August 2008


This description of the “Interfaith (worship?) service” would be positively hilarious if it weren’t so sad. From M.Z. Hemingway at NRO:

Interfaith worship services usually follow a Judeo-Christian liturgy but with the insertion of other Scriptures and clergy. So instead of a procession of clergy behind, say, a crucifix, the clergy were led by four Native Americans beating drums.

Rather than a reading from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament, and a Gospel — as you would hear in a liturgical Christian service — there were readings from the Torah, the Sutra Nipata, the Koran, and more from the Old Testament. No New Testament. It is unsurprising that no reading contained a claim of exclusivity or, for that matter, any claim that adherents of a different religion would disagree with. Rather than using proper names to refer to prophets or deities, clergy tend to overload on pronouns and non-descript names. “Lord,” rather than “Jesus.” “The God of Leviticus” becomes “Holy One of Blessing.”

Huge screens displayed the gathering’s logo — vaguely reminiscent of Luther’s Rose. The multilayered mandala incorporated sunbursts and geometric shapes. Throughout the liturgy, the layers were unpeeled to show a candle, a dove, the Statue of Liberty, and the earth.

Now, I am not going to take this opportunity to bash Democrats (surprising, I know) most especially because Republicans can be just as ridiculous in trying to contrive ways to mix faith and politics.

But, look at what a farce this is. This is what being “spiritual” has come to mean in America in 2008.

It’s like a Frankenstein Monster of a worship service. If only we put all these pieces together, then we will create new life. But, just like Frankenstein, we end up creating a monster.

I can just hear Screwtape cackling with excitement over such a festival.

To add more to it, in the middle of the “service,” several protesters stood up and shouted: “Obama supports the murder of children by abortion.” They were all soundly booed and escorted out by police.

What an abomination!

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Cranach has linked to a very interesting article in “Modern Reformation” about “home churches.” He includes the following excerpt:

In a fairly recent study, Willow Creek-a pioneer megachurch-discovered that its most active and mature members are the most likely to be dissatisfied with their own personal growth and the level of teaching and worship that they are receiving. From this, the leadership concluded that as people mature in their faith, they need the church less. After all, the main purpose of the church is to provide a platform for ministry and service opportunities to individuals rather than a means of grace. As people grow, therefore, they need the church less. We need to help believers to become “self-feeders,” the study concluded.

How far can this trajectory take us? Evangelical marketer George Barna gives us a good indication. Like the recent Willow Creek study, Barna concludes that what individual believers do on their own is more important than what the church does for them. Barna, however, takes Finney’s legacy to the next logical step. A leading marketing consultant to megachurches as well as the Disney Corporation, he has recently gone so far as to suggest that the days of the institutional church are over. Barna celebrates a rising demographic of what he calls “Revolutionaries”-”millions of believers” who “have moved beyond the established church and chosen to be the church instead.” Since “being the church” is a matter of individual choice and effort, all people need are resources for their own work of personal and social transformation. “Based on our research,” Barna relates, “I have projected that by the year 2010, 10 to 20 percent of Americans will derive all their spiritual input (and output) through the Internet.” Who needs the church when you have an iPod? Like any service provider, the church needs to figure out what business it’s in, says Barna:

“Ours is not the business of organized religion, corporate worship, or Bible teaching. If we dedicate ourselves to such a business we will be left by the wayside as the culture moves forward. Those are fragments of a larger purpose to which we have been called by God’s Word. We are in the business of life transformation.”

Of course, Barna does not believe that Christians should abandon all religious practices, but the only ones he still thinks are essential are those that can be done by individuals in private, or at most in families or informal public gatherings. But by eliminating the public means of grace, Barna (like Willow Creek) directs us away from God’s lavish feast to a self-serve buffet.

Wow! There was certainly a time when Christians had to gather in small groups, inside their homes for private services. This came out of necessity because public worship had been banned. This came in a time when confessing Christ as Lord meant you were likely to end up on a burning cross in a Roman-constructed arena.

