Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pentecost 13 - Ephesians 6


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Times They Aren't So Changing

As was mentioned in the sermon on Sunday, however briefly, something rather “big” happened in the ELCA (“Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) last week. In a series of votes, their international assembly approved committed homosexual relationships as a valid and God-pleasing lifestyle, as well as allowed for the ordination of men and women in such relationships. They also, by a “yes” vote of 95%, elected to enter full communion fellowship with the United Methodist Church (UMC).

What does this mean? Lot's of things.

Firstly, FoxNews ran headlines stating that “Lutherans” vote to approve homosexuality. This is not the first time the LCMS and other Lutheran bodies have been assumed into the national actions of the ELCA. Even so, and in spite of public statements issued by the LC-MS, the WELS, ELDONA and the Lutheran Church – Canada, the headlines were written and they will stay written. So...don't be surprised if there is confusion the next time you tell someone you're a “Lutheran.”

Second, this movement by the ELCA, completely in step with the culture and the other historically “liberal,” “mainline” church bodies such as the UMC and the Episcopal Church USA, is only the next logical step in a long line of steps away from what Scripture teaches in the realm of “the Law.” As Rev. Scott Murry of Memorial Lutheran Church in Hoston TX writes: “In the 1960's some theologians began to invoke Law-Gospel as ...the only [interpretation principle] in Lutheran theology. They adopted this [interpretation strategy] as a replacement for the old inspiration [of Scripture] doctrine, which they had decisively abandoned in this period.” What that means is that what the Bible says no longer became as important as teaching Christianity as a form of “good news,” period.

The result is what we have today, churches where all the taboos of a previous era – most of them based on Biblical prohibitions against actions which are harmful to neighbors and society – have been swept away, from murder (abortion), divorce and procreation issues, to much deeper issues of worship and doctrine.

This brings up the third point: the truly diabolical vote this last week was the vote to enter communion fellowship with the UMC. This has far less to do with whether or not the UMC and the ELCA actually are in practical fellowship – in fact, because they more or less teach the same things now, they actually are in fellowship. BUT, the problem lies in that their shared doctrine is one of “doctrine doesn't really matter.” This vote confesses for the ELCA and all her churches that there is no difference between “justification by grace alone” and “justification by a transformed life.” It says that baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament are options for faith. It proclaims that the 1st and 2nd Commandments need no longer apply – for who God is and how we speak of him has no bearing on what we consider “truth.”

So, while there is sub-cultural rage over the debate on homosexuality – a real and important issue – quietly, the very idea that there is such a thing as “doctrine” (Biblical Truth) is truly stripped away completely in the name of being “Lutheran.”

Finally, and not unimportantly, the concept of “Law-Gospel Reductionism” which replaced “sola-Scriptura” as a Lutheran principle in the 1960's is not limited to the ELCA. As author David Kuske points out in his book on Biblical interpretation, “Many of those men who were leaders of this movement later left the Missouri Synod to join the ELCA. However, a great majority of the students whom they trained over several decades and who became pastors and teachers remained. They continue to form a rather large and influential group within this church body at this time.”

It may seem strange, but I was actually nervous about preaching on Ephesians 5. I was nervous about standing in front of fifty Lutherans and saying “the Bible is true,” and then teaching according to what the Bible says. I trembled a little as I put the mp3 (audio file) onto the internet Sunday afternoon, where anyone anywhere could hear it. Why? Because standing on what the Bible says is not necessarily acceptable even in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Don't get me wrong. There are many good things about being Lutheran in the Missouri Synod. But we should neither deceive ourselves into thinking its a safe, green pasture. The Church-Growth Movement and its theology, fearless and irreverent worship movements, charistmatic theologies of prayer and the Holy Spirit's actions, pietistic focus on pride in our personal faith-walks – the list of dangers is endless, and they all threaten the same thing: the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus' sake. It may seem on the surface that something like “women's ordination,” “prayer” or “Law and Gospel” couldn't possibly have anything to do with stealing Christ and him crucified for the forgiveness of our very real sins. But the history of doctrine has shown again and again that theology is a body. It is a unit, given in God's Word and set together to keep that one Truth central. Hack off a finger, and you bleed. But you also get addicted to hacking things off, even and up to the very head. As Jesus said:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

This is the fear, strength and hope we have put behind the pulpit at St. John. And, this is still the strength and hope the Missouri Synod officially believes, teaches and confesses. Thanks be to God that he has so graced us to be hearers of his Word.

