Category Archives: The Cross
“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance…. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.” Martin Luther, 95 Theses, Nos. 1 & 4
I really did not think that I heard the news report correctly. Delivering a baby alive, only to discover some sort of defect that, had mums and dads known about it before the birth, they would have aborted the baby, and then killing the baby. And yet, there it is in all its grisly horror. I guess it is needed, after all, with the technology we have, doctors should know whether a child being born will have a defect. After all, we now have a new cause of action for parents who have been wronged by doctors, hospitals and technology. Last Friday, it took a jury less than six hours to deliberate and award an Oregon couple $2.9 million dollars for the failure of their doctors to discover that the child mom carried in her womb had Down’s Syndrome, National Right to Life News Reports. Doctors have to be protected from this kind of frivolity. Enter the gruesome practice of after birth abortion.
“After Birth Abortion: Why should the baby live?” is the title of an article published last month in the Journal of Medical Ethics by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. If the title itself isn’t provocative, the justification for the practice certainly is. Andrew Ferguson critiques the article and the ethics of its authors in an article he wrote for the Weekly Standard entitled “Declaring War on Newborns: The Disgrace of Medical Ethics:”
Right at the top, the ethicists summarized the point of their article. “What we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”
The argument made by the authors—Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, both of them affliliated with prestigious universities in Australia and ethicists of pristine reputation—runs as follows. Let’s suppose a woman gets pregnant. She decides to go ahead and have the baby on the assumption that her personal circumstances, and her views on such things as baby-raising, will remain the same through the day she gives birth and beyond.
Then she gives birth. Perhaps the baby is disabled or suffers a disease. Perhaps her boyfriend or (if she’s old-fashioned) her husband abandons her, leaving her in financial peril. Or perhaps she’s decided that she’s just not the mothering kind, for, as the authors write, “having a child can itself be an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children, regardless of the condition of the fetus.”
The authors point out that each of these conditions—the baby is sick or suffering, the baby will be a financial hardship, the baby will be personally troublesome—is now “largely accepted” as a good reason for a mother to abort her baby before he’s born. So why not after?
“When circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.” (Their italics.) Western societies approve abortion because they have reached a consensus that a fetus is not a person; they should acknowledge that by the same definition a newborn isn’t a person either. Neither fetus nor baby has developed a sufficient sense of his own life to know what it would be like to be deprived of it. The kid will never know the difference, in other words. A newborn baby is just a fetus who’s hung around a bit too long.
As the authors acknowledge, this makes an “after-birth abortion” a tricky business. You have to get to the infant before he develops “those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” It’s a race against time.
Ferguson will draw this out, but let’s make sure the point is clear: babies born alive are not people in the ethical world of after birth abortion. They do not possess inalienable rights, chief among them, the right to live. Their Creator has not seen fit to endow babies with these rights. He must have simply forgotten about babies. After all, God created man and woman, not baby. Ferguson observes, “The article doesn’t go on for more than 1,500 words, but for non-ethicists it has a high surprise-per-word ratio. The information that newborn babies aren’t people is just the beginning.” Adoption, for example, simply will not work. It is absurd to put such a demand on a couple who find themselves in such an awkward position having been so wronged or merely come to the conclusion that they do not want to be parents:
But what about adoption, you ask. The authors ask that question too, noting that some people—you and me, for example—might think that adoption could buy enough time for the unwanted newborn to technically become a person and “possibly increase the happiness of the people involved.” But this is not a viable option, if you’ll forgive the expression. A mother who kills her newborn baby, the authors report, is forced to “accept the irreversibility of the loss.” By contrast, a mother who gives her baby up for adoption “might suffer psychological distress.” And for a very simple reason: These mothers “often dream that their child will return to them. This makes it difficult to accept the reality of the loss because they can never be quite sure whether or not it is irreversible.” It’s simpler for all concerned just to make sure the loss can’t be reversed. It’ll spare Mom a lot of heartbreak.
Wow. Shock and surprise. It seems as if this is a macabre fairy tale being spun in this 21st century world. But there it is, in a respected medical journal for all the world to see. A discussion about killing babies. Our global society is supposed to be civilized, enlightened. But perhaps the self indulgence of our age has finally won, and anything really does go in an age where truth is individualized, contextualized, and experiential.
