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Monthly Archives: November 2019

American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good (part 1 of 3)

How to take back the wheel? — and first in the church…

 

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Ever since the Reformation of the Western Church, Christ’s body has been torn asunder and the ruler of this world has been at a great advantage when it comes to influencing culture and society.

That said, I think its basically indisputable that the Reformation was a necessary tragedy.

Martin Luther and his followers, at bottom, rightly pilloried Rome for essentially saying that Christians could not know they were Christians (see Romans 5:1 and I John 5), and yet the Thomist wing of the Roman Church also was on target when they pointed to William of Ockham’s theology, adopted in part by Luther, as a major problem…

It is the contention of this 3-part series that while we must continue to be divided until we find true unity in doctrine (see I Cor. 11:9), there is nevertheless common ground that can be found using the Bible that has, largely, hitherto remained “unsystematized” – and hence, not been able to be  effectively used.

With a little work however, this common ground can be readily identified and used in promoting a feasible cultural and political program that all Christians can get behind (something that I had already began to explore here 3 years ago).

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First of all, whether one cares to try and unite Christians in a common “cultural and political program” or not, I maintain that the things I will speak about in this article are critical for the church in any case.

Let me illustrate this with the help of a recent post titled “Dallas Theological Seminary Profs Say Transgenderism is Given by God, Not a Sin,” from the popular and controversial conservative Baptist blog, Pulpit and Pen.

 

The post maintains that the DTS professors show “a stunning display of bad theology,” going on to point out the following:

First, the desire for sin is still sin (Matthew 5:28) whether or not its acted upon.

Secondly, a sinful proclivity resulting from the Fall of Man does not absolve anyone of sin but rather condemns us (Romans 5:12-17).

Third, claiming that transgenderism is a gift from God is horrific, because God tempts no one to sin (James 1:13).

Fourth, Job was tempted because of his righteous[] heart (Job 1:8), but transgenderism comes from a rebellious heart (Matthew 5:19).

Fifth, claiming that something must be a “choice” in order for it to be sinful is denial of the historic understanding of Original Sin. The professors seem to grasp the fallenness of mankind, but then use it to absolve from sin rather than condemn.

Having watched the entirety of both of the videos these professors did on the transgender issue (see them here and here), I think the writer of the Pulpit and Pen article misinterprets and misrepresents their discussion — and yet, I can also understand why he might, operating from his own understanding, respond the way he does.

The situation is surely difficult to understand, and for that reason, I really don’t see a good reason to assume that any misrepresentation there is intentional.

I worked hard myself to write a careful and helpful article on this topic a few years ago, and while I make some arguments similar to the DTS professors, I don’t think that overall, my article is as open to attack from Bible-respecting Christians as is their discussion (granted, the title alone might assure that!)

So, how have even seemingly very conservative Baptist professors like those from Dallas Theological Seminary gotten to this point where what they say can provoke such a reaction?

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I think that the genesis of the problems we are now facing is readily explained.

We know that the kinds of questions that we are now finding ourselves facing—particularly from LGBTQ+ proponents—have certainly come to the forefront and will not be going away. Why, however, is this the case? These issues have become the issue that they are largely in part because of the church’s own failure to be clear about them, both in their internal and external communications (something I also argued in a recent sermon about the “man of lawlessness”).

We simply do not have the kind of basic, easily-understood frameworks at hand which we would need in order to effectively address these issues in ways that could be readily apprehended by ourselves and others (admittedly, conservative Roman Catholics like Edward Feser have a better framework here than most, but I argue that even Feser’s approach could perhaps benefit from and be challenged by the one I offer below).

The core problem is that we have an underdeveloped biblical doctrine of goodness. Of the goodness that comes from the only One who is good, God (Mark 10:18 ; Luke 18:19).

If we look at the freight that the modern conceptions of goodness carry in conservative American Christianity in general, from Roman Catholics to Evangelicals to conservative Lutherans, we see that there are a couple basic kinds of goodness that they like to talk and think about.

The first has to do with the goodness that is unique to God and His character. We like how God ultimately uses everything – even the things Satan and others might mean for evil – for our good. As I heard the popular evangelical Christian author Phillip Yancey put it years ago, “nothing is beyond God’s redemption.” This is a truly wonderful and powerful thought for human beings to ponder, even as one also notes that the fallen angels are never told to repent!

Phillip Yancey

 

We also appreciate a peculiar kind of goodness that we see in creation, namely, the heart of the believer who loves the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind! (seen, for example, in the great Lutheran hymn: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”). In other words, these persons show us that submission to God and His commandments is something that should be done freely.

Such free consent is undoubtedly beautiful and good!

Now, of course, speaking in terms of historic biblical Christianity, to say this does not mean that one denies that in the end, every knee will bow, whether one likes it or not. Rather, it means precisely this: ideally, it is God’s will that all of our devotion and love should come from a place deep within, being wholly un-coerced!

And since it is true that Christians can begin to freely express themselves and become the way they wish to be such that it also harmonizes with God’s desires, it is hard for us, especially as American Christians, to not wish for others to feel so liberated in their own self-expression! A corollary of this then is that in our minds the idea of freedom and goodness go hand in hand not just for Christians – but for others as well.

What could be more beautiful and good than such freedom?

This, however, is to go down an unfruitful and ultimately destructive path, something we have been doing for some 350 years now.

 

The problem is ultimately with our overly philosophical and yet very human-centered idea of goodness, which—since it is not sufficiently informed by the biblical text—cannot carry the necessary freight and leaves us unsatisfied on the one hand, and unproductive (in the 2 Peter 1:8 sense) as well.

When we speak philosophically about the desires of human beings—and, when it comes to goodness, put the focus on this aspect of the equation—we minimize the importance of all the kinds of created and uncreated goodness that exist in the ways they exist whether we like them or not.

This is the problem with, for example, giving too much credance to notions like social constructivism, social constructionism, or even “worldview”!

Christians need to stick with theological dogmatics – and its relevance for everyone.  

I hope you’ll stick with me as I take a stab at pointing out–and systematizing–the goodness that we are missing. I’ll launch part 2 in 3-5 days.

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

In Jesus Christ, We Really are Above it All (sermon text and video)

[apologies for the poor sound quality in the video]

“…you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not…” — Malachai 3:18

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In the book of Malachai, we hear how God’s people complained with the words “Where is the God of justice?” (or, we might say “of righteousness…”).

This they have the nerve to ask after God points out the many ways His people had failed to do right by Him!

  • They had offered Him lame animals for their sacrifices…
  • The priests had failed to teach the way of the Lord to the people…
  • They had fled from His decrees and robbed Him through their meager tithes and offerings…
  • Judah, he said, was enmeshed in idolatry, had ‘broken faith’… even going so far as to marry the wife of a foreign god…

So now, after all that and now hearing this question about where His justice is, He’s, frankly, had enough…

He’s done!

So He speaks of His coming judgment and speaks these words to them…

I will come to put you on trial

I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty….”

And later on, He goes on to assure them:

“…You will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not…”

Abraham’s words to God in Genesis 18, as he pleads for the lives of the righteous in the city of Sodom, come to mind:

“Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?…”

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Many throughout time have questioned this though….

That is, whether this God, revealed to us in the Christian Scriptures, will indeed do right…. Or even if the “righteous” he’s going to save are really all that righteous!

Just a few generations after the last of Jesus’ disciples died, a man by the name of Marcion took a look at the New Testament – particularly the book of Luke and Paul’s Epistles – and after comparing it with the Old Testament…

Decided that the God of the Old Testament was a different God than the God of the New!

Other critics have questioned whether God is truly good and just as well.

In the 3rd century, when the church father Origin defended the God of the Christians, He nevertheless did so on the basis that many of the stories in the Old Testament weren’t really meant to be taken literally….

So—perhaps emboldened through the half-hearted defense of some Christians—critics like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins haven’t really held back:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Even as he was competing with another notable atheist and excellent writer at the time, Christopher Hitchens, I think Dawkins really does deserve to win some kind of award for that one…. : )

That said, even the great contemporary philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart—who some years ago countered Dawkins in His book “Atheist Delusions”—recently spoke about how

every evil that time comprises, natural or moral . . . is an [indictment] of God’s goodness: every death of a child, every chance calamity, every act of malice, everything diseased, thwarted, pitiless, purposeless, or cruel; and, until the end of all things, no answer has been given…”

As such, Hart is again sounding a lot like Origin… and maybe even Marcion….

Do the beginning words of Psalm 36 come to mind?:

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:

There is no fear of God before their eyes.

In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.

Or, do we… perhaps find ourselves wondering about some of these critics… whether or not they might not have a point?

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Well, if we have such thoughts, we would not be the only believers who have thought them!

People in the Old Testament had issues with God too.

Admittedly though, their issues weren’t really related so much to God’s cruelty (ironically, it may only be the love revealed in Jesus Christ that would make the world so sensitive to that!)

….rather, they lived in a world where might truly did seem to make right and where for that reason the gods were called upon.

In this world…

  • Violence was a very regular occurrence…
  • Live infants were seared on the heated hands of idols,
  • Women were basically owned, sometimes in mass…
  • And, evidently, well-known commands from God not to have intimate relations with animals were necessary….

So they, on the contrary—knowing the world they knew—were probably often wondering why God wasn’t more forceful and destructive with their enemies!

Be that as it may their main question– as we saw briefly in Malachai—was why the wicked, the godless, often seemed to be so blessed in this world!

Have you read Psalm 74? You too, might actually find it somewhat contemporary and relatable. It’s worth taking a look….

They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.[a]
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity[b];
their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.[c]
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”

12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth…

Behold the very Word of God!

Giving voice to the common complaints of His children…

…but again, God insists—while men like Dawkins and perhaps even David Bentley Hart scoff at the reports of His behavior—all things will indeed be well….

And that yes, He will do right.

Hence we also read in Malachai of the final judgment:

“…But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years…”

A look at this passage in the book itself shows that this is clearly a prophecy of the coming Messiah.

And so… what does that Messiah do when He finally comes – at least initially?

Just what does He show us about God’s judgment?

Just what does He reveal to us, we who live on the other side of the Old Testament, about God’s wrath?

Why, the raging fire of God’s wrath would burn itself out in Christ’s body… that He will take it all into Himself.

