Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Martin Luther’ Category

The Reverend Paul T. McCain is a Lutheran Pastor in the Missouri Synod and is Publisher and Executive Director of the Editorial Department at Concordia Publishing House, working on the soon-to-be-released The Lutheran Study Bible.  Unfortunately, the hard work of the Concordia editors is being eclipsed a bit by the release of the Augsburg Lutheran Study Bible earlier this year.

The Augsburg “Bible” was passed out to pastors at every Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) synodical meeting this spring, partially in anticipation of the recent vote by the ELCA to ignore the Word of God and ordain homosexuals as Pastors.

The Concordia Bible, on the other hand, is the latest update in a long tradition – reaching back almost 500 years to Luther’s translation of the Scriptures.

The Augsburg Press’ tome has rampant misstatements and revisions of Christian history that are representative of the church’s unfortunate sad turn in leadership (a turn that strangely reflects a similar history that placed many of the Catholic church bishops in power that Martin Luther railed against in his day).

While I don’t always agree with all of the strongly held beliefs of the Missouri Synod, I present Rev. McCain’s blog post, explaining key differences between the two versions of a Lutheran study Bible:

In light of the release of The Lutheran Study Bible, I thought it would be a good time to re-run a blog post from several months ago, explaining the important differences between the ELCA’s new Bible, which their publishing company titled Lutheran Study Bible, and The Lutheran Study Bible. By the way, they titled it that knowing The Lutheran Study Bible was on its way. Go figure.

I encourage you to advise everyone you know that the ELCA Bible is not The Lutheran Study Bible by CPH. The two Bibles are quite different in content, style and purpose. Most significantly, the ELCA Bible takes a different approach on key doctrinal points than does The Lutheran Study Bible. So, please be aware, and spread the word, that The Lutheran Study Bible the ELCA Bible are something quite different from each. Be sure to point people to The Lutheran Study Bible web site, or its Facebook Group, or Twitter feed.

This post examines two issues in both Bibles as a way of illustrating the stark and dramatic contrast between these two Bibles. To distinguish between these two Bibles, they shall be referred to as The Lutheran Study Bible and the ELCA Bible. The two topics used to illustrate the stark difference between the two Bibles are: the Great Commission and the topic of homosexuality.

The Great Commission

The Lutheran Study Bible on the Great Commission

28:18–20 Though all God’s people are to bear witness to the Lord (cf Ps 145; Is 43:10), the focus here is on the apostles and their calling as leading witnesses and representatives of Jesus. (Compare to the authorization in Mt 10:1–7.)

28:18 “All authority.” Christ’s human nature, which had refrained from exercising the divine authority belonging to the person of Christ, now is fully exalted and given free use of divine authority (cf v 19). “He can also powerfully effect and do everything that He says and promises” (FC SD VII 43). “The Church’s authority and the State’s authority must not be confused. The Church’s authority has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments [Matthew 28:19–20]. Let it not break into the office of another. Let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world to itself. Let it not abolish the laws of civil rulers. Let it not abolish lawful obedience” (AC XXVIII 12–13).

28:19 “make disciples.” See note, 5:1. Jesus gives us the tools to make disciples: Baptism and His teaching. all nations. Not just the Jews, but Gentiles too (cf 10:5–6). baptizing them in the name. “Name” is singular, followed by the threefold naming of the divine persons. This illustrates the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. See p 0000. Those baptized in the name of the Father have God as their Father; baptized in the name of the Son, they receive all the benefits of the Son’s redeeming act; baptized in the name of the Spirit, they receive the life-giving, life-sustaining power and presence of the Spirit. Christian Baptism is founded on this institution. See note, Nu 6:22–27. baptizing. Washing with the water of new birth. “Baptism is no human plaything, but it is instituted by God Himself” (LC IV 6). “It is necessary to baptize little children, that the promise of salvation may be applied to them, according to Christ’s command to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). Just as in this passage salvation is offered to all, so Baptism is offered to all, to men, women, children, infants. It clearly follows, therefore, that infants are to be baptized, because salvation is offered with Baptism” (Ap IX 52).

