Devotional thought and Prayer of the Day;
2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NLT2)
It almost goes without saying that if we realize God’s love and live it, we will heal the divisions and brokenness within Christendom. Only if we realize God’s love is this possible, for no merely theological reconciliation is enough. The tragedy of denominationalism arose through a lack of love, not only a lack of knowledge or theological orthodoxy. Indeed, we cannot even understand what orthodoxy is without love, for orthodoxy means right belief about God. And God is love.
We split God’s visible Church (no one can split the invisible Church) because we were selfish. We decided to be our own conductors rather than all following the divine baton. That has to be the root cause of denominationalism, for God is peace and unity, so if we all loved and obeyed and followed His leading, we would necessarily sing in harmony. We are not singing in harmony, therefore we must have disobeyed Him, disobeyed love. The diagnosis is inescapable.
And so is the prescription. Though a thousand further details need to be addressed, here is the most important ingredient of all in the prescription for reunion. Here is the root of all true ecumenism. All churches and denominations must approach dialogue with purity and simplicity of heart. They must seek not triumph or power or self-justification or conversions but simply to follow God’s will. If that were done, a miracle would happen. Impossible healings of our divisions would become possible. Reunion without compromise would happen. And the world would once again sit up and say, astonished, “See how they love one another!”
The sacrament, Luther says, is not and should not be for those who come solely because they are commanded to do so, but for those who recognize their personal need and are inwardly driven to receive it. Recognition of his sinfulness and unworthiness should not prevent a man’s reception of the sacrament. Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ intended his Supper precisely for sinners who trust and believe in the words of institution
In the midst of the present crisis, stress is taking its toll on leadership.
And we begin to see that stress move divide the church even more. Not at the congregational level, I continually hearing of how congregations are doing amazing things. But at denominational levels and in inter-denominational levels.
It is sad and disheartening, and Shakespeare’s words to the Houses of Capulet and Montagu are oddly prophetic, “a pox on both your houses!”
It is in this time that we need to stop the fighting, the backbiting, the games, and strategic sessions. of how we will deal with “them”.
The Apostle Paul is right, the only answer to this is the answer we all need to hear. It is not the best preaching or the best academic theology that will provide unity, that will create the bond we need to heal the brokenness in the Body of Christ. That has not accomplished it in the last 120 years. Kreef is right when he discusses that we cannot truly be orthodox without the experience of love.
I might be naive, but I think that Kreeft is absolutely correct about seeing miracles occur when we seek God together; when we confess our sins and are forgiven; when we share in the feast the is the purest of love, the sharing of the Body and Blood of Jesus.
For that is why the altar is there, why the pastor/priest urges us to remember Jesus, brutally crucified, His Body broken, His blood being poured out. Not for the people who have it all together doctrinally, not for those who are without love claiming some form of Orthodoxy. His Body was broken, His blood poured out, and is there on the altar for those who need healing, who need reconciliation, who need a miracle.
That is where unity and revival find are generated, as we pray together, as we we seek His face together, as we experience His love and mercy. That is where the miracles happen.
As we prepare for Pentecost this year, as we look for the regathering of saints, perhaps it is time to allow God to bring us together, to let His love wash us clean, to invite the Holy Spirit to do the miracles that would truly bring us back together.
Lord, help us to love, as you love us!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 151–152.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 169.
Devotional Thought of the Day
16 You do not want sacrifices, or I would offer them; you are not pleased with burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart. Psalm 51:16-17 (TEV)
Legalism claims that overt actions in conforming to rules for explicit behavior make us right and pleasing to God. It’s as if we believe that power resides in the words or in the rituals themselves. Jesus called legalism the “righteousness . . . of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20 NRSV).
Legalism and superstition are closely joined by their emphasis on controlling people and events through little rules, bypassing the realities of the heart and soul from which life really flows. That is why Jesus tells us we must go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees to heart-and-soul transformation if we are truly to enter into life.
