Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Some thoughts on

When I read about small beginnings like these folks, I think about I Kings 19.18 Or Gideon, in Judges 7.7

Because the issue seems clear, that the LCMS is on a downhill spiral, has been for some 50 to 60 years, and is probably not getting better. So these good folks try to do something different. It is small. It may remain small. But it might grow. That -- growth -- contrary to what the "church growth" hucksters tell us, is not our business. The prophet Zechariah (4.10) cautions us against despising the day of small things. Smallness itself is no problem. Unfaithfulness is.

A former LCMS vice-president sneeringly told a reporter, "What's the good of a synod of 14 congregations?" But the issue, of course, is not 14 congregations, or 2, or 10,000. The issue is whether the synod in question is faithful to the word of God. If it is not, small or large is a vastly secondary concern.

The reality is that our fellowship is with those who faithfully preach the word and administer the sacraments. The way that fellowship works out on earth is not always done perfectly. But those who are faithful are in fellowship with a great cloud of witnesses, the saints of all time. In reality, the Christians walking around now on earth are vastly outnumbered by those -- beginning with blessed Adam, Eve, and Abel -- who now pray for us while beholding the face of their Savior.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Leaving the LCMS

(A note of explanation: in an online discussion, some were criticizing those who have left the LCMS to become Roman Catholic or a variety of Eastern Orthodoxy. This is my response).

And perhaps there are those who are weary of church being a place to fight. And perhaps those same people have realized that leaving the LCMS is not the same as leaving the church.

It should be pointed out that -- regardless of what some wish to say -- the LCMS is a heterodox church body, in which there is no unity in worship. In which those on the clergy roster can believe whatever they wish, and there will be no consequences. I bring up the tiresome examples of Paul Bretscher and Ted Strelow. It was known for many years what Bretscher believed and taught, and no one did anything until finally in 2003 -- after some 30 years of open, published heresy. And I had the unpleasant task of listening to Tim Fangmeier (on the evening of Dec. 14, 1998, in the adult classroom at Redeemer Lutheran Church, in Burlington, NC, to be specific), then "Mission and Ministry" coordinator for the SED, argue that Bretscher's unitarian poodle Ted Strelow, who -- just incidentally -- denies that Christ is God, denies that the Bible is the word of God, and teaches that we work our way to Heaven -- that Strelow should be allowed to remain on the LCMS clergy roster because his family was "third generation LCMS"[!]

Perhaps those leaving the LCMS are just weary of dealing with the constant, non-stop bilge of the LCMS, and suspect that it will not change for the better, but rather for the worse. Those who leave for the "old and venerable" might be doing so out of conviction, rather than some supposed seeking refuge.

The reality is that the LCMS is fraught with errors: of doctrine, of worship, and of practice. Perhaps it is less festooned with error than Rome or Constantinople, but in that case, we're just arguing numbers, and that's hardly the unity that supposedly is at the heart of the LCMS. The LCMS no longer tolerates error; it celebrates error. Our triumphalism over against other erring Christians is hardly becoming. I suspect that many who leave the LCMS do so because seeing it is pointless to stay and fight with people who no longer recognize what makes them Lutheran (i.e., confessional subscription). So these folks leave. They leave for a place that -- while imperfect, like the LCMS -- is a movement away from being one of the whining people who increasingly spend time grumbling about the LCMS's errors. The "leaders" in the LCMS no longer care about what the synod's Lutheran minority believes. As long as people stay -- and pay -- they will happily tolerate our whining. The only thing these people understand -- given their propensities -- is money. Leave, stop paying, and -- while they won't change -- we will thereby help to prevent them from propagating more error.

For those who think the LCMS is going to "turn around," more power to them. I would only ask that they carefully consider history, and ask themselves which religious body has EVER "turned around." If they can't think of one, perhaps it's time to consider leaving this one, too. Rome is a bad choice. So is Constantinople. But there are other choices. And because some of the choices are bad doesn't mean that the LCMS is good: only, perhaps, that it is less bad. Perhaps. It used to be said that the LCMS didn't tolerate persistent error. That hasn't been true for a very long time. Pretending that it is true doesn't change anything.

Monday, August 21, 2006

How to Read Your Bible

Let’s say you have a neighbor who knows nothing about Jesus. Nothing about God. Nothing about the Christian faith.

And you get into a conversation with this person. Maybe lots of conversations. And you’re telling them about your faith. And you’ve quoted a lot of Bible verses to them, and your neighbor tells you, “You know, I’ve never read the Bible. I don’t know anything about it, but I’d like to read some of it. Where should I start?”

This is the hard part. It’s good that your neighbor asked, because some people just pick up a Bible, and start reading at the beginning.

And that’s good. They’ve made a start. But the Bible is not just one book -- it’s a lot of books. Actually, it’s a library of 66 books. And while all of the Bible is given by inspiration to us (II Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”) some parts are just easier to read than others. For example, it’s OK when people start with Genesis. Genesis tells us how the world began, about the fall into sin, about the promise of a coming Savior (Genesis 3:15), about Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Exodus is good, too, telling us about the people of God in Egypt, and about God’s deliverance from their bondage.

But most people who’ve gone this far run into problems when they hit Leviticus. Because Leviticus is important, but most people who are new to the Bible find it hard going. And often they stop right there. And stopping there, they miss out on all the wonderful stuff that follows -- especially the story in the gospels of the Savior who died to take away their sins.

So here’s a plan. If your neighbor, or a friend, or your nephew -- or whoever -- wants to start reading the Bible, here’s a study guide that will help them through the incredible story of God’s word, of God’s deliverance, of God’s love for us.

First, start with the story of Jesus. The rest is important, but the gospels are the crucial part of the Bible. The gospel of Mark is a good place to start. It’s only 16 chapters, and it’s a fast-paced, action read. After reading that, read the other gospels: Matthew, Luke, and John. Encourage them to read carefully, but not get bogged down. Reading a chapter a day isn’t too much, and reading enough keeps the story flowing.

After the gospels, go to Genesis. Then back to the New Testament: this time to the book of Acts, which is the exciting story of how God’s church grew after Christ rose from the dead.

By now, our reader should be getting a feel for God’s word, and it’s time to hit some of the heavier stuff: Paul’s letters. Start with Romans, read 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and then Galatians, and the short letters to churches that Paul wrote from prison: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. Continue on with the other New Testament letters.

Now that our reader has gotten this far, he’s well into understanding the Bible, and can go on ahead with what happens to interest him -- perhaps the Psalms (although it’s important to remember that the Psalms are primarily written to be prayed, rather than simply to be read), the Old Testament history books (such as Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel) or some of the books of prophecy (such as Daniel, Isaiah, or Revelation).

And what’s the most important thing to remember when reading the Bible? Well, the most important thing is to remember that this is the word of God, and not the words of men, and as such, it’s different from any other book we will read. (Perhaps praying from Psalm 119: 18 would be good: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”) But the best bit of advice for your friend?

It’s the same advice I’d give to someone who’s eating fish. Eat the meat, spit out the bones. In other words, enjoy what you can understand, and keep going when you get to passages that don’t make sense. Don’t stop, just because something doesn’t make sense. Keep going. And that’s good advice for us all. We can spend a lifetime reading and understanding God’s word. Every time we read it, we’ll find new treasures there. Just keep reading. And thank God for the gift of his word to us all.