And as He does this He also says—at the same time—“Today you will be with me in paradise” to the one who confesses “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong…

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Behold your God!

The God who indeed harshly punishes the evil of sin, but most harshly in His own Son

…that we might receive His most tender and gentle mercies through His own very blood!

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”…

…indeed.

Jesus says: Richard, David…I am that God you are talking about…

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So where to do from here?

What does it mean for us who believe this, being justified by our Great God, to be just… to act justly in the world?

Especially in our world today, where there is so much discussion about things like the latest trends or fads (shall I call them that?) of social justice and rights!

Rights… Rights…. Rights…

Does being just, perhaps, have anything to do with effective political action in the here and now?

Well, the importance of us being culturally and politically wise and brave here should not be discounted….

Peter Scaer, a professor at Ft. Wayne theological seminary in the LC-MS—who is well-known for His punchy and opinionated posts on Facebook—is  sometimes criticized by his own fellow pastors for being too political…

I admire and commend him, however, when he says things like this:

“Who posts more about Christ and his life than I do? And still I am accused of speaking politically? As if abortion had nothing to do with Christ in the womb? As if the gender lie had nothing to do with the God who made us male and female? As if marriage had nothing to do with Christ and his Bride?”

Do you see what really lies beneath his words?

If you say a sly “political power play” I’m going to call foul!

We should rather see that the real power to transform hearts and minds is embedded right within what he says!

For He is simply insisting that both God’s Law and Gospel, while needing to be kept distinct, testify to the same love of God – indeed, the same goodness of God shown to us in Jesus Christ!

And this changes everything!

With life in Christ we have the beginnings of true love, life, safety, and peace!

But do we really?

After all, in looking over history, one great theologian came to this rather depressing assessment:

“As it is in my own life history, so it is in world history, is a part. We should speak more cautiously and soberly in the plural, of world histories: namely, the histories of great social groups or movements; the histories of alliances, nations, and blocs; histories which stand apart and never merge into a world history in the singular. These world histories are nothing but the histories of the seeking, enforcing, denying, or lacking of mutual recognition. They are the histories of vindications and the assigning of guilt. They are one long story of the battle for mutual recognition, a life and death battle. In this regard, then, we can indeed speak of a world history in the singular.” (Bayer, Justification and Sanctification, p. 4)

It is indeed such observations that led the liberal theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick to write these words, which even theologically conservative churches have been willing to sing:

Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

(God of Grace and God of Glory)

I think some of you know that even as we sing a hymn like that we begin to feel an answer to that prayer as well… We have realized the difference that Jesus Christ makes.

World history might be life and death battle for recognition, but it is more than that. It is God’ story of His work in Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation…

In the lives of our family, our church, our local community! This is where we can make a difference, and where the love of God can begin to be known!

All that said here, it is easy for us to think less and less locally… and to even get overly preoccupied with earthly powers… and the heights of earthly power – especially in this days when the drama runs high!

We can forget that our real battle is against spiritual foes—and that the power which can really defeat and dislodge such foes is the Word of God—particularly the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For while the earthly powers are not unimportant—and our place and right to speak the truth in the political realm should never be questioned for a minute and we should never discourage brothers who do this!—it also does us well to think more on, to reflect more, on the Higher Things!

…to direct our attention there…

What will happen then?

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When we do this, we will find ourselves not less, but more eager, to show true justice and mercy to our neighbors – first to fellow believers and then to unbelievers, unsettled by life’s trials and willing to hear…

We will want not only to share God’s forgiveness in Christ, but offer physical assistance as well…

This is what the separation of the sheep and the goats on the Last Day is all about, right?

Those who have forgiven much, those who have shown much mercy – echoing the mercy of God Himself – will be shown mercy.

Those who opened up the Kingdom of Heaven to others will have the Kingdom of Heaven opened up to them.

In other words, these are the ones who have demonstrated themselves to be God’s children…

After all, sons and daughters of God act like sons and daughters of God and it is right that they should be found with their father and brother….

Like Christ, they eagerly gave the promise of paradise to all—even to those enemies of God dying to the left of them (and to the right, if they would only have it)—who had nothing to give, and could pay nothing back.

For God’s people, like God Himself, are profligate with pity, mercy, and grace….

As Paul puts it “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you….”

So, confident that this is us…  how can we do this more and more?

And… also, to even be fighting men like Peter Scaer?

For, as he would undoubtedly tell you, love for life in this world is a good thing… deep involvement in the world’s affairs is a good thing…

but our love for the life we know in this world should be always be driven by an eternal mindset and perspective rooted in Christ!

Many times, men have desired to fight for their country…

but can we also be those today who will fight in and for Christ’s church?

The old.. The young…

The church needs soldiers.

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How can this happen? How will this happen?

And how is it that we Christians are even the ones, who when it comes to the Final Judgement, who will judge the world as Jesus says and Paul echoes? (1 Cor 6: 2-3)

It is because of our Lord Jesus, “the Head of the body, the church;

He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy….”

There is the kind of supremacy the world needs!

As Paul reveals in Colossians, “knowing Christ is the key to knowing how things began, how things are, and how it is going to end…”

This also means you know: “where you have come from in Christ, where you are in Christ, and how it ends for you in Christ.” (Bombaro).

For who are we and why do we do what we do? What are our “identity politics?”

  • Christ has overcome the world and has all authority!
  • And we are put in Him! (put a bookmark in the Bible…) In baptism, we are united with the One who both created and redeemed us…
  • As Christ was crucified and buried, our sinful self was crucified and buried!
  • As He came from the grave with new life, so we to have new life in Him!
  • And as He is ascended of God and reigns at the right hand of God, and who will judge the world, so too will we!

It’s not really that we were baptized – we are baptized!

And so, “since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God!”

For that is where our True Hope lies!

Every day, and all the time! 24-7. Stay in touch! He wants to be with you and hear from you even more!

Not only can we “know ourselves as delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of His beloved Son”, but Christ “has broken into the old world through the cross and empty grave and is supplanting and reversing the old-world bit by bit…” (Bombaro)

And so, in Christ’s church it is good for us to fight for what is good and right and true….

The old… the young… The church needs soldiers.

And what a Commander we have!

As the Lutheran theologian, and by the way, military man, John Bombaro recently pointed out, things people might say sarcastically about certain popular figures in society really can be said about Jesus!

  • We are just supposed to bow down and worship at His feet!
  • He is never wrong!
  • We are all just supposed to believe everything He says!
  • He does act “like He walks on water or something…”
  • The world really does revolve around Him!
  • He is God’s gift to humanity!

“He’s the firstborn of all creation, the head of the body, the very ICON of God the Father on earth!” (Bombaro). He shows us the face of the One True God

…and that is good news! Very good news…

So let’s roll!

Like a wise church father said long ago, “they can kill us but they can’t hurt us…”

Let’s give them Jesus

…as He has been given to us!

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

A Reply to Pastor Larry Peters and Dr. Gregory Seltz: the Church is Not Political Enough

Martin Luther was a nationalist too…

 

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My guess is that the Roman Catholic Attorney General William Barr has been reading reading First Things and specifically its editor Rusty Reno.

And I think it’s like this: Reno = good cop. Barr = bad cop.

This recent speech seems like it was a real barnburner, and the calls for Barr’s impeachment have already begun. For a live-tweeting rundown, see here:

(for more on this see here)

As long-time readers of this blog can probably tell, my own views on the topic of culture and politics have been evolving bit over the years…

I have some suspicions about why that might be the case…

 

Yes, yes, I know. LC-MS wise men like Gene Veith have been telling us for years that “politics is downstream from culture. We should focus on culture.” I do think that’s largely right.

And I have also been the first to say that before the church points the finger at secularists we ourselves have much to repent for. In fact, I think that most of the bad secular ideas we have this day originally came out of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Matt 13:24-30 and my recent sermon on the antichrist rebellion in the church).

All that said, culture, church and politics are not always easily disentangled.

And while I do think that Christians should first and foremost be those whose minds are “set on things above” (Col. 3:1), that doesn’t give us permission to be so laissezfaire about the “things below” either.

Central to my concerns.

 

As comfortable as that may be. Yes indeed – we may well remain silent in order to remain comfortable. Why? Well, read this from Dr. Gregory Seltz, Executive Director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty:

“In talking about religious liberty in my travels around the country, I’m often faced with the charge that conservative, Bible-believing Christians may deserve the public attacks presently heaped upon them from politicians and the media because we’ve gotten too political. Many have also been led to believe that the Church’s stance on various moral issues is divisive and intolerant just because we disagree with the present libertinism of the day. After two years in Washington D.C., I can say with confidence that such a charge is unwarranted….

“Sadly, the truth of the matter is this: The kinds of attacks that Christians are enduring in our culture today are coming from a powerful, mean-spirited, secular elite. As the smearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has demonstrated, it doesn’t matter if you are a clean-living, mercy-giving, empathetic, and gentle-spirited Christian. The new ethos seeking to dominate Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country is one that demands that the Christian worldview be expunged from public dialogue and public expression….”

So, there certainly is the temptation to keep our mouths shut. And yet, what are the wider effects of this? Here’s one I can think of: when we act like political topics are basically off-limits we can rest assured that we might well suffocate the callings of many of our own people who might otherwise be strong and effective politicians.

2009: “[The] 111th Congress includes four LCMS Lutherans…” Ooooh. A bumper crop! (former Minnesota Representative Erik Paulsen pictured).

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No, in sum I think that men like Rusty Reno are heading in the right direction with their argumentation and approach while persons like Dwight Longeneckerwho basically sounds like your typical LC-MS Lutheran—are not being very helpful… On the other hand, I submit that one real LC-MS Lutheran, Matthew Cochran, basically shows us the reasonable and respectable way forward. I can’t recommend his short article “We Need Christian Nationalism Because Religious Neutrality Has Failed“ enough, as that article was the final piece of the puzzle that finally helped me put together a coherent and quite clarifying lecture on the topic:

 

 

I’ve also been heartened to recently learn more about the excellent scholarship of Mark David Hall, which clears up a lot of the confusion about the role of Christianity in America’s founding. All of us need to recognize that people in the 16th century were more right then we are about how politics and religion should go together. Leaders of the earth should indeed be challenged to kiss the Son, lest He be angry.

So at this point let me address point-by-point the things that Pastor Peters said in his recent post “After the Fall”.

