Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, and Pro-Vocation

I like guns.

It’s not a big secret. As a police officer I spend a lot of time around guns. I’m a life member of the National Rifle Association. I’m an advocate of concealed and open carry. In fact, I carry a firearm on my person every day, both on and off duty. I’m a student of history and have a modest collection of odd and historic firearms. I’m a constitutional conservative who recognizes that Americans have a constitutionally protected individual right to keep and bear arms.

Reading the paper a couple weeks ago, I came across an opinion piece by Rob Schenck chastising Christians who are pro-gun and pro-life, and it brought up an issue that I have struggled with for a long time – self-defense. To summarize the opinion piece, the author cites Christ’s injunction to, “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Mr. Schenck maintains that the Bible strictly limits the use of deadly force. He reminds Christians that we have an obligation to love everyone, even those who mean us harm.

The Christian gospel should quell our fears and remind us of our Christ-like obligation to love all people, even those who intend us harm. This generous view of the world calls us to demonstrate God's love toward others, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what religion they practice. Assuming a permanently defensive posture against others, especially when it includes a willingness to kill, is inimical to a life of faith (Schenck 2015).

I can’t say that I necessarily disagree with Mr. Schenck’s broader point. Christians are certainly called to love their neighbors as themselves. I believe that Mr. Schenck however, who states in the article that he is an Evangelical, jumps to a conclusion which cannot be reached, and on which the Biblical doctrine of vocation could possibly shed some light.

The question is, is there ever a time when a Christian may use deadly force to protect themselves, or others, from the violence that would be done to them by evil men?

Our gut reaction as Americans may be a resounding yes, but this attitude of self-preservation does not seem to reconcile with the “turn the other cheek” attitude Christians are allegedly supposed to exhibit at all times and in all situations. Several Biblical passages which deal with this issue come to mind.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you…Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done…” See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Matt. 5:38-42; Prov. 24:29; Deut. 32:39).

In these passages, and in many other places, Christians are told not to resist evil. In fact, St. Paul, quoting Proverbs, tells us to heap burning coals on the heads of our enemies by doing good to them.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).

This would seem to bring the question to a close. We must consider, however, that God has ordered his creation and placed men into vocations so that this world can be governed. In fact, this is the purpose for which God has instituted government, as St. Paul describes in Romans 13.

In his explanation of the Fifth Commandment in the Small Catechism, Dr. Martin Luther explains what God requires of man when he commands, “You shall not murder.”

We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need (Concordia Publishing House 1991).

Indeed, speaking in terms of vocation, Dr. Luther certainly did not believe that Holy Scripture commanded the Christian to be a pacifist who refrained from violence of any kind. In his commentary on The Sermon on the Mount, Dr. Luther wrote the following:

You see, now we are talking about a Christian-in-relation: not about his being a Christian, but about this life and his obligation in it to some other person, whether under him or over him or even alongside him, like a lord or a lady, a wife or children or neighbors, whom he is obliged, if possible, to defend, guard, and protect. Here it would be a mistake to teach: “Turn the other cheek, and throw your cloak away with your coat.” That would be ridiculous, like the case of the crazy saint who let the lice nibble at him and refused to kill any of them on account of this text, maintaining that he had to suffer and could not resist evil (Luther, The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat 1999).

So, not only does the Christian have a duty not to harm his neighbor, he also has a duty to help and protect him in every bodily need.

A police officer, for example, serves his neighbor by serving in his vocation, by protecting life and property and keeping the peace. Sometimes this service may necessitate using deadly force. A person, however, does not simply hold one vocation. In addition to my vocation as a police officer, I am also a father, a son, and a citizen. Those vocations may also, at times, necessitate using deadly force. For example, a father, in fulfilling his vocation and obligation to protect his family, may be compelled to use deadly force. Dr. Luther, in his commentary on The Sermon on the Mount, continues:

Do you want to know what your duty is as a prince or a judge or a lord or a lady, with people under you? You do not have to ask Christ about your duty. Ask the imperial or the territorial law. It will soon tell you your duty toward your inferiors as their protector. It gives you both the power and the might to protect and to punish within the limits of your authority and commission, not as a Christian but as an imperial subject. What kind of crazy mother would it be who would refuse to defend and save her child from a dog or a wolf and who would say: “A Christian must not defend himself”? Should we not teach her a lesson with a good whipping and say: “Are you a mother? Then do your duty as a mother, as you are charged to do it. Christ did not abrogate this but rather confirmed it” (Luther, The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat 1999).

