Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vocation: A Lack of Understanding

I read this week about a "conscientious objector" who was being discharged from the military, and while I don't object to anyone taking this path, I do find his position to spring from an improper view of vocation.  Here is the summary from the New York Times article on why he is being discharged:
The question that changed Michael Izbicki’s life appeared on a psychological exam he took not long after graduating in 2008 near the top of his class at the United States Naval Academy: If given the order, would he launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?
Ensign Izbicki said he would not — and his reply set in motion a two-year personal journey and legal battle that ended on Tuesday, when the Navy confirmed that he had been discharged from the service as a conscientious objector.
I find his views to be sad - he does not understand the doctrine of vocation.  God does not expect or demand that countries not defend their territory, or that individuals not be involved in the military.  Serving in the armed services in not the equivalent of murder.  Jesus did not reprimand the Centurion for being in the military.  Even police must use deadly force at times in order to maintain order - they are a "military" force of sorts.  The idea that Jesus requires a pacifist position is completely unsupported.

It would be wrong for me to take a knife and cut someone open.  However, a physician can cut someone open when medically necessary.  Under most circumstances, it would be wrong for me to take a gun and shoot someone.  However, when a nation is threatened, or peace is threatened from within or without, it is acceptable for someone to use deadly force.  Disease requiring surgery is a part of our fallen world and violent threats against others that must be met with force are also a part of our fallen world.

This young man has no understanding of vocation - we are called to many different roles/jobs in life with unique responsibilities that would be unacceptable in other roles.  Without these necessary roles, our world would descend into chaos.

Our vocations are to serve others.  The military serves their fellow countrymen by maintaining order and fighting those who threaten.  As long as you can do your job in service to others there is no wrong.  The chef serves others by cooking meals, a mother serves by caring for her children, a doctor serves by bringing healing medicine to the sick. We each have many vocations - a few of mine are husband, father, son, filmmaker, brother, neighbor, and co-worker. These are all divine calling wherein I serve God by doing them well.  There are some jobs that people have that do not serve others and serve no God-given purpose.  The military in not one of them.  Here is one quote from Luther on vocation:
 The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor....The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living. 

Here is the full article:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scientology and Confession

The recent article in the New Yorker on Scientology and Paul Haggis is fascinating.  Paul Haggis is director of  the Academy award winning films Crash and Million Dollar Baby as well as the recent James Bond remake of Casino Royale. One of the most fascinating aspects to me is why he stayed so long in what I find to be a truly bizarre and increbile (as in not credible) belief system. Even he admits that he found aspects of Scientology to be beyond belief, even when he was an active member:
Privately, he told me, he remained troubled by the church’s theology, which struck him as “intergalactic spirituality.” He was grateful, however, to have an auditor who was “really smart, sweet, thoughtful. I could always go to talk to him.” The confessionals were helpful. “It just felt better to get things off my chest.” Even after his incredulous reaction to O.T. III, he continued to “move up” the Bridge. He saw so many intelligent people on the path, and expected that his concerns would be addressed in future levels.
What struck me about this quote is that Haggis reveals not only how he found the "theology" or cosmology of Scientology unbelievable, he also reveals what kept him in, what he found rewarding about Scientology - "it just felt better to get things off my chest." Confession.

Reading this article, I realized that confession is one thing that Scientology incoporates that we all need.  It is a central part of Christianity:

James 5:16 "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

From the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."  Confessing our sins is not the end in itself, although even this alone can bring people relief as they feel the acceptance or fogiveness of others.  In Jesus we have the great comfort of forgiveness through Jesus death on the cross - our sins placed on Him and forgiven, and His righteousness accounted to us - this is true confession which brings forgiveness.  This is the missing element from Scientology - and rather than receiving the free grace and fogiveness given by Christ, Scientology ascribes religious works that must be completed (and paid for - ka-ching!) through a procedure called auditing and other purification techniques involving saunas and high doses of vitamins.

Confession is incorporated into the liturgy of both Lutheran and some Reformed/Calvinst Churches. Here is a public congregational confessional from the Lutheran liturgy:
"I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life. Amen."
The pastor then announces the forgivness of sins of which the repentant sinner can be assured:
"The alimighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, fogiveness, and remission of all your sins."
The Lutheran Church also still practices (in some congregations) private confession, something that is sorely lacking in most Protestant Churches - although this gap has been filled by support groups; however, the announcement of forgiveness is key.  We are forgiven - we are not fixing ourselves, and therapeutic groups often lack this perspective, but rather focus the sinner on himself.  The works you must perform may be different, but you can end up on a treadmill of activities all too similar to the endless auditing of the Scientologists. We receive our forgiveness from Jesus - something endless works can never attain. 

