogosphere, I wonder if we Christian bloggers are actually doing a disservice to people, especially to those who are struggling in the faith or are considering the claims of Christ for the first time.
My reasoning? Well, as I go through my list of fifty blogs, I often leave them feeling confused, angry, depressed, and just about every feeling but the one the Lord wants to cultivate most in us, joyful. This is not to say that there are no Christian blogs that are edifying. But as I read the blogs, see the dissension, note the snarky comments left, and take in some of the more extreme ideas out there, I am left with only one question, Is Christianity broken?
It's hard to escape that impression after a few visits to popular Christian blogs: See list here.
After a while you can't avoid the question. The blogs beg for it. The conclusion seems inescapable. Even writing about this seems to only add fuel to "Is Christianity broken?" If a cross-sectional reading of popular Christian blogs is any indication, the answer must be "Yes."
So on this Friday morning I'm wondering if those of us who blog are only making the Christian walk harder for people rather than easier. This weekend I plan on taking some time to ponder this question. I don't know what this means for this blog, but I'd like to hear what others think about how we Christian bloggers are portraying Christianity to the world. Truthfully, we have an enormous burden in an age when ideas are so readily presentable to the entire planet via the Internet. Maybe we just need to tone down our rhetoric and be a little less dogmatic in some of our thinking. Or maybe all we need is to simply shut up and listen for a change.
Dan asked for comments and I had lots to say. So much, in fact, that I decided to post my comments (and more) here. It's a good post and good questions, Dan. You've given me much to think about here. First of all I would like to offer that Christianity isn't broken at all. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. People are broken. We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. Christians remain sinners to their last day on earth, and often succomb to temptation...especially when they imagine that they've been a Christian for so long that they might just be immune to sin (Bill Bright's famous comments come to mind). Blogs are online journals, not poorly edited versions of Christianity today as you aptly noted. It is easy to think of blogs as "gospel", but they are not.
This new technology has enabled individuals to each publish their own household magazine. Very unedited, too. Do any of you have teens whose friends have Xanga journals? A few of them are good, most are really bad. I have to sit with my teen and point out that she can choose not to look at certain ones. Another example... in your town, are all stores good and helpful ones? No. There are churches, grocery stores, clothing stores, pharmacies and porn shops all in the same town. You and your family go the helpful stores and avoid the bad ones. Blogs are the same way; there are good ones and not so good ones. Not every blog that calls itself Christian will be a helpful blog to other Christians. Sometimes I stumble onto a Christian blog that is obviously a very personal view into someone's distorted life and I move on. Same with books and magazines...and that's been true for years. We have to discern whether someone is trying to be uplifting to others or not. And yes, we should all be aware that non-believers might be reading our blogs. Non-believers might be watching us at the hockey rink or at school or at the grocery store (perhaps a more sobering thought than merely reading our anonymous blogs).
Rather than be saddened by the inevitable sin nature of my fellow Christians, bloggers and otherwise, I think we should instead try to encourage and comment on good and helpful posts and contemplate this admonition by Craig Parton:
"Luther said the Christian life is one of continual repentance, and that every Christian is no more than one day old. Adam still rears his head, the flesh is still at war. One day we will enter into a final rest with our Lord Christ in whom is true RedemptiIon and Sanctification, the forgiveness of our daily trespasses."
It is in this contemplation of our own sin nature and through our only hope through Jesus Christ that we can fix our broken blogs and be joyful. Only when we are strong in the grace that is Christ Jesus can we truly be joyful.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Custody battles are almost invariably messy, so be patient with this story. Jana Hicks grew up Catholic, but married David Hicks in a Presbyterian church. Eventually, the two started attending an evangelical church, then an Assemblies of God congregation. In 1998, David and Jana split, but by then they had a daughter (identified only by the initial "M" in court documents). Custody was shared, with David Hicks getting the girl three out of four weekends. Most weekends, M went to First Assembly of God in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. That fourth weekend, it was off to a Roman Catholic parish with her mom, Jana.