The laws of the state of Illinois confer upon the citizen the power to effect arrest and the right to use appropriate force in order to stop crime, just as it does for a Peace Officer[1]. Therefore, I would urge Mr. Schenck to consider that a citizen, acting in his vocation as such, is not committing sin if he lawfully owns or carries a gun for the purpose of lawful protection. He is simply acting according to the vocation of citizen into which God has placed him, under the stewardship of the government which God has ordained.

The implication of this view is, however, that while one may be justified in using force to protect his neighbor according to his vocation, he may not be so justified to protect himself. I suppose this “good citizen” argument might be extended to include the individual protecting himself from crime, but for me the jury is still out. It seems to me that, when I meet that robber or terrorist who wishes to do me harm, as an individual Christian I am bound to turn the other cheek. Luther seems to agree with this view.

We have now [with the first four commandments] finished teaching about both the spiritual and the temporal government, that is the divine and the parental authority and obedience. But now we go forth from our house among our neighbors to learn how we should live with one another, everyone himself toward his neighbor. Therefore, God and government are not included in this commandment. Nor is the power to kill taken away, which God and government have. To punish evildoers, God has delegated His authority to the government, not parents. In earlier times, as we read in Moses, parents were required to bring their own children to judgment and even to sentence them to death (Deut. 21:18-21). Therefore, what is forbidden in this commandment is forbidden to the individual in his relationship with anyone else, but not to the government (LC 1, 180-181) (McCain, et al. 2005).

Of course, there is a difference between punishing evil-doers and defending one’s self or one’s neighbor from harm. A police officer foiling an armed robbery is not punishing the perpetrator when he uses force to stop the crime and make an arrest. The punishment comes after the criminal is tried, found guilty, and sentenced by a judge. Similarly, when a citizen uses force likely to cause great bodily harm or death to stop the same armed robbery, he is not “punishing evil-doers” outside of the bounds of his vocation. Rather, he living up to his obligation to protect and defend his neighbor.

The problem with Mr. Schenck’s statement that one cannot be pro-gun and pro-life is that it is not accurate and causes the Christian the type of cognitive dissonance Mr. Schenck exhibits in his article when considered apart from the doctrine of vocation.

Works Cited

Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Luther, Martin. "The Large Catechism." Chap. 1, 181 in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, edited by T. G. Tappert. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Luther, Martin. The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat. Vol. 21. Edited by J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999.

Schenck, Rob. "Commentary: You can't be pro-life and pro-gun." The Chicago Tribune, December 30, 2015.

End Notes

[1] 720 ILCS 5.0/7-6 (2015): Private Person’s Use of Force in Making Arrest (Illinois Compiled Statutes).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Migration Story - Season's Greetings from the Unitarian Universalist Church

