Friday, October 10, 2008

Mom, the stalker

"Mom! That's me!"

Ouch! My son caught me in a lie the other day. Not a big lie...just one of those little lies parents might tell their kids to cover some secret parental spying that might make their child mad but is actually for their own good. You know, one of THOSE lies. I'm not even going to say what it was because it was really stupid. But it mattered to my nearly grown son and he knows what it was. I will tell you the shameful details. When I was first caught, I denied it. I even tried to blame his sister. Then I tried to blame my son. This was all in the first couple of minutes. As words came out of my mouth, I was disgusted with myself. Why was I lying? I hadn't done anything wrong. I was just embarrassed. I'm 48, a pretty good parent and here I was making really stupid lies. I quickly recovered, told him what I had done and gave my justification. What I had done wasn't wrong; lying about it was. God is good and He helped us in the next few days to have two good discussions about it. I have apologized to my son; no amount of good parenting can justify a least not the way I did it.

I cringed today when I read Pastor Walter Snyder's excellent commentary on lying, Leaving a Life of Lying. Ouch! How did he know? ;) He knows because we all are liars, whether we admit it or not. Some of us have practiced it too well and others battle some other sin, but we've all lied.

Like all their descendants, you’ve inherited our first parents’ sinful natures, including a similar gullibility regarding lying and honesty. As a Christian, you’ve also discovered the truth of Saint Paul’s lament: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)” Lutherans call this situation simil iustus et peccator, meaning “at the same time saint (a justified believer in Christ) and a sinner.” Read more...
Ok, here's what I did. I was looking at his Facebook page one day - a given in our household. I have the right to see what my kids are writing when they are under age 18 and living at home. I visited some of his friends' pages and copied a few photos of him and his friends to my hard drive. As I was doing it, a little voice in me mentioned that, perhaps, I should ask him because I knew he might get weird about it, but I instead justified my actions by reminding myself that I had so few photos of him and his friends. The pics sat on my desktop for a month before he noticed them (I had forgotten). He immediately got upset, I think because of a photo of him and a particular girl, and him and a boy who is now in jail. That's when I started lying....ugh! Like I mentioned already, it turned out well, but I do wish I had quickly asked God for the grace to just be honest. Am I a chronic liar? No. Will I lie again in my lifetime? Probably. God give me strength!

Monday, September 29, 2008

St. Michael and the dragon

I don’t remember ever attending a service for the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels, so yesterday’s service at Bethany Lutheran College was particularly meaningful since it was the first time we got to see our daughter sing in the BLC Concert Choir. BLC doesn’t have regular Sunday services (students are encouraged to become part of local congregations or travel to their home churches), but they hold services on special occasions, such as the annual Fall Festival.

The service followed the Office of Matins. I really miss use of singing psalms! It reminded me of my ALC days in the 70’s. Chaplain Don Moldstad gave a good sermon on the corresponding scripture of the day. He gave an excellent message about the goal of the devil (to destroy your soul forever) and of angels (to protect your soul to heaven). He explained that sin is not just specific acts that the devil might convince you to do, but part of an overall plan to create a way to separate you from God…a pattern of guilt…a weaker friend who will seemingly try to pull you away from God. Sin isn’t just an act; its part of a plan to pull us away from God. There was also a reminder that the world will continually tell Christians that their faith in Christ is irrelevant, out-dated…like walking around wearing night goggles during the day (a reference to an earlier comparison of faith in Christ to wearing night goggles). Your church is one place to recognize your fellow soldiers, where your “night goggles” of faith won’t look out of place. Beautiful choir music, directed by Dennis Marzolf, and wonderful band pieces directed by Adrian Lo. I enjoyed singing two ELH hymns I’d never sung before, to my knowledge: I Walk With Angels All The Way (ELH 252) and We Sing Thy Praise, O God (ELH45).

Thursday, September 04, 2008

On voting for a woman ...