Disclaimer – if you aren’t a Lutheran, some of this may not make sense. But other groups have modifiers as well, Examples of this are “Evangelcial” Christian, or “Conservative” Baptist, or “Orthodox” Presbyterian, or “King James Only” Believers, or Traditional Catholics. Consider what words modify or assist to “truly” define your trust in God.
There are a lot of denominations out there, and some have taken their denomination name out of the name of their church. You don’t know what they believe, or what their history is, because they have hidden it from plain sight.
I am a Lutheran, the theology and practice that has been passed down I find consistent with scripture and the early church. The somewhat simple way Luther and his peers dealt with being severed from the Roman Catholic Church was not perfect, and yet, what they laid out in documents like the Augsburg Confession clearly reveal the love of God, poured out on us through the word and sacraments by the Holy Spirit.
So, here I stand, and until proven otherwise I don’t have much of an option!
Yet in my brotherhood/denomination which we call a Synod (which means, ironically – to walk together) there are those who would modify the term Lutheran with different words. Confessional is one of those terms, one that is used as a badge of honor, and which draws a vague line in the sand. There are others, that take a further stand, and I would list them as well, and those inside my little section of the family of God know them well enough.
The problems with these labels, no matter where they are on the spectrum is that they divide us based on legalistic standards, rather than on how Christ defines us, they separate us from those that cling to the Lord just as we do. They attempt to clone the people of God, rather than realize the diversity that comes within a family or within a body.
The idea is the line in the sand becomes a sense of pride, a sense where I can say, “my sacrifice is more appropriate than yours, and therefore I am more blessed, more holy,”
And that is where I struggle, with this idea that any label (including our denomination labels) make us “more holy” or that our worship of God is more acceptable (more Orthodox) is about as close to heresy as you can get. I am not saying we shouldn’t seek to refine our beliefs and practicesi to make them more consistent with scripture, but to claim our position is more holy, our worship more acceptable is wrong, dead wrong.
We need to approach God in a way that is both humble, recognzing our brokenness and yet bold, depending on His invitation and HIs making us acceptable and welcome. We need to recognize our brokeness, and rely on His transformation of our heart and soul and mind, rather than parade around, touting that we are the best of His chosen people.
So I am Lutheran – using that title to describe the beliefs I have, that I hold to, that I teach…. that I depend on only because they reveal to me and help me explore the breadth and width, the height and depth of God’s love, and through God’s word, and the sacraments, I experience that love, which is too great to understand.
You have a different label? Let’s sit down and talk, praying and relying on the guidance of God, who loves us, to make His will known, and His love revealed. But let us depend on Him for that journey, and never boast of our own reason or strength.
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
“•I assure you: The one who believes in Me l will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. John 14:12-14 HCSB
21 May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. John 17:21
This is the only way the true structure of the liturgy can be restored, a structure that, as we have just seen, makes concrete in divine worship the fundamental structure of divine action. God, the Revealer, did not want to stay as solus Deus, solus Christus (God alone, Christ alone). No, he wanted to create a Body for himself, to find a Bride—he sought a response. It was really for her that the Word went forth.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.
There are times when I question why prayers aren’t answered. For example, why my son has to have the genetic disorder I have, or why friends battling cancer aren’t simply healed. We pray, earnestly, reverently, continuously for miracles of this nature. Yet the answers to these prayers are too far in between for my liking.
After all, Jesus said, if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.
Even more than, I wonder why one of Jesus’ prayers go unanswered.
Why can’t the church be one, as the Father and Jesus are one?
Why can’t that prayer be heard, and answered?
Why can’t the church be one?
We have one mission, to reveal the love of God, seen so clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the acts that give us hope and forgiveness, and prove His love. That’s what we have to do! It’s not rocket science!
Our worship is supposed to do that, to teach people what they need to know about Jesus, to reveal that God doesn’t want to stay alone, that He sought a response to the love He would show us in everything, our creation, our redemption, our being made His people. People that have a God that wants to love and be loved.
If the greatest Catholic theologian of the last century and the Lutheran forefathers can agree on this fundamental role of our gathers as believers, can’t we start there? Can’t we start in prayer, and in meditating on God’s word together? Can’t we find unity as we consider the sacrifice of Jesus and the love that comes to us at the altar?
