Reformation Day and Election Day

Martin LutherThis past Sunday morning I preached for the 125th anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., the “mother church” of the Northwest District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I also preached that afternoon at a Circuit Reformation service at Zion. Both services were exceptionally inspirational, enhanced with excellent musical and choral presentations by very talented musicians, conductors and vocalists, some from Concordia Portland! And how were the sermons? You’ll have to ask the folks who were in the pews!

In the U.S., October 31 is observed as Halloween, a day focused on witches, ghosts, goblins, tricks and treats. More importantly, as most Protestant Christians are aware, October 31 is also the date in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” or statements on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.

These Theses were designed to restore to prominence the central teaching of the church that forgiveness and salvation are gifts of God, not the result of good works. The Catholic Church of the 15th and 16th centuries had lost its Gospel focus, which had been replaced by the teaching that forgiveness and salvation must be purchased. Penance and indulgences as a means to spiritual peace were a very real part of the lives of Catholic people in those days.

One man, Johann Tetzel, was trying to raise money for the building of a cathedral in Rome. His sales pitch included the chant: “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings, the soul from purgatory springs!” Don’t want to spend time in purgatory? Spend some money now!

The Protestant Reformation aimed to restore the church, which had become deformed over centuries by false doctrine and wrong practice. This Reformation would bring about the rediscovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, endorsing with ringing clarity the great Biblical principles of:

  • sola gratia (we are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own works);
  • sola fidei (God’s gifts are ours through faith alone that itself is a gift from God); and
  • sola scriptura (these truths are contained in Holy Scripture alone).

Luther’s attempts to reform the church were not well received by all, especially by the Pope. Luther was excommunicated and exiled. Although he went into hiding and lived in fear for his life, he was a man of conviction and courage. If alive today, I truly believe he would have much to say about needed reform in the Christian church. I’ll write more about that another time.

This is the last Perspectives article before Election Day, November 4. I encourage all who read these words to participate in the very important process of electing leaders at national, state, regional and local levels. We need truthful and courageous leaders, not only in the church but also in the world, including our own nation. Exercise your privilege and responsibility to vote!

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Houston, Do We Have a Problem?

Houston Skyline 2Although this week’s Perspectives article title “Ebola” was released this morning, I feel the necessity of adding this article on the same day. Unless moved to do otherwise, I intend for this second installment today to take the place of next week’s article. But stay tuned. Who knows?

The first I heard about Houston’s problem was yesterday morning in a number of emails from folks I know and love. They brought to my attention the news that “The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.” (Source of that quote: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/14/city-houston-demands-pastors-turn-over-sermons/)

Today I learned that “Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Mayor Parker asking that she withdraw the subpoenas “immediately.” (Source of that quote: http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2014/10/16/houstons-mayor-backtracks-on-church-subpoenas-tosses-her-own-lawyers-under-the-bus/)

Interestingly, the city’s attorney says: ““I’m just doing my job. I don’t have any issues with these pastors. What I’m doing is defending a lawsuit that was brought against us.” See more on this matter at: http://www.tpnn.com/2014/10/15/pastors-to-mayor-dont-mess-with-texas-pulpits/

Here are my non-legal but hopefully common sense observations and perspectives:

  • Out of context, for sermons written and delivered by Christian pastors in America to be subpoenaed by any governmental authority smells like a violation of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech.
  • The context of this particular incident seems to be the response of a city attorney to a lawsuit filed against the city of Houston dealing with homosexuality and other gender identity issues recently addressed by the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance (which sounds absurd) and involves a number of pastors who allegedly used their pulpits and other communication vehicles to speak and lobby against the ordinance and those responsible for its adoption.
  • Putting the best construction on everything, which is very difficult to do in an emotionally charged matter like this one, the city attorney who represents the defendant in this lawsuit would appear to have the right to gather evidence to support the city’s defense during a time of discovery. If that’s the only purpose for the subpoenas, what’s the problem?
  • However, if the intention of the city of Houston is to sensor or take legal action against any pastor or other private citizen for what that citizen writes, preaches or otherwise communicates, that would be quite problematic and undoubtedly unconstitutional.
  • My own personal and ecclesiastical perspective is that I have no problem showing the world everything I write, preach or otherwise communicate. That’s simply because I take great care to be as sure as possible that the things I write are true, accurate, responsible and helpful. If the pastors in Houston follow that same principle, why would they have any problem with providing everything the subpoenas are requesting?
  • Finally, I love the idea that civil authorities would actually care about what a clergyman in the 21st century is preaching! And if I as a preacher am doing the job I’m called to do, those civil authorities would get from my sermons a meaningful dose of the severity of God’s law and judgment, along with an unmistakably clear witness to the precious truth of the love and forgiveness of a gracious God whose Son Jesus paid the price for humanity’s sinfulness by his innocent death and miraculous resurrection.

