Monday, November 29, 2010

Addiction: The Speck in Your Brother's Eye

Whenever the topic of repentance comes up, you always hear people bring up the topic of addictions and habitual sinners. They will bring up the guy who struggles with his particular sin constantly and--while he comes back for forgiveness time and again--never seems to gain any traction in resisting this particular problem. It is usually something like alcohol, drugs, violence, and pornography.

This matter is obviously a complex issue that is well within the grounds of individual pastoral care between a sinner and his minister.

That said, what is often the case is that individuals who bring up this situation are only talking about "those people" over there. The addicts. I saw this alot in the you-should-be-getting-progressively-more-holy-and-sin-less-and-less mentality of evangelicalism, but it strikes right here in Lutheranism as well. Too often, the implication here is that these people who struggle with habitual sin are just not serious. They are luke-warm Christians and hypocrites. They are taking advantage of God's mercy by not fighting their addiction hard enough. What they really need is to get their lives in order.

My response to such thinking is: "...and how is it that YOU do not consider yourself an addict? Are you not addicted to lying? Are you not addicted to envy? Do you not repent over and over again and yet continually fall back into taking the Lord's holy name in vain, despising the proclamations of His word, and trusting in the false gods of your own making? Do you not find yourself getting bored or thinking about other things during divine worship? Do you not refuse charity to those in need so that you can have all the riches you desire? How is it that you do not consider yourself a gossip addict? Do you not laugh at crude jokes, think impurely of others, and even commit murder in thought if not deed?"

"In what way do you not continually dishonor your parents and other authorities? In what way do you not habitually and constantly violate your marriage vows or stain the purity of chastity in singleness. Why do you read God's Law and get the notion that you do not daily struggle with loving God above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself? Do you not get off on the 'high' that your sinning gives you? Does it not shame you to the point where you hide your sins from your neighbors, friends, and family? How are your addictions any different? Do you think that God gives you a free pass because your dependency is not chemical or because your wretched acts don't leave any track marks on your arms? Why is it that you are just not taking your sin problem seriously enough? Why don't you stop? If you are honest, you realize that you can't. You have a problem. You are an addict, too. The old adam in you is addicted to sin and can't get enough. Just admit it and receive the ever present gospel remedy."

The obvious addict who falls into sin again and again and returns to God for forgiveness 70 times 7 times is not the exception. It is merely a more apparent example of what happens in all of us. The truth is that you are exactly like other men... even that sinner over there. The constant, unrelenting struggle against sin is the picture of the Christian life as we labor and wait for the perfection of our flesh on the Last Day.

So take advantage of God's mercy which is offered to you freely and without condition because of Christ Jesus who purchased you, a poor miserable sinner, by death on the cross. The real tragedy is not the individual who struggles with particular sins, but the poor soul who does not realize that his need for constant and repeated forgiveness through the Gospel of Christ Jesus is just as great--if not greater--than his neighbor's need. Even repentance itself is a free gift of God since people who are dead in the trespasses and sins do not turn to God or love Him. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We are desperately sick and are in need of the Great Physician, Christ, who did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance [Luke 5:32]. By the power of the Holy Spirit, put to death the old flesh and make no provision for sin as you await the eternal rest that will come to all who believe when our Savior returns to judge the living and the dead.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sound Doctrine: A Source of Unity

It is a common complaint that digging too deeply into doctrines, standing firmly on positions, and even formulating creedal and confessional statements to express our beliefs is divisive. It is an activity that always harms the unity of the Body of Christ.

I submit that this is not true. While unnecessary speculation and the development of previously unknown doctrines does cause schism and division in the church, seeking to formulate a solid confession of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" is the exact opposite of division. In fact, it is unity.

The clear expression of the faith is the language of the Body of Christ. This common tongue unites us rather than divides us. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit that overcomes all of the confusion and babel. We gather together around common ideas rather than wandering aimlessly in the chaotic masses as we search to hear a single common voice out of the din of a myriad of human opinions.

And even in those places where confessions differ, the first step to resolving these issues is to identify where the sources of difference lie. How can people with two differing opinions ever learn from each other if neither knows the clear position of the other?

Clear doctrinal statements also remove the temptation to judge people's motives. When someone demonstrates a willingness to engage in full disclosure and works to remove doubts about his intentions and private opinions, the seeds of trust can finally grow. Clearly revealing someone's foundational ideas and presuppositions helps to provide a context for all further discussion so that no one need to wonder if he should "read inbetween the lines" or search for hidden meanings that reveal his brother's true purposes.

