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Ancient Paths: Luther on the Ten Commandments

Ancient Paths: Luther on the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments. To be obeyed, yes. But, to be used for personal prayer? For me, this introduces a new way to walk an “ancient path”. Martin Luther has this to say about reading and praying through the Ten Commandments:

“I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer. I do so in thoughts or words such as these:

CONSIDERATION

“’I am the Lord your God, etc. You shall have no other gods before me,’ etc. Here I earnestly consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God. . . .

THANKSGIVING

“Second, I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and, unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help, and strength in every time of need. We poor mortals have sought so many gods and would have to seek them still if he did not enable us to hear him openly tell us in our own language that he intends to be our God. How could we ever—in all eternity—thank him enough!

CONFESSION

“Third, I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry. I repent of these and ask for his grace.

SUPPLICATION

“Fourth, I pray and say: ‘O my God and Lord, help me by thy grace to learn and understand thy commandments more fully every day and to live by them in sincere confidence. Preserve my heart so that I shall never again become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to thee, my only God. Amen, dear Lord God and Father. Amen'”

I will do well to get in a rhythm of praying through these Ten Commandments. Perhaps not every day, but regularly. And not in a rushed way. It can be easy to zip through the consideration / thanksgiving / confession sections, and quickly rush into my litany of things I want God to do for me. I sense that wading deeply through the first three stages with effectively change the content of stage four!

Next up: A few thoughts about the third commandment. We all quickly agree that commandments 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are still to be wholeheartedly obeyed today. But the third commandment? Many have dispensed with it altogether. I’m talking about Sabbath-keeping … next time. It truly is an ancient path that we should be asking for.

– E.O.

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Ancient Paths: The 10 Commandments

Ancient Paths: The 10 Commandments

Over 3,300 years ago, the Israelite prophet Moses was called to the presence of God on Mount Sinai. It was there that God spoke the words we now refer to as “The Ten Commandments”.

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Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille (1956)

In May of 1964, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, in partnership with Hollywood movie director Cecil B. DeMille, gifted the state of Arizona with a monument depicting the Ten Commandments. It was placed in Wesley Bolin Plaza, just east of the Arizona State Capitol. In 2003, the memorial became the target of an attempt by the American Civil Liberties Union to have it removed. They argued that it violated the concept of separation of church and state. They didn’t succeed, but the controversy surrounding the inclusion of something so religious on government grounds continues.

Why the secular world disapproves of the Ten Commandments.

Duh. Though three out of four North Americans still believe in God, there is significant doubt that the God of the Jews is the one true God. There is also doubt about a) the historicity of the Sinai event, b) the credibility of the Bible that contains the Sinai story, and c) the relevance of the Old Testament of the Bible to the New Testament practice of Christians.

Perhaps more to the point: Americans, in general, don’t like others telling them what to do. Particularly ancient religious guys like Moses. We don’t have the Code of Hammurabi, the Analects of Confucius or the Koran in Wesley Bolin Plaza … so why the Ten Commandments? Though I disagree with the assessment that the Decalogue monument is some sort of violation of anybody’s liberties, it is a bit odd to have them there.

But, in the church? Should they be prominent there?

Why believers promote the Ten Commandments

The Order of Eagles and DeMille felt like the U.S. was slipping away from its Biblical moorings. They were right, and the slippage continues. They wanted to see Biblical content remain central to American life. This reality, too, is fading.

Even in our churches.

9781595478603In our church, the Ten Commandments are an ancient path that is a critical part of our teaching and practice. Well, it’s a big part of what we call our Catechism, which is taught to our young teens in our Confirmation programs. We continue to believe that the Ten Commandments are part of scriptural revelation from God, and we read the Exodus and Deuteronomy passages when they come up in the cycle of public readings.

But many Christians who have practiced their faith for years are unable to list these ten commandments for memory. Many haven’t read them for themselves in years. It’s not enough that the Ten Commandments be conveniently memorialized in our Catechisms. They are an ancient path that needs to be hiked regularly for the good of our souls. How might we do that?

More tomorrow … from the pen of Martin Luther.

– EO

 

 

 

 

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Ancient Paths: The Creeds

I became a Christian in a church that didn’t make use of ancient creeds, and then I didn’t recite a creed in worship for the first 25 years of my faith. I was led to understand that the Bible, not creeds, is what we should know and recite (though we didn’t really do either). The old creeds, I was told, are like everything else from the historical tradition of Christianity: extra-Biblical formalism that breeds hypocrisy, mindlessness and boring worship programming.

apostles-creed-session-two-i-believe-in-4-728(Meanwhile, I was encouraged to write acrostic missions statements, paste them on banners, etch them into glass windows, and have my congregations commit them to memory. This wasn’t extra-Biblical, hypocritical or mindless … this was cutting edge church leadership! But I digress…)

I have “graduated” to a wholehearted embrace of creedal Christianity. Specifically, my adopted faith tradition embraces three ancient creeds: The Apostles’ Creed (c. 180 AD), the Nicene Creed (325 AD), and the Athanasian Creed (c. 440 AD). Today, a few words about the Apostles’ Creed, which is truly an “ancient path” that has been traveled by millions of believers over two millennia.

