Archive for the ‘Lutheran’ Category

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Galatians 6:6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow “all good things” upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I thought then that Paul’s admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now.

As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the churches should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of impoverished Christians I am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle Paul had to touch upon this subject so frequently. In writing to the Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter upon them. I would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the Corinthians by urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the poor. It seems to be a by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry. When the doctrine of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing support of those who deceive them.

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go wild like savage beasts.

Paul’s admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1Cr 9:11) In the old days when the Pope reigned supreme everybody paid plenty for masses. The begging friars brought in their share. Commercial priests counted the daily offerings. From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel. You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give generously for the support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of impoverished Christians. Instead, they rob Christ. When the members of a Christian congregation permit their pastor to struggle along in penury, they are worse than heathen.

Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They will lose their temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the severest punishment. The reason why the churches of Galatia, Corinth, and other places were troubled by false apostles was this, that they had so little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to give God a penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around and give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold, and not be punished for it.

The words “in all good things: are not to be understood to mean that people are to give all they have to their ministers, but that they should support them liberally and give them enough to live well.

~ Martin Luther

FI_LawAndGospel_Monday

At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.

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Individual/Personal Confession

Pastor, what is confession and absolution?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins,and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. It is hard to say,“I was wrong. I am sorry. Forgive me.” God’s Word makes it clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In confession and absolution, God’s Word is having its way with us, moving us to confess the truth about ourselves and our need for His forgiveness. Because of Jesus Christ, confession and absolution is a blessed, joyful, happy exchange! “For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus hung on the cross, He became sin—for us. He was the ransom for sin. God poured out His just wrath on Christ. Christ won peace between God and man. In confession, Christ takes the burden of our sin and gives us in exchange His complete forgiveness and love. Absolution is the ongoing work of Holy Baptism, in which our old, sinful nature in Adam is drowned and the new man in
Christ arises.Through Holy Absolution we receive “the gift of God,”which is forgiveness of sins and “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).*

Pastor, don’t we do Confession and Absolution at the start of the Worship Service? Hasn’t individual confession become “unfamiliar” or “infrequently used”?

Yes, we do. But the Confession at the start of the service is not the form or setting of Confession that we just read about in the Small Catechism. What we do at the start of the service is a group or “corporate” form of Confession and Absolution. What we read about in the Catechism and throughout the Lutheran writings is Individual Confession and Absolution, or, for short, individual/personal confession. What we do at the start of the service is a general confession of sins, not specifying any particular sins, and there is a general absolution, directed to the group. What we do in Individual/personal Confession usually involves confessing specific sins, and the pastor directs the absolution to that individual. It is this individual/personal, individual form of confession that the Catechism has in mind when it talks about “Confession.”

Pastor, I thought Lutherans got rid of Individual Confession. Isn’t going to the pastor for Confession just a Roman Catholic thing?

No, it’s not. Individual/personal Confession is a Lutheran thing, too. Luther did not get rid of Individual/personal Confession, he just reformed it, cleaned it up of its abuses. There were three abuses that needed to be corrected. One was that Confession was forced, mandatory, done under coercion and compulsion. The second abuse was the enumeration of sins, that you had to come up with a complete listing of your sins, in detail, or else you could not be sure that you had confessed adequately. The third, and perhaps the worst, abuse was that, instead of putting the emphasis on the absolution, God’s free gift of forgiveness, the priest would give the penitent works of satisfaction to perform, works of penance, to offset his sins. These “three oppressive things,” as Luther called them, had corrupted the practice of Confession, had turned it from a gift into a torture. Therefore, these were the abuses that the Lutherans corrected and reformed.

But Luther never got rid of Individual/personal Confession. Far from it. He strongly encouraged people to go to Confession. He even wrote “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” in which he says such things as the following: “If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine.” Or, “So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is.” Or again, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”

Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions say the same thing. From the Augsburg Confession, Article XI: “Our churches teach that individual/personal Absolution should be retained in the churches.” Or from the Smalcald Articles, Article VIII: “Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” Again, this is talking about Individual/personal Confession.

But Pastor, do I have to go to Individual/personal Confession to get forgiveness?

No, you don’t. You don’t “have to.” This is a matter of “get to.” You “get to” go to Individual Confession and Absolution. It’s a gift! It’s the Gospel! To be sure, God is rich in his grace, and he gives us his forgiveness in other ways as well. In Holy Baptism, all your sins were washed away, and Baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. Your sins are forgiven also when the pastor preaches the Gospel to you in the sermon, proclaiming the good news that Christ Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, taking them away, and that includes you and your sins. You receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar, when you receive the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

These are all glorious, wonderful means of grace, by which God delivers the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross to us. Holy Baptism, Holy Gospel, Holy Communion–all gifts of God, all means of grace, and each one has its own distinctive value and benefit and place in the life of the Christian. But then so does Holy Absolution. And we don’t want to set one gift of God against another. In other words, just because I get forgiveness in the sermon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Communion. Just because I get forgiveness in Baptism doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Confession. No, God gives us all these gifts, each one of them, for us to use and benefit from.

