Sunday, October 30, 2016

What Is the Big Deal about the Reformation and Who Was Martin Luther, Really?...

Today is Reformation Sunday, a day that may not mean much to most people,  especially non-Lutherans.  In fact today is the 499th anniversary of the day in which Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, touching off a controversy with the Roman Catholic church that could have cost him his life and, in fact, still exists today.  The church door at Wittenberg was much like Twitter or Facebook today, a place to post messages when you wanted to start a conversation germane to theology and politics.

Luther questioned many doctrinal practices that had evolved in the Roman Catholic church that, upon deep and serious study, he found were contrary to the teachings of Holy Scripture (The Bible).

Luther, a monk in the Augustinian order of Roman C
atholic monks was so serious about his faith and devotion to Christ that, when attending Confession, he had a hard time finishing for fear of forgetting a specific sin he might have committed.  Augustinian priests would joke that they dreaded hearing Luther's confession because he would repeatedly get up to leave but then quickly return to the confessional booth, having remembered yet another specific sin.  This reflected a deep torment that Luther felt under Roman Catholic doctrine.  "If I must do good works and pay penitence to be saved, how much is enough?!"

The Roman church (as Luther would later, somewhat derisively, call the Roman Catholic Church) taught that salvation came not just through  faith in Jesus Christ as clearly taught by Paul in Romans 3:19-28 but, rather through a combination of works and faith.  Many of these necessary works were ritualistic.  The Roman church,  in this context taught that the Rite of Confession was a work of penitence necessary for salvation rather than a comfort to sinners, as the bible teaches.

Luther's differences with the Roman church centered around not only that church's false teachings about the role of works versus faith in salvation (many of which persist to this day) but also the root cause of many of those false teachings, specifically they were a lever to perpetuate the political power that the Roman church exacted on the Kingdoms of Europe that were collectively, at the time, called The Holy Roman Empire.   Exploited the sins of the masses enriched the church with "indulgences", kind of a tax on sin extracted from the masses and the power of perceived salvation or damnation held sway of the kings and princes of Europe in the Dark Ages.

After posting his 95 Theses, Dr. Luther was called before the ruling priests and bishops at the Diet of Worms and told that he must recant them or face excommunication and possible death.   His response was eloquent, sure and bold.   He denounced the authority of priests and bishops to judge men and their worthiness for salvation,  just as Jesus Christ had denounced the "holy" rule of the pharisees 1,400 years earlier.

The key excerpt from Dr. Luthers response at Worms is this:

"Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen"

What Christians and the Christian-curious should understand about Reformation Sunday might include the following:

  • Reformation Sunday is not really about Martin Luther but about Jesus Christ.  Luther was one of many reformers active during The Enlightenment who railed again the Roman church's false and corrupt teachings.  He is separated from those in that he survived being burned at the stake through the expedient of political connections. 
  • Reformation Sunday is about Jesus Christ because we are saved by faith in the resurrected Christ not by works or alms to a political and authoritarian church.  And it is about Christ himself because Christ is God and died on the cross that we may be saved by faith in Him!
  • In the era preceding Luther, for hundreds of years (the Dark Ages) the Holy Roman Empire vested its power over a population that was largely illiterate.  They could not read scripture for themselves, so it was interpreted for them by priests and bishops who had a vested interested in perpetuating their power and rule over the people, directly and through monarchs and nobles who  acquiesced consistently to the Roman church.  
  • Therefore, Luther, as an Augustinian Roman Catholic monk was a reader and studier of scripture.  But, being a seeker of truth, saw the truth of salvation by faith alone throughout the Old and New Testaments, and, perhaps, most pointedly in the writings of St. Paul.  Such as today's sermon text linked above and here (Sermons post a few days after Sunday). 
  • Luther is recognized for his reformation work not just by the Lutheran church but also by virtually all Protestant denominations, with whom, incidentally, he differed as sharply with as he did with the Roman church, primarily on issues of faith and works with regard to salvation.  
  • Luther did not seek to leave the Roman church.  He sought to reform it.   It was his sincere notion that his 95 theses would open a welcomed debate about the true scriptural meaning of salvation in Christ and the that much if not all of Roman clergy would share in his joy and feeling of liberation when he read and finally understood Paul's writings in Romans 3: 19-28. 
  • Once he was excommunicated, Luther sought to name his new church the German Christian or German Catholic Church.   "Lutheran" was actually a derogatory term at the time.
  • While the Roman Catholic church has softened its doctrinal positions on many of the issues raised by Luther, many still exist.  Most particularly,  Roman Catholics are still burdened with a false and works-righteous view of salvation, a critical departure from scripture that is manifest in their communion doctrine, the monastic system and compulsory celibacy in the priesthood (a slippery slope to many problems in the Roman church still today). 
  • Finally, as Lutherans, we are still excommunicated from the Roman church.  The proclamation of excommunication levied by Dr. Luther at the Diet of Worms has never been rescinded. Although we read that, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the reformation next year, a statue honoring Martin Luther will be erected in Rome in a square named after Dr. Luther. 