I think of the Apostles’ Creed as the swiss-army-knife of the church: A concise creed with multiple uses!

  1. Personal Faith: Like it did from its organic inception during the first two centuries AD, it provides a means by which we determine who is and isn’t a Christian. It’s a great litmus test for every individual to see if her beliefs line up with classical Christianity.
  2. Teaching: It also provides an ideal outline for discipleship. Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, says of the Creed, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” Both at church and in the home, it functions as our syllabus for ongoing instruction.
  3. Evangelism: It is a great tool for proclaiming the gospel. It answers the question, “what must I believe to be saved?” Christians who have the points of the Apostles’ Creed memorized have at their disposal all of the necessary talking points for sharing the central tenets of the our faith.
  4. Worship: The Creed provides for a beautiful act of worship when read corporately. As the Psalmist says, “One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). When we together in an intergenerational gathering of worship proclaim the Apostles’ Creed – creation, incarnation, sacrifice, forgiveness, resurrection, ascension, judgment and heaven – our faith is refined, we transmit our beliefs to everyone in the service (believers or not), and are encouraged by the shared testimony of others.
  5. Contextualization: The Creed is brilliant for use in places where the church isn’t so literate. We can take for granted in our well-educated Western society that truth is “most true” when it’s in writing. But many through history, including many today, must understand their faith in manageable, memorable ways.

Again, I grew up without the Apostles’ Creed. So, my litmus test for belief changed with each new church community I attended (most of which felt compelled to write their own doctrinal statements). My discipleship and evangelism training regularly shifted to whatever the latest popular Christian book had to say. Most of my fellow believers in churches have felt hopelessly ill-equipped to evangelize their family and neighbors, much less their friends, and keep trying to come up with an effective resource and training program for outreach. And, because of a wholesale rejection of classical, formal worship elements (including creeds), my faith was enslaved to the always-shifting spontaneous utterings of my pastors.

Life is better with creeds. A bit on the content of the Apostles’ Creed tomorrow.

– EO

(Some good historical information about the Ecumenical Creeds can be found here.)

 

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“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves.‘” (Jeremiah 6:16).

My own personal journey has led me down ancient paths. Over 30 years ago, I was gripped by a love and desire for the experience of the ancient, early church. I have always wanted to be a part of a contemporary Christian tradition that has beaten a consistent path from the first century to the present … and would most fully connect me to the early church, both in word and practice. The journey has led me to the classical Christianity ensconced in Lutheranism (particularly in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). I have chosen to take this path … and have found rest for myself. I recommend it without reservation.

This week our church* is beginning a 9-week preaching series called Ask For the Ancient Paths. It is a study of the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and Confession/Absolution. This series provides an ideal time for me to share some of my journey as it relates to the foundational teachings of classical Christianity as put forth in the Lutheran Catechism.

Feel free to engage with your questions, comments and critiques. “One who listens to life-giving rebukes will be at home among the wise. Anyone who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever listens to correction acquires good sense” (Prov. 15:31-32). Good sense, wise company, life! My journey continues. I hope yours will, too.

So, grab your hat, your sun-screen, your walking stick … let’s explore this ancient path together.

– EO

* Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church (LCMS), Gilbert, AZ

 

 

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Christianity and Patriotism

Christianity and Patriotism

The 4th of July is coming. In the life of the church, there is often tension associated with the holiday.

In the U.S.A., most in our congregations are citizens (though there are also immigrants, aliens and sojourners among us). Most of these are proud of their country. In many churches, the expression of that national pride has become a part of Sunday worship celebrations, and even special programming centered around our pride in, love for, and allegiance to the U.S.A.

Some cry foul. Others are ready to tar-and-feather you if you don’t enter in.

Recently, John Piper shared his thoughts about Christianity and Patriotism in an online podcast. I’d like to share my thoughts in relation to Piper’s in an attempt to set an appropriate course for churches.*

Piper points out that, in many churches, our Fourth of July celebrations seem “uninformed, unshaped by the radical nature of the gospel, and out of proportion to the relationship between America and the kingdom of Christ.” This is our big question: What is that relationship?

Piper: “We are pilgrims, sojourners, refugees, exiles in all of those. Our first identity is with the King of the universe, not any country or nationality or political party or governmental regime. America is emphatically not our primary home or primary identity. That should be spoken.”

So far, so good. Unfortunately, for many church goers, it is their primary identity.  The Word of God does need to be spoken clearly into these idolatrous hearts, and a call to absolute allegiance to God needs to made. Still, being citizens of the U.S.A. is part of our identity. (I appreciate Piper using the the words “first” and “primary” above.)

