Friday, September 27, 2013

Jesus Didn't Condemn Abortion or Homosexual Behavior?

How does a Christian respond?  

1.  Jesus said the Hebrew Scriptures cannot "be broken" (John 10.35). Those Scriptures affirm that life begins at conception: "You formed my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139.13).  

2. Jesus commissioned the Apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles:   "I am sending you  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26.17-18).

3.  Paul brought the Gentiles out of numerous sins including homosexual behavior:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

Monday, September 16, 2013

O Happy Day!

      In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, my text for my sermon this past Sunday, Jesus said "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15.7).

     The joy of repentance and forgiveness has been expressed in many ways in Christian music. One the most beautiful examples is that of a hymn written by Philip Doddridge in England in the seventeen hundreds.  Doddridge’s grandfather had been a Lutheran pastor who fled from Prague because of persecution.  Doddridge, who also became a pastor, went on to write 400 hymns.  One of those hymns was titled “O Happy Day,” which included the refrain, “O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away. He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day. Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.”  

     If that sounds a little familiar, it’s probably because of what laterhappened to that old hymn.  In 1967 Edwin Hawkins wrote a Gospel version of the refrain and recorded being sung by his church choir in a service.  A local disk jockey heard it and began playing it on the radio. By 1968 the hymn had become one of the most popular songs in America. The song rose to number five in the pop charts and won a Grammy. It was the first time a hymn had crossed over.  Hawkins changed it from 3/4 time to 4/4, dropped the verses and used only the chorus. 

      Doddridge's hymn, O Happy Day, was often used at baptisms and confirmations as you can understand by the lyrics below.  The opening words "O happy day, that fixed my choice On Thee..." point to an Arminian view of conversion (that we cooperate with God). But I find the phrase in the third verse interesting:  "Charmed to confess the voice divine."  This could be taken as a more Biblical interpretation of conversion... That I have been called, led by the Holy Spirit, to repent and to confess my faith in Christ.  

     Philip Doddridge also wrote:  “And Will the Judge Descend,” “Great God We Sing Thy Mighty Hand,” “Hark the Glad Sound, the Savior Comes,” “O God of Jacob, By Whose Hand,” “Our Children Jesus Calls,” and “The Savior Kindly Calls.”  One of his most popular books was "The Rise and Progress of Religion of the Soul."  Wilberforce said that it led to his conversion. Spurgen referred to it as "that holy book."  


O happy day, that fixed my choice 
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
 Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
 And tell its raptures all abroad.
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!
 He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.
O happy bond, that seals my vows 
To Him Who merits all my love!
 Let cheerful anthems fill His house,
 While to that sacred shrine I move.
’Tis done: the great transaction’s done! 
I am the Lord’s and He is mine;
 He drew me, and I followed on;
 Charmed to confess the voice divine.
Now rest, my long divided heart,
 Fixed on this blissful center, rest.
 Here have I found a nobler part;
 Here heavenly pleasures fill my breast.
High heaven, that heard the solemn vow, 
That vow renewed shall daily hear, 
Till in life’s latest hour I bow
 And bless in death a bond so dear.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why I Voted for Matthew Harrison for President of the LCMS

Three years ago I explained why I voted for Matt Harrison at the Synodical Convention in Houston. President Kieschnick had led the Synod for nine years and seemed likely to continue.  He complained that he didn't have the authority he needed to lead the Synod since he was hampered by the gridlock of program boards that opposed his agenda and sometimes stepped on each other. There was some truth to that. But the structural overhaul of the Synod that Kieschnick was pushing gave too much power to the president in my opinion.  To the amazement of many the Synod began to approve the overhaul and then elected a new president - Matt Harrison!  

Structural overhauls of organizations are needed from time to time, but the structure of an organization doesn't necessarily bring healing to its problems... especially when those problems are spiritual in nature.  What are those problems?  I'm sure there are many ways to approach this, but the one problem that really concerns me is the tension between maintaining correct theology and carrying out the mission of the church.  

Some say we spend too much time debating doctrinal issues and not enough time focused on living out the faith and proclaiming it.  Others are concerned that we are letting errors creep into the church, and, if left unchecked, our proclamation will be wrong and won't matter anyway.  President Kieschnick tended toward the former. President Harrison tends toward the latter.  