MS St. Louis
Citations from the Book of Concord have been taken from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord.
It’s that time of year again - time for the Christmas visit to Evansville, IN. It’s nice to get away from home and work for a while, and catch up with out-of-town family and friends. Of course it also means that I get to indulge in one of my other, more recent Christmas traditions; seeing what sort of nonsense the Unitarian Universalist Church is up to. Their church sign is usually good for a laugh, and some fodder for an article or two. This year has been no exception (though I don’t think anything will beat “Fire Communion” from 2013). 
Driving past the small white cinderblock building on Morgan Avenue, I saw that their sign advertised “A Migration Story.” I was immediately turned off, as this title conjured images of the whole, “Jesus was an unwelcome immigrant too!” chestnut, so often roasted by liberals when discussing the topic of illegal immigration. A little internet searching showed this Sunday’s service would indeed focus on immigration, but the message would be one that had been delivered on Thanksgiving at UU Rockford, IL by Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson. This piqued my curiosity so I went looking for the text. Unfortunately for me I was unable to locate the printed text, but the people at UU Rockford did publish a podcast to iTunes, which I downloaded and listened to.
I won’t do a point-by-point critique of the Homily. In summary, the Rev. Dr. Johnson’s message was that, in the wake of terror and fear, some people seek to close the doors of immigration altogether. How dare you! God loves the stranger, and you were a stranger once to.
“If we want to be fair about it, that it is only those folks whose migration stories predate written history who were themselves overrun by the Europeans some 500 years ago who I think get a vote on which migrants we take in now,” he said (Johnson, 2015).
As I listened to the Rev. Dr. Johnson spout on and on about Americans should be completely open to accepting refugees and illegal aliens because of the 500 years of white European oppression of brown people I was struck by two things, one concerning the left-hand, the other concerning the right-hand kingdom.
First, the left-hand kingdom issue: The bulk of the approximately 20 minute homily focused on the telling of Rev. Dr. Johnson’s own migration story, and the tragic tale of the St. Louis. For those who don’t know, the St. Louis was a ship filled with asylum-seeking Jews which departed from Germany in 1939 bound for Cuba. The ship was turned away. They attempted to gain permission to land in America. The Nazi government, attempting to “help” the United States, warned that the people on board the St. Louis were Communists, criminals, and all manner of subversives. They were again rebuffed. The ship eventually made its way back to Europe. The Jews of the St. Louis found asylum in Great Britain and other countries on the continent. Half of them, however, would not survive the coming Second World War (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2015).
Rev. Dr. Johnson explained how his family had come from Germany to America on that very same ship after the Great War. His people had been allowed to come into the country and live; these other poor wretches had been callously turned away and most of them had perished.
To those people who would turn away refugees Rev. Dr. Johnson explained that he’d like to sit down at the kitchen table with them and, “I’ll read it [the story of the St. Louis] again, and I’ll read it again, until their heart is opened and their conscience awakes” (Johnson, 2015).
There is something to be learned from the story of the MS St. Louis and we should apply that knowledge to our situation today.
The sad tale of the St. Louis is not, however analogous to the refugee situation which Europe and America is facing today with those coming out of Syria and Iraq. Whether we wanted to admit it to ourselves or not, sending the Jews on the St. Louis back to Germany was a death sentence. They had no safe place in Europe to which they could flee, at least for very long. We knew that the Nazis wanted to purge the Jews from their midst; Hitler had written of his intentions, and his hatred for the Jews in Mein Kampf over a decade previous.
There was no real danger that these Jews were a threat to the United States. There were no Jewish Nazis, and the Nazi propaganda regarding who the passengers aboard the St. Louis were was, most likely, designed to play on the anti-semitic feelings of those in power at the time. The reports from Germany that those Jews seeking asylum were Communists and subversives gave the excuse needed in order to turn the ship away.
Today, the tens of thousands of Muslims fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq seeking refuge in Europe and America have a different story. They are fleeing the horrors of war, but they do not face genocide. Unlike the Jews of the St. Louis, they do have other Muslim countries to go to where they would not be forced to live under Islamic State.
Unlike the Jews of the St. Louis, the fear that terrorists could be hidden among the asylum-seekers is legitimate. While there were no Jewish Nazis, there are most certainly Arab Muslim terrorists. So, while it may take some time to check out the backgrounds of Syrian and Iraqi Muslims seeking entry to the United States, they have other safe places to wait in the interim.
