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Our need for community, a special community.

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
42  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44  And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

As the Father is called Creator and the Son is called Redeemer, so on account of his work the Holy Spirit must be called Sanctifier, the One who makes holy.
37 How does this sanctifying take place? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion by purchasing us through his birth, death, and resurrection, etc., so the Holy Spirit effects our sanctification through the following: the communion of saints or Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. In other words, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us upon the bosom of the church, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

We often talk about the Body of Christ from a functional or clinical viewpoint.  That is, we will talk about it as we try to find people their place in the church, finding out what part they will play, what gifts they have.  Or we might use the concept clinically when one person is disrupting the unity of the church, and we appeal to them, reminding them that they are a part of the whole.

I think Luther, in explaining the work of the Holy Spirit, brings the topic up from a view that is not primarily functional.  Rather it is experiential, that the Holy Spirit brings us into the special community to reveal to us the dimensions of God’s love and transform us.  That transformation is called “sanctification”, which is another way of saying making us holy, setting us apart to a special relationship, to be one with God and all His family.

His family, His holy people, His holy community, His communion.

This is easy to say, but hard to accept, this idea that we are one body, that we are one community (no matter how fractured or impaired)  That we are one in Christ, which makes us one, even as Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit ) are one. That we live and move and have our being in Christ, as the Spirit sanctifies us, removing every bit of sin, causing us to live, reflecting the glory of Christ into the darkness of a world that doesn’t know hope.

We are, whether we want to admit it, one, holy, catholic (all of us in all places/times) holy and apostolic church.  This isn’t our work, it is what the Holy Spirit has established and drawn us into, even while we are being saved. This isn’t just a theological teaching or a pragmatic tool to use.  It is our reality, it is where we together explore the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ.

Let us pray, as Jesus prayed, that we all may be one!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 415). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Why the Church Needs to Be One…

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our Days:

18 Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul delights; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not argue or shout, and no one will hear His voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick, until He has led justice to victory. 21 The nations will put their hope in His name.

1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.
2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word.

194      Nam, et si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis, non timebo mala—though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, no evil will I fear. Neither my wretchedness nor the temptations of the enemy will worry me, quoniam tu mecum es—for you Lord are with me.

Our Lord prayed that His church would be one, as united as God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ are one.  Historic churches usually use either the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week, in which they state they believe and depend upon the Holy Spirit to work through the church, which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

And most of us desire the church to be unified, if by unified we mean that those who disagree with us come to our position, imitate our practice, and bow to our superior, more Christ-like version of the one true faith.

But do we ask why we need to be one?

Do we seek the underlying reason to put our own preferences aside, to work diligently through the different understandings, why we need to humbly listen and work with each other?

It is seen in my devotional readings this morning.

This world is broken without hope.  It is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and it does fear evil, the anxiety seems to be growing at a palpable rate.

Our only hope is in the Lord, who will deal with us with both His incredible power and HIs incredible care.  He will nurse us back to heal, like someone tending a bruised plant, the Holy Spirit’s gentle comfort us will take us and kindle in us a roaring fire.

Our unity directly affects that witness, the ability to give that hope.  That doesn’t mean we compromise on things critical to having trust in God, but rather, we work all the harder at making it happen.  We acknowledge our broken fractured church and pray together, then work to see it become one, for it is one in Christ Jesus.

Lord, give us the desire to see You heal our brokenness, our divisions. Help us to seek you together in prayer, and to work diligently together to give this world the hope it can only find in You.  Lord, have mercy on us all, for we are sinners in need of your healing.  AMEN!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 873-876). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Realize an Urgent Need in the Church?


