Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lutheran to Americanized Protestant, Step-by-Step


Step 1
"Ceremonies don't have to be the same everywhere."

Step 2
"It's all adiaphora."

Step 3
"God doesn't tell us how to worship."

Step 4
"Worship should appeal to the unchurched."

Step 5
    "Yes, I'll accept the nomination for District President."     

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ken Ham Won


I was finally able to finish watching the debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham the Creationist Man, which aired live Tuesday night, and can be viewed here. Ken Ham won. Period. No two ways about it. He was the clear winner of that debate. It really wasn't even close.

Now, you're going to say, "Well, yeah, you're a pastor, who believes in the Biblical account of Creation, so of course you're going to declare your guy the winner. You're biased!"

True. I will not even attempt to deny that. I do believe in the Biblical account of Creation. I believe what God reveals to us in Genesis. I am a young-earth Creationist. So, yes, I am biased. 

But, even though you won't believe me, that's not why I'm declaring Ken Ham the clear and decisive winner of the debate. In fact, I don't think he proved his position anymore than Bill Nye proved his, which is understandable, since neither can actually prove his position. I doubt that Mr. Ham changed a lot of minds. At best, he simply held his ground and presented his case. So did Bill Nye. The debate itself was a little disappointing, since it wasn't really a debate, but a mere presentation of positions that are already well known. I would have liked to have seen the two men actually debate one another in a back-and-forth series of questions and answers to one another, which would have been far more interesting.

Even so, Ken Ham won. Period. No two ways about it.

Why?

Two reasons:

1) Mr. Ham knows Mr. Nye's position. He has studied it for years. He knows the ins and outs of the theory of Evolution, where it came from, how it's changed over the years, what's happening now in the secular scientific community, and so on. He is a scientist himself. He knows what Mr. Nye believes, where he's coming from, and why he argues what he argues.

Mr. Nye, on the other hand, showed very clearly during the debate that he hasn't the first clue what Mr. Ham's position actually is, what he believes, where he's coming from, or why he argues what he argues. Further, he doesn't appear to have the first inkling of interest in learning any of that. He simply dismisses it all out of hand as unreasonable and ignorant, which is par-for-the-course within the secular scientific community today, along with its devoted followers in the liberal media, most of whom couldn't give you a summary overview of what the theory of Evolution actually entails, but never tire of insisting that anyone who doesn't accept it as fact is ignorant and/or insane. 

That reason alone is enough to declare Mr. Ham the winner. You cannot honestly engage in actual debate with a person whose position you don't know, and don't even care to learn. But, that's precisely what Mr. Nye tried to do.

To his credit, he readily admitted, "I'm no theologian," although making that admission was wholly unnecessary, since it was made painfully obvious every time he opened his mouth about anything Biblical or theological. He kept repeating, as a sort of mantra, "the bible as translated into American English over thirty centuries," evidently believing this to be the spurious and ridiculous basis upon which believers like Mr. Ham base their beliefs. In fact, at one point, he even referenced the old game "Telephone" to poke fun of those who believe in "the bible as translated into American English over thirty centuries," which only really served to poke major fun at himself, since it showed his utter ignorance regarding the mountains of manuscript evidence we have for the Bible, as well as the scientific process involved in producing a Bible today that is extraordinarily accurate (does Mr. Nye not understand that we possess thousands of manuscripts written in the original languages?). His suggestion that Mr. Ham and other believers are trusting a book that has gone through translation after translation after translation, so that, like in the game "Telephone," the message has been altered and changed and is no longer reliable, is something he could have easily avoided had he spent just a wee bit of time researching this before the debate. As it is, he sounded like a pimply-faced teenaged atheist with a blog. It was less than sophomoric.

The same is true of other statements he made, like when he claimed that referencing the New Testament was "out of the box," since the Creationist position is "based on the Old Testament," further showing his utter ignorance about the Bible. Or like when he asked Mr. Ham if the fish and other animals sinned, since the fossil record shows evidence that some were afflicted with disease and so forth, clearly revealing that he hasn't the first clue regarding the Christian doctrine of the Fall, as recorded in Scripture. Or like when he compared Mr. Ham's recognition that the Bible contains different genres of literature (narrative prose, poetry, prophecy, etc.) to "picking and choosing which parts of the bible to take literally," which doesn't really show a further ignorance of the Bible, but an ignorance of language itself. It was all rather embarrassing.

In short, what I witnessed in Mr. Nye during this debate was a man completely disinterested in trying to even begin the process of learning where a person like Mr. Ham is coming from, why he believes what he believes and argues what he argues. It seemed like his sole purpose for participating in the debate was to try to highlight how ignorant he believes people like Mr. Ham are, and how dangerous it would be for our country if we didn't abandon wholesale the Creation model espoused by him. Indeed, he kept repeating how voters and citizens in Kentucky and around the country needed to recognize that America would fall behind economically and lose its ranking as a world power if it didn't do so (yeah, he said that - many times!), but it was an epic fail, for the only thing he really accomplished was further proving that secular scientists like him haven't the first clue what Creationists actually believe and, again, aren't the least bit interested in learning what they believe.  

2) Mr. Ham readily admitted several times that he cannot prove his position regarding the origin of the universe. Mr. Nye, not so much. There were a couple of occasions where Mr. Nye admitted that he didn't know something. When asked where the atoms came from that caused the Big Bang, or where consciousness comes from, he said he didn't know, giving the impression that he believes science will one day reveal those answers to us. But, as far as everything having to do with the modern incarnation of the theory of Evolution, he gave the impression throughout the debate that it's all based on scientific fact.

Mr. Ham pushed the point that there is a difference between observational science done in the present and historical science dealing with the past, but Mr. Nye refused to differentiate between the two. For him, science is science. What we observe today tells us everything we need to know about the past - well, everything but where the atoms came from that caused the Big Bang and where consciousness comes from. But, we can confidently date the age of the earth, know with certainty that all life evolved from some primordial form, and so forth. It's all so neat and clean and factual. Except, it's not.

There are plenty of secular scientists who believe wholeheartedly in the theory of Evolution, but who readily admit that it's not actually verifiable and provable. In fact, most of them would readily admit that. If they're actual scientists - real, true-blue scientists - they must admit that. And, most do. But, you don't hear about them. They're unnamed. They remain behind the scenes, since they don't write books claiming that anyone who doesn't believe as they do are ignorant and not worthy of attention. They don't appear on television shows pushing political agendas and attacking the beliefs of others regarding the origin of the universe. They're not the Richard Dawkins and Bill Nye types. They're honest scientists, who recognize that science has its limits when it comes to answering questions regarding the origin of the universe. So, they postulate, guess, estimate, and theorize, based on what can be scientifically observed, but they go no further than that in their conclusions. That's not to say that they're not convinced of their conclusions. They are. They would vehemently disagree with Mr. Ham that present-day observational science cannot be extrapolated to explain the past. They would vehemently disagree with Mr. Ham that many of the dating methods they use are unreliable. They would posit confidently that the evidence suggests that the universe is billions of years old, and so forth, but, in the end, they would acknowledge that they cannot prove that their extrapolated conclusions are facts, since, well, they're not facts. They're best guesses and theories and postulations based on multiple assumptions.

At the end of the day, that's the truth that is being ever more suppressed by the public face of the secular scientific community, supported as they are by the liberal media. The theory of Evolution is no longer presented as a theory, but as established fact, and if you're not hip to jump on that bandwagon, you're a problem.  

