Entries tagged with “Bible”.
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Mon 18 Mar 2013
Posted by Mathew Block under Articles, Main
That’s the title of my column for the January-February issue of The Canadian Lutheran. A selection follows below:
Faith comes by hearing, St. Paul tells us—specifically, by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). And “hearing” isn’t a one-time act. We constantly need to be listening to the Word of God. We need it to survive. As Moses explained, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
It’s continual feeding on the Word that enlivens faith. We constantly need to hear the Law expose our sin. We constantly need to hear the Good News that Jesus died to take away that sin. We constantly need to hear that, through His resurrection, we are raised with Him to new life, now and forevermore.
This isn’t a passive listening either. Once the Holy Spirit has called us and opened our hearts to believe, He then moves us to act. St. James encourages: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22).
Read the whole article here.
Fri 11 Nov 2011
If you follow religious news at all, chances are you’ve heard about the schisms and doctrinal battles happening in denominations like the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As these church bodies and others like them continue to move in an increasingly liberal direction (theologically speaking), congregations and individual Christians who make their stand on the Word of God often find themselves to be in the minority and, as a result, often become the targets of oppression from their denominations.
Enter an article of mine entitled “Standing Firm: The Cost of Confessing the Word of God” which appears in the most recent issue of The Canadian Lutheran. The article explores some of the difficulties facing Christians who affirm the authority of Scripture, and the sacrifices they often face for doing so. But the article doesn’t focus solely on the negative side of things: it also points out new opportunities for dialogue between denominations who do affirm the authority of Scripture – highlighting, for example, recent dialogue between Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC) & the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) on the one side and the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) on the other. It also notes the emergence of dialogue between the newly born North American Lutheran Church (NALC) and the LCMS. And it’s not just my thoughts you hear in the article: three major thinkers were kind enough to share their opinions on the subjects in question: the Rev. Dr. James I. Packer (of ACNA), Bishop John Bradosky (of NALC), and Dr. John R. Stephenson (of LCC). Their thoughts are well worth the read, I assure you. Read it for free online here.
Wed 7 Oct 2009
As I’m working pretty much all the time on my thesis at current, I can’t take much of a break for blogging. But I want to share, for your edification, a favourite passage from the sermons I’m working on. In my opinion, the thoughts expressed below are as relevant today as they were when the book was first printed in 1547. The first version has been slightly updated by myself (in case reading 16th century English is not your favourite pastime); the second is the selection as it was originally published.
A Modern Adaptation
If we profess Christ, why are we not ashamed to be ignorant of His doctrine? Any man is ashamed to be ignorant of the knowledge of his profession. A man is ashamed to be called a philosopher if he does not read books of philosophy. Likewise, men are ashamed to be called lawyers, astronomers, or physicians if they are ignorant of the books of law, astronomy, and medicine. How can any man then say that he professes Christ and His religion, but will not apply himself to read and hear and know the books of Christ’s Gospel and doctrine? Although other sciences are good, and no man can deny that to be well-educated in them is also good, but this – our faith – is the chief thing and passes all others studies incomparably. What excuse shall we give at the last day before Christ if we delight to hear men’s fantasies and creations more than His most holy Gospel? What excuse can we give if we never make time to do the very thing we should do above all other things? What shall we say in our defense if we choose to read everything except Scripture, the very thing we ought to make time for before all other readings? Let us therefore apply ourselves, as much as we are able, to know God’s word by diligently hearing and reading it – as we must, if we truly profess to know God and have faith and trust in Him.
If we professe Christe why be we not ashamed to be ignoraunte in his doctrine? Seyng that euery man is ashamed to be ignoraunt in that learning, which he professeth. That man is ashamed, to be called a Philosophier, whiche readeth not the bookes of Philosophie, and to be called a lawyer and Astronomier, or a phisicion, that is ignoraunt in the bokes of law, Astronomie, and Phisicke. Howe can any man then saie, that he professeth Christ, and his religion, if he will not applye hymself, (as farfurther as he can or may conueniently) to reade and hear, & to knowe the bokes of Christes Gospel & doctrine. Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can deny, but this is the chiefe, and passeth al other incomparably. What excuse shal we therfore make (at the last daie before Christ) that delight to reade, or heare mennes phantasies and inuencions, more then his moste holy Gospell, and will fynd no tyme to doo that, whiche chiefly (aboue all thynges) wee should do and wil rather reade other thynges, then that, for the whiche, we oughte rather to leaue readyng of all other thyngs. Let us therefore apply our selfes, as farfuth as we can haue tyme and leasure, to knowe Gods worde, by diligent hearing and readyng therof, as many as professe God, and haue faithe and trust in him.
Selected from Thomas Cranmer’s “A fruitfull exhortation, to the readyng and knowledge of holy scripture.” Certayne Sermons, or Homelies. 1547.