Is that asking too much?
To hear His prayer, and to find the answer to that prayer, not in the halls of academia, but in the church together, on our knees in prayer, lifting up our voices in praise, considering the gifts given in His Body and Blood?
Let’s ask this together in His name…
Lord, Have mercy on us all! AMEN!
Question to think about:
Should working toward unity, the unity found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus be a more important issue in the Church today?
If you are a nonChristian, or even on the border, would the leaders of local churches trying to work out their differences make a difference in the way you view the church as a whole?
Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Devotional Thought for our days….
After the vision of these things I looked, and there was a great number of people, so many that no one could count them. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They were shouting in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Rev. 7:9-10 NCV
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:43-47 (NLT)
The goal of the early Augustine, “God and the soul—nothing else”, is not realizable; it is also not Christian. In the last analysis, religion consists, not in the solitary way of the mystic, but in the community of proclaiming and hearing. Our conversation with God and our conversation with one another require and condition one another.
Every once in a while someone will tell me they don’t go to church because they don’t need it. They can worship God in a park, at the beach, in the mountains, by a lake. I almost believe them. After all, they will claim, didn’t Jesus often go away from the disciples to pray?
No, I do believe them. Some of the most intense moments, where I have realized the grace of God, have been those solitary moments when I am still, when I must know that He is God, that He is with me. And it is usually dealing with people that drives me to seek such solitude!
And of course, I am not alone in this. Augustine’s thoughts about this, referenced by Pope Benedict, show a similar desire. Just me and God, just God and my soul, nothing else needed! Benedict XVI sounds similar, if less harsh, to the critiques of Luther in regards to monasticism. Our relationship with God and with each other is the same relationship, it is the same package. Both Paul and Peter describe this in scripture as we are one body, many different parts perhaps, but we are one, and Jesus is our head. The creeds talk about one Church, noted because it is holy ( dedicated and separated to God ) Catholic (universal, across all 4 dimensions), apostolic ( it has a mission, it is sent by God) church ( those drawn together in Christ)
This is the way it was the early church, so in awe of the resurrection of Christ and what it means for us, they couldn’t help but meet together often, to talk about it, to show the love they had for each other. It wasn’t programmed, it wasn’t the result of marketing, it was the joy of being in Christ. Were there problems? Sure, but they worked themselves out as people realized they were reconciled to God.
Ultimately, in heaven, in the presence of God, face to face with Him, we are standing shoulder to shoulder, we are singing loudly together. It is not you, walking in the garden alone with God, We are all His! He walks with all of us, He talked with all of us, and He tells us all, we are His own. That is the way it is.
What does this mean for the church today?
That’s a big question. In a world with tens of thousands of different bodies, each claiming to be the church, yet each a broken fractured part of the one Church. But we can’t ignore the rest! Just as an individual can’t separate themselves from the church, neither should a congregation or even a denomination. There still needs to be a desire, a strong sense of this division is wrong and prayer that God would lead us to wholeness, real wholeness. Found in reconciliation in Christ, not in man made compromise. Still- that we would be one, even as Jesus and the Father are One.
May this be part of what we cry out for, when we cry out, “Lord, Have Mercy!” AMEN!
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought of the day
8 Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. 9 And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. 11 This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. 12 If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. 13 If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. 14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them. 2 Timothy 2:8-14 (NLT)
Augustine tells us that, one day, he tore himself away from his friend Alipius in order to be alone in the garden with his misery, his temptations, his inner conflict. In that moment of overwhelming agitation he thought he heard a child’s voice calling repeatedly to him: “Tolle et lege—Take and read!” He arose, found a Bible, and read these words: “Put on the Lord Jesus!” This was the turning point of his existence. Augustine had, in that moment, discovered the word of God. (1)
Over the years I have spent in ministry, I have struggled with how we deal with division, denominationalism and sectarianism in the church.