28:20 “teaching.” Disciples are made not only through Baptism, but through the ongoing catechetical work of the Church. observe all. Christians are called to do more than “obey”; they are called to treasure God’s Word in their hearts. commanded. Not only Christ’s moral injunctions (the Law) but also His invitation to trust in Him (the Gospel). I am with you always. Not only in Spirit but also according to His human nature. See “be with,” p 0000. “He is present especially in His Church and congregation on earth as Mediator, Head, King, and High Priest. This presence is not a part, or only one half of Him. Christ’s entire person is present, to which both natures belong, the divine and the human—not only according to His divinity, but also according to, and with, His received human nature” (FC SD VIII 78). end of the age. When He returns visibly.

28:16–20 Christ commissions His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations through Baptism and teaching. Christ promises to be with us, and He is the one who makes disciples through our baptizing and teaching. Today, remember your Baptism and confirmation in the faith, which are precious blessings for the Lord’s disciples. His love and care are new for you every morning. • Send us, Lord, to make disciples in Your name in accordance with our callings in life. Amen.

The ELCA Bible on the Great Commission
28:16-20 the eleven disciples went to Galilee: The eleven meet Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. Even when the eleven see him, some doubt. Jesus’ resurrection returns to the question of his authority in 7:28-9:34; 21:23-32. Through the resurrection, God has given Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. This does not mean that only now does Jesus have authority. It establishes his authority exercised throughout his life and ministry (28:20). The end of the Gospel sends the reader back to the beginning (4:12-9:34), and it gives God’s answer to the Pharisees’ charge (9:34). In contrast to 10:5-6, 23, Jesus now send the disciples to make disciples of all nations. That does not mean make everyone disciples. Most people who are helped by Jesus and believe in him never become disciples. Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or ever know about him (5:30; 25:31-45). Disciples are students, called for the sake of the world to learn from Jesus and to bear witness to the kingdom. They are salt and light (5:13-16). Jesus promises to be with them always as they carry out this mission. Previously, Jesus promised to be present in the exercise of forgiveness (18:18-20) and in the “least of these” who suffer (25:31-45). (p. 1658)

Homosexuality

Genesis 19:5 The account of Sodom

The Lutheran Study Bible
Genesis 19:5 know them. Have sex with them. Homosexual lust burned among many of the men of Sodom. Cf Lv 18:22; Rm 1:27.

The ELCA Bible
Genesis 19:1-11 This scene is an illustration of Sodom’s wickedness. The verb know refers to sexual activity. With every man involved, the result would have been gang rape (19:4-5). Sexual abuse of strangers demonstrated who was in charge (as in prisons). The sins of Sodom are most explicit in Ezekiel 16:49: pride, gluttony, prosperous ease and not aiding the poor and needy (compare with Matt. 10:14-15). That Lot would substitute his betrothed (engaged) daughters is another sign of Sodom’s immorality. In 19:30-38, Lot himself is sexually abused.

Leviticus 18:6-23: Prohibitions Against Homosexuality

The Lutheran Study Bible
Leviticus 18:6–23: Pointedly, God provides provisions for holiness in sexuality by addressing key issues of incest (vv 6–16), adultery (vv 17–18, 20), sacrificial idolatry (v 21), homosexuality (v 22), and bestiality (v 23). The Bible records Abraham’s intercourse with a servant (Gn 16:1–4), Lot’s incest (Gn 19:36), and Jacob’s marriage to his first cousins, who were also sisters (Gn 29), but it never promotes such relationships. God restates here that His original intent at creation was the ordered intimacy between one man and one woman. He makes plain that close intermarriage is now forbidden. See note, Gn 4:19.

Leviticus 18:22: Sexual intercourse was ordained by God for procreation (cf Gn 1:28) and must involve husband and wife, the “male and female” in Gn 1:27. abomination. See note, Pr 6:16.

The ELCA Bible
Leviticus 18:22-23: “you shall not lie with:” Prohibitions against sexual activity between men and between person and animal.

