It occurred to me that people steal words and twist them. Bad people who have been identified with negative terms always try to turn that term into a positive. As an example, it used to be bad to be labeled "a thug" or "a gangster". It used to be insulting to be called "sexy" or "wild". The easiest way to stop feeling guilty for falling into a class of people is to render powerless the derisive terms that surround that bad behavior that made you feel guilty in the first place.
The term "Bible Thumper" is not a compliment. It was never meant to be a good thing. The two lesser-known brothers of this term are "Bible Basher" and "Bible Beater". All three of these are terms that suggest a violent zeal that is not meant to heal or correct. It is important that they remain negative terms because they define a very dangerous, unchristian behavior: any fanatical, patronizing, and hypocritical zeal that is all about defeating the intended victim for his own good.
Bible thumpers are Christian thugs who demonstrate that they know nothing of love, peace, patience, gentleness, or self control. They really do exist in large numbers and they are a legitimate reason that nonchristians often site for why they despise the church. Bible thumpers always want to defend themselves by saying the term is unjustified, but the behavior of Bible Thumping is counter productive and sinful. It damages the credibility of all Christians and pushes people away from Christ. It can never be justified.
I would know: I used to be a Bible Thumper.
Friday, November 30, 2007
It occurred to me that people steal words and twist them. Bad people who have been identified with negative terms always try to turn that term into a positive. As an example, it used to be bad to be labeled "a thug" or "a gangster". It used to be insulting to be called "sexy" or "wild". The easiest way to stop feeling guilty for falling into a class of people is to render powerless the derisive terms that surround that bad behavior that made you feel guilty in the first place.
Satan quotes God directly when talking to men. In the Bible, you hear him speaking as if he knows God's mind and intent. This springs from his contempt for the truth coupled with a limitless supply of pride and arrogance. You can always count on Satan to come running to help you understand what Scripture says. He is an expert. His beliefs are very Biblical--just ask him! That fact alone should make you question all statements and commentaries instinctively. You should always strive to see if God's Word is being taken out of context whenever someone starts thumping their Bible and quoting verses.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?............You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." [Genesis 3:1-5]
Then the devil took him [Jesus] to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" [Matthew 4:5-6]
Quoting the Bible does not mean that you are quoting it accurately or that what you believe is supported by what the Bible teaches. Believing that the Bible says something doesn't make it automatically true. Finding an isolated verse that seems to point your direction does not make you right and those who disagree with you wrong. Finding an interpretation that "makes sense" does not mean that you interpreted it properly.
The Bible is infallible. We are not.
I have observed that there are three sinful axioms that are common to all false doctrine. They are necessary for false doctrine to thrive and spread. At least one of these three must be followed in order to fall into error and stay there. Most of the time, they are all embraced simultaneously with equal zeal and determination.
It is my belief that true unity in the church will be impossible until Our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory on the Last Day and destroys these three devilish axioms forever.
Here they are:
1. Never let the authoritative voice of Holy Scripture get in the way of a good dogma or practice.
2. Never let the authoritative silence of Holy Scripture prevent you from making stuff up.
3. Never let Holy Scripture stand on its own; always be ready to explain or comment on what it really means.
Despite the plethora of bad doctrine out there, these are the only three causes that I have ever found. They make up the giant, red editor's pen that fallible people use to "correct", "clarify", or "contribute" to God's already perfect revelation. These axioms are the undiagnosed driving force of the Mr. Fix-its of the church who feel the need to make the faith "more powerful", "more effective" or "better" than what the Bible says that it is. It seems that these principles secretly lie at the heart of all error and heresy.
If you know of any others that I should look out for, please clue me in.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
"The older I get. The smarter my father seems to get."
Here are some simple things that my parents taught me that stuck... thank God. I have reworded and combined a few to make it a concise list. Most of these were told to me directly on multiple occasions (...especially during a whoopin'). I observed a few by their example.
1. Only losers do illegal drugs.
2. Smart people have no need for television.
3. Christians love the privileges of reading the Bible and going to church.
4. Education is both a family and individual responsibility.
5. A fact without impartial proof is a lie, a guess, an assumption, or an opinion.
6. Successful people save their money. Wise people care very little about it. You can do both.
7. The world is full of people who are better, smarter, and wiser than you; find them, listen, and learn.
8. Proper grammar and a good vocabulary are the marks of discipline and hard work--not necessarily intelligence.
9. Doors were invented so that men would have something to open for other people.
10. Good men always protect women, the helpless, and the innocent.
11. Patriots volunteer to defend the citizens of their country.
12. Dishonesty equals disrespect.
13. "Repression" is the term that envious people use to describe the two virtues that they lack: discipline and chastity.
14. Empathy and patience are as important as air and water.
15. Arrogance ruins everything that it touches.
16. If you take time to critically question your own motives and actions, others won't have to.
I have been defending the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood under the bread and wine in a discussion from some Reformed Christians. The discussion has turned to "The Bread of Life" passages from John 6. While you should go reread it for yourself, I will remind you that this is the part where Christ talks about being the Bread of Life and compares eating His flesh to the Israelites who ate manna from heaven.
I have been told that manna means "what is it?" in Hebrew. As a Soldier who has to eat an MRE more often than I'd like to think about, I can just imagine why the Israelites called it that.
During this discussion, I was struck by an incredible irony: God's people still call the bread from heaven "manna".
There is still a great deal of disdain (and sometimes simple confusion) surrounding the Lord's Supper. Paul writes and condemns the exact behavior at the altar that sent the fiery serpents to plague the people of Israel. Sickness and death follow the sin in both places [Nu 21:6, 1 Cor 11:29-30].
The more that I study these wonderful chapters from Numbers, John, and 1 Corinthians, the deeper the parallels become. There is the obvious typology between the Bronze Snake that was lifted up and Christ on the Cross... but it goes beyond that to expose our spiritual afflictions, the sustinence of Christ's Supper, the importance of proper examination, good discipline, and the need for steadfast obedience. This is very heavy stuff. It all boggles my limited, human mind.
Despite all of the debates about the Lord's Supper, Christians still gather around God's table and wonder about it. They still treat it with disrespect. The Real Presence debate consists of people looking at the life-giving food that God sent from heaven and asking, "Manna?" (What is it?)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
It is time to clear the air surrounding one of those myths that way too many Christians buy into because it makes them feel good about their belief system. This is the myth that I hate the most because I got suckered by it for decades. It breeds so much arrogance in those who espouse it that I cannot help but get hostile when this silliness hits my ears. It is time for a good ole history lesson!
Myth: "The early church that the apostles set up was hijacked by Roman Catholicism. My church is a return to that primitive Christianity. We are Biblical and you are not." You hear this tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory everywhere! It is embraced by everyone from unchristian cults to popular Christian churches like Baptists and Disciples of Christ. It is THE myth to believe if you are a big supporter of small groups and house church. This thing gets so bad that some Independent Baptists believe that they have directly inherited the teachings and practice of St. John the Baptist in some kind of bizarre mimic of apostolic succession.
It gets really bad when it comes to the Lord's Supper and Baptism. These legalists want to say that the early church was memorialist in nature and did not believe in sacraments. They will stand by this myth even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The archenemies of common sense are those immersion-only zealots who want to give you speculation about the depth of the Jordan River and base their theology on the pictures that they saw of the Baptism of Jesus in children's books.