Some have the ancient answer, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials freedom(liberty), in all things charity (love, grace, mercy.) The problem is that they divide soon after based on what is essential, and insisting on non-essentials, and dismissing charity as being weak.
Others handle the division by misquoting Romans 16:17, and the idea that we should toss aside those with heretical and even heterodox doctrines. I say this because the context includes causing divisions in the church by use of these doctrines, these teachings. Whether they be teachings about theology or practice. Heretical meaning that they are against God and His desire to save all of mankind. Heterodox meaning that they aren’t giving glory to God in their teaching and practive as God deserves.
I’ve been part of both groups at times, and I can tell you the sincerity and intent of both groups are noble. Even as they fail to apply it properly. In being a participant and observer of this, I have reached a conclusion.
We are all broken. We all have our heretical and heterodox practices. As we all have those things that glorify God in their holiness, proving God has set us apart for Himself Even in the beloved churches I’ve been blessed to be part of, whether it was St Joe’s – Salem NH, St. Francis Church in Lawrence, MA, First Baptist, Salem, The Crystal Cathedral youth group, OVBC, North Orange Christian, Arrow Hwy Wesleyan, West Valley Christian, First Christian YV, Good Shepherd Lutheran YV, Shepherd of the Valley, Anze, and now Concordia Lutheran – Cerritos. I’ve named them all for a reason; I can think of people in each of those church’s who were holy and broken. Whose doctrine needed to conform to Jesus, and yet who Jesus worked through in diverse and yes, miraculous ways. Who indeed needed to grow, but were growing.
So how do we do this? How does a splintered, fractured church see Christ’s church? Does it welcome people of all beliefs and say that doctrine and practice don’t matter? Does it instead force everyone to become clones? I can’t agree with either perspective. Indeed, I think both extremes of full inclusion and full exclusivity miss the mark. That’s being nice; I believe both are sinful.
If we can admit we have areas of our theology and/or practice that are broken, then we have some hope.As we find healing for our brokenness in Jesus, that healing will bring us the unity we need.
We have the opportunity to do what Paul was setting as an example for Timothy. We remember His death and resurrection, and the fact that He has united us to Him, bonded Himself to us in that event, so that we can know life, both now and everlasting.
This is what made the difference, this gospel, in Augustine’s life. To see, to hold in your hands the story of God’s love for you, revealed! That is our turning point and over and over in our lives we need to have it. The best example I can think of is a swordsmith, who folds the steel over and over on itself – each time gaining more strength. So too as we remember Christ, as we hear and read and speak of His love, that strengthens us. As we hear of the promises given to us in baptism, that strengthens us, as we eat His Body and drink His Blood we again encounter His presence, a presence that leaves us in awe, as we realize His mercy and love.
This is our God, here in our lives. Listen to Him, Know Him….
And as that happens, the issues that divide us that shouldn’t fade, and we will realize a unity not based on our faith, but His faithfulness. And together we can cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” AMEN
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 327). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
2 How I want to be there! I long to be in the LORD’S Temple. With my whole being I sing for joy to the living God. 3 Even the sparrows have built a nest, and the swallows have their own home; they keep their young near your altars, LORD Almighty, my King and my God. 4 How happy are those who live in your Temple, always singing praise to you. Psalm 84:2-4 (TEV)
22. Whenever the Sacrament of Baptism is duly administered as Our Lord instituted it, and is received with the right dispositions, a person is truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ, and reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as the Apostle says: “You were buried together with Him in Baptism, and in Him also rose again-through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead”.40
Baptism therefore establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it. But of itself Baptism is only a beginning, an inauguration wholly directed toward the fullness of life in Christ. Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith, complete incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be, and finally complete ingrafting in eucharistic communion. (1)
“…for, thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd,” etc.”
I am sitting in my office, the first day “back” from a short vacation with my mother.
I am filled with anticipation for tomorrow, even as I thumb through my mail and lose some of that joy. For some would try and use their “authority” to convince me what i know about my congregation isn’t true with the church at large. That somehow there is a “us and them” in the Church.