As a Confessional Lutheran Christian, I have been pondering the issue of men, women and headship in relation to the upcoming elections. I've done some research and found a very profound and timely commentary at

"...there may indeed be times when a Christian may come to the conclusion that a woman running for the office of president may be the best available choice. We may decide to vote for that candidate even though we would know that in a perfect world it would be otherwise. Often, it may be a judgment on the men of a nation that no well-qualified men step forward to lead.

Perhaps it may also help us to consider that even among God's Old Testament people, there was a time that he raised up a woman to lead Israel. In Judges 4-5 we see God using Deborah to help lead Israel against a nation that was oppressing God's people.

Yet before we make too much of that bit of Israelite history, we must remember that the book of Judges hardly holds before us an ideal part of Israel's history. In fact, the book of Judges reveals Israel often at its worst. What is more, Deborah's own words clearly indicate that things were not as they should have been in Israel. She vainly struggles to get Barak to take the lead of the armies of Israel without her by his side (see Judges 4:9)."

Friday, July 11, 2008

The purpose (and power) of God's Word

I read something really great in my daily Meditations booklet today. Here are some excerpts and corresponding scripture:

All are forgiven, but not everyone will enter eternal life. Is this because God does not desire everyone's salvation? Consider that question in the light of Jesus' crucifixion. No, the damned are ultimately responsible for their own fate.

God is both just and loving, as it is written: "The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished." Numbers 14:18

The problem is not God's lack of love but their own hard hearts that refuse to be loved. And so, after continual rejections or indifference to the gospel, the gospel will stand as a testimony against them, as Jesus himself says,

"There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day." John 12:48

There is a mystery here, to be sure. Only God can break through the hardness of a person's heart. Yet people are condemned for having hard hearts. How can that be? Scripture does not answer that question. Scripture only holds before us God's universal will for all people and points us to the Word, God's powerful tool to break through hard hearts and lead people to repent and believe.

My word that goes out from my mouth: it will...achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Be certain whom you are rejecting...

Quote of the week, at Cranach blog:

"Do not let people, especially God’s people, sour your taste for religion. One’s eternal destiny is not worth it. But if it is God that is not palatable to you, that is quite a different matter. No one can offer a better description of who God is, who we are, and what He requires of man than He has himself made clear in His word. This you seem to have rejected. There is no other offer on the table. And none else but Christ can persuade you."

~ Robert Landrum, Religious Contemplations

Saturday, June 07, 2008

What does effective youth ministry look like?

The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, lists some aspects of what a post-evangelical youth ministry looks like. Not surprisingly, it probably looks a lot like what youth ministry looked like before we invented it.

1. It would be very open to the “Family centered” model that puts youth ministry firmly in the ministry of parents, and would utilize “youth ministers” only as a supplement and facilitation of that model.

2. It would never separate young people from the multi-generational nature of the church, but would instill in them an appreciation for the Christian tradition, and the compromises and gifts of the multi-generational model.

3. Age segregated Bible study would most likely be de-emphasized, if not eliminated as much as possible.

Read on for other points.

The last point is key:

9. This does not mean the elimination of “youth ministry,” but it does mean that any specific ministry will find its definition and direction from the overall character of the community to which it belongs. Whatever activities, actions or processes occur, they will be evaluated by the whole community and not by separate standards derived from “youth ministry” as a self-defining parachurch movement.

I think this last point is key to Lutherans retaining their youth. We left our former evangelical mega-church when our kids were in 5th and 7th grade. I was alarmed at the lack of depth of Christian education and the generational separation of the very large and very well-known youth ministry. We left for a much smaller church that espouses many of the aspects mentioned by Michael Spencer. Ironically, though, people occasionally suggest that our church should take a cue from our former mega-church youth ministry program. I have struggled to put into words why I consider this the wrong approach to the strengthening of our youth. These points will help me do that.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Believing in Jesus

While researching a topic, I came across this excellent response to a question on how we are to come to faith in Jesus on the WELS Living Bold website. The site is designed with youth in mind, but the resources are ageless.