It is time to wake up and embrace the cold reality of facts... facts that are supported by historical evidence and documents that you can actually touch.
The Truth: Let's set the record straight. We need to flush this mythology of a utopian church that was just like yours now. Look at the evidence. If you like the early church so much, read what they wrote about what they believed in their own words. Follow the timeline:
33 AD: Jesus dies and is raised from the dead.
57 AD: By this date, the majority of the epistles had been written.
64 AD: St. Peter, the apostle, dies in Rome. St. Paul dies within the next few years.
between 70 and 180 AD: The Didache records, ""After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days."
110 AD: Ignatius of Antioch writes, "I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible."
181 AD: Justin Martyr writes, "We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus."
200 AD: Tertullian writes, "It is of no concern how diverse be their [the heretics] views, so long as they conspire to erase the one truth. They are puffed up; all offer knowledge. Before they have finished as catechumens, how thoroughly learned they are! And the heretical women themselves, how shameless are they! They make bold to teach, to debate, to work exorcisms, to undertake cures . . . "
215 AD: Hippolytus writes, "Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them."
Wow! Bodily Presence in the Eucharist... Close communion... Infant Baptism... Both Immersion and Sprinkle Baptism... Trinitarian Baptism... A ban on female church leaders... all within the first 200 years of the church! All but the last couple quotes occurred in a period of time that is even smaller than the number of years that have passed between the American Civil War and today. We are not talking centuries. This is decades.
Where was the memorialism? Where is the rejection of infant baptism? Where is the great archaeological evidence of a distinct early church like the one of the silly myths? When did the Roman Catholic Church swoop in and ruin your church on these points of doctrine? Did the whole church fall into error the moment that the dust settled on the corpses of the apostles? Did the next generation of pastors turn their back on what the apostles taught them? If that is true then the early church was a total joke. It couldn't stand for even 100 years on its own without universally embracing huge errors about fundamental parts of Christian life. That is really pathetic.
The truth is that they were not pathetic. They were zealous, bold, and determined. They went to their deaths by the hundreds under the persecutions of the STILL PAGAN Roman Empire under Nero. The martyrs that were thrown to the lions did not believe the bizarre teachings that you do. Their own writings prove it. There is an unbroken chain of testimony to support alot of doctrine that your mythological churches reject. It flows through the New Testament and right onto the papers of the leaders of the church only a few decades later. If we are going to trust any opinion about the early church, we should trust their testimony since they were the people who were there, spoke the original languages, and grew up in the churches where the apostles actually taught. No modern scholar can claim the knowledge and authority that the writers that I have quoted can claim regarding what the early church was and what it believed.
Do not be deceived by lies and fables. You can reject these doctrines to your own peril, but you have no evidence to claim that your false doctrines have a link to something ancient. You cannot point to a period where the early church was like you. That period does not exist. It is a mythological period like the Middle Ages that you see in the movie theater. The only similarities that you have are the cases where you have inherited things from the orthodox church and happen to still agree with the rest of Christendom.
Believe what you want. Just understand that you are very new and different. You are a deviation from the historical church, not a return to it. You are not orthodox. You are not apostolic. You are not a reform. You are not a restoration.
You are an aberrant deviation.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Biblical Warfare... Spiritual Warfare... as a charismatic I grew up with those phrases. Discipleship was all about getting armed for a real fight.
As a kid, one of my favorite memory verses was Hebrews 4:12-13:
"For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing the division of soul and of spirit, joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Ooo... It still gives me chills. Now that is what I call powa! I remember memorizing that passage along with the Armor of God passages. Like many popular Sunday School programs that care more about Arts and Crafts than real scholarship, I got to make my own Armor of God and write the Bible references to each piece. It rocked. My favorite was my sword. Ah... that "Word of God" sword. Who knows how many imaginary demons I slew in my backyard with that powerful spiritual weapon!
The sad thing is that many smart adults read this passage the same way I did as a kid. They think, "Awesome! God is finally giving me some firepower to fight back against my enemies. With this I can slay any foe and defeat any obsticle. With this sword I can defend myself from all evil." I've even heard an entire sermon series on the hidden truths of the double-edged sword metaphor. We love to jab this Sword into people, don't we? But as Christian soldiers, we do not wage war against other people. We are to love our enemies. We are to forgive. That isn't my idea of a good time with a sword.
So why did you get that deadly weapon? Who are you supposed to point that sword at?
Before everyone jumps up and shouts, "The unbelievers! It's a witness sword! You 'stab' unbelievers with the truth!"; before someone blurts out, "Those foolish heretics! It's a doctrine sword! You kill schism and error with it!"; let me say that I agree with you both. It can do those great things. But let me ask, have you ever considered the other use for that deadly sword that God has put in your hands?
This Word of God that is "living and active"? This sword that pierces every part of a human being and divides the soul and the spirit? This all-powerful sword that can see everything and split joint from marrow? What should you do with such a sword?
I suggest that you fall on it. In fact, throw yourself on it. Read that whole chapter: Hebrews 4.
That deadly sword was meant to be driven into the heart of your hated enemy alright! Your old self is that enemy. Your target is your own sinful flesh. Consider that you may have been pointing that sword in the wrong direction. That sword is there to keep you obedient. So when God hands you this sword, don't go running around flashing it in your backyard like you are something tough or grand. Maybe you should obediently take that blade and run yourself clean through with it. That weapon should not give you a sense of authority and power. Who among us is even worthy of such a weapon? Who among us does not totally failed time and again? You cannot hide from the Word of God. You are naked and exposed before Him. That should terrify you and drive you to fearful repentence.
What does such baptizing with water signify?
Answer. It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. [Luther's Small Catechism]
Maybe we should rethink the image that we conjure when we imagine what the Christian soldier should look like.
Monday, November 26, 2007
*applause* It is time to play the Christianity 451 Home Game! Yeah! *applause*
That's right, Ladies and Gentlemen, the game where you get to sit at home and test your ability to think for yourself and perform basic grammar at a fifth grade reading level! How you answer this question will reveal how equipped you are to fulfill your Biblical task of proper doctrinal discernment [Gal 1:6-12, Acts 5:29]! Ready to play! *cheers* Yeah!
Okay... here is your sample text: "The ball is spherical, blue, and large."
Alright, that piece of grammatical text is absolutely true. Now using only the text, tell me which of the following statements properly communicates what the text is saying:
1. The ball is round, but not exactly spherical. This is because the word "spherical" is a metaphor to help explain how round the ball is. Round is what is implied when the word "spherical" is used. People say "spherical" when they mean "round" all the time. That proves that the ball is not spherical. It is actually round, blue, and large.
2. The ball must be spherical first, then it can be blue, and then it becomes large. The order is important.
3. The ball is spherical and blue, but sometimes it can be small.
4. The ball was spherical, blue, and large at the time when the statement was made. Now it can be pink. Therefore, it is possible to have a ball that is spherical, pink, and large. It is still the same ball.
5. There is no ball.
6. No ball can be spherical and blue without first being large.
7. A ball must be spherical in order for it to be blue and large.
8. The ball is spherical, blue, and large.
9. The large is ball.
10. A ball can be a cube provided that it is spherical, blue, and large.
11. The ball is spherical, blue, and large. The blue must be baby blue and no other shade of blue. All other shades of blue are wrong.