1 Samuel 18:1

The Lutheran Study Bible
18:1 knit. Same Hbr verb used in Gn 44:30 to express Jacob’s love for his son Benjamin. Jonathan initiates a friendship with David that blesses and hallows life. loved. Used of a covenant relationship; possesses political overtones. Never used of homosexual desire or activity. (OT uses the verb “to know” for sexual activity; see note, Gn 19:5. Latter verb is never used of David’s relationship with Jonathan.) The fact that Saul, too, loved David (16:21) prepares us for the later political use of the verb “love.”

The ELCA Bible
18:1 These two became inseparable and are so devoted that their very well-being is tied together. This same kind of devotion describes Jacob’s relationship with his youngest son, Benjamin. 18:3 These two are kindred spirits. Their friendship is about a covenant or promise of steadfast love and loyalty to each other. First, this is about personal affection.

Ezekiel 16:49-50

The Lutheran Study Bible
16:49–50: Sodom’s pride, gluttony, and neglect of the poor describes a decadent society in which gross immorality might easily thrive. an abomination. Probably refers to sodomy (Gn 19:1–22). At times, “abomination” is applied specifically to homosexual behavior (Lv 18:22; 20:13).

The ELCA Bible
16:44-58: Samaria and Sodom, two cities destroyed for their wickedness, are portrayed as sisters of Jerusalem and sinners like their mother, the Hittite. Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which Assyria defeated in 721 B.C.E. Neither Samaria nor Sodom was as sinful as Jerusalem.

Romans 1:26

The Lutheran Study Bible
Romans 1:26 God gave them up. See note, v 24. dishonorable passions. Paul is not condemning all passion or sexual desire. Only the misuse of God’s gift of sexuality brings dishonor. exchanged. See note, v 23. Sin substitutes inferior things for God’s good gifts. contrary to nature. As God’s existence and character are seen in nature (vv 19–21), so His Law is also evident. Homosexual activity, referred to here, is a departure from the natural order.

The ELCA Bible
Romans 1:24, 26, 28 God gave them up: “In response to human sin, God handed over humanity to destructive behavior that alienated people from God, themselves, and others”

Romans 1:27

The Lutheran Study Bible
On Romans 1:27 As in v 26, homosexual activity exchanges a natural desire for the opposite sex for an unnatural lust for one’s own sex. shameless acts. Homosexual behavior. due penalty for their error. Participation in degrading, unnatural acts is, in itself, part of the judgment for sin. Paul’s candid discussion of homosexuality may surprise or offend some readers. The Greco-Roman world was generally open to homosexuality, though there were critics, including Jews, Christians, and some philosophers. Homosexuality is an example of how something that seems obvious from nature (the relation of two sexes; the body was not designed for homosexual activities) is exchanged for something unnatural. This is a further effect of exchanging the worship of God for the worship of idols. Luther: “Holy Scripture declares that sin came from the devil, whom, contrary to God’s Word, our parents obeyed. They became disobedient to God and thereby brought a terrible punishment upon themselves. For through this sin (of the Fall) not only our bodies have become so weakened that they have changed from immortal into mortal bodies, but the intellect, heart, mind, and will are entirely corrupted and turned evil (verboset). For man has lost the right and true knowledge of God. Moreover, his will is so entirely corrupted that he desires and wants nothing but that which is evil” (WLS § 4131).

The ELCA Bible
No comment.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

The Lutheran Study Bible
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 unrighteous. Those perishing (1:18). inherit the kingdom. See note, 4:20. Paul lists habitual sins, which imply a life choice incompatible with the holiness of God’s kingdom. 6:11 such were some of you. God, in mercy, called the unrighteous into His kingdom. washed . . . sanctified . . . justified. Terms of salvation, used interchangeably. Baptism makes us new creatures, holy with Christ’s righteousness. “Whenever God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified. This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all. Therefore, I constantly say that all our life and work must be guided by God’s Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy” (LC I 92). in the name of the Lord Jesus . . . Spirit . . . God. Trinitarian, as is fitting with reference to Baptism.

From the textual note on verse 9, placed after the word “homosexuality” in the ESV text: The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.