(church at communion 2
(TEV)
Devotional Discussion Thought fo the Day:
1  I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3  striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4  one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NAB)

Not only by the reception of the sacrament but by the words associated with the sacrament the heart will be encouraged to believe and be quickened. For it is in the words that God promises the forgiveness of sins: “This is my body, given for you.” “This is the cup of the new covenant,” is the new promise, the promised righteousness, eternal life, “in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sin.”
Thus they obtain the forgiveness of sins not through any outward act but through the faith which is awakened by the word and the sign.
Also the people are to be taught that this sign has been instituted not only to awaken faith but also to instruct us in love, as St. Paul says in I Cor. 10[:17]: “It is one loaf and it is one body, for we all partake of the same loaf.” We are not to harbor envy and hatred, but each is to care for the other, to help the other with alms and every kind of service which God has commanded us.
This teaching shall be repeated often. For what else is it than dishonor of the body of Christ when we harbor envy and hate and want to show no love and yet want to be considered a part of the body of Christ

First of all, that the Last Supper of Jesus is recognized as the authentic occasion of the founding of the Church: Jesus bestows on his own this liturgy of his death and Resurrection and, in doing so, bestows on them also the feast of life. At the Last Supper he repeats the covenant of Mount Sinai—or better: what was there initiated only in signs becomes here the full reality—a union of blood and life between God and mankind. When we say this, it is clear that the Last Supper anticipates both Cross and Resurrection yet at the same time necessarily presumes them, for otherwise everything would be but an empty gesture. That is why the Fathers of the Church could say, in a very beautiful image, that the Church sprang from the open side of the Lord, from which there flowed blood and water. That is, in reality, only another way of formulating the thought I express when I say: the Last Supper is the beginning of the Church. For it always means that the Eucharist unites mankind not only with one another but with Christ and so constitutes humanity as the Church, thus giving, at the same time, the basic constitution of the Church: the Church lives in eucharistic communities

Some people are afraid of it, for they assume unity means compromise.

Some people are afraid of it because they know that such unity does mean change, and requires us to submit our will, our right to grievances, our resentment and even jealousy to God’s desire for His people. 

Some are simply afraid of it, no let’s be honest, we are afraid of “them.” Of those we’ve been taught to stand opposed to, even as we recognize that we confess the same creeds ( or if we are “anti-creedal – we cover the same ground in our faith statements.)

And yet, in the New Testament, there is a definite call for the church to be “one,” to be unified, to be about the ministry of reconciliation. It is part of Jesus prayer, where He asks the Father to bless us, that we would all be one.  It is a major them in the 2 letters to the Corinthians, and to the Galatians, it is obviously here in Ephesians, and the great passage in Philippians 2 describing in Christ’s ministry to us, is to urge us to unity, to submit our personal desires and even needs to serve those who need it.

Even our enemies, even those we are afraid of, even those who cause anxiety. 

This kind of unity is not worked out in theological dialogues, or debates.  It is not fostered by blogs and vlogs and podcasts.  In fact, those monologs, even ones like this urging unity, don’t foster the unity. 

That is done in the sacraments, where God shows unity not only to be possible, but to be created.  Some will hopefully wet our appetite for such a unity, while I fear far more urge greater division, greater separation because of a false understanding of holiness and purity. 

In our mutual baptism, we are each joined to Christ.  Where we are so united, we share in His death, and in the resurrection.  But even as we individually are drawn to Him, and find that He has united us to Himself, we find we are united together.

We also see it as we kneel and commune, as we share in the body and blood of Jesus together. Where each of us is reminded we are part of the covenant, and we commune with the Body and Blood of Jesus, together.  Here are the words of St. Paul on this,

16  The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. 17  Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (TEV)

It is in these things where we not only encounter God, but are joined to them that we find we are joined.  Where the urgency that Paul observes finds not only hope, but the reality of what it means to be “one, holy (pure/set apart), catholic (universal – there is only one) and apostolic ( the church with a mission, a church that is sent into the word) Church.

A mission that is seen as people look at His church, His people and say, “see what love they have for each other!” and thereby are drawn to Jesus.  AMEN!

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 40. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.
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.