So, Mr. Ham won. Not because he put forth more convincing arguments (even though I think he did). Not because he believes what I believe. Not because he did a better job at presenting his position. Not because he tore apart Mr. Nye's arguments (there were many times when I was hoping he would challenge Mr. Nye regarding his obvious ignorance of the Bible, theology, and the actual position of Creationists, but he seemed content to stick pretty close to the vest and simply present his case). Not because he was more engaging with the audience (I actually think Mr. Nye was more engaging). But, solely because he knew his opponent's position and was honest about not being able to prove his own, in direct contrast to his opponent, which would have been blatantly obvious to anyone familiar with both sides of the debate. 

All of that said, I do think Mr. Ham stumbled a bit during the questions from the audience part at the end, especially when asked, "What, if anything, would ever change your mind?" He answered that by saying that he's a Christian and that no one is ever going to convince him that the Word of God is wrong. In his defense, that is an answer to the question, since it included, "if anything." His answer was basically that there isn't anything that would change his mind. Fine. But, as I listened to this, I couldn't help but think that this would have been the perfect time to say, "Show me Jesus' remains. That would change my mind. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, my faith is futile" (1 Cor. 15:12-34). It was the perfect time to launch into the best historical defense we have for our Christian faith - the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ - and to challenge Mr. Nye about it.

It was a missed opportunity, which was made even more evident when Mr. Nye answered the question masterfully and without hesitation, citing a litany of things that would change him immediately if evidence was provided, and then challenged Mr. Ham to tell him what he can prove. I think it was both Mr. Ham's worst moment and Mr. Nye's best moments of the night.

Oh well. Can't win 'em all, and it's easy to play Thursday morning quarterback, I suppose. But, it doesn't change the fact that Ken Ham won. Period. No two ways about it.

Unless you ask Lawrence O'Donnell over at MSNBC, who not only thought Bill Nye was the decisive victor, but was absolutely baffled as to how he kept his composure in the presence of someone as ignorant as Ken Ham:


Of course, Mr. O'Donnell knows even less than Mr. Nye does about the Bible, Christian theology, and the actual position of Creationists like Mr. Ham. That, and he probably couldn't pass a junior high quiz on the theory of Evolution. So, I'm thinking he might not be the best judge of things here.

A while back, I had a family member ask me why I had so many Evolution textbooks on my bookshelf in my home study. My answer was that I cannot intelligently speak against something that I don't understand, so I've spent time reading and studying what Evolutionists believe over the years, and still do. Had I seen this debate prior to being asked that question, my response would have been, "I don't want to be like Bill Nye."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Let's Throw the Baby Into the Dirty Bathwater

"Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater" is, according to Wikipedia, "an idiomatic expression and a concept used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with the inessential."

Fine. That makes sense. We probably should be careful not to eliminate something good when trying to get rid of something bad. I mean, I'm all for protecting babies from being thrown out with the bathwater. But, as is the case with all such idiomatic expressions, this one, cute as it is, often gets mega-abused, especially within the church.

This expression gets abused because many assume that every resource advertised as Christian contains a baby, no matter how dirty the bathwater may be. But, this is simply not true. Often, such resources are completely baby-less and filled with nothing but dirty bathwater.

I heard this expression a lot a decade ago when Rick Warren came out with his, "The Purpose Driven Life," which was quickly followed upon with, "The Purpose Driven Church," and several other "Purpose Driven" resources. Many pastors and congregations in the LCMS promoted Warren's resources (some still do), claiming that there's good stuff in there amidst all the bad stuff, i.e., we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

To this day, I can't find a baby anywhere in the dirty bathwater of Warren's "Purpose Driven" nonsense. It's all just dirty bathwater, from beginning to end. The baby some LCMS pastors and congregations claim to find in Warren's nonsense doesn't actually exist. If their use of Warren's resources actually produces a baby of some kind, it is because they themselves added the baby when they magically "Lutheranized" Warren's stuff. But, that is quite a different thing altogether, isn't it? That's not avoiding throwing out the baby with the bathwater; that's throwing a baby into the filthy bathwater. And, that's gross. I mean, really, who would support throwing a nice, clean, cute, cuddly, beautiful baby into a bathtub filled with filthy, disgusting water?

The same could be said about most of the resources produced by pop-American "Christian preachers," writers, leaders, etc. There's no baby in Joel Osteen's stuff, or Joyce Meyer's stuff, or Rob Bell's stuff, or Beth Moore's stuff, or most of the emerging-emergents of our day and age. In fact, I know it sounds awful, but the vast majority of resources one finds lining the shelves of Christian bookstores today are baby-less, filled with nothing more than dirty bathwater. We might manage to find a pacifier or rubber ducky or two as we sift through the filthy bathwater, but we'll not find a baby there, unless we so twist and distort these resources in such a way as to throw a baby in there ourselves. But, again, who would support such an atrocity?

All of that said, there is certainly a place for this idiomatic expression within the church. I mean, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater here. There are many serious theological resources which are not wholly orthodox, but have much in them worthwhile and edifying. I have a plethora of such resources in my own library, even as I have a section in my library of nothing-but-dirty-bathwater resources, as I think it's important to know the nonsense being marketed as "Christian" out there today, so that I might warn the flock entrusted to my care about it.

But, my point here is that too often this phrase is used to support the promotion and use of resources that are completely baby-less. It doesn't always apply. Those who support the promotion and use of such baby-less resources can scream "Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater!" till their blue in the face, but what they really mean is, "Let's throw the baby into the dirty bathwater."

Let's not. Please.

That's really, really gross!

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Clergy Optional Church?

In a blog post yesterday, former LCMS President Jerry Kieschnick opined that some in our synod "seem intent on moving us toward a clergy dominated church." He provides three examples for why he has arrived at this opinion: 1) the abundance of black shirts and white collars at the recent LCMS Convention, 2) the exclusion of laity from consideration for positions of significant leadership in our church body, and 3) a discernible aloofness and even pharisaical demeanor exhibited by some pastors, obvious during worship services and in pastoral ministry functions as well, which telegraphs a "holier than thou" attitude.

On his first example, I'm not sure which Convention Jerry attended a couple weeks back. I watched a great deal of the Convention via online streaming and I certainly did not see an abundance of black shirts and white collars. In fact, the black shirts and white collars were few and far between. The overwhelming majority of pastoral delegates in attendance were not clad in clergy attire. A few were; most were not. Same with the Council of Presidents. Some wore black; most didn't. Thus, if the prevalence of black shirts and white collars was an actual indicator of some sort of shift toward a clergy dominated LCMS, any objective observer would have to conclude that Jerry has nothing to fear. Of course, this is not an actual indicator of any such thing, and it's beyond silly to pretend as though it is. But, again, if it was an indicator, it would indicate the exact opposite of what Jerry is contending. Doesn't he realize that?