The ELCA Bible
1 Corinthians 6:9-11: Ancient Christian writers listed specific vices to illustrate a more general evil. Two terms in the vice list have been mistranslated from the Greek in all modern versions, and this has caused needless pain in the church: malos (“soft,” that is, lacking self-control) and arsenokoites (literally, “one who beds a male”). Both terms are specific examples of injustice, the topic of the vice list in 6:9-11. The “soft” person (here translated: “male prostitute”) takes more than his or her due. The arsenokoites (translated as “sodomite”) rapes and shames other males to increase his reputation for power. The issue here is violence. Neither term pertains to homosexuality or to the lives of gay and lesbian people.

1 Timothy 1:9-10

The Lutheran Study Bible
1 Timothy 1:9–10 The list of sins shows how God’s Law is properly used, namely, to bring sinners to contrition and repentance. Each of the sins listed by Paul closely corresponds to God’s Law as found in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1–17). On Paul’s use of “law,” see p 0000. 1:9 law . . . for the lawless. “Yet this is not to be understood in a simplistic way, as though the justified are to live without Law. God’s Law has been written in their heart (Romans 2:15). Also a law was given to the first man immediately after his creation (Genesis 2:15–17): He was to conduct himself according to this law. What St. Paul means is that the curse of the Law cannot burden those who have been reconciled to God through Christ. Nor must the Law confuse the regenerate with its coercion, for they have pleasure in God’s Law in the inner man (Romans 7:22)” (FC SD VI 5). Bern: “The law promulgated in fear by a spirit of slavery is one thing, and that given sweetly and gently by the spirit of liberty is another” (SLSB, p 200). 1:10 enslavers. Kidnappers, involved in illegal slave trade.

The ELCA Bible
Note at 1 Timothy 1:10 “What is ‘the law’? Here ‘law’ refers to the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) or to additional Jewish laws based on the Torah. Paul called the law “holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12, 16), but also taught that Christians ‘have died to the law’ (Rom. 7:4, 6) and are ‘free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom. 8:2). As God’s child, Martin Luther understood himself to be free from the law. As Lutherans, we understand ourselves to be free as well.

2 Peter 2:10

The Lutheran Study Bible
2 Peter 2:10 lust of defiling passion. Possible reference to homosexuality, the sin of the Sodomites (cf Gn 19:5). Luther: “ ‘To indulge in the lust of defiling passion’ is to live like an irrational beast according to one’s own notion and all lust” (AE 30:180). despise authority. Rejecting people God charged with faithfully attending to His Word and His work, be it His Son, His angels, His prophets, His pastors, or His teachers. Cf Jude 8–10; see note, Heb 13:17. they blaspheme the glorious ones. To speak against God’s angels or anything of God is to speak against God.

The ELCA Bible
No comment.

Additional materials on homosexuality in the two Bibles

From an article in The Lutheran Study Bible titled, “Divine Warfare,” an excerpt from the Concordia Commentary series on the Book of Joshua:

“The Christian Gospel in Word and Sacrament rescues the perishing from eternal destruction and fortifies them to do battle against the forces of evil within (the sinful flesh) and without (the devil and the world) that assail them. It is necessary for Christians to oppose detestable practices such as idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and occult practices, which correspond to the ancient abominations of the Canaanites. The church rightly prohibits God’s people from engaging in such practices. The church also rightly endeavors to persuade society at large to prohibit such evils, and to do so Christians work peacefully through lawful means, not by violence. . . .”

From an article in The Lutheran Study Bible titled, “Israel’s Identity Crisis”:

“We may find no appeal in the ancient gods of Canaan. There is no allure, no enticement. Yet, it was the Canaanite gods who caused many Israelites to be tempted away from the true God. Perhaps the Israelites wanted a god they could manipulate with rites and ceremonies, regardless of how inhumane their practice. We often seek gods we can manipulate as well. Even some Christians are enticed to worship such things as possessions, money, lust, greed, and power. Pornography causes some Christians to fall. Drug abuse, child abuse, homosexuality, and sexual, physical, and mental abuse cause others to fall. Sin causes us to forget that we are God’s temple (1Co 3:16). For the ancient Israelites, sin began innocently enough (it usually does in our lives too). Sadly, doubting God’s Word has eternal ramifications. As we fall into sin, we lose sight of the consequences—that “those who practice such things deserve to die” (Rm 1:32). Here are three personal questions to ask ourselves: (1) What idols have I set up in God’s place? (2) Is the god of self-indulgence, the god of promiscuous sex, or the god of child sacrifice (abortion) a part of my life? (3) Is the god of money and material possessions seeking to topple me into sin?”

