Friday, July 31, 2009

Going Back... to the Future?

In reading some church history, I was struck by how current this historical record sounds. This is an account by a church historian about the events that lead up to the Great Persecution under Emperor Diocletian. It is an interesting commentary on the church of the early 4th century. As one who witnessed and endured the persecution, it is profound to hear who the author blames for the arrival of this dark time in the church history. In his estimation, the church brought the persecution upon itself.

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Read this excerpt and marvel at the modern parallels. I sure did.


How great, how unique were the honor, and liberty too, which before the persecution of my time were granted by all men, Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the message given through Christ to the world, of the reverence for the God of the universe! It is beyond my ability to describe it as it deserves. Witness the goodwill so often shown by potentates to our people; they even put into their hands the government of the provinces, releasing them from the agonizing question of sacrificing, in view of the friendliness with which they regarded their teaching. What need I say about those in the imperial palaces and about the supreme rulers? Did they not permit the members of their households - consorts, children, and servants - to embrace boldly before their eyes the divine message and way of life, hardly minding even if they boasted of the liberty granted to the Faith? Did they not hold them in special esteem, and favor them more than their fellow servants? I might instance the famous Dorotheus, the most devoted and loyal of their servants, and on the account much more honored than the holders of offices and governorships. With him I couple the celebrated Gorgonius, and all who because of God's word were held in the same honor as these two.

And what approbation the rulers in every church unmistakably won from all procurators and governors! How could one describe those mass meetings, the enormous gatherings in every city, and the remarkable congregations in places of worship? No longer satisfied with the old buildings, they raised from the foundations in all the cities churches spacious in plan. These things went forward with the times and expanded at a daily increasing rate, so that no envy stopped them nor could any evil spirit bewitch them or check them by means of human schemes, as long as the divine and heavenly hand sheltered and protected its own people, as being worthy.

But increasing freedom transformed our character to arrogance and sloth; we began envying and abusing each other, cutting other own throats, as occasion offered, with weapons of sharp-edged words; rulers hurled themselves at rulers and laymen waged party fights against laymen, and unspeakable hypocrisy and dissimulation were carried to the limit of wickedness. At last, while the gatherings were still crowded, divine judgement, with its wonted mercy, gently and gradually began to order things its own way, and with the Christians in the army the persecution began.

But alas! realizing nothing, we made not the slightest effort to render the Deity kindly and propitious; and as if we had been a lot of atheists, we imagined that our doings went unnoticed and unregarded, and went from wickedness to wickedness. Those of us who were supposed to be pastors cast off the restraining influence of the fear of God and quarrelled heatedly with each other, engaged solely in frantically demanding the despotic power they coveted.

Then, then it was that in accordance with the words of Jeremiah, the Lord in His anger covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud, and cast down from Heaven the glory of Israel; He remembered not the footstool of His feet in the day of His anger, but the Lord also drowned in the sea all beauty of Israel, and broke down all his fences. So also, as foretold in the Psalms, He overthrew the covenant of His bondservant and profaned the ground (through the destruction of the churches) his sanctuary and broke down all his fences; He made his strongholds cowardice. All that passed by the way despoiled the multitudes of the people; moreover, he became a reproach to his neighbors. For He exalted the right hand of his enemies, and turned back the aid of his sword and did not assist him in the war. But He also cut him off from cleansing and threw down his throne to the ground, and shortened the days of his time, and finally covered him with shame.

-Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, c. 236 - c. 339
from "The History of the Church" Book VIII

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Here We Go Again...

This Sunday is the last one. After that, the only competent and orthodox protestant chaplain we have is returning home. I'm happy for him and his unit... but the future of our small, liturgical service remains uncertain. Because the rest of the chaplaincy seems unwilling to support us, the laity will continue the services without them. I'm having Ash Wednesday flashbacks!

The laity-driven service will start on Trinity 9. I have elected to follow the LSB one-year lectionary (because if I'm still here in Iraq to use the three year lectionary we are going to have problems!) I submit the rough draft of my meditation for your review and critique. If I am about to speak elloquent error or tangled truth, let it be caught and corrected now.

Trinity 8 - "Scripture is God's Wolf Repellant"
Psalm: Psalm 26
Readings: Jer 23:16-29; Acts 20:27-38; Matt 7:15-23

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,There is no mistaking what God’s Word tells us today. In the book of Jeremiah, we are warned against the false prophets who run about and claim to speak the words of the Lord but were not sent by God and do not carry His message. In the book of Acts, we hear St. Paul warning the church against the savage wolves that will carry on the false prophet tradition.

