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How can we be in “Fellowship” with Those in Error? (or How can we not be?)

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:

51 When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of Him, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. 53 But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem.54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 
55 But He turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.  Luke 9:51-56

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 4:2-6 (NLT)

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.14* For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour.15* They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities

But as the words of this decree show, the apostles did not want to impose an ordinance on the churches. For they say that no one should mind if his brethren do not correctly compute the time in celebrating Easter. The text of the decree is preserved in Epiphanius: “Do not calculate, but whenever your brethren of the circumcision do, celebrate it at the same time with them; even if they have made a mistake, do not let this bother you.”….  44 The apostles wisely admonished the reader neither to destroy evangelical liberty nor to impose a necessity upon consciences, since they tell him not to be bothered even if there has been a mistake in the calculations.

I have had to walk a few people through the same question in the last few weeks and to be honest, I have struggled with it as well.

If they are in error, do we separate ourselves from them (i.e. kick them out)?  Or who are we “in fellowship” with, and how much should that concern us.  For that matter, is fellowship something that is able to be constrained within a man-made,, man-defined organization?

And into that equation today is thrown a few more things to consider.  Two scripture passages, a quote from Vatican Council II’s Lumen Gentium, and a quote from the Lutheran Confessions.

All point to something we need to remember, fellowship is defined by God, as being united, first and foremost with God.  There is only one church, one body of Christ.  Paul is explicit in the quote from Ephesians, as he is in First Corinthians.  We are united to Christ, that is what defines us as the ecclesia, those called, those drawn into Jesus, and united to Him at the cross.

That’s why the Roman Catholic Council notes that there are many ways we are linked, including in our baptism, that we are honored by being called Christian. Even though we don’t agree with all they profess, and we don’t recognize the Pope as the successor of Peter.   That’s why the Lutheran Confessions clearly point out a time when the church chose unity over what had been declared doctrine, and praise and encourage loving our brothers enough to celebrate God’s grace, even if they are mistaken about the day and date.

Can we be comfortable with error?  Is there a point where the links are no more, where what binds us together is severed?  I suppose that if what bound someone to Jesus were severed, then the link between would be cut as well.  But the work of the church, even then, is to reconcile the one severed from Christ because of sin back to Christ.  There is still a link there, just as there was with the prodigal, though the prodigal didn’t know it.

And the Lutheran Confessions make it clear, there are some errors that seem extreme at the time, (i.e. food offered to idols, the dating and celebration of Easter, even the use of the spiritual gifts i  1 Cor. 14) that should not divide us, but that we can overlook those minor errors for the sake of the church, His church.

This means in the caring process, we may not commune together for a season, but it doesn’t stop us from praying for them and with them, it doesn’t stop us from talking, it doesn’t stop us from having the goal of being united in Christ Jesus.  Of making every effort to be united in the Spirit.  These times, where discipline is broken, where unity is hindered, the goal is still that unity, unity found in the grace and forgiveness and restoration that is the reason Jesus came in the first place.

So next time you look to win the argument, consider whether winning gives you the idea that you are the better or the more orthodox or Biblical believer…and consider whether your actions are conciliatory, or divisive…..

And then, do what builds up the body of Jesus….

 

 

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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

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.

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.

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.

Augsburg and Trent, A Journey Through Both…. but to what end?

Discussion Thought for the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

3  Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together. 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 4:3-6 (TEV)

2 The desire was also expressed for deliberation on what might be done about the dissension concerning our holy faith and the Christian religion, and to this end it was proposed to employ all diligence amicably and charitably to hear, understand, and weigh the judgments, opinions, and beliefs of the several parties among us to unite the same in agreement on one Christian truth, 3 to put aside whatever may not have been rightly interpreted or treated by either side,1 4 to have all of us embrace and adhere to a single, true religion and live together in unity and in one fellowship and church, even as we are all enlisted under one Christ.  (1)