Next year will an exciting one for Lutherans as we celebrated 500 years since the Reformation.  We hope you will join us in learning about Martin Luther and, more importantly, what Jesus really means to us humans.  How we are already saved by him simply by believing in him, irrespective of what we do.  

Scripture Alone!  Grace Alone! Faith Alone!


-=Doug Hansen

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Presidential Election Conundrum for Christians, Is There One?

I have been thinking for a long time about what my Christian faith should lead me to do in this  "election of deplorables".  After all, both candidates seem so greedy and corrupt each in their own way.  The Donald, he of vain big hair and odious self-centered vulgarness has wantonly built towers of profit up and over "the little guy", using eminent domain law to force homeowners to sell in order to make way for his massive constructs of opulence, many of which now block vistas to the rivers for long incumbent New York apartment dwellers, "little guys".

And... just recently we are treated to "locker room talk" that would make most guys I know say, "dude, really?", even in the locker room or wherever.

And on the other hand we have an altruistically oriented candidate who claims to be an active "social gospel Methodist", and says that she "prays daily 'for discernment, for wisdom, for strength, for courage … ”.   (Religion News, 1/19/16).  

A women active in the church, who prays daily, carries a bible in her purse always (ibid) and whose husband was also an active churchgoer during his presidency (unlike our current president).  Despite their naked political ambition and sexual assault enabling, this First Couple seems so well meaning when it comes to the well-being of our citizenry, while Mr. Trump stays high level, promises jobs and a conservative supreme court. 

Yet, the same article quoted immediately above, while largely favorable to Ms. Clinton quotes her in saying what I view as a non-starter as a Christian voter.  Ms. Clinton is on record as saying that churches must knuckle under to her politically correct views on abortion and gay marriage.    We won't rehash the confessional position of my church (LCMS) and other biblically confessional churches versus the theologically liberal protestant churches that are little more than secular charitable foundations at this point.

Or maybe will.  Just a little bit.

Scripture virtually screams to confessional Christians on these issues.  Sadly, we cannot find any evidence in scripture that "God is trying something new" with regard to homosexuality, transexualism and the rest.   To believe that these behaviors and abortion are not sinful is to risk eternal damnation.  And what kind of Christian is willing to walk that tight rope, let alone encourage their parishioners too?   The gist is that turning sin into not sin kills consciousness of sin and therefore kill repentance and therefore risks damning the soul.

Of course many of these "reform" liberal churches such as social gospel Methodist don't even preach on heaven and hell anymore.  Why not?  Scripture hasn't changed.  Oh right.  Scripture for them merely "contains" the Word of God and therefore.... well you get the gist.

Lutheran writerr and Bonhoeffer* scholar Eric Metaxas has written several articles on this topic, today in the Wall Street Journal (you must subscribe to read, unless you Google it) as well as this article in the Christian Post.  In both articles, Mr. Metaxas focuses mostly on what Hillary  will do to the Supreme Court as president and how appointing liberal judges will banish forever the constitutionalist vision of the Founders, especially concerning the true meaning of the first amendment (you know, the one about religious freedom).   While I am sure he is thinking of the the sharpest quote Hillary has had for confessional and Roman Catholic Christians ("churches must toe the line on abortion and gay marriage").  I am surprised that he mentions it only implicitly vis a vis the constitutional/supreme court implications of a Hillary presidency.

