Archive for the ‘Liturgical’ Category

Connected to Christ in Advent

Advent is upon us! In this season, we look back on all Christ did when He came veiled in flesh. We also look forward to when He will come again in His resurrected body with nail-pierced hands. In this year of social-distancing and social unrest, we remember that regardless of circumstance we are connected because of Christ and the life He freely gave for us.

The work of Christ connects us to Him and also to all other Christians. What an encouragement that is. During these times when we feel disconnected and are physically distanced, the reminder that we are connected to Christ is especially sweet.

Connected in Christ through Jesse’s Family Tree

Isaiah speaks of a branch that will bear fruit. That branch is Christ. Isaiah 11:1 says: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

The verse from Isaiah says that from the stump and roots of Jesse’s family tree a new branch will be born, will grow, and will bear much fruit. We are a part of this new growth. We may not share genetic familiarity with Jesse, Abraham, or King David. Because of Christ, we have been grafted into the new growth that finds its roots in the families of these people who came before. We are connected to Abraham, King David, and the people with whom we share church pews not because of genetic familiarity or social proximity but because of Christ.

The book of John talks about Christ being the vine and us the branches that grow directly from the branch. We are a part of this new growth. In Christ, we are grafted into this family. Christ is the vine that holds us all together. We abide in him and we are all connected to Christ and connected to one another. (John 15:4-5)
The Bible speaks in different ways about us being connected. What remains the same is the centrality of Christ. He is what binds us together. He binds us together in Baptism, regardless of the distance. We are connected as heirs in Christ and together we cry out to our heavenly Father. And while we are apart, He is growing us as individuals and as a body of believers.

Connected in Christ through Baptism.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. . . .”
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 12-14; 18; 24-27)

We are all baptized into the same faith because of the work of Christ. We are all a part of the same body. God has put this body of believers together. Nothing, not even death, can permanently separate us from Christ and our fellow believers.

Connected in Christ regardless of distance.

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” (Colossians 2:1-5)

We are physically distanced yet not completely removed from one another because we are connected in Christ. This is not the first time Christians have felt the discomfort of distance. There is distance and it is painful yet we are still connected. We are knit together by the love of Christ and we look forward to when we can gather together again. Even though Paul has not seen these people face to face he is still encouraging them in their faith. Both Paul and we can do this because our assurance is not in our ability to connect with another but in the hold Christ has on us all.

Connected in Christ as family.

Our family bonds may be strained because we cannot travel, yet because of Christ, all of us as believers are family. We are forever connected and all at once we are crying out to the same Father. We can cry out to him “Abba! Father!” During this time of social distancing and separation, we can remember that we are children of God. We are all crying out at the same time for the same things even when we are apart. We can pray the Lord’s prayer and know others are praying the same words. We can recite the creeds and know that others are declaring those same words.

Connected in Christ and given gifts.

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:4-7; 15-16)

We may be physically distant from one another, yet the Word of Christ is not taken from us. We can still speak the truth in love to one another. It may not be in the church narthex. It may be via letter instead. Rest assured that Christ is still at work in our lives making the body grow. He is still using each one of us. His gifts to us are still there. He is still using them. He is still building the body in love. He is growing us each as individuals and also as a Church body.

Connected through Christ

During this time when our usual ways of connecting may not be possible, we can know that we are connected because of Christ. The physical disconnection is there and it is painful. There may be a disconnection because of death, sickness, or general unrest. Thankfully our hope is not in our own life, health, or peace. Our hope is found in the life of Christ and the peace he gives.

This Advent, as with all of the Advent seasons that have come before, we look forward to when Christ will come back for us. He will raise His people from the dead, and our relationships with each other will be fully restored. We will, all together, look at the nail pierced hands of Christ in awe. I’m looking forward to that, as we all are.

~ taken from the CPH blog by Katie Koplin

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For what seems an eternity, one of the ongoing accusations leveled by secularists against Christians and the Church was that Christians kept their heads in the clouds. Believers have been told they have been too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, that they needed to be where the action really was, directing their energies to down-to-earth, pragmatic deeds.

So it is with some astonishment that the faithful see Governor John Carney of Delaware, along with other state governors such as California’s Gavin Newsom, order church leaders and congregants to keep their nonessential heads in the tech cloud. Carney’s recommendation? “Do your best to practice your faith virtually.“

No matter how virtuous or sentimental their motives, the almost complete capitulation of priests and pastors to banishment by government leaders like Carney has been astonishing. Few have meaningfully protested the exile of the Church into the cloud. In fact, nearly all churches voluntarily have closed their sanctuaries and ascended into cyberspace.