The real analogy to the Jews aboard the St. Louis would be to the Syrian and Iraqi Christians, the people whom our government has largely been ignoring (Shea, 2015). These people have been targeted by the Islamic State for death. They face persecution and genocide. There is no safe haven for these Christians in the Middle East. Despite their desperate situation the U.S. has refused to allow the Syrian and Iraqi Christians entry in favor of Muslim refugees, so as not to appear Islamophobic. And, like their Jewish refugee counterparts from 70 years ago, there are no Christian members of the Islamic State. It would be much simpler to investigate the backgrounds of these people than it is proving to do with the Muslim refugees, and their situation is far more urgent.
Instead, for political reasons, we choose the latter over the former.
We should absolutely learn the lesson of the “Voyage of the Damned” - but we are repeating this sad episode all over again, this time with Arab Christians paying the price.
God cares for men spiritually through the church; He cares for them temporally through family and government, all of which have been established by him. Part of the job of the government (what we Lutherans refer to as the “left-hand” kingdom) is to protect its citizens and administer justice.
“Civil rulers,” it is explained in the Augsburg Confession, “do not defend minds, but bodies and bodily things against obvious injuries. They restrain people with the sword and physical punishment in order to preserve civil justice and peace” (AC XXVIII 11).
It isn’t wrong for the government to protect its citizens by being careful when admitting refugees, immigrants, and asylum-seekers into the country. To the contrary, a ruler thus engaged is serving his citizens faithfully according to his vocation.
This brings me to the right-hand kingdom issue. During the course of this homily “god” was mentioned only a handful of times. Jesus was totally absent. Holy Scripture was not read at all. What a curious way for a “church” to celebrate the First Sunday of Christmas. Of course, I am well aware that the Unitarian Universalist Church is not Christian, and it does not surprise me. This is what they have to say of themselves:
“In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart. Together, we create a force more powerful than one person or one belief system. As Unitarian Universalists, we do not have to check our personal background and beliefs at the door: we join together on a journey that honors everywhere we’ve been before. Our beliefs are diverse and inclusive. We have no shared creed. Our shared covenant (our seven Principles) supports “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Though Unitarianism and Universalism were both liberal Christian traditions, this responsible search has led us to embrace diverse teachings from Eastern and Western religions and philosophies…We are united in our broad and inclusive outlook, and in our values, as expressed in our seven Principles. We are united in shared experience: our open and stirring worship services, religious education, and rites of passage; our work for social justice; our quest to include the marginalized; our expressions of love” (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2015).
War, bigotry, lawlessness, racism, and all the other things commonly referred to as “ills of society,” are the consequences of sin. Sin originated from our first father Adam who, by his disobedience in the Garden, made all men subject to sin and death.
“This hereditary sin,” Luther writes in the Smalcald Articles, “is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture” (SA III I 3).
The Rev. Dr. Johnson said near the beginning of his message that he would sit down at the table with someone who was opposed to immigration, and read the account of the St. Louis to them over and over until their consciences awoke. When I heard those words I was saddened to think that this man would trade the God-breathed words we have been given in Holy Scripture, which are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness - the means of God’s grace, his living and active Word - for the words of men which have no power.
Wouldn’t it have been nice for the people listening to the Rev. Dr. Johnson to hear about their sin? No doctor can cure a disease which hasn’t been properly diagnosed, and the Rev. Dr. Johnson is no exception. He is attempting to cure the ills of society by applying a social gospel, which is really no gospel at all. These people, as do we all, need to hear how wicked they are. They, as do we, need to be called to repent of their sins. They, as do we, need to hear the good news that this sin of theirs has been paid for by the babe born in Bethlehem, Jesus, who was God in human flesh; that Jesus died on the cross in our place, and that he rose from the dead, and the gates of life eternal are opened to us by the grace of God through faith in him.
“Home.” Unitarian Universalist Church of Evansville. Accessed December 27, 2015.
Johnson, Rev. Dr. Matthew. “A Migration Story.” the UU Church-Rockford, IL. November 22, 2015. Accessed December 26, 2015.
McCain, Paul T, ed. Et. Al. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
Shea, Nina. “The State Department Turns Its Back on Syrian Christians and Other Non-Muslim Refugees.” National Review Online. November 2, 2015. Accessed December 27, 2015.
“The Voyage of the St. Louis.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. August 18, 2015. Accessed December 27, 2015.
“What We Believe.” Unitarian Universalist Association. February 9, 2015. Accessed December 27, 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