Question: I know that I can't believe in Jesus without the Holy Spirit. But after the Holy Spirit comes, do I (or someone else) make the choice to belive in Jesus? I mean, it's my choice to get baptized or confirmed, right?


You ask a very important question. Many Christian churches in our world today use their human logic to answer it by saying each individual person has some goodness or power within themselves to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. The technical term for this is "decision theology." They believe that Jesus has done everything to save them for eternity, but I have the choice to decide whether I want to accept or reject him as my Savior. That makes sense logically to my human reason, but that isn't how God says a person comes to believe in Jesus.

God tells us in Scripture that every human being is conceived and born spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3), blind to the truth of God's Word (1 Corinthians 2:14), and enemies of God having no power in ourselves to change our unbelieving condition (Romans 8:7). By nature we are conceived and born as rejectors of God, but by nature we have no power to decide one day we want to believe in Jesus as our Savior. Salvation and faith (the ability to believe in Jesus and say you believe in Jesus) is completely the work of God the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3) working through the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and the Sacrament of Baptism (1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:4-7, Galatians 3:26-27, John 3:5). Salvation and the ability to believe (faith) that Jesus has saved me for eternity are both gifts that God the Holy Spirit gives to us(Eph. 2:4-9).

Read on...

Monday, May 05, 2008

What to do...

Here's some really good, scriptural and common sense advice, from Pastor Joel Brandos, for those who are in a liberal-leaning Lutheran church and you are a layperson:

1) Support your pastor. Encourage him to speak the truth in love. If he complains about how bad things are, urge him to keep commending what is good, right, and salutary;

2) Show up at local and regional meetings and conventions;

3) When you are at these events, don’t get angry. Don’t even look perturbed. Instead, take along with you one or two Bible passages and one or two quotes from Luther and the Confessions, not more than one paragraph long. Find the opportunity to share them with the group, telling people how much these words mean to you. To start out with, don’t speak against things — tell people what you are FOR and why you are for it. Identify people in the group who are interested in your words, even if it is only one or two. Make their acquaintance; get their e-mail; get to know them, but don’t be psychotically overwhelming. You might point them to one or two constructive blogs and The Wittenberg Trail;

4) If you find someone who doesn’t agree with you, first of all, just LISTEN to them and ask clarifying questions. Don’t get into a knock-down drag out argument. Sometimes you will hear them make outlandish statements. Press them hard to give evidence and make them PROVE that what they are saying is true. Don’t let them make generalizations. After you listen, THEN you may explain to them once again what you think is helpful and important based on the Scriptures, Confessions, and Luther’s writings;

5) Buy a copy of “What Luther Says.” This publication is full of excerpts from his writings on many different subjects organized alphabetically by Topic. Read it;

6) Read the PREFACES to Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms. Amazing! Read the Large Catechism if you have never done so. Re-memorize the Small Catechism as part of your daily devotions;

7) Get a copy Bente’s “Historical Introductions to the Book of Concord.” Understand Lutheran theology in its historical context - very important! Note how it was all LAYMEN who signed the Augsburg Confession.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On choosing a redeemer...

I read a quote today that will compel me to read a book:

“…’I mean–I mean that I have given Him my heart.’ The older man’s face became suddenly as solemn as the grave. ‘Do you consider that something to give Him?’ … ‘But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.’ ‘You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy, … it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give Him one’s heart and commit oneself to Him, and that He now accepts one into His little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on Him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief. One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to Him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks His walking cane through it and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with Him. That is how it is.’ … ‘And now you must understand that these two ways of believing are like two different religions, they have nothing whatever to do with each other.’”
~The Hammer of God, by Bo Giertz

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Differences among synods

The latest battle in the Missouri synod has people searching on the internet for alternatives. My blog's search statistics show that. It is my own opinion that most confessional Lutherans refuse to look at other synods seriously because of a long list of mis perceptions and hearsay. I know the pain of switching synods; I did so myself about five years ago. The only thing I can offer is that once you do make the switch with a whole heart, the pain goes away. The things that I thought might bother me, i.e. the role of women in ministry and close communion, were not issues for me once I was sold on the ELS' ability to preach the gospel.