The nearly universal retreat into the cloud meant that the Church accepted social distancing more severe than the six feet enforced by grocery stores. It meant church leaders distanced themselves from their congregations altogether, consigning their flocks to a cyber-environment that is COVID-19 free but certainly not free from the virus of political correctness enforced the church of Big Tech minders.

Basically, the Church acceded to a definition of itself as non-essential, thus relegating itself to the status of any other business or institution. By beating a retreat into the cloud, the Church shrank itself into the tech matrix, subjecting itself to the arbitrary touch of a fingertip or click of a mouse, becoming just another one of the gods inhabiting the cloud above Mt. Tech Olympus.

But what is just as important as the ascension of the Church into the cloud is the fact that state governments, now fortified by SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States], will expect churches to continue to follow severe restrictions set up during and after the total shutdown. Churches will be expected to follow regulatory requirements for reopening that amount to the equivalent of a “fundamental transformation” of the churches.

Government leaders, now heartened by the swing decision of Chief Justice John Roberts, will continue to commandeer the way church is done by altering the liturgy, the habits, and the ways and means of worship as surely as if an altar devoted to Zeus were placed in the sanctuaries and congregants were forced to bow down and offer incense to the god.

Delaware is but one example of the establishment of the new state churches. As of May 18, Delaware’s governor issued his state church initiatives, including the new liturgical practices conforming to COVID correctness:

Attendance is limited to a maximum of 30% of occupancy.

Social distancing of 6 feet or more is required (except for members of the same household).

The length of the service can be no longer than one hour.

Individuals age 13 and up are required to wear a cloth face covering.

Services are limited to one day per week.

Gathering times must be staggered to permit cleaning before the next service.

Churches are asked to establish a system for staggering the arrival of worshippers.

Older citizens are advised not to attend at all.

When have we seen similar draconian restrictions on the Church? It may help to review the Bolsheviks’ responses to the Orthodox church that formed Russia’s spiritual life from 988 A.D. on.

Robert Conquest, the author of Harvest of Sorrow, relates that Lenin’s letter of November 1913 to Maxim Gorky stated the party position quite flatly:

Every religious idea, every idea of God, is unutterable vileness … of the most dangerous kind, contagion of the most abominable kind. Millions of sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical contagions … are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of God decked out in the smartest ideological costumes. Every defense or justification of God, even the most refined, the best intentioned, is a justification of reaction.

In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church itself was considered a pathogen within society. Churches were regarded as ideologically germ-ridden places to be sanitized by correct thinking.

Lenin went on to say it was best to start the eradication of the church by giving “an impression of toleration with control, humiliation of the churches rather than with overt suppression.”

In sum, church activity was to be reduced to the performance of services alone. Russians were to practice their faith by ritual only, much as Governor Carney advises when he suggests Christians should learn to practice their faith “virtually.”

The exile of the churches into virtual reality provides an opportunity for some self-examination.

Perhaps the COVID-19 crisis will encourage church leaders to think about how and what happens when sanctuaries are vacated, and seven devils loosed by the State enter as the shutdown is somewhat lifted.

They might wish to reflect about what to do when the State wishes to cleanse the church of “diseased” doctrines — to think about what to do when the Church’s beliefs are declared hate speech pathogens.

Just as importantly, leaders also might think about how the flock has been deprived of community and thus of corporate worship and corporate prayer. They may wish to meditate on the sacramental aspect of the community of the saints.

For many if not most churches, the celebration of Holy Communion is when the body and blood of Christ are offered as essential spiritual food pastors and priests are required to dispense. But the shepherds of the flock almost universally have quit offering spiritual wine and bread, leaving their sheep to fend for themselves.

In short, within a space of weeks, Americans have seen the entirety of American Christendom shut down and the overnight ascension of what is essentially a secularist state church. The initially nascent state church has now been more firmly established by SCOTUS’s decision to allow state control of churches for reasons of “health.”

When any government even temporarily takes over the churches for any reason, it has essentially shattered the autonomy of the Church, making it subservient to the State. The Church under orders from the State is then subject to forcible conformance to State dogma.

The state that dictates when and where and how and to whom the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is administered is the state that has taken over the church and substituted its own sacraments. The state that dictates the how, when, and where of the baptism of children is the state that has created its own church. The state that decides when, where, and how many of the faithful can listen to the preaching of the Word or how many can assemble to pray together is the state that also dictates what is to be preached and prayed. The state that insists that worshipers wear and sing through face masks is the state that determines the way virtues of the state churches are signified. The state that ranks the Church of God to be an institution equal to bars, restaurants, and public schools is the state that will disregard the unique status of the Church and its constitutional rights.