In 2001, Jana and M started attending St. Sergious Russian Orthodox Church in Parma, Ohio. Last year, Jana decided to remarry, this time to a Russian Orthodox man. And she wanted M to be baptized in that church. But David opposed the baptism.
"This will be now the third religion introduced into [M's] life, and her being baptized in the Orthodox Church, ummm, I oppose that," David explained. "I don't think that that should happen at this time. I think she should grow up, and at her age, when she's old enough, she can make her own decision."
Ted Olsen comments:
"The Assemblies of God and the Russian Orthodox Church stand together, however, against the Superior Court's apparent belief that baptism is just one more aspect of religious exposure. In fact, the churches would see this as the turning point in M's spiritual development up to this point. For the Russian Orthodox, this is the point at which M becomes a real Christian, the point at which she is received into the Church.
For the Assembly of God, M's baptism into a church that rejects the doctrine of justification by faith alone and new birth through the Word of God alone is serious business ...Of course, the Assemblies of God isn't too reluctant to rebaptize, so David's church may just teach her that the Orthodox ceremony isn't the final word."
Does anyone want to bet that little M takes her lesson to a next step and leaves the church at age 18, figuring no one has the answer. Her parents sure haven't provided her with spiritual training.
Ted Olsen telling plays his cards in his final remarks on the case. He's an evangelical and he believes that all should just agree to disagree. He is for ecumenicalism, even to the point of abandoning long-held doctrine of each church.
On one hand, Weblog doesn't want state courts making judgments where religious doctrine comes into play. Some here at CT think the courts should have nothing whatsoever to do with matters of religious doctrine, but Weblog isn't entirely convinced. The baptism may significantly change David Hicks's relationship with his daughter, and courts do have some leeway to exercise the wisdom of Solomon on such matters (not to suggest baptizing only half of M). Jurisdiction aside, is Jana's brinksmanship on this point even necessary? After all, it's not a sin to put off baptism in the Russian Orthodox Church until age 13 (Orthodox saints Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus both put off baptism until their 20s despite having Christian parents; Tertullian even criticized infant baptism). (Sure it is, Mr. Olsen. It is a sin to withhold the saving waters of grace from children. God creates a seed of faith at baptism. He said he does. It is a sin.) As Weblog said earlier, it's messy. But if this is precipitated more by Jana Hicks wanting to please the new man in her life than it is about the nature of baptism and conversion, Weblog expects that even the Russians would be saddened.
What an interesting court case!!! Ecumenism on trial!
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
By grace alone, by faith alone, by Word alone - that's what I like about our church! - Part III of my faith journey
Original post on Kiihnworld on June 8, 2004
One reason I began this weblog was to begin to put into words my thoughts and experiences in the Christian faith. In particular, I'm trying to write my story of going from being raised a mainstream lutheran to becoming an evangelical who eventually returned to her ELCA church (along with many other evangelicals who were given free reign to change the church) and then finally found a home in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod as a confessional lutheran. I've already written about being raised mainstream lutheran and becoming an evangelical. Today, with the help of a friend, I was able to put together the third part of my journey: going from the ELCA to the ELS. The middle part of my story covers twenty years, so I'll need some more time to work on that post.
It has been very difficult to verbalize my feelings towards the changing ELCA. It complicates my task to learn that the changes in the ELCA go beyond me and my life time:back many, many generations over more than a century and a half. The current situation in the ELCA is depressing. In fact, it is beyond depressing to live firsthand in the expansive moral morass. For me, words cannot describe the absolute state of confusion which is glorified there. I personally experienced incorporation of the false teachings of Robert Schuller , switching from saved by grace through baptism to decision theology (ie. use of the Alpha program for confirmation in place of Luther's small catechism and using similiar curricula for Sunday School lessons), abandoning formal confirmation classes because kids and their families complained it was too boring, loss of the liturgy for hand-clapping, emotional performances and meaningless songs, the impending vote next year to ordain and bless practicing homosexuals, etc. I had known for five years that I had to leave, but I kept thinking that I owed it to my home church to stay and try to be a positive influence.