Struggling with The Reality of One, Holy, Catholic/Christian and Apostolic Church

Featured imageDiscussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2  Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NLT)

932      God is right there in the centre of your soul, and mine, and in the soul of everyone who is in a state of grace. He is there for a purpose: so that our salt may increase, that we may acquire more light and that each one of us from his place may know how to distribute those gifts of God. And how can we share out these gifts from God? With humility and piety, and by being very united to our Mother the Church. Do you not recall the vine and the branches? How fruitful is each branch when united to the vine! What large bunches of grapes! And how sterile the broken-off branch that dries up and becomes lifeless! (1)

As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed, is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and, in the sacrament of the eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ  is both expressed and brought about. All men are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, and toward whom our whole life strains.(2)

When I was first installed as a Lutheran pastor, part of the service was my assent to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  i gave assurance that i believed in what the word of God teaches, and that i found the explanation of that found in the documents of the book of Concord to be a clear explanation of them. 

I did then, and I do now so believe.

Yet, I struggle with the dissonance between those documents and what is commonly held to today.  

One of those struggles is found in the words from the Nicene Creed, “and I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” (3)  I hold to those words, and find great comfort in them. I believe there is only one church, yet I see the fragmentation of it, and worse, I see pastors and people who rejoice over that fragmentation.

Yet that fragmentation is not something praised in scripture.  The Ephesians passage above makes this clear. We can add to the passage the 12-14th chapters of Romans and 1 Corinthians 12-14. We could also mention Philippians 2, not just the well known 5-10, but the verses that are the reason Paul includes 5-10; the call to unity, the call to serving other.  Add 1 John – the entire letter, but especially chapter 4.  

And yet we deny the church is one.

And in doing so, we deny the desire of Christ Jesus.  We deny the unity we find in Christ Jesus, who draws us all to Himself, and who unites us to Himself, as we are united together in His death, and in His resurrection.  It is the unity we see, as we kneel and commune together, a family feast with not just the congregation we gather with, but the whole church, including all the company of heaven. 

I am not saying that we should compromise on our doctrine!  However, the Una Sancta (that there is one group of holy people – those who trust in Christ Jesus) is part of that doctrine; what we discern because it has been revealed to us in scripture.  To deny this does what St. Josemaria states, it causes us to wither and die, 

I love what Vatican 2 describes, the very nature of the Lord’s Supper brings about and reveals that unity. Luther does an excellent job, although with many more words, in the Large Catechism’s explanation of the Creed.

The challenge i see is that we continue to think unity comes about by studying doctrine, debating over who is correct.  Yet the church has often claimed what we pray determines what we believe.  Why is that not true here? Unity is found at the altar, at the baptismal font, as we together have the grace and peace of God abundantly poured out upon us.  Unity comes from the Spirit, given to each of us in baptism – gathers us together into one family of God. 

Yes, there will be arguments, but those need to boil down to being discussions, with the end result acknowledging the presence of Christ.  Yes there will be those who wander away, but we are called to work to reconcile and restore them, rather than vilifying and condemning them. Yes, we have to identify false teaching, but we need to do it with the idea of reconciliation, and with the attitude of love that Christ demonstrated, dying for us.

Unity in a church of unperfected saints isn’t easy, but it isn’t optional.  We are one, holy catholic and apostolic church!

Maybe it’s time that was more clearly revealed in our lives, and how we treat each other.  Maybe it’s time to meet in prayer, and ask God to make His reality, ours.

Kyrie Eleison!


(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3287-3293). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)    Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

(3)  The original translations of the Creed use the word Catholic, which means universal.  However, Lutheran churches often substitute the word Christian in instead.  I have been told that there was no word for catholic in german at the time the Creed was translated into german.  While I cannot confirm that, I still prefer to use in my writings Catholic and explain its meaning, rather than change the creed. 