As the directives from the state begin to strangle the Church, the latter is faced with a choice it probably should have made at the beginning of the state takeover. Pastors and priests must make the decision to open their churches to worship services and to continue the churches’ ministries as they were before the coronavirus coup. They must remember what the Church is and obey God rather than the State.

For if they do not, it’s predictable that the almighty State will squeeze the churches harder, requiring total conformity to the State that certainly seems ready to hijack the Church’s mission, to vitiate its standing in constitutional law, to appropriate its wealth, and to take over its institutions by force if necessary.

It’s time for all believers, leaders, and congregants alike, to remember the words of St. Ambrose:  “Not only for every idle word must man give an account, but for every idle silence.”

By Fay Voshell

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was awarded the Charles Hodge Prize for excellence in systematic theology. She is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and other online publications.

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Since in the Lord’s Supper we receive our Lord Jesus’ very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins it is a great gift to us and is central to the Divine Service. The holy Christian church throughout the ages has identified the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with the Lord’s Supper. As such the Lord’s Supper was never viewed as an occasional extra or as somehow not as important as the other means of grace (Word, Absolution, Holy Baptism). In the Supper, the Church, the Bride of Christ, sees herself clearly as the Body of Christ, being “one flesh” with Christ Jesus — a great mystery indeed (Ephesians 5). The Supper is our Lord’s last will and testament where we receive His life-giving mercy.

Also, since each day and each week we need the Lord’s forgiveness and strength, we are therefore in need of the Lord’s Supper much in every way. Today, our increasingly less and less Christianly influenced culture threatens our faith daily, along with the help of Satan and our own sinful desires (old Adam).

In the Small Catechism, Luther, under “The Christian Questions and Answers,” writes the following, admonishing us to frequently receive the gift of the Lord’s Supper:

  1. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?

“First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.”

  1. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?

“To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”

The opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day was a reality cherished by Luther and set forth clearly with high esteem by our Lutheran Confessions (Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession and of the Apology); and Luther’s Catechism. All of them remind us that the Scriptures place the Lord’s Supper at the center of worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20,23), and not as an appendage or an occasional extra.

This does not mean that every communicant must receive the Sacrament every Sunday. This is about the availability of the Lord’s Supper, not setting a rule about how often someone should receive it. So, while the Augsburg Confession and its Apology (Defense) make it clear that Lutheran Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day and on festival days, the preface to the Small Catechism also makes it clear that the church make no laws about how often someone should receive this gift personally.  As Lutherans, we take our vows of subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions very seriously on both aspects of the frequency of the Lord’s Supper.  We must recover lost treasures.

The offering of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday does not and should not imply that we must attend it every time.  We must take the time to prepare regularly.   We do not want the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to become mechanical.   However, when it is offered every Sunday we can regain a more “organic” rather than “mechanical” view between how often we commune vs. how often it is offered.

There is a tremendous opportunity to grow in our faith and understanding when we can have it available every Sunday service and yet in freedom prepare.   We should not act on any real or perceived social pressure in this regard.  We must resist that temptation. The Gospel is forced on no one, however, it is always preached and offered.  With this sacramental form of the saving Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, it is offered but forced on no one.

The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper will indicate and confess our high esteem and desire for the gift of our Lord’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins which is received in this gift. The Lord’s Supper is a central way our faith is sustained in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is no less important than the other gospel gifts by which our faith is sustained. We have weekly sermons, pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly, confess the Creed, and so forth. The meaning of the Lord’s Supper does not come from us, but from Jesus Christ and His Word. Contrite sinners cannot have too much of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Supper acknowledges the Lord’s holy presence with us and that gathered around Him, in heaven and on earth, are “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.”  That’s something to rejoice in.  Saying, “I love you” more often in a marriage doesn’t cause it to mean less.  This is about feeding faith and building up the Body of Christ.  Consider what our Lutheran Confessions say about the “Mass” (Worship Service with Holy Communion).  In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, we subscribe to the following:

“At the outset, we must again make the preliminary statement that we (Lutherans) do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.” (The Book of Concord)

Therefore, I propose that we should gladly and frequently come to the Lord’s Supper as it is made available every week. There are three reasons that are given in order of importance:

First, Jesus earnestly invites us to do so.  In the words of institution, Jesus commands, “This do in remembrance of Me.”  Jesus tenderly invites us to Himself for refreshment in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Secondly, we need the great blessing that He there gives us, namely, the forgiveness of our sins and the strength for a new and holy life.  These blessings are promised and offered in the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus urges us to come often because by Lord’s Supper He wants to strengthen our weak faith. He says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Thirdly, by gladly and frequently coming to the Lord’s Supper, we openly confess our faith in Jesus’ atoning death. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). As we proclaim our unity of faith in our Lord’s death, we also encourage each other in our Christian faith and lives.

