What’s a Different Spirit?

Image result for martin luther

Last week’s article concluded with a statement of Martin Luther to one of his theological opponents. In German he said: “Ihr habt einen anderen geist als wir!” Translation: “You have another [different] spirit than we.” I promised I’d say more this week about what constitutes a different spirit. So here we go.

In Luther’s case the different spirit he diagnosed and pronounced emanated from a number of theological topics. On this particular occasion the question was whether the body and blood of Christ are really present in the Lord’s Supper. His opponent was Ulrich Zwingli. A significantly different spirit existed between those two men. Check Google for more details.

On a separate but related front was the quite serious, even life threatening confrontation between Luther and Roman Catholic Pope Leo X.  A vastly different spirit existed between those two, essentially resulting from their differing perspectives on forgiveness of sin. The Catholic Church believed that forgiveness could be bought with what were called indulgences. Luther correctly maintained that the price was paid by God’s grace in the person of Christ our Lord.

On a more domestic level in today’s world, a difference in spirit between a husband and a wife can quickly cause problems. If one person has a trusting and optimistic attitude while his or her spouse is distrustful and pessimistic, that difference in spirit often yields tension and friction.

In the political realm Republicans and Democrats continue to espouse policies and positions that differ from one another, often quite radically. While opposing ideas about philosophical, economic, immigration, military issues, and more do not necessarily presuppose differences in spirit, the hostile expression thereof clearly demonstrates such a difference.

Even in churches some strive for control and exclusiveness while others want the church to be evangelical and inclusive. Some approach financial support of their church with an open palm, others with a clenched fist. Those differences in spirit are manifested in a we/they attitude that can become combative rather than cooperative.

Although there’s no simple solution, St. Paul offers in Galatians 5 some good suggestions in his discussion of living by the Spirit [of God] compared to life controlled by the flesh. “The acts of the flesh are obvious … hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy … But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control … Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit.”

Good idea, Paul. Living that way by the power and grace of God will obviate the necessity of Christians saying to each other: “You have another [different] spirit than we.”

Amen. So be it.

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A Different Spirit

It’s pretty hard not to have noticed in recent years, particularly recent months, the depth of division that exists in our country. From vitriolic attacks in social media to public protests on city streets to flag burning incidents outside congressional offices, people are expressing disagreement with one another, with our country, and with its leaders.

It’s not just happening in the political arena. Differences abound in the ecclesiastical realm as well. That’s not new. Disagreements have existed among God’s people since the days of the disciples and apostles.

Shortly after Jesus instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, a dispute arose among his own disciples as to which of them would be considered the greatest (Luke 22:24). After working together as a team Paul and Barnabas separated from each other because they disagreed on whether to include John Mark on a mission journey (Acts 15:36-40).

Fast forward to the 16th century’s embryonic stages of Lutheranism. Disagreements about faith, forgiveness, penance, papacy, and purgatory were prolific and perpetual. Since that time there has been and still is nearly constant contention about what constitutes pure biblical doctrine, particularly regarding practical application of the Christian faith in daily life and church practice.

So today, like many national religious organizations and our nation itself, Lutheran Christians share with one another many quite similar beliefs but some significantly different perspectives on matters of faith and life. Here are examples from two sources, constituents of which are of one mind about many aspects of faith and life but not of one accord on a number of matters:

  • The Lutheran Clarion: “Building faithfulness to true Confessional Lutheranism and a clear voice of Christian concerns against actions and causes which mitigate against faithfulness to the One True Faith.”  Website: http://lutheranclarion.org/
  • Congregations Matter©: “A movement of churches, laypeople and pastors committed to the restoration of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to its historic roles of strengthening and supporting congregations.”  Website: http://congregationsmatter.org/

Notwithstanding such differences, an overwhelming majority of Lutherans agree on major points of Christian doctrine. Yet freedom from disagreement escapes us. Why is that?

Martin Luther put his finger on a significant causative factor when he said to one of his opponents 500 years ago: “You have a different spirit than we.” I believe he was right. More about that next week. Stay tuned. God bless your day!

Ablaze!

Ablaze

At the 2004 national convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, this resolution was adopted: “LCMS World Mission, in collaboration with its North American and worldwide partners, will share the Good News of Jesus Christ with 100 million unreached or uncommitted people by the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.”

Today is that day.

Although efforts to achieve this goal have received minimal publicity since the 2010 LCMS national convention, I thank God for the millions of people around the world who have heard the Gospel through the efforts of faithful folks who take seriously this ongoing endeavor.

“By grace you have been saved, through faith. It is a gift of God!” To God alone be the glory!

A blessed 500th Reformation anniversary to each of you!

Reformation 500

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Next Tuesday, October 31 is the day we’ll observe as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Many Christians, especially we Lutherans, have been anticipating this day for some time.

The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the central 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 of the Reformation and its primary causes:

  • In the late 15th century 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 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 unforgiven guilt and sin.
  • In a thunderstorm during which Luther’s 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 primarily 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.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by what Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke biblical truth to the church’s 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 writings, Luther simply stated: “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, for I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because 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 beliefs.

The assertion that salvation comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our own doing was the primary catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. That truth is the essence of the Christian faith still today and I pray that will continue till Jesus comes again!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Martin Luther

MLKJThis Monday was an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of Dr. King’s birthday, January 15. Martin Luther King was born Michael King, Jr. in 1929, named after his father the preacher, who was also born with the name Michael King.

In 1934, after becoming pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King, Sr. changed his name and that of his eldest son from Michael King to Martin Luther King after becoming inspired during a trip to Germany by the life of Martin Luther (1483–1546). We know this Luther as the German theologian who initiated the Protestant Reformation.