What’s so special about Individual/personal Confession, Pastor?

For one thing, it helps us to be honest about ourselves. We readily say we are “poor miserable sinners,” but if we just keep it at that general level, we may try to excuse or rationalize sins we should be repenting of. The truth is, poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. And so, examining our lives according to the Ten Commandments and coming to grips with our actual sins helps to keep us honest and accountable and to realize the depths of our sinfulness and our ongoing need for Christ’s forgiveness.

And that leads us to the most important benefit of Confession, and that is, the Absolution, the word of forgiveness. To realize that, yes, God knows my sins, how lousy of a sinner I am, and yet He forgives me–yes, me! I hear the forgiveness spoken into my ears, with my name on it! I feel the pastor’s hands on my head, Christ’s authorized representative releases me from the burden of my sin and my guilt! That is what is so distinctive and refreshing about Individual Confession and Absolution: precisely that it is individual, dealing with my sins and directing God’s cleansing and forgiveness and care to me.

Luther puts it this way in his Brief Exhortation: “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.” “[It] is a work that God does when he declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.” Yes, the great treasure in Individual/personal Confession is the Absolution, spoken to you.

But Pastor, I’ve never gone to Individual/personal Confession before. I’m scared. What can you say to reassure me?

Let me guess what’s scary or intimidating about it. Maybe you think you must come up with some huge, awful sin–like robbing a bank or murdering someone–in order to go to Individual/personal Confession. No, ordinary, garden-variety sins are welcome any time. Maybe you can think of one or two that weigh on your mind. Lustful thoughts, harsh words, not treating your husband or wife with the love and care you know you should–that sort of thing. But even if you can’t come up with any sins or you’re not quite ready to speak about them, then just make a more general confession and the pastor will still speak God’s word of forgiveness to you.

Pastor, if I told you my sins, my dirty awful sins, wouldn’t you think less of me? Wouldn’t it change our dynamic, our relationship, and you wouldn’t be my friend anymore?

No, I wouldn’t think less of you. If anything, I might be tempted to think more of you, that you took advantage of the opportunity to come to Confession. But then, don’t go and get a big head about it and say, “Hey, look at me! I went to Confession!” That would-be pride, and then you’d have to come back to Confession for that!

No, nothing you say would shock me. I believe what the Bible says about our sinful nature, how the old Adam keeps on having evil desires and thoughts. And hey, your pastor knows what a sinner he is! I won’t be shocked by your sins. In fact, I’m here to give you God’s forgiveness for them.

And what’s more, Individual/personal Confession is just that: Individual and personal. The sins you confess go nowhere else. I am under oath, solemn oath, never to divulge the sins confessed to me. I never have, and I never will. I don’t even divulge them to myself, in a sense. What I mean is, when you confess your sins to me, my ears become a graveyard. The sins die there. I don’t carry them around with me in my head and hold them against you. I can still be your friend. But the more important thing for you is that I be your pastor. God has assigned me here to take care of your soul. And that includes hearing the sins you confess, the sins that trouble your soul, and then forgiving them in the name of Christ.

Pastor, tell me once again: Why should I come to Confession?

For the Gospel. For the forgiveness of your sins. To receive the gift Jesus has for you: Holy Absolution, with your name on it!

 

~ Adapted from an article by Rev. Charles Henrickson

– *Paragraph excerpt from article “What About Confession and Absolution”

by Dr. A. L. Barry, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

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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/

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Thoughts after Resurrection Sunday: Jesus Christ, the Power of God

Remember how the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate approved a military guard for a cemetery plot and how they took pains to seal the stone to permanently close the tomb of Jesus? That was Pilate’s final word to Jesus, whom he had interrogated earlier that day. During that trial, Pilate and Jesus touched the third rail of worldly politics: Power. Pilate denied that power must be based on truth. Power was his to wield as he decided.

Jesus insisted on the primacy of Truth and that there was only one Power in the world: God’s. All other power was either delegated or allowed until the time of judgment, which rested in the hands of no magistrate, no emperor, no Supreme Court, but in God Almighty. Pilate had no power over Jesus that had not been given to him. And Pilate had no power over the Tomb-although he thought otherwise.

Those wielding power may mistakenly forget about the primacy of truth. When Jesus was questioned by Caiaphas about his teachings, he said, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.” A soldier struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the High Priest?” The soldier used power, trying to coerce Jesus, who had noted that truth could be found in the testimony of others about him.
Jesus refused to give in, saying, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong, but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” What could the soldier say in response? We are not told. Did Jesus’ penetrating presence and words pierce the soldier’s conscience?