So be not overly daunted whenever you hear this or that from church or churches. We know these things must take place. Instead, commit yourself all the more firmly to being steadfast feeders upon the Word of God – to seek to conform your minds the mind of Christ as he has delivered himself to us. Kneel together, with me as well, at the foot of his cross, where the Law and the Gospel come together to form one proclamation for the future life of the world. He will take care of the rest.

You can read the rest of the In the Name of Jesus newsletter at St. John Posts

Around the Horn - News that Didn't Make the News

Behind the Veil – A court case in Canada is being closely watched because of the religion of the accuser. The woman who filed sexual assault chargers is a conservative Muslim, following the prescriptions which require her to cover her face. The judge has, however, ordered that when she takes the stand she must remove the veil. Because there is no former record of any case involving veiled women, the question of precedent is involved. Canada is home to at least 600,000 Muslims.

It Doesn't Work Except When It Works – Even though studies have shown that the door-to-door recruitment tactics of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons is a massive strategic failure, expending enormous amounts of money and people resources for little return, nonetheless this practice has contributed significantly to their rise as world religions. The paper presented by researchers at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Lousville called the phenomenon “the logic of long shots.” Each Jehovah's witness faces a 95% chance of failing to convert any given stranger in any given year. This is to say, conversions almost never happen by these tactics, but these groups apply these tactics in such an extreme that, over time, five out of every one hundred doors knocked on brings a new member into their religion.

Source: The Fellowship of St. James,

Leaving Churches – A study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 59% of US adults have changed their religion at least once in their life time. While some cite spiritual needs or moral changes in belief, there were other more pressing reasons listed. Doctrine was rarely mentioned. Rather, moving to a new town or marrying someone were the most likely cause. 36% mentioned bureaucracies, practices and people they more or less didn't like. Hypocrisy, focus on rules, power and money were also mentioned. For those who went nowhere, it wasn't that the appeal of secularism or atheism was so great. It was the the reasons to stay were so weak. Switches occurred before age 36, and only one in ten who leave their childhood religion returned.
Source: Modern Reformation,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pentecost 12 - Eph 5b


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Without Mercy

Recently a friend asked me to pray for her friends. They are a young couple, in their late twenties. They've been married about two years, go to church, have careers and no kids. And now, they are thinking about getting a divorce.

This is a pretty common story. Too common. My heart breaks every time I hear it. And it breaks a little more when I hear the reasons given. If you've been watching John and Kate Plus 8, you've heard the excuses. This time was no different. “I need to find myself,” the woman had said.

“Searching for self” is the hobby of American culture. In a strange combination of enlightenment romanticism and good ol' fashioned therapy, the search for self is the real religion of this country. It explains why we are so lonely, whey we are so pressured, and why we are so tired. The world must literally, revolve around me – and that's a lot of work! This is why we buy so many things, chase so many dreams, exhaust ourselves in pursuits and are downright tireless in our neediness. We don't know who we are, but we believe firmly that if we just look deep enough into our wants and desires, we'll find a satisfying answer staring back. Our search has become so central to being an American that even committed Christians would rather bow down to its demands of personal fulfillment and the pursuit of happiness, than put their faith in their own religion which teaches plainly that divorce is not an answer that will bear good fruit.

Continue reading at St. John Posts

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pentecost 11 - Eph.5a

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What is in the Sacrament?

Not long ago, Pastor Matt Harrison writes in his book, Christ, Have Mercy, I preached in a rural African church. The small mud-and-stick building with its simple wooden benches, simple altar and pulpit, and dirt floor was packed with seventy-five people.

With this powerful story, Pastor Harrison closes his chapter on the Lord's Supper and its relationship to mercy in the Church. It brings a powerful to conclusion to the main point he makes in the chapter: that we, as congregations and Church are one body – that this one body is Christ, who joins with us in the Sacrament – and that as one body, there are no divisions among us. If one of us suffers, all suffer. If one receives mercy, we all receive mercy. This is how Luther said it: “If anyone's foot hurts him, yes, even the little toe, the eye at once looks at it, the fingers grasp it, the face puckers, the whole body bends over to it, and all are concerned with this small member; again, once it is cared for all the other members are benefited. This comparison must be noted well if one wishes to understand this Sacrament, for Scripture uses it for the sake of the unlearned.”