Dr. King, Jr. is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights, especially for African Americans, using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

My earliest perceptions of Dr. King over 45 years ago were not all positive. Since that time I have developed an appreciation for what he did and said. Here are some of his most famous quotes:

  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
  • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
  • “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
  • “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
  • “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live. No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”
  • “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
  • “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  • “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other. We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
  • “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says to love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

My perspective is that a significant number of these statements sound as if they might well have also been spoken by the man after whom Dr. King’s father named them both. This Dr. Martin Luther lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here are a few similarities observed between the two men:*

  • A single issue for each of them was their lifelong battles for reform. For Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, it was his parishioners buying indulgences, purchasing their salvation to fill Rome’s coffers. For Martin Luther King, it was a black woman being arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Both saw their parishioners struggling in the face of corruption and autocracy.
  • Both struggled with the laws and doctrines of their time. Luther King worked to eradicate segregation in America. Luther spent much of his life trying to reform the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Both were fathers and husbands who deeply loved their families despite their many other commitments and responsibilities.
  • Both lived controversial lives, suffered incarceration and death threats and died before they should have.
  • Martin Luther and Martin Luther King left the world a better place, leaving large tracts of their thoughts and beliefs through the written and spoken word.

Both were men whom God raised up in their own time to accomplish, each in his own way, much good that prevails to this very day.

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!

The Nine Toughest Leadership Roles

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Credit: Craig Parylo

An article on Leadership by Rob Asghar in the February 25 Forbes Magazine ranked what in that author’s opinion are the nine toughest leadership roles. These are not scientifically evaluated, just offered in the words of the author as “one educated guess.” Here they are, in reverse order:

9. Corporate CEO

Cons: Angry shareholders, low employee morale, media scrutiny, and an impossible task of balancing long-term goals with quarterly ones.

Pro: A generation ago CEOs made 25 times what the average worker made. Now it’s over 250 times. So one really cares what the cons are.

8. United States Congressperson

Pros:  Even though Congressional approval rates hover around 15%, incumbents get reelected 90% of the time. Even a monumental scandal may not drive a congressman from office. And generous donations from special interests give you a clear map for how to vote on even the most complicated issues.

Cons: Every so often you wake up at 4:00 a.m. with a clear sense that you’re the cause of the nation’s problems.

7. Editor for a Daily Newspaper

Pros: You’re at the cutting edge of change within the global communications revolution.

Cons: It’s mostly you that’s getting cut.

6. Mayor

Pros:  Chance to ban large sodas and/or deport citizens who picked on you in grade school.

Cons: Unlike most politicians, you actually have to make sure that garbage gets collected, snow gets shoveled, and things get done. And worse yet, you often can’t fire the people who are getting in your way.

5. Pastor, Rabbi, Mullah or Other Holy Leader

Pros: You’re seen as a man or woman of God and what you say gets taken seriously, at least momentarily.

Cons: “Being a pastor is like death by a thousand paper cuts,” says Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California and a program director at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. “You’re scrutinized and criticized from top to bottom, stem to stern. You work for an invisible, perfect Boss, and you’re supposed to lead a ragtag gaggle of volunteers towards God’s coming future. It’s like herding cats, but harder.”

4. Football Coach

Cons: You never see your spouse or kids.

Pros: You never see your spouse or kids. And it’s your chance to finally get that 24/7 attention you crave, usually from bitter, underpaid sports “journalists” and psychopathically unhappy callers to AM radio shows who blame you for 4,037 things outside your control.

3. Second-in-Command of Any Organization

Pros: As the company’s #2, you’re insulated from much of the searing heat that the top position faces. And many people flatter you by telling you (out of earshot of your boss) that you should be the real #1.

Cons: You’re less ready for the #1 job than you think. Even though you think you’re doing the true hard work while your insufferable boss basks in all the glory, you have no idea how much more complex, lonely and pressure-packed the #1 position is.

2. University President

Pros: People are pretty sure you’re super-smart.

Cons: People don’t like know-it-alls. And in addition to managing a huge and complex physical campus, you have to manage a thousand unmanageable constituencies—including picketing students, partying students, zealous alumni, Nobel laureates, hundreds or thousands of highly opinionated tenured professors that you can’t fire, and 10 to 15 separate sports franchises that would drive any NFL owner insane. And bear in mind that public university presidents have all the problems above, while additionally needing to wrestle with governors and state legislators and political groups.

1. Stay-At-Home Parent

Little known fact: While there are some 5 million stay-at-home mothers in the U.S., the number of stay-at-home fathers has tripled in recent years.

Pros: Comfortable, stretchy sweat-pant uniforms. Showering is optional. Freedom from water-cooler gossip and office backstabbing.

Cons: Condescending tone in the “Oh, staying at home is a very important job” statements that others make. The knowledge that, if you do your job badly, you’ll be raising the next generation of psychopaths and U.S. congresspersons. While it’s been calculated that the value of your work is a whopping $100,000 a year, your overpaid CEO spouse flaunts his or her paycheck as a way of showing that he or she doesn’t plan to help around the house. Even if you do your job right, the little ingrates move on and leave you with an empty nest.

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Obviously the author is prone to a bit of stylistic sarcasm. In my humble opinion all the leadership roles listed in his article are legitimate expressions of Christian vocation that have significant value and are at least potentially important for the good of society. There are many more such beneficial leadership roles and vocational callings than the nine in this article.

Regardless of the level of difficulty or sacrifice of the vocational calling of God in your life, I pray you find meaning and fulfillment in that calling. As St. Paul writes, in an admittedly different context: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

And Martin Luther adds this little note about Christian vocational calling: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”