Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Calling All Protestants to Embrace the Bodily Presence

All of us read the same the New Testament. But none of us have come to the same doctrinal conclusions concerning the Lord's Supper. As can be observed, when interpreters consider the apostolic writings by themselves, they are subject to many interpretations. Now the Scriptures are the sole rule, norm, and guide when determining doctrine, but interpreters come to the writings of the New Testament with different presuppositions, thoughts, assumptions, experiences, and hermeneutics. And because of this we have all come to different conclusions concerning the Lord’s Supper. For example, if as carnal Americans we assume that God is not going to come to us with His true body and blood in the bread and wine to assure us of our forgiveness in Christ, then we will not accept the divinity of God being joined to natural elements. This is one assumption of many which would lead someone to reject the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. But I want you to consider something. Did you know that the disciples of the Apostle John (the Apostolic Fathers) were all unanimously agreed that Christ was bodily present in the Supper? When if further I told you that no one even questioned the bodily presence of Christ until the 8th century, because of the rise of the dogma of transubstantiation which was a scholastic innovation (although transubstantiation was not accepted as dogma until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 AD)? How do you feel interpreting the Scriptures in a way that no one did for the first 8 centuries of the Church? Yes, you admit that Christ did not institute an individualistic religion, but as Christians we are the body of Christ. But do you embrace the fact that being the body of Christ means embracing and respecting Christians, Pastors and Teachers who have gone before you? Do you only respect your local congregation or denomination without respecting the community of believers of the 1st to 16th centuries? I will begin with the Scriptural foundation of the bodily presence and then move to the disciples of the Apostle John, also known as the Apostolic Fathers.

First and foremost we have Jesus Christ who instituted the Lords Supper saying: "This is my body...this is my blood" (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-5). Did Jesus mean that the bread and wine were really His body and blood? Or did He mean that the bread and wine symbolized His body and blood? How you interpret this depends on your pre-suppositions, and assumptions. Since Scripture interprets Scripture, I will now examine the words of Christ in the rest of the Scriptures. Paul says:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).

The Greek word translated "participation" is koinonia. This word is strong and participation does not capture its depth. The NKJV translates this better saying, “communion.” This word could mean "union," "sharing," or "fellowship." Notice that Paul doesn’t say we have a union with the Holy Spirit. He says we have union with Christ’s body and blood when we partake of the bread and wine. In the next chapter Paul says:

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

If the bread and wine in the Lords Supper were ordinary, why would the Corinthians be profaning the body and blood of the Lord when they ate the bread and wine? If the Lords Supper were ordinary, why would eating it unworthily cause people to be put to death (v. 30)!? What does Paul mean when he says “without discerning the body?” This means that Christians ought to know what they are receiving before they come to the table of the Lords Supper. For the early church, this passage was talking about Christ’s bodily presence in the bread and wine. In John chapter 6, John records:

“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever’ (John 6:52-57).

What did Christ mean in this passage? Two crucial questions are: How did the disciples understand Jesus? And how did Jesus respond to them? The disciples responded by saying: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They understood Jesus to be speaking literally. Now the disciples have gotten things wrong before. But look how Jesus responds:

“But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him)” (John 6:61-64).

Jesus does not correct them by telling them that he was speaking figuratively, but says: “Do you take offense at this, when if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?” He then rebukes them because they are thinking carnally and not spiritually with faith. Some of you say that since Christ said, “the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” means he was speaking figuratively. But you are not considering this passage in its totality nor the consensus of the early church. Because of this teaching, many of Christ’s disciples no longer walked with Him:

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him…‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him” (John 6:66, 70-71).

Christ does not say, “Hey come back, I was only speaking figuratively!” Some disciples left him, and Christ let them go. He was speaking literally, and the disciples were called to accept this teaching. Further, Christ rebukes Judas because he was one of the disciples who would not accept this teaching (John 6:70-71). What is astonishing is that it was at the institution of the Lords Supper that Judas is revealed as the one who would betray Christ.