Here is a link to a radio program telling a real life story of confession and absolution.  It really gives you an idea of how confession and forgiveness is meant to be:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jonah and Modern Day End Times Obsession

Are those Evangelicals today that are constantly obsessed with tribulation and end times judgment modern day Jonahs - looking for God's judgment to fall on the wicked - in a kind of Schaudenfraude (taking delight in the pain and suffering of others)?

Recently the Pastor of the Church we are attending preached on Jonah.  As he preached, I began to think about the modern day focus in much of the Church on the end times and tribulation (with even the non-Christian world joining in with end of the world movies) - seemingly looking forward to God's wrath falling on the world.  Jonah knew God's character - how he is quick to forgive and did not want to preach to the sinners, because he was anxiously awaiting God's judgement on those he perceived as the enemies of Israel.  God's mercy on his enemies is what he feared, and he laments their being forgiven by God:
Jonah 4:2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Do you think that the fascination with God's judgement falling on unbelievers in the "Left Behind" stories and other end times scenarios points to the fact that some are really more interested in God's judgement of the wicked than they are in pointing them to a merciful and forgiving Savior.  God knew He had already made provision for those in Nineveh through His promised messiah.  All their sins would be paid for on the cross.  God is merciful to us in Christ Jesus - He takes all of our sin and gives us His righteousness.  Focusing mainly on God's judgment of the wicked and His wrath pleases our hearts - God's going to judge those rebellious sinners!  But in reality, we all deserve that judgement equally.  Christians need to be showing others God's mercy and forgiveness, not telling them our own insights into how God will in the end judge the wicked.  Thank the Lord we live under the Cross of Christ, not His judgement, for no one stands right before God - only through Christ are we counted as righteous.

What do you think of all the end times focus of much of Evangelical Churches and books?  Do you think they could be modern day Jonahs? I know that I myself have given into this temptation - looking forward to the ungodly and wicked being judged - how about you?

God is Present in His World

I just thought I would explain a bit of why I am writing this blog.  The influence of Reformation Christianity/Lutheranism has been transforming in my life.  The focus on Jesus on the Cross for my sins, and the actual benefit of His death for me, atoning for my sins has never been clearer or more complete in my life.  God gives me everything, He sustains me, and feeds my faith. 

The simple dependence on God, on Christ's sacrifice for my sins - daily living in Him, my baptism into Christ- hearing His Word.  This is so different than constantly evaluating where I am to see if I live up to His demands, focusing on my sin rather than on the one who takes away my sin.  I am not into religious performance, rather it is the Savior that has done all. 

God is active in the lives of Christians - He provides the means to sustain us - every day.  Communion strengthens us in Christ, His Word stregthens us.  It is not about us performing, but receiving the good gifts of God given to us in Christ.  The real presence of God in our lives, He is actually present in our physical world, sustaining us is an idea, a belief that has really got my faith and mind going.  The physical world is His creation and He is active in it. 

That's why I am writing this blog - it is a way to work through these changes in my life, and explain to others why I see this refocus of my religious life on Jesus Christ, and the truth brought out by Martin Luther has been so integral to my life.  It's not about me - it's about Jesus death on the cross for my sins.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Law and Gospel and Golawspel

One of the distinctions of Reformation and Lutheran Christian preaching that I have found life changing is the proper distinction of Law and Gospel.  I don't have enough time or space here to do this proper justice, but this distinction has truly changed my view of life and given me hope rather than dread in my Christian life.  The core of this doctrine is that God's Law (summarized in the Ten Commandments and expanded upon by Jesus) reveals our sin, it shows how we are desperately sinful people incapable of delivering ourselves through our own efforts at morality.  A lot of what passes for Christian sermons emphasize the law - even though they speak Jesus name, the sermon is law from beginning to end - what you should be doing as a Christian, how you are to love others, how you are to live, what you need to be doing to grow as a Christian, etc. etc.  It is all about law, and mostly about you.

Great Book on Law & Gospel
This is not the Gospel - it turns the good news of Jesus death and resurrection into a new Law (or Go-law-spel as Michael Horton calls it), a new set of requirements to keep. It offers no hope. We will fail. Every time. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ died for me and redeems me - it is a free gift. I do not need to do one thing, I cannot do anything to save myself.  He has done all - he even gives me the faith to believe!! Christ on the Cross for my sins is the essential Gospel message, the absolutely 100% free gift - I am a child of God and daily live in that truth.  He is my salvation.  He builds trust in my heart as I hear about His great love for me.  I believe and know that Jesus will take me to heaven when I die - not based on anything I ever said, prayed, did, or performed - but based on His mercy and grace alone.