Now, it’s at this point in the Journal of Medical Ethics that many readers will begin to suspect, as I did, that their legs are being not very subtly pulled. The inversion that the argument entails is Swiftian—a twenty-first-century Modest Proposal without the cannibalism (for now). Jonathan Swift’s original Modest Proposal called for killing Irish children to prevent them “from being a burden to their parents.” It was death by compassion, the killing of innocents based on a surfeit of fellow-feeling. The authors agree that compassion itself demands the death of newborns. Unlike Swift, though, they aren’t kidding.
They get you coming and going, these guys. They assume—and they won’t get much argument from their peers in the profession—that “mentally impaired” infants are eligible for elimination because they will never develop the properties necessary to be fully human. Then they discuss Treacher-Collins syndrome, which causes facial deformities and respiratory ailments but no mental impairment. Kids with TCS are “fully aware of their condition, of being different from other people and of all the problems their pathology entails,” and are therefore, to spare them a life of such unpleasant awareness, eligible for elimination too—because they are not mentally impaired. The threshold to this “right to life” just gets higher and higher, the more you think about it.
And of course it is their business to think about it. It’s what medical ethicists get paid to do: cogitate, cogitate, cogitate. As “After-birth Abortion” spread around the world and gained wide publicity—that damned Internet —non-ethicists greeted it with derision or shock or worse. The authors and the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics were themselves shocked at the response. As their inboxes flooded with hate mail, the authors composed an apology of sorts that non-ethicists will find more revealing even than the original paper.
“We are really sorry that many people, who do not share the background of the intended audience for this article, felt offended, outraged, or even threatened,” they wrote. “The article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments.” It was a thought experiment. After all, among medical ethicists “this debate”—about when it’s proper to kill babies—“has been going on for 40 years.”
So that’s what they’ve been talking about in all those panel discussions! The authors thought they were merely taking the next step in a train of logic that was set in motion, and has been widely accepted, since their profession was invented in the 1960s. And of course they were. The outrage directed at their article came from laymen—people unsophisticated in contemporary ethics. Medical ethicists in general expressed few objections, only a minor annoyance that the authors had let the cat out of the bag. A few days after it was posted the article was removed from the publicly accessible area of the Journal’s website, sending it back to that happy, cozy world.
What more can be said? Really. Do we hate ourselves that much? Or do we simply love ourselves that much? I am not sure which it is. To kill the very image in whose creation God has allowed us to participate is pure hatred. And yet the act is one of such love of self just the thought of it…. There is something just so shocking and unreal about this whole discussion. And yet, here we are talking about it. Though it appears as a new idea, it is not — it is a logical extension of late term and partial birth abortion, growing out of the time worn goal of perfection of the human race by man. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun. Today, it is just marketed and packaged differently. Evil and deceit have many faces. Some friendly, some reasonable, some stark, raving mad. Sometimes that stark raving madness is wrapped in and delivered to us in something that sounds so reasonable, so delectable, so convenient. The most beautiful angel of all continues to deliver the curse to mankind.
As incomprehensible as this all may seem, it is utterly more incomprehensible that our Creator, who is denied as sovereign in this thought experiment, would send His Son into this flesh as a baby to save us from the depravity of our minds. He continues to call to us through His Word, calling us to repentance: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” “As you do not do to the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Babies. Born or unborn are the least of these — the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the unwelcome stranger.
The Question of Truth
In the Gospel of John, a fascinating dialogue takes place between Jesus and Pilate. It is a dialogue that cuts to the heart of our sinful nature, revealing just how blind and puffed up we are. In this dialogue, Jesus takes Pilate to the core issue and fundamental question of mankind: “What is truth?” This is not a question that we ask very often today. It is assumed that we know. Whatever truth has been discovered is already out there, but it does not become true for me until I experience it. More importantly, what is true for me differs from what is true for you and so knowing THE truth is really not knowable. Instead, we pay attention to context. If your truth is not my truth, then all truth is really relative. There is no one truth that binds all things together. We must, therefore, conform to the context in which we are placed as Paul did — be all things to all people — adapt to the culture. Speak truth to people, in their context, that is, speak to the people their particular contextualized truth in their particular context. What may work for you in your church community, may not work in mine — this just may not be the place for you. Find the place where truth feels right to you in your context. And yet if we do so — assume we all know the truth or contextualize — we miss the fundamental question for fallen humanity and fail to see the answer right in front of us, just as Pilate did.