You see, there is something special, something sacred, as the people of God are gathered to the altar, and as baptized believers, share in the body and blood of Christ. As I communed at another congregation on the other side of the United States last week, my heart looked forward to being “home”.
That is how I look at the divisions that exist in the Church. There are some that won’t be healed until we are all home, before the Father. He will settle the squabbles that exist between various siblings in the church. But being “home” means celebrating the feast with all who are believe and are baptised. For from God’s perspective, we cannot deny our brothers and our sisters, united in Christ at baptism, are indeed brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
Some discuss this in arrogance and pride, rather than sorrow and regret They put in roadblocks to the unity that is the Church in Christ by focusing ont he division, not the hope. They weep, not over the brokenness of the church, but over those who would look to that brokenness being healed in Christ. ( By the way, I am not talking of just one incident, or from just my own denomination)
I love the way Vatican II puts it in the quote above – we are linked together, all who are reborn in Christ. It’s a beginning, a start to seeing us all linked at the altar, the foretaste of the feast to come. Our baptism gives the vision of what should be, what will be in Heaven, and yes, something that should be worked towards here. Not dismissed with a – well that is them, and this is us mentality.
I also love the way the Lutheran confessions, in a section that deals with those (the Roman Catholic hierarchy at that time – but equally applicable to divisive types of today) describe the church as a child would, “the believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”
I read those words and hear the voice of Jesus, “take and eat, this is my Body, given for you” and “take, drink of this all of you, it is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sin”
There is our goal, to hear the voice of the Shepherd, to grow in unity until we realize that we are one in Christ. Just as He and the Father are One. What begins in baptism is our goal, our desire, just as it is His. Complete unity, because He has lovingly healed the brokenness, giving us new life.
It is that unity in Christ, the miraculous unity of baptism in Christ, that gives me joy. I look forward to sharing in that unity tomorrow, as people gather here, as they hear of the peace promised and given by the Lamb of God, as they commune together with God. As we deal with division, as we deal with brokenness and separation, may we never forget that His feast is what we were re-born to share.
His love, His unity, trusting in Him and His work.
Lord, Have mercy on us all.
(1) Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 614). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message. 21 I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me. John 17:20-21 (TEV)
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 (TEV)
2 Certainly not! We have died to sin—how then can we go on living in it? 3 For surely you know that when we were baptized into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptized into union with his death. 4 By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life. Romans 6:2-4 (TEV)
I spent much of last night in turmoil, not fully asleep, but hounded by grief.
Grief caused by the brokenness of the church. A Church that is not just divided, but shattered, and continually reacts to the brokenness with fear instead of faith, loathing each other, rather than loving each other, harassing each other, rather than praying for healing. I see other Christians, including pastors and priests, leading people away from trusting in God, to rail at politicians instead of respecting them and praying for them. I see the self-righteousness that brings all this division, the condescension of Christians claiming to be holier than the world, and groups of Christians holier than another. (and catch myself at it too… none are immune to this sin)
I wonder what happened to the church described in the Creeds Where is the church that is one, that is holy (set apart to God), catholic (united in our trust of God) and apostolic (sent, even as Christ was sent)
I grieve over what I saw yesterday, and today. I wonder what those who are being martyred in other parts of the world would think, if they see what divides us. I long to see the church be one, and yet, am so driven away by pathos, the outpouring of negative emotion, that I desire to no longer be a part of it.
It is black saturday. The day without the Lord, the day He found rest in the tomb.
The day we should find our unity.
Not because we are without Him, by no mean, we weren’t on the day after he was betrayed, beaten, mocked, abandoned, crucified.
We aren’t without Him on Black Satruday, when He lies entombed, crushed by sin.
We are there with Him, drawn into Him during His crucifixion, drawn into Him by the love poured out like a flood, united to His death in our Baptism – as Paul says.
Drawn into Him, called, gathered, united to Him in His death.
That is where we find unity, that is where we become one church, where we find the one faith, where God is our God, working through all who have been granted repentance, who have come to trust in Him, who know His mercy and love. You can’t be divided from Him, and as we die to ourselves as we are united with Him, our pride, our anger, our angst, our hurt dies as well.