Now, apparently Christians don’t want to be bothered with all the hassles that come with public worship. We just want to be left alone to do it ourselves . . . and eventually to die by ourselves . . . for all eternity.

This passage was also revealing:

“In just a few years,” Barna predicts, “we will see that millions of people will never travel physically to a church, but will instead roam the Internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences.” (7) After all, he adds, the heart of Jesus’ ministry was “the development of people’s character.” (8) “If we rise to the challenge,” says Barna, America will witness a “moral resurgence,” new leadership, and the Christian message “will regain respect” in our culture. (9) Intimate worship, says Barna, does “not require a ‘worship service,'” just a personal commitment to the Bible, prayer, and discipleship. (10) His book concludes with the warning of the last judgment: “What report of your commitment to practical, holy, life-transforming service will you be able to give Him?” (11) The Revolutionaries have found that in order to pursue an authentic faith they had to abandon the church. (12)

“Roaming the internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences.” I have no doubt that what Barna predicts will come to pass. But, “roaming the internet” will not be able to replace Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or the Word. Of course, if you think the heart of Christ ministry was “development of people’s character,”I guess you would think this sort of Church of Self sounds great.

Here is some Table Talk from Dr. Luther concerning the subject of Church Fathers:

When God’s Word is by the Fathers expounded, construed, and glossed, then, in my judgment, it is even as when one strains milk through a coal-sack, which must needs spoil and make the milk black; God’s Word of itself is pure, clean, bright and clear; but, through the doctrines, books, and writings of the Fathers, it is darkened, falsified, and spoiled.

Obviously, Luther took a dim view of the writings of the Church Fathers. This is understandable given the role Church Tradition had played (still plays?) up to his time.

Is it useful or practical to read these Church Fathers today? What is the difference between reading one of them and reading, say, C.S. Lewis? What about Augustine? If there is a Church Father we Lutherans tend to have a soft spot for, it is Augustine. It is easy to see why beyond just Luther’s belonging to an Augustinian Order. Augustine’s two cities and Luther’s two kingdoms provide one chief example.

What are the thoughts of the high powered theologians around Planet Augsburg?

Did anyone see Rick Warren’s interviews with the Presidential candidates? The transcript is here if you are interested.

The forum was revealing on many counts:

The candidates: In the coming weeks, I think we will find that McCain did himself a lot of good with the so-called “evangelical” portion of the conservative base. Both candidates looked and sounded good, but I think McCain demonstrated a gravitas that far outweighed Obama. There was a definite contrast. Compare their answers to Pastor Rick’s question about the “most gut-wrenching decision you have ever had to make:”

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think the opposition to the war in Iraq was as tough a decision as I’ve had to make. Not only because there were political consequences, but also because Saddam Hussein was a real bad person, and there was no doubt that he meant America ill. But I was firmly convinced at the time that we did not have strong evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and there were a lot of questions that, as I spoke to experts, kept on coming up. Do we know how the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds are going to get along in a post-Saddam situation? What’s our assessment as to how this will affect the battle against terrorists like al Qaeda? Have we finished the job in Afghanistan?
So I agonized over that. And I think that questions of war and peace generally are so profound. You know, when you meet the troops, they’re 19, 20, 21-year-old kids, and you’re putting them into harm’s way. There is a solemn obligation that you do everything you can to get that decision right. And now, as the war went forward, there are difficult decisions about how long do you keep on funding the war, if you strongly believe that it’s not in America’s national interest. At the same time, you don’t want to have troops who are out there without the equipment they need.
So all those questions surrounding the war have been very difficult for me.

Nevermind that Barack Obama never had to cast a vote against the Iraq war in the Illinois State Senate. Compare this McCain’s answer:

MCCAIN: It was long ago, and far away, in a prison camp in North Vietnam. My father was a high-ranking admiral. The Vietnamese came and said that I could leave prison early. And we had a code of conduct. It said you only leave by order of capture. I also had a dear and beloved friend, who was from California, named Ebb Alvarez, who had been shot down before me. But I wasn’t in good physical shape. In fact, I was in rather bad physical shape. So I said no. Now, in interest of full disclosure, I’m happy I didn’t know the war was going to last for another three years or so.
But I said no, and I’ll never forget sitting in my last answer, and the high-ranking officer offered it, slammed the door and the interrogator said, “Go back to your cell. It’s going to be very tough on you now.” And it was. But not only the toughest decision I ever made, but I am most happy about that decision, than any decision I’ve ever made in my life. (APPLAUSE).