The second example Jerry puts forth is as mind-boggling as the first, given the fact that laity have always been excluded from consideration for certain positions of significant leadership in our church body. The unknowing reader of Jerry's blog post might get the impression that drastic changes were made at our most recent Convention, which resulted in new exclusions of laity serving in leadership positions in our church body. Um, that did not happen. Of course, Jerry doesn't actually point his readers to any actual changes that have been made here. He just sort of throws this out there and leaves it to the imaginations of his readers. I guess we're just supposed to make our own assumptions and draw our own conclusions as to what he's trying to say, which I think is purposeful on his part. This is called fear-mongering. I think we're going to see a lot of this from Jerry and some of his pals on the Council of Presidents over the next triennium, just as we saw some of this from them in the weeks leading up to the Convention a couple weeks back. Fear-mongering is an oft-used tactic in secular politics, but it's a shame when it is a tactic employed by leaders, and former leaders, in a church body. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

The worst of the three examples Jerry provides is the third. What does he mean by "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor"? Does it bother him when pastors conduct themselves in a reverent fashion as they lead worship or perform other pastoral duties? Would he be happier if pastors wore t-shirts and performed their duties in a nonchalant, informal manner, as though they were not serving in the actual Presence of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Actually, based on years of listening to Jerry's thoughts on this issue, I think he would be happier were that the case. After all, during his tenure as our synodical president, he never tired of highlighting pastors and congregations in our synod whose worship practices emulated the worship practices of the Americanized Protestants, who do not believe Jesus is Present during worship. He even had a link in the President's section of our synod's website devoted to highlighting such pastors and congregations. And, as he wrote in an email missive last year (March 1, 2012), which is referenced in a blog post I wrote here, his opinion is that "to the greatest extent possible, pastors and other worship leaders do well to design and conduct services that . . . are conducted in what might be called a spirit of dignified informality." Evidently, if pastors conduct themselves in a spirit of dignified formality, they exhibit a "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor." I mean, God forbid that pastors actually behave as though they believe they're in the actual Presence of Jesus, and that reverence and awe are in order because of that. If they behave that way, the laity might start believing that stuff, too. We can't have that. That would take all the fun and entertainment out of worship, and we've been trying really hard since the 1980s to show the world that Lutheran worship can be just as fun and entertaining as the worship of the non-denominational mega-church down the road. Sigh.

Besides the fact that Jerry's "dignified informality" position is oxymoronic, as I point out in the blog post linked above, I hasten to point out that his inclusion of this third example in yesterday's blog post reeks of a "holier than thou" attitude on his part. Not only that, but, given that he makes this observation in light of our recent Convention, he seems to be slamming Pastors William Weedon and Ben Ball, who were the Chaplains during the Convention and lead the worship services. No doubt it irked Jerry when he saw both of these fine, faithful pastors conduct themselves with dignified formality, rather than the dignified informality he prefers. I can only imagine his angst when he saw them bow at the Name of the Holy Trinity or hold their hands together when reading God's Holy Word, etc. Oh, what discernible aloofness and pharisaical demeanor they displayed! Sigh (again).

None of the three examples Jerry puts forth supports his conclusion that we're moving in the direction of being a clergy dominated church. All three are examples of fear-mongering. Nothing more and nothing less. What Jerry and his pals are really worried about is the sense they have that their "Everyone a Minister" theology, which they spent so much effort introducing among us, is beginning to fizzle away. They are worried that our Lutheran theology of the Office of the Holy Ministry, which in no way dishonors our theology of the priesthood of all believers, is beginning to resurface among us. They are worried that their faulty view and understanding of the so-called "Great Commission," which comes not from our Lutheran theology, but from the theology and principles advanced by the proponents of the Church Growth Movement, will be shown to be faulty (for an excellent summary of the popular, but faulty, view and understanding of the so-called "Great Commission," see Pr. Todd Wilken's two-part article in the Summer 2011 and Fall 2011 "Issues, Etc. Journal"). They are worried that the clergy optional church they've been championing for years will be shown to be incompatible with our Lutheran confession of the faith.

Make no mistake, the "Everyone a Minister" theology adhered to by Jerry and friends does lead to a Clergy Optional Church. It posits that pastors are nice and all, but they aren't necessary. Anyone who is "lead by the Spirit" can preach or baptize or administer communion, according to this theology. In fact, the main purpose of pastors or "any spirit-lead church leaders," according to this theology, is to "equip the laity to do the Ministry." We're all in this together, after all, clergy and laity alike - it's our joint mission to save the lost and make disciples of Jesus.

The main Biblical texts used to support this theology are Matthew 28:18-20 (the so-called "Great Commission" text) and Ephesians 4:11-12, quoted by Jerry in his blog post. Again, see Pr. Wilken's fine, two-part article linked above regarding the so-called "Great Commission" text. Just as that text does not support the "Everyone a Minister" theology, neither does the text from Ephesians 4, contrary to Jerry's assertion otherwise.

Now, I understand Jerry's confusion on this one, to be sure. Most modern English translations render Eph. 4:12 in such a way as to have the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11 "equipping the saints for the work of ministry." Indeed, translated this way, Eph. 4:12 has become a sedes doctrinae for the "Everyone a Minister" theology that rules Americanized Protestantism. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers exist to equip the saints, the people, the laity, to do the work of the ministry. The ministry and mission of the Church is done by the people out in the world; the purpose of the Church's leaders, whatever they may be called, is to train and equip the people to get out there and get that work done. So, yes, I understand Jerry's confusion. He's just parroting the popular understanding of this controverted verse, much as he does with the so-called "Great Commission" text, as well as that ever-so-popular "all things to all people" text (1 Cor. 9:22), which is often proudly marshaled out by those defending contemporary worship and the dignified informality Jerry prefers, because, you know, that's what St. Paul meant by that verse . . . not. But, I digress.

The problem for Jerry is that his understanding of Eph. 4:11-12, while certainly in line with Americanized Protestantism, and with the principles of the Church Growth Movement, is not consistent with our Lutheran confession of the faith, or with the way these verses have been traditionally translated and interpreted throughout the history of the church catholic. The controversy over the translation of Eph. 4:12, which has to do with how that verse should be punctuated, has produced much ink over the past couple centuries, but, prior to that, the controversy simply didn't exist. The traditional understanding of these controverted verses, and the one our own Lutheran forefathers held, was that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11, all of which belong to the One Office of the Holy Ministry, are given to the Church "to perfect the saints, for the work of the Ministry, and for the edifying (building up) of the Body of Christ." In other words, the three prepositional phrases of verse 12 are functions performed by our Lord Jesus Christ through the men He calls into His Office of the Holy Ministry.

Of course, my pointing this out will just add fuel to Jerry's fears, setting them ablaze (see what I did there?). I'm a black-shirt, white-collar wearing clergy type, after all. What's worse, I'm one of those "holier than thou" types, who conducts the Divine Service in a spirit not of dignified informality, but of reverent formality. I make the sign of the cross, bow, elevate, genuflect, chant, preach Law and Gospel, and hold my hands just so, and not out of some "unintended byproduct of a deep and sincere piety," which Jerry may find in his heart to excuse, but in an intended, deliberate, ceremonial fashion, so as to teach the saints I'm blessed to serve that our Lord Jesus Christ is Present among us and that, because of that glorious reality, reverence and awe are certainly in order, which Jerry would not excuse, but identify as "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor." It's guys like me that Jerry's warning you about. But, I'm okay with that. Really, I am.

People in the Missouri Synod can rest easy. We're not moving in the direction of becoming some fearful, clergy dominated church body. We're rediscovering our Lutheran confession of the faith, and that's a wonderful thing, for our Lutheran confession of the faith does not pit clergy against laity, as the fear-mongerers among us will continue to suggest, but rather maintains the Biblical and Confessional distinction between them, without elevating one over the other. Luther himself is the champion par excellance of the priesthood of all believers theology, but he would have some pretty choice words to express in opposition to the popular "Everyone a Minister" theology so prevalent today, which has bewitched our own synod into forsaking AC XIV (and, really, AC V, along with it), something that a great many of us, clergy and laity alike, are prayerfully hoping will soon be corrected.