12. The ball is spherical, blue, mauve, and large.
13. The ball is spherical, blue, and large. Large is 2,000 inches. Anything under 2,000 inches is not a ball.
14. The ball is spherical, blue-green, and large.
15. If you believe that the ball is spherical, it will become blue and large for you.
16. You can make the ball spherical, blue, and large.
17. It is your responsibility to ensure that the ball is spherical, blue, and large.
18. We all know about the ball. Let's move on to worry about the rectangular prisms.
19. What good is a spherical, blue, large ball if it is not also fuzzy?
20. The ball appears to be spherical, blue, and large. It is not exactly spherical, blue, and large, but it has some properties of those things. In this case, the text is a metaphor to explain how the ball feels and behaves. It is like it is spherical. It is like it is blue. It is like it is large. It is none of those things literally. You have to understand the intent of what was said when it was said. We know the inflection that was used and can rule out a literal meaning. Ignore the fact that it was written after the fact in a textual medium that was meant to be read by those who did not witness the metaphor. You can trust our analysis even though it requires auditory data that we have never heard ourselves.
Do you have your answer? Good! *cheers*
Tell it to me. Be sure to break it down carefully and show me the grammar. That way I can totally ignore you and mutter, "Why should I believe your commentary over the other 19 commentaries?"
...oh and don't worry if you get the answer wrong. All that matters is that you are close, right? Heck, there is probably even hope for those guys who answered #5, right? After all I am sure that you will find plenty of churches out there who agree with you no matter what option you picked. My goodness, I am sure that the Holy Spirit revealed an option to you that I did not even think of. I bet there is a mystical prophesy #21 out there that totally flies in the face of the original text. There are churches out there for you #21 guys, too.
Most of this readin' and learnin' stuff is silly anyway. Jesus didn't really call us to do all this wisdomy stuff, did He? God preserved this book for 2,000 years so that we can lay it on our dressers and have a place to stuff birth certificates and wedding photos. The early Christians didn't go the lions so that we could actually study the thing like back when we were in school, did they? We're s'posed to be doing nothing but fishin' and growin' not doing all that hard disciplin' and discernin'. We should be lazy and just find a trusted source to tell us what the book says and buy every cent of it without ever checking it through critical analysis. All that matters is that you really love your ball and that you are around people who feel the same way about your ball....
...even if your ball is a tiny, fuzzy, pink cube.
Are you a believer in a sola scriptura or do you just claim to be.
Alot of Protestants these days do not believe in sola scriptura. Sure, they are huge Bible-thumpers and they can quote a great deal of isolated memory verses from Sunday School. They might have even been told the meaning of a couple generic Greek words second hand. They love their Bible, but they do not believe in sola scriptura. They actually follow a different Latin phrase that is less well known: prima scriptura.
Prima scriptura translates "scripture is primary". It means that the Bible is first, but not the only source of divine revelation.
Sola scriptura translates "by scripture alone". It means that the Bible is the first and only source of divine revelation.
This is a key difference and it results in many misunderstandings in theological discussions.
Most prima scriptura Christians will claim to be Biblical and they will initially sound like they believe in sola scriptura... but they do not. If one claims to believe in sola scriptura, they have to adhere to the 'alone' part. If they want to downgrade it by making it a 'primary' source instead of the 'only' source, they have stepped out of the very meaning of sola and wandered off into the deadly minefield of prima-land.
If you are using something else to determine what the Bible is saying, your prima warning flags should go up. Church tradition, the church fathers, Bible commentaries, individual preachers, and your own mushy grey matter may be all well and good, but they are to be harshly evaluated and accursed if they deviate from the authority of Holy Scripture. Even the angels in heaven are held to the rule of Holy Scripture [Gal 1:6-12].
Many good Christians these days are being mislead by fallible commentaries and foolish explanations. They do not turn to God for revelation; they turn to men. They read something in Holy Scripture and it is so clear that it causes them to see the truth. They read something like 1 Peter 3:18-22 and wonder aloud, "wow, 'baptism now saves you'? That can't be right." They then consult some human work to reblind themselves.
To help them through this uncomfortable crisis, do they turn to more Scripture? Noooo... They consult some fallible piece of paper (their dogma) written by a fallible human author (their pope) which tells them something about a "reverse metaphorical comparison" or a "double typological metaphor" or some other silly dribble. This commentary tells them, "just as baptism is a typological symbol of the flood that saved Noah, so baptism is a typological symbol of our salvation in Jesus Christ." Suddenly, they understand that they must have read it wrong. Baptism is just an ordinance after all.
They read the whole host of Scripture that speaks clearly that the bread is Christ's body and the wine is Christ's blood. They wonder, "how can this be? That can't be right." They then consult some human work to reblind themselves.
To help them through this uncomfortable crisis, do they turn to more Scripture? Noooo... They consult their paper pope again for the true source of divine revelation. That human invention tells them that "Jesus is speaking metaphorically". Suddenly, they understand that they must have read it wrong. The Lord's Supper is just an ordinance after all.
Did the Bible tell them what to believe or did the commentary tell them how to think? Who is the ultimate source of divine revelation? Is God revealed to you by Scripture or by human opinion? Are you using exegesis to hear what God is saying or are you letting some human commentary tell you what to think? If you are not using proper exegesis of Holy Scripture as your only source for doctrine, how can you claim sola scriptura? If you are letting people mold the Bible to get you to support their views, how are you any different than the blind Jehovah Witnesses who slavishly obey the fickle opinions of the Watchtower?
Always remember what happens when you listen to a false commentary that tries to put divine revelation in its proper context for you. Be careful that some snake is not trying to spin what you correctly heard to suit his purposes.
I learned a lesson this year at Thanksgiving about proper table etiquette:
If you want to enjoy the entire meal in peace; and
If the topic of religion comes up (and with me it always does); and
If one of your visiting family members asks you, "Have you ever heard of Pastor John Hagee?";
DO NOT blurt out the first response that pops into your head:
"John Hagee is a heretic. He contradicts Holy Scripture by denying that Jesus is the Messiah and preaches that Israel has hope for salvation apart from Christ. Claiming to be a Christian doesn't mean that your opinions are always right."
Apparently, words like "apostasy", "heresy", and "blasphemy" do not make for polite dinner conversation among a mixed company of Protestants these days... although I was told privately by one guest after dinner that my candor was appreciated.
(Terms such as "questionable", "extreme", and "nonstandard" are the preferred descriptions for false doctrine at the dinner table.)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
You cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a dogmatic bully these days. They love to hang out in cyberspace, but you still find them roaming free in the real world every once in a great while.
I am talking about the big kids of the playground who think they have this Christian stuff all figured out. They come from all kinds of denominations and confessions. They know just enough of the Bible to be dangerous. These sophomores* like to pick on younger or weaker Christians all the time. They are quick to point out perceived errors and flaws. They love to make whole hosts of fellow Christians the subject of ridicule. They do not try to educate, but prefer to defeat their theological enemies using rhetoric like a weapon to wound and crush those who are weaker in the faith.
This is not the way of any Christian.
I don't know if they do this because they enjoy the experience of Schadenfreude or if it is just plain pride, but they are so quick to jump on doctrinal issues when they are the biggest kid in the fight. It is clearly about winning and not about the truth with these bullies.