To his credit, Pastor Rick did ask one question about that thorny subject called abortion: “Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?”

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade. But let me just speak more generally about the issue of abortion, because this is something obviously the country wrestles with. One thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue. And so I think anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue, I think, is not paying attention. So that would be point number one.
But point number two, I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade, and I come to that conclusion not because I’m pro-abortion, but because, ultimately, I don’t think women make these decisions casually. I think they — they wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or their spouses or their doctors or their family members. And so, for me, the goal right now should be — and this is where I think we can find common ground. And by the way, I’ve now inserted this into the Democratic party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions? The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down and that is something we have to address.

Here is McCain:

MCCAIN: At the moment of conception. (APPLAUSE). I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate. And as president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president. And this presidency will have pro-life policies. That’s my commitment. That’s my commitment to you.

Compared with Obama’s hemming and hawing, that is an outstanding answer. It is interesting that Obama talks about reducing the number of abortions, yet has opposed every effort to do so. Indeed, he has promised to reverse the Bush administration’s moratorium on federally funded abortions once he takes office. How will that reduce the number of abortions?

Finally, let’s talk about Pastor Rick for little bit. Do you think this was an appropriate thing for him to do as a pastor?

How the abortion issue was handled was revealing. I guess I should be thankful it was brought up at all, but isn’t there something unsettling with the fact that it was treated as just another issue, especially by this reknowned “evangelical pastor.” Obama’s equivocation on this point could be forgiven or overlooked if one agreed with his position on every other point? Right? He even noted how many abortions there have been since Roe v. Wade (though I think he underreported it a bit).

George Will wrote a column a while back in which he noted that we can no longer call abortion, the most common medical procedure, murder. This offended a lot of pro-lifers, but I wonder if he is right.

Have we lost our sense of outrage over abortion? Even in the pro-life community, abortion seems to have become one more of many “life issues.” If we really believe abortion to be murder, why aren’t we doing more about it? Maybe, the truth is that we no longer think it is murder and that is why accept so many accommodations with it. It is just another issue, to be balanced with all the others.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to suggest that abortion is not murder. Instead, I am questioning our commitment to that proposition and its consequences.

If that is so, what more can we do?

“You cannot have the true and loving God without the bloody death of Christ. God will not love you without the gruesome spectacle of His Son’s corpse. God cannot accept you except through the naked, bloody, dead Savior on Golgotha. That is the theology of the cross.” –Klemet Preus

This quote by Pastor Klemet Preus reminds me of what the evangelistic mission of the Church is: to preach Christ crucified for sinners.  It is very tempting for Christians to present extra-biblical incentives to unbelievers as to why they should become Christians or come to church.  “Who wants to hear about a bloody execution?  Who wants to be told how sinful they are?”  We reason ourselves out of proclaiming the full “bloody” Gospel because we don’t think it will be appealing to those who are outside of the faith. 

Rather, we try to bait-and-switch.  We provide incentives and reasons apart from the Cross in order to bring people in, all the while justifying doing it by telling ourselves that we’ll give them the Gospel later–we’ll tell them about the Lamb of God, sacrificed to pay for our sins later.

But do we? 

We tell people that the Church can give them the power to be more confident in life, more purpose driven, more successful, and happier–but at what point do we switch to showing them their sins and need for a savior?  Where does that transition take place?

The sad reality is that in churches where material things or emotional highs are the focus of preaching and outreach, the Gospel is largely taken for granted or forgotten. 