If we are to be a resurrected people, a transformed people, a converted people, a delivered people, we each have to realise we are there with and that others are as well.
Unity as a church, no THE CHURCH, starts in the tomb.
Does that mean we will all get along, that sin won’t creep into the church, that we will all agree on every article of our faith? No, we won’t. That’s not what is promised, yet. But the healing that will be found will overwhelm that sin, the sin already paid for, and allow our hearts to embrace those whom Christ has embraced.
There is hope, even when we are in the grave, a hope we will realize tomorrow, as we exclaim, He is risen!
We are united in that as well, for if we die with Him, if we are united to Him in His death, we will be united to Him as we are raised to a new life with Him.
I am depressed today, mourning for a broken church. Yet, in the grace with Christ, I know there is Hope for tomorrow. I know there is hope for His Church.
For we will be one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. His death, burial and resurrection guarantee it.
Discussion and Devotional thought of the Day:
“Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 2 I praise you because you always remember me and follow the teachings that I have handed on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man…. 1 Corinthians 11:1-3 (TEV)
1 Finally, our friends, you learned from us how you should live in order to please God. This is, of course, the way you have been living. And now we beg and urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more. 2 For you know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 (TEV)
203 Surely all those consolations I receive from the Master are given me so that I may think of him all the time and serve him in little things, and so be able to serve him in great things. A resolution: to please my good Jesus in the tiniest details of my daily life. (1)
It sits there, on the sign identifying the congregation I pastor, on our stationary, on business cards and polo shirts.
A Label, something that identifies our heritage, but also potentially divides us from the body of Christ.
I both love it, and hate it, even despise it.
I despise it because people assume it is something that sets us apart, something that identifies why we are different, as if being a lutheran was a license to condescension, to some higher level of purity or knowledge or perfection. Though not it’s intent in every place bearing its name, there can be pride associated with that label. Because of both assumptions, I despise it, just as I despise the fact that we are 3 years from “celebrating” a division in the church, that is contrary to the will of God. It is my regular prayers that something would happen, a miracle, that would allow the entire church to find healing together in Christ. That my small section of the church would have the humility to encourage this, even noting our own sin, our own failures, our own poor theology that prevents it.
I hate the label, because it is not specific. Many “wear” it, and have radically different beliefs. Some have departed the focus on grace and mercy and Christ’s delivering us into the presence of our Heavenly father, saving us from sin… our sin. They have neglected the treasuring of a relationship with God that brought such peace and joy to Luther. For this man realized God was our refuge from the brokenness of the world. Others have gone the other direction, forgetting the why’s and legislating the hows and whens. They look more to great theologians of different eras, taking even their errors as being right. They will even say their own teaching is beyond question. Extremisms define the label today, far more than the basic teachings of the catechism, and how it summarizes truth from scripture. In some ways, the extremes almost defeat the benefit of the label. Knowing this, I would actually think a better description of my church would be the old name, the Evangelical-catholic church. Historically and with a pragmatic view to our work, it suits us well.
I think the reasons above are why some toss aside the labels, or at least try to toss them aside. They label their church community church (though there are denominations with that moniker), or Christian Church or church of Christ (though I was originally ordained in that denominational family…err brotherhood of churches)
So why not just hang out a sign that says, “a church”, or “the church on the corner”. Get rid of all other identifying markings, all other labels.
After all of this, why do I like the title?
1. It reminds me that who I believe, and what I believe about Him, is bigger than just me. It was handed down to me, entrusted to me by a larger community of faith. My congregation and I don’t stand alone. In the same way my friends in the Roman Catholic Church find comfort in seeing how saints have endured persecution and troubled times, knowing that God would work through Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz, Walther, Pieper, Piepkorn, that broken men found solace and hope in God’s is incredible to realize.