 

descent

What are the elements of a Christian worldview?

Christianity teaches a set of beliefs that form the basics of our worldview.

Following is a list of some of the elements that make up the Christian worldview:

An absolute God exists

If an absolute God exists, then it means that God is self-sufficient and lacks nothing. If God is self-sufficient, then he needs no external cause for his existence. This would mean he is eternal. If he is eternal then he does not change.

God created the universe

If God created the universe, then he is all-powerful — since it obviously takes a great deal of power to create the universe. This would also mean that God is separate from creation and not a part of the created order. From the previous point where we see that God is absolute and unchanging, we could see that God’s nature would be reflected in the created order. As a painter leaves a part of himself on the canvas, so God reveals himself in creation. Creation is, therefore, ordered, predictable, and dependable. This would mean that when Christians look into creation, they would expect to find a predictable, regular, and testable world.

God created humanity in His image.

This means that God, who is rational and intelligent, has impressed his image upon the hearts and soul of human beings. Therefore, people can be rational and turn their attention towards the world and since they believe that the universe reflects God’s creative nature, they can have confidence to look into creation and expect order. They can also expect that since they are made in the image of God, they have the ability to unlock the secrets of the universe. In addition, if man is created in God’s image, then all people are worthy of respect and honor. This would also mean that when a new life formed in the womb, it is human from the time of conception. Therefore, abortion would be wrong. Furthermore, if we are created in God’s image, then we did not evolve from lower primates. This would mean that we have purpose and are not merely the result of random development through evolution that is, supposedly, guided by natural selection. Natural selection works on the theory of survival of the fittest and this could have a very harmful effect on society if “survival of the fittest” is transferred into a moral principle. It would justify oppressing the weak and helpless.

God gave man dominion over creation.

This means that all aspects of the created order on earth are to be governed by man according to how God has revealed himself and his will for us in the Bible. Therefore, politics, medicine, art, ecology, society, economics, exploration, philosophy, mathematics, education, etc. all fall under the domain of human responsibility and should be considered realms for man to control — under the wisdom and direction of God’s revelation, the Bible (more on that below).

Humanity is fallen

The Fall of humanity through our ancient father Adam, tells us that at the heart of every one of us is a predisposition toward sin. Sin is rebellion against God and, therefore, it is a rebellion against what is good. Sin has not only affected man’s soul and body, but it has also affected his mind. Therefore, the Christian worldview would say that even man’s best reasoning is touched by sin and cannot be perfect. Furthermore, since man is sinful and his heart’s intentions are predisposed towards wickedness, we conclude that those in power are highly susceptible to corruption. Therefore, governmental systems should be developed with Christian principles in mind to help guard against that. In fact, Christianity influenced the development of the Constitution and American government. Our founding fathers developed the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government that are there to exercise a system of checks and balances over each other. Why? Because of The Fall, man has a tendency to gravitate towards corruption.

Jesus is humanity’s only hope for redemption

Because man is fallen, he is in need of rescue from God’s righteous condemnation — which is eternal damnation. Also, since he is fallen, there is no way he can redeem himself. Therefore, Jesus, who is God in flesh, died for us and rose from the dead. We receive his righteousness and forgiveness by faith. This basic theological truth means that Christians should then preach that good news of redemption in Christ to all the world. Therefore, one of the most basic Christian principles is promoting Jesus as the means by which we are made right with God.

The Holy Scriptures (The Bible) are the Word of God

Of course, I have already mentioned the Bible, but the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God. From the Bible we derive the truths by which we govern our lives. It is from the Bible that we learn about God himself, his created order, the Trinity, redemption, about sin, salvation, hope, and what is morally correct. The Bible reveals the will of God for mankind, for the family, for raising children, for proper behavior in society, etc. It is from the Bible that we can learn the direct will of God.