The unfortunate thing about false evangelism methods is that everyone is guilty of doing them.  Everyone at some time or another has presented the treasure of the Church as being something other than the Gospel of Christ.  Whether it be entertaining worship, interpersonal fellowship, beautiful liturgy, or rich history, when we put forth anything other than the bloody corpse of Christ as being our highest valued possession, we are being deceitful–we are lying. 

How terrible is it that we do not trust God to do what He has promised to do when His Word is preached?

How terrible is it that we are embarrassed by or devalue the crucifixion of our Lord so that we do not share it with other people? 

It is indeed terrible and damnable before God that we would replace the message of how He has freely reconciled Himself to us with a message of our own making. 

But, we take heart!–For these great sins against our Lord Jesus have been forgiven in the very body that we would withhold sharing with others.  His body–His beaten, bloody, and sinless body–is where our very sin of being ashamed of it is placed and forgiven.  The “naked, bloody, dead Savior on Golgotha” is where our unrighteousness has been atoned for and forgotten by our loving God. 

And for that free gift, we give thanks.

Just stumbled onto the website: stuffwhitepeoplelike.com. I know that I am a bit late, but this is pretty hilarious! My favorite so far is #2 Religions that their parents don’t belong to:

White people will often say they are “spiritual” but not religious. Which usually means that they will believe any religion that doesn’t involve Jesus.

Popular choices include Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah and, to a lesser extent, Scientology. A few even dip into Islam, but it’s much more rare since you have to give stuff up and actually go to Mosque.

Mostly they are into religion that fits really well into their homes or wardrobe and doesn’t require them to do very much.

Outstanding. The site is younger than Planet Augsburg and this guy has a book deal already (#92 on the list by the way)!

Your best life now!

Let’s say your pastor is the psycho pastor from Hell:

Your pastor shows up to the service riding an elephant up the aisle. He begins the service by leading the creed: “I’m smart, I’m beautiful, I’m rich, I want it all, and I deserve it!” Perhaps Metallica makes a guest appearance during the service. The children put on a professionally-produced skit portraying Jesus as a black girl living in a 21st century housing project. A prayer begins with a dramatic and breathy “oh Jesus, beautiful wonderful Jesus, brother sister Jesus…” The sermon, which lasts for 45 minutes, is based on a single verse misquoted from The Message Bible paraphrase, and seems to have something to do with God being the God of all religions and how Christians are sent to lead the charge for world peace; next week we begin the series of Christian sex. Or maybe the sermon exhorts us to live more moral lives to be pleasing to God. The offering is accompanied by trained dogs jumping through fire hoops. The benediction is led by a set of cheerleaders chanting “G! O! D! He’s For Me!” and whips the congregation into a post-Biblical frenzy.

Now drop him into a good liturgical service.

He begins the service with the words of John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” He goes on to absolve the congregation of its sins. This liturgist and the congregation sing the words of a psalm, ending with a doxology to the trinity. The service includes substantial readings over which the pastor has no choice, being dictated by the lectionary and including old testament, epistle, and gospel, read from a sound translation. The hymns, rather than short fluffy phrases repeated over and over, are theological tomes about what Christ has done to save us undeserving men. The prayers are either dictated word for word or else fill-in-the-blanks style, taken from scripture. Communion is likely, with the words unchangeable and coming straight from the Bible. Even to the benediction, his liturgy is scriptural.

When the liturgy is ignored, the pastor is free to craft a complete service’s worth of false teaching and man centered theology, ignoring or misusing the person and actions of Jesus. In the context of the liturgy, the pastor’s only latitude comes in the circumscribed timeslot of the sermon. The rest of the service is dictated in writings and actions going back to the days of the apostles – that is, you have 20 minutes of garbage sandwiched within 40 minutes of word, sacrament and doctrine from the scriptures. The liturgy inoculates us to bad preaching and protects us from false doctrine. Like the keel of a sailboat, by sinking deeply into the waters of the historic church it stabilizes our services and keeps them pointing in the right direction – at Christ.

A blessing indeed.

Thanks to Rod Rosenbladt of White Horse Inn who made a throwaway comment about this in a recent program.

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