I have cautiously tended toward the latter when it comes to this tension.  In my mind all problems in the church are ultimately theological because all ministry arises from God's word (theo-God, logical-word).   I do value the resources we can find for ministry in the world of business, psychology, and sociology. I also want those on the other side of this equation to know that I am listening. I'm interested in your evaluations and criticisms. I work very hard for the ministry to which I have been called, and I am very concerned about fulfilling the mission the Lord has given us.

Unfortunately those criticisms (of the theological/confessional priority) are often vague or anonymous.  A few years ago I was involved in a meeting of our synodical leadership in which a ministry of our church was accused of being "divisive." I asked how so? I received blank stares. True Christian ministry must be divisive at times. The only question is whether or not it is unnecessarily divisive. To determine that we need to get to the specifics.

On the other hand I have seen how the title "confessional" can become a shield which some use to hide a lazy or limited ministry.  The first thing my father told me when I said I was thinking about studying for the ministry was, "Just make sure you work forty hours a week." I absolutely love to study God's word, and frankly I do have a temptation to do that instead of sharing it in the most effective ways. But this is also a theological problem, and it is one that we need to discuss in Christian truth and love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, my biggest fear of all is what I believe is the inevitable pressure of persecution coming to Christians in America.  I am fearful that some will be too willing to compromise with the world for the sake of the mission.  But I am equally fearful that we might be so slack in our labors of love that the world will dismiss us as hypocrites.

The Scriptures point us to the importance of both. "Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85.10).  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul... You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22.37, 39). In this election, like the last, I voted for Matt Harrison. Nevertheless I fervently pray that God will help us to have the priority of both, mercy and truth, at all times. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Good Article: Religion and Public Life

I want to recommend the article "Religion and Public Life in America" by R.R. Reno, published in Imprimis from Hillsdale College.

The author does an excellent job of analyzing the growing hostility toward religion in America.  He points out how many people want to restrict the influence of religion in America by redefining religious liberty. Basically they are saying, "It's okay to practice your religion privately, but you can't take it to the street."  Muslims practice dhimmi, that is, to force non-Muslims to accept Muslim dominance.  Today secularists want to force Christians to accept their dominance. As troubling as this may be, Reno also points out how Christians are stepping up the the challenge. His closing sentence reads:  "Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Devotions: How To Make Good Decisions

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 23

"In Henryk Sienkiewicz’ historical novel 'Quo Vadis,' Peter flees the persecution of Rome. Leaving the city, he encounters Jesus entering the city. Peter asks Jesus 'Quo Vadis Domine?' (Where are You going Lord?). 'I'm going back to be crucified again...' This led Peter to turn around, go back to Rome, and face his own martyrdom.

Quo Vadis? Where are you going? It is still an important question today? What way should we go? Who should we follow? How shall we decide?

God’s word teaches that faith is a gift of God.  Peter said this in his first letter when he said that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1.3). But following our new birth of the Holy Spirit, there are numerous decisions to be made. 

When it comes to important decisions in life we should use the reason God has given us. We gather information. We weigh the pros and cons. We consider reasonable outcomes based on past experience. This is all good common sense.  We should remember how Solomon prayed for wisdom when he was called to be king of Israel. He literally prayed for a “listening heart” (1 Kings 3.8; 3.9 Hebrew).  All good decisions begin with a humble attitude and a willingness to discover what is good rather than to assume narrow mindedly we know.  We need to be open to options.

For Christians there is more. We test the common sense against the truth of God’s word.  In Proverbs 16.21 we read: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand.”  In all our decisions we need to consult the word of God and make as sure as we can that our plans are in harmony with God’s ways.  Paul urged us:  “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3.17).

Thirdly, we pray for God’s help and blessing.  As Ezra was preparing to lead the people of Israel back to Jerusalem he faced many difficulties.  And so we read: “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions” (Ezra 8.21).  In prayer we seek the way and ask God to bless all our thinking and our understanding of God’s word. 

Finally, we turn the matter over to God and trust that He will help us through everything. “The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16.33).  Once we’ve made a decision we need to live with it and endure the consequences either temporally good or bad.  Notice that I said, “temporally.”  By that I mean that all decisions made in faith will ultimately work for good.  This is God's promise in Romans 8.28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.”  This is a comforting promise that enables us finally to make decisions rather than be paralyzed by fear not knowing the outcome. Trust in God will carry us through.