I would never encourage anyone to leave their synod or church, but if you feel that it is what you are being called to do then I hope you consider the ELS. I have been (mostly) very happy there. The ELS, though not perfect, is remaining faithful. We are small, manageable and pretty transparent. If I wanted to I could make an appointment with our president and ask him any question. There is no division among pastors, beyond the usual human divisions (style, age, personality, which football team they cheer for, etc). Do your research from there. I can also tell you that the ELS is not the same as WELS, yet we are in fellowship with WELS. A WELS pastor writes:

If you find differences, then, it is more likely to be in the area of culture or ways of doing things aside from Bible doctrine and practice. Norwegian and German people (and their descendants to a degree) don't always reflect the same personality traits or enjoy the same food or entertainment. And many ELS churches use different editions of catechisms and hymnals than most WELS churches do. Welcome to America and cultural diversity. But especially give thanks that these two church bodies enjoy confessional fellowship centered in Christ and his Word.

Are you looking for another confessional Lutheran synod? Ask others. Pray. I found this opinion at Q & A feature very interesting...

...the majority of truly conservative or orthodox pastors and congregations have already left the LCMS or have chosen to hunker down to protect their own parish as long as they can. And they will die or retire before they do much else.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter at King of Grace

Our church looked particularly beautiful on Easter morning. I meant to take photos, but wasn't able to get up front after the service before members began to take their particular flowers home. Good thing Jack did! He sent them to Norman and Norman posted them. Thanks guys!

Norman's Demesne: Easter at King of Grace

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Issues, Etc. cancellation

Issues, Etc., the popular and nationally broadcast was suddenly and without any warning removed from the air and its hosts were fired. The official statement by the LCMS-owned radio station, KFUO, explains virtually nothing:

For programmatic and business reasons, the decision was made this week to discontinue the "Issues, Etc." program on KFUO-AM. We look forward to bringing you new programming in this time slot in the near future. Also, we thank "Issues" host Rev. Todd Wilken and producer Mr. Jeff Schwarz for their years of service on behalf of the station.

Lutherans everywhere are saddened at the loss of a venue which could bring people of faith together across the country for an hour or two. They are also amazed at the cold, callous and non-sensical nature of the cancellation. In the radio world, sudden cancellations are hardly unusual, but in the Lutheran world I guess we expected a bit more from the powers that be. The show was their MOST LISTENED TO PROGRAM, with plenty of sponsors.

The show archives are back up and will be available for who knows how long. Pastor Todd Wilken has sent show listeners a message of thanks for the prayers and gifts of cash to him and his producer, who are suddenly out of work:

My thanks to everyone who has been so generous and supportive. Thank you for demonstrating such brotherly concern toward me, Jeff and our families. We are encouraged by everyone's Christian compassion and friendship.

Everyone, go to church. Eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus. Celebrate His death for us. Await His resurrection. It's Holy Week - the best week of the year.

Wir sind alle Bettler,


If you would like to sign a petition, go here. If you would like to offer financial assistance to Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwarz as they make this difficult and sudden transistion, The Wittenberg Trail is organizing a drive to offer financial support. They have set up a secure PayPal account. Follow the directions at the Wittenberg Trail website(free membership may be required) and click on the "Donate" button on the right side of the screen. Visit The Wittenberg Trail at:

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Tithe or you will be cursed!

In the middle of a CBS Sunday Morning piece, To Tithe or Not to Tithe, on churches which demand or strongly encourage a tithe from their congregants, a small gem of scriptural reason was featured:

"I'm somewhat suspicious of people who want to turn giving ten percent into virtually the only law that applies to people who are under a covenant of grace," says Hudnut-Beumler, "where God saves freely, not for ten percent down."