Pilate Questions Jesus
In John 18, Jesus is brought before Pilate. Pilate takes Him aside for questioning in an effort, he thinks, to save His life. Yet Pilate does not know what and who is before him. Pilate wants to know if Jesus is indeed a king, not understanding that the Jews brought Jesus to him because He claimed to be THE King. Jesus’ reply pushes back at Pilate in the probing fashion that we are accustomed to see from Jesus throughout His ministry: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did some others say it to you about me?” This is no rhetorical question, but a question of faith and revelation. Put another way, Jesus asks Pilate, “Do you know who I am? Did flesh and blood reveal this to you or did my Father reveal it to you? Who do you say that I am?” It is the question posed to Jesus’ disciples, a question only Peter answered correctly, in faith. And yet, as we are so wont to do when confronted with the Christ, Pilate avoids the question. He deflects, turning instead to his own power and ability, responding in a fashion that echoes Adam’s reply to God when confronted with the reality of his own sin in the garden of Eden: “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and people have handed you over to me? What have you done?” “Look, sir,” says Pilate, “Your people want you dead. I did not bring you here, although they come according to our law. I can help you out. What did you do that was so bad? Confess it to me, and I can make it go away.” Adam’s response to God was, “It is your fault God. You gave me the woman, she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Sounds eerily similar does it not? And yet Jesus is not done. He reminds Pilate that His Kingdom is not an earthly Kingdom, handing him the rope to which he needs grasp and cling. Yet Pilate can see only the things of this world. He hears that Jesus has a Kingdom, and if a Kingdom He has, Jesus must be a King. If a King then a threat to Rome and Pilate’s rule in Judea. Pilate does not hear Jesus telling Him, “They have brought me to you because of my Word, because My Kingdom does away with all kingdoms of this world. It is My Word, My Message that undermines their authority, and will tear down their laws, their way of life, and their beliefs in order to give them life. This they cannot tolerate, and they, therefore, hate me and reject me.” Jesus, even though He is being led to His death, continues patiently preaching to Pilate the very Gospel of life. “You say that I am a King. For this purpose I was born, for this purpose I have come into this world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate responds to Jesus’ statement with the question of the ages for mankind:
“What is truth?” In the Greek it is ““τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια?”” the Latin, “Quid est Veritas?” Read the rest of this entry
There is a notion out there that we the people, citizens of the Kingdom of God, are in the business of kingdom building. Being Christian, it is said, means we have received a task, a purpose. We cannot pass this job on to someone else. And, the thought goes, Jesus is praying for us, that we would continue His mission by the power of the Holy Spirit, pleading that we would just get up and go. So get out there and do your job!
It is true that we do participate in the extension of the Kingdom of God, but not in the sense of building it and establishing it on this earth. It has already come in Christ and we find it on this earth in His church, where Word and Sacrament are delivered to us. But it is only a foretaste of the feast to come in His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God, however, is not of this world and will NOT be established on this earth which is passing away. Christ and Christ alone establishes this otherworldly Kingdom in the hearts of men. And He works through means — Word and Sacrament.
Think about it. Any thing that we do is tainted by sin, it is imperfect, corrupted and sinful. How then can we who are sinful and corrupt build a holy, perfect Kingdom? It would never be completed!! The thought that Jesus is just praying for us to be infused with the power of the Holy Spirit to take up the mantle of Kingdom Building is off target as well. He who pleads for us before the Father to spare our lives for the sake of His bloody sacrifice has to pray that God would give us power to build the Kingdom?!? Jesus has to rely on us to build His Kingdom? No!
Christ uses sinful men to proclaim the Gospel and to carry His Word to the lost in this world every day in the things we do in our lives. We do not have a super special extra job to do just because we are Christians. We are ordinary people doing ordinary things. It is Christ who does the extraordinary. It is He who builds the Kingdom, He who creates faith and gathers His flock together. We are citizens of this Kingdom of God, perfectly free princes and princesses, bound to no one. And we are also the most dutiful servants caring for our brothers and sisters in this Kingdom of God AND in the kingdom of the world because of His great love for us. There is no compulsion, no obligation. There is only the new creation we are made to be in Christ, living our lives when and where we are, just as He has called us to be.
