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!

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Pope Francis in the U.S.

Pope FrancisFor the first time in his papacy—and his life—Pope Francis is visiting the United States. This week he is traveling through Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Hundreds of thousands of people are anticipating the chance to see him during his time here in our country. Tickets for public masses, papal parades and even public transportation are highly coveted.

During the first part of his six-day, three-city visit to the U.S., the pope met with President Obama and today will address the U.S. Congress. Later today he will travel to New York, where he will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and address the United Nations. Over the weekend he will take part in a Vatican-sponsored conference on families in Philadelphia. The official version of the Pope’s entire schedule is posted below.

Pope Francis, the 266th pope, was elected at the age of 76, is the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from the Americas. One report I read reminds us that the pope is not a politician, he’s a priest and that, despite what the American media might say of his objectives, this trip is the pope’s opportunity to focus more on things spiritual than things political. I hope that’s true.

I’ll take the risk here of sharing a few brief thoughts about popes and the Catholic Church. Quite often, when making a presentation on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its place in world Christendom, I compare the pope to the president of the LCMS. Here’s what I say:

The LCMS president has spiritual connection with approximately two million people, mostly in the United States. The pope has connection with over one billion people all across the globe. That’s one thousand million, which is 500 times more than the LCMS.

On November 26, 2001, just a few months after Terry and I sold our home and left our family in Texas to move to St. Louis to assume the office of president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I underwent radical prostatectomy. Not many folks other than our family, my senior staff and a number of close friends knew about my surgery. That same week, Pope John Paul II had a cold and sore throat. He made front page news around the world! I fully understand the reason.

Our Lutheran Confessions refer to the papacy as the antichrist. This characterization is often understood to describe individual popes who conducted their ministry in less than God pleasing ways, especially the popes in office during the time leading up to the 16th century Reformation. Not nearly as many Lutherans today as in the past consider the pope the antichrist.

The Roman Catholic Church has different understandings of eternity than most of the rest of Christianity, including the existence of purgatory. Catholics are still assigned acts of penance and encouraged to purchase indulgences. While faith in Christ is emphasized, so is praying to saints. Papal infallibility, seven sacraments rather than just two, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary are also upheld. Lutherans and other Christians respectfully disagree with these beliefs.

For the record, our Lutheran understanding of eternity is simply this: We believe we are saved for eternity by grace, through faith in Christ our Lord, and not by works of the law. Because of the perfect fulfilling of the law by Christ and his vicarious atonement for our sins on Calvary’s cross, our sins are forgiven, both temporally and eternally. Heaven is a free gift of God’s grace, which we in no way deserve and for which we will be eternally grateful.

Notwithstanding the differences noted and a few others as well, which are not insignificant, I consider Roman Catholics our sisters and brothers in Christ. They, together with Lutherans and other Christians, confess their faith in The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Athanasian Creed. Roman Catholics are not our greatest spiritual enemies. That designation belongs to Satan, the world, our own sinful flesh and Islam. I’ll say more about the last topic on that list in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, welcome to the U.S., Pope Francis. I’m glad you’re here!

U.S. Itinerary for Pope Francis

Tuesday, Sept. 22

4 p.m.: Pope Francis arrives in U.S. at Joint Base Andrews just outside of Washington. He will be greeted by President Obama.

Wednesday, Sept. 23

9:15 a.m.: Pope Francis will appear at an official welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn then meet with President Obama.

11 a.m.: The Pope will parade around the Ellipse just south of the White House and the National Mall.

11:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will pray with U.S. bishops at D.C.’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

4:30p.m.: The Pope will canonize Junípero Serra during a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Thursday, Sept. 24

10a.m.: Speech before a Joint Session of Congress followed by an appearance on the West Front of the Capitol at 11 a.m.

11:15 a.m.: The Pope will visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in D.C. and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he is expected to meet with clients of the St. Maria’s Meals program who will have gathered for lunch, including some who are homeless or live in shelters

4p.m.: Pope Francis heads to New York where he’ll land by 5 p.m.

6:45 p.m.: The Pope will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral near New York’s Rockefeller Center.

Friday, Sept. 25

8:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will address the United Nations General Assembly, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The Pope is also expected to attend bilateral meetings with the U.N. Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly.

11:30 a.m.: The Pope will pray, meet with families and deliver an address at a multi-religious service at the Sept. 11 memorial and museum at the site of the World Trade Center.

4 p.m.: Before taking his motorcade through Central Park, the Pope will visit a third grade class at Our Lady Queen of Angels school, a 120-year-old institution in East Harlem.

5 p.m.: Motorcade through West Central Park between 72nd and 60th Streets. A ticket and valid ID are required to enter.

6 p.m.: Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Saturday, Sept. 26

8:40 a.m.: Pope departs New York for final leg of the trip, arriving in Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m.

10:30 a.m.: Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

4:45 p.m.: The Pope is expected to talk immigration and religious during an address at Independence Mall

7:30 p.m.: Visit and prayer vigil at the World Meeting of the Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Sunday, Sept. 27

9:15 a.m.: The Pope will meet with Bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

11 a.m.: Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the city’s largest jail.

4 p.m.: Mass at World Meeting of the Families.

7 p.m.: Meeting with World Meeting organizers, benefactors and volunteers.

8 p.m.: Official departure.

Opposition and Proposition

Credit: casarosada.gob.ar

Credit: casarosada.gob.ar

Statistics show a growing increase in the percentage of U.S. population who declare no religious preference. Other statistics reflect radical disagreement on controversial issues of social and sexual significance. These realities challenge the Christian church to think and act proactively in presenting the claims of Christianity in a way that compels greater attention and response.

That’s why a recent Austin American Statesman article attributing quotes to Pope Francis drew significant attention. The Pope is quoted as saying: “The Roman Catholic church has grown obsessed with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception. I have chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.”

Pope Francis sought to “set a new tone for the church” by saying it should be “a home for all and not a small chapel focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings. It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”

He continued: “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance. Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.” The very next day the very same man reiterated, in unmistakable terms, the church’s position against abortion. And I’m glad he did!

For unless and until convinced that God has not spoken clearly on controversial contemporary issues, we cannot and should not try to change what we believe God has said regarding such matters. We have a duty to state clearly what we believe God’s will mandates we must oppose. That should be done unequivocally and unapologetically, at appropriate times and places. Yet in the process of expressing opposition, we dare not obfuscate our primary purpose of proposition.

That propositional purpose is the powerful proclamation of God’s love in Christ, law and gospel, sin and grace, repentance and forgiveness, justification and sanctification. That’s the message that touches the hearts of people and brings them to the foot of the cross! That’s the message with which we must lead! For people need to hear what the church proposes much more loudly and clearly than only what the church opposes!