It is only in the hands of the tyrants, heterodox, schismatics, and rebellious that differing opinions cause division. This is not the fault of the proclamation of truth, but is a manifestation of the sinful deficiencies in all human beings.

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Langauge

10. Faith

I can hear it now, "WOAH THERE, Buddy! You have gone to far now! How can "Faith" be Law?"

Answer: When it is perverted and twisted by sinful man so that it is a quality that man possesses and maintains rather than a gift from God. When it is understood to be nothing more than the understanding possessed by the devil and his angels... or when it is understood to be a synonym for "doing right by God"... or when it is henotheistically understood that non-Christians can possess the same qualities as Christians when it comes to "having faith" in something.

When the church talks about faith, it is talking about belief and hope... in what? That's an important question because in the Biblical definition of "faith" that word always has an object that it points to: Faith... in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Savior of the World. On top of that, it is not a human creation, but is something that is given by the Holy Spirit as pure gift. Faith, rightly understood, is extra nos. It comes from outside of you as a gift from the Holy Spirit.

The world has a different meaning for the same word and you start to hear Christians using it more and more these days. This faith needs no object. It is a cognitive analysis of trust that is given from the individual that possesses it... usually based on evidence or convincing propositions. This kind of faith is better described as "loyalty" or "allegiance". The military oath of enlistment has the phrase "I will bear true faith and allegiance". That is what we are talking about. I know that this is a little bit of hair-splitting on words, but the practical application of this seemingly minor difference is truly significant. This is how a word as fundamental to the Gospel as "faith" can become a human quality that must be preserved by human effort... and therefore is perverted into Law.

Many times you will hear people talk about "having faith", or about how their "faith is important to them", or that they are a "people of faith", or that they are afraid they are "losing their faith", or even that they "have faith in Jesus". When you investigate through asking questions, you learn that this word they are using does not really have an object and is something that they have to preserve through their effort. It is a very secular use of the term... a term that they do not really understand from a theological perspective. You learn that this "faith" word is really a pious sounding synonym for "loyalty" or "obedience".

This is where decision theology comes in. It takes the gift of faith and blurs it. It confuses it by making it seem as though the work of the Holy Spirit is not the free gift of "faith". Instead, it makes the Holy Spirit seem as though He is an advisor or salesman that provides very convincing promptings and propositions that influence the sovereign individual and cause them to decide to have faith in what is being presented.

...then you start to wonder in times crisis........ did I respond in faith properly? Did I do it right? Did I do it enough? Should I do it again?


Decoding Law Usage in Modern Langauge

8. "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD)

Who can forget about WWJD?!? Oh man, that was a huge fad when I was in school! The really appealing thing about it is that it is complete and total Law... but it has "Jesus" in the name so people think it's Gospel. To counter increasing teen promiscuity, drug use, violence, and lewdness (in the church especially), this program sought to create a kind of cosmic version of Simon says. The idea behind it is "Jesus wouldn't do that so you don't do that either." or "Jesus would do this so you have to make it happen." Just like the implied imperatives we talked about before, WWJD is built on the same concept except Jesus is in place of Moses and His perfect life is in place of the two stone tablets.

You think this fad is dead? Think again. Yeah, some Jehovah's Witness wannabe hasn't handed me one of those cheapo bracelets in a while, but just yesterday I heard a woman on national television use "WWJD" as the reason behind a particular behavior choice. The problem with fads is that--once they die--they are very susceptible to necromancy. The zombie-returned-from-the-grave-to-haunt-us version of "WWJD" is "Christ Follower". More on that in a minute.

Getting back on point, some people did their best to turn "WWJD" into a Gospel message. They started going with "WDJD" and "WHJD" for "What Did Jesus Do" and "What Has Jesus Done". I know some people love this turn of phrase, but it really is garbage. First of all, it is only kind of sort of Gospel-ish. It is a classic case of talking about the Gospel without ever mentioning the Gospel. The problem here is that the implication of the question is too vague. Jesus DID alot of stuff... like heal the sick... feed the poor... teach really neat lessons about loving people. Secondly, the "What Did Jesus Do" got perverted and it has largely become the Gospel guilt trip to motivate people to do more law. As in, "Jesus died for you and you are going to repay Him by acting like this?!?" Not good. Read C.F.W. Walther's Thesis XV in his Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.