At the end of the day, Jerry's argument is not with our current synodical administration or with pastors like me, but with Christ Himself, who created the Office of the Holy Ministry, and distinguished this Office from the priesthood of all believers, giving this Office the task of preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name; of baptizing and catechizing the saints and leading them to the Holy Altar, where He fulfills His promise to be with His Church always. Contrary to the clergy optional, "Everyone a Minister" theology, the making of disciples - the Ministry and Mission of Christ's Holy Church - is fulfilled at the font, pulpit, and altar in the Church, not out in the neighborhoods by the saints "equipped to do the Ministry." The saints are not equipped to do the Ministry, but are blessed recipients of the Ministry. They do not go out into the world as missionaries and evangelists, but as baptized believers in Christ, who live out their Holy Spirit-given faith within their God-given vocations. Should they always be ready to provide a defense for the hope that they have in Jesus? Sure. But, to pretend as though they are Ministers or Missionaries, equipped and sent out to do the work of the Ministry, is to completely misunderstand both the Office of the Holy Ministry and the priesthood of all believers. Not only that, but it places an unnecessary burden upon the laity that our Lord Himself did not place upon them. They need not worry themselves over whether or not they're doing their part to reach and save the lost; it's not given them to reach and save the lost. In fact, that's not even given to the men who bear the yoke of the stole in Christ's Office. Christ Himself will reach and save all the lost who will be reached and saved. It's His Ministry and Mission, and He will fulfill it perfectly, even while using imperfect people, both clergy and laity, each in their distinctive roles, to do so.

A Clergy Dominated Church? No, not at all. A Clergy Optional Church? Nope, not that either. Christ's Holy Church, made up of all believers in Him, where He fulfills His Ministry and Mission in the manner He Himself has established? Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

AC XIV or Not?

Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession (AC XIV) states: "Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called." 

It's right there in black-and-white for all Lutherans to read. You can't miss it. Neither can you magically try to make it mean something other than what it says, although countless people have tried to do just that.

What you can do is ignore it or just strike it from the record, pretending that it either never existed or that it no longer applies to Lutherans today. That's what the LCMS did during its Convention in Wichita back in 1989. Ever since then, AC XIV has read like this in the LCMS:

"Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called."


AC XIV is meaningless in our synod today. It's been struck out, abolished, replaced by this:

"Of Ecclesiastical Order WE teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called, or unless he or she is licensed to do so without a regular call by one of our Districts."

Or, to summarize it even further: "Of Ecclesiastical Order WE teach that everyone is a minister," since, let's face it, the "everyone a minister" principle of the Church Growth Movement is really what prompted our synod to abolish AC XIV, and still has a bewitching effect on those among us who continue to defend our doing away with that Article. 

Now, arguments could be made to show how the LCMS has also abandoned other Articles of the Augsburg Confession, but, as far as I'm aware, AC XIV is the only one that it has *officially* discarded as meaningless. Of the other Articles that could be questioned, the LCMS still at least pretends to take them seriously and abide by them on paper, even if they have become as meaningless in practice as has AC XIV (AC V, XI, and XXIV come to mind here).

This summer's LCMS Convention will be the eighth Convention since our synod abolished AC XIV in 1989. In every Convention since then, this issue has come up in one way or another, but it's never been resolved. Evey attempt to cover up the sin of abolishing one of the Articles of our Chief Confession has been as futile as the fig leaves employed by Adam and Eve in the Garden. We've had this or that program introduced that brought hope to those who realize our synodical sin, but they've all failed. They have resulted in nothing more than adding an additional fig leaf or two. The same is true of the latest hope-inducing program, introduced into our midst at the 2007 Convention, the Specific Ministry Pastor program (SMP). It's just another fig leaf. Nothing more.

In fact, what many seem to forget, or just don't know, is that the real reason the SMP was initiated by the previous synodical administration had to do with the delusions of grandeur they had about creating 2,000 new LCMS congregations by 2017, as part of their Ablaze!(tm) program, movement, or whatever they called it. The idea was that we needed to find a way to fast-track men toward ordination, since there were going to be all these new congregations planted. These men would be under the supervision of the pastor(s) of the congregations that would plant these new congregations, or satellites, or whatever, and thus would only be ordained to be pastors in the specific contexts of these new church plants.

Of course, that has all changed now. The SMP program is much broader than that today. It has become just another alternate route among us to the Office of the Holy Ministry, and many who take this route are ordained not to serve new church plants, but to serve within existing congregations as assistant, or associate, pastors of this or that "ministry" (youth pastor, evangelism pastor, etc.). Many among us, who were not keen on the SMP program, embraced it, hoping that it would be a way to phase out the various deacon and lay ministry programs many of our districts have in place, so that we could finally restore AC XIV within our synod. But, that hasn't happened. The various deacon and lay programs many of our districts have remain in place, and are being vigorously defended by their districts, many of which passed resolutions at their district conventions last summer to commend their programs, as a sort-of warning shot across the bow of synod announcing that they won't go down without a fight.

So, here we stand on the brink of another LCMS Convention. Several overtures were submitted to address this issue, the vast majority of which resolved to rescind 1989 Res. 3-05B, which brought about the abolishing of AC XIV in our synod. In fact, only three of the fourteen or so overtures sent in on this subject resolved to affirm 1989 Res. 3-05B (those overtures were sent in by the Pacific Southwest, Northwest, and Mid-South Districts). All of this produced Resolution 4-06, "To Address Questions re Service Apart from AC XIV," which will be brought to the floor for consideration at our Convention in less than two weeks.

Unfortunately, Res. 4-06 merely resolves to catechize on this issue, study this issue, and appoint a task force to develop a plan to address this issue, which, if passed, will be reported to the 2016 Convention. This means that we will continue to live as a Lutheran synod who has abolished one of the Articles of our Chief Confession for at least another three years. But, hey, we have been living that way for twenty-four years already, so what's another three years among friends?

Seriously, I hope and pray that Res. 4-06 passes and that a plan is developed to phase out deacon and lay ministry in our synod by 2016, although I am always a bit befuddled by the necessity of task forces and years of study for issues like this, which couldn't be anymore black-and-white. I mean "Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called" seems pretty straight forward to me. Am I missing something?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Jerry's Suggestion

In his weekly missive yesterday, former synodical president, Jerry Kieschnick, chimed in on the upcoming election for LCMS president, which will take place online, beginning tomorrow, June 22, and concluding on June 25. In his missive, he writes:
Here’s my suggestion, humbly and respectfully offered. Ask your district president for his counsel. Unless the pastoral and lay delegates from your congregation did not attend last year’s triennial district convention, your congregation participated in your district president’s election. He is a trusted leader in your midst. And he knows all three nominees for LCMS president.
Evidently, Jerry missed the memo. As we have seen, some of the district presidents aren't waiting around for delegates to seek their counsel, but have already sent out campaign letters in the hope of swaying delegates to vote for the candidate of their choice. Or, maybe Jerry didn't miss the memo at all, and this is his way of offering his "humble and respectful" support to those district presidents, who have already chimed in, while encouraging delegates from other districts to contact their district presidents, who haven't sent out campaign letters, for whatever reason (maybe, hopefully, out of a sense of decency and ecclesiastical tact). Whatever the case, the message from Jerry is clear: District presidents know best, and they should play a significant role in the process of electing our synodical president. After all, these dudes have been elected to serve their districts, so they must be trusted leaders in our midst.