Lest we think we are tasked with Kingdom building, we would do well to heed the warning of Dieterich Bonhoeffer:
It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess–he builds. We must proclaim–he builds. We must pray to him–that he may build.
We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.
It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reading for October 23, Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH, pages 840-841.
Pastor George Borghardt over at Higher Things has an excellent video short on forgiveness, entitled “Forgiving Un-Sorry People.” The season of Lent is upon us and begins tomorrow with the imposition of ashes tomorrow. This act of receiving ashes reminds us of our brokenness and our mortality. We need a Savior to heal the brokenness and raise the dead to life. For Christians, Lent is a season of reflection and repentance, where we focus on the sacrifice of the Christ on the Cross for our sins. With repentance comes forgiveness of sins in Christ through his suffering, death and resurrection, forgiveness that is ours through Christ. In the first of his 95 theses, Martin Luther observed
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
Forgiveness is an essential part of that life of repentance. And we forgive those who trespass against us, just as we are freely forgiven. But who should we forgive? And should we forgive those who are not necessarily sorry for the wrong they have done? Listen as Pr. Borghardt reflects on forgiving the un-sorry person:
As a member of a traditional LCMS church — traditional as in having been around for a while and not a new plant — I believe that Christ’s Word is true. Period. When He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes unto the Father unless He comes through me,” He means what He says — He is the way to eternal life, He is the truth of God made flesh for us, and He is eternal life. Apart from Him, we cannot know God or be restored to a right relationship with Him. The implication of Jesus’ statement is that there is no other way by which a man may be saved. If the Son sets you free, you are free. To receive salvation, you must receive Christ Himself. If you abide in my Word you are truly my disciples. Christ’s way is the way of the Cross. You want salvation on your own? Keep all of the commandments. Perfectly. Impossible? Sin gets worse when you try? Then you must die. To sin, self, the world. To be a disciple of Christ, one must deny himself, take up His Cross, and follow Christ. To death. The death of this flesh, the death of this life.
When our Lord interacts with sinners, the unclean, the lame, the mute, the deaf, He deals with the problem of sin, whether directly or indirectly. He never leaves the sinner to wallow in his or her sin. He confronts them. Teaches them about their sin and the One who stands before them with the power to forgive. Christ confronts us with His Cross at the very beginning of our Christian walk. He does not wait to make sure that we feel comfortable, connected, or as if we belong. When the Lion of Judah stands before us, we cannot stand. We are driven to the ground and unable to move until He raises us. Christ is Holy. We are unholy. He is clean. We are unclean. Only when Christ raises us up, when He creates new life in us by His Word, only when He makes us Holy can we stand in His presence. It is true that God loves us no matter who we are and he desires that all should be saved. Indeed Jesus comes only for sinners like you and like me.
In the “new” church of today, the most important thing is to make outsiders feel as if they belong, make them feel welcome, and connected, as if they have a home. Whether they believe, whether they are living a life of sin, they need to know that God loves them as they are and they have a place in our church. All we have is yours. God loves you just as you are. To say that it is more important to feel comfortable or connected to a local congregation, to feel welcome and able to participate fully in the life of the congregation, to say that it does not matter whether one is an unrepentant sinner or not to belong to a local congregation is to deny the atoning, salvific work of Christ on the Cross. It is as if to say that Jesus died for me, I am forgiven, it matters not what I do. Worse yet, an unrepentant sinner or an unbeliever sitting in the way of the saints mocks the atoning work of Christ by participating fully in the life of the church. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that if a Christian has sexual relations with a prostitute the two become one flesh. What was clean is made unclean. Because of the unity of the Body of Christ, this union is made part of that Body. For Christ is one, and we who are many, make up that one body of Christ. It is not as if we can wait around until we are fully comfortable, checking this Christianity thing out to see if we like it, waiting until we are ready to be introduced to Christ. No. He claims us, washes us, and makes us clean. Your sins are forgiven, says He. Go, and sin no more.
Jesus said it. I believe it. Now, go and read it for yourself. If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.