The context of this chapter has Eucharistic overtones all over it. The context of the feeding of the five thousand and of this teaching is the Passover (John 6:4). And when Jesus distributed the bread and fed the five thousand, he gave thanks (John 6:11). The Greek word to give thanks is eucharisto. That is the Greek word in which the Church derives the name for the Lords Supper. In the same chapter John reminds us that Christ gave thanks prior to distributing the bread to the five thousand (John 6:23). Why does John emphasize that? No where else in the Scriptures does Christ give thanks and distribute bread except in John 6 and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Observe:

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them” (John 6:11).

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19).

No where else in the Scriptures does Jesus talk about eating his body and blood except in John 6:52-57 and when he instituted the Lords Supper.

And finally, look at the unanimous consensus of the early church. Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John and was Bishop of the Church in Antioch. Now the term Bishop was used to describe Pastors in the early Church and comes from the Greek word episkopeis. It can be translated as Bishop or Overseer (seek NKJV for 1 Tim. 3:1). I know some of you fundamentalists are already raising red flags because now I’m referring to an extra-Biblical writing. But you are reading the Bible incorrectly as if it fell from heaven! The Bible is not like the Qu' ran. It is fully divine and fully human. It must be interepreted in its context. Without context we can't interpret anything! Those human beings who wrote the New Testament were mainly Apostles who wrote God’s Word down, but also preached God’s Word as well. They not only wrote, but they preached! To be sure they preached the same message that they wrote. And they planted churches and made disciples by the preaching of God’s Word. One of the Churches they planted was the church in Antioch where the poeple of God were first called Christians and where the Apostle Peter was the first Bishop. Ignatius who was later martyred in Rome took over as Bishop in Antioch and knew the Apostle John. Are you not curious what Ignatius had to say about the Lords Supper? Wouldn’t it be great to ask the Apostle John what he meant in John chapter 6 and what Christ meant when he instituted the Lords Supper just to be sure? Well, Ignatius was able to ask these questions, and his writings still survive today. He wrote:

"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]).

"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).

Ignatius is writing to churches that the Apostles planted. He calls the bread of the Lords Supper the flesh of God. That sounds exactly how John, his teacher described it in John chapter 6! He also says that those in the early church who held Docetic and Gnostic opinions, assumed that the natural and spiritual could not be combined. Their presuppositions caused them to reject the bodily presence of Christ in the Lords Supper. Ignatius calls those who reject the bodily presence of Christ, heterodox. That is, they are not orthodox Christians.

But was Ignatius a loner? No, Justin Martyr, attested to the same belief. He was murdered because he was a great defender of the Christian faith and wrote:

"For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

Why would someone believe that Christ’s body and blood were truly present in the bread and wine? Because Justin Martyr was taught this by the Apostles! Look above. Further, Irenaeus was the Bishop in Lyons, France and was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus was the first in the early church who declared in a complete way what Christians believed. He paved the way for a right understanding of the divinity of Christ. He was an orthodox Christian who defended the beliefs of the Church against the Gnostics. Irenaeus, wrote:

“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him” (Against Heresies, 5:2, 189 AD).

Irenaeus here was also defending the faith against the Gnostics. This belief in the bodily presence of Christ in the Lords Supper was believed unanimously by the early Church until the Reformation and is therefore "catholic" or "universal" in the truest sense of that term. Since the Roman Catholic Church went overboard and began to offer Christ as Victim for the sins of the living and the dead, which has no Scriptural foundation and is a result of medieval superstition, it is no wonder some of the Reformers over-reacted. But the conservative Evangelical party, who would later be called the Lutherans did not over react and returned to the orthodox understanding of the Lords Supper that Christ is present in the Lords Supper with his body and blood. The Roman Catholic churches teaching on transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass were innovations, and the conservative Evangelicals returned to a right understanding of the presence of Christ without the abuses. The bodily presence is attested to in the Scriptures, and was unanimously believed by the early church.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Psalms and Christian Lyrics

Christians tend to argue frequently concerning what Christian lyrics are acceptable for singing during Sunday services. Since God is holy, it is understandable that Christians would want to get this right.