God Provides for His creation

It is from the Bible that we learn of God’s loving provision for us. We know that God lets the sun and rainfall down upon both the good and the bad. We know that God causes the crops to grow and cattle to multiply. We know that though we live in a fallen world, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. Therefore, we can rely on God’s provision for us and should have confidence that he will continue to provide for our needs. Therefore, you can see that there are basic principles that form the Christian worldview. There are more, but the above eight items are representative of Christianity’s perspective and truth and how it influences belief and action.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching [in my pulpit and] in the pulpits within the Church currently, and I am growing increasingly concerned about the Church moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Gospel preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a Spirit-filled, confessing, orthodox Christian, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity to the Word of God. This is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.

The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.

Let Me Entertain You Temptation
Public speaking, once one becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.

The Hurry Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad, some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us, and then there may be a reference to the Sacraments. Preachers are tempted to do this when they know that there is a full service with Holy Communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I love the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and love that we celebrate it every corporate gathering on Sundays. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the Church, the Body of Christ, and the fellowship of Word and Sacrament. I think that we are forgetting this.

The Axe to Grind Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The Lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the Lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Axe to Grind” temptation.

How many more temptations could be added to this list?

~ Originally written by Rev. Paul McCain, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

Nikodemos

THE PASSIONS

A passion is a spiritual disease that dominates the soul. When one repeatedly falls into a certain sin, it becomes second nature – a passion – for him to keep falling into this sin. Thus, one who misuses the God-given powers of the soul of desire and anger, or one who continually succumbs to temptations of lust, hate, malice, or jealousy, or one who succumbs to pride and vainglory, acquires those passions. It is primarily through repentance, faith, obedience to God, submission to His will, and dying daily to self is one healed of the passions.

The passions are:

harshness, trickery, malice, perversity, mindlessness, licentiousness, enticement, dullness, lack of understanding, idleness, sluggishness, stupidity, flattery, silliness, idiocy, madness, derangement, coarseness, rashness, cowardice, lethargy, dearth of good actions, moral errors, greed, over-frugality, ignorance, folly, spurious knowledge, forgetfulness, lack of discrimination, obduracy, injustice, evil intention, a conscienceless soul, slothfulness, idle chatter, breaking of faith, wrongdoing, sinfulness, lawlessness, criminality, passion, seduction, assent to evil, mindless coupling, demonic provocation, dallying, bodily comfort beyond what is required, vice, stumbling, sickness of soul, enervation, weakness of intellect, negligence, laziness, a reprehensible despondency, disdain of God, aberration, transgression, unbelief, lack of faith, wrong belief, poverty of faith, heresy, fellowship in heresy, polytheism, idolatry, ignorance of God, impiety, magic, astrology, divination, sorcery, denial of God, the love of idols, dissipation, profligacy, loquacity, indolence, self-love, inattentiveness, lack of progress, deceit, delusion, audacity, witchcraft, defilement, the eating of unclean food, soft living, dissoluteness, voracity, un-chastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem, pride, presumption, self-elation, boastfulness, infatuation, foulness, satiety, doltishness, torpor, sensuality, over-eating, gluttony, insatiability, secret eating, hoggishness, solitary eating, indifference, fickleness, self-will, thoughtlessness, self-satisfaction, love of popularity, ignorance of beauty, un-couthness, gaucherie, light-mindedness, boorishness, rudeness, contentiousness, quarrelsomeness, abusiveness, shouting, brawling, fighting, rage, mindless desire, gall, exasperation, giving offence, enmity, meddlesomeness, chicanery, asperity, slander, censure, calumny, condemnation, accusation, hatred, railing, insolence, dishonor, ferocity, frenzy, severity, aggressiveness, forswearing oneself, oath taking, lack of compassion, hatred of one’s brothers, partiality, patricide, matricide, breaking fasts, laxity, acceptance of bribes, theft, rapine, jealousy, strife, envy, indecency, jesting, vilification, mockery, derision, exploitation, oppression, disdain of one’s neighbor, flogging, making sport of others, hanging, throttling, heartlessness, implacability, covenant-breaking, bewitchment, harshness, shamelessness, impudence, obfuscation of thoughts, obtuseness, mental blindness, attraction to what is fleeting, impassionedness, frivolity, disobedience, dull-wittedness, drowsiness of soul, excessive sleep, fantasy, heavy drinking, drunkenness, uselessness, slackness, mindless enjoyment, self-indulgence, venery, using foul language, effeminacy, unbridled desire, burning lust, masturbation, pimping, adultery, sodomy, bestiality, defilement, wantonness, a stained soul, incest, uncleanliness, pollution, sordidness, feigned affection, laughter, jokes, immodest dancing, clapping, improper songs, revelry, constant passion, license of tongue, excessive love of order, insubordination, disorderliness, reprehensible collusion, conspiracy, warfare, killing, brigandry, sacrilege, illicit gains, usury, wiliness, grave-robbing, hardness of heart, obloquy, complaining, blasphemy, fault-finding, ingratitude, malevolence, contemptuousness, pettiness, confusion, lying, verbosity, empty words, mindless joy, daydreaming, mindless friendship, bad habits, non-sensicality, silly talk, garrulity, niggardliness, depravity, intolerance, irritability, affluence, rancour, misuse, ill-temper, clinging to life, ostentation, affectation, pusillanimity, satanic love, curiosity, contumely, lack of the fear of God, unteachability, senselessness, haughtiness, self-vaunting, self-inflation, scorn for one’s neighbor, mercilessness, insensitivity, hopelessness, spiritual paralysis, hatred of God, despair, suicide, a falling away from God in all things, utter destruction –