Why I don’t hate “religion”, because it is His One, holy, catholic/christian and apostolic church

English: Baptism of Christ

English: Baptism of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But this is the meaning and substance of this addition: I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of the same a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. (1)
The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

385    Our Lord says: “A new commandment I give you: that you love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples.” And Saint Paul: “Bear each other’s burdens, and thus you shall fulfill the law of Christ.” I have nothing to add. (2)

I was reading the other day about someone who was making a case for a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ.  A little later a friend sent me a question about the protestant church, and their view of faith being individual, compared to the “one holy catholic and apostolic church”.  I thought it through and sent him some thoughts about it, tracing it back past the Enlightenment to Zwingli and his attitudes towards the Lord’s Supper and the miraculous.  Putting the two together this morning, plus preparing to head to St Louis for my denominations convention, has me thinking about our faith a lot, and how scriptures expresses it – corporately.

You can’t really come up with a “personal faith” in Christ, nor for that matter a personal relationship with Him.  The easiest way to see this is to start with the Trinity.  To have a relationship with Jesus, means we have a relationship with the Father, whom Christ brings us to, and with the Holy Spirit, who is sent to us, by the Father and the Son.  The Spirit brings us deeper into that relationship with the Father and Son, testifying of Them, showing you Their glory, reminding us of the presence of God in our life, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That’s why we baptize in Their Name.

If we can accept the relationship with the Trinity, then we have to realize that as They work in our lives as individuals, they are drawing us into a relationship with each other.  It is inevitable, it is our very hope, to share in their glory, to know Christ is in us, but that means us.  That means we are all enveloped in Him, we are united to Him, and therefore each other.   This is why Escriva says he doesn’t have to add anything to what Jesus commissions us to be, what Paul describes and encourages us to be.  Religion is nothing more than a way to classify this relationship, to describe the actions that take place because of it, for to be united to Christ results in our fulfilling the law of Chirst.

Which is why, united to Christ from our very baptism, from the very work of the Holy Spirit calling us to faith and repentance, we learn to love each other!  It is part of being drawn into the love of Christ for us, for the Father.  It isn’t our decision or desire to love, it is part of the very nature of God – the Triune God, who is working in our life.  It is part of our spiritual DNA – our heritage as those called into a relationship with God.   He makes us One!  He causes us to love, to serve, to think of others before we think of ourselves.  For that is who He is, and as He unites us to Him, as we look to Him, the Spirit is drawing us to this, forgiving, reconciling, redeeming and causing us to share in this life of Christ.

So go in peace, to love God, and therefore each other.

(1)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 973-975). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Millions of Churches or One…His?

Devotional/Discussion of the Day:

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”   Revelation 7:9-10 (NLT)

“Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Ephesians 4:5-6.”    — Augsberg Confession, The

I am in on ongoing discussion, that concerns me greatly.  It is about the church and how it ministers in a community that is diverse. both in terms of ethnicity and in terms of generations. As I occasionally do, I challenged the unexplored presuppositions, and commented about whether the church has to focus ministry one way, or the other – why can’t the church just reach out to everyone, and what you end up with is a multi-cultural church, one that very well may resemble the church described in the red letters above. 

I was surprised, because of the push-back I got.

It’s only experts who can pull that off,  it can’t be done, the big churches have tried, etc, etc. etc.  They talk about the nature of a church denomination  or the, “it was tried once”, or “the people have to have that call” and a number of other things that I disagree with, simply because there is no scriptural basis.  Indeed, the early church was multi-cultural – because their communities were.  And the zeal to see people freed from the bondage of sin, the oppression of satan, and the anxiety of death is overwhelming, when we actually realize it ourselves.

The answer isn’t in planning to have a monoethnic church, nor is it to plan to be multi-cultural.  Simply put, the plan is to be the church – the CHURCH described in the founding document of the Lutheran Church – the Augsburg Confession.  Interesting that we usually think of  the CHURCH as in denominations finally getting their act together, finally uniting in mission, in the apostolate given to us by God.  But the CHURCH is a body that transcends everything that could describe us, as we are united in Christ.  Our people have to realize that – the grace of God is communicated through the church, through its members/the priesthood of all who trust in Christ.  It is heard as the scriptures are explained, as we witness people receive God’s grace through the sacraments God ordained.