From an article in The Lutheran Study Bible inserted at Roman 1, titled, “Homosexuality and Biblical Teaching”

“Marriage with God’s Blessing God created sex for the procreation of children and to strengthen the marital bond that supports those children (see note, Gn 1:28). Within the confines of marriage, sex is a wonderful blessing. Outside that relationship, it is idolatry—people rejecting God’s order, worshiping what is created rather than the Creator. Christians should abhor the sin of homosexual behavior as they abhor all sins. But at the same time, Christians should see homosexuals as people for whom Christ shed His precious blood. God wants us to recognize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23–24). A homosexual, like any other sinner, needs to hear God’s word of Law and Gospel applied to his or her life with the goal of repentance and faith.”

From the prefatory materials in The Lutheran Study Bible on the Book of Galatians:

“Genderless Christianity. Feminist interpreters and those influenced by feminism have radically altered the historic interpretation and application of Gal 3:28. They argue that gender and social order should have no influence on roles of service in Christianity. This interpretation has been forcefully used to encourage women’s ordination in liberal Protestant church bodies and has even been used to support the ordination of homosexuals.”

The ELCA Bible
No further comments or materials.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to present the message/sermon/homily for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral.  While the message isn’t strictly related to finances or stewardship, I thought I’d share it with my readers here anyways.  I hope you may draw some insight from it…

Good morning.  As you have probably already figured out, Pastor Rus isn’t here this morning.  He had the pleasure of doing a wedding for some old friends of his back in West Virginia and asked me if I would mind doing the message for this week.

We’ve been talking a lot over the past few weeks about the early church – the Christian community that formed following the resurrection and then Pentecost, the blessing of the Holy Spirit on these young believers.

Just a quick aside – do you realize that the term Pentecost is not strictly a Christian term?  Pentecost, translated from the Greek literally means ‘the Fiftieth Day,’ and is actually taken from the Jewish term Shavuot, which was the Feast of Weeks, taking place 50 days after the Passover and memorializing the time when Moses and the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  It speaks volumes that this was also the day that God again gave his chosen people a gift – the greatest gift – his very spirit living inside them.  I could go a lot more into this, but I want to go a little bit further forward in time with you today, and take a look at another early Christian community that I think we can hopefully learn from.

But first, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have you take part in my brand new game show (drum roll)…

Is That in the Bible?

I hope you brought your Bibles.  I’m going to have a series of phrases up on the screen and I want you to vote with me whether they are from the Bible or not.

“Leopards don’t change their spots” Bible or non-Bible? (highlight hidden text for the answer)

Jeremiah 13:23 (New International Version)

Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.

“God works in mysterious ways”

William Cowper,

“On The Loss of the Royal George”

“Money is the root of all evil”

1 Timothy 6:10 (New International Version)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from

the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”

Charles Wesley

Sermons, no 93,

‘On Dress’

“God helps those who help themselves”

Aesop

“The gods help them

that help themselves”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child”

Samuel Butler (Hudibras, 1664),

paraphrasing Proverbs 23:13 (New International Version)

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

Okay, hopefully you’ve learned a little bit today… A lot of what is attributed to the Bible, that is more traditional, in fact, has little or nothing to do with the Bible and Christian beliefs.  But believe me, we’re not the first ones to make this mistake.  I titled this message, “What Would Luther Say,” for an interesting reason.  If you look at Luther’s life, historically, you see that at the time he lived, very few people actually read the Bible.  Now, some of that could be attributed to the fact that it was in either Hebrew, Greek or Latin, and few could speak those languages.