A place which seems to be a good place to look in the Scriptures for determining God’s will for appropriate praise is the Book of Psalms. Since the Psalms are inspired by God, some in the Reformed Tradition only use the Psalms for praise during Sunday worship (They really want to get this right!). Someone may object that the Psalms are of the Old Covenant and do not explicitly mention Christ, which is central to the New Covenant witness. However, in the Letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul says:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (3:16).

In this letter we see that the Apostle Paul encourages the Colossians (Christians) to sing Psalms. Because the Psalms can legitimately be looked at as a hymn book in the Bible, I read them and paid attention to different styles and types.

The most frequent type of Psalm was that which praised God for what He had done. They focused on God’s actions and told of His redeeming work. Second, were Psalms that were prayerful in content and expressed dependence upon God. Third, were Psalms that were intensely emotional and contained what I would call “jubilant singing.” And fourth, were Psalms that described the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. There were other types of Psalms, but these were the types that occurred frequently.

Me Centered Psalms

For all the Christians that like older hymns and hate contemporary Christian music, you are probably filled with joy since number one on the list were Psalms that told what God had done. But that begs another question. Are there Psalms in the Bible that are personal and individual in content and nature? Many that despise contemporary Christian lyrics, often put it down for its rampant use of the 1st person singular noun, “I.” They claim that contemporary Christian lyrics are to “me-centered.” This may be true. But is it necessarily wrong? Are there Psalms in the Bible that closely resemble this type of Christian song? I will give a few examples from 6 out of the 18 Psalms I found to resemble contemporary Christian lyrics.

I love you, O LORD, my strength…The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me…For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God…I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt” (18:1, 20, 21, 23).

“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering…I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD…O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” (26:1, 6, 8).

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry…I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (40:1, 8).

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life— when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me. Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil” (101:1-4).

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the "gods" I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name” (138:1-2).

Even if one despises contemporary Christian lyrics they have to admit some resounding resemblances to the Psalms above. The lyrics, “I will worship…I will bow down” are taken directly from Psalm 138 and 95:6. The song “Better is One Day in Your Courts” is taken from Psalm 27 and 84. “Your love O Lord, reaches to the heavens” is taken from Psalms 36, 57, 71, and 108. The expression of the "joy" of the Lord arriving "in the morning" is taken from Psalm 30. The "deer which panteth for the water" is taken from Psalm 42. "Giving thanks to the Lord for He is good" comes from Psalms 106, 107, 118, 136.

However, to those who prefer traditional hymns, contemporary Christian lyrics could improve themselves by including more of a balance towards God-centered songs rather then always emphasizing the individual aspect.

Emotional Songs

For Christians who love contemporary Christian music, you probably are happy that number three on the list were emotional and contained jubilant singing. For the contemporary worship haters, a frequent dissatisfaction is how the songs elicit the emotions which can lead to praise that is not genuine. While this is true, funeral dirge style hymns may fail to elicit the emotions and produce the same results. However, the point is that there are a large number of Psalms that are emphatically emotional and express actions of worshippers that traditionalists would have problems with. For example:

“Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place” (28:2).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (30:11).

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” (47:1).

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands” (63:4).

“Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp” (149:3).

I have heard it said that raising/clapping hands and dancing in the sanctuary are unacceptable. I realize that dancing may sound extreme, but it’s in the Psalms. Book IV of the Psalms contains a large number of songs that are emphatically joyful. Here are 3 examples out of 29 Psalms I found to resemble contemporary songs:

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing” (100:1-2)!

“Praise the LORD! I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly” (111:1).

