Archive for June, 2011

Recently the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC) have been exploring to what extent they may engage ecumenically with other churches while remaining faithful to the Scriptures and the confessions. Neither church has put it quite that way, of course, and perhaps I’m overstating the case a bit. Nevertheless, recent events make clear that the two churches are showing more interest in dialoguing with other denominations than they have previously shown in the past

It would be an exaggeration to say that interest in ecumenical dialogue is something new for confessional Lutherans. The LCMS, for example, has been involved in the work of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) since its founding. But in recent years, the frequency of ecumenical discussion has begun to increase. In 2007, the LCMS approved altar and pulpit fellowship with the American Association of Lutheran Churches. In the four years since, ecumenical dialogue with other churches has been increasing with surprising rapidity.

Much of these discussions have been occasioned by the widening gap in world Christianity over the question of biblical authority. As liberals continue to minimize the importance of Scripture, Christians holding a historic view of biblical authority find themselves increasingly looking to denominations like the LCMS and LCC for support and fellowship. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)’s 2009 Churchwide Assembly, for example, created wide division in North American Lutheranism as well as abroad. Shortly after the vote, the 5.3 million member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus began ecumenical discussions with the LCMS – which quickly culminated in a partnership agreement. In Canada, the Union of Oromo Evangelical Churches in Canada has begun exploring a closer association with LCC. Major Lutheran denominations in Tanzania and Madagascar are similarly looking for closer ties to the LCMS and the ILC.

But it’s not just Lutherans getting in on the action. In December 2010, members of the LCMS and LCC began dialogue with representatives from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) – a collective which has broken away from the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church over issues of scriptural authority. Earlier in 2009, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Nafzger attended ACNA’s founding convention on behalf of the LCMS. Of course, the goals of the current discussion are not altar or pulpit fellowship; but that the LCMS and LCC should be actively exploring “to what extent they can make common affirmations and statements” with an Anglican church body is certainly new ecumenical ground for confessional Lutherans.

Finally, there has recently been news of potential discussions between the LCMS and the newly formed North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The denomination, formed in 2010, is composed primarily of churches which broke away from the ELCA after the actions of its 2009 Churchwide Assembly – again, over issues of biblical authority. The June issue of “NALC News” reports that the LCMS has made overtures to the new Lutheran body to “engage in consultation regarding doctrine and shared forms of ministry.” Again, the goal is probably not altar and pulpit fellowship, but rather to find common theological ground and a basis for external work together.

This is all good news for Lutherans who feel our theology has much to offer wider Christian discourse. In an effort to preserve doctrinal purity, LCC and LCMS Lutherans have tended in the past to shy away from ecumenical discussions. But that self-preservation has come at a cost: to a large extent, we have lost the platform we might otherwise have had to speak into the situations plaguing world Christianity, issues like the prosperity gospel, the increasing liberalization of mainline Protestant theology, and the dangers of confusing Law and Gospel. Our voice has been regrettably absent from the public sphere – as a recent blog post by Reformed pastor/author Kevin DeYoung makes clear. “What’s up with the Lutherans?” he asks. “More to the point, where are they?” However much we may be speaking amongst ourselves, we don’t seem to have made much of an attempt to speak to the larger Christian Church around us.

We confessional Lutherans have been silent for far too long.

But while our corporate voice has been rather minimal, there have been some individual Lutherans who have given us good examples of how we ought to be engaging Christians outside Lutheranism. Primary among them are figures like Gene Veith and Rod Rosenbladt. The former’s books are read across the denominational spectrum (as is his blog and his magazine articles), and he is a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The latter is best-known for co-hosting The White Horse Inn with a number of Reformed theologians, in addition to writings like The Gospel for those Broken by the Church and articles in Modern Reformation. Both have lectured at prominent non-Lutheran Christian events. Recently, for example, Veith was the keynote speaker for Athanatos Christian Ministries’ 2011 Online Apologetics Conference, and Rosenbladt addressed attendees at the third annual 2010 Mockingbird Conference. If our churches are going to increase their involvement in the wider Christian world around us, these are the people who will provide examples of how to do it without compromising our strong, confessional theology.

The stirring of ecumenical interest in the LCMS and LCC is a good sign that we’re finally realizing the leadership role we should be playing in wider Christendom. As more sections of the Church wander further and further from historic orthodoxy, the more important a strong Lutheran witness becomes – both as a defense of biblical authority and as an encouragement to other Christian denominations who find themselves in agreement with us. By acting together, we have a greater voice for calling wandering Christians back to a faith grounded on the Scriptures.

I pray that these confessional ecumenical movements on the part of LCC and LCMS reflect the birth of just such a confessional Christian alignment.

People who know me well know that I love to talk. I love to debate theology and philosophy, the big topics which undergird faith and life. But there are some things which still rob me of words – which leave me rambling and searching in vain for a rational explanation.

Death is one of them.

This past weekend, a friend died in a car accident. It is an aching feeling to know that the email I sent this past Friday will go forever unanswered – that the message she sent a few days earlier will be the last I ever receive. It seems cruel that our enthusiasm and excitement over seeing each in just a month’s time should go unfulfilled – as will a second visit planned for a month later. Startling, that we shall never meet, in fact, this side of heaven.