Image Courtesy Victorian Web
The sad truth is that a lot of Churches say they believe in salvation by grace through faith, but then they burden their people down with law - preached week after week from the pulpit.  I recently listened to a "sermon review" on Pirate Christian Radio, and even though I knew that the sermon was wrong, it was being critiqued, and the law application of Scripture was not even correct (the Scripture being used had nothing to do with the topic it was being applied to), I felt this sense of dread creeping up - and I thought - I remember this! This is what I used to feel in Church listening to all this law that I cannot possibly fulfill, focusing inside on myself and my inability to keep the law, and looking around me and thinking everyone else seems to be doing okay, what's wrong with me!  The truth is, no one was doing okay, those sermons crush and offer no hope.  If you are in a Church that does not proclaim the law to crush you and reveal your sin, but then turns around and offers Jesus Christ as your redeemer, focuses you back on confession of sins and forgiveness - the one who perfectly fulfilled the law for you, who saves you through the Cross by His mercy and grace - if your Church only gives you the law, or tells you how you should live to 'overcome' - leave now, get out - it will destroy your faith and leave you without hope. The more you focus in on yourself and your own ability to keep the law and fulfill God's commands or live the Christian life the more you will go down that rabbit hole of despair.  Jesus death on the cross is an objective truth, outside of yourself.  He gave Himself for your sins.  Your sins are covered - focus on Him and His mercy and grace.   

Friday, February 4, 2011

Was the Early Church "Emergent" or "Liturgical?"

Our Savior Lutheran Church
where I have been attending 

Emergent Church Group

I don't mean to set up a false choice between two types of worship service, but with most Churches becoming progressively more and more informal and focused on man rather than God, I think the contrast is valid. The liturgical order of worship is not only historical, it is Biblical. Recently, when I was discussing with a friend how my heart was being drawn to the Lutheran point of view, he said that all the high church stuff just puts him off (I don't know that he has ever attended a Lutheran service, although he did say his father had been Catholic so that may be his point of reference). He said he believes that the early Christians were not involved in all that, they just got together and encouraged each other, prayed and shared. As he was talking, I was visualizing folks in robes gathered around sitting on the floor, laughing, talking, eating, and generally having a good time. Maybe at one time I would have been persuaded by this idea. Not any more. Rather than thinking the idea of liturgical worship does not match up with the early Church, I think this idea of a highly informal gathering is a projection of our current culture on to the past. His idea sounds more like the Emergent Church - all hanging out, eating junk food, and talking about philosophy and God (not that there isn't a place for that - just don't call it a Christian worship service). The Jewish believers who populated the early Church understood an ordered reverent service of the true and living God. They were already using the Psalms in worship and as Jewish people, they had a background of highly ordered service.  They fully understood Christ as the fulfillment of the sacrificial system - He is the true Lamb of God who takes away our sins through His sacrifice. Thus Communion, as Christ instituted, was central to the service as is apparent in the New Testament. From the beginning to the end, the entire Christian service should focus on Jesus. His death and resurrection is the central message and activity of the service. This is what should be going on in our Churches.

Treasury of Daily Prayer
The Service centers on God's Word. I have come to enjoy the singing/chanting of Psalms, Old Testament reading, Epistle reading, and Gospel reading at every service.  God speaks to us - and that is awesome. Reading Heaven on Earth, I came to realize that my assumptions about what should happen in a Church service should have a foundation, they should be based on a truly historical and Scriptural foundation. There is plenty of historical evidence and support for the Divine liturgy. Communion was a central element in the early Church, as was the singing of Psalms, and reading of Scripture. The preaching of Christ given to us in Word and Sacrament formed the core of what the Church gathered around during their worship. I purchased a copy of the Treasury of Daily Prayer upon hearing about it on Issues Etc. - this really was my first introduction to Lutheran liturgical worship - and I was immediately taken in by the depth and quality of this excellent resource. I thought I was buying a simple prayer book. This book was not what I expected - it was so much more. I highly recommend it. 

The liturgy and music of worship also emphasizes the Holy Trinity. We are not just worshiping a god, we are worshiping the One True God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Throughout the liturgy it is emphasized that we are worshiping the Triune God.  I now look for this in Christian music and services - is it apparent who we are worshiping?  Is the Holy Trinity part of the invocation?  Does the service revolve around Our Savior? These are the questions we should be asking - and refrain from projecting our cultural expectations on what should happen during the service.