What decisions lie ahead for you?  Should I join this church or another? Should I go to college, and if so, which one? Should I marry this person or not? Should I take this job or not? Are there important changes that I could make in my life to enhance it?  We all have many decisions to make in life.  Reason, Scripture, Prayer and Trust will help us make wise decisions and live with them.

The Bible assures us that God wants to lead us and guide us. He wants to be our Shepherd to take care of us in all the decisions of life.  

Hymn:  The Lord's My Shepherd  

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.

Yea, tho’ I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy, all my life,
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forevermore
My dwelling-place shall be.

Prayer:  Good Shepherd of the sheep, we pray that You would lead us and guide us in all our ways that we might walk in the paths of righteousness.  Bless us in all our decisions that You might use them for our good and for the good of others. In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Explaining What's Wrong With Homosexual Behavior to Eighth Graders

Some of our eighth graders were interested in the song "Same Love" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.  The song stresses that homosexual love is the same as heterosexual love.  It is the popular idea, and if you disagree, according to the song, you're a mean-spirited racist.  How do we as Christians respond?  

In the past Christians have often been criticized for their beliefs. In the first three hundred years after Jesus, Christians were often persecuted because they wouldn't accept the "popular belief" that "Caesar is Lord."  Many Christians went to prison and even death because they wouldn't agree with view and were considered enemies of the empire.

The question for Christians is not "what is popular?" but "what does God say?"  That is the choice we have always had to face.  In the first chapter of Romans, Paul points out that people turned away from the true God and began to sin in various ways.  One way was: 

"Their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful" (Romans 1.26-27).

But he mentions others sins as well (here and in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1) such as murder, adultery, fornication, lying, drunkenness, greed, and gossip.  Those who practice these things without repentance and forgiveness cannot be saved (1 Corinthians 6.9).  

This means that Christians must continue to do what we've always done. We need to live in repentance and faith in God's forgiveness ourselves. We need to resist the temptation to disobey God's laws. We also need to urge the world to turn away from these sins and seek forgiveness. We cannot tell them to continue living in a way that God's word says is wrong.  

One way people try to find acceptance of homosexual behavior in the church is to point out that it is listed along with other sins. People, even Christians, commit sins like drunkenness and adultery therefore homosexual sins should be treated like those sins. But the fact is, they are treated in the same way. We do not accept gossip, slander, adultery and drunkenness, and so on. People who commit those sins without repentance also cannot be saved. 

Another approach is to say that it's not hurting anyone. There are many things that people do or don't do that don't necessarily hurt others in the short run, but they are still wrong. If I choose not to worship regularly, I may not be hurting anyone right now. But I am hurting myself, and God says that is wrong. If I view pornography, it may appear that I am not hurting anyone else. But it is still wrong, and I am definitely hurting myself. In addition to this, can we really say sin never hurts anyone?  When we accept a sin and promote it, we are giving a bad example to others and we are encouraging them to sin along with us. When people choose not to worship, they are hurting others because their example will only encourage others to do the same. When someone watches pornography they encourage the pornographers to carry on their activities even more. 

I showed the eighth graders the testimony of Miriam Alexander as she tearfully related her journey out of lesbianism and drug abuse. She explained how she begged God to save her from drugs and homosexual behavior. Yet, for some time, she would fall back into the sinful behavior again and again. Christians would say that Miriam was saved even though she was struggling with these sins. How long it may take to be free from certain sins may vary from person to person.  We urge anyone struggling with any kind of sin to keep repenting and keep praying for forgiveness and healing.  It may take a long time, but the healing will come.  No Christian will ever overcome all sins. They will fight them all their lives, and only after they die in faith will they be completely free from them.  This is what Martin Luther meant when he said that all Christians are "Saints and Sinners."  

Giving into sin is never what God wants. Rather, He calls us to resist sins, repent of them, be forgiven constantly, and carry on the battle to overcome them.  Paul gave God's ultimate promise to the Corinthians:

"And such were some of you (homosexuals, covetous, drunkards, etc.). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6.11).

