Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Christianity Isn't for Everybody

The title of this post is deliberately provocative. Of course I'm not saying that God doesn't want all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). In that sense, of course, Christianity is for everybody. What I'm referring to is the fact that not everybody will express an interest in Christian faith, and we should accept this fact.

We should accept it because Jesus himself said this would be the case. In a recent reading from the Sunday gospel (July 8th) Jesus told his disciples that there would be those who would not receive the message. They were then to shake the dust off their feet and move on (Mark 6:1-13). In other places Jesus said many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14) and broad is the way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Belief is the exception, not the norm.

We should also accept it because it will affect the way we do ministry. I believe it will cause us to act in a way more in line with the early church, and it will help us avoid unnecessary frustration while at the same time increasing our effectiveness. We will spend our time on the interested people (the thirsty of John 7:37). We will recognize the miracle of those who do believe and spend time nurturing and expanding their faith.

I'm not saying we shouldn't share our faith with those outside the church or that we should abandon praying for unbelievers, simply that we recognize that not everybody will be interested and that's okay. In fact, I believe that as we focus our efforts on the interested and the believing their lives of increasing faith will awaken interest in the unbelieving. They will act as the salt and light of which Jesus spoke and will make people thirsty.

I'm also convinced an awareness that Christianity isn't for everybody is key to the church's health. So much of the watering down of the faith takes place in the false belief that somehow everyone should be interested and if they're not it's our fault. This leads to an emphasis on generating excitement through various techniques and giving only messages which are of interest to a wide audience. Christian distinctiveness gets lost and the salt is no longer salty. Ironically, Christianity is made uninteresting in the very attempt to make it so.

The future belongs to those churches and church bodies which recognize that what they have is not for everybody, and they shouldn't expect everyone to want what they have to give. Yet strangely as they do just that they will continue to become stronger and more interesting to those around them and will grow. Jesus said this would be the case (if I be lifted up--me in my contradiction with the world expressed by the cross--I will draw all people), and we don't have to look far to see that it is so.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Luther on Civil Righteousness

Here's a quote from Luther on the human capacity to cultivate civil righteousness, the capacity of all people to develop virtue and be relatively good people. Reformed theology speaks similarly when it talks of common grace. Luther is careful to distinguish this from being truly righteous before God.
We must distinguish between the theological and the civil standpoints. God approves also the rule of the ungodly; he honors and rewards virtue also among the ungodly, but only in regard to the things of this life and things grasped by a reason which is upright from the civil standpoint; whereas the future life is not embraced in such reward. His approval is not with regard to the future life. We believe that man without the Holy Spirit is altogether corrupt before God, though he may stand adorned with all heathen virtues, as moderation, liberality, love of country, parents and children, courage and humanity. The declarations of the Holy Scriptures prove the same thing. The statement in the fourteenth Psalm is sweeping enough when it says, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good; no, not one. Paul says, “God hath concluded them all in unbelief.” Christ says, “Without me ye can do nothing.”
Quoted in  DEVOTIONAL READINGS from LUTHER’S WORKS for EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR by REV. JOHN SANDER, L. H. D.

Friday, February 23, 2018

THE CROSS and BILLY GRAHAM

(Below is my article for the March 2018 Salem Church newsletter.)

This month we will journey once more to the cross, the place at which Christians claim history finds its center point. We claim that there, once and for all, the wrongs of history met their match. In the person of Jesus wrong was met and overcome. He rose three days later proving that he destroyed its power.

The wrong we’re talking about is sin. At the heart of what we mean when we talk about sin is a conflict with the eternal, with God himself. It’s this conflict with the eternal that makes sin so serious. The whole message of the Bible is that human beings have become separated from their true source and grounding. Even more than mere separation, we are at odds with our true source, that which is really good, really right, really true. There is a conflict between humanity and God.

This conflict was brought out into the open when humanity put God on the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth made plain what’s in the human heart. We are at odds with the one who is The Truth. We need to be saved from ourselves, for to be at odds with The Truth means eternal destruction.

The resurrection reveals that in taking the conflict upon himself Jesus defeated it. I would be lying if I said I had it all figured out, but I am convinced that Jesus became the place where humanity was reconciled to God. When we proclaim this message God himself speaks to people inviting them to fellowship with himself, such is the power of the gospel.

As I’m writing this the world is mourning the loss of Billy Graham, the great Christian evangelist of our time. I didn’t know Billy Graham personally, but I am convinced that he put his faith in the proclamation of the gospel. He obviously believed that if he kept putting the message out there people would respond. You might say he kept the main thing, the main thing.

The gift of this time of the year is that it brings us back to the main thing, the crux of the matter. “Crux” actually comes from the word cross, reminding us that the cross is the heart of it all. Once more God is speaking to us. Do you hear him? He’s saying, I love you, come to me; at the cross you will find rest for your soul. You will be healed.

I encourage you, be renewed in your faith. Contemplate the cross of Christ. Dwell on these things. Share them with others. And, if you haven’t received them for yourself, simply surrender to the truth. Accept what the cross says about yourself and about what God has done to overcome it and then live as a new person, reconciled to God, obedient to him.

Holy Week and Easter Blessings to you all!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

500 Years of Bearing Witness

(Below is my article for the October 2017 edition of my church's newsletter.)

At the end of this month we’ll be observing the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  It was on October 31st, 1517 that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, a German theology professor, posted 95 points for academic discussion and debate.  It was those 95 theses, as they were called, that sparked a change in the landscape of Christianity.

At the heart of this change is the belief that Christ alone is the head of the church, and Christ is to be found in the Bible.  A person’s conscience cannot be bound to mere assertions of authority.  The truth must be demonstrated.  Luther argued that people need to be shown by plain reasoning from the scriptures that something is true and should be believed.  They must be convinced for themselves.

This being convinced for yourself is the meaning of faith.  It’s not enough to simply go through the motions of religion without understanding what you’re doing.  You must understand and believe it to be true.  This brings the reality into your life.  It’s by faith we are saved.

Luther found this to be true in his own life.  Once he realized the Bible teaches that Christ is the end of the law for believers, that is he fulfills the law (he fulfills our humanity, for the law is a description of the way to be truly human), Luther placed his complete trust in Christ alone.  He saw Christ as the place of human fulfillment.

This fulfillment includes the overcoming of the outcome of a life lived in conflict with the law of our being.  Christ took death and hell upon himself and defeated them on the cross.  His resurrection is the proof that he is the victor over our enemies, including the wrath of God toward sin.

Ever since this time there have been Christians and churches which have made this confession of faith.  The very word Protestant comes from the Latin prōtestantēs which means “to bear public witness” (dictionary.com).  To be a Protestant is to be for the belief that people are rightly brought to faith in Jesus Christ when they have explained to them from the Bible the truth about Christ.  It is for this reason that Protestants have been known for preaching and hymns and Sunday school.  These are all means for getting the message across.

Our church is unique in that it blends the two primary streams of the Protestant movement.  When our church was founded the founding members wrote concerning Salem, “She is and remains a part of the Evangelical, that is, the united Lutheran-Reformed Church, as it exists in Germany and has spread to this location.”

Truly we have something to celebrate!  Christ is present for us in the Bible.  We have the Bible in our language so we can have it explained to us.  We can read it for ourselves to see if what we’re being told is really true, and having become convinced that it is true we can bear witness for ourselves to the person of Christ and what he has come to mean to us in our lives.

God’s very best to you as you celebrate 500 years of Reformation faith!