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Unity and Division in the Church: Attitude Matters!

the devotional thought of the day:

1  Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2  Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3  Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5  You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.   Philippians 2:1-5 (NLT)

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 4:3-6 (NLT)

For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them, it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body,21 and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.  (1)

Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.

First off, i must state I am a Lutheran, specifically, a pastor of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, though, I will admit that I pray regularly that the church would become one, again.  

We clearly see a call for that in the writings of scripture, and int he writings of the church throughout history.  The passages from Philippians and Ephesians above clearly show that, and point us to the fact that unity comes, not from our efforts in convincing the other side we are right, but from Christ, and in Christ.

Too often we deny this gift of unity; we deny that all the baptized are one family, as we indicate that their faith is not just in error, but that they aren’t saved because of it.  In doing so, we deny the very work of God!  How dare we!  I’ve seen it within denominations as well, heck even within my own brotherhood as the extremes indicate their concern for their brothers, and rather than love them, pray for them and bless them, they confront in anger, curse and deny God’s grace is truly theirs.  They are too willing to divide, and should you mention that our mission, given by God, is to reconcile people to Him, all people, you will join the ranks of them, and not longer be considered one of us.

In the writings of Vatican II I see a more effective way towards the church being one.   It acknowledges that faith and baptism unites one to Christ.  It acknowledges as well that there are obstacles, and often serious obstacles to the unity that is our in Christ.  But read what it says – in spite of these obstacles it is true – they are believers, God is working in them.   They are our brothers, they are fellow children of God, they follow Christ Jesus.

The next paragraph I quote is the most amazing statement I have ever read about church unity.  It notes that we must be concerned, and the way to live that concern out is not pointing out their errors, but in looking at our own. These words,

But their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.

We have to remove the beams from our eyes.  (And yes, we Lutherans have as many beams as any one else!) We have to hear God’s call to us to repentance, to confess our sins, to stop being so damn divisive, and focus more on the gospel of Christ Jesus.   To live and breath our dependence on God, to relish the sacramental times in our lives, to love God and with everything we are, adore Him.  Inclusive in this is how we love our brothers, even those who seek to divide our denominational home, or the Church itself.

It’s not easy, yo have this mindset of Christ.  It might mean that we die to ourselves, not over the line drawn in the sand.  It might be suffering and humility, it might mean struggling with letting ourselves be hurt and betrayed.

The only way to do it is to look first to Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith.  To depend on the promises He made us, to let the Spirit work in us, cleansing out our crap.

It’s not easy, but it is how God transforms us into the image of His son.

May we count on the Lord to answer our cry, Lord, have mercy on us, sinners!  AMEN!

 

(1)   Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The Conversion of Faith and The Transformation of Our Works

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day
18  But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” 19  Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe—and tremble with fear. 20  You fool! Do you want to be shown that faith without actions is useless? 21  How was our ancestor Abraham put right with God? It was through his actions, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. 22  Can’t you see? His faith and his actions worked together; his faith was made perfect through his actions. James 2:18-22 (TEV)

10 For, as Luther writes in his Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, “Faith is a divine work in us that transforms us and begets us anew from God, kills the Old Adam, makes us entirely different people in heart, spirit, mind, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. Oh, faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good.
11 Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active.

This conversion must be taken as an initial one, yet sufficient to make a man realize that he has been snatched away from sin and led into the mystery of God’s love, who called him to enter into a personal relationship with Him in Christ. For, by the workings of divine grace, the new convert sets out on a spiritual journey, by means of which, already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, he passes from the old man to the new one, perfected in Christ (cf. Col. 3:5–10; Eph. 4:20–24). This bringing with it a progressive change of outlook and morals, must become evident with its social consequences, and must be gradually developed during the time of the catechumenate

It is seen to be one of the most divisive arguments in the history of the church, and it has been since the days of the Apostles.

It was one of the core issues that resulted in the Reformation, and in the Counter-reformation.  It is more than semantics, yet there is a part of the argument that I am not sure is always necessary.

For what God has put together, we cannot divide.

The quote in Green above is from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord.  A document that is part of the confessions of the Lutheran Church. The underlined verse is clear. One who has been given life by the Holy Spirit, converted from death to life, does work.  They are not optional, even as they are not always willed.  They occur in the nature of the one who depends, who trusts, who has faith in Christ. They occur just like breath in a mammal; they are life. This is not debatable, it is not an option.Faith cannot be separated from works.  So confident were the early Lutheran scholars that they followed that quote with this.

Whoever does not perform such good works is a faithless man, blindly tapping around in search of faith and good works without knowing what either faith or good works are, and in the meantime he chatters and jabbers a great deal about faith and good works.

That doesn’t quite sound like works are non-essential to the Christian life, but then scripture doesn’t claim that either.