He says he's reminded of Martin Luther, father of the Protestant movement, who broke away from the Catholic church because it was selling indulgences: Promises of a quicker road to heaven in exchange for cash.

"Stripped down to its basics," he says, "I don't think it's different than indulgences. What we see today, though, is a return to 'this-for-that religion,' give God this and God will give you that."

Words of wisdom from a Lutheran? I couldn't find any reference to him being raised Lutheran (except for being raised in Michigan). James Hudnut-Beumler is dean of the divinity school at Vanderbilt University.

Another gem, of sorts, from a woman who strongly believes in tithing: "It makes me feel good."

Here is a bit of considered opinion on tithing, which (of course) is not a bad practice, but it is not mandated to Christians, by a Lutheran theologian:

It is always a horrible abuse of the Word of God - and a legalistic binding of consciences - to try to use the law to motivate and "drive" Christians to fruits of faith, rather than seeking to empower and inspire them through the gospel. Such "law-forced" good works are nothing but the rotten fruit of grudging obedience or pharisaic pride. The tithe is not a club with which we are to beat God's people over the head. It is merely one guide with which we can measure our gifts over against the gifts which God's Old Testament people brought him.

"God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The antidote for me

Reading through the New York Times summary of the findings of the latest Pew report, this quote caught my eye: “The trend is towards more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that." I find this quote and trend very sad because I believe that a church which makes religion about ME is like following a dead-end road. I spent too long on that road before finally figuring out that worshiping God is not about ME; it's the ANTIDOTE for me. Here on this earth, I have no problem making nearly everything about me. It's my best (and worst) habit. We all do it, if we are honest with ourselves. Divine worship is that brief respite FROM me.

While the ranks of the unaffiliated have been growing, Protestantism has been declining, the survey found. In the 1970s, Protestants accounted for some two-thirds of the population. The Pew survey found they now make up about 50 percent. Evangelical Christians account for a slim majority of Protestants, and those who leave one evangelical denomination usually move to another, rather than to mainline churches. Prof. Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, said large numbers of Americans leaving organized religion and large numbers still embracing the fervor of evangelical Christianity pointed to the same desires. “The trend is towards more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that,” Professor Prothero said, explaining that evangelical churches tailored much of their activities to youths. “Those losing out are offering impersonal religion,” he said, “and those winning are offering a smaller scale: mega-churches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside.”

The Pew survey, available on the Web at, was conducted between May and August of 2007.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

God, government and politics

It seems to me that those who ardently support Mike Huckabee tend to think that America has been created as a Christian nation by God himself. Along with that thinking there seems to be the idea that we can bring about God’s blessings or judgment on our beloved country. Are we not all sinners in need of a savior, destined to live on this sinful earth until the day Jesus returns? Since turning from Evangelicalism, I have learned that even when government turns to evil, God’s providence cannot be thwarted. In all things, He works for the good of His people. Below is a long opinion piece from a Confessional Lutheran theologian. I tried to summarize, but its too good. It reflects what I have learned about God and government and politics in recent years.

Our duty as church is to preach God’s law, not to reform Caesar’s law. It should be clear to us that all of a Christian’s actions must be guided by God’s moral law, regardless of what the civil law of the land may allow. The means of promoting morality which God has given to his church are teaching its members God’s will as it is revealed in his law and motivating them with the Gospel. Equipped with such teaching, they will not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but will be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they test and approve the good, pleasing and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

The church’s goal for those outside the church is not to regulate their conduct, but to change their hearts. This can be done only by a fearless preaching of God’s law, which produces contrition, and by the life-giving message of the Gospel, which produces the faith without which no genuine moral improvement is possible. The church’s primary concern in the area of law is to use the law as a mirror to expose and condemn sin, and then, when the Gospel has done its work, to use the law as a guide or rule for Christian life.

