Yesterday, I received our church's Monthly Newsletter for May 2015 and just had to rant.
Ok, I need some help from my more discerning Confessional Lutheran friends (particularly Pastors too who are willing to give a faithful confession here) and those who have been Lutheran a lot longer than I have. A couple of thoughts on my mind today after reading some things that left me absolutely stunned.
First, is it ever correct for a Pastor to teach us that Jesus' "last words" AFTER His resurrection are somehow more important to us than His words "It is finished" on the cross? Yes, we should pay close attention to anything and everything Christ said, but the Gospel (Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice on the cross in your place for your sins so that you could be forgiven and have eternal life) is what it's all about, right? Shouldn't that be emphasized as often as possible and especially so soon after celebrating Easter? Yes, focusing on Jesus' "last words" AFTER His resurrection is often done within the context of doing a teaching on the so-called "Great Commission," but let's not forget that that passage is more for Pastors and the Office of The Holy Ministry than for believers like you and me who do not have that specific vocation in life (again, from a distinctly Lutheran perspective). That's not to say we never share the Gospel with people (we most definitely do!; 1 Peter 3:15). Still, we do so WITHIN the context of our various vocations (i.e., as a husband; father; brother; friend; co-worker; etc.) and not intentionally walking the streets just looking for anyone and everyone to witness to. I guess I'm just constantly amazed by the complete lack of attention given to the role of the called and ordained Pastor and/or one's vocation and how God has designed both to operate in this life. Sure, it's certainly clever to create a devotion/study on "Jesus' REAL Last Words," but should a minister of God's gifts for me and for you be emphasizing a "missional" mindset over and above justification and salvation? Sorry, but I have to agree with one friend who commented: "I think it always unwise to pit Jesus' words against one another..." Amen! You know who is good at doing that and at twisting Scripture (Genesis 3:1)? Something for us to prayerfully consider.
Also, exactly how does a Christian go "ALL IN" for Jesus? I'm curious. Using Deuteronomy 6:5 as a proof text to guilt me into "fully committing" my life to Him? Again, how does one "fully commit" though? What's the standard? Am I supposed to measure my own "good works" against someone else's? Though important, I thought we weren't supposed to put our faith and trust in our good works? Wow! That's a complete misunderstanding of Law and Gospel, isn't it? It just makes me sad (and mad) that proper, on-going catechesis on the basics of our shared and cherished faith isn't being done in our churches today as it should be. What is so hard about faithfully preaching the Word and rightfully administering the Sacraments? They are God's Means of Grace for you and me, and yet, they're being kept from us in all their purity. My hungry soul cries out about this and I'm somehow the "bad guy" for even bringing it up. That's ok. My dear friends, I'm only trying to help. Don't take my word for any of this. All I know is that it's supposed to be about God's gifts of grace for you! It's not supposed to be about your life as some sort of "gift" for Him! So, to read something like, "Is He calling you to be His disciple and are you willing to do what it takes...to be ALL IN?" is just heartbreaking. That's Lutheran let alone Biblical!?! I challenge any self-professing Christian (particularly any self-professing Lutheran I know who's reading this) to please just get your hands on the Small Catechism/Large Catechism if not the Book of Concord itself either in print or for free online and start reading it side-by-side with your Bible. Seriously, just humor me and give it a shot. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know what it is I believe, teach, and confess and why I believe, teach, and confess it. My heart truly breaks for those I love who are being fed a steady diet of spiritual half-truths and outright lies. This rant was simply another attempt to get them to repent and return to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). Grace and peace to you and yours!
Of course, I went almost two full years without a single person from my congregation clicking the "Like" button or commenting positively on any of the truth-affirming Scripture passages and verses (including various blog posts, videos, and sermons) I shared on Facebook to help communicate what it is we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, but attack the church itself -- that is, attack Trinity Lutheran Church and not Christ's Church in general -- and that surely gets them to respond!
RM: Jeff, my previous post is the article I believe you are speaking of. I don't see anywhere in it to make me believe that the Pastor was telling us that his last words were more important than his sacrifice for us. I do see it as encouragement for us as Christians to share the news of his death for us to non believers.