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Pastor Larry Peters

 

Pastor Peters begins:

“One of the things we learn from God after the Fall of Adam and the banishment of Adam and Eve from Eden is a hard lesson.  That is the truth that there is no goodness that is not born of or lead to suffering.  That is the plight of the world post Fall.  Of course, the cross is the prime example of this but we are called to take up the cross and follow Jesus and warned not to expect smooth sailing but rejection, persecution, and even death.  We, however, reject this path in order to follow the path of least resistance and adopt the lure of the illusion of an easy life.  We are shocked when suffering happens to us.  It is not fair, it is not right, and it is not just.”

Pastor Peters is exactly right here. In the context of politics however (I bring this up because this is where he goes in his article), the question this brings to mind is this: “Does this mean that I, concerned to not be tempted to ‘put my trust in men, horses, and chariots’ should not do what I can do politically to protect my family and nation?” Even if that just means voting for the people who seem to show respect for our nation’s Christian heritage and who will not only defend the church’s right to exist but also see it as a valuable part of society? (it seems the least, really, that we can do!)

“Our desire to find a path without suffering is, in part, the reason why we seek a ‘Christian’ society or nation in which morality has the force of law and culture is either an unwitting or intentional ally.”

Again, it seems to me that the ones who suffer the most right now might be Christians who dare speak truth to power. That said, what if I myself might be happy to suffer and take some necessary risks but don’t think my kids need that right now—or really don’t need their dad to do that right now? (that whole “monk-ish?” I Cor. 7 chapter is making a lot more sense to me these days…). What if I love my nation and the people who love what is best about it and don’t want them to suffer – at least, in ways that it seems might or even should be avoidable despite a fallen world? Is that somehow unchristian? Will I immediately be called some kind of a utopian?

Martin Chemnitz, a nasty utopian-Constantinian type?: “The first duty of a ruler is to care for those who are subject to him, so that they may ‘live in godliness,’ that is, this first concern must be for their religion…”

 

And even if the avoidance of suffering is “in part, the reason why we seek a ‘Christian’ society or nation in which morality has the force of law,” what about the desire to see the way of the Lord honored – and the blessings of love and family, for instance, that He really does mean for His people to know? I know that this is also tangled up with the pursuit of other more materialistic material pleasures and the like, particularly in places like America, but that will never not be a part of the challenge for us as Christians, right?

“If we have a society in which common values and goals are shared between church and state, then it is less likely we may be asked to give up anything for the sake of faithfulness or sacrifice anything for the sake of a larger good.  But a culture in which ‘Christianity’ dominates through force and majority rule may not be one of great virtue but merely a reflection of the ordinary truth that the strong rule the weak.”

In such a society, we would be truly free to make the sacrifices Pastor Peters speaks of. And while the last sentence above is correct, maybe the answer is not to suggest this is bad, but to call the Christians in a nation to really be Christians, that is, to love and honor the Word of God? To represent Him well by always thinking about just what it means to be in, but not of, the world?

“In the same way, the faith is not triumphant when sacrifice or suffering is excised from the walk of faith.”

“When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another….”

 

Jesus directly told His disciples to flee persecution. It might be true that eventually we will run out of places to flee, but I do not condemn them for fleeing (or, first, fighting culturally and politically). And in like fashion, the life experience of Old Testament believers living in an honest-to-God theocracy also show us that we’ll probably always be persecuted for upholding the Word of God – either externally, from other nations, or internally, from within.

“Neither faith nor the Church is made stronger when the way is eased for a more comfortable Christianity.”

So are people on the far right correct then? We have no interest in fighting for what remains of the Christian heritage of this nation? I used to feel and think exactly the same way, fresh out of college in the heady 1990s. I’m still anti-imperialist and highly critical of American materialism, but then I was a multiculturalist (then Alvin Schmidt, via Issues ETC, radicalized me I guess) and also very against “patriarchy”.

I was wrong. Again, the “comfort” sword cuts both ways. What did all those Christians who fought in our armed forces over the years fight for? Of course you can just say they just did it for their neighbors, but what was, or at least should be, the thing most important to their neighbors? Well, conservative Americans may have disagreed in the past about whether the order is “God, country, and family” or “God, family, and country,” but they all knew that “God” was the right first answer. Even if many don’t truly know who God is or at least don’t know Him very well.

“In order for lives to change, hearts must change and with this change must come the willingness to suffer for the sake of doctrine and practice of the faith. The heart does not have to change if behavior is enforced by fear of punishment.  So the path of Puritanism ended up with laws ruling but hearts still filled with wrong desire.”

St. Patrick, going to and converting whole peoples like Jonah…

 

Before the Gospel can take root, the Law must do its work. And does not the Law speak of the worst punishment of all? And to bring up the Puritans as a foil is also to set one’s self up to fall off the other side of the horse. None of this is to say that I support things like Charlamagne’s forced baptisms, but I also am not going to say that the practice of people following their nation’s leaders in Christian conversion was unfortunate, or less than Christian. While ultimately only God knows the hearts of each, both individuals and peoples, tribes and nations can convert to God. If you disagree with that, speak with the prophet Jonah.

“What we have forgotten, the early Church knew only too well.  If a Christian walks in the way of the Cross, suffering will ensue.  The faithful must be prepared to lose, at least as the world counts it, in order to be faithful.  This is clearly what Christ teaches.  Today we find ourselves in a world in which faith has been manipulated into a means to get what you desire out of life and where the sign of God’s blessing is to resolve the problem of suffering and relieve the person from loss.  In the early Church, the stories of the faithful were the accounts of martyrdom in which the threat of death did not shake the resolve of the faithful to remain true to Christ.  The heroes of these early years were not those who found accommodation but those who suffered all rather than fall away.”

Again, temptation to take the easier way and suffering for the truth will never be a problem. It will come. And right – no accommodation.

You – repent. We, the church – repent. You rulers of the earth and all its nations and people’s – repent.

“A Church isn’t proclaiming the full biblical gospel unless it calls kings and nations to acknowledge and serve the king of kings.” — Peter Leithart, author of Defending Constantine.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good! Whether material blessing follows or not, you are meant to know true love in Christ for eternity – and even to begin now, prior to the new heavens and new earth, to know such love…

“In contrast, today we celebrate the rich and famous, the sports figures and entertainers, who seem to be able to have it all and to do is their way.  In this scenario, however, the Church is hardly different than the world around her and resembles the creation of Christ’s blood hardly at all. There was, after all, a reason why the earliest canonical heroes (saints) are mostly martyrs.  While we may idealize such devotion today, none of us wants to be placed in the cross hairs of such a choice.”

Again, I see no reason to think that even in nations that turn to Christ (and incorporate this into their laws, as had Luther’s Germany), that there will be no persecution. “Christian Sweden” and England are now places where the faithful must resist not only government but church. The ways and will of God will constantly challenge men, and prophetic voices who call God’s people to faithfulness – even vs. some of the moves its Christian nation (or purportedly Christian nation) may make – will always be necessary. Particularly as the Final Day approaches.

..and take note Rulers of the world:

The point is that the church has a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to all — and this includes, perhaps especially, you. And when you convert, it is your responsibility to protect the church and not interfere in its doctrine even as you also should be supportive of the Word of the Lord in whatever ways you can. If you want to protect other religions too, all well and good, though here harmony and order are no doubt a concern (like when multiple languages cause issues) and no doubt should be for any nation… (Maybe we need more nations? More fences?)

Clear-eyed about the end to come: “Nation (Ethnos) will rise against nation (ethnos), and kingdom against kingdom… this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” — Jesus, in Matthew 24

 

So this will mean being involved in ways that will sometimes cause issues (particularly when all “churches” do not submit to the 1580 Book of Concord as they should!). The church must never submit to the state, but the state must submit to the Lord… I know none of this may sound practical right now. That, I think, is largely besides the point.

“The Gospel does not make us into better consumers but teaches us to sit in the lower place, to serve as Christ has served us, and to suffer gladly with Christ in confidence of the great reward that this world may not see or know.  God is not where suffering is absent but hidden in suffering.  Someone said to me years ago that if you are not covered in blood you are not standing close enough to Jesus.  While rather crass and blunt, the point is well taken.  Jesus did not promise us a rose garden but He did warn us of the rejection, persecution, imprisonment, and death to come for those who seek to know Christ and Him only.  Our life does not manifest worldly marks of success but flows from the Cross and the Cross alone.  Is this not what the Benedict Option is about?  Is this not a challenge to the kind of institutional Christianity in which God’s job is to make us so successful and happy that the world will want to know what makes our lives so rich and so easy?  Luther’s theology of the cross is not cliche or slogan.  It is the way of Christian life.”

Knowing the peace and love of a family devoted to Christ is the greatest blessing, even “material blessing,” that I can think of. Even if it is not necessarily a “worldly mark of success”.

[Marriage] is a great mystery… but I am talking about Christ and the Church…. (Paul in Eph. 5)

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I understand Peterson’s concern about “institutional Christianity,” but the fact of the matter is that God likes institutions and God likes authority. Marriage and family are institutions where authority is in the forefront. So is the church. As the Eastern Orthodox like to say, it is “not an organization with mystery but a mystery with organization.”

And the goal of this church is not to suffer, even if suffering on this side of the Fall is inevitable, but to know and know better the love of God in Christ. And when it comes to that, we should not be ashamed of the kind of success and happiness we experience here… To say this is not to abandon any “theology of the cross” (the true one, at least — see page 83).

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Dr. Gregory Seltz

 

Back to Dr. Gregory Seltz, whose words I quoted appreciatively above. After stating that “The new ethos seeking to dominate Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country is one that demands that the Christian worldview be expunged from public dialogue and public expression….” he then goes on to say:

“Now, you might think, ‘What’s the big deal?’ If people want to live a different way than prescribed in the Bible, can’t we just let them be? But that’s not the problem. The problem doesn’t lie with Christians in the public square forcing their view of marriage or sexual practice on others. The censorship problem lies with those who are advocating for and politicizing all forms of sexual expression, while allowing for no dissent or disagreement. We’re not too far away from government empowered ‘equal rights’ compliance officers being unleashed on Christian businesses, schools, universities, and, yes, even churches.”

Frankly, we need to be much more honest.

The natural family – and hence nations…something to be overcome?  Does the world not hate the family for the same reason it seeks to eliminate natural marriage: because these are living icons of the church?