What is in the Sacrament? Nothing less than the body and blood of our Lord Jesus – that same flesh and liquid which died on a cross at Calvary, and which rose from the grave three days later. In our Gospel reading for this week from John chapter 6, Jesus will say to the people who followed him, “Unless you chew the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Powerful words! Hard words! … Beautiful words. These are words of gift and hope and freedom. They are words of doctrine and Truth and teaching. And they are also Words of community. ...

Continue reading at St. John Posts

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Pentecost 10 - Eph. 4b


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Around the Horn - A Bit of News that Probably Didn't Make the Papers

A Cardinal with a Heart – Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, recently sent a letter to all US Representatives, urging them to support the Pregnant Women Support Act, reintroduced in the House by Lincoln Davis, a democrat from Tennessee. Rigali writes, “First, the fact that over a million abortions take place every year in this country is a tragedy, and we should at least take steps to reduce abortions. Second, no woman should ever have to undergo an abortion because she feels she has no other choice, or because alternatives were unavailable or not made known to her. An abortion performed under such social and economic duress meets no one's standard for 'freedom of choice.'”

Husband of Some Wives – Anglicans in Kenya have voiced their disagreement to a new law being drafted which would authorize polygamy – the marriage of multiple partners – as well as recognize cohabitation. “The law will confuse citizens. It will cause chaos in families,” Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said. “We should follow the biblical teachings. It is the orderly way.”

Back in the USSR – Ten or more Russian Orthodox Christians, members of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods, were detained by police for holding up signs in counter-protest at a gay rights rally held in Moscow at the 2009 Eurovision song context. From all accounts, the counter-rally was peaceably attempting to exercise their voice, but skirmishes broke out and the police were involved. Little more information has been forthcoming.

Marxist Llama – Last spring the Dhali Llama publicly admitted himself to be a Marxist sympathizer, and confesses once asking to join the Chinese Communist Party. The exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhism, driven out by the communist take over over his religious kingdom, he told Newsweek, “[Marxism] is very similar to principles of Buddhism: altruism, concern for others and especially those who need it. ... As two forms of humanism, there is no contradiction between communism, if it's really applied, and Buddhism. The problem is that communism was never true to itself.”

Family is My Religion – Recent polls have shown that organized religion is still on the decline in most parts of Europe. Italy is still the most religious country on the continent still showed less than 48% (less than one out of every two) Italians believe religion to be “essential.” Germany was the lowest surveyed, with only 24% finding religion important. When asked what is sacred, 71% of Germans answered, “family.”

Hit: Touchstone Magazine


This last Sunday's sermon on Ephesians 4 dealt with a host of deep theological issues. One which we touched on only briefly was the ending of all divisions in the unity which is given by Christ crucified for us. The walls of separation have been torn down, not by our forgiving of each other, but by his forgiving of us. As we each come to the altar to kneel, beggars at the table of God, the playing field is leveled completely. Walking away, rebels who are pardoned, there are no more differences worth division. Whether we are male or female, rich or poor, German or Jewish – all of our many problems, sins and levels of transgression receive one and the same answer of grace in the body and blood of Jesus.

This mercy received and lived in one and the same instant is the core of everything that we are as a people. Yet, Pastor Matt Harrison voices a very real concern in his book Christ, Have Mercy: “As much as we Lutherans harp on the importance of forgiveness, it forever amazes me that we can be so inept, so silent, so unable to speak absolution to one another....We obsess, we stew, we fret, and we grind our axes over one sin committed against us.”

How true this is. Put aside all the times people refuse to apologize or admit they're wrong, and how your first inclination is to hold them accountable and demand justice. Instead, think back to the last time somebody apologized to you. What did you say? “I forgive you”? Probably not. If you're like most of us, you said, “It's ok.” The funny thing about this common American way of talking is that “it's ok” is not only not forgiveness. It's a lie.

Continue reading at St. John Posts

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Pentecost 9 - Ephesians 4 pt. 1


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