It's kind of ironic, isn't it? Three years ago, Jerry was soundly defeated in his bid to be reelected as synodical president, as Matthew Harrison was elected on the first ballot by a pretty significant margin, as far as LCMS presidential elections have gone in the past decades. Shouldn't that make him a trusted leader in our midst? Maybe we should just forgo asking our district presidents for their counsel and ask Harrison for his.

What a grand idea! Thanks, Jerry. President Harrison is a trusted leader in our midst. He knows all three nominees for LCMS president. I'm going to ask him, and I humbly and respectfully advise all delegates to do the same:
Dear President Harrison,

You were elected to serve as our synodical president in July, 2010, which makes you a trusted leader among us. I am writing to seek your counsel in regard to the upcoming election for synodical president. You know all three candidates. For whom do you think I should vote?

Sincerely,
In Christ,
Rev. Thomas C. Messer
Peace Lutheran Church, Alma, MI
Okay, so, no, I'm not really going to send that inquiry to President Harrison, and neither do I really advise delegates to do so. I'm just trying to highlight the irony and absurdity of Jerry's "humble and respectful" suggestion here, especially the bit about our district presidents being "trusted leaders" by virtue of being elected. If we have learned anything of late, the district presidents who have chosen to forsake all sense of decency and engage in electioneering have proven themselves to be anything but "trusted leaders."

That Jerry Kieschnick would send out this suggestive missive just a few days before the polls open is not surprising, given the fact that he has seen fit to offer his own not-so-humble and disrespectful commentary and criticism regarding our current synodical president, jumping on the bandwagon of the criticism heaped upon our synod and its president a few months back. He even sent out an "Early Edition" of his "Perspectives" back on February 11, which included a section sub-titled "People are asking . . .," wherein he noted that lots of people were asking him whether or not he'd be willing to serve again as our synodical president, how he was humbled by that, how he has always believed that the office should seek the man and not the man the office, which was followed up by a reminder that the deadline for nominations was quickly approaching and seemed to be the reason for the "Early Edition" of his "Perspectives," even though he was totally not seeking the office in any way - totally. So, not surprising at all. This is the same sort of "Ecclesiastical-ness" we all grew so fond of during Jerry's tenure as our synodical president, where churchly matters were often handled behind the locked doors of Executive Sessions, and where lawyers, bylaws, and CCM opinions were consulted before, or even in lieu of, Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions, and where the ends always justified the means, so that the circling of the wagons was always employed to protect the institution of Synod, Inc. and we never heard any repentant apologies from our "trusted leaders" about anything (if I'm wrong about that, show me). Nothing says "Ecclesiastical" like Executive Sessions, lawyers, bylaws, CCM opinions, and the circling of the wagons. If that's your bag, by all means, contact your district presidents for counsel.   

As for me, as soon as the polls open and I can cast my vote, I will do so for President Harrison, as will the lay delegate of the congregation I am blessed to serve. And, amazingly, we will be able to do so without having contacted our district president for his counsel. Go figure! We will do so not because President Harrison has the right vision or is trodding the right path, or because he's just more awesomer than the other candidates. We will do so simply because he shares our confession of the faith, promotes that confession, and desires to live and lead by that confession, which includes his ready admission that he is a sinner in need of Jesus Christ. He's transparent, unafraid to speak his mind or answer questions directly put to him in a direct manner (rather than screening questions in advance to formulate the best political answer), an excellent theologian, has a true pastor's heart, and will readily admit when he's wrong, repent, and seek forgiveness - you know, like a Lutheran.

So, thanks for the "humble and respectful" suggestion, Jerry, but I'm good.      

Thursday, June 20, 2013

COPs Gone Wild

The LCMS Council of Presidents (COPs) have often been referred to as the "8th Commandment Police," which is a nickname that only slightly edges out the other nickname by which they are also affectionately known: the "Blogging Police."

They have come to be known by these nicknames because some of the COPs have often issued missives, either in written or oral form, decrying what they deem to be crass violations of the 8th Commandment among the Lutherans they serve, especially within the crotchety realm of the Lutheran blogosphere. In fact, word has it that portions of COPs meetings have been devoted to addressing this issue, so concerned are some who belong to that high and venerable Council about this.

But, one wonders where the COPs are now? Some of their own venerable members have taken a liking to trampling all over the 8th Commandment lately, but not a peep of concern has been heard (at least, publicly) from any of the other members. Strange, that. Even stranger is the fact that those intent on setting the 8th Commandment aside in the attempt to score political points are among the loudest voices on the COPs decrying 8th Commandment violations, especially in the Lutheran blogosphere.

I guess the lesson we are to learn from this is that the COPs are above reproach. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander, since not all geese are equal in our synod. The 8th Commandment simply doesn't apply to certain Geese, who reside in certain, plush District offices. They are above the Law (hey, wasn't that a Steven Seagal movie?). For them, the end justifies the means. If the 8th Commandment must be obliterated in order to accomplish some self-perceived "higher good," so be it.

The first member of the COPs to forsake all sense of decency and use the power and resources of his office to do some dirty electioneering was Paul Linnemann, District President of the Northwest District of the LCMS. He sent out an email to voting delegates in his District to tell them about the two distinct paths he has witnessed forming in our synod. It is obvious to anyone reading his email that he is a big fan of the second path he describes, which, according to him, is being trod by his fellow District President, David Maier. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Linnemann sent this email out to voting delegates in his District to campaign for Maier. And, if one didn't know any better, one might be swayed by what Linnemann writes, for golly gee willickers, who would want a synodical president like Matt Harrison, who is "seeking to concentrate the activity and authority in the church in the office of pastor," and who doesn't want to engage the culture in which we live with the Gospel, but follows "a paradigm of limitation"? I mean, Harrison sounds like a big, fat jerk, especially when compared to how Linnemann describes Maier: "As the leader of the largest District in the LCMS, he has fostered a spirit of collegiality and trust among the people of his District." That sounds wonderful. I'll take two of those, please.

But, Linnemann's distasteful 8th-Commandment-Be-Damned politickin' was rather tame in comparison to the most recent diatribe from another one of the above-the-law COPs, Robert "call me Bob" Newton, District President of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of the LCMS. There is no subtlety to Bob's campaign email he sent to delegates in his district. He just comes right out and slams Harrison, taking a quote from him in the May issue of The Lutheran Witness completely out of context in the attempt to convince voting delegates in his district that Harrison believes the preaching of the Gospel should only happen within the walls of our churches and be kept "far from the earshot of those who have not yet heard." Yeah, because a) that is an accurate description of the dude who happens to be the first LCMS President to testify before a congressional hearing in D.C., and b) that is totally what Harrison was saying in that article - totally.

Another member of the 8th-Commandment-Breaking 8th Commandment Police Squad, Chris Wicher, District President of the Eastern District of the LCMS, said the heck with sending out an email to voting delegates in his District limited to campaigning for Maier's election as synodical president. He went a step further and sent out a "Missional List" with suggested candidates for many of the elections to be conducted at our upcoming Synodical Convention. I mean, why limit your electioneering to the highest office in the synod when you can use the power and resources of your District office to go ahead and endorse a whole slate of candidates?