“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD” (113:1)!

To the defense of those who prefer traditional hymns, contemporary Christian lyrics could do a better job balancing the emotional joy filled songs with somber/reverent songs. Alternately, traditional hymns could add more songs that are joyful and emotional. Too many of the older hymns sound like funeral dirges, as if Christ did not rise from the grave!

Songs Lack Doctrinal Content

It is commonly said that contemporary Christian lyrics do not contain much doctrinal content and are “empty.” However, after reviewing the Psalms I noticed that many contained no doctrinal content neither. I guess simplicity is acceptable at times as well. For example:

“Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD” (117)!

Above is Psalm 117 in its totality. Is it empty? I think that would be offensive to God’s Word to insist that. Does it have a lot doctrinal content? No. Is it simple? Yes. Other Psalms that have as much or less doctrinal content then contemporary Christian lyrics are again primarily found in Book IV. In agreement with those who prefer traditional hymns, it is true that some contemporary songs do contain false doctrine. And these obviously should be omitted.

Final Words

For those who insist on no instruments or only the organ as an acceptable instrument for worship, the Psalms indicate that the harp and lyre (Psalm 71:22; 81:2; 92:3; 98:5; 108:2; 144:9; 147:7; 149:3; 150:3), tambourine (81:2; 149:3; 150:4), trumpet (81:3; 98:6; 150:3), lute (92:3; 150:3), horn (98:6), pipe (150:4), and cymbal (an ancient type of drum!) (150:5) shall be used to praise God. This illustrates that God desires that we use all instruments to praise Him for He has given us no restrictions concerning instruments.

For those that insist that God is only pleased with their hymn books to the detriment of new songs written recently, their cry is directly opposed to the Scriptures. God’s inspired word tells us repeatedly in the Psalms that He desires that we “sing a new song” (Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, 144, and 149). To those who criticize new songs as being fads that will not last, God seems to like fads. He doesn’t desire to hear the same song repeatedly, and doesn’t mind if they go out of style. This is not to suggest that we should never sing some of the great hymns of old. I am only suggesting that God likes to hear new songs and so we should use our creativity to create them. God has not restricted us to singing songs written prior to the twentieth century.

In conclusion, God’s call for our lives is that we put away our snobby personal preferences on this matter and appreciate the diversity of ways God is worshipped. For it is not necessarily the style God is concerned with, but with our heartfelt responses in praise and adoration of Him. The Pharisees were rebuked by Christ because they confessed God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him (Matthew 15:8). God desires people to worship Him in spirit and truth and we should put no additional requirements on Christians either (John 4:23).

Friday, June 02, 2006

Baptized, Confirmed, But...Absent

For those of you who are not Lutherans, this theological controversy amongst Lutherans may be a little odd to you. But, it might not be. Perhaps their are similar debates occurring in your communities as well.

The controversy goes like this: Group A says that Christians do not need to get involved in Church to be considered more mature Christians. They are holy and are serving God in their vocations as mothers, fathers, bankers, etc. Not everyone is a minister. The Pastor leads worship, preaches, administers the sacraments, teaches bible study, visits the sick, and does funerals and weddings. This is his vocation. Not all have been called to this vocation, so Christians should not presume to begin new “ministries” or “programs” or “small group bible studies.” There is only One Office of the Holy Ministry, not many ministries. The Pastor is called to teach, so lay people should not lead or teach bible studies, because that is not their vocation.

Group B says that every Christian is a minister in the sense that they are a servant. This group recognizes that not all are called to formal Word and Sacrament ministry (i.e. Pastoral Ministry), but all are called to exercise their spiritual gifts for the edification of the body of Christ. This group loves the idea of small group bible studies, because they foster fellowship, discipleship, edification of the body of Christ, and can serve as informal outlets for evangelism. This group realizes that some lay people do have the spiritual gifts of teaching, leading, and knowledge. Equipping such people with Biblical commentaries with discussion questions and answers could be quite effective. Having a ministry to the married, or a ministry to college students are also need oriented examples of ministries that aim at a particular group of people. Ministering to college age people will probably be different then ministering to senior citizens. Why? Because they are facing different challenges, and wrestling with different issues. In conclusion, Group B believes in empowering leadership, and equipping the saints for service in the church, while Group A thinks that their service is primarily outside in society.