The Holy Gospel says the same. Jesus warns against the wolves that come in a sheep’s clothing; that is of the false prophets who come dressed as men of God. Even the Psalm for today speaks on this topic when David declares, “I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.”We who are saints of God are now faced with a daunting task. We must be able to tell the difference between a fellow sheep and a wolf who looks like a sheep. What are we to do in a world where the sheep suits are so expertly made that the wolves look more like sheep than the sheep actually do? It is all so confusing.

The temptation is to assume that we should look at a Christian’s works for clarity. After all, Christ told us in the Gospel today that figs do not come from thistles and healthy trees do not bear bad fruit. But not so fast. Just verses later we see that the wolves are busy prophesying, casting out demons, and doing great works in the name of God. After all these seemingly good things that they point to, what will Christ say to them on the last day? “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

So works can be deceiving. It is true, the wolves talk a great game here on earth. They look the part. You hear a common phrase today. Many who claim to speak for God will say, “I am going to tell you something that the Lord has lain on my heart,” or as Jeremiah puts it, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” It seems that everyone who speaks in any church these days, wolf and sheep alike, is eager to make the same claim of divine inspiration. And what do these people say? Many different things. So many things that it seems that no two prophets can agree on what God is telling us. How can this be?

Over this useless babble the wise Christian quotes Jeremiah 17:9 which says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” There is no dispute that all prophets have something on their heart and in their dreams. We must ask the question: “Is the message that they are proclaiming rotten fruit or good fruit?” Or more directly: “Does their message come from the sick, confused heart of man or from the pure and authoritative Word of God?”

We would like to think that man has evolved past the silly superstitions of the ancient times, but the absurd paganism recorded in the Bible has given way to a slicker form of the same idolatry. The heathen priests of old are now replaced by the exact same packaged, consumer-friendly religion peddlers that plagued Israel and the early church centuries before us. The world today is as lost and confused as it ever was.

We have given up Baal and Apollo for the generic spiritualism and therapeutic sentimentality of the modern age. We prefer soft, manmade religions that are practical and self-affirming. We want a god that is like an unassuming old uncle who hangs out with us and will bail us out of trouble. The kind of guy who never asks any tough questions, never imposes his own will, and is up for just about anything. We want a useful religion that is like a vending machine so that we can put the right stuff into it, push the right buttons, get what we need, and go on our way feeling encouraged, self-assured, and satisfied.

We want a god that serves us and a faith that suits our needs. We design it in our own minds, borrow foolish notions from the world when it suits us, and proceed to shape our religion to suit us so that we can have a god that we can love easily, worship endlessly, follow naturally, and promote recklessly. This is sin. It is a violation of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” In this case, the god is us because we have made ourselves lords over God. Our will is in place of His will; our interpretation in place of His interpretation; our truth in place of His truth.

Make no mistake, dear friends, these created idols that we have made are no different than the graven images of old. And if you believe that the false gods and false notions of the world have not crept into every corner of the church, then you are not seeing clearly.The wolves are in the sheep pen just as much today as they were in the days of Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul. They are strategically prowling in their wool disguises so that they can separate the sheep from the Shepherd. They know that if they can get the Christian to wander away from Christ then the Christian will be easily devoured by the pretty errors that they peddle… errors that are harmful to faith and injurious to eternal life.What are we sheep to do? How are we to grow in the knowledge of the truth with so many lies, assumptions, and errors?

At the top of the first page of your bulletin for today, there is a quote from St. Jerome. He says, “Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ.” This ancient father of the church echoes the very thing that Christ told the false prophets. Christ said to the Pharasees, “The Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."

It’s not enough to know your Bible. It’s not enough to study so that you can quote Scripture and apply it however you wish. Even the Pharisees could do that and yet they were without grace. They stood condemned in their sin.

You must come to know Scripture the way that God, Himself, tells us how we should know it: through Christ-colored lenses so that the Bible points us to Jesus so that we may have life… eternal life.

So essential is this proper understanding of the Christ-centered message that is found in scripture that St. Jerome, over a thousand years before Martin Luther and Myles Coverdale, devoted himself to the translation of the Greek and Hebrew texts into the Latin so that the people of his day could have the scriptures in their native language… so that they could be shown Christ and have life in Him.

Scripture is not just some mere guidebook. It is not just a divine self help program that the Holy Spirit has preserved for 2,000 years so that you can be equipped to improve your personal situation here on earth. The truth is that a dead corpse cannot improve its situation. Apart from Christ, that is what we are: fallen, damned corpses. We know from Scripture that, since the Fall of Adam, all of mankind remains hopelessly dead in their trespasses. We are not merely weakened by our sinfulness. We are not simply injured by sin. We are dead because of it: both now and eternally. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. Nothing.