Nevertheless in this realm of sinners, the law must function also as a curb or restraint of evil doers. “The law is not made for good men, but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slavetraders and liars and perjurers.” (I Tim. 1:9) It is this restraining function of law which is the concern of the state. In fact, such a restraining function is the only purpose which civil law can serve. Offenses like adultery, pornography, drunkeness, drug abuse, etc are not person matters, but are harmful to society and may be regulated by law.

So the question remains, “How hard should a Christian fight to bring the civil laws of the state into agreement with God’s moral law?” This is a question of great practical importance when we consider laws concerning abortion, divorce and marriage, sexual conduct, pornography, capital punishment, and other matters.

Here again, there are two different, and in some respects, opposing factors which we must consider. The first is that God holds all nations responsible for their violations of his moral law and punishes them for such conduct. The Canaanites were exterminated because of their flagrant disregard for God’s moral law. When the sin of the Canaanites reached its full measure, the land vomited them out because their rottenness had become intolerable. (Gen 15:16, Leviticus 18:24-25) The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were burned to ashes as an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly. (II Peter 2:7) Isaiah cries out to the nations, “The earth is defiled by its people. They have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth. Its people must bear their guilt.” (Is. 24:5)

A nation is not excused for its sinful practices, simply because it is not a theocracy or a truly Christian nation. God’s wrath justly falls on those who suppress the natural knowledge of God and who sin against the inscribed law and their own consciences. God begins his judgment against such people by giving them over to uncleanness, to sinful desires, and to a depraved mind, so that they receive the due penalty for their error, even in their own bodies. (Romans 1 and 2) Although God temporarily spares the world from the general judgment which it deserves (Gen. 8:21, Acts 17:30), he already is sending warning judgments against those who trample on his moral law. The principle still holds, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Prv. 14:34)

As a general rule, nations as well as individuals reap what they sow. Respect for family life and for authority tend to contribute to the stability and welfare of a nation. Conversely, a society usually pays for the breakdown of the family and of respect for authority with increased crime and disorder. Sexual immorality and drug abuse exact both a physicial and emotional price. The first payment of the wages of sin is usually delivered already in this life. The life of a prodigal son leads to shame and ruin; the life of a Pharisee leads to earthly honor.

Of course there are apparent exceptions. Some of the guilty escape, at least for awhile. Sometimes the innocent suffer along with the guilty. Nevertheless, the general principle holds. This principle of divine retribution is one reason that Christian citizens are interested in good laws and in the outward morality of their land. Such morality contributes to the welfare and security of the land and its citizens. Immorality which disregards the basic principles of God’s law brings judgment on a nation. For this reason Christian citizens want the laws of their land to reflect the moral principles God’s law.

On the other hand, because of the darkness and hardness of human hearts it often is impossible for civil law to correspond with the ideal set forth in God’s moral law. Sinners have partially lost or suppressed the knowledge of what is right. Natural knowledge of the law is not clear and complete. It is partial and weak.

Sometimes people know what is right, but simply refuse to do it. Even the civil law which God gave to Israel made concessions to the hardness of the human heart. For example, divorce was permitted in the civil law, even though this was contrary to the will of God which was revealed when marriage was established.

The chief purpose of civil law is to maintain as much peace and order as is possible in a sinful world. If a woman had to remain with a husband who was embittered against her, great harm and disorder could have followed. The permitting of divorce, even on questionable grounds, could actually be a protection for the wife. She might be better off if she was sent away by a hardened, embittered husband, than if they had been compelled to remain together. The civil law accepted the evil of divorce to minimize the evil of bitter domestic warfare which would have been even more disruptive of the peace of society. (It should be mentioned that the divorce law in Dt. 24, does not encourage divorce or establish grounds for divorce. It discourages divorce by restricting the possibility of remarriage.)