I am unequivocally in agreement with group B. I believe that if the position of Group A prevails in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod it will continue to decline in membership. Congregations will shut down and sell their properties. Right now, we have a record high number of congregations that cannot afford a full time Pastor. When a congregation as such calls a man in their midst to preach and administer the sacraments and seek ordination via an online route through the seminaries, Group A often charges congregations as such with false doctrine. Why? Because Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession says that “no one shall publicly preach or administer the sacraments unless he is rightly called.” So why don’t we agree that a congregation can call such a man in those circumstances so that congregations are fed with the Word of God and can survive and not have to sell their property?

In the LCMS we baptize a lot of infants, and confirm a lot of middle school students. But by the time these people get to be in their 20s, we lose 70% of them! Wow! And our solution to this is to disengage them, not utilize their spiritual gifts, and expect them to all show up at a 9 AM Sunday Morning bible study? We are not teaching what discipleship is, nor are we equipping them for service. Further, we don’t even equip the parents to have home bible studies. What are we doing? The reason these people fall away is because they are not plugged in or connected. The devil is crafty, and only expecting Sunday attendance is not enough! There are seven days in the week, and 1 hour of Church on Sundays is showing itself to not effectively sustain or mature disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to engage people during the week by fostering fellowship in small groups, and equip leaders to lead these groups. We ought to equip parents to lead home devotionals so that the bapztized will grow up in Christian homes. We need to foster a culture of Scripture reading and prayer, where people are in the Word and seeking God’s will. Simply expecting church attendance on Sundays is not effectively sustaining or maturing disciples of Jesus Christ!

So, why does Group A insist that their doctrine is right? It all goes back to Luther’s doctrine of vocation which I think they have misunderstood and misapplied. Luther lived in a day and age where the Roman Catholic Church considered Bishops, Priests, Monks, and Nuns of the spiritual estate and called the common civilian of the temporal estate. They considered the celibate and the clergy holier then the average lay person. They did not have an understanding of how the common Christian civilian could serve Christ in their vocation. Luther wrote:

“It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid by it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone.”

Luther was elevating the priesthood of all believers in the midst of spiritual tyranny committed by the Roman Catholic Church. Group A who thinks they are being faithful to Luther’s doctrine of vocation are de-elevating the priesthood of all believers, and are not sustaining disciples of Christ after they have been baptized and confirmed.

Among the spiritual gifts given to Christians are prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, leadership, wisdom, knowledge, and evangelism (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4). Are these all to be exercised in a context of mother, father, or engineer? Would it not be more beneficial to equip the saints for ministry where they can exercise these spiritual gifts? The Apostle Peter says:

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

Group A says: “As each has received a gift, exercise it in your vocation.” Well guess what? This is bad stewardship, and is producing horrible results! Dr. Robert Kolb writes:

“This conversation and consolation can be structured within a congregation as it organizes small groups for Bible study, prayer, and the sharing of the forgiveness of sins…..Such conversation demands the preparation of the believers normal engagement with Scripture” (The Christian Faith, XII, 212).

Dr. Kolb also writes:

“Many of their [The Reformers] modern followers regard the chief significance of their priesthood as their privilege to go to God as individuals directly and not have to rely on anyone else to perform the services of priest, or intermediary, for them. But Peter defines the chief significance of being priests of the King and members of His nation and people as their calling to declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). The Latin word for priest, pontifex, literally means ‘bridge-builder.’ God has made us His people so that we might build a bridge between the revelation of His saving will for us, His re-creating word, and the people of our day and our society. Word to us, as He gives it in the Scriptures in which He breathed and in which He has set the authoritative form of His Word, so that we might proclaim it and apply it to the people of our culture in terms which effectively translate that Word for them” (Speaking the Gospel Today, St. Louis: 1995, 15).