...because when a bigger kid comes around with a better grasp on Scripture, they shut up. They usually do not even defend their previous points. Most of the time, they just sulk, listen, and try to get away as quickly as possible. They certainly do not bring doctrinal issues up to the big kids. These guys hate a challenge.
Case in point: I get really hacked off when a bunch of bullies gather around and slam one guy who is at least partially correct but cannot properly defend his belief. They smell him coming a mile away. Dogmatic bullies love a sucker. When it is online, you see tons of gleeful responses that make the poor guy the subject of sarcasm and derision. You can see them shoving him all over the playground; not to teach him, but to poke fun at his powerlessness. The replies to this lone voice always come within minutes and are filled with patronizing self-righteousness and gleeful disrespect. It is always accompanied with the criticism that the guy does not know the Bible very well. They are glad to pick on an easy target.
If someone posts in the guy's defense with heavy doses of Scripture, historical quotes, and proper exegesis, the replies stop. When someone can properly present a point and defend it with clearly presented evidence, it is not fun anymore. When a bully is proven to be on weaker ground, he scampers off to look for easier prey. These lions of the faith are revealed to be little more than common jackals. They are more like mice than theologians. With them, it is not about the truth; it is about being right and being respected for being right.
I have always had nothing but contempt for bullies.... cowards.
*A sophomore is a person who is just smart enough to be arrogantly dangerous [sophos meaning wise and moros meaning dull = a smart-idiot]. I wish I had had that little piece of trivia when I was a freshman in High School.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The focus and security of a true warrior is not in his many deeds, but in the authority of his creed which motivates him to perform. A warrior and his creed are inseperable. One does not live without the other.
Do you not believe me? Take a look at these examples:
The Soldier has The Soldier's Creed
The Ranger has The Ranger Creed
The Army NCO has The NCO Creed
The Navy SEAL has The SEAL Creed
The Air Force Pararescueman has The Pararescue Creed
The Marine has the The Rifleman’s Creed
No one would ever deny that these great men have deeds. No one would ever say that a heroic Ranger values his creed at the expense of his deeds. They are one and the same. No one would ever say that these creeds do little more than obscure the rest of military doctrine for those who profess them. These creeds only serve to explain and enhance all military doctrine at once. These creeds are the very essence of military truth. A warrior is nothing without his creed. Ask a class of Basic graduates, "Who are you?" and they will shout as one, "I am an American Soldier! I am a warrior and a member of a team! I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values....."
When the situation becomes impossible, these heroes do not turn to their deeds for support. They recall the creed that has become a part of them. That creed pours out from their very soul. The solid truth of their creed drives them to perform legendary and unparalleled deeds at all times and under all conditions. When certain death and defeat approaches, warriors turn to their creeds.
The creed drives Rangers to risk everything to bring everyone home; even the dead. The creed drives Pararescuemen to insert themselves into hopeless situations to rescue their brothers. The creeds drive all warriors to uphold justice and truth in the face of moral adversity. Creeds drive warriors to do the right thing even when they are unsupervised. The creeds drive great men to lay down their lives, their futures, and their reputations without hesitation. In the face of torture, it is the POW Code of Conduct that strengthens the prisoner’s resolve and allows him to persevere.
The creed is the firm foundation and primary motivation. It is taught first, memorized quickly, shouted often, and quoted regularly. Everything taught after that is built on the creed.
Show me a warrior who values his creed and carries it as his most important possession and I will show you a warrior of unique quality and motivation. Show me the faith in his beloved creed and I will show you that his deeds spring forth from that creed. They are never separated. You never find one without the other.
As Christians we are soldiers who have creeds as well. They are the very essence of who we are as heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom. They do not obscure doctrine, but amplify it. In times of trouble, persecution, and heresy... Christians turn to their creeds.
Show me a Christian who values his creed and carries it as his most important possession and I will show you a Christian of unique quality and motivation. Show me the faith in his beloved creed and I will show you that his deeds spring forth from that creed. They are never separated. You never find one without the other.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
The echo chamber of our mind can be a very dangerous place. If we spend too much time in there by ourselves, we can become deaf. We lose our objectivity. We lose our ability to perceive things honestly. We no longer appreciate the value of constructive criticism.
To a narcissist, narcissism feels like reality.
To a rationalist, reason sounds like divine truth.
To an emotionalist, emotion feels like the right path.
To the fantasist, fanaticism sounds legitimate.
To a legalist, the Law sounds like it offers meaning and life.
To an anarchist, discipline is always oppressive.
To a liberal, moderation must be a conservative viewpoint.
To a conservative, moderation must be a liberal viewpoint.
To sinful man, the clarity of God's Word is confusing and complete foolishness.
We become our own tyrants. We enslave our own souls and bind them to error with the chains of arrogance and ignorance. Far too often, we fail to diagnose our own spiritual illnesses.
Apparently, I have tricked some people into thinking that I am something special. I apologize if spell check and careful editing have given you the wrong impression. I am not that smart and not that wise. We need to nip that foolishness in the bud right now. If I have any mental gift at all, it is the power to regurgitate. This was my response to a post on Adam Roe's blog, but it is important enough to post here:
For the record, I do not consider myself smart. I just listen to smart people and remember what they say. If I open my mouth and something inellegent or wise flies out, you can bet money that I am quoting someone or at least echoing a great idea that I was taught.
This was a great example: I heard you. I remembered hearing Rev. Rick Stuckwisch. I connected you to his post. Ta-dah! I'm a genius! =P
I can honestly say that I have never had an original thought that was constructive. I speak in object lessons, quotes, references, and summaries. I just relay what I learn. You are not looking at a wise man... just a master idea thief who likes to talk.
Let that be the end of such nonsense.
Lord Hidetora: "I am lost..."
Kyoami: "Such is the human condition."
-From Akira Kurosawa's film, Ran.
The role of Lord Hidetora was played by Tatsuya Nakadai.
The role of Kyoami was played by Shinnosuke 'Peter' Ikehata.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Forgive my late entry on this story, I just found it... and I am furious! People who know me know that I am pretty open minded and fair. I had been very understanding and patient with the Purpose Driven crowd and contemporary church reforms in general. I had been decieved into thinking that the worst thing that happened with this Purpose Driven program was division and schism in some congregations who attempt to impliment it. I have witnessed it first hand. I was wrong. I thought that the worst thing that the books taught was the typical errors of the Southern Baptist Convention. I was wrong. My rose-colored view of the program ends today.
I was unaware that Rick Warren's pastor-training program welcomes and teaches the leaders of Mormons and Jews. The purpose of this program is to assist pastors grow and strengthen their congregations. If you believe that the Purpose Driven program works, you must now conclude that Rick Warren is attempting to strengthen and increase the number of Mormon and Jewish "congregations". In other words, this program is being used to secure people in religions other than Christianity; religions that do not offer hope of salvation through the one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. When USA Today asked Rick Warren about this policy, how did this pastor respond? To quote the article:
"I'm not going to get into a debate over the non-essentials. I won't try to change other denominations. Why be divisive?" he asks, citing as his model Billy Graham, "a statesman for Christ ministering across barriers."
Faithful Christians and churches who are still loyal to Christ, but still support the Purpose Driven program with their money and time must be unaware of this betrayal of the Gospel. Since this has come out, there have been no attempts to clarify or recant this comment or revise the admission requirements for the Purpose Driven programs. They continue to help false religions grow, attract new members, and become Purpose Driven.
