Reformation Courage

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-02-35-pmOctober 31 is the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, observed this Sunday. The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the truth of Christianity that eternal salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, through faith in Christ our Lord. Here’s a brief summary:

  • In the late 15thcentury the Catholic Church was afflicted by internal corruption.
  • The sale of “indulgences,” raised money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • Indulgences made people believe deceased loved ones could be released from purgatory.
  • The sales slogan was: “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
  • Onto this scene arrived a troubled man named Martin Luther.
  • Luther saw God as a God of justice and was tormented by fears over unresolved sin and guilt.
  • In a thunderstorm during which his traveling companion was killed by a bolt of lightning, Luther exclaimed, “Save me, St. Anne. I will become a monk!”
  • He survived, became a monk, but could find no peace with God through his own effort.
  • Luther’s discovery of God’s grace came from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • Also Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…The righteous shall live by faith.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by the truth Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke truth to power by posting his 95 theses, intended as an invitation for debate on topics of faith and church practice.
  • Pressure was placed on him to retract his criticism of church belief and practice.
  • He refused to do so and was threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church.
  • Asked to retract his words, Luther stated: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
  • Ultimately, Luther was excommunicated for refusing to retract his newfound beliefs.
  • Thus began what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

My Reformation question, to you and to myself, is this: If we were to conclude that a teaching or practice of the church was not based on clear passages of Scripture or was mandated by the church but not commanded by Holy Scripture or was not allowed by the church but not forbidden by Scripture, would we have the courage to speak our conviction?

Thank God for the Reformation courage Luther displayed in doing just that nearly 500 years ago!

Election Day

voting-boothOnly 18 days remain between now and Election Day. On one hand I’ll be glad when that day has come and gone. On the other hand, I’m very concerned about hearing the news to which America will awaken on November 9. Frankly, like many Americans, neither candidate rings my chimes.

For months we’ve been hearing and seeing ads, debates, and interviews espousing the minimal virtues of each candidate and eschewing the multiple vices of both. Name calling, half-truths, and allegations have filled the airwaves. No matter who wins, we won’t have a perfect president.

That in itself is nothing new. We never have had a perfect president. Yet in this year’s process of nominations and campaigns, seemingly unprecedented negative personal attributes and questionable values have emerged regarding each candidate. What are we to believe?

Hillary Clinton has been described as a deceitful, manipulative, self-serving, mean spirited, callous, angry, forgetful, dishonest, power hungry woman with no true love of country and no genuine desire to honor and preserve the basic religious values on which America was founded.

Donald Trump has been described as a rude, crude, ambitious, arrogant, womanizing, combative, name-calling New York narcissist who spends more time defending his reputation on social media than actually stating how he would make America great again as United States president.

Our country is at a critical crossroads politically, economically, morally, socially, and spiritually. Frankly, at face value, the descriptions in the paragraph above of the two candidates vying for the highest office in the land don’t offer much hope for America’s future. Yet, barring an act of God, it appears that one of them will become the 45th president of the United States of America.

Do we, therefore, simply wring our hands in despair? Do we stay home from the polls? Do we, as some suggest, hold our nose and vote for the one we think might be the lesser of two evils?

While I have no rocket science solutions, the suggestions I humbly offer are these:

  1. Pray fervently for divine direction in this election. See Rom. 13:1-4.
  2. Consider the qualifications of the two nominees in light of how they express their hopes and dreams for America’s future, notwithstanding their personal behavior and character.
  3. Review each candidate’s stance on terrorism, national security, foreign policy, military might, national debt, health care, economy, Supreme Court appointees, sanctity of life.
  4. Examine the official positions on the issues listed above as contained in the platforms of the two political parties the candidates represent. This is a most critical exercise! We’re not just voting for a person. We’re voting for the political platform that person represents!
  5. Evaluate the vice presidential candidates on the ballot, considering the attributes of the person who would be one heartbeat away. This is also a vital consideration!
  6. Pray again and cast your ballot for the candidate and platform most nearly aligned with your values and convictions as a Christian citizen of the United States of America!

The Virtue of Humility

cowboy

On more than one occasion I’ve meet and spoken with people who say they used to be Lutheran. Some were baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church but for any of many reasons, usually unhappy ones, they left. I’m always saddened when I come away from that kind of conversation.

Sometimes church traditions and human pride erect unnecessary barriers that contribute to a person’s departure from God’s Word and Sacraments. Here’s a story that illustrates this truth:

One Sunday morning, an old cowboy entered a church just before worship time. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore jeans, a denim shirt, and boots that were ragged and worn. In his hand he carried a worn-out hat and an equally worn out Bible.

The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the
largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed in expensive clothes and accessories. As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.

As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.

The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots and hat. Once again he was completely shunned. The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church”.

“I did,” replied the old cowboy.

“What did God tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping here?” asked the preacher.

“Well sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He said He’d never been in this church.”

While unable to vouch for the veracity of this story, I believe it illustrates what Jesus had in mind when he told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. The Pharisee said: “God, I thank you that I am not like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all that I receive.” The tax collector prayed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus added: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14). As we remember and live those words, people who visit our church, even in blue jeans, will find love and acceptance from God and from his people!

Marys & Marthas

pulpitThat’s the title on the cover of the September 2016 edition of The Lutheran Witness, a monthly publication of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Although a number of articles in that periodical are worthy of note, today I focus on the one titled “Women Pastors?”

While time and space do not permit a lengthy review of the article in its entirety, I’ll address briefly the one sentence subtitle of the article: “Christ calls suitable men to teach, while women hear and receive the Gospel with humble joy.” That sentence is rephrased a bit and repeated toward the end of the article: “Men teach and give. Women hear and receive.”

The article deals specifically with the topic of women serving in the pastoral office, which is not permitted in our church. However, the impression might be given that in all circumstances the rubric of men teaching and women merely receiving the Word of God applies to all situations and circumstances. Not so, according to Holy Scripture. A couple examples should suffice.

Luke 2 announces the birth of Jesus and tells also of a prophetess named Anna, an 84 year-old woman who had been a widow for many years. “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

It seems clear from this section of Holy Scripture that Anna not only heard and received the good news of the birth of Christ, she also spoke that good news to many, in the temple.

Another biblical reference has always intrigued me. Acts 2 tells the story of the reception of the Holy Spirit by many who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost. After they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began “to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Some who heard this miraculous speaking accused the speakers of inebriation.

But Peter put that perception to rest by announcing that because it was only 9:00 a.m., it was too early for them to be drunk. I’ll make no further comment on that explanation.

Peter continued: “This [what they saw happening] is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy … even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.'”

It sounds to me like Holy Scripture is saying, at least in these two instances, that women may and should do more than simply “hear and receive the Gospel with humble joy.”