The Reformation of the Church, ignited in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of the Theses on Indulgences, is and always has been about the proclamation of the pure Gospel as set forth in sacred Scripture. The “Treasury of Daily Prayer,” from Concordia Publishing House had as part of the readings for today a paragraph from Martin Luther’s sermon on John 1:29 – Behold the Lamb of God. The pure Gospel, as Lutherans and orthodox Christendom proclaims it – we have strayed from time to time from this proclamation – is and always has been Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. It is not an intellectual concept that can be grasped by man with his own faculties. Instead it is something that can only be received by faith, for faith, through faith. For Christ draws us into His story of the cross. His story becomes our story. His life, our life. His death, our death. His resurrection, ours too. His freedom, our freedom. For if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed. It is our eternal hope, and a promise to which must cling. It is Christ Himself.
I give thanks to God for the faithful who have gone before us to pave the way for the freedom we have in Christ. He gives His saints the courage to stand before kings and princes, in the face of great persecution to bear witness to the hope we have in Christ. I give thanks to God that He used Martin Luther “to hatch the egg that Erasmus laid,” and I pray that you do too. If you have not read any of Luther’s sermons, you should. Do not form your opinions of Lutherans on any crass opinions you have heard about Luther’s physical infirmities, or other fantastic insights into his psyche. Instead, read what he has to say for he points to Christ.
In the Sermon on John 1:29, Luther reflects on John’s proclamation of the Christ who approached the river Jordan to be baptized: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Here Luther gives the Gospel, the pure Gospel proclamation of Christ:
May you ever cherish and treasure this thought. Christ is made a servant of sin, yea, a bearer of sin, and the lowliest and most despised person. He destroys all sin by Himself and says: “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the monks stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me.
Such benefactions of God might well provoke us to love and to laud God and to celebrate this service in song and sermon and speech. It should also induce us to die willingly and to remain cheerful in all suffering. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin, yes, with the sin and the death of the entire world! He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God. And who would not gladly die for Christ’s sake? The Son of Man performs the basest and filthiest work. He does not don some beggar’s torn garment or old trousers, nor does He wash us as a mother washes a child; but He bears our sin, death, and hell, our misery of body and soul. Whenever the devil declares: “You are a sinner!” Christ interposes: “I will reverse the order; I will be a sinner, and you are to go scotfree.” Who can thank our God enough for this mercy?
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 1:29). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1999).
If you have ever wondered what the function of the local church or congregation is, we have the answer. CFW Walther, first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, wrote a piece entitled “The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation Independent of the State.” In it he notes that each congregation has six duties as follows:
Of the Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Local Church Independent of the State
6. It is the duty of the congregation carefully to see to it that the Word of God may richly dwell and have full and free scope in its midst. Col. 3:16: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” etc.
7. It is the duty of the congregation to care for the purity of doctrine and life in its midst and to exercise church discipline in these matters. Matt. 18:15-18: ‘If thy brother shall trespass against thee, . . . let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Rom. 16:17: “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” 1 Cor. 5:1-13: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? . . . Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” 1 Cor.6:1-8; 2 Cor.2:6-11. Gal. 6:1: “restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6,14,15. 2 John 10,11: “If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed,” etc.
8. It is the duty of the congregation to concern itself also with the temporal welfare of all its members that they may not suffer want of the necessaries of life nor be forsaken in any need. Gal.6:10: “Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Deut. 15:4. Rom. 12:13: “Distributing to the necessity of saints.” Gal. 2:9,10; Jas. 1 :27; 1 Thess. 4:11,12.
9. It is the duty of the congregation to see that in its midst “all things be done decently and in order,” 1 Cor. 14:33, 40, and to “provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men,” 2 Cor. 8:21. Col. 2:5.
10. It is the duty of the congregation to be diligent “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” also with all parts of the orthodox Church, Eph. 4:3; 1 Thess. 4:9,10; Rom. 15:26, 27; 2 Cor. 8:19.
11. It is also incumbent upon the congregation to do its part in building up and promoting the welfare of the Church at large. Amos 6:6; Acts 11:21-23 (“Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem; and they sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch,” etc.); 15:18.
The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, by Dr. CFW Walther, translated by Dr. Th. Engelder, from “Walther and the Church” by Dau, Engelder and Dallman, (1938 Concordia Publishing House). The full text of the theses can be found at the following website: http://www.reclaimingwalther.org/articles/cfw00005.htm
Simple, Scriptural, to the Pointe. Every local congregation has the responsibility to Read the rest of this entry
Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk. The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there. Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically. Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?” And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:
The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.
Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.
Christocentric means Christ centered. Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world. It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood. Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors. It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away. For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior. And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world. Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.
Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians. He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage. This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity. Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:
The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.
The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.
The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality. Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world. He is not merely an idea from a book. Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure. No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever! God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God. Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin. And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way. Claiming to be wise, we become fools. Even in the church. Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest. Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world. Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.
So what is the Question of our time? Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually? Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something? Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today? Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?” What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified? Who is Jesus? My buddy? My friend? My coach? In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples? I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 marks the celebration of Holy Cross Day in the church. Sadly, across Christendom, we are abandoning our symbols and reinventing ourselves so as not to offend those outside the church. Campus Crusade for Christ dropped “Christ” from its name because research showed that 9% of Christians and 20% of non-Christians were offended or alienated by the name of Christ. His NAME was getting in the way of accomplishing their mission. Christ Community Church in Spring Lake Michigan removed its cross and changed its name to C3 Exchange to be more inclusive. Click here to read the story and see the video of the cross being removed. The cross, according to C3’s pastor, has become a negative symbol for people. He compared to the church’s use of the cross to remember the work of Christ akin to using a bullet to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. A British church removed a 10 foot tall crucifix from the outside of its building a couple of years ago because it was scaring young children. It was considered a horrifying depiction of pain and suffering and putting people off. You can read the story here.
It used to be that we proudly displayed the symbols of our Faith. Often these symbols draw us closer to the Faith and the story of the cross. That is how the Feast of the Holy Cross began for the church. It is traced back to Helena, mother of Constantine the Great who made it safe and legal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. His mother was a devout Christian. Around 320 A. D., Helena made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to recover the holy sites of Christendom. She began an excavation around the site of what she believed to be the tomb of Christ. It was rumored that the true cross had been buried in a ditch. One of the few people who are said to have known exactly where the cross was buried, a man named Judas, coincidentally, was inspired to point the location out to Helena. Not one, but three crosses were found in the excavation. Pilate’s inscription was not on any of the crosses. To determine the true cross, people who were sick were brought to the crosses to touch them. It is said that when they touched what was believed to be the true cross, they were made well. One report states that a dead man was brought back to life. Upon this discovery, Helena commissioned the construction of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, which stands in that spot to this day. Holy Cross Day was instituted as a Feast Day in the church to commemorate the dedication of the Holy Sepulchre which is said to have occurred on September 14, 335 A. D.
There was a time during the course of Christian history when our symbols, our heritage inspired us to do great things. They moved Helena to find the holy spots where Christ walked and lived and mark them for all time. To this day what she did lives on and provides us with the opportunity to visit places where God Himself incarnate walked the earth, where He lived, and where He died. Certainly, pious superstitions and cult like rituals and observances grew up around the stories of our holy symbols and have littered the path through time. Yet there is fact that anchors these stories, and makes them timeless. That fact is the fulcrum around which all of human history turns: Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son, became flesh and blood like you and me, lived on this earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead.
The Cross will always be a scandal for humanity, the worst scandal in history. For with the bloody Cross, we physically nailed the Christ to a piece of wood and killed the God of the universe. One cannot deny that death is man’s reality, for it is certain that this life on this earth will end one day. Yet for the Christian, the True Christian, the Cross is our reality. For it is there that God meets man in death. The Son of God died in the flesh and, in that death, unites our flesh to His, leading us into life eternal. The Cross is and always will be the symbol of Christianity, defining who and what we are.
Gene Veith over at Cranach: The Blog of Veith draws our attention to the recent blog on CNN – Belief Blog identifying the real demographic that makes up the unchurched. It is not our middle to upper class youth, or the hip slickster attracted to the Mega-Church-Emerging Church, Evangelical, Relevant,Hipster, Pastor trying to be like everyman in his congregation and peddling best buddy Jesus and re-writing God’s story of salvation. No, it is not the target audience for the church growth institutions. Rather it is the less educated, lower income, blue collar folks who are not as hip, intellectual and sophisticated as those who we want to grace the doors of our auditoriums for the super, awesome, entertaining mega rock concert with an amazing light and video show with a bit of teaching thrown in. But don’t take my word for it. Read Veith’s blog post below, then click through and check out the comments on the post. They are quite challenging and thought provoking and should challenge us in our outreach efforts.
You want church growth? You want to reach the unchurched? Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals. The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar. THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:
If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.
Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches? What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off? How might they be brought back into the fold?
UPDATE: Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.