We can only draw one of two conclusions: (1) The Purpose Driven program is a function of the Christian church that needs to repent of its blatant apostasy and turn from aiding false religions. (2) The Purpose Driven program is not a part of the Christian church and is a secular marketing system designed and used by all religions without regard for the truth.
Building bridges is a pathetic excuse for helping to promote error. I can only hope that this is an innocent misjudgement on Rick Warren's part. How can he justify aiding false religions?
I am now convinced that it is impossible for an orthodox church to adopt this program without participating in and helping to fund what appears to be willful apostasy and the murder of souls.
The Purpose Driven program is not about the One, True, God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What Christian leader would dare speak this way! Being a Mormon or a Jew is non-essential?!? Helping Mormons and Jews attract people to their churches and increase their success is being a statesman for Christ?!?
For Baptists who care so much about deeds, these actions are speaking volumes!
We are not called to be statesmen. We are called to be witnesses, defenders, and martyrs.
This program is sitting in the temple of God and speaking against the primacy of Christ. It is time for the use of strong language and opposition. The church is under attack by this message of antichrist. The entire Purpose Driven system is an apostate organization! Am I wrong?
Please, prove me wrong!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Listen up all you Credobaptists (those who support Believer's Baptism and think that Infant Baptism is wrong.) Prepare to have your silly human reason challenged by the testimony of a child. The very children that you deny baptism are professing the faith more clearly and boldly than most adults that I know. Surely, the least of these is greater than any of us in Christ's kingdom.
My wife and I have a dear friend who has a very young daughter; she is about three years old. One night a few months ago, I spent time with the little girl reading my copy of The Picture Bible to her. To my knowledge, that is just about the sum of her religious instruction so far.
It had been months before she was over at my house again. We had nearly a half dozen adult guests in the house at the time and they were watching her do the cute things that little kids do. She was pointing at various things in the room and telling us adults what they were.
She pointed and said, "That's the table. That's your book. That's the chair. I'm [her name]..."
She then turned around and pointed at the framed print of Bouguereau's L'Innocence on my wall. She pointed directly at the infant in the virgin's arms and stated in a matter of fact tone:
"...and that's God."
What?!? I was so proud that it made me breathless. Even the unbelievers in the room were stunned. She was done naming things. She put her hands on her hips and stared at us as she mimicked the scolding facial expression that her mother often uses. There were several moments of uncomfortable silence. Things eventually returned to normal.
Later, I wanted to find out if she was able to clarify what she had said without me asking any leading questions. I pulled her aside and asked her, "What were you trying to say when you pointed at the baby in the painting? Who were you talking about?"
"Jesus is God," she said. Her tone indicated that I was stupid to even question her on that point. The audacity of my question had clearly made her irritated.
Is this child exceptionally bright? No. She is an average kid. In fact, her language skills are a little behind her peers and she still gets mixed up when I ask her to say the colors of her markers. She has a short memory. Her favorite food changes every couple hours. She gets easily frustrated and confused if things get too complex for her to figure out. How is it that this one thing sticks and strikes such a strong chord in this fickle little girl? It defies reason, but does faith ever have anything to do with our ability to reason? Based on this toddler's public profession of faith, I would say no.
What do you think?
I am tempted to formulate a powerful theological argument here, but I am going to let her testimony stand on its own. I am going to let this little girl open your eyes to the undeniable truth of Scripture.
Think about her story as you read Matthew 18:2-6, Mark 10:15, Luke 1:39-45, Luke 10:21, Luke 18:17, John 3:3-8, Eph 6:4, Titus 3:5, and 1 Peter 3:18-22. It's time for everyone to ask themselves alot of questions. It may be time to rethink what you believe about children, baptism, and faith.
I have been humbled by her example. That day, she was the bolder Christian. The Holy Spirit is already manifest in her. She may not be out of diapers yet, but this little saint already loves Jesus and already knows that Jesus is God. Just ask her. She is not afraid to tell you what she believes.
There is so much clarity in the faith of a child. What a firm foundation! That baby is God because the baby is Jesus and Jesus is God. Jesus loves me. I love Jesus. I do bad things. I am sorry when I am bad. Jesus grew up. Jesus died on the Cross. Jesus is alive now. Mommy and Jesus love me even when I am bad. Jesus is going to take me to heaven.
Don't question this kid about the facts. She might try to kick you in the shin.
1 Corinthians 12:3-7
"Suit yourself, but is there anyone who is really good? Maybe goodness is just make-believe....Man just wants to forget the bad stuff and believe the made-up good stuff. It's easier that way."
-The Commoner; played by Kichijiro Ueda in Akira Kurosawa's controversial film, Rashomon
Monday, November 12, 2007
Channeling my best Joel Osteen impression, I applied his homiletics style and positive message to help Adam Roe realize that he needed to help the Nebraska Cornhuskers learn how to Develop Their Best Team Now.
My thanks to brother Adam over at The Wittenburg Catholic for being such a good sport.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Lest I be tarred and feathered, I will make a clear statement in defense of my comments regarding Bruce's wonderful and educational book review on his blog.
I am not, and have never been, a hater of The Complete Timotheus Verinus. I love that book. I own it. I have taken it to church and shown it to people. To further prove my loyalty, I will even show you how to go buy one of your very own:
Go here. Search for "The Complete Timotheus Verinus". It is about $38.
Further, I am not, and have never been, a hater of reviews of The Complete Timotheus Verinus. Pietism is an important subject. It is something that we should discuss regularly.
Forgive me for suggesting that new Lutherans read a few other books before jumping into this difficult read. It is not that I think that you should ignore the dangers of Pietism. I just think that, since no one reads anymore, they should make the one or two books about the faith that they do bother to read really count. In my own personal opinion, I value several books above Loescher's great work against pietism. If I was a layman who had no Lutheran books and only $40, I would buy this, or this, or this.
Unfortunately, those three were in my infamous list of "Thirty Books". With regret I admit that there were 27 other books that I personally prefered to Loescher's book. I now reacant that list and will no longer rate books by my personal opinion. I will not rate their value or list them in any order of importance. If asked by new Lutherans, I will provide a general list of books that I recommend--to include the Timotheus Verinus of course--and let them pick which one they want to start with.
If my statements mean that I have trashed the good name of the Timotheus Verinus, then I apologize. That was not my intent. Thank you for pointing out my error, Brother Bruce.
[Note: Hehe... I know that there are humorless Lutherans out there. This is all a in harmless fun of course. :) Bruce makes some great points on his Blog. Go check him out. If this post sends one more person to his posts about pietism, then it will have achieved its purpose.]
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of visiting Cross of Christ Lutheran Church on a couple occasions. They are located in DeSoto, Texas. If you are ever in the DFW metroplex, drive down to DeSoto and commune with these faithful brothers and sisters.
I was as impressed with the building as I was with the congregation that meets there. True to the name, a massive cross freely hangs right over the church's altar. The rail wraps all the way around the high stone table so that the communicants literally gather under the cross to receive Christ's body and blood. The imagery was very impressive.
You have gone where others would not go. You have faced what others willed not to face. You have triumphed over what others could not triumph over. You have turned over your own freedom and life so that it may be presented as a gift to future generations. Savor the fruits of your labor and join with me as we remember the fidelity that is found in our service to the citizens of the United States of America. We are the honor guard of the Constitution and the heralds of the Declaration of Independence.