Sun 16 Aug 2009
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) begins their convention tomorrow. Among the more contentious (and rightly so) issues on the table are two relating to the church’s stance on homosexuality. Specifically, one revision intends to allow individual congregations to employ homosexual people in committed relationships to serve as clergy. The second is a broad statement on human sexuality which intends to craft a framework for differing views on homosexuality. (See the Associated Press news story).
Like most denominations that are being dragged in an overtly anti-Scriptural direction, there is still a sizable faction within the church who are desperately trying to remain faithful to the historic faith. Specifically in this case, the Coalition for Reform (CORE), a group committed to preserving Biblical authority in the ELCA, is pushing for the new measures to be defeated. (See CAN’s news story).
Let’s add our prayers to their attempts to re-form ELCA into a Bible-centered church. But if the measures should instead pass, let’s pray that God would make His will known to CORE and like-minded Lutherans as they contemplate splitting from the ever-more-liberal ELCA.
Christ-centered Bible-believing Lutherans in ELCA would do well to take a page from evangelical Anglicans who recently have split from the liberal Episcopal Church (USA) and Anglican Church of Canada. Their difficult decision to undergo Reformation as they reaffirm the authority of Scripture is worthy of praise.
 I think it’s highly debatable whether the ELCA as a unified whole can continue in good faith to use the terms “Evangelical” or “Lutheran” without drastically changing the meanings of the two words. An abandoning of Scripture-based Gospel-centric teaching doesn’t seem to match up with a denomination originally known for its fealty to Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Scripture Alone.
Mon 10 Aug 2009
Posted by Mathew Block under Lutheran Leanings, Main
Ever wonder what youth in the Lutheran church are thinking? Wonder no more. Back in June, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod released the results of a survey they took at their 2007 National Youth Gathering. I’ve gathered a bit of the more interesting results below to consider. Some of it is encouraging. Some is simply concerning.
Personal Faith Life
When asked how much time they spent per week in personal Bible study and devotion, the largest response by far was “very little/almost never.” In fact, 47.6% of 18 year olds, 48.2% of 15 year olds, 51.4% of 16 year olds, 55.5% of 17 year olds and a disheartening 55.5% of 19 year olds checked that category. Another 29.7% to 40.5% chose the next lowest option: 30-60 minutes per week. 6.1% to 10% chose 61-120 minutes while only 1.7% to 4.4% checked more than 2 hours.
25.6% to 33.3% of teens responded they speak to parents/family about God and spiritual matters ‘often’. 41% to 46.8% said ‘sometimes’. 13.3 to 22.7% said ‘rarely’ while 5% to 7% said ‘never’.
Only 52.1% to 58.3% of teens agreed pre-marital sex was always wrong. An encouraging 77% of 15 year olds said they never engaged in sexual intercourse, but that number progressively drops to a dismal 48.3% among 19 year olds.
Only 58.7% to 67.2% were certain that homosexuality was a sin according to God’s Word and therefore wrong.
An encouraging 86.5% to 91.4% responded that they never do drugs. 64.2% to 79.3% insisted they had not once been drunk in the past 12 months.
69.1% to 70.3% believed abortion was definitely wrong and identified themselves as ‘pro-life’. 16.9 to 21.4% believed a woman should have the right to choose and identified themselves as ‘pro-choice’.
17.3% to 24.9% preferred “traditional, liturgical worship, using hymns pretty much out of a hymnal.” 24.9% to 31.9% preferred “contemporary music with praise band usually singing praise choruses. Never out of a hymnal.” The largest category at 39.9% to 43.4% preferred “a mixture of old and new” while 8.3% to 11% were unsure what they preferred.
On the subject of church fellowship, a disappointing 18.3% to 23.3% believed “all religions are pretty much alike.” 15.3% to 22.3% believed Lutherans should associate only with other Lutherans. 47.8% to 58.3% affirmed belief in a larger catholic understanding of Christian unity.
On the issue of female ordination, 39.8% to 50% believed it was contrary to God’s Word. 21.1% to 30.6% believed the issue should continue to be studied and held up to God’s Word. 8.3% to 14.9% suggested the official LCMS position was definitely wrong, while 15% to 24.2% admitted they just didn’t know.
41.5% to 47.9% were “really not interested” in considering a career in professional church work. Another 18.3% to 23.4% had “never really thought about it.”
Most teens considered their home congregation generally unwilling to consider any change even if “a good, new idea comes along.” 15.7% to 23.1% felt their home church “wouldn’t change a light bulb if they didn’t have to” while an additional 35.3% to 42.2% felt their home congregation was unsympathetic towards change but that “sometimes they can be convinced.”
Only 17.1% to 23.3% and 5% to 12.1% thought their home congregation was either “good or “excellent, respectively, involving youth in congregational decision making.