The aim of civil law is to produce the greatest degree of outward peace and order. Every law is an attempt to legislate outward morality. That is, every law is an attempt to prevent individuals from harming other individuals or the interests of society as a whole by imposing punishment on those who violate the standards of society. Civil morality is generally defined on a utilitarian basis. Whatever a society judges to be harmful is considered to be immoral and is declared illegal. When a society is convinced that an act is harmless, it becomes legal. A civil law will normally be effective only if the majority of the citizens are convinced that violating that law is harmful and if punishment is certain enough and severe enough to deter those who remain unconvinced.

No anti-abortion law will be effective, if most people believe that abortion is not much different than a tonsillectomy. No law restricting pornography will be very effective, if most people believe that pornography is harmless or even enjoyable. Capital punishment is of little value if public opinion is so against it that no judge or jury will use it. We cannot expect a country to have laws which uphold sound moral values if its people are abandoning even those moral standards which are supported by reason and the natural knowledge of the law.

The first priority for Christian citizens is to educate. We should help to bring society back to its senses by promoting sound moral values. We will have moral laws only when a majority of the citizens and public officials of our land recognize the value and necessity of such basic moral principles as the right to life, high regard for marriage and the family, and the accountability of every individual for his actions. On the basis of such standards, we can then promote good, moral laws. In doing this, we are not trying to force Christianity on anyone by law. Reason, the inscribed law, and the conscience of natural man all testify to these standards, and when we are promoting civil laws, we must argue on this basis.

Even if we are successful in obtaining good, moral laws, we must recognize the severe limitations of civil laws. Legislating and enforcing good moral laws does not make a nation and its people any more Christian or any more moral in a true spiritual sense.

Such laws cannot change the inner motivation of the heart. They only restrain outward conduct. For example, when we promote laws that restrict abortion, we are not trying to create hearts obedient to the fifth commandment, nor can such laws make an unwanted child wanted. The only thing which the law may be able to accomplish is to protect the life (and incidently the time of grace) of some of our neighbors who are unable to protect themselves. Laws restricting pornography can’t legislate chaste and decent hearts, but they may diminish temptations to sexual immorality, which harms society. They may help stem the shocking tide of sex crimes in our land. They may help restore an atmosphere in which stable family life, which is a needed foundation for society, can be maintained. All of these are only outward functions which do not touch the heart. Laws against racial prejudice cannot make anyone love neighbors of a different race, but they may prevent him from interfering with their life and livelihood.

In short, good laws cannot do anything to Christianize a nation or to promote true inner morality, but they have value as a curb which protects individuals and society from the evil effects of rampant immorality. As Christian citizens we should promote such laws as part of our concern for our neighbors’ life and property.

However, a number of cautions should be observed. Even when the cause is good and the case is clear-cut, as in the effort to gain laws which restrict abortion, we should be very cautious about trying to influence legislation as a church body or as members of church-affiliated societies. Such efforts can very easily re-inforce the common impression that the church is basically a moral reform agency, whose goal is to make the world a better place to live. As a church we should not substitute the goal of reforming society for our higher goal of reforming human hearts. Our tools are God’s Law and Gospel, not man’s law and sword.

Even in our efforts as citizens, careful discernment and balanced judgment are needed. We should remember that even when Christians are agreed on the moral goals that are desirable for society, they may disagree about the best way to achieve those goals in given circumstances. We may agree that pornography is evil. One of us may feel that a certain restrictive law is a partial solution. Another may oppose that law, because he believes that it is so broadly worded that it could threaten legitimate freedom of expression. None of us would argue in favor of having holdup-men shoot grocery clerks, but we might disagree on whether a specific law restricting handgun ownership would increase or diminish the possibility of that happening.

Even when we are agreed on identifying evils, we must be careful in prescribing a specific solution as the Christian solution because the problem may be very complicated in its nature and in its response to specific remedies.

Christians should apply Christian principles and sound thinking to public policy as best they can, but with a proper degree of humility concerning the remedies that they suggest. We need to find the balance between thinking we can reform the world by legislation and withdrawing into a shell and letting the world go its way.