They pass us down, not just an academic belief system, but a sense of hope, a story of healing, the assurance that God is our refuge, our help in times of trouble. As Paul encouranged us to imitate him as he imitated Jesus, so these men (and women) provide some helpful tracks along the journey. The label reminds me of this, and those that went before. Their failures, their successes, and how they coped with both!
2. While it doesn’t reduce or eliminate extremism, it gives me a base to start from, a point to evaluate what I teach, and preach and how I administer the sacraments. While their words are only legitimate when in accord with scripture, they do help me, to ensure I don’t fall far astream. Creeds and catechisms are never end all, be alls, but they help. One doesn’t have to go far back in history to see those who claimed to base their understanding solely on scripture fail miserably, leading people astray. (Jim Jones is an example, as are denominations like the Jehovah Witnesses) Think of a amusement park, and the “car rides”, which have a steel or cement center rail. Having a heritage of faithful people running along the same rail before helps us stay the course. (see Hebrews 11)
I suppose the last reason I love my particular label, is that the irony keeps my humble. I know Luther would shake his head at us, wondering why in the world we would name our denomination after such a sinner as he was. The irony that we did, because he was a sinner that God would use to restore something the church had lost (he also messed up a lot – please understand this!) But if God could use a pastor as broken, as crazy, as powerfully as he did…despite his pride, his temper, then there is hope for me, as I ask my people to follow me, as I follow in footsteps of all of those who follow Christ.
Rejoice, we aren’t alone in this journey, God has sustained people beyond number who have handed down to us, what we hand down to others!
By the way, know this, if your label is different, that doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome… just the opposite – please, plese come let’s find out why the labels are blessings… not letting them divide us!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 901-904). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! John 17:22-24 (NLT)
Most Lutheran churches celebrated a church “holy day” yesterday. The 496th anniversary of Martin Luther inviting theologians and pastors and people to a dialogue on issues that gravely concerened him. The issue was a very serious one – which affects how we see Christ’ work and the cross. As you read this, please understand me, this is still the serious issue for me. It is why I am Lutheran and not Roman Catholic Christian.
But the unintended side affects of that action has resulted in a splintering of the church, as we have taken serious issues, and far less issues and made them “the” points of division. 40,000 divisions, and whether they are over issues like Christ’s work on the cross, or whether we baptize with a little water or much, or what instruments we use, or what we call the guy who preaches and teaches the congregation about Jesus, or about whether something is sin. Those divisions are to be grieved, not celebrated.. Seriously grieved over.
Simply because the division breeds contempt, and often attempts at reconciliaiton – true reconciliation are avoided, ignored, and even mocked. We celebrate these days, and rejoice that God “purified” His gospel, without considering that millions won’t hear it, For if we believe the difference is that important, why don’t we engage is discussion, that the position may be evaluated, tested against scripture, that it might be heard?
There are times where it would seem like reconciliation is impossible, like when Luther had a death warrant on him. But that doesn’t mean we stop praying for the church to find that reconciliation, even praying those from whom we are divided. It doesn’t mean we stop engaging in discussion when we can. It means we trust in God, even risking all, to depend on His working these things out, in His performing miracles.
You see, any sense of unity that would happen, would happen not in board rooms, but at the foot of the cross. It won’t happen through negotiation, but through absolution. It happens as we are broken together before God, and we praise Him together for saving us, redeeming us, reconciling us to Him. Where we celebrate Christ uniting us to Himself in Baptism, and we find we are together there. That is when I believe that we will begin to find unity that demonstrates the love of the Father for the Son, for the Trinity for us. That unity is found in no other name, no other label, in unity or disunity with no one else. For only Jesus can deal with our sins, those very things that divide us from God, those things that divide us from each other. We can’t deal with sin, any sin, especially the sin of division, unless it is there, in Christ.
I doubt I would ever sit down with my own Synodical President, never mind Pope Francis (who I greatly admire, perhaps more than any church leader in my life so far) That doesn’t stop me from praying for them, praying to see what the theologians call the “invisible Church” be more clearly manifested in the “visible Church”. That Christ would be known by the world.