When a truth is spoken to the consciences of those in power, one or the other must give way. Power must yield or truth must be silenced. Classic examples of this confrontation are the peaceful civil rights protests in the U.S. Power at first may seem to win the day-the state may whip, beat, imprison protesters and “restore order” and silence. But if the protesters speak truth to a power that is built on falsehood, they have the power of truth behind them. In the case of civil rights, the broader national conscience had to face the racism for what it was.

Many were willing to suffer to confront racism. In history, the state often does not back down and attempts to silence those who are dissident. It may even knowingly punish the innocent, as did Pilate.

In our current cultural crisis, those who speak truth to power about human life in the womb, the nature of marriage, and religious conscience are often targeted for silencing. Yet we, unlike the state, cannot use coercion in this conflict. Yes, there is power to be had in speaking the truth, just not in the way worldly men prefer to use it, like James and John who wanted to sit on thrones with Jesus. The power of Christians only comes through the Cross, through the willingness to suffer for the truth-and live according to it.

The power that raised Jesus was not meant as an assault on the guarding soldiers. They and the sealed stone were not the point. God did not unseal a tombstone to prove that he could empty a tomb. No, Jesus was raised because of a divine truth about the Incarnate Son of God: “It was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24)
Power comes and goes. Truth is truth and stands forever. It cannot remain suppressed. Even the stones will cry out. Yes, stones, and even tombstones. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” was never the end of the story.

The Gospel truth is that Jesus’ Name is above every name, to which every knee will bow, even Pilate’s.

~  James M. Kushiner, Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

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View the Story

 

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A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

PROLOGUE

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the Church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, authoritatively recorded in Scripture and handed down through the Church. Thus, while we affirm the global strength and vitality of worldwide Evangelicalism in our day, we believe the North American expression of Evangelicalism needs to be especially sensitive to the new external and internal challenges facing God’s people.

These external challenges include the current cultural milieu and the resurgence of religious and political ideologies. The internal challenges include Evangelical accommodation to civil religion, rationalism, privatism and pragmatism. In light of these challenges, we call Evangelicals to strengthen their witness through a recovery of the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient Church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation and the Evangelical awakenings. Ancient Christians faced a world of paganism, Gnosticism and political domination. In the face of heresy and persecution, they understood history through Israel’s story, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world? The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future challenges Evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in history. The narrative of God’s Kingdom holds eternal implications for the mission of the Church, its theological reflection, its public ministries of worship and spirituality and its life in the world. By engaging these themes, we believe the Church will be strengthened to address the issues of our day.

1. ON THE PRIMACY OF THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

We call for a return to the priority of the divinely authorized canonical story of the Triune God. This story-Creation, Incarnation, and Re-creation-was effected by Christ’s recapitulation of human history and summarized by the early Church in its Rules of Faith. The gospel-formed content of these Rules served as the key to the interpretation of Scripture and its critique of contemporary culture, and thus shaped the church’s pastoral ministry. Today, we call Evangelicals to turn away from modern theological methods that reduce the gospel to mere propositions, and from contemporary pastoral ministries so compatible with culture that they camouflage God’s story or empty it of its cosmic and redemptive meaning. In a world of competing stories, we call Evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of Evangelical life.

2. ON THE CHURCH, THE CONTINUATION OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call Evangelicals to take seriously the visible character of the Church. We call for a commitment to its mission in the world in fidelity to God’s mission (Missio Dei), and for an exploration of the ecumenical implications this has for the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from an individualism that makes the Church a mere addendum to God’s redemptive plan. Individualistic evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of churchless Christianity, redefinitions of the Church according to business models, separatist ecclesiologies and judgmental attitudes toward the Church. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover their place in the community of the Church catholic.

3. ON THE CHURCH’S THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for the Church’s reflection to remain anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned from the early Fathers. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from methods that separate theological reflection from the common traditions of the Church. These modern methods compartmentalize God’s story by analyzing its separate parts, while ignoring God’s entire redemptive work as recapitulated in Christ. Anti-historical attitudes also disregard the common biblical and theological legacy of the ancient Church. Such disregard ignores the hermeneutical value of the Church’s ecumenical creeds. This reduces God’s story of the world to one of many competing theologies and impairs the unified witness of the Church to God’s plan for the history of the world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to unity in “the tradition that has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” as well as to humility and charity in their various Protestant traditions.