This is the journey that the quote from Vatican II’s Ad Gentes (the mission of the church) discusses.  The works, affected, no transformed by the Holy Spirit, cause a change in how we view life and the world, and the moral system by which we live in that world.  Again, it notes that while works are not the cause of conversion, conversion results in the journey being taken, and Spiritual growth occurring as a matter of the life of the believer.

This is of course what James is talking about, and the pattern of Paul’s letters.  The need for conversion, God converting, quickening bring us to life as we are united to Jesus, and then the impact of that on our lives.  An impact the empowered, guided and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, as it works in the community of believers.  And good works become as undeniable as the breath we breath.

My we rejoice as God works in the lives of His people, as the Holy Spirit empowers us to do and will what brings joy to our heavenly Father!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 552–553). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Unity of the Church, Seen in the Ministry of Reconciling People to Jesus…

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day

11   (He, Jesus) filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher 12  to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, 13  until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (MSG)

2. The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. (1)

The person who wants only the God whom he has invented for himself—how is he to be certain that there is a God, how is he to love one who never answers him? But God has come to meet us in our groping search. He speaks to us in the community of faith, he challenges us, he lives among us. That know-it-all pride that wants to put itself above the Faith of the Church and her living community inevitably ends in an aversion for God and for itself. In the community that God himself has formed and that comes to us from his love, he can be loved in return. It need hardly be said, then, that love of God is never a private relationship between me and him who is both mystery and eternity. The community that he created includes me; hence this love is returned to it and transcends it because God wants to unite all of us in a single city of eternal peace  (2)

7 Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ  (3)

I’ve been thinking a lot of the differences in the churches recently. I hate the divisions that exist in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church we confess in the creeds. .Even as I respect the people who take the division seriously, and lament it, even as they recognize the need for it.   (that is another blog… we can’t simply dismiss the differences)

One of the things we do agree on, is the need of people to know Jesus, not just to know of Him, but to know Him.  Which means being drawn to Him, to find Him in the midst of His people, the life of Christ into which we are called is lined in the community of faith.

Both Vatican II and the Lutheran Confessions agree on this, as would most pastors, even if we don’t agree on what the church looks like, the need of Jesus’ involvement in people’s lives is their greatest need. 

For knowing Christ brings joy, even as it removes all guilt and shame.  Knowing Him means that our brokenness is being healed, that our lives have meaning that extends beyond this moment.  The mission, the apostolate that God entrusts to us is incredible.

Incredible because of the change that occurs in the life of the disciple.

Incredible because of the trust God places in us.

Incredible in view of the unity we find with each other, as we find ourselves in God’s presence. In His finding us, we end up finding each other….and as we see people come to know God’s mercy, they become part of His people. That we are being bound together in Him extends over all other things that could divide us, even as we struggle (or should struggle) to see those things settled, not as compromises, but as brothers with one goal – being in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, the hope of unity is there… because He is.

Lord, bring you church together, reveal to us that we are one, even as you and the Father are one.  Lord have mercy upon us.  AMEN..

 

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam Actuositatem. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.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. 226). San Francisco: Ignatius Press

(2)   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. 226). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(3)
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

A plea for the end of kind of idolatry – “congregational-ism/denominational-ism/nondenominational-ism”

Devotional thought of the Day:

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 4:3-6 (NLT)

427 What a sorry state someone is in when he has marvellous human virtues but a total lack of supernatural outlook, because he will apply those virtues quite easily to his own selfish ends. Meditate on this.(1)

Yesterday, I found myself wanting to respond to a post of a friend of mine.  I actually had already my counter to her point, with a carefully laid out response and reasoning to why she was wrong and I was right.  Just before I hit the button, I realized that my post was wrong, not because it countered hers, but that it countered what I well know.   She claimed that her church was the best, and I wanted to counter that it was fifth in line, right behind the 4 I’ve pastored.

There is only “one church”. or if you please “One Church”.

It’s the one we confess in the creeds, the one church through which the Holy Spirit calls and gathers people, where the waters of baptism cleanses them from sin, where the Holy Spirit works through word and the sacraments.

One church. Not just Concordia Lutheran, or Shepherd of the Valley, or First Christian, or Saddleback or even the Roman Catholic Church, but one church,  Made up of sin-shattered, broken people who find restoration as they are united to Christ.   We must recognize the brokennes, we need to talk through the issues, we need to mourn the division.  We can’t just hide them, or say to each other, “we just have to agree to disagree”  Otherwise the unity isn’t real…

There is still only one church, united in the death of Christ, brought together by the Holy Spirit in peace that only comes from knowing we exist in the presence of God.  In the loving presence of God.  That is where unity begins, at the cross, in the death of Christ Jesus.