In her last email, she noted that “God-willing” we would see each other soon. But God did not so will. And this is one of the things beyond my comprehension: how God could take away one so young, with so much seemingly left to accomplish. How he could leave so many behind to grieve. It is striking that, in her last email to me, she herself remarked jokingly upon the “inopportune” timing of death.

I cannot fathom how a good God can do such a thing. Not that I doubt God is good, mind you. But his goodness in such matters is to me incomprehensible – a deep mystery into which we peer at our peril.

Faith cannot cling to such shadows and darkness. So let us then cling to Christ. Let us cling to the manger, where God steps out of the heavens and into our lives. Let us cling to the cross, where he bears our sin and our pain and every evil we shall ever know. Let us, at last, cling to the wounds of his living hands – the hole in his breathing side. For these are the tokens of Love. This is the visible God. And this God who is Love has promised new life to absent friends.

Nor does he forget us who on this earth remain. For while He shall not wipe away all tears until that great day, he gives us this promise for the here and now: that he weeps with us. He clings to us and bids us cling to him, as we journey weary steps in the rain of earthly sorrows. And as he bears us up, he whispers in our ears, “At eve, it shall be light” (Zechariah 14:7).

Until we meet in that Far Country A.S.

In Jesus’ Love – Mathew Block

“We should overcome heretics with books, not with fire, as the ancient fathers did. If it were wisdom to vanquish heretics with fire, then the public hangmen would be the most learned scholars on earth.” – Martin Luther (To the Christian Nobility)

Things to pray about this weekend:

Lutheran Church – Canada is holding its National Convention in Hamilton, Ontario beginning later today. Pray that God would bless the voting delegates with a spirit of wisdom that their decisions would be in keeping with God’s Word and build up the Church in her most holy faith. Keep up to date on all the happenings online:

Once it gets going, watch live proceedings here.

Details on resolutions and an agenda are available here

Lutheran Bible Translators is holding its IDIOM (In-Depth Investigation Of Mission) conference right now. Pray that God would speak clearly to those gathered, as they discern whether He is calling them to biblical translation ministry or a related ministry.

Details on upcoming IDIOM conferences and how you can attend one are available here.

"Holy Rapture, Batman!"It’s very easy to laugh at Harold Camping’s recent rapture prediction and his subsequent explanations for why said rapture failed to materialize. But while we can fault his theology, Christians should be at least a bit more hesitant in their wholesale criticisms of his ideas.

Let me be clear: I think Camping is dead wrong in trying to predict when end-times events will occur. Scripture is clear on the matter: “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36; cf. 24:42,50; 25:13; and Mark 13:32, 35). Nor am I a fan of his eschatology (the rapture, as popularly understood, is too new an interpretation for me, being popularized only in the 19th century ). But what Camping is right about, and what most Christians have failed to affirm during the recent media brouhaha is this: Christ is coming back again.

In his 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne articulates a scientific (if fictional) theory of how space exploration might be accomplished. Some of his predictions proved accurate: for example, the location of American launch sites for lunar missions (as near the equator as possible, Verne suggested, to minimize distance between the earth and moon; the Apollo missions followed suit). But others are laughably wrong. The idea of using a gigantic canon to launch space exploration vehicles never materialized… and a good thing too, as the Gs generated by such a cannon would entirely squash the astronauts.

Still, for all his errors, Verne was right about the idea of space exploration – the idea that engineering could conquer the seemingly insurmountable challenge of escaping earth’s gravity.

During the intense media scrutiny of Camping, it was easy to get caught up (no pun intended) in the humour of it all. I myself laughed heartily over an “End of the World Garage Sale” sign I saw the day of the supposed rapture. But we as Christians should step back for a moment to consider the following: we laughed with the world around us over the silliness of Camping’s prediction; but was the world similarly laughing with us or was it – without our realizing it – laughing at us?

As out-there as Camping’s ideas are, Christians of all stripes and sizes agree with him that there will be a Second Coming. To the world around us, that’s just more nonsense of the Camping variety, more 2012-style lunacy. Sure, we might not set a date, but our end-of-the-world ideas are just as much “foolishness” to the world at large as any other crackpot’s.

"The Last Judgement" by Jean CousinWhile we laughed with the world, they laughed at the Church, at simple-minded Christians who against all logic continue to believe in old fairy tales about a God who made the world, died for the world, and is coming again to create a new world. They weren’t just laughing at Camping alone; they were laughing at the very idea of the Second Coming.

The Second Coming has been the belief of the Church since the very beginning. It’s all through the Scriptures. It’s affirmed in the early creeds. And we still confess that faith every Sunday (at least in my church): “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” We need to reject nonsense (like Camping’s) that distorts that truth, just as we would reject Verne’s nonsense about canon-launched space vehicles. But the general idea? It’s sound Christian doctrine. Let’s not downplay that fact in our efforts to distance ourselves from errant interpretations of it.