It is the Word of God that breathes life into our dead and sinful souls. It is this breath of new life that is the essence of faith. It is through this holy revelation that the Holy Spirit brings Christ to us. It is not just a rational, intellectual argument that causes our minds to think on a better way through a few good examples and stories. It is not just an ecstatic, emotional experience that motivates our hearts to start being godly through its poetry and prose. It is the supernatural revelation of God that gives us life by uniting us with Jesus Christ by faith.

The Word of the Lord calls out to you as you lie in the grave of your sin. It shouts in a loud voice, “Lazarus! Come out!”The proclaimed Word of the Lord brings Christ to us, not just once in our lives and then it is of little value, but the Gospel works constantly as this alien faith invades our sinful flesh, repeatedly breathes life into our broken bodies, and holds us captive to every word that comes from the mouth of God. This is the declared purpose of God’s Word and the pages are obsessed with it. Scripture does not just speak about Christ occasionally as an important topic, but it testifies constantly and consistently so that Christ and His saving work on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin is the intent, theme, and message from Genesis to Revelation, chapter by chapter, foundation to rafters.This is the only message that saves you from hell.

When you understand this truth rightly, the light of the cross and the empty grave casts a brilliant illumination upon this book and the darkness of the false prophets is immediately cast aside. The distractions are exposed. The sheep suits of the wolves are torn off and the truth is understood at last. It is this pious truth that the Apostle Paul understood and confessed. With the Christ-centered faith given by the Holy Spirit, Paul boldly declared to the church in Corinth these words: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Christ is still Lord of the church. The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. He remains the firm foundation upon which the house of our faith is built. Upon this rock, that is upon Christ the Son of the Living God, your faith will stand against the rages of Satan. Safe from the storm, you are protected from the false prophets who deceive themselves as much as they deceive those who listen to them. You stand forgiven before God because of Christ through the gift of faith. As the houses that are built upon things other than Christ are washed away, you remain secure in the one true faith that is revealed to us through scripture.

So let the false prophets weave their cleaver deceptions. Let them do their best to distract us from our focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let Satan whisper his wicked lies as he attempts to pervert or obscure and Gospel as best he can with seemingly good and practical things. You are not moved. You are not washed away by the tide. You have God’s Holy Word in your hands, in your ears, written upon your hearts, and spoken on your lips.

You understand the one and only purpose of the Church: to proclaim Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins so that sinners are reconciled to God by grace and granted eternal life through faith. The Holy Spirit has drawn us to the feet of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through word and sacrament.

This adoption into new life began for you in your baptism. By daily repentance, meditation on His word, and reception of grace through the Lord’s Supper, our life in Him is deepened and renewed as we wait for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. As we rest in the presence of this mighty Shepherd and listen to His loving voice, we need not fear any wolf or snare.

Last Modified: August 1, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Have You Seen This Man?

I am having so much trouble finding Jesus in the programs of the local chaplaincy that I am seriously considering posting WANTED posters with Christ's face on them. I wonder if such a tactic would give me any leads on where I can find this man.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Contemporary Song that Exposes the Ancient, Gospel-less Horror in the Seeker Movement.

The doctrine in this song is so bad and misleading that I cannot bring myself to comment on it at this time. I will dissect it after I have recovered. When you read it, I am sure you will understand....

"If We Are The Body" By Casting Crowns

It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in
Trying to fade into the faces
The girls' teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

But if we are the Body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the Body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat
And quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances tells him that his chances
Are better out on the road

But if we are the Body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the Body?
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the Body of Christ

If we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
Jesus is the way

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Predestination and Logic

The teachings on Free Well that come out of Arminianism and Calvinism are both built on the foundation of a common logical fallacy. The informal fallacy of false dilemma is where two concepts are presented as a mutually exclusive choice where no other options exists. This is an especially foolish assumption when trying to guess the unknowable operation of an omnipotent and omniscient God.

In other words, this fallacy presents the choice of either A or B... but ignores the possibility of an option C, D, E, F, etc. An absurd example of such a fallacy would be: "If you are an animal, you are either a dog or a cat." Such a statement is illogical because an animal could be a horse, cow, or any number of other creatures.

The Arminian/Calvinist debate over eternal election which rages is built on this kind of false dilemma. They want to force you into using your limited human reason to choose either option A or option B. Both of these options have been carefully crafted and argued by the flawed source that is the human intellect. At the same time, infallible Holy Scripture clearly makes both options unsupportable. It is okay to say that there could be an unknown "option C" regarding our eternal election that is beyond our human understanding. In the end, we must stand on only what Scripture reveals and not what we can try to figure out with our limited capabilities and knowledge. Everything beyond the clear testimony of Scripture is just guess work.

...of course a Calvinist has already told me that this position is a "cop out". :P