Yeah- I Pray that Reformation Day would become obsolete, preferably by its 500th anniversay…..and I struggle to celebrate it. Because the next day… matters even more. The Day we celebrate All Saints, as we have testified along with countless others, that God has one, holy, universal (i.e. small c catholic) and apostolic church. A church that rejoices together in God making us His people, and it being revealed to us He is our God.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV)
“For although the whole world with all diligence has endeavored to ascertain what God is, what He has in mind and does, yet has she never been able to attain to [the knowledge and understanding of] any of these things. But here we have everything in richest measure; for here in all three articles He has Himself revealed and opened the deepest abyss of his paternal heart and of His pure unutterable love. For He has created us for this very object, that He might redeem and sanctify us; and in addition to giving and imparting to us everything in heaven and upon earth, He has given to us even His Son and the Holy Ghost, by whom to bring us to Himself.” (1)
“It is a great thing to know oneself to be nothing before God, because that is how things are.” (2)
A few years ago, at the request of a friend, I taught a master’s course on World Religions at my alma mater, to a bunch of seminary students. It was a course which we had about 50 minutes to cover each of the religions and divisions of those religions in the class. Because even when you take just the big religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Budhism, there are differences in each of them, different focal points. FOr example – in Christianity, you have the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and some 40,000 different protestant groups. In Isalm, you have Sufi, Shia and Sunni, In jUdaism, there are Reformed, Conservative, and Hasidic branches.
And of course, how one group defines themselves is different than how others describe it. Sadly to say, most people are rarely aware of what the differences are, and why they exist, and whether or not they are even relavant to their daily lives, the burdens they carry, or their eternity. We have failed to do that which Socrates advised, “Know thyself”. For in every religion ( and those religions which claim to not be religions, or even opposed to the idea of religion) there is a basic question that attempts to be answered.
Who Am I and how do I fit?
In the course, we tried, as best as we could, to enter into the religion, or the branch of a religion, to find those answers.
What I found, personally, was a lot of despair. For in each religion I would be considered a failure, I would stand condemned, simply because I cannot keep the moral and ethical standards that underlie and are taught through the rites, rituals and teaching. Which is pretty much what Luther wrote in the quote above. Whatever the system, I cannot perceive the heart of God (or the equivelant to God) as anything but my judge. Even though we are diligent, even though we strive with everything we have for a moment or a decade, there is a point where we fall short, where we cannot maintain the standard.
I would say that is the point where religions differ. What happens when we can’t do what we should, Or we do that which we know we shouldn’t.
That discovery is the best reason for why I find myself as a Christian, in particular a Lutheran Christian, and why I am a pastor trying to help others on their journey and having the patience (well most of the time) to realize it is a journey – their journey.
You see, when it comes to the humility that all religions advise us to have, I realize that I am beyond being good on my own. There is where I find my hope, why St Josemaria Escriva (A Roman Catholic) says it is such a good thing to know we are nothing when we stand in front of God.
Because God’s plan is so simple, it is beyond our ability to understand. simply put. we find ourselves in need, and when we do, we find God there. Not in our perfection, but in our brokenness. Not there to judge, but to heal us, deliver us, make us His own, to care for us, provide for us.
As a friend says, if religion is a crutch – that’s a good thing – because with a crutch someone as broken as I can get around.
Can we comprehend all that God is? Can we discover it, either under a atomic microscope or plunging through the depths of the universe?
Nah… let’s face it – we aren’t that good.
And in facing it, let’s realize that if there is a God, He would make Himself know to us. And He has.
The journey is hard, as we try to discover God, and our relationship to Him. THe choices are beyond the number to count. So where do we start the journey? What happens if we find ourselves on the wrong path?
You know, that too is a part of the journey. Believe me, I’ve been led to make a few course corrections, because questions were asked.
You are welcome to come journey with us, or ask questions about our journey, or have us ask questions about yours. But examine your beliefs, examine the life, for the unexamined life is not worth living. Nor is the life that is based on unexamined faith… (or lack thereof.)
Start by asking God to show you His mercy… for we need it.
(1) The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1272-1273). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.