From One Know-Nothing to Another

The Know-Nothing Party Flag

Dennis Gorecki of Orland Park, IL wrote a letter which was published in the Christmas Eve edition of the Daily Southtown newspaper (a Chicago Tribune publication). In his letter, which lists the collective sin of American racism like a litany – or an indictment – Mr. Gorecki’s calls for his “Christian brothers and sisters who support the xenophobic views of the Republican party,” to read Matthew 25:35-46. Those verses read as follows:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:35-46).

He calls the Republican Party the new Know-nothings which, in many respects, is an accurate statement. The average American’s concern for the security of their country and its borders, however, does not automatically equate with xenophobia, as many leftists believe and proclaim. By citing St. Matthew’s Gospel, this implication is made all the more insulting, as Christians are painted to look like hypocritical racists. This view of Christians may fit well with the Left’s worldview, but it has little to do with reality for the majority of the faithful. Furthermore, Mr. Gorecki’s invocation of Matthew 25:35-46 as his coup de grâce betrays his ignorance of Biblical interpretation.

Christ, telling this parable of the sheep and the goats to his disciples, says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Who are Jesus’ brothers? His disciples! We learn this in Matthew 12:

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’ (Matthew 12:46-50).

Again, who are those, according to Jesus, who do the will of His Father in heaven? Those who believe in him, or…His disciples! We learn this in John 6:

“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:28-29).

So, who is Jesus calling us to feed, give drink, clothe, and visit in prison in this parable? His brothers, those who believe in him…our fellow Christians. To say that this parable mandates that Christians welcome everyone who calls themselves a refugee into their country without a second thought or question, is to profoundly misinterpret Jesus’ words here.

Certainly this is not the only sense in which the phrase “my brothers” should be understood. Since we have been adopted into God’s family, we Christians are children of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ, and co-heirs with Him of His Kingdom. 

This is not to say that Christians are allowed to treat those outside the family of faith badly. To the contrary, Christians are called to love their enemies, a feature of the Christian religion not universally shared by the world’s religions. We are called to pray for those who persecute us, and to live in peace with everyone, insofar as it depends on us.

Christians expressing concern about the effects and dangers of unchecked illegal immigration does not equate with the “No Irish Need Apply” attitude of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Supporting tighter control of the way visas are issued, or not wanting to allow tens of thousands of Muslim refugees into the country without a proper vetting when Islamic terrorists are threatening kill Americans on American soil does not equate with the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, or with any of the other incidents of racism and xenophobia which Mr. Gorecki cites. And, while there are certainly a large number of people in America who are the type of bigot Mr. Gorecki describes, this in no way negates the founding principles of our country, or the picture of America as the land of opportunity for oppressed immigrants around the world. 

Things like racism exist because human beings are sinful. Our natures are corrupt. In our natural state, we are God’s enemy. Our focus is bent inward toward ourselves. As a result, we don’t love God with our whole hearts, and we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. For this we need to repent. We need to hear God’s forgiveness this Christmas – and every day of the year – that, despite our sinfulness we do not need to fear; that unto us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This Savior is Immanuel, God with us, who came to bear our sin on the cross while we were still his enemies. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood, shed on the cross, is the only thing which will cause us to act according to the Spirit rather than according to our sinful flesh.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Whip Nae Nae in Heavenly Peace

 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The war on Christmas is heating up, and “Christians” are “outraged” at the latest skirmishes, which involved a beloved television Christmas special, and a nonsensical rap song.

This past Thursday Glenn Beck talked about a Kentucky elementary school that was presenting A Charlie Brown Christmas as their Christmas program. Everyone on the show was shocked and outraged because, at the climax of the program, Linus’ speech explaining the true meaning of Christmas (which was really just a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke), had been cut. In another school, the speech was removed and Silent Night was replaced with the popular, and highly annoying, “Whip Nae Nae” by Silentó 

“I would get together with parents and I would — if I knew this was coming — take the script of what Linus actually says and I would stand up as a block of parents and just stop the show and just all of us at that point, ‘Doesn’t anybody know what Christmas is all about?’ And all of the parents stand up and just start saying it, even as the play is going on,” Beck said.

I love Christmas. I love the Peanuts. I love A Charlie Brown Christmas. I love St. Luke’s Gospel. Silent Night is arguably the greatest Christmas song ever written (in the original German, of course). So, what I’m about to say will probably confuse some of my friends: I don’t care that these people changed the Christmas show to remove the Bible passage. In fact, I wouldn’t have expected them to do anything different. I would have been surprised to see them leave the speech intact and sing Silent Night at a secular public school.

“There is no violation of the so-called ‘separation of church and state’ by allowing children to learn about theater and the origins of Christmas through participating in a stage version of this beloved program that contains the same religious elements as the television version,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco, as quoted from a Fox opinion article.