In fact, if you know your Lutheran history, you know that was one of Luther’s major quests, was to translate the Bible into the German language so common folk could read and understand it.  But if you look even closer at the people of the time, you realize that even the priests themselves, who spoke Latin, Hebrew and Greek, did not read the Bible either.  It’s not too far different from what we know today, unfortunately.  As we just pointed out, there are a lot of misconceptions about what the Bible actually teaches, in the heart of many American churches, and I am sure that the European churches can’t boast much better.

I think, after all of his work, Luther would be appalled at the attitude in many churches today that people just don’t read the Bible.  Imagine from his perspective, as a priest, he didn’t read the New Testament until halfway through his career as a priest.  We know from history that he use to flagellate, or whip himself, forced himself to climb stairs on his knees and was constantly sure that he was not worthy of Christ’s favor.  Then he was encouraged to read the New Testament, and he discovered the letters of Paul, which opened his mind to the concept of salvation through grace by faith alone, a revolutionary idea to the people of his day.  In fact, Luther felt his rediscovery of that principle was so important, so revolutionary that the Devil himself would not be able to bear it and would rise up, bringing about the end of the world.

What’s interesting to note is that Luther was in the Augustinian order of the Catholic Church.  The Augustinian order followed the model of fraternity lived by the Apostles and found in the early Christian community. Augustine of Hippo himself wrote, “Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one soul and one heart seeking God.”  It also carried out the mandate of the Church to proclaim the good news of the Gospel – more on that in a moment.  From the beginning, the Augustinians tended toward a universal service to the needs of the Church.  Gregor Mendel, the monk considered the father of modern genetics, was an Augustinian, as was Myles Coverdale, who translated the first English Bible, under Henry the 8th.  Augustinian monasteries pattern themselves after the life of the early church, in Jerusalem, and also held strongly to the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

So traditionally, Augustinian monks held to the teachings of Paul.  Which makes you wonder why Luther was not familiar with them and found them so revolutionary.  To go one step further, there is another somewhat famous German Augustinian, a man by the name of Thomas á Kempis.  Just a generation before Luther, he wrote a treatise titled, The Imitation of Christ.  Within this book, he says that there are two things essential for human life – food and light – which in the spiritual realm is Communion and the Scriptures.

“Without these two I cannot live well, for the Word of God is the light of my soul, and this Sacrament is the bread of life.

“These two can be likened to two tables, set here and there in the spiritual treasure of the holy Church.  The one is the table of the holy altar, having the living Bread that is the precious Body of Christ; the other is the table of the laws of God, containing the holy doctrine which instructs man in the right faith and in the true belief and leads him into the sancta sanctorum, where the inward secrets of Scripture are hidden and contained.  I give you thanks, my Lord Jesus, the Brightness of eternal light, for this table of holy doctrine You have ministered to us by Your servants, the doctors, prophets, and Apostles.” – Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Just a generation before Luther, another German monk in his own order of the church wrote that men must know the scripture for the continuance of life.  And yet, 90 years later, Luther is nailing the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenburg, having just rediscovered the scriptures.  I am thinking that this is NOT one of the grand Lutheran traditions to repeat over and over again throughout history.

And there is another reason to know the Scriptures, to read your Bible, to memorize passages and understand what they say.  In I Peter 3, the Apostle writes, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope that you have.

When I was in high school, my best friend, Dave Rickards, was a PK – a pastor’s kid.  He was the son of a Baptist minister out on Pine Island, Pastor Tommy.  And as we spent our days going to classes at Cape High, we encountered a number of people of other beliefs and non-beliefs.  But the one most troubling was a girl that we were both good friends with, who we learned was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Now, I don’t really have time to go into everything that separates Jehovah’s Witnesses from mainline Christianity, so please take it at my word for the moment, that JW’s do not believe in the same Jesus as we do.  But, and it’s a big but… But they know their Scripture well – better than most folks who do believe in the same Jesus we do.  Imagine the frustration of being in an argument about religion – and we had a few here and there – two against one, and me and the pastor’s kid losing to this person who knew more about what we supposedly believed than we did.

What would Luther say?