Altogether 298 passions……….

These, then, are the passions which have been found named in the Holy Scriptures. St. John Climakos states: “If you seek understanding in wicked men, you will not find it.” For all that the demons produce is disorderly.

In common with the godless and the unjust, the demons have but one purpose: to destroy the souls of those who accept their evil counsel.

Yet sometimes they actually help men to attain holiness. In such instances they are conquered by the patience and faith of those who put their trust in the Lord, and who through their good actions and resistance to evil thoughts counteract the demons and bring down curses upon them.

From A LIST OF THE PASSIONS, Saint Peter of Damaskos The Philokalia; The Complete Text compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. Volume Three, translated from the Greek and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherard, Kallistos Ware, Faber and Faber, 1984

Kerygma

The Kerygma – Part Two

The Kerygma

To review, kerygma is the Greek word κήρυγμα kérugma, translated proclamation or preaching. The Kergyma is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spoken words, or even proclaimed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the proclamation of Jesus redemptive work. It is the proclamation God’s story of the history of redemption from the beginning of creation. Proclamation was usually followed by teaching and instruction in the elements of the faith, or the reading of a Creed. What Jesus did and taught in His ministry was included within the basic proclamation.

Here is a summary of the ancient kerygma:

  1. The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets.
  2. This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
  3. By virtue of the resurrection, and His ascension into heaven, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as King of Kings – the Messianic head of the new Israel.
  4. The Holy Spirit in the Church is the sign of Jesus’ present power and glory.
  5. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Jesus.
  6. An appeal is made for repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and salvation.

Jesus the Messiah, of course, was the center of this ancient kerygma. The cross, the resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of Majesty are crucial to the kerygmatic preaching of Messiah Jesus.

Kerygmatic preaching is not a technique that can simply be learned by articulate spokespersons, it is a relationship that must be received, experienced, and thereby announced.

There are eight kerygmatic sermons given by the Apostles in Luke’s letter to Theophilus, the Acts of the Apostles. They are found in the following passages:

1) Acts 2:14-36

2) Acts 3:12-26

3) Acts 4:8-12

4) Acts 5:29-32

5) Acts 10: 34-43

6) Acts 13:16-41

7) Acts 14:15-17

8) Acts 17: 22-31

luther

Sola Scriptura, What Has it Done?

I was thinking today about Sola Scriptura, which means Scripture Alone. This was and is the clarion call of the Protestant Reformation. It was an announcement that the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church were contrived from the human mind, and did not agree with canon of Holy Scripture. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church declare that Holy Tradition existed before the canon of Scripture was finalized. The Orthodox Church says that it decided upon what we now have in our hands, known as the Bible.

From the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church viewpoint, Sola Scriptura has been the instrument of division from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. There have been statements issued by the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy about how many thousands of Protestant denominations there are. However, it remains a fact that even from within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy there have been divisions. There are many “Catholic” churches and “Orthodox” churches. Therefore, it is not just within Protestantism that the Church has divided. It is sad that the Church has divided and still continues to divide for one reason or another. I love the Church.

R. C. Sproul (1) makes an interesting comment on a misinterpretation of Sola Scriptura, that Roman Catholic’s and the Eastern Orthodox tend to dwell on the Anabaptist error which ended up becoming Solo Scriptura, which means basically that all a Christian needs is himself and his Bible. This is not what Sola Scriptura means. Sola Scriptura means, “Instead the Bible is our alone final authority because it alone is the Word of God. It has been attested, authenticated, by God Himself. Miracles serve as the divine imprimatur, the proof that this is a message of God.” When you get right down to it, there are innumerable volumes of “traditional” writings in the Roman Catholic Church and within Eastern Orthodoxy. Which one of all of the volumes is infallible or inerrant? Can either come up with an authoritative list of their traditional writings? I am not discounting tradition. The Apostolic faith was handed down, for St. Paul declares, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV) We have received those traditions in Holy Scripture.