It’s His church, His people, and the way to be the church is not to plan which group we are to reach out to, but to reach out to the people that are around us, realizing their need to know Christ.  To get to know them, to show them the love of God.

George Wiegel, in a book on the changes in the Roman Catholic Church wrote this… which still sticks with me…

What is at stake in the demand for doctrinal clarity (and for the clarity of Catholic identity that follows from doctrinal clarity) is not a matter of winning an intellectual argument, which is how self-absorbed intellectuals often understand it. Rather, doctrinal clarity is a matter of equipping “the saints,” the men and women who have entered into friendship with the Lord Jesus, to become his witnesses in the world and the servants of those who most need to see the face of the Father of Mercies.  (from Evangelical Catholic)

For a parish, for a congregation, it is essential that they grasp how incredible this message of God’s love is, that God will remember their sin no more, that He has freed them from guilt and shame… and as they do – as they begin to treasure that their sins will not be remembered anymore, as they begin to explore the breadth and depth, the width and hight of God’s love, revealed in Christ – they will reveal that – as those God sent into their neighborhoods, and their businesses, into the places they shop and eat….

And the church, if in a multi-cultural area, will become multi-cultural… it cannot help but to do so…

Lord may we see the mercy that you have for us, as you reconcile us to you, that we may plead with others to become reconciled as well….


How do we treat those who are just “wrong”

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Acts 18:24-28 (TEV) 24 At that time a Jew named Apollos, who had been born in Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker and had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he proclaimed and taught correctly the facts about Jesus. However, he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home with them and explained to him more correctly the Way of God. 27 Apollos then decided to go to Achaia, so the believers in Ephesus helped him by writing to the believers in Achaia, urging them to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who through God’s grace had become believers. 28 For with his strong arguments he defeated the Jews in public debates by proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.  

A Confession  Prior to the Devotion.:
I will be the first to admit that I am the chief of sinners in regard to this, but then again, if I wasn’t, this post wouldn’t be written. It is my prayer, and solid hope, that God will work wonders to correct the errors of my past in this, and help me to overcome this tendency in the future.

The Blog:
Last night, probably while I was driving home from a friend’s Superbowl Party, one of the victorius Ravens was approached and said some thanks to God and quoted from Romans 8.  I know of this because my twitter feed and fb was filled with people’s attacking him and questioning his faith and practice.  The accusations ran from calls to discredit him because of his past, to charges of twisting the word of God. 

It would be twisting scripture to say his sin was any worse than ours, so that sets aside that charge for a moment, to deal with the charge of twisting scripture, or taking it out of context.  He might have – I haven’t watched the video, he might have not.  But if we thought we did, the response of simply blasting away with charges, is not correct.

The model that Priscilla and her husband give us, is a great one. Look at some of these steps:

1.  Take the person aside, and work through the issue.
2.  Focus on the Way of God – not our cultural applications of it, not our personal opinions, but focus on God’s revelation to man (i.e. the scriptures)
3.  As the respond , encourage their ministry!  Their zeal is something that should never be stifled, but directed and encouraged.  Too often, I believe, we decide to stifle them, afraid they will go back to their erring ways. We should be praying for them, teaching them, discipling them and sending them.   

We confess in my congregation each week that we belong to one, holy, catholic/christian and apostolic church.  Such a response as Priscilla and Aquilla had towards Apollos had, yeah that is consistent with that belief.  If we can’t work with them directly, our words should have the same flavor, as we instruct those who heard those words about how they apply.  But doing it with graciousness and love is still important.  Doing it with the best construction is still important.  

May we all have the mercy shown to us, as we work together in His Kingdom. 

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