Although it was hard to leave after 30 years of membership at my home church, I did it to protect my own salvation and for the benefit of my children. I now experience much joy at the biblical truths preached and practiced at confessional lutheran congregations, such as King of Grace. I know, after 20 years of searching through churches, that there is no perfect church and never will be on this earth. I was attracted to King of Grace and confessional lutheranism because the Word is faithfully preached and taught. It's strength is turning people to God's Word. I have confidence that Scripture will be the final word on changes made in the ELS. It's grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone and Christ alone - that's what I like about our church. I feel such freedom in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and at King of Grace: freedom that comes from the peace of mind knowing that the Word is being clearly taught to me and my family, not on somebody's whim or interpretation. I know that my husband and I will grow old in this church and see our grandchildren baptized and confirmed at this church.
Since I am an avid fan of the Q&A section of the WELS website (see link below), I am aware of the many divisions in the more conservative Lutheran synods. I don't pretend to understand them and, in fact, I think that the arguers should realize that there are many newcomers to confessional lutheranism who have very little idea what all the fighting is about between WELS/ELS and LC/MS, etc. Not to belittle the arguments, since they surely stem from legitimate complaints, but God has obviously brought many new people into the church since then. I hope to see more evangelicals turn to confessional lutheranism. I also pray that long-standing members are always so patient with those of us relearning scriptural truths. So far, so good!
***In true lutheran fashion, there are even arguments about whether there are three, four or five solas! I know that there are five original solas, but only three are considered supremely important: Grace, faith and scripture. Gee, that leaves out Christ and God. That doesn't make sense. I'll leave that explanation to a more knowledgeable person than me to comment on that.
Three solas: Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Scriptura (scripture alone)
Five solas: Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be glory).
Original comments fromKiihnworld post on 6/8/04
they call him Tim said...
Thanks again for a helpful insight into your faith journey. I sometimes get confused over the disagreements between church bodies too. In a “jestful” sense, the Southern Baptists say that they use arguments and fights to “grow the Kingdom” through new church plants. It’s a sad commentary on people, but maybe God does use our failings in understanding Him properly to reach out beyond ourselves. Just a thought. It’s amazing to see the proliferation of Baptist churches in the South, one on every block.
they call him Tim said...
Aren't there five solas?
In true lutheran fashion, there are even arguments about whether there are three, four or five solas! I know that there are five original solas, but only three are considered supremely important: Grace, faith and scripture. Gee, that leaves out Christ and God. That doesn't make sense. I'll leave that explanation to a more knowledgeable person than me to comment on that.Three solas: Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Scriptura (scripture alone)Five solas: Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be glory).
To me, who grew up Methodist/Independent/sort of Baptist and finally Evangelical Covenant, sola means one. ;) At least, that is what my studies of Spanish throughout high school and college taught me.But I am interested in learning more about Lutherans and doctrinal issues. And I can sing you a Spanish song--solamente in Cristo, solamente in el... (only in Christ, only in Him)
Q: “Can a fetus have faith in the womb. I heard that without Baptism a baby/fetus wouldn't be able to have faith because it is too young to understand about Jesus.”
A: Your question deals with a number of issues. The first would be the matter of faith. What is it? Faith is not a conscious decision of the will. Saving faith is something that takes what God offers, in this case, the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Strictly speaking, it is not something inside of us but something that reaches out and takes what is outside of us--the gospel. We know that infants can have faith because the Bible tells us they can. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus speaks about "these little ones who believe in me." This term would not only include young children and toddlers but also infants as Luke 18:15,16 would reveal.
You also ask, "Can a fetus have faith." We know that this is possible from the example of John the Baptist (Luke 1:44). However, John was an exceptional situation. He was set apart as the one who would announce the Savior's birth. To say that God always works faith in the unborn in this manner would be drawing more than we can from this account. The difficult situation about the unborn is that God has not given us a clear means of grace for them. Baptism is for those who are born. The Lord's Supper is for those who can examine themselves. And the Word of God is preached to those who can comprehend a language. We want to be careful that we don't turn God's Word into a magical means that can work faith in those who do not comprehend a language. The spiritual life of the unborn and the eternal fate of those who die before birth is not addressed in Scripture. Since God remains silent on the issue, we need to do the same.