 

When Seltz says “The problem doesn’t lie with Christians in the public square forcing their view of marriage or sexual practice on others” that is, clearly, not the full story. The secular world is right to think that Christians believe that all cultures must honor marriage and that this really, is not something that any society can fail to do and avoid consequences and God’s judgment. Perhaps they better understand the significance of things that we like to suppress. In fact, I am quite sure they do know better. This being the case, they also are quite intentional about what they are doing (even if they “know not what they do”), which is why they must lose this war.

Marriage should be upheld by Christians among the peoples that they inhabit and be urged on them – even to the point of establishing these things in law when the opportunity presents itself to do so.

The love — including tough love — that really drives the West.

 

Not only because marriage offers untold blessings and benefits in this life, which it does. Not only because to denigrate or weaken marriage robs children of that which God means for them to know and have, which is also true. Most importantly, because all are meant to be the bride of Christ, and must ultimately submit to the One who is Love, Light, Life.

This is not Islam, because Islam does not recognize a Gentle and Tender Savior who, having mercy on His faithless whore of a bride, grants her the mercy she does not deserve in a “Happy Exchange”:

“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.” (Martin Luther)

People can try to ruin that too, but they will ever fail.

The blood that covers sinners is for you to. “The cross is our theology,” said Martin Luther. The blood is meant to cover you too…

 

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Now, I don’t doubt that some will get the wrong idea from this post.

Again, I fully expect people to come back with statements about “utopianism” and the like. That said, what an author of the blog the Jagged Word recently said about the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus’ day applies as well to many of our own projects:

“Sometimes, when I read the Scriptures, I get the feeling hanging out with Jesus would not have been much fun. I know it was not the purpose of His coming, he did not take on human flesh to entertain or just to have a good time with us. Yet, I often imagine He must have been sort of a killjoy, like the person you hang-out with who always dismantles your big ideas. For example, take the account of when His disciples are chatting about the beautiful buildings in Jerusalem. No doubt the Temple itself would have been the focus of their attention; it stood tall among everything surrounding it, massive stones overlaid with gold that caught the first lights of the morning sun. It filled spectators with a sense of awe and wonder. So, they are rightly commenting on its beauty when Jesus interrupts their appreciation and says, “You like what you see? Well, the days are coming when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In other words, He is saying, “Take a good look now for its all coming down.”

This is a great symbol for us to remember. Everyone and everything is going to be fully refined, and surely nothing that has been built by man, for man, will stand.

In Christ though, the Church will stand. And somehow, within that Church, representatives from distinct peoples, tribes, and nations will stand.

“…behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”

 

So we build… politically too.

No, we are not ultimately about power, but none of this means that we need to project weakness either. When the Apostle Paul talked about being strong when he is weak, that doesn’t always need to mean looking weak before the world…

FIN

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

What is the Church Really?: A History of Christian Denominations by Martin Noland

First, if you haven’t watched this surprising hot You Tube video already, please check out the first minute:

Is what Pastor Weedon says true?!

If you are interested in exploring matters more, I encourage you to take a look at the following enlightening essay titled “A History of Christian Denominations,” published with permission from Pastor Martin Noland.

He was kind enough to recently update the essay to publish here on my blog (and here is an rtf/Word and pdf copy)

If you would like the Cliff’s Notes of the essay, you can find kind of find that in this picture, which Dr. Noland mentions at the beginning of his essay below (which, if anyone would like to take the time to kindly improve for 2019, give it a shot — here is a copy of the original handwritten chart):

So without further ado, I give you…

 

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A History of Christian Denominations

By the Rev. Martin R. Noland, Ph.D., version 2019

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Introduction – This essay is an attempt to explain in a brief way the historic origins of the denominations of the Christian church that exist today.  It was originally designed for my adult Bible class group in Oak Park, Illinois, and first presented and discussed in the Fall of 1991.  Since then it has gone through several revisions, and also been posted on the Internet by various persons with my permission.  I formerly accompanied the essay with a chart that explains the taxonomy of denominations, but the charts on Wikipedia are more accurate than my 1991 chart, so I refer the reader to those charts at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_denomination#Taxonomy

I. 49 AD – Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29; Gal 2:6-9) The leaders of the church discussed the issue of the authority of the Old Testament Law for the Gentiles. The presence of Paul and Peter preserved Jesus’ teaching. The result of the council was the division of the Church into a Jewish-Palestinian church and Gentile-mission churches. Gentile-mission churches were under the authority of their founding apostle. Paul was the founder of Asian and Greek churches.

II. 50-100 AD – Apostolic Missions. The Twelve Apostles followed Paul’s example and started mission churches: Peter in Rome, John in Ephesus, Andrew in Scythia, Philip in Phrygia, Bartholomew in Armenia, Thomas in India, Matthew in Mesopotamia, Simon the Zealot in Parthia, the lesser James in Arabia, Thaddeus in Edessa, and Matthias in Egypt. Paul planned to start a church in Spain, possibly in Gaul. The Jewish-Palestinian church ceased with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Palestine was thereafter off-limits to the Jews, and the Christian Church was entirely Gentile, though it contained many families of Jewish ancestry.

III. 100-313 AD – Roman Persecutions and Gnostic Heretics. There were ten major persecutions of Christians from Nero (64) to Diocletian (303). Theological issues centered on the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology. The heretics known as “Gnostics” claimed to have an authoritative oral tradition from the apostles, which re-interpreted the apostolic writings (i.e., the New Testament). In response to the Gnostic threat, Irenaeus (100-200), Bishop of Lyons, Gaul, asserted the authority of the New Testament books over any other writings or oral tradition, an argument later used by Augustine and Luther. Cyprian (200-250), Bishop of Carthage, North Africa, asserted that the bishops have the same Holy Spirit given to the apostles, and they are therefore the authoritative interpreters of the Bible to preserve the church from schismatics and heretics. Cyprian’s thought became the basis of the “episcopal” system of church government.

IV. 313-381 AD – Organization of the Roman Imperial Church under Constantine. The Arians, who denied Jesus’ divinity and asserted that he was only a teacher of morality, attempted to gain control of the church. The Arians were opposed by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, whose orthodox Christology was officially adopted at the Council of Nicaea (325). That council adopted the original Creed of Nicaea, which was revised at the next council, held at Constantinople (381), into the version called the “Nicene–Constantinopolitan Creed.” The version of 381 is commonly known today as the “Nicene Creed” and is the only creed accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the “Oriental Orthodox” churches, the Church of the East, and much of Protestantism including the Anglican communion.  The Apostles and Athanasian Creeds are not as widely accepted. The Roman Empire was divided into church dioceses, with archbishops at Rome, Carthage, Thessalonica, Constantinople, Nicomedia, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria.

V. 381-450 AD – Period of Christological Controversies. The Church argued about how Jesus could be both divine and human. Nestorius taught that Jesus was actually two separate persons, one divine, one human, sharing one body. The council of Ephesus (431) condemned Nestorius and his doctrine. As a result, Nestorius’ followers in the far-eastern churches separated from the Roman Imperial Church. The Nestorian churches included the Persian, Assyrian and Arabian churches, all under the political influence of the kingdom of Parthia, which was not part of the Roman Empire. The bishop of the Nestorian churches became known as the “Catholicos-Patriarch of the East” and was the head of “The Church of the East.” After its schism with the Roman-Imperial church, this church sent missionaries to India, Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Indochina, and as far as northwest China in the seventh century AD. In 845 AD, Chinese emperor Wu-Tsung persecuted, executed, or exiled all of the Christians in China. Similar persecutions over the centuries by Hindu or Buddhist emperors in the eastern part of Asia reduced the Church of the East to isolated pockets of the faithful.

VI. 450-680 AD – Decline of the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome in 410, both Church and State slowly disintegrated. The Christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon (450) was rejected by the churches on the outskirts of the Empire for political reasons, and the Roman State was too weak to enforce the definition. Non-Chalcedonian churches which left the Roman Imperial Church at this time included those in Armenia, Syria, Egypt (i.e., the Coptic Church), Ethiopia, and India (i.e., the Mar Thoma church of the Apostle Thomas). As a group, these non-Chalcedonian churches are known today as the “Oriental Orthodox Churches” or “miaphysites.” The term “Orthodoxy” was originally used to distinguish those churches which followed Chalcedon, as opposed to the non-Chalcedonian and Nestorian churches which did not. The Roman Imperial Church lost territory and arch-episcopal sees to the Moslems from 630-690 at Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Carthage.

VII. 680-1415 AD- The Middle Ages. The Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680) rejected Pope Honorius the First’s claim of papal infallibility because he supported the mono-theletic error, i.e., that Christ had two natures but only one will.  The Council also declared Pope Honorius to be a heretic. The Western churches, under the leadership of the Pope, then seceded from the Eastern Imperial Church with the support of the European-barbarian tribes. “Orthodox Christianity” was now divided into East, i.e., the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and West, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. Due to the loss of the traditional archbishoprics, the remaining arch-bishopric at Constantinople became the spiritual head of all the Eastern Orthodox churches. Thus known as “The Ecumenical Patriarch,” the archbishop of Constantinople sent missionaries and founded churches in Russia, among the Slavs, and the Balkan areas. These churches were later granted their own archbishops, and so became the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukranian Orthodox Church, etc. The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Christians of the Byzantine church came under Moslem subjugation in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople. From 1453-1830, the Patriarch was chosen by the Moslem-Turkish sultan, thus diminishing his ecumenical authority. Following the war of Greek independence in the 1820’s, the Ecumenical Patriarch once again achieved his former position of leadership over the Eastern Orthodox churches throughout the world.