Lastly, I pointed out to the eight graders that they need to think about what's coming in the future. If they accept homosexual behavior now, what will be the next thing that the Bible says is wrong but the world will say is right?  When you start disagreeing with God, where will it end?  

Prayer:  O gracious God, save us in our temptation, pain and misery. Save us from our sins and heal all the wounds that they have created in us and others.  Heal us for Thy mercy's sake. Amen.  

Hymn:  "Come, Holy Ghost, in Love"

Come, Holy Ghost, in love
Shed on us from above
Thine own bright ray.
Divinely good Thou art;
Thy sacred gifts impart
To gladden each sad heart.
Oh, come today!

 Come, tend’rest Friend and best,
Our most delightful Guest,
With soothing pow’r.
Rest which the weary know,
Shade mid the noontide glow,
Peace when deep griefs o’erflow,
Cheer us this hour.

Come, Light serene and still,
Our inmost bosoms fill,
Dwell in each breast.
We know no dawn but Thine:
Send forth Thy beams divine
On our dark souls to shine
And make us blest.

Exalt our low desires,
Extinguish passion’s fires,
Heal every wound.
Our stubborn spirits bend,
Our icy coldness end,
Our devious steps attend
While heavenward bound.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Devotions: Facing Persecution

Scripture Reading  Acts 5.12-32


In the history of this world, those who have believed in God have often found themselves outnumbered. Many tried to shout down their faith, to repress it and to destroy it.  

Noah and his family were the last of the righteous on earth. Surrounded by wickedness and violence, Noah persisted in serving God. Peter says he was a "preacher of righteousness" in an ungodly world (2 Peter 2.5). 

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and ended up in Egypt. He had no companion in the faith as he continued to put his trust in God. 

John the Baptizer was beheaded. Jesus was sent to the cross. Peter and John were thrown into prison. Stephen was stoned, James was put to death, John was sent to Patmos, Paul was beaten and stoned. 

Christians should not be surprised that there is opposition, disdain and outright hostility to the proclamation of the Gospel. Christians should expect it.

They should also not become angry or discouraged. In Psalm Twelve David says there are those who say, "With our tongues we will prevail." Yet he also says, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth" (vv. 4, 6).

Paul faced fierce debates in the synagogues that sometimes turned violent. But rather than scream, rant and rave as the world does, Paul was calm and sure:  "Let God be true and every man a liar" (Romans 3.4).  Peter responded to those who threatened him: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5.29).

Christians have always known that when you have the truth you don't need to preserve it with abusive threats and physical violence. You just need to believe it, tell it, and live it.  It stands on its own, and we stand with it by God's grace.  Amen.  


Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the trumpet call obey;
Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day.
Ye that are brave now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song.
To those who vanquish evil a crown of life shall be;
They with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.


Dear Lord, save us from all the enemies of the faith:  Our own sinful flesh that prompts us to be spiritually lazy; The sinful world around us that either entices or threatens us to turn away from You; and Satan, who is the beginning of all evil. Help us to stand with those who have stood before us - faithful to You and Your word. Help us to love our enemies as You love them. Grant that through our faithful witness they may be saved.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Do We Still Have the Right to Believe that Homosexual Behavior is Sinful?

What is going through the minds of Christians concerning the same-sex marriage debate?  I suspect many might be thinking this way:

1. God's word says homosexual behavior is wrong. I still believe that.

2. But the same-sex marriage debate is really just a social/political debate.  It's really not about whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong. It's about the freedom to believe and do what you want.

3. If homosexual people want to believe that their behavior is okay, no one should force them to believe otherwise. They should have the same rights as other people. 

This seems to be very logical thinking.  But you should take a closer look at the statement #2. Is this really "just a social/political debate"? Read the following paragraphs from columnist Maureen Dowd with special attention to the last sentence:

Max Mutchnick, who created and wrote “Will & Grace” with David Kohan, is worried as well. His landmark show came up as a cultural marker during the court proceedings challenging Prop 8. When I was in California covering that trial in 2010, I spent time in Los Angeles with Max, his husband, Erik Hyman, an entertainment lawyer, and their bewitching twin daughters born through a surrogate, Evan and Rose. (In an amazing biological feat, both men fertilized the eggs, so that one daughter looks like Erik and one like Max.)

