Be “Authentically Christian”

The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

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.

Recovering the Lost Symbols of the Church — Holy Cross Day

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.

“Who the unchurched really are” via Gene Veith

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.

via Cranach: The Blog of Veith.

There are NO Seekers in the Church

A couple of months ago I posted an article entitled “Do We Miss the Point of Worship?  Is it for Seekers and Evangelism?” I have been thinking about that article quite a bit lately in the context of the worship life of the church. Seekers are generally thought to be unchurched persons who have a desire for things spiritual.  They know there is something more, they are just trying to find it.  They are said to be seeking God, looking for Him.  We are told that our services need to be user friendly, non-threatining, not offensive, and accessible so that unchurched visitors — seekers — will not be turned off to our message and will return.  Listening to an Internet radio program the other day — Chris Rosebrough on Pirate Christian Radio —  the commentator observed that there are no seekers in the church.  As the basis for this statement, he referred to Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 3:9-12:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; 
 no one understands; 
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

Paul quotes Psalms 14 and 53 here, for the proposition that no one seeks for God, that we have all turned aside, becoming worthless, pursuing what pleases us.  This recognition that there is no one who seeks after God, therefore, has ancient authority as the Psalmists attest.  Paul says elsewhere in Ephesians that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Continue reading “There are NO Seekers in the Church”

Christ in King Ahab of Israel — Sermon from Rev. Jonathan Fisk

I have become a sermon junkie of late, seeking out good preaching to fill in quiet times.  Preaching that tells us the whole story of God — the law and the Gospel — wrapped up in Christ.  A couple of week’s ago, my wife shared a sermon from Rev. Jonathan Fisk of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield, Pennsylvania with me on 1 Kings 22.  This is an example of expository preaching on a particular text, preaching that is designed to draw out the meaning of particular passages of scripture and throw a clearer light on the meaning of the passage.

In this text, Ahab of the northern tribes of Israel meets with Jehoshophat, King of Judah to talk about joining forces to go to war with Syria to take back the land of Ramoth-gilead.  Before doing so, Jehoshophat tells Ahab to inquire of the Lord whether they should do this or not.  Ahab gathers his gaggle of prophets together, 400 of them, and they all support the king and his plan.  One prophet is left out, Michaiah, because he does not tell Ahab what he wants to hear.  This sets up an interaction between the false prophets of Ahab and the true prophet of God, Michaiah.  Michaiah tells Ahab that he will be killed in battle.  What makes this sermon so compelling is that it takes you where you do not expect.  Normally, you would think that the lesson to be learned here is listen to the Word of God and do what it says.  Ahab did not listen to God’s Word given through the prophet, he was killed in battle, and the northern tribes were thrown in disarray.  Ahab listened to false teachers who led him astray, therefore, beware of false teachers.  Not so fast.  Rev. Fisk takes the listener through the story straight to Christ and shows how Ahab — yes Ahab — and Micaiah prefigure or are types of Christ in this story.  The layers to Scripture are deeper than we can ever imagine.  Scripture is broader than we can conceive.  But it all, in the end, talks about that one thing needful, Jesus Christ.  Click the link below to listen to the Sermon, you will not be disappointed.

Pentecost 6 — 1 Kings 22

The Gospel is For Proclamation By YOU and ME

“Where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call, and gather the Christian church, apart from which no one can come to the Lord Christ.” Large Catechism II.45 (Kolb/Wengert, 436)

“Wherever there is God’s Word, no matter whether it is in Baptism, in Absolution, in the Sacrament [Lord’s Supper] there God Himself speaks to us. In the Absolution, He Himself absolves us from [our] sins. In the Sacrament or the Lord ’s Supper, Christ Himself feeds us with His body and blood. We thus have God’s Word in the church, indeed, in the home. Whenever the pastor speaks to us in the church or the father in the house, then God Himself speaks to us.” Luther, sermon on Luke 18:31-43 (1534). Quoted in J.T. Mueller, “Notes on Luther’s Conception of the Word of God as the Means of Grace” in CTM 20 (August 1949), 588.

“The Lutheran assertion that…preaching, in so far as it is Lutheran preaching, is God’s own speech to men, is very difficult to maintain in practice. Instead, it is very easy to slip into the idea that preaching is only speech about God. Such a slip, once made gradually alters the picture of God, so that he becomes the far-off deistic God who is remote from the preached word and is only spoken about as we speak about someone who is absent.”

Gustav Wingren, The Living Word: A Theological Study of Preaching and the Church (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1960), 19.

“It is remarkable that during his sojourn in Corinth, Paul was day and night wrestling with the problem how to bring Christ into people’s heart and how to lay a solid foundation for their faith in Christ and their joy in Him. Jesus Christ was the marrow and substance of all his preaching, the golden thread that ran through all his sermons.” C.F.W. Walther, 39th Evening Lecture in Law and Gospel (CPH, 1929), 405.

Quotes taken from Faithful and Afire, Participant’s Guide, Rev. Dr. Peter Nafzger, www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1161.

I am amazed at the excuses we make for not using words, more specifically, THE WORD, to proclaim the Gospel.  I have heard it said, “I do not know the Bible as well as others do.”  Or, “I am not a good speaker.”  Or, “Evangelism is not my ‘Spiritual gift.'”  Or, “I am not a preacher.”  Or, “We just need to model Christ, be a good example.”  The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”  He also writes to the Romans:

“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Romans 10:5-17, ESV.