So much for fearing and loving God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. There's an election at stake here! We cannot let something like the 8th Commandment get in the way of our very important campaign. The future of our synod depends on this, after all! Harrison must be ousted. If we reelect him, he might pass some edict from on high which prevents us from ever saying anything about Jesus anywhere at any time, except within the confines of our churches, of course.

What a joke these men and their letters are - a disgraceful, disgusting, sickening joke! And, what hypocrisy! The "8th Commandment Police" doing such violence to the 8th Commandment themselves is like the corrupt cop who takes money from the mob, but pretends to be a cop on the up-and-up, or who, like in the pic above, claims to protect and serve citizens, while using every opportunity he can to beat the crap out of them in the name of performing his duties.

Not all cops are corrupt, of course. Neither are all COPs. Which is why it surprises me that none of the other COPs have issued public statements of concern over the unprecedented and disgraceful electioneering of their brother COPs. Will none of the other COPs speak up in defense of Harrison's reputation being damaged by these renegades? Is this just the preview of things to come in future elections, where the COPs will become the political activists in our synod, using the power and resources of their District offices to disparage other COPs in order to campaign for their preferred candidate?

I wonder how these renegade COPs would feel about President Harrison sending out an email to all the delegates in their Districts prior to their own elections in a couple of years, campaigning against them by twisting their words, misrepresenting their positions, and endorsing one of the candidates running against them. Oh, wait, never mind. These guys believe that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander, as mentioned above. They would most certainly cry "Foul!" were someone to have the audacity to send their delegates an email campaigning against them, just as they decry all the 8th-Commandment-Breaking in the Lutheran blogosphere, but have no problem breaking it themselves.

Of course, these renegade COPs have nothing to worry about here, as President Harrison wouldn't stoop to their level and use the power and resources of his office to actively campaign against them in their own Districts. I think they know that, which is why they don't fear putting aside all decency and engaging in such disgraceful electioneering. But, can't any of the other COPs chime in and call these renegades out on their despicable behavior?

And, what is the theme song for these renegade COPs? I think it's something like:

"Bad Prez, Bad Prez,
Whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do
When we come for you?"

These are a few of your Ecclesiastical Supervisors, O Lutherans. Kind of changes the meaning of "ecclesiastical," doesn't it?   

UPDATE: Since posting this yesterday, it was pointed out that the Florida-Georgia District had sent out a campaign letter, which you can read here. So, for those keeping score at home, please add that district to the list of those engaging in shameful and disgraceful electioneering.            

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our Synod's Biggest Challenge?

On the Friends of David Maier Facebook page, the following was shared today:
We like this response that David Maier gave to the Florida Georgia District when asked various questions.

(See if there is something you can do today to encourage others to support David Maier for Synod president.)

How would you describe the biggest challenge facing the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod today?

I’d like to answer that question by telling this brief story I remember reading or hearing. The story was about 2 brothers who each had a son. For their sons Spring Break they decided to go fishing at their favorite summer fishing hole in north Texas. To make it more fun the four of them decided to also camp in the camper on the rear of the truck of one of the brothers. Everything was fine and dandy until rising early the next morning with the expectation of a full day of fishing ahead them, they opened the camper door and experienced an early north Texas spring storm with snow and 30 MPH winds. They closed the camper door and decided to play cards the rest of the day. The also did a little bit of drinking to pass the time. It wasn't an all-bad day, talking about fishing and how they would rather be on the water. The next morning the weather was just as bad with a little snow and a whole lot of rain. They spent their time like the previous day playing cards, doing a little reading, getting on each other’s nerves all the more. By supper that night, with the wind a little warmer but still howling, they not only stayed inside and didn't fish, but jabbed at each other with cutting comments and sarcasm and began “fighting.” So they packed up and went home.

The "moral" of the story was, "When you don't fish, you fight."

We’ve to stop fighting each other. God has called us to "fish," to take the truths of Scripture, especially that God loves the world - God loves sinners (even a one like me), to take that Gospel message - which is still the power of God unto salvation – and declare it to the world. To be sure doctrine is important. Our Synod’s first President, C.F.W. Walther, recognized good doctrine as tantamount to a farmer having and sowing good seed: it is the only way to ensure a good harvest. BUT, having good seed, we must sow it (Matthew 28:18-20) – (we must fish), demonstrating our concern for those who face a Christless eternity! I believe that God wants us to spend more time finding better methods for equipping, encouraging, and supporting our laity in the mission work within our neighborhoods and communities – especially as we face the rise of secularism and Islam – and less time examining the doctrinal purity and practice of others. How we relate to one another says much about our theology, our God, and our relevance to the world. (Cf.1 John 4:7-16) [Emphasis mine]
Wait, what? Did nominee Maier just describe the biggest challenge facing the LCMS with a story about a Spring Break fishing trip with two fathers and their two sons? Seriously? Call me dense, but wasn't it the weather that prevented the fathers and sons from being able to fish? Shouldn't the "moral" of the story be, "When the weather's bad, you can't fish"? I mean, the "moral" that nominee Maier shares doesn't make a bit of sense. Is he trying to suggest that two fathers and their two sons will necessarily start fighting if the weather prevents them from fishing? My best friend and his son spent a week with my son and me a few years back at my parents' cottage fishing and hanging out. There were a couple of days when the weather prevented us from fishing. We didn't fight. So much for the "moral" of the story.

But, worse than the silly story with its silly "moral" is the fact that nominee Maier believes that the biggest challenge facing the LCMS is that we're not spending enough time "finding better methods for equipping, encouraging, and supporting our laity in the mission work within our neighborhoods and communities" and too much time "examining the doctrinal purity and practice of others." Amazingly, he uses C.F.W. Walther, our Synod's first President, to give the impression that he understands that doctrine is important, but then he does the VERY THING Walther himself already warned our Synod about in his day, as he goes on to state that our problem is too much focus on doctrine and not enough focus on reaching the lost. One wonders if nominee Maier has actually read what Walther had to say on this issue, because he couldn't possibly butcher our first President's position on this any more than he has here.

Here are a few quotes from C.F.W. Walther related to this issue:
Many say, 'Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ.' But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine, and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must first of all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls. - C.F. W. Walther, "Our Common Task: the Saving of Souls" 1872

Whether our Synod gains friends or makes enemies, wins honor or invites disgrace, grows or declines in numbers, brings peace or incites enmity, all this must be unimportant to us-just so our Synod may keep the jewel of purity of doctrine and knowledge. However, should our Synod ever grow indifferent toward purity of doctrine, through ingratitude forget this prize, or betray or barter it away to the false church, then let our church body perish and the name Missourian decay in disgrace. - C.F.W. Walther, "First Sermon Delivered at the Opening of Synod" (1 Cor. 1:4-5).