Today, your low estate is exalted far above that of kings and statesmen. Your detractors are silenced. Your supporters are driven to cheers of joy. Stand proud and take in the praise of a grateful nation; you who are guardians of freedom... you chivalrous patriots. The day is yours.
That is all.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
If you do not own a copy of the Book of Concord, get off your lazy rear and go get one. Ignorant Christianity was one of Luther's pet peeves. It is one of mine, too.
Go here. Order a copy and read it. Study it even. This is a valuable resource that you should not cheat yourself out of. Claiming to be a Lutheran is pretty silly if you have no idea what being Lutheran really means. To quote my favorite character from the movie Lilo and Stitch, "Here. Educate yourself."
If you do not own a Bible or a copy of the Book of Concord, you should fix that problem. We are only talking $25. If you cannot afford it, put it on the top of your Christmas list this year and let someone else buy it for you... hey wow... an opportunity to witness your faith... hmm... I wish I had thought of that!
If you own a copy of the Book of Concord, go find somone in your church that does not own a copy and buy it for him. Trust me that will not be hard. Once you both own a copy, start reading it together. He is your brother. Serve him as Christ serves. Love him as Christ loves. You two are each other's responsibility.
While I am still in this fit of borrowing dystopian science fiction to illustrate my theological arguments, please allow me to talk about one of the most salient commentaries on American Culture.
I am talking about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. If you have not read it, I would venture to guess that you are part of the problem that is outlined in the book. The creepiest part of this fiction is that it was first published in 1953... and has managed to remain relevant as a social commentary for the next 60 years. Bradbury saw then the place where we are at now. This book is still ahead of the curve.
Most people assume the book is about censorship, totalitarianism and book burning. To a certain extent, they are right. But...... they miss Bradbury's main point: that Fahrenheit 451 is actually a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature. It is about how fluff and "factoids" smother out knowledge, wisdom, and real truth. Fluff almost never does this killing intentionally, but there is no middle ground between truth and half-truth. Ideas can either be shallow or deep. There is no in between.
I first read this book in middle school. I have read it several times since then. Each time, it gives me a greater vision of the cultural reality behind all of our whitewash and spin. Last night, I watched the 1966 film adaptation with Oskar Werner and Julie Christi. My eyes have been opened yet again.
The cultural holocaust of shallow, inoffensive fluff reaches into Christ's church. Read this book (or watch the movie if you are lazy) as a Christian. Ask yourself, "What is Ray Bradbury saying about church growth and the theology of glory?"
Fahrenheit 451 is not about book burning. It is about those who would sell their souls for entertainment and comfort. It is about what people will sacrifice to feel at ease and empowered. It is about what happens when people are so impressed with pleasantries that they will sacrifice the brutal truth of reality and buy total garbage to preserve an absolute fantasy that protects their sensibilities. It is about the crime of self-delusion.
If you read some of the arguments put forth by the firemen in the book, they echo some of the public statements of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Joel Osteen almost word for word. Firemen are the caretakers of our society. They protect us from unpleasant things so that we can look at the good; the inoffensive. The book paints a clear picture about what happens when you embrace multimedia presentations, empty music, shallow teaching, nonsequitur reasoning, and the careful censorship of all substantive sources.
You can almost smell the kerosene. It is really terrible.
If we do not preserve the truth, what value and purpose can our life really have? Stop looking for what you get out of everything. It is better to ask yourself, "What am I unwittingly about to throw away?"
Book burning and censorship is always purpose driven.
It should be a good idea to apply the principles of "Just War" to the most common battle in American Christianity. Senseless violence is being done by all factions (there are more than just two) in the Worship Wars. By all means defend yourself from bad doctrine and practice, but it has just hit me that we have taken this label thing too far. In many cases, we have gone from proper discernment and humility into the land of being tyrannically judgemental. We have gone from defending the faith to legalistically squashing it. Here is my case in point:
Go listen to the sample of the CTS Kantorei singing a wonderful adaptation of the ancient hymn Te Deum Laudamus. Close your eyes and listen to this song as the goosebumps run up your arms. Imagine you are in the cathedral with this wonderful choir.
Some of you feel tempted to lift up your arms, don't you? Some of you want to open your palms and breathe deep, don't you? Some of you want to raise your head to heaven and bask in the heavenly beauty of this ancient, Ambrosian hymn, don't you? Some of you have to fight back tears, don't you? Some of you feel amazing feelings of peace and joy thanks to the Kantorei, don't you?
Well you can't do those things! You are not a charismatic. This is not a pentecostal church and you do not raise your hands in church, or tear up, or look to heaven with joy on your face. If you did display some kind of "outburst" while listening to this hymn live, you must be some kind of self-centered Pietist nut who wants to bring praise music into the service so you can break out the old tambourine and get slain in the spirit.
As a good orthodox Lutheran, you must guard yourself against what this 5th century hymn does to you. It is impossible to do these things in some liturgical churches. Feelings--all feelings--are the enemy. Welcome to the church of Equilibrium. Your feelings are dangerous. They lead everyone to error. Take your Prozium. Fight those evil feelings and forget your humanity.
As I listened to that hymn, I wanted to raise my hands and praise Almighty God. I am thankful for those wonderful men, for the Te Deum, and for the opportunity to hear holy music. I love and appreciate beautiful music. How can we express that appreciation? Here at my desk, none of my well-intentioned brothers would judge me... but what about on Sunday?
I get chills when I walk up to the alter during the Sacrament. My faith is not a monocrhomatic experience of concrete and iron. It is a living, feeling faith of light; adorned in gold and silver. Sometimes (not all the time) I feel things. Should I just dismiss that?
Now that I have admitted my liturgical defect, it should be noted that no one can accuse me of being a crazy praise band guy. I fled that life years ago for good reason. My tastes are now ultra-traditional. I am conservative and liturgical. Most of the stuff that came in after old form Gregorian Chant is too new for my liking. As far as the Te Deum goes, I don't like that we have translated it into the modern music signature. I think that it robs the song of its archaic tempo, form, and inflection. I love censors, incense, and processionals. I like it when acolytes, elders, or associate pastors physically hold the gospel for the reading. I long for real candles in church. I like everything chanted. I want a chalice and I want the bread placed in my mouth. I make the sign of the cross during the service. I declare "amen" loudly when it is called for... even at the rail. A Bach chorale will usually bring me to tears. I think a church that lacks a kantor is really missing out. I consider myself a liturgist's liturgist.
I may be conservative and liturgical... but stoic? I cannot do stoic. All of this very old stuff builds strong feelings in me. Emotions that want to burst out. I struggle to contain them.
I am afraid that the ancient liturgy makes me behave charismatically... is that wrong? Does that make me a Pietist? Would you call me a charismatic? Would you judge me if I stood next to you in church? Some of my pastor's sermons are so convicting that I cannot even look at him. Does that make me an enthusiast? Have my feelings forced me away from confessional orthodoxy?
Who is at fault for this mess? Is it me? Does the blame lie with those stoic traidtionalists who want a sterile church? Does the blame lie with those hypocrictical charismatics who have twisted innocent acts of adoration into self-serving-look-at-me behavior?
Is it always bad to feel in church or is it just bad to let strong feelings show? What is the correct way to express these overwhelming feelings?