Erik told me then that taking vows in front of a rabbi and their families (two weeks before Prop 8 passed) made him feel different. “Now that I’m actually married,” he said, “it drives me completely crazy when the other side talks about ‘the sanctity of marriage.’ I’m committed to my spouse. We’re faithful to each other. We’re raising twin girls together. It’s deeply offensive to hear someone say that what we’re doing is robbing them of the ‘sanctity’ of what they’re doing, as though my very existence is unholy.” (New York Times, April3, 2013)
What America is debating right now is not just rights (who gets whose pension, who gets to visit whom in the hospital, or who gets to create their own customized children, etc.), ultimately the debate is about what people will be allowed to believe.  I think Erik Hyman and many other want it to be illegal to believe that his lifestyle is unholy.  
I'm sure it is deeply offensive for Erik to hear me agreeing to statement #1 above. But that's the way it is. Americans have always respected the right of people to believe. But that is what is really changing.  Can I still say out loud that homosexual behavior is unholy?  Can I avoid having my children taught that homosexual behavior is holy and acceptable to God?  Can I avoid business transactions with people who hold to beliefs and practices that I find offensive?  Do we really have the right to believe that homosexual behavior is sinful?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Gospel is Missing in "The Bible."

We don't have cable TV, so I haven't been able to watch the History Channel's "The Bible." I know a lot of people are excited about it.  I was pleased to hear that there were a lot of people tuned in.  That tells us that there are at least a lot of people still interested in the Bible.

I read two reviews of it from fellow Lutheran pastors.  They have some good things to say about it especially the portrayal of the creation.  But they also point out it's most glaring problem:  The Gospel is Missing!  (This is not surprising when you consider some of the advisors.)

The producers completely overlooked the first promise of salvation given to Adam and Eve when God said that one of their children would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3.15).  They also overlooked God's covenant with Abraham in which He promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.  This promise, in particular, is very important for understanding who Jesus is in the New Testament.

This is the problem that I addressed in the previous post.  Humans love the Law and foolishly think they are keeping it.  So when they read the Bible almost always gravitate to its "dos" and "don'ts."  But God's emphasis in the Bible (if you pay attention), is that no human can keep the Law and therefore need the salvation that only He gives.

My advice to all is to enjoy the special effects on TV, but to read it for yourself and pay close attention to both the teaching of Law and Gospel.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Navigating the Bible with Law and Gospel

     In the Lutheran church you will often hear us talking about the importance of distinguishing between Law and Gospel. What do we mean by that?  

     One of the best ways to approach a complicated thing like the Bible is to begin with the simplest facts and work from there.  There are a lot of different teachings in the Bible, and we have to remember that it provides everything we need to know about God. On the one hand it can be easy enough for a child to understand. On the other hand it is so deep that no theologian will ever stop learning from it. But to begin, we start with some important basics.  

     Let's use a map as an example.  A map contains a lot of information. But one of the first things you have to do is to orient the map to the directions of the compass. You have to understand north and south!  If you've used a GPS, you know how frustrating this can be if you're not sure if north is the top or the bottom of the map?  If you don't know, then right could actually be left and left could be right!  

     Law and Gospel are like the north and south of the Bible.  They are the two different ways that the Bible speaks to us and point in two different directions.  By "Law" we are referring to the important passages of the Bible that show us the way God expects us to live.  This teaching is found throughout the Bible from the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount.  By "Gospel" we are referring to those passages that show us what God does for us to enable us to live according to His will. The Gospel begins with the creation but especially is found in the promises of salvation and the real salvation-work of Jesus: His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return.  

     So as we read the "map" of the Bible we need to "orient" everything we read in terms of Law and Gospel.  Take for example the account of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Goliath, a Philistine, mocks the God of Israel. He challenges anyone to a fight. The soldiers of Israel are afraid. This is all basically Law.  Sin is being illustrated in Goliath's unbelief, pride and willfulness to murder. David rises to the challenge and faces off with the giant. But before he slings the stone that "sank" into Goliath's head, he makes an important declaration. In contrast to Goliath's self-assurance, David says the "the battle belongs to the LORD."  This is the Gospel.  David is teaching us that God is the one who saves us and helps us.  This orients the story to our life. We walk away from it remembering that we need to repent of prideful self-assurance and avoid it. We also look at all our challenges in life and then look to God to help us. There's a lot more Gospel here, but we'll save that for later.  I hope you get the idea. 