In the church today, we have, in my opinion, abdicated too much of our responsibility of doing the work of God to those who are in leadership in the church.  Usually, it’s the pastor or priest that is most on the hook, followed by the lay leaders and church staff.  But all too often, once we leave the walls of the church, we don’t speak of our faith, we don’t live our faith and we don’t represent Christ to those around us.  It’s not uncommon to hear, “Well, that’s the pastor’s job.”

One of the things we’ve been talking about over the last 3 weeks is our mission to talk to the people around us – to invite them, not necessarily to church, although, that is definitely one of our pressing concerns around here lately, but to invite them to know Christ – to become a follower of His love and His truth.  To shine as believers in our respective workplaces and social lives.

You see, the thing is, it’s NOT the pastor’s job.  Is he called to do it?  Yes, but not alone.  Will we have a commune of believers like the early Jerusalem church?  No, probably not, but we are expected to do our part.

What would Luther say?

In 1520, in a paper written to the German Christians in government, in his day, of course, being the nobility, Luther proclaimed, “There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.”

A layman is you and me – normal folks with no particular religious training or scholarship.

Years later, during World War II, an English Bishop by the name of William Temple told his fellow church people that, “We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.”

When I worked full-time for the Sheriff’s Office, I got subpoenaed quite a bit to testify in court.  Here in Florida, prosecutors don’t do a lot of witness preparation, so while I didn’t always end up in court, I was told to take advantage of classes on being a witness.  The first rule of giving testimony is that you tell the truth and you only talk about what you know.  You give testimony on what you know for a fact and, in some cases, as an expert witness, what you are permitted to surmise from your work experience and training.  You’re told to address the jury, not the lawyers and are reminded time and time again to answer only the questions asked of you by either lawyer, especially when the defense attorney is questioning you.

I think what happens a lot in the church is people forget how to be a good witness.  A witness talks about what they know – they offer testimony about things that have happened in their lives, they tell the truth and they answer questions posed to them.  I couldn’t just walk into court and start spouting off my theories on who committed the crime.  But I think a lot of Christians are afraid that that is exactly what they are supposed to do when witnessing to people.  They think that witnessing and missions is telling people “You need to get saved” or “You need Jesus” or “Turn or burn!”  The fact is, none of that is true.  You’re only expected to answer the questions presented to you as you live your life to glorify God.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

The Word of God is a light to my soul.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

There is no difference between laymen and priests – they are all priests, bishops, popes.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

Until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations… this land will never be converted

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have… Amen.

Read Full Post »

This past weekend I attended a Stewardship training conference for the Lutheran churches in the Florida-Bahamas Synod.  I am the worship leader and stewardship chair for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral, FL, and I went with my pastor and another member of the church to this 1 day conference, hoping to learn something.  Sadly, all I really learned was how far out of step many in the church are.

The day began with prayer – always a good thing – then Pastor Rita, the pastor that serves as the Bishop’s right hand, er, person, did a demonstration of how stewardship works.  If you’ve been around business a while, you’ve probably seen this particular object lesson before – I believe Stephen Covey was the first to use it many years ago.

Pastor Rita pulled out a glass food storage jar and asked folks what kind of minor bills they had to pay – electric, cable, entertainment, food, etc… Then she filled a good portion of the jar with unpopped popcorn.  Turning to larger expenses, she placed pieces of fruit in the jar to indicate our mortgage, car payments, insurances, and finally, with a large grapefruit, our offerings to God.  Of course, the grapefruit stuck out considerably and the point was made – put first things first.  Which was good, and I agree – I always remind people that your tithe is specifically mentioned as coming from your First Fruits.  In fact, back when I was struggling with money, but still wanted to make Christ a priority, I forced myself into a physical discipline to reflect the spiritual discipline.  At the time, I was using a modified version of the envelope system and I forced myself, when I cashed my paycheck, to immediately take out the 10% I wanted to give back to God, so that I was reinforcing, in my mind if no where else, the First Fruits concept.