I agree that there is no violation of the First Amendment. However, if my children are attending a public school, I want them to learn reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. I’ll take care of the religious education, thank you very much. That is, of course, why they don’t attend public school.

Making secular public school students do religious things is not an effective evangelism tool; it only causes strife in the community. I certainly wouldn’t want my children to participate in some school-wide Ramadan pageant. I understand that pagans don’t want their children to sing Silent Night. We shouldn’t expect those who are of the pagan secular world to think and act like Christendom. After all, the sinful mind is hostile to God, and cannot submit to God (Romans 8:6-8); The message of the cross is, after all, foolishness to those who are perishing. To the unbelieving secular world, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ from the Gospel of St. Luke makes less sense than, “Watch me whip…watch me nae nae.”

For the world, the federal holiday of Christmas is about presents, and trees, and lights, and days off from work. For Christendom it is about God taking on human flesh so that he could, before we did anything to merit his loving-kindness, keep the Law for us, bear our sin, and be our savior. I’m glad that Charles Schultz included the true meaning of Christmas in his show, but we can’t force pagans to act like Christians. Consequently, we shouldn't be outraged when they act according to their nature and reject and ridicule God’s Word. Instead of trying to glue a veneer of Christianity over the top of secular culture, the way to reach pagans is to lovingly deliver Law and Gospel to those around us according to our vocation, encouraging them to repent of their sin and gather around Word and Sacrament – and trust that the Lord’s Word will not return to him void. 


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Americanized Christianity: What is Love?

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11).

While the author claims to provide a beginning point for people to dissect their Americanized Christianity, so that they might “return home to the life and message of Jesus,” reading the list of ten signs he presents might lead one to suspect that Benjamin Corey has a political agenda, rather than a religious one. I don’t want to address each point of contention I have with this article, 10 Ways To Determine If Your Christianity Has Been “Americanized,” as to do so would call for something much longer and more tedious than I have the time or inclination to undertake currently. Instead, I have chosen several sections from the article which, I believe, sum up the main ideas and where it is off-track. You can find the original piece here. Read it, it’s not that long, and is interesting, even if written in a disdainful tone. He starts right off with the whole “the early Christians were Communistic pacifists” argument:

If your primary identity is legitimately that of a Christian, you’ll be open to learning about Christianity as it was taught and lived by the earliest Christians. However, from an American mindset, original Christianity and the first Christians appear nuts: they were universally nonviolent (against capital punishment, abortion, military service and killing in self-defense), rejected individual ownership of property in order to redistribute their wealth (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:35), and rejected any involvement with the government. When reading about them they seem rather un-American, and this will cause frustration or disbelief among those in Americanized Christianity (Corey 2015).

While Christianity is certainly non-violent, it is not “against” such things as capital punishment, military service, and killing in self-defense. The Fifth Commandment says, “You shall not murder.” Luther’s explanation of the Fifth Commandment sums up the meaning of this commandment, in light of Christ’s words, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount:

We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every bodily need (Concordia Publishing House 1991).

This, however, does not mean that no one has authority to take another person’s life. Romans 13 commands us to submit to the governing authorities:

…for he [government] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).

Paul acknowledges here that governments, some of which carry out capital punishment, are authorities instituted by God. As such, we are to submit to them, at least until they command and act contrary to God’s Word. This would hardly constitute Paul – an early Christian – being “against” capital punishment. Furthermore, Paul continues to write contrary to Corey’s statement that the early Christians rejected any involvement with the government.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:5-7).

The early Christians certainly may not have been in positions of authority within the government of the Roman Empire, but that does not mean they viewed governmental authority and submission to such authority and law as evil. To the contrary, we are commanded to serve the authorities instituted by God by gladly providing what they need or require (Concordia Publishing House 1991). Regarding their possessions, Acts 4:32 tells us that they (the believers) “had everything in common.” Rather than being an endorsement of communism, this scene gives us a glimpse of a restored creation.

God gives us property and resources for our neighbor’s benefit. The early Christians fully shared with one another, but not in the same way as the failed communist experiments of the twentieth century. Here there is no compulsion or involvement of the State – only believers are affected, and only goods are shared, not their production (Engelbrecht 2009).