Friday, November 9, 2007
Odds are very good that you can think of a member of your church family who is having a hard time. You have probably given yourself a bunch of really nice excuses about why you have not been more involved with them. To be honest, the two of you are just not that close. That is probably why you have been so distant around them at church. That person is out of your circle... and out of your comfort zone. You do not share common interests and they are way out of your age bracket.
Do not let that soul twist in the wind any longer. That is your brother or sister. Take the initiative and make the first move. Offer your comfort, your support, your talents, your wisdom, your prayers, your money, your encouragement... in Christian love. Give it all to them unconditionally in the name of Christ. Love them as Christ loves you. Specifically offer help and comfort to them as an unconditional gift. Connect them with others who are willing to help. Create a network of support around that person.
There are lurkers in our churches who are starving for real, intimate fellowship. They are always in the background. They feel alone. They are too scared to reach out. They no longer know what they believe. They are at the end of their rope. They feel their faith and patience weakening.
That individual is your responsibility. Your intervention will be the difference. Identify them. Help them. Do not let this one fall away.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Homo incurvatus in se
I apologize for not knowing this earlier. I stumbled upon this phrase in discussion and study about the blind narcissism that seems to strike good Christians down and cause them to behave and think... foolishly. At the source of most well-intentioned bad doctrine and behavioral misjudgements, you will find the ancient mythology of human reason (and works) as it attempts to blind a person to objective reality and Scriptural revelation. At the heart is the need to please ourselves. We all fall for it over and over again. Fancy Lutherans call this temptation "the love of the self", "me worship", or "idolatry".
Here is another good example of wheel reinvention. Please suffer patiently through my theological learning curve. I had no idea that when St. Augustine and our beloved Dr. Luther had covered this ground before we were given a neat Latin phrase for the single men to use to impress the ladies in Bible class:
"Homo incurvatus in se" meaning "humanity curves [or turns] in on itself"
Luther said, "Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself [incurvatus in se] that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake."
That is good stuff. Of course my wonderful pastor words the description of this obsession with personal perspective and consumption differently: "Our sinful flesh always thinks with our belly. It's all about us."
With those immortal words, the legendary patron saint of Missouri Lutheranism, St. William Hudson of Aliens, invites us to understand the reality that we are surely finished... doomed even. We have lost people. We are all alone as that acid-spitting menace takes over our base. Sure we fought well, but we do not stand a chance. It has never been this bad. We should just give up. The alien monsters in the synod have already won. Now is the perfect time to panic and wet yourself.
Forget Pelagianism, Arminianism, synergism, and all the other isms that you have ever heard of. It seems that the most despised heresy in the LCMS is Optimism. Nothing else has been so universally anathemized and mocked. Ha! There is no room for something as foolish and unLutheran as *spit* hope! Everyone should just face the facts and ride this sinking ship until you have to swim for yourself--if you aren't swimming alone already.
This worry is as old as the Reformation itself. You can read these sentiments as they are expressed throughout our history. It is a devilish fear that creeps into the hearts of good men to shake their resolve and break their spirit. It is an attack against faith itself. From this unjustified panic, worries about the fate of the church begin to blossom and bear fruit. It causes us to doubt that we are in the right place, fighting the right battles, and making a positive impact. This resignation strangles our heart. It causes us to assume the worst about our church and our brothers. What then? Do we curl up and wither away? Do we wait until we are so novel that we are stored on the museum shelf for future generations to look at? Do we abandon all hope, surrender, and flee the field of battle while there is still work to do? Do we crack like our beloved St. Hudson?
Are there problems? Duh. Find a single place on earth where living humans congregate that is not splitting at the seams while trying to destroy itself. This is the nature of sin. This is the nature of our fallen world. Get your hide up off the floor and deal with it.
There is a pathetic undercurrent of hopelessness in our synod. If you listen carefully, you can hear many good Christians bemoan the futility of it all. That isn't a spirit of unity and boldness. It sounds more like grumbling or resignation. Start talking about how the synod is doing and it is Y2K all over again for most people. Dooooom!
The Hudsonites scream, "Game over!" They are the first to point out any number of woes that have befallen us in their lifetime. Because the LCMS is made up of sinful people, they are usually true in one way or another... so? We aren't confessional. We may be doctrinally sound, but we do not practice what we believe. We've lost so much since C.F.W. Walther. Most of our congregations have embraced neo-Evangelicalism. We are too Purpose Driven. The liberals run the show. The conservatives run the show. Those silly moderates are letting all of this happen. Our laity does not know enough about what we believe. The LCMS is not relevant. It does not reach people. It subscribes to a Platonic view of the church that it will never achieve. We fall short. We miss the boat. We aren't unified. We have preserved apostolic doctrine, but not tradition. We are in lock step with the papists. We stumble. We go along with the culture. We are shrinking. We argue. We do not stand up when we should. We do not hold each other accountable. We are squandering this great gift of Lutheranism by trying to reinvent ourselves.
Law... law... law... law... law... law... law... law... barf.
...and yet, the LCMS still manages to produce confessional upstarts like me. There are churches who are actually abandoning their blended services. There are places where the trends that we seem to hate so much are reversing. More importantly: the LCMS still takes know-nothing converts and fills them with a passion for the fathers, apostolic tradition, the UAC, and ancient worship forms. I am not from an arch-conservative congregation either. How can this be? How does the LCMS continue from here amid so much unLutheranism? How will our synod remain distinct when so many have sold out? Without us, how will the next generation know the right way?
They will be shown the truth, silly. How can someone like Dr. Krauth be brought up with a teacher like Pr. Schmucker? How can someone like Martin Luther rise from a horrific age like pre-Reformation Europe? The answer is as simple as the Gospel.
Despite all the doom talk that I have heard in my first year as a Lutheran, Christ continues to preserve His church. The church will remain undefeated until the Last Day. Time and again, she snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and preserves truth in the face of horrible error. The light and the fire will not go out. The legacy will continue. It did so for 2,000 years before us and it will continue long after we are all gone. When you get down to it: the church is not really our work at all, but the work of the Holy Spirit. Sure our actions have consequences, but we are letting our macro view of the big picture (and our dim opinion of the future) effect how we look at the things that we actually have the power to improve as individuals. We must be careful not to worry so much about the health of the forest that we neglect the trees that are right next to us.
Positive change has never been secured by hand-wringing. The LCMS will not improve through fanatical witch hunts and the rhetorical genocide of strawmen. Hearts and minds are won from the pulpit, at the alter, in the Word, from reading the fathers, in confirmation, and by our good examples. If a correction is to happen, it will not be from the top down, but from the bottom up. It will not come from pushing back the tide, but by becoming a tide ourselves. This is grunt work. It is dirty, low, and hard. We secure confessionalism by loving pastoral care and genuine encouragement from a passionate laity. All of the great works of the church have been constructive, preservative ones... not destructive.
Compared to where we've been (even in the last 200 years), our current situation is not defeat but victory. People would have you believe that this might be the worst it has ever been. Generations of God's people have been saying that myth since the slaves left Egypt. We must look to the good; to what God promises. Quit complaining and grumbling.
Look at the promising trends! Weekly communion is returning. Private confession is returning. A passion for the Scripture and the historic Lutheran church is returning.