BM: I feel like the analogy about going "all in" can be compared to Paul's letter to the Romans chapter 6. Do we go on sinning or do we live in God's grace and serve him? It's like James says in chapter 2 starting at verse 14...if your life is not producing fruit are you truly living your life for Christ?...it's just something to get you thinking about your priorities in life...Christ called us to action not to just accept his grace for ourselves. It saddens me that you read that newsletter and chose to create a theological debate. The newsletter is supposed to be uplifting, a way to share our faith with each other and support each other, I hope you can focus on that.
You'll recall that its already been several months since I was told in no uncertain terms that me and my family should find another church since no one at the one where we're currently members feels the same way that we do.
Still, recognizing that this entire discussion is playing itself out publicly on Facebook, and wanting to respond appropriately despite any feelings of righteous anger and contempt that still have root in my heart (Lord, forgive me!), I asked, "How would I respond if I were a Pastor who was trying to catechize while also giving a firm and steadfast confession?"
Well, here's what I came up with...
Thank you all for commenting. RM, if I may ask you to please go back and read what I wrote, then you will see that I agree with you in that, yes, we should definitely be prepared to tell others what it is we believe, teach, and confess about our risen Savior (see the section where I referenced 1 Peter 3:15). My criticism is that the article puts the emphasis on us (i.e., our own abilities/methods/techniques for "converting" the lost non-believers) rather than upon Jesus Christ and His work and gifts for others where it belongs (i.e., how He converts/saves lost souls with or without our help; Ephesians 2:8-9). My criticism is that the article is more representative of a popular theology that differs significantly from what we Lutherans proclaim to believe, teach, and confess (see "Arminian Theology"/"Decision Theology" which we are supposed to firmly reject as false although this is what is being regularly taught as Biblical truth). That's all I was criticizing and questioning. That particular kind of theology of conversion distorts the concept of the church's mission as it distorts the historic understanding of Matthew 28:19-20 (the so-called "Great Commission"). We seem to accept -- rather uncritically -- a translation and interpretation that takes "the making of Christians" from the realm of God (a.k.a. the fact that "What Makes A Christian" is God Himself, all by Himself, with no help from anyone who is turned from enemy of God to follower of Christ), and makes it the work and responsibility of men.
This is why we Lutherans view Matthew 29:19-28 as being mistranslated, overworked, and abused. How so? Well, as Lutherans, we also believe in something called the "Doctrine of Vocation" and we also believe that God has instituted Christ's Church for the very purpose of delivering His "Means of Grace" to us, His blessed gifts to us, in the form of His Word and Sacraments. Furthermore, God has instituted the vocation of Pastor to call and ordain those men who would be His servants and ministers of those precious gifts for our conscience and soul. Why? Because it is through those Means of Grace (Baptism; Word of God; Lord's Supper) that the Lord promises to create Christians and to grow Christ's Church here on earth. The Lutheran Confessions declare, "Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extoled as Spirit without the Word and the Sacraments." (Smalcald Articles Part III, Art. VIII, 10). So, this whole "We Are The Ones Who Make More And Better Disciples of Jesus Christ" sounds good on the surface to our ears, and our hearts are certainly in the right place no doubt, but it's not entirely Biblical nor is it what we should be believing, teaching, and confessing, especially if we are calling ourselves Lutherans (2 Timothy 4:2-5). We don't create Christians or grow Christ's Church -- God does that all on His own and apart from us. That's why such teachings like this that reflect the principles of the "Church Growth Movement" are things I'm going to regularly try to get people to prayerfully consider and question, because it's in direct opposition to what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess and, therefore, in direct opposition to the Biblical truth of the matter. Instead of always asking, "What Must We Do To Become A Large And Successful Church?" we should be asking, "What Must We Do To Be Found Faithful Before The Lord Of The Church?" It's Christ's Church, not ours. Plus, why do we allow the secular business world’s standards to determine whether a church is doing "good" or "bad" in this day and age? "Success" by the world's standards (a.k.a. see the various mega-church ministries today) is not necessarily "confirmation" of God's blessing upon it (James 4:4; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 2:15-17). See, the fundamental difference between the Lutheran understanding of "What Makes A Christian?" and the "Made-In-America" Pop Christianity understanding is that we have always known from the beginning that "success" and/or "failure" (again, usually defined by worldly standards, which is another subject all its own) is not in our hands. It is to be left completely up to God. Our only concern? Is the Word being faithfully preached and are the Sacraments being rightly administered? That is the only question I had hoped to get people to ask themselves after reading my comments from yesterday.