This illustrates what is meant by a phrase popular among Confessional Lutherans, “God doesn’t need your good works. Your neighbor does.” I would also note that the believers are helping each other, not selling their property and goods to do charity work in the pagan slums.

Corey, in his second point, begins talking about love, and it is with this subject that we get to the real heart of the issue:

The chief calling of a Christ-follower is to love others. Whether a neighbor across the street, or an enemy across the world, Christ’s command is abundantly clear: we are to love one another. If your initial posture toward Muslims is that of viewing them as a threat instead of viewing them as people Jesus has commanded we radically and self-sacrificially love, then your Christianity might be Americanized (Corey 2015).

Is the chief calling of a “Christ-follower” really just to love others without condition? The chief calling of a Christian is to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19). Love comes as a by-product of making Christians. Christians are commanded by Jesus to imitate the self-sacrificial love Christ showed by going to the cross, so that the world would recognize them as his disciples.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34.35).

Paul presents this teaching again in Ephesians:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

What, to borrow a question from Haddaway, is love? Reading Corey’s piece one would get the impression that real love consists of serving real people around you, unconditional tolerance and acceptance of illegal aliens, homosexuality, and support for the welfare state.

Jesus calls us to get busy serving the least of these– to get our hands dirty, to embrace the position of “servant of everyone,” and to pour ourselves out as we endeavor to change the world right where we are. America on the other hand, invites us to view political power and force of government as the solution to the world’s problems, and that’s a tempting offer for both liberals and conservatives. If you’re more focused on what they could do than what you can do, your Christianity might be Americanized…If you advocate cutting government programs for the poor but don’t actually tithe yourself…If you say “we’re a nation of laws” in reference to immigrants faster than you quote what the Bible says about immigrants…If you think Paul’s prohibition on female teachers is straightforward, but Jesus’ teaching on enemy love is somehow open to a thousand degrees of nuance…Somewhere along the line, the Americanized version of Christianity taught us that defeating gay marriage was perhaps the most pressing issue of our time. Sadly, as Americans we’re taught to be self-centered and this is an incredibly self-centered view that completely ignores the global issues of our time. It is the mistaken identity that our issues are the issues. The most pressing issues of our time? Let’s start with the fact that 750 million people around the world don’t even have access to clean water or that 805 million people are chronically malnourished (Corey 2015).

Corey raises some interesting issues. This isn’t love, though. This is an enumeration of a political platform. Our primary concern shouldn’t be about “what I can do” to “change the world.” Both Christians and non-Christians can, and do, hold positions on all of these issues. And while love does manifest itself in good works for our neighbor, focusing on these works first is to put the emphasis in the wrong place. We should hate what is evil, Paul says, and cling to what is good. As Christians, speaking in terms of our relationship with the secular world, we should live at peace with everyone, insofar as it depends on us, and serve our neighbor in our vocation.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).

Well-meaning Christians who look around and see all sorts of social problems chastise their fellow believers for not loving their neighbor. You must love your neighbor! You must be loving and tolerant of homosexuals. You must care for the needy! You must show compassion to immigrants, both legal and illegal! And, if you don't do these things precisely the way I deem acceptable, I will - lovingly, tolerantly, acceptingly - call you all kinds of names like Pharisee, insult you, and say you aren't a good Christian.

The thing which people who think like this don't get, however, is from where the love to which they exhort us comes. They think it comes from us. You're a Christian? Great! Get busy loving your neighbor. The more love you exhibit (Corey calls this “getting your hands dirty…”read do good works) the more evidence that you're really a proper Christian. Except, the love Jesus describes doesn't come from us, it comes from him. He commands us to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. That's something we cannot do. 

They also forget that Paul told us to abhor what is evil.

Rather than being intentional acts which we perform to be better Christians, our good works flow from us organically; they are products of our New Man, the new creation God has made us into. Moreover, the good works which we do don't originate with us, even though we perform them. God has prepared them for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

It's irritating to me to hear someone admonish The Church for not being loving enough, or Christ-like enough, or "whatever" enough. I already know I'm not a good Christian. But you aren't either. The Christian church is made up of sinners. We all need to repent, and believe the Gospel, and be forgiven.