For Dr. Robert Kolb, the priesthood of all believers has a commission. And when congregations do not equip them for service in the church because of an untenable doctrine of the ministry, disciples are not sustained nor matured. If the priesthood of all believers is simply a theological concept which means that Christians now have direct access to God through Jesus Christ their High Priest, then we miss out on utilizing and mobilizing the priests of God for service and discipleship in the church. When a Christian is discipled, they learn how to serve by exercising their gifts. And this exercising of spiritual gifts can occur within the context of a small group as it gathers around the Scriptures for the mutual conversation and edification of the brethren.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What Was I Thinking?

Today I had the opportunity to go and witness to a fellow umpire that I work with out here in St. Louis. For those of you who don’t know, I work as a baseball umpire part time while I take classes at the Seminary. But I was struggling with something today. Part of me wanted to go online and do theology on this blog instead of go out and meet this guy to do evangelism! Of course, I made the right decision and went out and talked with him and shared my faith—but the fact that I even thought about it at all internally raised some red flags for me. What was I even thinking? Reformation Scholar Dr. Robert Kolb reminded me:

“The church exists for the sake of the unredeemed who are outside it. This is its raison d’etre. If instead it exists only for the sake of its members, it will be in continual conflict with its indwelling Lord. For Christ is the ‘life of the world.’ The Church is therefore to stand open to all mankind, her light is to be the light of the world, and the salt in her is to be the salt of the earth” (Wingren, Gospel and Church, 10-11; quoted in Kolb, Speaking the Gospel Today, 251-252).

What are some things that can occur when we are too focused on ourselves? Or what kind of things can happen when we obsess with discursive/academic theology? First, we can forget what our purpose is as disciples of Jesus Christ. Second, we can begin to critique everyone else on how they do mission, and yet we don’t even do mission ourselves. Further, we can set ourselves above people who are different than us and tailor our evangelism programs to people that are like us. Dr. Kolb also points out:

“But if a congregation make its natural collective predisposition into an exclusive program and so tailors its evangelism and outreach to avoid those who do not fit into ‘Our Savior’s congregation,’ they are shutting up the power of God which the Holy Spirit has poured into them….The judgment of God hangs over those Christians who have preferred to ‘save our kind’ rather than the Savior’s kind, the poor, the imprisoned, the lonely, those not able to contribute most to the congregation of God’s people but whose lives He nonetheless regards as precious” (Speaking the Gospel Today, St. Louis: 1995, 257).

Dr. Kolb challenges us to make disciples of ALL people. Not just people of our race, language, or our social status. As a Lutheran who believes in objective justification, universal grace, and that salvation is through Christ alone, I should not have even had those thoughts today. Are objective justification and universal grace simply theological concepts that never resonate in our hearts? Professor William Utech at Concordia Seminary warned us in our Pastoral Ministry class not to love the theology more then we love people. We must remember that theology is for proclamation, and while studying the Scriptures and Reformation writings is good, Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Can we get so caught up in our academics that we fail to sacrificially love people? Can we go out and get our PhDs and argue with people about church practice, but never seek out ways to actively share our faith? Does our pride set ourselves above other people? Do we think that since we are conservative Christian Americans there is no need to spend time with the poor, the lame, the sick, the minority, or the hurting?

Since we have been redeemed by the Son of God who has given His life for us on the cross we have a message to proclaim! Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and that is our reason and motivation to share the good news with others! It was the reason for the first Christians who shared the good news in Judea, Samaria and the rest of Eastern and Western Europe. And the redemptive power that comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ is our reason as well.

“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38-39).