For, whereas we saw that there was need of peace to deliver and preserve the commonwealth from the many impending dangers, we found all things replete with enmities and dissensions; above all, the princes, to whom well-nigh the whole direction of matters has been intrusted by God, at enmity with each other. Whereas we deemed it necessary that there should be one fold and one shepherdc for the Lord’s flock, in order to confirm the integrity of the Christian religion, and the hope of heavenly things within us; the unity of the Christian name was well-nigh rent and torn asunder by schisms, dissensions, heresies. Whereas we could have wished the commonwealth safe and defended from the arms and insidious attacks of the unfaithful, yet, through our transgressions and the guilt of us all,—the wrath of God, forsooth, hanging over our sins,—Rhodes had been lost; Hungary harassed; war both by land and sea had been intended and planned against Italy, Austria, and Illyria; whilst our impious and ruthless enemy, the Turk, was never at rest, and deemed our own mutual enmities and dissensions his fitting opportunity for carrying out his designs with success  (2)

 

I was messing around with some changes in my Logos Software last week, and I came across a crazy idea.

You see, my Bible software can take any of the thousands of texts and break them up into chunks.  You can read them over a week, a month, 6 months a year or more.

So I figured I would use it, starting November 1st, to read through the Bible again in a year.  While I was at it, it updated some of my books, so I thought about adding the Book of Concord, and just reading a small section of it over the next year.  (Not academic reading, just a light survey.  And for some reason, I then decided to add another work.  Looking through the works, I saw various works of Luther, and Melancthon, of other works ranging from Martyn Lloyd Jones ( a famous British preacher) and Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI.)

For some reason, my mind kept coming back to The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent.

For those who are not theologians, putting the Book of Concord (which is the Lutheran accumulation of Doctrine in its early days) and the works Trent (which was somewhat written to counter the Lutherans, Calvinists and other early reformers) is like putting a Oklahoma and a Nebraska football fan in the same room.  Or a room with a Red Sox and a Yankee Fan…. or splitting an atom.  The two schools of thought are diametrically opposed to each other on many items (though on some they aren’t.)

They won’t match up, point against point, but this is not going to be an academic exercise,  I am thinking of it more as a devotional exercise, a way to go back 500 years and see the heart of men who professed to follow God, and struggled to put what that means in writing.  They were under pressure, both had an added incentive of trying to appease Kings so a war could be fought together against the Turks.  They both had stubborn folk involved. Like I said, these documents were written back when wars were waged, and people killed over differences in doctrine.

What will come of it?   I don’t know,   Probably a few dozen blogs, probably some shaking of heads at my silliness.  Maybe more confusion on my part.  Hopefully some great discussions….

So far, one of the things that amazed me was the desire for the church to be one, they both shared that in the quotes above.  I think they said it, hoping to convince by scripture and logic, and if not by force, the entire church to be one. Yet, that goal at least will be the same.  They see the unity of the church as the basis of the survival of life as they know it, the ability to stand together.

Five hundred years later.. we still stand divided.  I don’t commune with my friends who are Catholic priests, they don’t commune with me.  Some of peers rejoice in this, some of our peers, like us, weep that a church could be so broken. But rarely do we sit down and strive for unity, rejoicing in the Christ who died for us, who on the day of His return will unify those He has called His children.

Maybe I am a hopeless daydreamer to think anything will come of this… then again…we’ve been given a ministry of reconciliation, of healing brokenness as people are drawn to Christ Jesus. So a little time spent pondering our common doctrine, and our radical differences, may be beneficial, if not, it should be at least interesting.

I would ask people who read this, and if any follow, over the next three years, to pray for all the people of God, no matter the name of their denomination, brotherhood, synod, or even the name of their church sign.  Pray that we could find healing for our broken church in Christ and that brothers could eventually break bread together, or at least look forward to the day we can, as we stand before His throne, at the wedding feast of Jesus, and His Bride.

God speed,

and Lord, have mercy on us all…..
 

 

(1) Tapperrt, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 24–25). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  Buckley, T. A. (1851). The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (pp. 1–2). London: George Routledge and Co.

 

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