This faith that we are given, this faith that we live is more than simple belief and trust.  That is what it is in its most basic form.  Yet this faith is more than simple belief and trust, it is living, breathing.  It is made alive by the very Word of Christ.  In us, it is like the mustard seed that, although it is the tiniest seed of the garden plants, grows to be the biggest.  Not because of any work or obedience on my part, but because of the working of the Word that quickens my soul.  So it is with the Word of God that is sown in us, it produces tremendous yields of fruit working in and through us.  It is the Word acting, working, producing yield beyond our wildest imaginations.

This Word is not just in our hearts so that we can be an example for others.  It is, as Paul says, in our mouth — your mouth, my mouth.  Ezekiel and St. John give us pictures of eating scrolls containing the Word of God, something that we can chew, taste, ingest, absorb.  But the Word is placed in our mouth, not simply for our own personal benefit, to nourish only me — the Gospel must be proclaimed.   It is the Word of faith that we proclaim.  We confess — that is we, publicly declare, praise, give thanks, declare, speak with another to a reasoned conclusion — with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord.  The Greek — and I am no scholar — always seems to have a deeper connotation than our English.  This confessing is more than simply saying I believe.  It is coming together with another person and speaking to them the Good News of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.  For if the Gospel is not spoken to another, they cannot hear, and so cannot receive the faith that comes from Christ.

But you say, I can lead a godly life and provide a Christ-like example for others.  They will know Jesus, by seeing the Jesus in me.  All I need to do is share the love of Jesus with others, and those who are speakers will do the rest.  God will take care of that.  We must, certainly, lead a godly life and be an example for others — our actions must show that we are followers of Christ.  A good tree bears fruit, while a bad tree bears no fruit or, even worse, bad fruit.  But our deeds MUST match our confession — there must be a profession of the faith we have been given.

Christ Himself tells us that we must proclaim Him before this world.  In Matthew 10, He speaks of persecution that will come to His followers.  He tells us that we will be called to bear witness of HIM before this world, its kings, princes, and rulers.  Our Lord tells us not to worry about what to say, that we will be given the words at that time.  If He promises to give us words to speak when we are called before great and mighty people, how much more so will He give us words to speak to the least of this world?  Do not be afraid, speak Christ!  Proclaim the Gospel!  A city on a hill cannot be hidden;  do not put the light of the Gospel under a bushel!  It is meant to be seen!  Christ issues a stern warning to those who would hide Him, when He has made Himself known to us:  “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 10:32-33, ESV.

Hide who you are, who Christ has called you to be, remove references to Scripture in your print materials, provide a different face than who you claim to be at your core, and you are hiding Christ.  You are, in effect, denying Him before men.  Whatever the reason — marketing decision, attempt to appeal to the world, self-preservation, not a good speaker, more of a behind the scenes person — there is a deception involved when dealing with others.  More importantly, there is a failure to trust in the God who comes to you in your Baptism, and in the very Word we are called to proclaim.  Just as you do not get the full import of God’s saving message by reading only bits and pieces, for the Gospel encompasses all of God’s story (you cannot have the Law without the Gospel), so too the Christian life is not complete without confessing Christ before men, sharing the Word verbally with others.  Moses was not a good speaker and God found a way to use him and his voice.  But what if he only led by example?  What if Moses never proclaimed the salvation of Israel before Pharaoh?  Better yet, what if Jesus said nothing?  No, the good news is always proclaimed before men by divine imperative.  God’s Word never returns to Him void, in spite of our attempts to circumvent His plan for us.

The next time you are tempted to make an excuse as to why YOU cannot share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, why you can only be an example by sharing the love of Christ, remember our Savior’s parting words to us:  “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”

The Proper Work of God and The Alien Work of God

The proper work of God is the work of the Gospel, that is, to create mercy and forgiveness.  God makes peace, righteousness, mercy, joy, love, truth, patience, kindness, and health.   God is the Creator.  He creates.  God creates that which pleases Him and calls it good.  The Gospel.

The alien work of God is condemnation and judgment upon sin.  It is the crucifixion and destruction of the old Adam;  the suffering and death of Christ;  the satisfaction of His justice and holiness; the punishment of sin;  chastisement and discipline of His children.  Justice.  God’s Law.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, c. 1524, oil on wood, 49 X 61 cm. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

“It is as if he were saying: “Because you scoff at the Word, the Lord is forced to do a strange work, namely, to judge and to destroy.” For the proper work and nature of God is to save. But when our flesh is so evil that it cannot be saved by God’s proper work, it is necessary for it to be saved by His alien work. Because in good times we stroll and stray from the Word, our covers have to be made narrow, and we must be disciplined by various afflictions so that we may be saved by God’s alien work; the ungodly are altogether driven by God’s proper and foreign work because they   V 16, p 234  do not want to get under these narrow covers but want to stretch out in their own. Meanwhile God keeps His own by means of the cross and narrow covers and thus separates them from the ungodly. This is God’s alien work, by which He condemns the ungodly, so that we may be saved. So you see that our flesh is outwardly indulgent when it is without the cross, and therefore various afflictions are necessary to control that flesh.”

Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 16: Luther’s works, vol. 16 : Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Is 28:21). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.