9. Christ Follower

Trendy guys with square-framed glasses, designer shoes, frosted highlights, $150 jeans, and artificial tans came up with this term a while back. Thankfully, I had left the Purpose Driven movement in time to miss this one. For 2,000 years, the church has used words like "Christians", "Believers", "The Faithful", "The Elect", "Brothers and Sisters" and "Saints" to describe those who have been won by Christ.

Apparently this was just not good enough. We took the ideas already expressed in WWJD and made a new kind of disciple who was obsessed with the moralistic example of Jesus instead of the saving work of Jesus. Unlike most people, I don't think that this was just a move solely motivated by contemporary impulses. They keep words like "tithe" and "Bible", so why ditch traditional name of the people in the religion? It's not about being contextual because "tithe" is much more offensive than "believer". I think there is an actual theological argument being made here and it all has to do with Gospel and Law. Stay with me:

Traditionally understood, "Christians" and "Believers" are made. Alot of people say that they became a Christian, but a more exact term is that you were made a Christian. God creates faith. We put on Christ through the waters of baptism. No one comes to Christ unless the Father draws them to Him. We are sons and heirs of the Kingdom and everyone knows that you don't decide to become an heir. You are made one. You are born again... something totally out of your control. This concept is Gospel.

We can't have that though in the Law-dominated church. Already weakened by decision theology and revivalism (thanks for nothing, Charles Finney...), this historic understanding of God making Christians has been thrown out the window and replaced with something that places the emphasis on the man and not God. A "Christ Follower" is one who follows Christ. It's right there in the name. Do Christians follow Christ? Of course, but what I am pointing out is a change of emphasis. We have gone from language that was largely understood in mongeristic terms to a focus on the human activity that occurs in response to faith: i.e. discipleship. Those are works... and if you listen to some of these seeker-sensitive guys, they think that the start of this "following" process can precede coming to the faith and prepare someone for conversion! MMmm... smells like... legalism... and sulfer....

"Christ Follower" is not just dumb and unneccesary... it's a Law term. It's not even a good Law term because Law and Gospel are badly confused in how it is explained and defined.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Geography Class, Islam, and the Gospel

I vividly remember sitting in World Geography one day in High School. By this time I had become a good little Pharisee in the Purpose Driven and Contemporary Praise Band movements of the Southern Baptist Convention. I remember watching a few films in class about various world religions. I honestly can't tell you the name of the film series or even the individuals they got to speak on the program. I do remember a young charismatic Muslim with a Koran in his hand speaking about the merits of his religion.

At one point he said something to the effect of, "Islam actually tells you what you need to do and then tells you how to do these things. Christianity does not do this. This is the strength of Islam. It teaches the principles and then it teaches you how to actually live by what it teaches."

For a moment, my young impressionable mind was threatened by what he had said. It was true that I carried a great deal of guilt and sense of failure about these standards that I was supposed to meet. For a moment, the legalist in me envied the Muslim for his attainable religion. Then my charismatic sensibilities kicked back in. "He's totally off base!" I mused. I thought back to all the practical preaching I had sat through. I thought about all the promises and commitments I had made. I thought about all the principles that my church had shown us buried in the Scriptures. We had Purpose, Spiritual Gift Surveys, the Prayer of Jabez, Promise Keepers, Small Groups, Accountability Partners, etc, etc. All the "progress" I had been making along the path. I thought about all of the works and steps and programs. I thought about all the training in sanctification.

Over the next couple years, I was impressed by the progress that the church was making in these areas. Eventually, the "Bible as Life's Instruction Manual" had been perfected and several cottage industries had sprung up in support of it. In my own mind I had thought back to that guy in class and been proud of how we sure were proving that silly Muslim wrong!

Looking back, that Muslim understood the Law in the Christian Bible better than I did. The reason why I found such commonality in my own faith and his description of Islam was that my faith was in my own works. The proof was in the things that I turned to for comfort: my works. I thought I was pulling things off just like he did. I was a legalist... just like him. No wonder we had so much in common.

Where was Christ in all of that? Did Christ even matter and was He even needed? On what had I set my hope and faith? Did I really believe in Christ or was "belief in Christ" just another self-righteous work that I had achieved on my way to pleasing God? All of the other stuff had obscured the cross... the very thing that I needed most.

The missing piece that he had not said on that video was something that I should have been clinging to all along. Yes, the Christian Law cannot be followed by sinful man. Yes, it cannot be done because it must be done perfectly. That is true. But Christ has fulfilled the Law on my behalf and justified me, a poor miserable sinner, through His vicarious atonement by death on the cross. There is nothing left for me to do. Christ has done it all in my stead.