Being tolerant and accepting of homosexual behavior, or people who disregard the laws of the nation, is not loving, it's easy. It certainly isn’t Biblical. When Christians unconditionally accept unrepentant homosexuals into their fellowships, and advocate politically for illegal aliens without condition, it may seem loving to the secular world, and it may feel good to those who are doing it, but it's not love. It is simply a way of avoiding a negative reaction from the secular and politically correct society in which we live. In fact, if we treat sinners – any sinner – this way and simply tell them that we love and accept them without delivering to them Law and Gospel, we do them the worst disservice. Paul continues expounding Jesus’ command to love in Ephesians chapter five, with an important, “but…”

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:3-5).

And, Paul doesn’t speak only of homosexuality (sexual immorality) as though it is some special, more grievous sin which is unforgivable. He includes all sin when he talks about what should not be named among us, and abhorred, and will disqualify us from our inheritance:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

Homosexuals, illegal aliens, adulterers, murders, liars, thieves, the self-righteous, gluttons – all people – need to hear that, though they are by nature sinful and unclean, and have sinned against God by their thoughts, word, and deeds, we have forgiveness through the holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death of God's beloved son Jesus Christ. The most loving thing in the world is for The Church to call sinners to repentance, and to believe the gospel. This is the Church's job, rather than being simply a social welfare agency, or leftist political activist group. We must be faithful to this mission and also compassionate in meeting needs. The good thing is though, when the first one happens, the second will follow.

What good is it for The Church to meet the physical needs of a suffering immigrant, if they will spend eternity in Hell because they are an unrepentant sinner? What have we done for the homosexual, if we have simply, oh so tolerantly, invited them to practice their behavior openly, but not called them to repentance? We have not done what Christ has commanded us to, that is certain. I’m not saying that we should forsake the physical needs of people who are suffering, far from it! I am saying that penitent sinners who have faith in Christ will perform good works – They can't help it. If they have a faith that is alive, good works will follow (James 2:22-23). I am also saying that a Christ-less Christianity, devoid of repentance and the forgiveness of sins as described in Corey’s article, which is really nothing more than a social welfare agency or leftist political activist group is no Christianity at all.

Works Cited

Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Corey, Benjamin L. 10 Ways to Determine If Your Christianity Has Been Americanized. Web Article. July 21, 2015.

Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

For All The Saints

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:13-17).

“…while worms and rottenness are before our eyes, we cannot be unmindful of them, nevertheless there will be a time when God will wipe away every tear, as is stated in Rev. 7:17. Therefore faith should begin to forget tears and dishonor which it does not see. Although the eyes see the rottenness, the ears hear the complaints and sobs, and the noses smell the stench of the corpses, nevertheless it is the part of faith to say: “I do not know this. I see nothing. Indeed, I see a multiplication and a brightness surpassing the sun itself and the stars.” Therefore such examples are set before us in order that we may learn that God is the Creator of all things, restores the dead to life and glorifies worms and the foulest rottenness. And He wants this to be acknowledged and celebrated by us in this life in faith. Later, however, in the future life, we shall experience it in actual fact.”[1]

"For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest"
by William W. How, 1823-1897

1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

7. From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

8. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Hymn #463
The Lutheran Hymnal
Author: William W. How, 1864, cento
Composer: R. Vaughan Williams, 1906, arr.
Tune: "Sine nomine"

[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1965). Vol. 7: Luther's works, vol. 7 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Ge 41:53). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Reformation Day!

Selling Indulgences
Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses in 1517 as a protest against the selling of indulgences. After he sent a copy of the theses to Albert of Mainz (who sent a copy to Pope Leo), Luther continued to write, elaborating on the issues raised.

He makes three main points in his 95 theses: 1) Selling indulgences to finance the building of St. Peter's is wrong, 2)The pope has no power over Purgatory, 3) Buying indulgences gives people a false sense of security and endangers their salvation.

"Therefore I claim that the pope has no jurisdiction over Purgatory. ... If the pope does have power to release anyone from Purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish Purgatory by letting everyone out? If for the sake of miserable money he released uncounted souls, why should he not for the sake of most holy love empty the place? To say that souls are liberated from Purgatory is audacious. To say they are released as soon as the coffer rings is to incite avarice. The pope would do better to give everything away without charge."