Why Lutheran?

This seems to be the question on everyone’s mind lately…one we find ourselves striving to adequately answer in a way that honestly captures our reasons for moving to the LCMS. Anyway, I don’t think I have found a better, more succinct answer anywhere than these words by Dr. Gene Edward Veith:

Imagine a church that is both evangelical — proclaiming the free forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ — and sacramental, centering its spiritual life in the regenerating waters of baptism and the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion. Imagine further a church that is strongly grounded on Scripture, but yet avoids the solipsism of individual interpretation in favor of a comprehensive, intellectually rigorous and imminently orthodox theological system. Imagine a worship service that features both strong preaching and the historic liturgy. Imagine that this is a historical church with a rich spiritual tradition, but without legalism, Imagine, in short, a church that has some of the best parts of Protestantism and the best parts of Catholicism. Finally, imagine that this church body is not some little made — up sect, but one of the largest bodies of Christians in the world.

Such a church might seem like what many Christians, disaffected by both the vacuity of liberal theology and the shallowness of American evangelicalism — are dreaming of. Such a church exists. It goes by the admittedly inadequate name “Lutheran.”

Read his whole article here…

Theology…Knowing God

Yesterday at Glory to God for All Things, Fr. Stephen posted marvelous words about placing emphasis in our lives on those things that are important to God.  In his post, he discussed both the necessity and the aim of theology…to know God:

And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

These words ring especially true coming from a Reformed background and having attended a staunchly Calvinistic seminary.  Especially among the students in seminary, all too often our theological ‘studies’ tended to become little more than cataloging of facts about God rather than an effort to truly know him.  Whether formal students of theology or not, we are all guilty at times of the same offense.  We forget that God is not an object of study to be observed and researched–the depth of his will is not a divine ‘problem’ to be solved, the wonder of the incarnation not a mundane occurrence that is easily explained, the mystery of grace and sacraments not ‘parlor tricks’ to be explained away.

As analytical and logic-driven as our minds might be, and as Westerners we deceive ourselves if we claim not to be bound tenaciously by reason and logic, we must focus not on our speculations about theology but on truly knowing our Triune God through his gracious revelation to us–centering, of course, on the incarnation and revelation in Christ Jesus. We must be reminded of Jesus’ words, as Fr. Stephen as done beautifully, that to know God is life eternal.

Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for you timely yet gentle words.

A Daily Prayer for Wednesday

For the past couple of months, I have been using Concordia’s most recent edition of the Lutheran Book of Prayer as part of my morning devotions and prayer. There is a section of daily prayers that covers the span of one month, and while they are all excellent, from time to time a prayer will especially resonate with me. This morning was one of those prayers:

Lord God, You have given me another day, a day to live in Your service and for the good of my fellowmen, I am indeed a poor tool in Your hand and deserving to be cast aside. Forgive me all my sins for Jesus’ sake, and by Your Spirit grant me the fitness to work for You this day. I beseech You to make me mindful, dear Lord, that I am but a stranger and a pilgrim in this present world. Let me not devote my efforts today to purposes unworthy of You; let me not gather treasures merely for this world; let me not serve mammon. This life is but a vain show; let me not search for an abiding city here. But, Lord, fasten my heart and hope on the life that is in You, and let my strivings and desires be directed to the treasures of Your love. As long as I am in the land of my pilgrimage, hold my hand, Lord; keep me from every straying path. If I should stumble in sinful weakness, grant me repentance and faith; for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

No surprises here…

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Martin Luther

The daddy of the Reformation. You are opposed to any Catholic ideas of works-salvation and see the scriptures as being primarily authoritative.

Martin Luther

100%

Karl Barth

100%

Anselm

87%

John Calvin

87%

Jonathan Edwards

73%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

67%

Augustine

40%

Jürgen Moltmann

20%

Charles Finney

13%

Paul Tillich

7%

One of the Most Profound Things I Heard Today

“I grew old too quickly and wise too slowly…”

These words were said by our pastor, Ralph Hobratschk, during Sunday School this morning at Hope Lutheran Church. On the lighter side, these words almost sound like the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of a Jimmy Buffett song. More seriously, isn’t this, unfortunately, more than likely the testimony of us all? The first step to ‘fixing’ the problem, I suppose, is the realization that this statement pertains to us!