That’s just some of the numbers that caught my eye. It’s time to consider results like this to discern where we’re succeeding and where we’re failing, to re-evaluate methods which my be flawed and support methods which may be working.
Plenty to think about and plenty to pray about in any event. Read the full results of the survey at LCMS’ website.
Tue 30 Jun 2009
Monday began much like any other day. My alarm clock went off, I rose from my slumber, and then began the typical morning routine. By the time my alarm clock displayed 7:30 a.m., I was grabbing my leather satchel and bustling out the door to catch the bus. I happened to check the time on my cell-phone as I was nearing my office. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it read 6:45 a.m. I was more than an hour early for work. Immediately, I knew I must have mis-set the normal time on my clock the night before when I set the alarm time.
All I can say is thank goodness for coffee shops that open at 6:30 a.m.! A mocha, a muffin, and a few pages into my pocket Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord later, I was feeling a little less tired and a little more insightful. [Check out Concordia Publishing House here for the pocket edition I'm referring to. Small and sleek, it's a very portable Book of Concord that can go with you just about anywhere.]
As I sat, my mind began to consider how I had been so duped. I was certain it was 7:30 a.m. when I left. The clock in my room told me as much. The reality, of course, was far different. What you see and what you get are frequently two very dissimilar things.
The same is true in spiritual matters as well as in earthly. Jesus warns us in Matthew to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (7:15). The old adage “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck” often misses the mark. If it looks like a sheep and acts like a sheep, it may well still be a wolf. So how then do we distinguish one from the other? Jesus tells us that we shall recognize them “by their fruits” (7:20). It seems simple enough. A true prophet will do good things; a bad will do bad.
But the next passage seems to slightly muddle such an easy interpretation. Jesus continues, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21). The surprising thing for us to consider is that those Jesus rejects seem to have truly thought themselves Christian, and have even borne some measure of fruit, at least by their own account. “Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” they ask (7:22). But Jesus declares he never knew them (7:23).
So what – to borrow a rather famous line of Luther’s – does this mean? What fruits does Christ here refer to? What does it mean to do the will of the Father?
There is a dangerous tendency in world Christianity today where people attempt to interpret passages while ignoring the context surrounding them. Each passage must be interpreted in relation to the rest of the book it appears in, as each book was written as a whole book. The Gospels are not just random snippets. No, they were thoughtfully planned and written (see, for example, Luke 1:1-4). As such, we must never forget the context of a passage. Neither should we forget that the books of Scripture exist in context to each other. Each interprets and explains the other.
Turning our attention back to the passages under discussion, then, what does the context tell us? The section immediately following is the parable of building houses on rocks and sand. The wise man “built his house on the rock” (7:24); the foolish man “built his house on the sand” (7:26). The wise man’s home survives the storm, but the foolish man’s does not. The point is clear: Build your house upon the rock.
Let us therefore trace the train of thought presented thus far. We must bear fruit. Those who bear fruit will do the Father’s will. Those who do the Father’s will hear Jesus’ words and obey them (7:24), which is what building the house upon the rock is equated with. But we see now that we have not actually yet answered our own question. Rather, we have simply deferred the question for we still do not know what the rock upon which we build is nor what “building” actually entails.
Chapter 8 is a fascinating collection of events where Jesus heals the sick, exorcises the demon-possessed, and commands the winds and waters to obey him. The section is clearly about demonstrating Christ’s authority and power. He commands the bodily realm as he makes the ill well. He commands the spiritual realm as he drives out demons. He commands the physical realm as he calms the storm. His unshakable, unassailable self thus becomes the Rock upon which we must build. In fact, it is Christ that prevents the disciples from being swallowed up by the wind and rain. He saves them from the storm, just as the rock foundation saves the wise man’s house from the storm. And so we see that it is he that is the solid rock on which we build. He prevents us from being swept away in the flood.
So we have discovered what – or rather who – the firm rock is to which Jesus refers. But what about building? What does that mean? It is interesting to note that chapter 8 is as much about faith as it is about authority. We see the faith of the Leper, who professes without doubt, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (8:2). We see the faith of the Centurion who proclaims, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (8:8). Christ marvels at this, telling those around him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (8:10). Indeed, his very own disciples fail to show such trust in Christ. Later on the boat, Christ not only rebukes the storm but also the disciples saying, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (8:26).