But I noticed something odd when Pastor Rita reversed the process.  She first added the grapefruit (tithes), then the mortgage fruit, the car payments fruit (a lime), then the insurances, then poured the popcorn over, leaving, about 1-1/2 inches of empty space at the top.  “And that,” she declared, “is the best example I’ve ever seen of how steawardship works.”  Well, this immediately bothered me and I got distracted trying to figure out why.  Then it hit me – here we were, at a church function, surrounded by a few dozen pastors, and NO ONE had mentioned Kingdom Finances.

You see, Pastor Rita’s example was fine – in fact it was a great explanation for the Pareto Principle, espoused by John Maxwell.  However, other than the admonition to put our commitment to God first, it really didn’t illustrate at all the Kingdom Economic principles.  After much thought, I determined what I think is the best way she could have continued the existing example, but bring God into it more:

Place the jar inside a 2″ deep baking pan.  Then take a pitcher of water and pour it over the entire container, filling up the remaining space within the jar and spilling out over into the pan.  You see, when you place God first in your finances, He responds to that – because He wants to, because He loves us – by filing us up to overflowing – providing not only for our needs, but blessing us with an abundance so that we may bless others.  Later in the seminar, during a question and answer session, I brought that up.  I asked, “I know we’re struggling in many churches just to get people to tithe (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is ahead of the ballgame – 2.5% of their members tithe as opposed to the national average in all churches, 1.9%), but why are we not even discussing offerings – those gifts that go above the tithe?”

His response was sadly typical.  While he agreed with me that the tithe should be a floor, not a ceiling, he kind of danced around the fact that there was more of a fear mentality in the Lutheran church than one of looking to bless others – despite Martin Luther‘s personal stance on this issue.

Just to finish off, at the conclusion of the seminar, wherein they handed out materials to all of the attendees that they told us to use in our churches, I noticed that absolutely nothing had been said about teaching the children stewardship.  Maybe it’s just because we are in Florida, often joked about as “God’s waiting room,” but I thought it odd that we were not encouraged to teach our children stewardship, tithing and giving.  When I inquired, I was told that I could request materials via e-mail from the speaker and he would be happy to send them to me, yet no mention was made of this to the larger group.  Which wouldn’t be as big a deal if they hadn’t interrupted our discussion just a few minutes before to explain how to handle snowbirds & part-time residents.  Apparently, they are more important to this church than raising up their children (as few as they are) in the proper Christian beliefs and faith.

On a somewhat related, but different note, an interesting thing has been happening in my area of Southwest Florida recently.  A few short weeks ago, one of our officers at the Fort Myers Police Department was shot in the line of duty.  While I had only met Andy once, I have known his wife and her family for the better part of 25 years.  As part of the community coming together, a number of officers from all of our local police agencies volunteered to stand outside of various shopping centers and Wal-Marts, collecting donations for the family, who has three very young children.  The donations collected (and still being collected in some instances) amounted to well over $100,000.

Recently, some folks have expressed some confusion over why this family was singled out and received such a huge outpouring of community support.  Now, as a friend of the family and former law enforcement officer, I have my own strongly held personal opinions about why the Widman family should be blessed in this way (not to mention Andy took the job to raise money so he and Susanna could go overseas as missionaries), but the detractors raise an interesting point – one they seem willing to back up.  And in that I support them.  They rightly ask, “Where is all of the money for other widows, where is the community support,”  and they are making a lot of noise about starting a fund for those other widows, to which I respond, ABSOLUTELY.  And while you’re at it, let’s take care of the orphans as well.  I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible…

Dueteronomy 10:17-18 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.”

In fact, the book of Deuteronomy is replete with admonitions to leave behind a portion of your crops, for the fatherless and the widowed.  Twice in that book alone, the writer mentions that you should, “bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

You may recall my article last year, “Why Social Security, Welfare & Medicare Don’t Work – And Never Will,” where I talked about how the church and its people have abdicated their responsibility to care for the least of these to various government programs.  While the almost universal response I got from the people who read the article can be summed up in, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but it’ll never work,” its nice to see that some others – even those without a faith foundation to fall back on – are embracing the same principles.  Now why can’t we get the church involved?

Maybe that’s just too much Jesus for them.  Maybe we should review the words of the great reformer, Martin Luther:

“There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.” – Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)

Now get out there and change the world.

Read Full Post »