(sigh)

Thoughts on the War in Iraq…

I have deliberately kept this blog apolitical in the past, and I’m not intending to make this a political arena now, but there is something I noticed in the debates last week that all the presidential candidates on both sides of the fence fail to understand:

The war in Iraq is political…in fact, all war is politics.

In the early nineteenth century, Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote, “War is an extension of politics by other means.” In other words, the continuum of political action that contains such things as diplomatic negotiations, treaties, embargoes, sanctions, trade, and other day-to-day things also contains, on its outer fringes, war. War is politics–bloodier, louder, and more costly (in terms of human life) than other areas of politics. But at the end of the day, war is always political…and that is neither good nor bad, it just is.

Specifically with regards to the war in Iraq, the political ideology behind the war (from the beginning) was to replace a heinous, murderous dictator with a democracy. Whether one agrees with the premise or not, this is why the was began.

As a military officer and armchair military historian and tactician, it seems evident that this ideology requires several long-term political goals, including:

  • Development of an internal police force / military capable of protecting the citizens of Iraq against internal and external threats
  • Creation of the ability to repair and extend the national infrastructure
  • Development of the ability to create / foster international relationships with the goal of increasing domestic security and providing the opportunity for foreign and domestic economic growth
  • Establishment of a viable democratic government able to maintain control of the nation in order to a) make democracy a more alluring form of government than other alternatives (willing change) and b) make democratic government ‘worth fighting for’ against those who would subvert it (unwilling change)

In order to achieve the long-term goals, this ideology immediately requires tactical and strategic military victories in order to establish an environment conducive to the growth, nurture, and development of the long-term objectives.

So how are we doing?

  1. We are relatively successful with our immediately necessary goal of tactical military victories
  2. We do not seem to be seeing any significant progress toward achieving our long-term political goals
  3. We appear to be losing military advantage and political / national will

Unless there are significant improvement in areas two and three, above, we run the risk of losing the war in a manner not all that different from what we experienced in Vietnam, where we were tactically successful (militarily) but failed strategically and politically. Am I making hasty and emotional comparisons to the Vietnam War? No! However, as time progresses, the risk of losing the war increases and the likelihood of victory decreases, similar to what we saw in another decade in another theater.

Our military power is weakening over time due to troop burnout, aging equipment, troop retention issues, a loss of battle-experienced soldiers/officers, and lack of timely tactical adaptation from convention to low intensity (i.e., guerrilla warfare) tactics. To argue to the contrary is nonsensical. Simultaneously, our political power and national will are weakening due to the length of the war and the questionable legitimacy (in the eyes of many) of the original ideology. Two hundred years ago, Clausewitz cited the need for overwhelming military strength and national will as essential for victory in war. Based on his wisdom and our current situation, are we currently in a situation where the war is unwinnable? I don’t think so…not yet, anyway.

Despite what we may see and hear in the media, there is no reason why the US should not be able to achieve victory in Iraq:

  • We are familiar with the terrain and physical environment
  • We are equipped with the proper equipment (though we need to continue upgrading, maintaining, and replacing that equipment as it ages)
  • We are prepared at some level to train for, fight, and win in low-intensity conflicts (though I think we have forgotten some of the tactical lessons from Vietnam)
  • As a nation we largely (?) believe in the legitimacy of fighting for causes of right and wrong

Given these reasons, it is reasonable to expect that victory is possible even without the benefit of a powerful multinational coalition. As in Vietnam, we must be acutely aware at all levels that tactical victory does not necessarily translate into strategic victory (militarily) or overall political victory (achieving our political ends). Additionally, we must also be aware of the reality that war is an extension of politics–our ultimate aim here is political, not merely (or even primarily) military. Consequently, we cannot expend all our attention or resources trying to achieve military victory while letting political ends languish. In short:

  • If we are militarily superior but fail to realize our political goals, we can never reach the point of military withdrawal without admitting defeat because…
  • Failure to achieve our political ends is defeat

Maybe later I’ll put on my chaplain hat and write some thoughts on what our course of action as a nation must be morally if we reach the point where the war becomes unwinnable…but those are different thoughts for a different day.