This then is what it means to build upon Christ our Rock. This then is what it means to do the will of the Father and bear fruit. It means above all to have faith. As it is written in John, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (6:29). It is faith in Christ that identifies the true Christian from the false prophet. It is faith in Christ that identifies those who do mere good works from those who do the will of the Father. For it is through faith that grace is imputed unto us. We see that grace in these passages as Christ heals the sick, exorcises the possessed, and calms the storm. His is a grace that saves, that transforms the old into something new. His is a grace that acts through faith, strengthens faith, even creates faith among the faithless. And this state of grace and faith provide us with the tools necessary to live the lives the Spirit calls us to live. We may do the will of the Father by grace through faith in Christ
Mon 13 Apr 2009
In a comment on Ken Maher’s article Chew on this…, I began discussing the concern of lessening teen involvement in the Lutheran Church – Canada. There I suggested that while “we’ve got a strong, unshakable foundation in Jesus Christ,” it may well “be time to do some repairs on the ground floor.” In other words, while theologically our faith is strong, the practical application thereof has faced significant difficulties for many years. Ken then asked me what kind of repairs I thought might be in order. This is my response.
Before launching directly into the discussion, it is, I think, important to recognize that the problem of teen dropout is not merely a “teen” problem. This is in actuality merely symptomatic of a much graver issue in our denomination (and many others for that matter). In particular, I am thinking of the lack of spiritual fervour and discipline far too common among our congregants. When teens are raised by parents for whom faith is a Sunday-only concept rather than a life-encompassing reality, it is exceptionally hard for the teens to see the importance of Christianity itself to their daily lives, let alone the usefulness of church attendance. And these Sunday-Christian parents are taking significantly less of a role than previous generations in the spiritual upbringing of their children. They assume, no doubt, that this void will be filled with Sunday School and Confirmation.
No surprise, therefore, that teens are failing to connect with the Church.
In the Lutheran church, we pride ourselves on our strong theological heritage, and rightly so. And so we stress in our Confirmation classes the necessity of knowing the Bible, and texts like Luther’s Small Catechism (because they are faithful expositions of Holy Scripture). But we forget, and inexcusably so, the necessity of teaching devotional practice. We make our confirmants read the Bible in order to complete Confirmation homework, but we do not teach them how to read for daily devotional purposes. We make them memorize the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s explanation thereof in the Small Catechism, but we do not have small prayer groups with them, nor make it clear what it is to talk daily with God. We make sure they know all the right answers to all the right theological questions, but we do not give them the tools to face life-problems outside the Catechism. Nor do we stress the necessity of Christian service in the congregation or mission outreach to the world at large.
The problem is clear: our youth have no spiritual grounding. They do not know how to read the Bible devotionally. They do not know how to pray individually or corporately. They are ill-equipped to recognize their own spiritual gifts, and as a result do not know where they should serve. More striking, they do not personally and fully understand the good news of Jesus Christ for themselves and, as such, feel no concern for evangelism.
Should we be surprised then that Lutheran youth are leaving the Church? We focus so strongly on the their intellectual assent to theological statements, but provide no practical guidance as to how this theology should impact their daily lives. As such, Confirmation becomes nothing more than a graduation exercise: “If I know the right answers, I’ll pass.” But where is the testing of their devotional lives? How many youth have we set before the Church and confirmed, all the while knowing that in their personal lives no evidence of faith is visible? “Faith without works is dead,” as James reminds us. And yet, for fear of being misunderstood as preaching works-righteousness, we do not stress the necessity of the evidence of faith in the lives of believers.
Forgive me if I sound blunt or go to far in my rhetoric. As I have said, the issue is close to my heart, as a young person myself, and it grieves my very soul to see such things in the Church.
My practical advice is as follows. Please note that it is by no means intended to be considered a “complete” response.
- Confirmation (and pre-Confirmation) should be expanded to include a continual focus on devotional maturing throughout the classes. Teachers and pastors should not be content to merely have students give the right answers; there should be evidence of spiritual growth in the lives of the confirmands.
- Confirmation should be delayed until youth are older. I know many would suggest that we have to “confirm them while they’re young and while their parents can still make them come to church” (I’ve had pastors tell me as much), but I believe this to be an error, however well-meant. Confirming young people merely because they’re still young enough to be forced to attend classes at the behest of their parents makes a mockery of the rite of Confirmation. After all, they stand before the congregation and make a profession of faith. If it is made merely to placate parents, then the pastor and congregation are, to put it frankly, guilty of bearing false witness before God. I suggest, therefore, that confirmation be delayed until about Grade 10 or 11. Youth at that age who desire to put in the work required for confirmation are far less likely to be doing it merely because their parents want them to.
- Finally, new emphasis should be placed on getting adults to attend Bible Studies and other small-groups. As I have said, the setting of teens’ religious foundations are intrinsically connected with the faith-lives of their parents and elders (see the article “The Truth about Men and the Church”). Older congregants are just as in need of devotional training as are the young.
How then should all this be implemented? To be honest, I really don’t know. And to be honest, I’m sure you’ll all agree that I’ve already ranted enough for today.
What do you think? How should we be approaching the issue of teen-dropout (or, for that matter, spiritual stuntedness in the Church at large)? Leave your comments.