4. ON THE CHURCH’S WORSHIP AS TELLING AND ENACTING GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for public worship that sings, preaches and enacts God’s story. We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in baptism, Eucharist, confession, the laying on of hands, marriage, healing and through the charisma of the Spirit, for these actions shape our lives and signify the meaning of the world. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from forms of worship that focus on God as a mere object of the intellect or that assert the self as the source of worship. Such worship has resulted in lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled models that do not adequately proclaim God’s cosmic redemption. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover the historic substance of worship of Word and Table and to attend to the Christian year, which marks time according to God’s saving acts.

5. ON SPIRITUAL FORMATION IN THE CHURCH AS EMBODIMENT OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for a catechetical spiritual formation of the people of God that is based firmly on a Trinitarian biblical narrative. We are concerned when spirituality is separated from the story of God and baptism into the life of Christ and his Body. Spirituality, made independent from God’s story, is often characterized by legalism, mere intellectual knowledge, an overly therapeutic culture, New Age Gnosticism, a dualistic rejection of this world and a narcissistic preoccupation with one’s own experience. These false spiritualities are inadequate for the challenges we face in today’s world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to return to a historic spirituality like that taught and practiced in the ancient catechumenate.

6. ON THE CHURCH’S EMBODIED LIFE IN THE WORLD

We call for a cruciform holiness and commitment to God’s mission in the world. This embodied holiness affirms life, biblical morality and appropriate self-denial. It calls us to be faithful stewards of the created order and bold prophets to our contemporary culture. Thus, we call Evangelicals to intensify their prophetic voice against forms of indifference to God’s gift of life, economic and political injustice, ecological insensitivity and the failure to champion the poor and marginalized. Too often we have failed to stand prophetically against the culture’s captivity to racism, consumerism, political correctness, civil religion, sexism, ethical relativism, violence and the culture of death. These failures have muted the voice of Christ to the world through his Church and detract from God’s story of the world, which the Church is collectively to embody. Therefore, we call the Church to recover its counter-cultural mission to the world.

EPILOGUE

In sum, we call Evangelicals to recover the conviction that God’s story shapes the mission of the Church to bear witness to God’s Kingdom and to inform the spiritual foundations of civilization. We set forth this Call as an ongoing, open-ended conversation. We are aware that we have our blind spots and weaknesses. Therefore, we encourage Evangelicals to engage this Call within educational centers, denominations and local churches through publications and conferences.

We pray that we can move with intention to proclaim a loving, transcendent, triune God who has become involved in our history. In line with Scripture, creed and tradition, it is our deepest desire to embody God’s purposes in the mission of the Church through our theological reflection, our worship, our spirituality and our life in the world, all the while proclaiming that Jesus is Lord over all creation.

This Call is issued in the spirit of sic et non; therefore those who affix their names to this Call need not agree with all its content. Rather, its consensus is that these are issues to be discussed in the tradition of semper reformanda as the church faces the new challenges of our time. Over a period of seven months, more than 300 persons have participated via e-mail to write the Call. These men and women represent a broad diversity of ethnicity and denominational affiliation. The four theologians who most consistently interacted with the development of the Call have been named as Theological Editors. The Board of Reference was given the special assignment of overall approval.

Just before his death in 2007, Robert E. Webber (inset picture) spent a good portion of his time working collaboratively with over 300 theologians and other leaders to craft A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. The Call continues some themes and expands upon the Chicago Call” of 1977, and sets forth a vision for an Ancient-Future faith in a postmodern world. That Webber helped to craft such a call is not unusual, for he spent the whole of his professional life calling the church to continual reform and, most especially, encouraging leaders and laity alike to drink from the refreshing well of ancient truth. That the Call came, as it did, at a time of great change in the world and in the church, and that it also came just before his passing, gives it a kind of weight that makes it especially compelling to examine.

pastoralcare

“And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Jeremiah 3:15 (KJV)

From this it is evident that there are five main tasks required in the pastoral office and true care of souls:

First: to lead to Christ our Lord and into His communion those who are still estranged from Him, whether through carnal excess or false worship.

Secondly: to restore those who had once been brought to Christ and into His church but have been drawn away again through the affairs of the flesh or false doctrine.

Thirdly: to assist in the true reformation of those who while remaining in the church of Christ have grievously fallen and sinned.

Fourthly: to re-establish in true Christian strength and health those who, while persevering in the fellowship of Christ and not doing anything particularly or grossly wrong, have become somewhat feeble and sick in the Christian life.

Fifthly: to protect from all offense and falling away and continually encourage in all good things those who stay within the flock and in Christ’s sheep-pen without grievously sinning or becoming weak and sick in their Christian walk.

~ from Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer (1538) (p. 70)

{May this ever be my prayer, oh Lord my God}

*Note: Caring elders/pastors must seek the lost, bring back the wandering, restore the fallen, strengthen the weak, and encourage the strong. The Gospel brings salvation, healing, and deliverance.