I have visited plenty LCMS parishes as Uncle Sam sends me all around this great country. I have spoken to dozens of pastors and scores of laymen. There is one analogy that I hear time and again. I hate it. It is false. Contrary to popular opinion, the LCMS is not a ship and it is not sinking into the waves of error and unLutheranism. She is larger than that limited view can see and her progress is slower than that impatient view might demand. She may not be perfect, but she is not a sinking ship. We are not her doomed crew.
She is a Phoenix. Like all of the great generations of the church before her, she is rising from the ashes of doctrinal error and bad practice. She is the same immortal Phoenix which rose in the days of Luther, Giertz, and Krauth. Despite the work of her enemies, she can never be killed. Each time we try to kill her, she rises again. She is a glimpse of a portion of the invisible church as it becomes manifest in the preaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the Sacraments. Her birth is effected each time the fire of Spirit and truth takes hold. She is a warm beacon of light in the dense fog of American Protestantism.
Filled with the legacy of the holy saints and martyrs, the refreshing wind of the living church in all times and places now pushes her aloft. Her hot pinions span the continent as she majestically rises and turns skyward. She struggles and staggers at times, but she slowly lifts from the ground the same way that she has done countless times before: slowly, painfully, deliberately.
She is an organic creation of Almighty God; a gift to His people. She is one entity. She is unified by every flaming feather that patiently works to speed her ascent and struggles to lift her up. Her eyes remain fixed to the horizon as she eagerly waits for her Savior to return. Isolated fires that dot the countryside leap up to her and share in her glory and the light that she offers. Her bosom remains the welcome sanctuary of weary, hurting sinners. Her call is one of repentant joy that pierces the night and rattles the foundations of many who still want to slumber. She is a refuge of truth and love. I am living proof. She is my family. She is my mother.
Do not slander her good name in my presence.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Love God. Love your neighbor.
Sanctification (I dare say that the entire Christian experience) is defined by Love. St. Paul calls love the greatest of gifts and places it in the proper perspective in the 12th and 13th chapters of First Corinthians. Love flows out of our common, living faith. It binds us together as a people.
A Christian without love has nothing. Love's importance eclipses the wisdom of the greatest sage and the knowledge of the best academic among us. Love overshadows the greatest prophetic utterance of the enthusiast and the deepest existential experience of the mystic. Love is more than the sum total of our personal passions. Love goes beyond the self-serving nature of how we want to view our faith and connects us to a selfless, sacrificial Christ.
There is no shortage pseudo-Christianity. This humanly devised forgery is all around us. It comes in every flavor, style, and tradition. It can make itself liturgical or purpose driven. It can appear charismatic or stoic; pietist or rationalist; heterodox or orthodox. It can adapt itself to suit our individual taste, but it only offers a dead faith that can do nothing but value practices over people and dogmas over deity. It is the devilish circus where the one-man-show of idolatry can thrive without having to trouble the self with interruptions like God and His people.
As we temper our subjective emotional excesses with proper discipline and objective truth, let us never become so cold that we close ourselves off from the organic nature of the Body of Christ. Let us never become slaves to our intellects, but remain slaves to Christ. Let us never pervert God's good gifts into excuses as we attempt to justify a lack of genuine love.
We must be true traditionalists. The holy, apostolic faith has always been a life of repentance, sacrificial love, and humility. The legacy of the true church has always been a journey of love: love for God, love for people, and love of the truth. The Gospel itself is a message of unwarranted, vitalizing love. We serve a God of love.
The church is no place for spiritual narcissists because there is no living faith that fails to work by love. As Lutherans, we must work hard to recognize the crucial difference between the vital intimacy that is extolled in Scripture and the dangers of unbridled emotionalism.
Let no one disparage a life of love.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Sure I could try to impress you with an insightful and well-written post about prayer, but it wouldn't amount to half of what the brilliant Rev. Benjamin Harju has to say about the subject.
Go here and read his post on "The Life of Prayer" and then we'll all pretend that I wrote something just as good in the blank space below:
Thank you, Rev. Harju. Well done.
It seems like ages since we were first attacked. In fact, most of the people that I know rarely think about it as they go about their daily lives. This enemy has been plotting against us since before any of us were born and we seem to want to ignore the signs. We seem to think that if we will just go about our busy lives, all of the terror and death will not effect us. We hope that the threat isn't real or at least that it can be mitigated or delayed. Some of us put our trust in the fact that the threat is far off and try to deny the fact that we have agents hidden among us.
We are making fatal mistakes.
The earth stood still the day that he attempted to achieve total victory over us. That day, everything changed. Sometimes I wonder how different I would be if that horrible moment had never come. His plan preyed on our weakness: our arrogant sense of invulnerability. As everything came crashing down, we seemed to be able to recognize fear for the first time. Death had become very real and the threat of evil was realized. Amid the rubble, it seemed like hope was a difficult thing to grasp.
History did not end there. Our enemy would not savor his victory forever. In the heart of the middle east, good finally triumphed over evil. Someone volunteered to do all the fighting for us. And what a fight it was! The world still remembers the shock and awe; the righteous surge that was unleashed. Sure there was sacrifice, but what great victory can occur without blood?
Dismantled, demoralized, and defeated, our nemesis fled with his allies and hid to lick his wounds. He had not counted on that kind of response. Everyone knows that it is only a matter of time before the final victory is realized and he is brought to justice.
...but in the mean time, he is still out there. He remains on the loose; that foe that struck us so long ago, killed so many of us, and continues to fill our hearts with terror and dread. Wounded and essentially powerless, his network is still stronger than any of us and he will kill you if he gets half a chance. His agents and supporters move freely among us and sow the seeds of doubt. Doubt is his weapon now. The victory is certain and absolute, but the enemy wants us to question the victory. He wants us to abandon hope and lose faith. His organization may be doomed, but he is going to try to take some more people down with them. The axis of evil is still a threat and we are the ones who are securing our own doom. We will be the ones who snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It is almost like we want to lose.
Do you still take his terror seriously? Do you realize what this lion is still capable of? Are you ready and equipped for his final, desperate onslaught? Mark my words: he will strike you and your family again before this is all over. We need to be alert, unified, and protected by a strong defense. Every day is threat level Red. Do not let your guard down for a single moment.
He's still out there. Get ready.
1 Peter 5:6-9
Monday, November 5, 2007
Posting about the Armor of God reminded me of a story that was barely even noticed by the US public.
What does "love your enemies" and "turn the other cheek" look like? Unforgiving Christians could learn from Private First Class Tschiderer. Those of us who feel like our enemies have wronged us so badly that they do not deserve forgiveness or mercy should take notes from an American hero:
Baghdad, Iraq. June 2, 2005. While out on patrol Army PFC Stephen Tschiderer, a medic, was shot in the chest by an enemy sniper who was hiding in a van just 75 yards away. Despite the man's murderous intent, Tschiderer's body armor saved his life. Instead of killing him, the round knocked the Soldier to the ground as he stood outside of his vehicle. Injured, PFC Tschriderer jumped right back up and took cover.
Tschriderer and his buddies located the enemy position and returned fire. They pursued the wounded sniper through the streets of Baghdad. They followed the trail of blood to the place where the sniper had collapsed. With the sniper finally caught, it was PFC Tschiderer who handcuffed him. What did this Soldier, wounded and running on adrenaline, do next? Without hesitation, he treated the injuries of the man who had tried to take his life only minutes before.
"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Luke 6:27-28