The Western church, under the spiritual head of the Bishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope), followed its own course of development.  Pope Gregory the Great (pope 590-604) had written about the doctrine of purgatory in his Dialogues, where he recounted the story of a priest who met a ghost at Tauriana.  The ghost told the priest that saying Masses for the dead would eventually release him from purgatory.  This story was accepted as the justification for the distinctly Roman Catholic idea of using the Lord’s Supper to advance the souls of the dead through purgatory.  Although there were monks and monasteries in the early church and the Eastern Orthodox churches, the distinctly Roman Catholic idea of monks, monasteries, and religious orders developed at the Benedictine Abbey at Cluny in the forests of Burgundy in France, founded in 910.  At Cluny, the idea of monastic life was that the monk would not be involved in physical labor, but only “spiritual labor,” especially in saying prayers and Masses for the living and the dead.  The idea of monasticism, as it developed at Cluny, came to dominate the entire Western church during the time of Pope Leo IX (pope 1049-1054) through Pope Gregory VII (pope 1073-1085).  Both were “Cluniac” popes.  Pope Leo IX was responsible for the Great Schism in 1054, in which Eastern and Western churches became enemies due to Pope Leo IX’s orders to excommunicate the eastern Ecumenical Patriarch, and thus all of the Christians under his care.  Pope Gregory VII was responsible for excommunicating the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV three times (1076, 1080, and 1084), thus establishing in real terms the absolute political power of the pope over all rulers on earth.  Pope Gregory VII was also responsible for creating the cardinal-election system that made the papacy non-reformable, for mandating that all priests, including parish priests, must be celibate, and for eliminating the power of lay rulers to participate in the election of bishops, abbots, and other clergy.  Before Pope Gregory VII, parish priests were allowed to have wives and children, and most of them did.

VIII. 1415-1580 AD – The Reformation of the Western Church. Beginning with the treacherous execution of John Huss, Professor at the Charles University of Prague, Bohemia, by orders of the Council of Constance in 1415, the Western church went into turmoil over the increasing corruption present in the Papal Palace. This dissent was supported by many secular princes and kings who wanted to be free from the Holy Roman Emperor and Pope, from their laws, mercenary military, taxes, indulgences, etc. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses of 1517 found a ready audience because it challenged the Pope, and ably refuted Roman Catholic theology regarding indulgences. After a series of debates where the best theologians of the day could not refute Luther, it became a matter of Luther and the Bible against the Pope. The Pope claimed to be above the authority of Scripture, while Luther, quoting Augustine, said that no word of man has higher authority than the Word of God. For this Luther was excommunicated as a heretic and was proclaimed an “outlaw” who should be killed by anyone loyal to the church.  Fortunately for Luther, the Turkish sultan and his armies were breaking down the walls of the Emperor’s home capital of Vienna. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was thus forced to cooperate with the German princes in matters of religion, in order to preserve the Empire. The Augsburg Confession of the German princes of 1530 marked the division of the Western Church into Roman Catholic and “Protestant” sectors. The Roman Catholics responded to the Protestants with the “Decrees of the Council of Trent” (1545-1563). Luther died in 1546.  His theology and practice was codified in the Book of Concord of 1580, which is the definitive collection of Lutheran Confessional writings (see http://www.bookofconcord.org).  Luther’s theology and/or the Book of Concord were adopted in large portions of the German territories of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, and parts of Poland and Austria.  The counter-Reformation later purged Lutherans and their influence from most of Poland and Austria.

The Reformed, Anglicans, and Anabaptists produced their own confessions, creeds, and catechisms to define and defend their position. The Reformed followed the theology of Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich, Jean Calvin of Geneva, and John Knox of Scotland. The Anabaptists were political revolutionaries advocating a communist society on the basis of Scriptures, but most found a quick and bloody end. Only the pacifist Anabaptists, such as the Amish and Mennonites, survived because they did not try to impose their ideas on the whole society and, in fact, avoided the surrounding culture as much as possible.  The Anglicans went through several stages of Reformation, being guided initially by King Henry VIII of England.  Although the Anglican church initially headed in a Lutheran direction, after the purges of Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”) and the return of the Marian exiles (exiled 1553-58), the Anglican church was guided by Queen Elizabeth I to adopt the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571.  These articles have been published in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer ever since, and are understood to be a compromise (“middle way”) between Roman Catholic and Reformed theology and practice.

IX. 1580-1650 – The Rise of Reformed Protestantism. Reformed theology was popular in Switzerland, the Rhineland, southern Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, and in parts of France. Where Luther intended only to reform the Church, Reformed theology also intended to reform the state and society. The Reformed intended to “complete the Reformation.” The Reformed often allied themselves with enemies of the Emperor or King, and were thus viewed by royalists as revolutionaries. The Huegenots in France sparked the French Civil War, from 1560-1590, resulting in their defeat and the mass exile of French-speaking Calvinists to Prussia, Holland, England, and America. Reformed Protestants did the same in the Netherlands, 1560-1580, but in that case were the “winners” creating the Dutch Republic, a federal republic. The Calvinists in southern Germany and the Rhineland were responsible for starting the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, which ended in the destruction of vast parts of Germany and a stalemate between Catholic and Protestant powers. The Puritans in England joined with the Parliamentarians and started the English Civil War, 1640-1660, resulting in the short-lived Commonwealth of England, a republic based on the sovereignty of the people. Exiles and revolutionaries from all these revolutions and wars sought haven in the New World, which explains the dominant place of Reformed theology in North America. Reformed theology thus gained in prestige and political power because of its political value in justifying the surge towards more democratic political structures in the nations where it gained a hearing.

X. 1650-1740 AD – The Factionalization of Reformed Theology in England and the Rise of Pietism within Lutheranism. Having successfully won control of the British State in the Commonwealth of 1649, the English Puritans split into factions over the issue of church polity. The Scotch and English Presbyterians, the most traditional and powerful of the Puritans, argued for a national church run locally by “elders,” known as the presbytery. Their theology is found in the Westminster Confession (1645) and its two catechisms. More radical were the English Congregationalists, who argued for the independence of congregations, which they believed should be ruled by a democracy of universal male suffrage, i.e., the right of all adult males to vote. The New England town meeting derived from Congregationalist polity. The Congregationalist theory was set forth by Robert Browne, who said that the church is a local community of saints constituted by a voluntary covenant taken by Christian believers with God and each other. Because the covenant is sacred and local, it must be kept free from outside control and be independent of the state. More radical still were the English Baptists, who agreed with the Congregationalist polity and theory.  The Baptists also thought that since infants and children cannot make a voluntary covenant with God and the congregation, they should not be baptized until they are able to do so.  Most radical of the English Puritans were the Independents, such as the Diggers, the Levelers, et.al., who saw Christ’s teaching as primarily social and political, not religious in intent. These Independent Puritans were the ancestors of eighteenth century Deists.

The German Lutheran princes tolerated Reformed theology and preachers in their territories, and this contributed to the eventual demise of Lutheranism in Germany. Pietism became popular with the writings of Phillip Jacob Spener (e.g., the Pia Desideria, 1675). Pietism accused the Lutheran preachers of being unloving and sub-Christian when they criticized the theology of the Calvinists. Pietists argued that holy living and obedience was the goal of the gospel, not salvation for Christ’s sake through faith alone. There were several types of Pietism, but general characteristics included: personal Bible study for devotional and practical purposes; denigration of academic theology even for clergy; emphasis on the feelings and will at the expense of the intellect; love of devotional literature, especially of the mystical type; insistence on the necessity of growth in Christian perfection; the ability to recognize a true kernel of believers within the visible church, which contained both believers and unbelievers; and the establishment of “pious societies” (collegia pietatis) apart from the church and its ministry.

The Pietists gained the official support of the Prussian prince, Frederick the Great, when the Pietist leader Hermann Francke agreed not to protest Frederick’s innovation of military conscription, which the Lutherans had opposed as “prince’s cannon fodder.” The subsequent military successes of the Prussian princes united Germany, with Pietist religious conquests in its wake. By 1720 traditional Lutheranism had completely succumbed to Pietism in the universities and bureaucracies of Prussia and its dependent German states, although some territories and isolated individuals continued in the theology of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. Lutheranism survived in this period partially because of the continued use of Luther’s catechism, Luther’s liturgy, and the Lutheran hymn-chorales in church services. Often the church cantors and church musicians were more Lutheran than their pastors because of the theology of the Lutheran chorales, Johann Sebastian Bach being the most prominent example. The rise of Pietism in Germany also encouraged Pietist movements in the Scandinavian countries.

XI. 1740-1890 AD- Deists, Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Confessional Lutherans. The Puritan Commonwealth experiment in England from 1649-1660 failed primarily because the Puritans were unable to work together theologically. They could not agree on how much of the Old Testament was binding on Christians. They were unable to follow Luther’s “evangelical” principle, i.e. only the New Testament is binding today, because the Puritans needed the Old Testament support for their theocracy. The English Puritan theocracy was also not appreciated for its “Blue Laws.” The Restoration period in England which followed the Puritan theocracy returned to the “middle way” of the Thirty-Nine Articles, though the British rightly feared the Pope’s influence. In the continued arguments between a Catholic-look-and-feel “high church” and a Puritan-look-and-feel “low church,” a “middle-of-the-road” group arose called the Latitudinarians, what we today would call “moderates.” They argued that the commands of God in Scripture that were not in keeping with Natural Law or Reason were only cultural accommodations to that period of history and not binding on Christians today.

In the person of John Locke, the Latitudinarian and Independent Puritan ideas combined to form Deism, a religion that was accepted by the educated-merchant middle class. Deism is also the basic religious teaching of the lodges such as the Masons and the Odd Fellows, which groups originated in this period of time. The Deists argued that all of Christianity, at least in its original form, conformed to Natural Law and Reason. At first the Deists affirmed that there was a harmony between the traditional teachings of the Church and Rationalism, but once they were accepted by society, they quickly began to deny the miracles and prophecies of the Bible, Christ’s divinity and resurrection, and the Trinity. They argued that Jesus was merely a prophet of morality, whose disciples elevated him to the status of God. Deists were the first Liberal Protestants and they detested and denounced all denominational or doctrinal differences as a violation of Jesus’ command to love the neighbor. Deism, in the form of Liberal Protestantism, was eventually to affect almost every large Protestant denomination, both in the state churches of Europe and the mainline churches in North America.  The growth of Deist thought in England occurred from 1690-1740.

It would be fair to say that by 1740, due to Deist theology, the churches in England had become thoroughly liberalized and irrelevant to the spiritual needs of the average Englishman and Englishwoman. John Wesley and his followers, also known as the “Evangelicals,” rejected Deist religion. They combined traditional Anglicanism with German Pietism, with an emphasis on the experience of conversion (i.e., the “decision for Christ”), plus a method of sanctification known as “Methodism.” In North America, Wesley’s teachings were spread by George Whitefield and the First Great Awakening, and had a significant influence on the Baptists. The “Evangelicals” were similar to the traditional Protestants in most doctrines, but were different in the emphasis they placed on religious experience and the necessity of growth in Christian perfection. Where traditional Protestants were united on the basis of common doctrine, Evangelicals were united on the basis of a common religious experience. Ever since Wesley, the English-speaking Protestants have been dominated by the polarity that first existed between Deist Liberals and Evangelical Conservatives. The Evangelicals consisted of both revivalist and denominational groups. Those who preferred a structured approach to religion organized themselves as “Methodists,” while the revivalists remained free-wheeling and independent.