The apostle Peter says: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17)

And I say: “Houston, what’s the problem?”

Ebola

Ebola VirusWhat very recently was a word foreign to most languages is now a household word around the world. It’s a word that strikes fear in the hearts of people in the healthcare profession, people who fly internationally, and people who unknowingly have been or will be exposed to what appears to be an almost always fatal virus.

Tuesday’s Austin American Statesman printed a story from Washington by Tony Pugh of McClatchy Newspapers. It says, in part: “Health officials Monday were scrambling to identify and monitor a large number of healthcare workers at a Dallas hospital who could be at risk of contracting Ebola after they cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the disease last week in the hospital’s isolation ward.”

“It’s unclear how many caregivers could be at risk, though records show about 70 helped care for Duncan. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he wouldn’t be surprised if more workers develop the disease in the coming weeks.”

Already one of the workers at the hospital has tested positive for the virus, even though she had worn protective clothing in her “multiple contacts” with Duncan. “She had gone to the hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, on Friday night after she began running a low-grade fever.”

The worker is a 26-year-old nurse at the hospital, identified by her family as Nina Pham. Please join me in prayer for this young lady, her family, and all others who have been exposed to this dreaded disease. Lord, have mercy!

Relationships among Pastors

Credit: potomacag.org

Credit: potomacag.org

Recently a seminary student asked me to address the question: “As a pastor, what is your relationship with other pastors?”

As written, the question is a bit non-specific and unclear. I responded to the student’s request: “Do I understand your question to be what is or what should be your relationship with other pastors, or both?” His response was also non-specific, so here’s how I answered:

Ideally, my relationship with other pastors should be characterized as (in alphabetical order):

  • Collegial and cooperative: As colleagues in the ministry, we work together, not at odds with one another. We might actually be helpful to each other in addressing issues/questions that we have forgotten from seminary or perhaps didn’t even hear or learn about there.
  • Respectful and tolerant: While individual personalities, ideologies and philosophies often lead to differing perspectives on ministry issues, I need to realize that my way is certainly not the only way and, whether I believe it or not, my way may not always be the best way.
  • Selfless and cooperative: For any of many reasons, parishioners may be inclined to leave the church I serve and go to one served by another pastor, who may or may not be a close colleague and friend of mine. When such inclinations are properly motivated, it may be in everyone’s interest for me to swallow my pride and assist in such a move. Special care, concern and cooperation are necessary when authentic reasons for church discipline exist.
  • Sensitive and supportive: All pastors experience times of trial and tribulation, both personally and professionally. Pastoral ministry is not easy these days! Sensitivity and support from fellow pastors, which may not be available from parishioners in an equally meaningful way, often help immensely!
  • Transparent and truthful: Fellow LCMS pastors and I have the same commitment regarding Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Yet varying interpretations will arise from time to time regarding specific questions, both in matters that are adiaphorous and also in issues on which different pastors with the same level of commitment simply disagree. Pretending those differences don’t exist is not helpful. Only when pastors speak the truth, in love, will such issues ever be able to be addressed and maybe even, by the grace of God, resolved.

Much more could be said about relationships among pastors. Perhaps these thoughts will prime the pump for future conversation in pastoral circles. Although not addressed only to pastors, St. Paul says it well: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:11)