     You can see the basic directions of Law and Gospel in the way Jesus preached.  At the beginning of His ministry the basics of His preaching are summed up with the words "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat 4.17).  "Repent" is the teaching of the Law.  "The kingdom of heaven" is the gift of the Gospel.  At the end of His earthly ministry He commissioned the apostles and all pastors to proclaim "repentance and the remission of sins to all nations..." (Luke 24.47). St. Paul urged Timothy, one of the first pastors, to teach "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2.15). We always keep these two teachings in mind whenever we read the Bible.  They will always guide us properly and keep us from misunderstanding God's word.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Concerning Pastor Robert Morris' Apology

Some people are upset that Pastor Robert Morris of Newtown, CN, an LCMS pastor, was asked to apologize for his involvement in an interfaith service.  The following is taken from his letter of apology: (the highlights are mine)

Chaplains are expected to give faithful witness under circumstances which are less than ecclesiastically perfect, even as their fellow chaplains may proclaim a different witness. Thus, with a disclaimer at the outset (which I requested) having stated that participation did not mean endorsement of the other religions represented, I said I was sharing “a final blessing of the hope which is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, using the words of St. John and St. Paul”, I then read from Revelation 21 and I prayed the Trinitarian benediction from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which we say as part of our Lutheran daily offices. I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship, but one of mercy and care to a community shocked and grieving an unspeakably horrific event. However, I recognize others in our church consider it to constitute joint worship and I understand why. I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology. 
Those who have followed the news reports are aware that this event is not quite like anything that has happened before. This was not a natural disaster, an act of terrorism, or random bullets sprayed into a crowd. I believe (and I fervently pray) that my ministry will never involve a parallel situation to the one that faced my congregation and community that weekend. By their very nature, extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary decisions and I do not hold my decisions up as an example to be emulated under ordinary circumstances. I simply say to any pastor who finds themselves in a similar situation (and I pray that none will): you will have my unswerving prayerful support, and I encourage you to do all that you can to ensure that you faithfully proclaim the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ alone. Be sure the proclamation is faithful, and be sure that Christ’s grace is proclaimed.  

     Before we rush to judgment either for or against his involvement in an interfaith service, let's remember that it is important for all Christians to stand for Christ and for Christ alone at all times and in all places.  It's easy to agree to that when we are sitting in our church together. It's another thing when false teachers invite us to pray with them.  They, more than anything else, want us to acknowledge that their faith is valid.  That completely contradicts Jesus, who said, "No one comes unto the Father but by Me" (John 14.6).  That is why pastors of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are careful never to give that impression.

     Pastor Morris asked for a disclaimer that "participation did not mean endorsement of the other religions represented."  He also gave a very clear Trinitarian benediction.  The Bible calls us to give a clear witness to Christ when we have the opportunity.  He doesn't advocate joint worship services, and he didn't consider this to be one. But other pastors thought that it did look like a joint worship service.  To those who thought this way he apologized.

     I hope everyone can see what is really going on here. First, among ourselves (LCMS Lutherans), there should be no question about a pastor participating in any activity that affirms or is indifferent to false religions.  The world that is sold out to works righteousness will never understand this.  But the Bible warns us again and again to stay away from the prophets of Baal.  John, in his first letter ends with the words, "Children, keep yourselves from idols" (5.21).  These aren't mere words. They are serious warnings.  We can't affirm or be indifferent to false religions.  

     Secondly, and this where things can get difficult, we have to wrestle with what is or is not a "joint worship service."  When do we have a good opportunity to witness, and when will our witness be compromised?  That isn't always easy to answer.  We need to pay attention to what the other religious leaders think.  If they think it is an interfaith service that affirms all religions, then that's what it is no matter what we think it is.  We also need to pay attention to the way people perceive the event.  If they walk away thinking all religions are basically the same, we have failed, and we need to do better.  If they walk away believing Christ is the only way or grinding their teeth that we dared to say such a thing, then we have succeeded.