I put the quote from St Josemaria in this post for a reason, the reason that if unity is to occur in the church, it has to be supernatural, it has to be because we trust in Christ to create it, and we realize He has. We just do not see it, perhaps because we focus so much on what divides us, and we get defensive if we think we are going to be proven wrong. Perhaps I should say I get defensive…. or I get offensive when I know I am right – and think that everyone else’s journey must be the same sort of twisted journey that I’ve had.  Again the temptation is to make me the norm, (or for you to make you the norm) rather than making it Christ.

You see, when we forget that there is one church, we begin to make idols of our congregations, of our denominations, or even of our “non-denominatiolism”.  We can acknowledge our errors, and the struggles, and the division, but we cannot triumph over others, or treat them as if somehow God doesn’t love them as much, or that they are inferior.   ( My own denominaiton does this, when they say, “we may not be perfect, but we ar the best thing going”  When we do this, we begin to think territorally, we begin to think what is best for our little part of the church, rather than what is best for all the churches around us. We horde talent, rather than seeking where God would use each of us.   Let me give and example – Our church has a number of skilled keyboardists, and they all love playing with my music director.  We had sent out one of our deacons, who is now a seminary student while serving as a student pastor.  He needed a keyboard player… we had several… so it worked out that one of ours helped out.  But what if churches with great sunday school staffs, or great youth programs or great senior programs actually invested their people in other churches?  What would happen then?

What would happen if we treated the church as a whole, even if just within our own denominations to start?  If we shared and worked together, and struggled with those who aren’t like us?

What if we heard Jesus’ prayer that we may be one, even as the Trinity is one?  What if we heard Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus, and the church in Rome and the church in Corinth?

Can we stop the idolatry? Can we celebrate together in Christ?

Can we pray and strive together… working through that which divides us, realizing that what unites us is more important?

BTW – for people in my own beloved LCMS – this isn’t something new or odd.  read the words below…

Though God desires that all congregations be orthodox, and though all heterodox communions exist only by God’s sufferance and contrary to God’s gracious will, still it is a fact that also in the heterodox communions there are believing children of God. The term “Christians” covers a wider field than the term “orthodox Christians.” Though Christ denies to the Samaritan Church the right of existence as a separate church organization (John 4:22), still He repeatedly acknowledged individual Samaritans as true children of God (Luke 17:16 ff; 10:33). Luther, too, never thought of making the orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, coextensive with the Una Sancta. Vigorously as he fights against the Papacy and expressly declares it an institution of Satan, he nevertheless does not doubt that God has at all times under the Papacy preserved for Himself a Church, yes, the elite of the Christians.31 Again, earnestly as Luther fights against Carlstadt, Zwingli, and their collaborators for their deviation from God’s Word, he nevertheless grants that there were also true children of God who, ignorant of the evil they were thus supporting, made common cause with these pseudo reformers (St. L. IX:44). Likewise our older Lutheran dogmaticians, “zealots for orthodoxy” though they were, nevertheless decidedly rejected identification of the Una Sancta Ecclesia with the orthodox Lutheran Church.32 The Fathers of the Missouri Synod declare it a calumny when the Lutheran Church is accused of identifying the Church of God with the Lutheran Church.33 They taught: If a person sincerely clings to the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, if he believes that God is gracious to him because of Christ’s satisfactio vicaria, he is a member of the Christian Church, no matter in which ecclesiastical camp he may be. By denying this truth one would overthrow the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, the article of justification. Walther: According to Rom. 3:28 and Acts 4:12 “the unconditional and sole requirement for salvation is fellowship with Christ through faith. The maxim, ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation,’ ‘He who has not the Church on earth for his mother has not God in heaven for his Father,’ is true only in this sense, that outside the invisible Church there is no salvation and no state of grace. It has only this meaning that ‘there is no salvation outside Christ’; for whoever is not in inward fellowship with the believers and saints is not in fellowship with Christ either. On the other hand, whoever is in fellowship with Christ is in fellowship also with all those in whom Christ dwells, that is, with the invisible Church. Accordingly, he who restricts salvation to fellowship with any visible Church therewith overthrows the article of the justification of a poor sinner in the sight of God by faith alone in Jesus Christ.” (Walther and the Church, p. 70.) Pieper, F. (1953). Christian Dogmatics (electronic ed., Vol. 3, pp. 423–425). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

 

(1)  Escriva,Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1908-1910). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

A Hope for Re-union as the church is Reformed

In this month, as Lutherans celebrate the 495th anniversary of the start of the reformation, it is good to read this, coming from our brothers in the Roman Catholic Church:

“The upcoming Year of Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world” (Porta Fidei 6). In other words, the Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion – to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year Catholics are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.” (from the USCCB website)

May our prayer not just be one of thanks, that the gospel has prevailed, but may we as well pray that God would continue to reform us all, that we would indeed be one, even as Jesus and the Father are One.
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