Around 1800 in America, the revivalists began the Second Great Awakening in Kentucky and the Ohio River valley. The revivalists Thomas and Alexander Campbell stressed the restoration of original Christianity.  Their followers founded the non-denominational “Christian Church,” which ironically was a denomination.  Unlike Methodists, the revivalists and the “Christians” rejected infant baptism and urged their followers to get “back to the Bible,” instead of Wesley’s Anglican mix of Bible, tradition, experience, and reason. The “Christian Church” later split into a conservative branch, the “Churches of Christ,” and a liberal branch, the “Disciples of Christ” which publishes the popular magazine The Christian Century. Revivalists who remained independent included figures such as Timothy Dwight, Lyman Beecher, Charles Finney, and Dwight Moody, the founder of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. These independents were the real ancestors of twentieth-century Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.

In Germany around 1740, the Rationalism of the English Deists began to influence the universities and seminaries. The most severe attack from Deism came from German theologian Gotthold Lessing in the 1770’s.  Lessing argued that the historical evolution of religion was part of God’s plan, from the primitive pagans, to the crude Jewish sacrifices, to the humane Sacraments of Christ, to the most reasonable and ethical Christianity of pure Reason. Friedrich Schleiermacher in the early 1800s combined these ideas with the experientialism of Pietism. He became the father of Liberal Protestantism in its classic form, which is an evolutionary form of Deism united by a common “religious experience.” American and British forms of Liberal Protestantism stressed the “social gospel,” and were often indistinguishable from socialism.

A conservative reaction to Liberalism in Germany came with an Evangelical influence known as Neo-Pietism, which stressed the “awakening” of conversion and getting “back to the Bible.” The 1817 Prussian Union State church attempted to merge Pietists, Lutherans and Calvinists, in spite of the protests of the “Old Lutherans”. The “Old Lutherans” urged a movement of “back to Luther” similar to the Neo-Pietist’s “back to the Bible.” In the 1830s “Old Lutheran” pastors in Prussia were imprisoned and their lay-members’ property confiscated, when they refused to use the new generic-Protestant liturgy. Groups of the “Old Lutherans” emigrated in the 1830s and 1840s: to Australia under August Kavel; to Buffalo, New York under Johann Grabau; to Frankenmuth, Michigan under Friedrich Craemer; and to Saint Louis and Perry County, Missouri under Martin Stephan. Those who didn’t emigrate formed the “free churches” in Germany, with leaders such as August Vilmar and Wilhem Loehe. All of these groups were known as “confessional Lutherans” because they adhered to the traditional teaching of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. These “confessional Lutherans” resisted all influences from Liberals, Evangelicals, Reformed, as well as the cultural-Lutherans who urged cooperation with heterodox church-bodies. The Saint Louis group rose to dominance in America under C.F.W. Walther, who organized and united many of the “Old Lutherans” in the United States into the “Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States,” later known as the “Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.”  This denomination has managed to remain faithful to the Book of Concord, including the Lutheran doctrines of Scripture, i.e., sola Scriptura and the inerrancy of Scripture, and Justification, i.e., justification by grace alone for Christ’s sake alone through faith alone, in spite of some wavering in the 1960s and early 1970s.

XII. 1890-2019 AD- The Holiness Movement, Ecumenism, and Modern Evangelicalism. In 1880 several groups of the “Christian Church” restorationists and revivalists formed evangelistic associations to propagate the doctrine of the necessity of growth in Christian perfection. This holiness movement splintered into countless factions over the issue of the definition of holiness. The most traditional view, very similar to the Methodist teaching on sanctification, was propounded by the Nazarenes, now known as the “Church of the Nazarenes.” The more radical views were found in the Latter Rain movement, which argued that the supernatural gifts of Pentecost are necessary for the church today.  The Latter Rain movement is represented by today’s “Churches of God,” who include their headquarter’s city in their name (e.g., Cleveland, Tennessee). The emphasis on “speaking in tongues,” which is not the foreign language gift of the apostles but mere babbling, rose to prominence in Pentecostal churches, such as the “Four Square Gospel Church,” the “Pentecostal Church,” and the “Assemblies of God.” Evangelistic associations formed to propagate these holiness teachings in other denominations through the charismatic movement, which has adherents in almost every denomination today.

By 1890, the enduring influence of the Liberals and Evangelicals had overridden the old denominational differences in the Protestant world. The result were social and political demands for cooperation between church-bodies under the direction of church federations. This new development in church structure was known as the “Ecumenical Movement,” which had its roots in the “Evangelical Alliance” of 1846. Although the ecumenical movement began as an Evangelical phenomenon, it was soon taken over by Liberal Protestant leadership. It began with a youth movement, the World’s Student Christian Fellowship in 1895, then added the International Missionary Conference in 1910, then the Faith and Order group in 1920, and finally the Life and Work group in 1925. Progress in ecumenism was interrupted by World War II.

Karl Barth, a Liberal Protestant Swiss theologian who had opposed Hitler, became a leader in ecumenical endeavors following the war. Dr. Hermann Sasse, the last “Old Lutheran” professor in the German State Church, left both the ecumenical movement and Germany when Barth’s theology became the theology of the ecumenical organizations. The final result was the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948, in Amsterdam. This was coordinated with national groups, such as the National Council of Churches in the USA, and denominational groups such as the Lutheran World Federation. Participants in the World Council of Churches (hereafter WCC) originally included all of the Eastern Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian, and Nestorian churches, and almost all of the State church and Protestant churches. The Pope has resisted joining the WCC, because he believes that they should someday join “Mother Church” under his tutelage, as was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Evangelicals who protested the Liberalism of the WCC became known as “fundamentalists,” a derogatory term invented by the American media, but they applied the term “Evangelical” to themselves in the post-war period to indicate their traditional link with Wesley and revivalism. The post-war Evangelicals formed their own pan-denominational organizations, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, and became prominent especially in the United States through publishing, radio, TV, and national crusades. Evangelical figures in the latter twentieth-century included Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell, and Francis Schaeffer. A few large denominations also did not join the WCC, namely the Southern Baptists and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which are the last large denominations in the United States devoted to traditional Protestant teachings and the authority of Scripture.

The ecumenical movement also resulted in the formation of numerous Liberal “United” churches, such as the “Presbyterian Church in the USA” and the “Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” More diverse ecumenical denominations included the “United Church of Canada”, a merger of Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists; and the American “United Church of Christ”, a merger of the Congregationalists, one faction of the Christian Church, the German Reformed Church, and the German Evangelical-Union Church. A major setback for the ecumenical movement occurred in 1991, when the Russian Orthodox archbishops withdrew their church from the WCC, because of the neo-pagan rituals performed at that year’s conference in Australia.  The world-wide ecumenical movement is today seeing a transition, as WCC churches in Africa, Asia, and Oceania are withdrawing from the WCC due to its advocacy of LGBTQ+ agenda.

Today traditional Protestant doctrine and practice is found mostly in independent congregations (i.e., non-denominational churches) and small denominations, such as the Wesleyans, the Congregational Christians, the Orthodox Presbyterians, confessional Lutherans, and confessional Calvinist denominations, as well as the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans as already mentioned.

XIII.  Bibliography – The best classic, updated, single-volume book in English on the history of the Christian churches is: Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert Handy, A History of the Christian Church, 4th edition (New York: Scribners, 1985).  The fourth edition is preferable to the first edition, as it features extensive revisions based on advances in scholarship, historical discoveries, and new interpretations.

XIV.  Copyright – All rights are reserved by the author, Martin R. Noland, for this version and all previous versions of this essay.  You, the reader, may print, retain, and share this essay in any form you desire, except you do not have permission to change, delete, or add anything in the text, and you may NOT sell or use this essay for profit.  This essay is intended to be shared for free on the Internet, and in other venues, in the interest of public education and the dissemination of the truth about its subject matter.

FIN

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

The Antichrist Rebellion: What Does This Mean? (sermon text and video)

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He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”

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Do you accept glory from one another but not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

To some who read the Scriptures but rejected Him in His own day Jesus said:

I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him….”

O men of this world—not the next

The Apostle John warned us:

“For everything in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–comes not from the Father but from the world….”

And the great 17th c. Lutheran theologian John Gerhard should indeed get our attention when he says..:

“The more diligently we exercise ourselves with God’s Word and contemplate it with true devotion, the more powerful the Spirit will become within us to subdue the flesh with its lusts….”

May that be us, for Jesus said that at the very end of the world, the love of many will grow cold.

Even as He spoke about how His chosen ones would be saved, He also rhetorically asked: “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?…”

The danger is real.

As one Scriptural commentator put it: “When people think about the end of the world, it often seems they are ready to believe any rumor that comes along.” (Kuske)

Sadly, perhaps that has something to do with why Christians tend to get all riled up with talk of the End Times, the Last Days, or, to get technical, “eschatology”.

Back in the Apostle’s Paul’s day, this certainly was the case in Thessalonica – people were saying that “that the day of the Lord” – that is, His second coming – “[had] already come”!

The interest has continued through the ages… Just fifteen years ago, the Left Behind books were all the rage in the evangelical Christian world, selling millions and millions of copies…

When I was in high school, hardly any of the kids my age at church wanted to do the Bible studies that were offered – unless, of course, we were talking about the book of Revelation…

Nothing seems to be quite as exciting as reading our Bible side by side with the news, and seeing God’s plans unveiled before our eyes in current events!

Speculation about how God’s warnings relate to current events and politics abound…

Though, what can we really know?

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Well, we certainly know—unlike the confused Thessalonians—that even if the “Last Days” have been upon us since after Jesus’ glorious Ascension into Heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts

…our Lord’s Second coming…the Final Judgement… has not occurred yet!

But what about one of these “End Times” characters mentioned in our text for today?: “The Man of Lawlessness.”

What do you think about him? And what do you think of this “great rebellion”—or great “apostasy”—that he is associated with?