Oh my dear friends of the Lutheran faith, confession, and conflict, do not be misled when today those are everywhere accused of lovelessness who still do not give up the battle for pure doctrine in our Church. . . . Oh my dear friends, let us indeed sorrow and lament over this: that false teachers constantly assail the pure doctrine in our Church and thus are at fault for the conflict and strife in the Church. However, let us never lament but rather extol and praise God that he always awakens men who fight against those false teachers, for, I repeat, this pertains to "the common salvation." . . . This conflict is one commanded us by God and is therefore certainly one blessed in time and in eternity. . . . Oh, therefore, let us never listen to those who praise and extol the conflict of the Reformation for the pure Gospel but want to know nothing of a similar conflict in our days. - C. F. W. Walther, "Why Dare and Can We Never Give Up the Church's Struggle for the Pure Doctrine?" 1876
Nominee Maier sounds a LOT like our former Synodical President, Jerry Kieschnick, who never tired of making it known that he believed our synod's biggest problem was that many among us "wasted time on incessant internal purification at the expense of the lost in the world." What he never seemed able to grasp, and what nominee Maier seems equally unable to grasp, is that the biggest problem our Synod faces is that we are NOT united in what we believe, teach, confess, and practice. That doctrinal disunity cannot be swept under the synodical carpet, so that it just magically goes away. You cannot pretend doctrinal disunity away. It needs to be addressed, but both former SP Kieschnick and nominee Maier would have us stop wasting time on trying to address it, something that C.F.W. Walther warned against time and time again.

Here's a story:

A woman was being abused by her husband. If she didn't have his socks folded exactly right, he hit her. If she didn't stack the dishes according to his preference, he hit her. If she didn't bow to his every whim, he hit her. Sometimes, he just hit her because he felt like it. He abused her horribly for years. All the while, he presented himself publicly to be a loving, committed husband to the wife he abused, and a loving, dedicated father to their two children. It was a sham, but he pulled it off for years. No one suspected him of being the abusive tyrant he was, and he made it clear to his wife that, if she ever said a word to anyone, the beating he would give her would make all the previous beatings over the years seem like loving hugs.

Finally, the woman couldn't take it anymore and went to speak with a counselor about this. The counselor told her, "You need to stop complaining about this and focus on all the good things you have with your husband. I know married couples who have bigger problems than you. At least your husband has a good career and provides you with financial security. You have two beautiful children from this marriage, and it sounds like both you and your husband do a pretty good job of keeping from them the ongoing abuse you suffer from your husband. It could be worse. He could be abusing them, too. But, he's not. My advice to you is to stick it out. If you have to take a beating once in a while, that's okay - it pales in comparison to all the good in your marriage. Don't waste your time trying to fix the abuse; instead, focus on being a good mother to your children. Don't make your children suffer by wasting time on incessant internal purification within your marriage. Find better methods to cope with your suffering. Stop being so selfish; this is not about you, but your family."

The "moral" of the story: "Put up with the abuse for the sake of your family."

Oh, and about that "equipping the laity in their mission work" thing, in the spirit of Bill Lumbergh, "Um, yeaaahhhhh, I'm going to have to go ahead and ask you to stop butchering that passage from Matthew 28 like that. If you could just go ahead and realize that what you call 'the Great Commision' is about making disciples through baptism, ongoing catechesis, and ongoing reception of the Lord's Supper, where Jesus fulfills His promise to be with us always, and NOT about 'equipping' the laity to be 'missionaries' in their neighborhoods and communities, that would be great. Mmmm Kay? Yeaaaaaahhhh."

Lastly, about that "finding better methods" thing, C.F.W. Walther and company fought against the "new measures" being everywhere promoted by revivalistic, Americanized Protestants in their day. It seems odd that we would have those claiming to be their spiritual descendants exhorting us to embrace them today. We have the Holy Word and Sacraments; there are no better methods than these - in fact, there are no OTHER methods than these.      

Friday, May 17, 2013

So, Where Do You Keep the Lambs?

Every once in a while, I receive emails or hard copies of letters from individuals or groups, who believe it is their mission to contact pastors and warn them to "preach the one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." I have no doubt that these people mean well, but it always saddens me to read their stern warnings, wherein they show that they haven't a clue what the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ really is. For them, as evidenced by the most recent warning I received via email this morning, which is posted below, the Gospel is something we must do, which means their Gospel is no Gospel at all, but pure Law. The way they butcher the Scriptures to go out of their way to make sure every last drop of Jesus' Blood becomes meaningless is very depressing.

Every time I receive one of these, I am reminded of the time I spent interviewing a Seventh Day Adventist preacher for a project I was required to do in one of my classes during my undergraduate work. That project consisted of us having to pick a different denomination, attend a couple of services in a congregation of that denomination, interview the pastor or another leader there, and write a lengthy essay describing the official teachings of the denomination, how those teachings were put into practice, what the pastor or leader emphasized about those teaching during the interview, and where the similarities and differences were between those teachings and practices and our own Lutheran teachings and practices.

I chose to do my project on Seventh Day Adventists, since, at the time, I didn't know all that much about that denomination. I learned a lot about them in studying their history and official teachings, but even more when attending a couple of services in one of their local congregations, and still more when interviewing the preacher there. I will say this: They are consistent. What I learned in the books was what I saw being practiced. All Law, all the time. The only Gospel heard was when the readers read from the Gospels, but that was quickly taken away by the preacher, who turned that Gospel into Law.

The preacher was a nice enough guy. He was very cooperative and readily agreed to sit down with me and let me interview him. But, it was sad. Big time sad. The differences between us were astounding. To put it bluntly, His Jesus was really no Savior at all. His Jesus was a stern Law-Giver and Judge. I didn't like his Jesus very much at all. His Jesus scared me to death. If his Jesus was the real Jesus, I was in trouble.

The interview quickly turned into a back-and-forth, as the preacher not only answered the questions I put to him, but began asking his own of me. He also minced no words in letting me know how wrong he believed us Lutherans to be on just about everything. He didn't yell and scream about it. As I said, he was a nice enough guy. But, he was sure to let me know that we Lutherans were wrong in our belief that Jesus had done everything necessary for our salvation, and how the real "gospel" was about us keeping the Law.

As you might guess, he was especially adamant about "keeping the Sabbath Day," and how the greatest evil to ever perpetuate the Christian Church was gathering for worship on Sundays. I was prepared for this and had the appropriate Scriptures handy to refute his claims, but he was having none of it. "The Sabbath Day is an everlasting ordinance of the Lord and we are required to keep it," he declared. That whole thing about Jesus being our Sabbath rest didn't matter one bit to him.

As he continued to thunder away at me - in a nice way - about the Sabbath Day, I finally had a stroke of genius. I don't want to get all hokey about it or anything, but this was definitely one of those "the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say" moments. Out of the blue, I asked, "So, where do you keep the lambs?" This prompted a very puzzled look to come across the preacher's face for a few seconds until he responded, "What do you mean by that?"

"Well, surely you must keep the Passover in the same literal fashion you keep the Sabbath, right? I mean, our Lord makes it very clear in His Word that the Passover is an everlasting ordinance that we are required to keep. So, where do you keep the lambs? Do you slaughter them outside or inside the church?"

Crickets. Seriously. Long, awkward silence.

Of course, I'm not the first one to point out this inconsistency, so it probably wasn't the stroke of genius I'm claiming it to be. Even within their own ranks, Seventh Day Adventists struggle here. How is it that this eternal ordinance must be kept literally, but that one must not be? The "scholarly" attempts to answer this question are as entertaining as they are absurd. So was this preacher's attempt, once he gathered himself and put an end to the long, awkward silence.

He said, "The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments; the Passover is not. The Ten Commandments remain divine ordinances we're still obligated to keep, but the Feasts of the Old Testament, like the Passover, have been abolished by the coming of the Messiah. As Jesus tells us, He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, and to make it clear that we must fulfill it, too."