Although we should seek good laws, we realize that civil laws will never conform to the standards which God’s moral law sets for us. Even when civil law is lax, we must always guide our conduct by God’s law. Even the best civil laws will never produce the kind of morality that God desires. None of this causes us to despair. Even when the standards of society crumble, we have a sure foundation to build on.

Today, many are echoing the despairing question addressed to David, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” It is important that we remember his answer, “The Lord is in his holy temple. The Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold. His eyelids test the sons of men. The upright shall behold his face” (Ps. 11).

No matter how much indulgent rulers, lax laws, and vile sinners undermine the foundations of God’s moral law, this truth still stands, “God’s solid foundation stands sure, sealed with this inscription: the Lord knows those that are his, and everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (II Tim. 2:19).

Source: Question and Answer section

Monday, January 07, 2008

Koehler's A Summary of Christian Doctrine: The Holy Scriptures, part 3

Koehler writes,

It is not our business to sit in judgment on what we have learned to be the plain sense of the Bible text, accepting what agrees, and rejecting what does not agree with our personal views and rationalizations. This judicial or critical use of human reason is absolutely out of place with respect to divine truths. Where God has spoken, the right of private judgment ceases. (2 Cor. 10:5) We must take the words of the Scriptures in the sense and meaning they convey; we may not add thereto nor take away anything from it (Deut. 4:2), nor corrupt the Word of God by putting our own meaning into the text (2 Cor. 2:17). We must, therefore, not "correct" the Scriptures according to our ideas and logical deductions, but we must correct our thoughts and ideas according to the Scriptures.

An entire blog could be created based on examples of the modern church "correcting" scripture, but it would be depressing to keep focusing on that! The one example that comes to my mind is how my former Lutheran synod went to great lengths to justify the ordination of women. In the end, it was just a twisting of scripture to meet desires. It doesn't have to make sense to me that God has ordained that women serve in other roles and not as pastors. I can accept that God knows what He is doing.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Koehler's A Summary of Christian Doctrine: The Holy Scriptures, pt 2

If we wish to convey our thoughts to a person, we must do so in a language he understands. Because the Word of God was intended for human beings to learn and to know, it was necessary that it be revealed in words of human language, intelligible to human minds. The Word of God does not work like a magic formula which need not be understood, but we must learn and know what it means (emphasis mine). In searching the Scriptures we must, therefore, use our knowledge of language and grammar, us the faculties of our mind to discover the sense and meaning of what we read, and we may then formulate our findings into doctrinal statements, or creeds, as we do in the Confessions of our Church. Such instrumental use of our mental faculties is proper and necessary if we would know the Scriptures.

We must learn and know what it means....For me, this sentence illustrates the change in my own life over the last few years. Although I was a Christian and I believed that the Bible was God's inspired word, it did not mean much to me in my daily life beyond a list of do's and do not's. People I knew would "claim" Bible verses and memorize them (out of context) in hopes it would come true in their lives. I still know people who do this and I have NEVER seen it work. My goal now is to know scripture and to understand what it means in context of the passage, chapter and book.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Koehler's A Summary of Christian Doctrine: The Holy Scriptures

Before it is possible to determine what is to be regarded as Christian doctrine, it is necessary to agree on the source from which such doctrine is to be drawn, and on the norm by which it must be judged; otherwise it is impossible to reach an agreement.

No one can tell us what God wants us to believe and to do but God Himself. (1 Cor. 2:9-11). Therefore our knowledge of God and of His will toward us can be derived from no other source than from God's own Word. (Is. 8:19-20) This Word of God must also be the norm and criterion according to which teachings and teachers are to be judged. (John 8: 31-32) and (1 Peter 4:11)

The Lutheran Confessions, therefore, state: We believe, teach and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with all teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone. (Triglot, p. 777)

My thoughts: It is no wonder that confessional Lutheran churches simply cannot join with most other churches in matters of faith. It's not that we don't want to; we cannot out of adherence to scripture.