And yet many churches today fall for the arguement that I first heard from this Muslim in Geography class. The church has to be practical. It has to be relevant and achievable.

It has to be like Islam. Achievable Law... no Gospel required.

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Language

7. "Have to", "Got to", "Ought to", "Need to", "Should", and "Must"

Along with their Southern Baptist cousins "Havta", "Gotta", "Otta", "Needta", and "Shoulda", these words are all verbs and verb phrases. Verbs--as I'm sure you learned in grammar class--are action words. Now when one thinks of the Law, one thinks of direct verbs that you use when you want to form a good imperative phrase. An imperative phrase is a command... which is Law. "You start acting right." and "You repent!" This is obviously Law and, when we think of Law preaching, we invision some red-faced parson yelling these kinds of phrases at his parishoners with a finger wagging.

But it doesn't just stop there. Verbs can be used to make all kinds of phrases. How about an indicative phrase? Indicatives are descriptive statements. Here's a good example: "Fathers should be spending time with their kids." Or here's one: "The people of this church are a people who care about the poor." Now one wouldn't think that phrases in the indicative mood are Law exactly. That's not "fire and brimstone" stuff. It's just good advice and descriptive phrases, right? Indicative mood isn't Law, right? Check out your Ten Commandments:

1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not murder.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

...well what do you know! The LAW of Moses is all indicatives! They aren't in the command mood at all, but are--in fact--descriptions of what good behavior looks like. And yet the Law always accuses... because you do not meet this discription, do you? That's the implied imparative inside of most Law-based indicatives. Everyone knows the mom who uses the indicative, "We don't curse in this house." The command is implied. She is saying, "Stop cursing!"

So when a pastor says, "Fathers should be spending time with their kids." The implied command is "Take care of your kids!" When a pastor says, "We need to be a people who care deeply about lost people." The implied command is, "Get off your lazy butt and go care deeply about lost people."

If it has to do with human action the statement is Law no matter how it's worded. When understood and analyzed, we find that most churches these days are actually 90% or more about Law and Law-related concepts.

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Language

3. "Principle" can mean an "idea" or "concept", but in the modern church it is a Law term.

Principle: 1. a basic generalization that is accepted as true and that can be used as a basis for reasoning or conduct; 2. a rule or standard especially of good behavior; 3. a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or the function of a complex system; 4. a rule of personal conduct.

Coming from a Latin root that means "foundation" or "beginning", a principle is a rule or standard. It is a system of conduct. It is a work. It is law.

4. "Step" as in "Here are four easy steps to a happy marriage" is mega-Law [for full effect say "mega-Law" out loud like you are booming into a mega phone at a monster truck ralley].

Step: A measure: any maneuver made as part of progress toward a goal; "the situation called for strong measures so the police took steps to reduce crime".

If it is something that you must do, it is a work and therefore it falls under the purview of the Law.

5. "Purpose" as in "Purpose Driven Church" or "Purpose Driven Life" or "Discover Your Purpose" etc, etc, etc, etc

Purpose: 1. A result, end, aim, or goal of an action intentionally undertaken, or of an object being brought into use or existence, whether or not the purpose was a primary or secondary effect. 2. A function: what something is used for.

Every tool has a purpose. That purpose is to perform a specific kind of work. Those are Law categories.

6. "Love" as in "We don't get all tied up in doctrine. It's just important to love God and love other people."

Love... Perhaps you should get tied up in doctrine because you have no idea what you are talking about. You think you are protecting against legalism, but the Law is summarized in our love for God and our neighbors. This one doesn't need a dictionary definition. Instead, what is appropriate is a Bible verse:

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

-Matthew 22:36-40

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Language

Often times, the common misunderstanding is that the contemporary church is Antinomian and is not teaching much of anything. The truth is that they are often teaching nothing but the Law. They may be doing it badly and they may be using non-Biblical language to do it, but the themes are essentially Law when they are analyzed. Just because the Law is delivered with a hands-off smile and some trendy music doesn't make it any less distressing for those who hear it. Allow me decode some of the langague for you.

1. "Encouragement" is almost always a Law term.

Encouragement: 1. the expression of approval and support. 2. The act of encouraging; incitement to action or to practice; as, the encouragement of youth in generosity; That which serves to incite, support, promote or advance, as favor, countenance, reward etc.; incentive; increase of confidence.