Wait, what?

I tried to engage him some more on this issue, but he brushed it aside and moved on to enlighten me on their unique, strange, and wholly unbliblical views of the End Times. Amazing stuff, this. They claim to be able to pinpoint exact dates when this or that eschatological happening has occurred, things like when the so-called "Investigative Judgment" began, when Christ cleansed the heavenly sanctuary, etc. But, through all the creative and imaginative twisting of Scripture, which leads to these strange views, it is the same thing driving their eschatology that drives their soteriology: the Law.

The Law is the "Gospel" for them, and for all those well-meaning, but woefully wrong, individuals and groups who send me messages from time to time, exhorting me to "preach the one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I have never yet received one of these messages that had even a hint of Gospel in them). Jesus has done His part, but now it's up to us to do ours. He fulfilled the Law to show us how we might fulfill it, too. The "gospel" Jesus preaches is conditional and dependent upon our obedience. As you can see below, they produce nice charts and quote many Scripture passages and include many words in their exhortations, but they haven't the first clue what the true Gospel is, which is the sure and certain truth that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary to live the perfect life we can't live and pay the full price for all of our sins with His sacrificial death on the Cross. He accomplished everything necessary for our salvation. It is finished. There are no conditions on the Gospel. There is not an ounce of obedience left to be fulfilled. There is not an ounce of blood left to be shed. Jesus has done it all. That's the one Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one Gospel I am called and ordained to preach, the one Gospel that is truly Good News for sinners in need of a Savior.

The "gospel" spoken of below is Law, not Gospel, and I am left to keep on asking those who exhort this Law in the name of their false "gospel": So, where do you keep the lambs?

Here's the email I received:

Dear Pastor, and fellow labourer of Jesus Christ,

As one who has tasted the power of the age to come , I must write to pastors to warn them that they must preach the one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Throughout the world today, only those churches that obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and have rejected the doctrines of men, receive the Spirit of truth, as evidenced by the tongue emitting sound. ( λαλούντων γλώσσαις). (And this is not at all like the movement of the mouth in a prayer language we see on television)

The Apostle Paul warned us, that when Jesus returns to gather together His elect, that those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ will meet the same fate as those who do not know God.

And I’m worried that many don’t even know what the gospel of Jesus Christ is, even though the return of Jesus may be very near.  

Jesus gave us His gospel with ten  “if not,” conditions. (ἐὰν μή).

Five of these conditions deal with our heart and our thinking, and the other five tell us what we must do to receive God’s salvation.  

1.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
John 6:44,65

We must respond to God, who gave His only Son.
6.
“The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner,,,the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.”
John 5:19-20 NASB
As sons of God, we must imitate Christ. We begin with His baptism.
2.
Unless you see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”
John 4:48 (NKJV adds people)
We must recognize Jesus’ resurrection.
7.
Unless one is (born again) born of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 3:3,5
We must receive Jesus’ baptism of water and Spirit.
3.
Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 18:3
We must renew our minds and humble our hearts.
8.
Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.”

John 13:8 NIV
We must allow Christ, the body of Christ, to wash our feet.
4.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone…He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
John 12:24-25
We must realize this world is passing away.
9.
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:53-54
We must remember Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.
5.
Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:20

We must do the will of God. We cannot enter the kingdom of heaven by the teachings and traditions of men.
10.
“As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me…If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
John 15:4,6
We must abide in the Spirit and body of Christ (His Church).

And finally, Jesus gave us one more condition of salvation with the expression “if for no.” (ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ)


Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”

John 8:24 (NASB adds He)
We must know that Jesus is God Himself, “I AM,” who appeared to Moses.




Here are some questions that you may have:

Is the washing of feet really a salvation condition?

Yes because the Spirit of truth can only be received by those who keep the commandments of Jesus. And the Holy Spirit is required for salvation.

After instructing His disciples in the washing of feet and remembrance of His death, Jesus said to them:If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—  the Spirit of truth…”

Did the early church practice the washing of feet as a salvation teaching?

Yes, the writer of Hebrews lists the elementary salvation teachings of Christ as:

Faith in God
Repentance
Instructions about baptisms, and
The laying on of hands (for the gift of the Holy Spirit, see Acts 8:17, 19:6)

Baptisms is plural because the Greek word βαπτισμῶν can also refer to religious washings, as in the washing of hands in Luke 11:38.

What is the meaning of condition number 6 – “in like manner”

This has to with the unity of God and man, “that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and they in Me…that the world might believe that You sent Me.”

As Paul wrote: there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

We observe Jesus’ commandments in like mannerto Jesus.

Just as the disciples broke “one loaf” (1 Cor 10:16-17) of “unleavened bread,” (1 Cor 5:8); they also baptized in “living water,” (John 3:23) bowing their heads, “in the likeness of His death” (John 19:30, Romans 6:5).

And of course, the imitation of Christ, being transformed into His image is the goal of our salvation - so we begin our faith as we would end it.

Where are the churches that obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

As far as I know, at the moment, only the True Jesus Church denomination obeys this gospel, and receives the Spirit of truth as evidenced by the tongue emitting sound.

(As different from the movement of the mouth in a prayer language that we see in many churches.)

There were other denominations and churches in the past who also received this Spirit, but they changed their doctrines, adding religious days and so on,  and lost the Spirit.

The True Jesus Church has the Sabbath Day in its 10 basic beliefs, why is that?

This has to do with the salvation condition:

Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus did not do away with God’s commandments, but told us that we must keep them, and go beyond them.

God not only wants us to keep the Sabbath day holy, He wants us to dedicate every day to Him.

That we should worship Him “neither in Jerusalem or on this mountain, but in Spirit and truth,” not according to “the basic principles of this world.” 

God blessed the Sabbath day in the beginning of creation as a day for rest for man.

Rest to be shared by Jews and Gentiles as the commandment says - that man might rest in unity with God and one another.

The church broke the unity of this day when it changed the day of rest for the Gentiles to Sunday, because of their tradition.

And so Jesus said to the Pharisees “in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

God wants us “to remember the Sabbath day,” and rest, if this is not burdensome – “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

Almost all of the True Jesus Church members are Asian, does the Bible prophecy this?

Ezekiel tells us the Spirit and glory of the Lord will come from the east in the last days.

“And behold the glory of the Lord came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters…”
Ezekiel 43:2

The sound of “many waters” is that sound we hear after the fall of that Great Harlot.

“And I heard, as it were, the voice of many waters…
Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
And His wife has made herself ready.”
Revelation 19:6

Paul’s prophecy of lawlessness and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

To fully understand Paul’s meaning, we need to read from the original text or a more literal version, and understand the background of Paul’s comments.

Paul tells us that when Jesus returns, those who do not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be eternally separated from God, along with those who do not know God.

“there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ, but even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”
Galatians 1:7,8

“it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,  in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,  when He comes, in that Day”
2 Thessalonians 1:6-9

Paul told us the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work. And “t
he coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.”

Jesus told us that false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

And, “at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
Matthew 13: 40 -43

Those who obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will be saved

There is only one gospel by which we receive God’s guarantee of salvation.

May all glory be to our God who has revealed to us the great mystery of His gospel, “the power of salvation to everyone who believes.”

That all who fear and trust Him might share with Christ all of the riches of His eternal goodness.