Issues etc.,  a popular confessional Lutheran radio network, has leaned into the Christian voting issue recently.   In a recent broadcast and still posted radio segment it is mentioned "Christians don't just vote for ourselves, we vote for the good of the republic, vis a vis Christian values."  Donald Trump has promised to appoint originalist constitutional judges, which should preserve the core values of the Founders and, as Mr. Metaxas says, "at least back us up five feet from the cliff" of no return, constitutionally.  Mr. Metaxas does not see Mr. Trump as a saver of the Republic but mostly a stop-gap in this regard.

What Mr. Metaxas fails to do, in either of his articles (and this is not necessarily a criticism because I am sure he would agree) is point out the most odious manifestation of Hillary's liberal theological and political mandate,  putting churches under the government with regard to abortion, gay marriage and, most probably tax exempt status.  He does cite the Oregon case of the Christian bakers who were put out of business by the state for acting on their Christian conscience for refusing to serve at a lesbian wedding.

So while Mr. Metaxas is broader in his assessment of the danger of a Clinton return to the White House for confessional Christians, I think Ms. Clinton has laid out her own sharp mandate which forces our hand.  Not voting is a vote for her.  And while we can't realistically expect a return to the more deeply Christian principles of past years in our Republic, we can put the odious sinner among us who will keep our churches relatively free of the kind of government restraint we now see in the state churches of secular Europe.

Mr. Metaxas understands that what makes our republic great for Christians is that in it, we have the freedom to be Christians.  This must stand.   Hillary is not a confessional Christian but rather a social gospelist and therefore does not understand that.  She feels that personal sexual expression must take precedence over "biblical dogma" around things like abortion and gay marriage.  She chooses Freud over Jesus in that regard and would likely force our churches to do so as well, by dint of her Supreme Court picks if not executive mandate, based on her past statements irrespective of aging Justices.

I would rather have a repentant vulgarian, self aggrandizing groping womanizer in the white house than an avowed enemy of confessional Christianity.    Indeed, we have had many sinners in the White House, 44 to be exact.  I prefer one who publicly displays at least a modicum of repentance rather than continuing to lie, cover up and generally prevaricate around their own sin nature.

As always, this is just my personal opinion and does reflect any official opinion of my church or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

*Deitrich Bonhoeffer is a well known Lutheran anti-Nazi martyr that you should know about if you don't.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ruth, Another Woman through Which God and the Holy Spirit Worked to Bring Us...

Today's sermon at Messiah, delivered by Pastor Lassman, tells a story of stalwart faith that transcends pragmatic selfishness and manifests the will of God.

After a woman, foreign to the Jews but married to a Jewish man, loses her husband, she inexplicably insists on staying with here mother-in-law (Naomi) who is trying to "help her out" by sending her home to Moab where she can have a chance to meet and marry a new husband.  Her late husband's battered family is going through hard times, unimaginable to us in modern America.

"No", says Ruth to her Jewish mother-in-law, "Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

Ruth, like faithful non-Jewish followers that Jesus meets centuries later "gets" to a greater degree that even many of God's People (Jews) that there is a bigger picture in store for her and humanity.  One could call The Book of Ruth a "Paul Harvey book" of the Old Testament because there is a "rest of the story" that is HUGE. By insisting upon staying with Naomi, here mother-in-law, Ruth ends up staying in Judah with her mother-in-law and eventually marrying Boaz and having children.

By doing so, she ends up as the great grandfather of King David, who himself is the great-great-great grandfather of Jesus Christ, the Messiah Our Savior.

It was prophesied that the Messiah would be a direct descendent of King David. God worked through Ruth, by Ruth's "illogical/impractical" faith to bring about the salvation of humankind through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we increasingly learn from research and emerging historical data (but Christians have known from faith),  the Holy Bible is truth and historically factual.  It is important to understand that God's plan unfolds through the means of actions of people both faithful and unfaithful to God.  Ruth's life is a quintessential example of God in the Holy Spirit working through people to execute His will.

There is much more to the story of Ruth than my tiny synopsis of our sermon today can relate, so, please...

Find the Book of Ruth here. A good Lutheran analysis of the Book of Ruth here. And, finally, a transcript and audio recording of Pastor Lassman's sermon here*.

In God's holy name we pray. Amen.

*Sermons at Messiah, Seattle's web site sometimes take a few days to post.