“An American’s Prayer for the New Year”–Ben Witherington

Just posted on Ben Witherington’s excellent blog…here in its entirety because it is too pointedly good to edit:

Lord God:

 

I am almighty tired of all that is tawdry and cheap about Christianity in America. I am tired of the chest thumping assumptions about God being on ‘our side’. I weary of those who equate their brand of American politics with the will of God for the world, or worse, those who think being a Christian means I should not be involved IN the great causes of the age or the major decisions made in our land. Lord help us not to mistake apathy for true spirituality, or abstinence for action.

 

Lord is there not a way to help American Christians understand that they are called to be global Christians, not merely American ones? Is there not a way to help us understand that the true patriots are those who will what is best for all humankind, and not just our kind? Is there not a way to make clear that when Jesus said we must ‘love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us’ he was not kidding? Could we not take to heart the words of your servant John Donne when he said ‘any man’s death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind. Therefore do not think to ask for whom the bell tolls….’

 

Lord this is an election year, and there is much fervor and ferment. Doubtless much hangs in the balance in regard to the war in Iraq, our relationship with Pakistan, and many other large matters, and yet we seem much more concerned about our own standard of living, and whether our houses will sell or not. Could we not please get a glimpse of a larger world vision and world view that would help us see that our near total preoccupation with ourselves is a reflection of human sin, of human fallenness, of ‘the heart turned in upon itself’? Could we not realize that real family values amounts to realizing that the worldwide family of faith, the family of Christ is the primary family, not our nuclear families?

 

Lord I do not understand the blindness I encounter repeatedly in church after church. We rant and rave about sexual sin, and yet ignore racism, sexism, and in general the entire social gospel. Is this because we have reduced sin to the private and personal spheres in our lives? Is this because we have forgotten about the body of Christ and how there are both corporate and national as well as personal sins? Why do we strain over gnats but swallow camels when it comes to sin? Why do we repeatedly put the emphasis in the wrong place?

 

Lord there is much that is good and generous about the American spirit. Yet so often it is myopic, and amounts to helping ourselves, or our near kin. Lord, I would pray that more Christians in America would take on the challenge of cross cultural missions and let it expand their world view, and reshape their mentality about your human creatures. Forgive us Lord for forgetting and letting the Great Commission become the great Omission as we build bigger barns here in America to house ourselves, or for treating the great Commission as if it were only the job of missionaries.

 

Lord forgive us for our Biblical illiteracy, and for whittling off the hard edges of Scripture because they rub us the wrong way. Forgive us for our arrogance and ignorance which is always a lethal combination. Forgive us Lord for treating our cultural preferences as if they were Biblical absolutes, and forgive us for perverting your Gospel which is Good News for the poor into empowerment for those who long to be richer, wealthier, scratching the itch of a greedy soul. Lord forgive us our sense of entitlement and for treating you as if you were the great Santa Claus in the sky whose mission in life is to fulfill all our worldly longings and desires.

 

Lord you have said that not many of us should wish to be teachers of your Word, and yet you have made me one. Lord, it is a heavy responsibility, and yet your yoke is lighter than being in bondage to sin. I hear every day the words ‘to whom more is given, more is required’, and sometimes I fear the reckoning, as I fall short, and am not infrequently wrong about things.

 

Lord I understand that Christ is the model of true humility, and that it involves knowing both who and whose I am. I know it has nothing to do either with false humility or false pride, nor anything to do with feelings of low self worth or self-denigration. I know I am not God or even an angel, and yet Lord I know I am not nothing either. I know I am created in your image and recreated in Christ for good works.

 

Help me to not mistake my busy-ness for your business in all respects. Help me not mistake my convictions for your truths in all respects. Help me say more often— ‘I do not know’. Help me to continue to learn before I teach, to love before I critically evaluate, to praise before I blame, to help before I hinder, to listen before I speak.

 

 

Lord in your Mercy, and in the name of the Blessed Trinity, hear my prayer,

BW3

Amen. Thank you, Dr. Witherington, and may God continue to richly bless you.