Historically, the figure of the “Man of Lawlessness,” (sometimes also called the “Man of Sin”) has been associated with the “spirt of the Antichrist” spoken about in the book of I John.[i]

And the spirit of Antichrist has also been identified with the false Christs Jesus warned us about (Matthew 24:24) as well as, sometimes, the great beast and prostitute—otherwise known as “Babylon”—from Revelation 13:1-10 and chapters 17 and 18.[ii]

So just what are we speaking about here?

Is this Man of Lawlessness a great, charismatic political leader?

Or something else?

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Years ago, after the Fall of Communism, while the Western world was still celebrating, the then-preacher of the Lutheran Hour, Wallace Schultz, warned about how even though the tyrannical Beast of Revelation 13:1-10 had indeed been wounded as predicted, it would rise again.

World communism had been explicitly anti-Christian in its approach, but, though defeated, this persecuting Beast would not be denied in its thirst for the blood of the saints.

Is this what the Apostle Paul had in mind when speaking of the “Man of Lawlessness”? Well, Pastor Schultz did not say that…

Rather, he would go on to suggest, in line with many a Christian commentator down through the ages, that this Beast was a political animal that would work to destroy the church from without….

But you see, he would have help in those efforts from the second Beast mentioned in Revelation 13:11-18 (check it out)… a more religiously-oriented beast.

This is the beast who would be associated with the Man of Lawlessness… who clearly is an influential leader who presumes to take the place of Christ…

What does our passage from today say again?:

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness[a] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

One notes that “God’s temple” is also identified as the “body of Christ” or believers by the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 3:16, see also I Peter 2:5), and this is where the man of lawlessness works. This would suggest that the rebellion will take place in the church.

This man will, in some sense, proclaim himself to be God, “exalt[ing] himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped”.

That word “worshipped” can be translated as “honored” which would imply that this man also sets himself above other authorities that God has established, like parents or a nation’s leaders, for example (see Boniface the VIII)…

He, not they, is the one who counts… and what he says goes.

“My word.” He will say. “Not their word”. “Not His word.”

Or maybe, He won’t be so direct. If he’s smart, and he must be, he’ll just try to even things out a bit…:

“Scripture? Unfortunately, that ancient book isn’t clear at all… but I can help!”

Apostasy, or rebellion, indeed….

Well, God had warned us here, in this book by Paul,

That at one point he would be set loose….

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Now surely, one possible interpretation of the Man of Lawlessness is that that this man will claim, in some sense, both the realms of politics and religion for himself.

Perhaps he could start as a political leader than then end up exalt[ing] himself over everything that is called God or is honored…

That said, I submit that something a bit more subtle is going on here…

In the Middle Ages, the papacy of the Roman Catholic church begin to increasingly be associated with the Man of Lawlessness, or the Spirit of Antichrist.

In those days, this was not hard for many more sensitive believers to imagine, given the corruption found within the papacy as well as the claims of the Popes to be able to rule and judge the Kings of the earth.

These men and those supporting them said that Jesus’ talking about “two swords” in the upper room where the Last Supper was held meant that the Pope wielded both:

the sword of the word of God…

and the sword that earthly rulers used to promote justice and keep order in the world.

With the 16th c. church reformer Martin Luther, matters are taken to an altogether different level

…as the Roman church led by the Pope condemned the doctrine of justification that Luther taught, essentially insisting that Christians could not have confidence that they were Christians…

That is, those who were in good standing with God, at peace with Him….

And so… we read in one of the Lutheran Confessions:

“The marks of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the pope and his followers… [Paul] is not speaking about heathen kings, but about someone ruling in the Church” (TR 39).

Luther, for his part, said: “God’s temple is not the description for a pile of stones, but for the holy Christendom (I Co 3[:17], in which [the Antichrist] is to reign” (AE 40:232).

For Luther then, the primary element of the Man of Lawlessness, or Antichrist, was that he would undermine the Christian religion from within….

As Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” those who follow in his train “masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14,15).[iii]

If that sounds extreme I note that many more traditional Roman Catholics are now returning to this line of thought…

Even as thousands and maybe millions of Christians have died rather than render an offering to an idol…

Worship involving the Roman Catholic Church’s highest authorities has just recently taken place involving the statue of an Amazonian fertility goddess, Pachamama.

In plain view for all to see!

Offerings to, and prostration before, that statue or, let’s be blunt—idol—were also involved in that worship.[iv]

No apologies forthcoming.

Hell no.

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So what is going on?

Why would anyone want to seize the reigns and move the church away from the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Of course, even the observant world-ling can learn that from Christ have come untold blessings.

Contrary to ancient Greece, Rome, and others, we have known:

  • A good and salutary distinction between religious observance and worldly government
  • Increased concern for children, women, and the practice of slavery… and marriage involving a woman’s consent.
  • Laws against sexual slavery.
  • The changing of laws surrounding abortion, infanticide, and child abuse… even child sexual abuse.
  • From God’s impartiality, forbearance, and sanctification, we get worldly notions of equality, tolerance, and progress….
  • As one man puts it: “the positive forms of secularism and relgious liberty that have been enjoyed in America grew out of the specifics of Christianity…”

And, of course, there is much, much more!

Jesus does not only rescue us from sin, death, and the devil, clearly the most important things!

He also has begun to change the world!

As I like to say, “Thank God Jesus is God!”

So the church doesn’t need to cave to—must  not cave to—the Zeitgeist, or “Spirit of the Age”.

It needs to serve its Wonderful and Gracious Master – to repent and be bold about the faith!

It has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the Bible and the great impact that book has had…

And yet, we increasingly see this kind of wobbliness….

Why does the world and its Beast rage against the church?

Why, in part, because it often simply does what it does because the church invites it to do so!

Those in the church, those claiming to speak for the God who reveals Himself, pave the way for the world…

The Spirit of Antichrist is alive and well.

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In the last sermon I did here, I spoke about how people “do violence to the simple and humble words of truth and love spoken by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”

Yes, even in the Church.

They will downplay God’s law. Downplay God’s rule. Flee as far as they can from words like “Master” and “Servant”…. They will downplay the Gospel as well….

They might not even want to do this, but perhaps they have the overwhelming feeling that they experience more genuine love from people in the world than Christians….

While Christians might express “concern” for them, trying to assist them in how to live (code: “trying to control their behavior”) they know that those Christians

…however gentle they might try to be about this, don’t really “like” them for who they are.

Like the world does!

Look – I get it. No one wants to be suffocated by:

  • people who police you,
  • people whose highest goal seems to be to try to get you to do what they want,
  • and who seem obsessed with trying to use hard and soft power to affect your behavior

I do have children.

That said, there is a reason why the Bible not only says:

“a gentle tongue can break a bone,” and “Wounds from a friend can be trusted”

But also:

“…rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you….”

Because there are good ways to help deeply wounded Christians struggling in their faith, …and because there are certain ways those wounded Christians are to grow….

Can persons say they are Christians, when really, they are just legalists?

Meaning they insist

“we are saved by God’s law” or

“in order to be a Christian you must do what I say, or what we’ve decided”?

Yes. This was Luther’s fight.

Nevertheless…

Wave that kind of thought before the eyes of the world…. And see what happens.

The world, at war with Christ and intoxicated with their own notions of brotherhood, liberty, and equality, is eager to see all Christians as legalists and tyrants.

What business do you have questioning my belief in God?…

It doesn’t matter how kind, gentle, and tender they might be…those Christians are mean!

Should there be any question then, about how the Spirit of Antichrist will be working in the church today?

He won’t be concerned about God’s commands, but the world’s….

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What are the signs of Antichrist’s spirit today?

One should not, at least initially, expect Political Tyranny with an Iron Fist….

One should rather expect Soft Tyranny over the word of God…

Claiming the authority to interpret it and insist that where you put a period, God puts a comma….

Hence a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church critical of its actions explains how the recent Amazon Synod is being used as a tool to change the Church and create “a new kind of religion, even.”

  • Baptism? Not necessary for communion!
  • Evangelism? Well, the church is really about dialogue!
  • Statues of Amazonian fertility goddesses? This will build bridges![v]

To say anything more would be to be what? Some kind of colonialist right?

But none of this should surprise us.

For Rome has functioned this way for a very long time…

Note this relatively recent quote from a well-known “conservative” Roman Catholic apologist.

“It’s also possible for a person to die in God’s friendship even if the person didn’t consciously know God during life. Someone could, through no fault of their own, be unaware of God or not have ever been given sufficient evidence that they concluded God is true, through no fault of their own, and if they otherwise cooperated with his grace, then God won’t hold their ignorance of him against them. So, it’s possible for an atheist to be saved, it’s still through Jesus Christ and through God’s grace, but they can still die not knowing God and still be on their way to heaven as long as they otherwise cooperated with his grace.”[vi]

Do you see what is happening here?

Who really needs Jesus? A Creator even?

At least in the here and now? 

Sadly, the glory and honor of Christ’s full and free redemption, bought and paid for the world, is denied in a myriad of ways….

Clearly, Rome’s apologists today would really, really not like an old verse from “Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word”:

Lord, keep us in thy Word and work,
Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,
Who fain would tear from off thy throne
Christ Jesus, thy beloved Son.

As the Apostle John wrote, already in Paul’s day “many antichrists have come” (I John 2:18)….

It might make us uncomfortable too

…but realize that the church must always “be on the alert and prepare for the battle of its very existence”.

One has said:

“The history of Christianity records regular clashes between Christ and opposing godless cultures.”

Again, sadly, Christ’s Church, His shameful bride, is often itself a cause and catalyst of the godlessness in the cultures themselves.

We need to repent.

And yet, we don’t need to be afraid. “We live with the comfort that, in the end, Christ and His followers will be victorious.”

What will defeat Satan and the Spirit of Antichrist?

Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.

Christ alone.

He has been crucified and risen for you – go in that peace and confidence!

For as Christ crushes Satan’s head…

So does His church…

Amen

 

 

[i] No well-known commentator from church history that I am aware of has rejected the association of the “Man of Lawlessness” with the Antichrist the Apostle John says is coming.

[ii] Interestingly, some of the earliest Church Fathers believed the Antichrist would be a successor to the Roman Empire (Lutheran Study Bible).