It is true that it has been a dangerous thing, the human being interpreting the Bible for himself. It is equally true, I am sure that division has been caused by misinterpretation. However, what I have seen within the Church are traditional statements regarding the Christian faith. That of the Apostles Creed, the Athanasius Creed, and the Nicene Creed – all are based upon the traditional timeless truths revealed in Holy Scripture. Most of the Church adheres to these Creeds, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Congregationalists, and everyone in between.

I admit Sola Scriptura has been the cause of error. The fact of the matter remains, because of Sola Scriptura, there are distinctives within each of the above “traditions” of Christianity that differ from one another. It is appalling that some would fain to do away with Christian traditions. The various Christian traditions have distinctives about holiness, the sacraments, the ordinances, the mysteries, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the sovereignty of God, mode of baptism, pedo or credo baptism, church government, etc. Therefore, Robert Rothwell (2) says those “of the Reformed tradition devoted their lives to the study of the entire counsel of God, it seems that all too often we do not do the same.” I am sure that our sinful human nature has got in the way dividing the Church into each and every “denomination” that has ever existed.

Martin Lutheran defied Roman Catholic tradition, for example, which made people pay the church for forgiveness of sins, or pay for the reduction of their time in purgatory, etc., ad nauseam. That is why he hammered upon the cathedral doors at Wittenburg his 95 theses. The Church had to change. Now, the Church must change and keep on changing. Karl Barth said at one point, “Ecclesia semper reformanda est,” which means “the church is always to be reformed.” The same is said another way, “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda,” which means “the reformed church (is) always to be reformed.”

John MacArthur (3) says in the book Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, “The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture.”

I swam through three streams of Christianity on my journey of faith, the Reformed/Evangelical, The Sacramental/Liturgical, and The Pentecostal.  Because of Sola Scriptura, there has been a convergence of these streams within me. I adhere to the Reformed tradition, the Sacramental/Liturgical, and the Pentecostal. There is a convergence of worship. Thanks be to God, I belong to the Church.

The Church of the Living God is the Church that Jesus said He would build, and He will complete the building as He has intended. The Church, His Bride will be presented to Him, pure and blameless at His coming. Build Your Church Lord, refine her, clothe her, establish her beauty in You! Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!

Resources:

(1) http://www.ligonier.org/blog/sola-scriptura-bible/

(2) http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-does-sola-scriptura-mean/

(3) http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/sola-scriptura/

EarthDay

The first part of the Nicene Creed states, “We believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.”

Today is Earth Day, all over the world, and here in Minnesota. God has given humanity the responsibility to care for this earth. Have we done so? I don’t think we have. With the rise of technology and the knowledge of how to turn rock into steel, we have come to pollute our air and waterways.

From the orthodox Christian point of view, life is eucharistic. The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving. It is used as the definition of the Sacrament where we receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. But in viewing life and the creation, we must see it all as a Eucharistic celebration. The celebration is the outcome of being responsible for our earth and all of its contents.

This life we live, and this earth we live on, was a life of communion with God. When Adam and Eve sinned, we lost the earth as a means of communion with God. The earth before the fall of humanity was filled with the Divine Presence of God. Since then, and now, the earth appears void of the Divine Presence.

The Holy Scriptures tell us that in God “we live, move, and have our being.” That includes the earth! When we purposely destroy rain forests that disrupt the ecology; when we purposely shoot pollutants into the air creating holes in the O-Zone layer, we go against the sacramental meaning of our relationship to this planet. God gave humanity everything it needed to survive. God gave us fruit, vegetables, and plants to eat from. But then, after the fall, and after the great flood of Noah’s time, God allowed us to eat meat. This isn’t a plug for being vegetarian, but humanity was vegetarian in the beginning. The killing of an animal is opposed to the understanding of our relationship with the earth and all of creation that God inherently gave us.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote in his book entitled Holy Week: A Liturgical Explanation for the Days of Holy Week, “…world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning as means of communion with God; once they are not received for God’s sake, and filled with hunger and thirst for God; once, in other words, God is no longer their real “content,” can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves.” This is what has become of humanity. Nothing satisfies, so we go for more. Nothing gives life, so we think we can create it. Our hunger and thirst is not for food or that which satisfies, but it is a hunger and thirst for union and communion with God.

