Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Facebook and church fellowship

I had the opportunity to hear a sermon by an ELCA pastor this past Sunday. This church is home to my brother's family. My nieces and nephews hear the gospel preached in this church and I am thankful for it. Still, my synod and their synod are not in altar fellowship. I did not join them in holy communion and I did not join in the prayers. I sang the hymns I knew and confessed our agreement in the Apostle's Creed. I was happy to know that my godson, a confirmand on that day, knew the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. I was curious, to say the least, to hear the pastor's sermon for that special day. His sermon title: Remembering and Responding. How did he start? Yep, with a Facebook story. He told a story about finding an old friend on Facebook and renewing the friendship. I'm pretty sure he figured he would draw in the confirmands with the mere mention of Facebook and he was probably right. In his story, he made a very clear point about fellowship...a point that I don't think he intended to make. In fact, I'm probably the only one who drew that point. He was commenting on how you become friends on Facebook and how it is a somewhat safe platform because two people become friends based an agreement. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who saw the irony in his Facebook story. Agreement on Facebook is important. AND... church fellowship - agreement on what scripture teaches - is also very important.

The Lutheran Confessions

How and why do people find and join a church these days? In my 30+ years as an adult Christian, I mostly chose a church because I liked the people and the music, along with the scripture-based sermons. Before joining our last and current church, our family didn't really know anyone and we weren't real keen on the "old-fashioned" hymns. However, the draw of a church, pastors and congregants who were dedicated to the concept of Sola Scriptura was like water to our parched throats! We each were given an opportunity to study scripture and learn about the Lutheran Confessions under the instruction of a pastor; my husband and I through Adult Instruction and our kids through a formal Confirmation program. Some Christians might wonder what exactly are the Lutheran Confessions. Some Lutherans might wonder why we need to even bother studying them. I found a great explanation, Why Study our Lutheran Confessions, while looking through my synod's website. It was written by Pastor Ted Gullixson. I have posted it here, in its entirety, based on the Creative Commons License.

“For every new book you read, also read three older books,” said the sainted Prof. Glenn Reichwald of Bethany Lutheran College. This advice has much wisdom. It is easy to lose one’s perspective in religious matters if one is reading what modern authors are saying about truth or the Bible.

One older book that is always worthwhile reading is the Book of Concord. This book contains the six confessions of the Lutheran Church and the three confessions to which all Christian churches claim to adhere. All but one of these confessions were written during times of doctrinal strife in the Christian Church. They were written to confess the truth which the authors found in the Bible.

As we read the Book of Concord we note that many Bible passages are quoted. The reason is that the confessors understood that the Bible is the only source of truth. This is proclaimed in the Formula of Concord: “We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, ‘Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’” If the Bible is the only source of religious truth, it follows that “other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with Holy Scripture.” (Tappert, pp. 464-465). This rule applies to the Lutheran Confessions also.

The Book of Concord is important for us to read because in this book are confessed the doctrines that the Holy Scriptures reveal to us. These confessions are “witnesses and expositions of the faith, setting forth how at various times the Holy Scriptures were understood by contemporaries in the church of God with reference to controverted articles.” (Tappert, p. 465)

This gives us another important reason to read the Book of Concord: the Lutheran Confessions are expositions of the faith and the Bible. Reading these confessions will give us a correct understanding of what God’s Word says. This is especially important when it comes to the biblical teaching that we are justified by faith alone. For the enemies of the gospel will point to many passages in the Bible that seem to teach that good works at least help get us to heaven. For they will point to texts such as Matthew 19:17, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments,” and Romans 2:13, “The doers of the law will be justified.” The Apology of the Augsburg Confession explains how these passages are to be understood: Keeping the law “cannot happen until, being first justified and regenerated, we received the Holy Spirit. For, it is impossible to keep the law without Christ; it is impossible to keep the law without the Holy Spirit.” (Tappert, p. 124)

Understanding the Bible and knowing its truths are two important reasons to read the Book of Concord. This book also teaches us God’s truth. In his preface to the Large Catechism, Dr. Martin Luther wrote, “I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly.” (Tappert, p. 359)

Luther further states that “nothing is so effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy oneself with the Word of God.” (Tappert, p. 359) By studying the Bible and the Book of Concord we fill our minds with what God has revealed. This is especially important since we live in a world filled with many temptations to regard science as more truthful, to regard fame and possession as providing a happier life, and to regard religion as being more harmful.

We live in a society which values experience and feelings as agents that validate the choices of one’s life. Society “forgives” a person who feels remorse but labels people as intolerant who believe they know the truth. The Book of Concord is filled with statements of biblical truth about the triune God, about Jesus as God and man, about Jesus as the only way to heaven, and about salvation through faith alone in Jesus. Reading this book will direct our thinking to know that truth is not what we feel but what God says. For Jesus said, “For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37).

We have just celebrated the 475th anniversaries of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. They were written to confess the truth that sinners are justified alone by faith in Jesus Christ. Reading these confessions in the Book of Concord will bless us with the same faith that many others, who now reside in heaven, once confessed here on earth amid great difficulties.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's a marshmallow world v.2009

We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.

~Buddy the Elf

It's just snowed a few powdery inches and now the temperature has plummeted well below zero. Out the window, it looks like a marshmallow world! For the few readers I have left, I've been thinking lately about why I haven't posted to Be Strong in the Grace for a while. Have I quit attending my fantastic church? Nope. Has my church changed and I've become disillusioned? No. Have I run out of thoughts? No. Have I allowed careless comments to bother me and make me second guess any thoughts of blog posts? No. Do I seem to have less time for posting? Yeah, I think that is it. Is Elf still one of my favorite movies of all time? Oh yeah!

Back in 2006, I must have been bothered by a few things. I wrote on this blog,
"In a perfect world, not only would I live at Santa's workshop with an all-candy and cocoa diet (watch Elf), there would also be no synods...only one perfect church. Seems I'm going to have to learn to live with the fact that not only is there no perfect synod, but I will also have to remain vigilant. I must accept the fact that others will criticize me and that I will sometimes need to criticize others. I will also have accept the fact that I must eat good meats, whole grains, salads, fruits and vegetables, with only the occasional candy cane and cup of cocoa."

At the start of 2009, I am bothered by fewer things. Mostly, time speeds by. Having a child in college is way different than I thought it would be. Dealing with my back injury seems to take up a lot of my time, oddly enough. And I'm really trying to stay on top of homemaking and other creative endeavors. I do expect to post more often in 2009, so stay tuned...