[iii] Is this true today? The 20th c. theologian Werner Elert said (in Last Things, 1974, CPH) that

“The church was often decimated by external persecutions; but these never seriously threatened its existence. The satanic character of that last great peril consists, rather, in a development within the church, namely, the proclamation that a human being has God’s dominion in the human sphere, in the claim that a human being has the presence of Christ.”

I am guessing that Elert here was concerned not that pastors in God’s church might fulfill their callings in accordance with God’s will, binding and loosing sins as Christ instructs – but rather that they would seize the reigns and move the church away from the saving Gospel….

[iv] First in the Vatican gardens and then later in a Vatican church. See this article for more on this incident: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2019/liberalism-and-idolatry-go-hand-in-hand

A clip:

“St. Athanasius, writing in his History of the Arians, a text which Newman painstakingly edited, even takes the introduction of idols into churches in the fourth-century Egyptian persecution to be the worst possible wickedness: ‘When was ever such iniquity heard of? when was such an evil deed ever perpetrated, even in times of persecution? They were heathens who persecuted formerly; but they did not bring their idols into the Churches. … This is a new piece of iniquity. It is not simply persecution, but more than persecution, it is a prelude and preparation for the coming of Antichrist.’”

From the Catholic News Agency:

Vatican spokesmen have said that [the statures] represent “life,” and are not religious symbols, but some journalists and commentators have raised questions about the origins of the symbols, and whether they were religious symbols of Amazonian indigenous groups.

Paolo Ruffini, head of the Vatican’s communications office, said last week that “fundamentally, it represents life. And enough. I believe to try and see pagan symbols or to see… evil, it is not,” he said, adding that “it represents life through a woman.”

He equated the image to that of a tree, saying “a tree is a sacred symbol.”

[v] “Pope Francis identifies the controversial statues used in the Synod as “Pachamama,” the Incan fertility goddess.” https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/full-transcript-of-the-popes-comments-on-pagan-pachamama-statues

[vi] James Akin – not Pope Francis – around 2008. As one commenting on this comment said: “This is justification by works alone, without faith, and contrary to Scripture.”  An excellent case can be made that this kind of *explicit* teaching is now 56 years old, and the developments leading up to that certainly took place long before this…

 

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

What Milo Tells us About Ourselves

 

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By Pastor Mark Brown

Our host apologetically tweeted something about Milo Yiannopoulos to the effect that “we know you can’t stand the guy, but…”.* I replied, “They couldn’t stand him because his fool act personified everything that they both found attractive and repellent about themselves. And it forced you to realize, at least intuitively, that you can’t separate those parts. And so they’d have to choose.” And then he asked me for a quick article expanding on that. I’m not sure it is really possible because it is more intuition, and intuition that you might not share. Of course that not sharing I would simply say is refusing to make the choice in front of you. But banishing the fool doesn’t get rid of the power of his comedy.

But this is a quick attempt anyway. And I’m cribbing a bunch from the most interesting (and courageous) scholar of the last decade, Rachel Fulton Brown. If you start reading her posts, or books, or watching the few videos of her lectures you can find the day gone faster than you imagine. This post is a good entry, and one I’m going to borrow from. Milo in his person exhibits everything that our society believes is good. Milo in many ways is exactly what we find attractive, or at least are told to find attractive.

“How else should MILO appear? Half-Greek, half-English, half-Catholic, half-Jewish, gay, white and married to a black man, MILO is more than just an existential threat to the SJW outrage machine. He is symbology incarnate, a story come to life.” Also, Milo’s well known consumerism captured so well in the picture above, reminding us of the evangelical pastoral sneakers micro-who-ha-ha.

Milo checks off all the identitarian boxes that we like to see in ourselves. See how enlightened and noble we are. See how fine a taste we have. And that taste isn’t flashy, like driving a red lambo, or installing a gold-plated toilet. It is jeans, sneakers, t-shirt, jacket and aviators. Everyman’s wardrobe. And it all looks gorgeous on a man who is himself gorgeous. But all of this notice is external, a pose, a mask, a role, a story we tell ourselves about our nobility.

All of this is married though to his internal things. Milo professes to be a Roman Catholic. He even professes to be a very bad one, which someone in a homosexual marriage would have to be. This is the necessity of repentance. He refuses to say all that he is, is good, but says it must come down. It must be made less. Milo acknowledges the role of “grooming” in homosexual culture. When drag queen story hour, books about the prost-i-tot of the week, prostituted by parents who want to give their 7 year olds puberty blocks and cut off their privates are the tops in culture, Milo says I’m the natural outcome of this. Along with this comes Milo’s embrace of Donald Trump. You can’t have exhibitionist culture without allowing the Hugh Hefner presidency. He would get his big start with “gamergate” which was simply exhibitionism and free speech mostly for incels who want their big-boob’ed anime on the PS4. You can’t have free speech for me and not for thee. Milo called us on this. The Catholic profession is the greatest sin, but the second biggest one, maybe more immediate, is Milo’s knowing admission that everything he represents, rests on a healthy society of men and women married raising children. The transgressive, like the camp, is always parasitic on the good, the straight.

And so we have to choose. If we choose the external Milo, vice must give its tribute to virtue. External Milo cannot be at the helm of society. He can only exist on the edges. If you insist on putting the transgressive in the drivers seat, the society that Milo exists in will not last long. Col. Jessup was right, “you need me on that wall.” But Milo the fool also has a word to Christians currently embracing exile porn, or maybe reveling in the Benedict Option freedom saying “not my monkey, not my circus”. Correct, it is not yours. And maybe you won’t be able to take back the culture. Maybe the cult is not strong enough. But you surely won’t do it by refusing to build the tower. You won’t do it by burying your talent. And c’mon, get real. Are you going to lose to a bunch of transgressive poseurs like Milo? Be a man. Build it.

FIN

 

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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Is the Law Primarily Like Thor’s Shock Collar?

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In the movie Thor: Ragnarok, a kind of “shock collar” is applied to the movie’s hero, Thor, so that he can be kept in line.

He gets shocked a total of seven times. You can be entertained by watching them all here:

Pastor George Borghardt maintains that the 3rd use of the law, commonly thought of as the law as a guide for the Christian, is like Thor’s collar.

Well, in truth he is talking about his own Thor! – his Jack Russel terrier. Here is how he introduces the video below:

“The Law is good…when it’s used lawfully. But it’s unable to empower anyone to do good works. It works through threat, coercion, punishment, and force to make us behave because it’s unable to work in any other way. Like Thor’s shock collar that compels him to be an obedient dog. Only the Gospel enlivens and empower the faithful to *freely* keep God’s Law.”

In sum, Pastor Borghardt appears to be saying that the 3rd use of the law is really just the 1st use of the law, that is the law as a curb, for Christians. That is, the law curbing our sinful flesh, our sinful nature.

When the 3rd use of the law is applied, it definitely can and will do that. But that is not the only thing that we should think about here.

The Christian, after all, unlike sinful man who needs the first use of the law, also has a new, inner man. Pastor Borghardt, of course, would not deny this, even as he is eager to drive home the point that the concrete Christian can only be internally motivated to do good because of the Gospel alone…

This is most certainly true, even if I would insist that more still needs to be said (which is, in fact, why the article on the 3rd use of the law exists!)

Here is what I hope is a helpful back-and-forth between the good pastor and myself:

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Nathan:

“Like Thor’s shock collar that compels him to be an obedient dog.” That is true for us insofar as we are sinners. That was not, however, the way God’s commandments were intended to work on us. Adam and Eve, Luther says, felt no coercion, no threat. Insofar as we are new persons in Christ, this is true of us as well.

Pastor Borghardt:

Right! At the resurrection, no more compelling Law! It was a gift in the Garden. I also believe that the Lord was giving the Law as gift at Sinai. “I brought you out of Egypt, you won’t have any other gods but me.” We should have been like, “Thank God, you alone are our God.” But, we aren’t that way in this life and so, as the SD says, we need the instructions, threats, admonitions, and punishments of the Law to kill our Old Adam so that we can rise to live before God for others. Thanks for watching!

Nathan:

“we aren’t that way in this life and so…” Well, we do begin to be that way in this life by His grace, and this can increasingly become a controlling factor in our life. Even as we never have security in ourselves (only in reliance on Him!) [and] our desires, thoughts, words, and deeds always remain tainted by sin, sin which is covered by the blood of Christ.

Pastor Borghardt:

When I take the shock collar out, Thor runs over and puts his neck down so that I can put his collar on. He wants to please me. It’s still a shock collar… Get better. Be better. It’s okay that you like the collar. It’s still a shock collar. That’s the language of the SD.

Nathan:

Pastor Borghardt, Thank you for the conversation and the fun and creative answer. It is an important conversation!

I think it is even better when the Holy Spirit convicts us and prompts us to use the law to shock one’s self as necessary (even the wisest of men, per Proverbs, are pleased to be corrected, and will even thank you for it). Usually though, for the redeemed, it doesn’t make sense to describe the law primarily for its shock collar capacities, but as a treasured crown, as instruction, to bind to our heads.

Given the believer, and the particular context and circumstances that we are speaking of, the level of shock may vary! However wretched I feel myself to be for all of the wicked desire within (not to mention the thoughts, words and deeds that flow from this) why should I be greatly shocked when Jesus removes all my sin, and I know I can live in thankfulness for this?

In the FC, it says that “if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit… they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction…” The Formula speaks hypothetically here, and hence the concrete Christian – and not just our old Adam or outer man – will ever be in need of instruction in this life (all of this was not just downloaded to us in our baptism!), for even our Lord learned and grew in wisdom. And unlike Jesus, since sin always remains for us — evidenced by our own deaths! — all of this will occasionally shock us and make us uncomfortable as well….

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I’m not convinced by any means that Pastor Borghardt and myself are at odds here, even if we are both choosing to emphasize different parts of the Book of Concord. 

After all, his Thor, because he is loved, wants to love and serve him!

Just like we who are Christians internally want to embrace God’s eternal law! Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20).

Eager to see if the [I think helpful] conversation will continue, either on You Tube, here, or beyond!

[UPDATE: Pastor Borghardt commented again — I’ll refrain from sharing my email comments to him on the You Tube comments. Persons wanting to learn more about my concerns about the third use of the law in the LC-MS can see my others posts, but the most important thing I could share would be this message from my pastor, which, thanks be to God, is persistently one of my more popular posts]

FIN

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Uncategorized