A term from Old French that means "to put in courage", encouragement is used several ways in contemporary churches. They are almost always related to the Law. Most often, encouragement is used to "encourage" someone to do a particular thing... which is a work... which is Law. There is also a kind of encouragement which is intended to lift the spirit up (which is not the same as the "hope" one finds in hearing the Gospel). In this use, it is almost to counter discouragement which is a consequence of previous applications of the Law. Instead of providing the Gospel, this form almost always turns us back to more works. This is what we converts who have left Purpose Drivenism cynically call the "rat wheel". Most often encouragement in Christian circles is equated with "strength for the day" which is essentially the power to do what you are supposed to do. That's Law... fuzzy-sounding hippy kind of law... but Law none the less.

2. "Practical" is another Law term.

Practical: concerned with actual use or practice

Having something in the church that possess the quality of being "practical" sounds good... but then again the Law makes alot of sense to us because it is written on our hearts. Practical means that you can do something with it. That's a work. That's Law. It may be nice, useful Law... but it's still Law.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Psych on Biblical Knowledge

As indicated by my "Skydiving Judi Dench" reference, I am a big fan of the TV show Psych. Here is a wonderfully hilarious case of art imitating life. :P


Shawn: "Samson, that's just a great name. Straight out of film noir, like an old detective who drinks hard, but loves even harder. Or, go with me on this, Samson, a tiny little orphan mouse who must find his way home to Wolverhampton."

Gus: "...Or Samson, the legendary figure from the Bible."

Shawn: "Naw, that doesn’t work. All those guys had names like Ben Hur and Prometheus."

Gus: "You have never read the Bible, have you, Shawn?"

Shawn: [counting the book titles on his fingers] "Pfffhh. Genesis. Exorcist. Leviathan. Dooo…the right thing…"

Gus: "Oh. My gosh."

Lassiter: "Stop Talking!"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Have I Been Missing?!?

I just ate something called "Bacon Ends and Pieces".

Skydiving Judi Dench! ....why in the world do they cut the tastiest part of bacon off?!?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Proper Perspective and Materialism

It's sad when pagans understand certain ethical matters better than many Christians. A while ago I came across this clever quote:

"He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Finally Counting the Cost

The feature article for the November edition of Lutheran Witness is interesting. It is called "Living a Life of Significance in a Post-Christian Culture" by Dr. Kurt Senske. You can find the article here.

I have to admit, the title worried me when I first saw it. An article with that kind of title could go a bunch of ways in the wrong hands. With great relief I saw that there were no trendy gimmicks or new doctrines here. Instead, Dr. Senske did a fantastic job of communicating some very old ideas about the doctrine of vocation in a fresh, new way that uses the modern language of today's audience to address the modern perceptions of the timeless problems of discipleship. It's a good read.

I got to thinking about the topics discussed in this article in view of the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Dr. Senske's reference to Bonhoeffer reminded me of many things that I had considered for the first time when reading the "Cost of Discipleship".

It's sad really. Sometimes I get it in my head that I am pulling this off to some extent. I look at the Pearl of Great Price and think that I am eagerly selling all that I have and turning my back on temporary materialism for the eternal treasure in Christ. I realize in my head and my heart that these things pass away and that my security is in Jesus. Then what happens? The moth comes in and destroys. The thieves break in and steal. The cost of discipleship actually requires something of me more than mere lip-service. The cause of Christ heaps the smallest amount of shame, persecution, and hardship on me. The test comes.

...and I find myself resenting it.

I find myself hating that I can't have my cake and eat it too. I find myself disappointed and dissatisfied. I find myself getting angry that the wicked prosper and the cheaters always seem to finish first. I find myself upset that I am losing at a pointless game that I told myself I was no longer playing. I talk a good game about being counter-cultural, but my heart is not in the fight like I thought it was. I realize that in my heart of hearts I really want it both ways. I want the Pearl of Great Price and I want my worldly treasures. Like the disciples, I claim to be willing to follow Christ to death, but I shun participating in His rejection and shame.

I want to be a disciple of Christ..... but also remain a son of the world at the same time. The truth is that I really love this materialism and self-worship. Denial of self just causes me to miss self-gratification more intensely. I've been paying bills with my mouth that my pocket can't afford. I've been arrogantly building my tower and have not first sat down to count the cost. What does this theology of the cross really mean in my life? Where has my heart been set really?

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.