BM, thank you for commenting as well. You wrote that "it saddens me that you read that newsletter and chose to create a theological debate." Since when is simply asking questions akin to creating a theological debate, especially when those questions are an attempt to point out how and why the things that a Lutheran church believes, teaches, and confesses is in no way "Lutheran" in the hopes that such a church will repent and return to her faithful confession? The irony? The misapplication/misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 6:5 was one of the subjects of my post and I find it quite ironic that I'm trying to do exactly what it tells me to ("You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might") by trying to point out that we're not showing Him that kind of love if we're willing to distort His Word (whether intentionally or not), and yet, I'm the one who's the problem. The greater irony? How can we all claim that our mission as a church body is for "Making Better Disciples of Jesus Christ" when any attempt to actually "disciple" one another (like I attempted to do by bringing all of this up for honest, serious discussion) gets immediately ignored or ridiculed? Isn't that a bit hypocritical of us? It certainly is and we're all guilty of it (or have been at one time or another). How does that demonstrate being "ALL IN" if that's what we're aiming for? We’re “ALL IN” but we can’t talk about our shared and cherished faith without getting so offended? Why? I mean, if we’re all Lutherans here, then it should be pretty easy to find agreement and reach a consensus on such subjects, shouldn’t it? Again, I'm only being direct not to be a jerk, but because this is serious stuff and we need to watch what we're calling Gospel truth (James 3:1; Matthew 12:36). If I made you and your husband a 5-Star dinner tonight, but told you that somewhere in that meal was a single pellet of Rat Poison (just 1 pellet or less than 1% of the entire meal), would you still eat it? Of course not. In a spiritual sense, I’m just trying to prevent my brothers and sisters in Christ from swallowing that “one pellet of Rat Poison” -- doctrinally speaking -- by calling attention to it and by pointing it out. Does that really make me such a bad guy? It says "Lutheran" on the sign out front, but shouldn't that mean that our doctrine and practice matches what it means to be Lutheran? That's all I wanted to bring up for prayerful consideration with my comments from yesterday, because I love the Lord, I love His children (that's all of you!), and I love His gifts (though not perfectly or as often as I should, I admit). If that is not "uplifting" since it demands we all have a "challenging" and "difficult" conversation about such things, then so be it. If I didn't care, if I didn't love Him, love His gifts, and love His people (you), then I would just keep my mouth shut, right? Wouldn't that be the most "unloving" and "non-supportive" thing to do? Wouldn't that be violating the very verse (Deuteronomy 6:5) that the newsletter encouraged me to commit “ALL IN” to? Sorry, I’ve written way too much already and don’t know what else to say. I pray that you will come to understand where I'm coming from on this. Grace and peace to you and yours!
At the time of this writing, I haven't received a response from either of them yet, but I'm sure I will at some point later today.
Thankfully, I came across this fantastic list that Chris Rosebrough shared that beautifully resonates with this whole ordeal.
12 Easy Steps To "Living The Gospel" (Or Being "ALL IN" For God)
(NOTE: I added the "Or Being 'ALL IN' For God" part)
1. Be born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem in Judea
2. Live a sinless life for 30 years. (Also, stay sinless through steps 3-11)
3. Get baptized by the prophesied forerunner of yourself.
4. Survive the desert for 40 days, with nothing but the clothes on your back. Then, resist the temptations of Satan.
5. Call 12 people to be your specially trained apostles, without telling them what they are getting themselves into.
6. Preach the Word of God, especially in confusing parables, that even your apostles need you to interpret for them.
7. Heal the sick, blind and deaf instantly, and without doubt. Raise the dead. Cast out demons.
8. After 3.5 years of this ministry, enter Jerusalem (in Israel) on the back of an ass, triumphantly. Make sure it is just before the Jewish Feast of Passover.
9. After a night of feast and prayer, be betrayed by one of your 12 apostles.
10. After a mock trial, be sentenced to death by crucifixion. Be beaten and abused until you are no longer recognizable as a human being.
11. Carry your own cross through the city and be nailed to it and die for the sins of the world.
12. Raise yourself from the dead after 3 days.
HT: S. Christopher Fischer
What's the matter with you!?! Why aren't you living the Gospel like you should be!?!
You must be a "false convert" then or something.
Get the point? Good.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, remember, it's not about "YOU/US For Christ!" but about "CHRIST For You/Us!"
NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!