As we celebrate “Earth Day” today, let us look to God as our source, as our satisfaction, and the One who fills our hunger and quenches our thirst. For nothing is more important to the earth today, than our coming back to what was once sanctified; what was once transformed into a world of thanksgiving and adoration of God our Creator. Let us yearn and repent toward a more perfect eucharistic life, that is filled with God, and watch it become again a Divine and immortal life that He has given to all humanity especially to those who believe in Him.

God bless you!

 

Kerygma

Kerygma

What is kerygma and what does it mean?

During the last seven weeks of the Communication in Ministry course I am taking, we are concentrating on preaching or delivering sermons or messages to our congregations.  We are studying structuring sermons, how to select our passages and how to interpret the biblical passage. We are learning how to relate the interpretation of the biblical passage to our “audience.” We are learning all the ways and means to creating a great sermon.

This brings me to the word kerygma. Dictionary.com gives the definition of kerygma as “the preaching of the gospel of Christ, especially in the manner of the early church, and the content or message of such preaching.”

Kerygma is the Greek word κήρυγμα kérugma, translated proclamation or preaching. Kergyma is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spoken words, or even viewed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the proclamation of Jesus redemptive work. Proclamation was usually followed by teaching and instruction in the elements of the faith, or the reading of a Creed. What Jesus did and taught in His ministry was included within the basic proclamation. Ok, so lets break this definition down. 

1. Kerygma is the preaching of the Gospel.

2. Kerygma is preaching in the manner of the early church.

3. Kerygma has to do with the content or message of what is being preached.

What is the Gospel? It is the Good News of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The Gospel includes the facts of Jesus’ incarnation as the Word. It includes the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. It includes the fact that Jesus was begotten of the Father and not a creature that the Father made. Jesus is in the Father as the Father is in Him. It includes the fact that salvation from sin, sickness, death, and the devil is only through Jesus the Messiah. It includes the fact that we are made right with God, declared righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus the Messiah. The Gospel is Good News!

2. What was the manner of preaching in the early church? The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that the early church preached the Gospel focusing on Jesus Christ; on repentance, faith, baptism and the forgiveness of sins, especially that salvation is through Jesus alone. The early church preached Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The reason is that the Apostles were witnesses to the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The early church preached what they heard from Jesus, the Apostles, and what they witnessed – it is the Gospel.

3. What is the content or message of what was being preached by the early church? When looking into the book of Acts we see:

  • All of the messages mention the doctrine of God.
  • All of the messages mention Jesus the Messiah.
  • Seven messages mention Jesus’ death.
  • Seven messages mention His resurrection.
  • Four messages declare that Jesus is now exalted in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
  • Four messages mention the giving of the Holy Spirit.
  • Seven message mention the forgiveness of sins.
  • Five messages mention repentance.
  • Three messages mention the need for faith.
  • Five messages mention Scripture.
  • None of the messages use the word Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God was brought to the earth in Jesus the Messiah.

Therefore, the content or the message preached by the early church included everything mentioned above. The church today must preach the Gospel like the early church. The early church preached the Gospel within the context of her audience, whether Jew or Gentile, or whether it was in Palestine or Athens, Rome or Crete. The kerygma was the same. They preached and taught the Gospel. The early church preached and taught the Gospel as it was given to them by the Apostles. The kerygma is the Apostolic Gospel message. The Church should be preaching the Gospel the same way the Apostles preached it: in the wisdom and power of God.

St. Paul gives an example of the kerygma:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV)

In conclusion, based upon the Four Gospels and Acts, there are seven elements to the ancient kerygma of the Church:

1. God loves you and seeks after you.
2. Sin will destroy you.
3. Jesus Christ died to save you.
4. Repent and believe the Gospel.
5. Be Baptized – receive the Holy Spirit.
6. Abide in Christ and His Body the Church.
7. Go make disciples.

Lastly, there are four elements (Acts 2:42) to living the Christian life revolving around the kerygma:

1. The Apostles’ Teaching – The Church steadfastly went on in the study of ancient Scripture and the sacred teachings of the Faith given them by the Apostles.
2. The Fellowship – They were daily interacting within Christ’s Body the Church, frequently gathering for worship, and other gatherings as the Body of Christ.
3. The Breaking of the Bread – This is another way of saying that they faithfully received Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist and, by extension,  all the Sacraments.
4. The Prayers – Using forms of prayers, in both the personal and community contexts.