Where I would veer away from Piper’s thinking is in his choosing to make such a vigorous demarcation between allegiance to God and allegiance to the state. “We swear absolute allegiance to him and to no one and nothing else. All other commitments are relativized … All of those authorities are subordinate and secondary to the authority of Christ and, therefore, all submission is qualified.” Piper draws a bold line between Christ as Lord and all other lordships.

ref-luthertours.jpgBut this approach and this rhetoric fails to give weight to the Biblical truth that the Kingdoms of this world are a divinely ordained extension of the rule and reign of God. For kingship belongs to the Lordand he rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:28). “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). And, the extension of God’s rule on the planet is delivered through human governments. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God … he is God’s servant for your good … he is the servant of God … the authorities are ministers of God … Pay to all what is owed to them … respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:1-7).

In short we have the tendency to pit God’s rule against the rule of governments — when the reality is that the state is an extension of God’s rule. This governance can and should be respected and honored by the church.

(I think it’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway — this is true not just for the U.S.A., but for any believer in any country. This can be especially difficult when a government is plagued by dysfunction and injustice. Nonetheless, it is truth that calls all Christians to appropriate, faith-filled, disciple-like action.)

So, if I might take the liberty of reshaping Piper’s previous paragraph: “We swear absolute allegiance to him, and our allegiance to our country is an extension of our acknowledgement of His rule. All other commitments are contained in this over-arching commitment to God … All of those authorities, though subordinate, needn’t be considered “secondary” to the authority of Christ, but part of it. Therefore, all submission needn’t be qualified, except in instances when disobedience to Christ is mandated.

As to the question of patriotism in worship, I agree with Piper when he says “any pledge of allegiance –  like the one to the American flag – does not belong in a worship service.” But I disagree with his assessment that, when these emphases on country take place, “what is being highlighted and foregrounded is an earthly allegiance.” Again, this doesn’t need to be the case, and this hard line doesn’t need to be drawn. God’s rule through the Spirit/Word/gospel and His rule through governments can be celebrated together. But it’s God’s rule. And because it’s God we celebrate, the emblem of a particular state should not be the icon for our worship.

I had the privilege of serving as a pastor in The Netherlands. Needless to say, we didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July! More to the point, we didn’t celebrate specific national governances, not even that of the Dutch. You see, it was a strikingly international community. To celebrate one sister’s nation would make us feel obliged us to celebrate the nation of every brother and sister in the church. (Churches in the Southwest, where I live now, would probably not think of having a special September 16th service to celebrate Mexican Independence Day — even though many aliens and immigrants are a part of our number.)

Instead, we can take a day to focus on and celebrate the Lordship of Christ, which He exercises through all nations, including our own.

– EO

These thoughts are influenced by Martin Luther’s theology of the two realms/kingdoms, and by a desire to see these ideas once again fleshed out in the life of local churches, particularly Lutheran churches.

 

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Don’t Get All Religious On Me Again!… 4th Monday of Advent – 14.12.22

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Pet. 4:12-14).

xmas vacIt’s the Monday before Christmas day. Family gatherings have begun to take place. For those of us who truly believe in the fullness of the Christ of Christmas, these gatherings can be awkward. The Word of God is clear: We should share the gospel of Christ. Especially on the day we celebrate His coming! But we know that we’re to share the gospel with those in our families who don’t believe. But we know that conversations like these can engender ill will, even hostility.

Enter Luther: “Should you not believe in and confess this name, then the world would love and esteem you, for there is no name hated more by the world than the name of Jesus Christ. Not that it cannot mention his name or hear it mentioned, yea, the worst and bitterest enemies of this name hear it and boast of it the most.”

Cultural Christians, religious unbelievers, are a mixed bag. Do you have these in your family? The ones who think it fine to speak of Jesus, almost authoritatively, and even to attend the occasional church service (especially around the holidays). But they are hostile to the Biblical call to wholeheartedly follow Christ.

ToleranceIn our society which battles relentlessly for political correctness and religious pluralism, it has become the cultural imperative that we not only let people believe whatever they want to, but we are obliged to honor their beliefs. “God, on my terms!” they argue…and who are we to counter their ideas?

Yet our ideas are countered, seemingly without hesitation. Atheists, agnostics, and the pseudo-religious types slander our gospel presentations, says Luther, “because we do not let this name be considered as an ordinary name…because we believe, preach, and confess that Jesus Christ…is the only Savior of the world, who saves from sin….and that only those who know him as such does he deliver from sin and death, and they only obtain grace and eternal salvation. This the people of the world cannot tolerate.”

So, we’re faced with it again: Do we risk putting a damper on the holiday by referencing the fullness of what the coming of Jesus demands of our lives? Or do we shelf the gospel for the sake of “peace on earth, good will toward men?”

cb and linusIn the spirit of Advent…would you share the gospel if you thought Jesus would be arriving for His second coming on Thursday? I would guess yes.

Knowing what you know now about the truth of the gospel, wouldn’t you want people to keep bringing it up if you weren’t a believer? I know I would.

Praying that all of us can be bold carriers of the gospel this holiday season … and that the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon us, making our lives and words divinely fruitful!

E     *     O

 

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