Lord’s Prayer For Kids

When I was a Sunday School teacher for K-3 I wrote this version of the Lord’s Prayer for them.

Our Father
Who is in Heaven
Your name is Special.
Let Your rule
and Your will
be done here with us now,
just as it is in Heaven.
Give us enough food for today.
Forgive us when we do wrong,
and help us forgive others when they are wrong.
Help us not to want wrong things,
and protect us from all harm.
For You are a good God,
and we love You.
Amen.

N T Wright and Ecclesiology

Enjoyed this quote from N. T. Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision and thought I’d pass it on.  Ecclesiology has been becoming my driving interest for many years now.

Yes, say the scoffers, ethnic divisions are broken down, we know that, but why make such a fuss about it? The answer is that the church, thus united through the grace of God in the death of Jesus, is the sign to the principalities and powers that their time is up. Ephesians is not about the ordering of the church by the gospel for its own sake. “Ecclesiology” may sound secondary and irrelevant to some ardent enthusiasts for the old perspective, but that could just be because they are unwilling to face the consequences of Paul’s ecclesiology. For him, the church is constituted, and lives its life in public, in such a way as to confront the rulers of the world with the news that there is “another king named Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Paul says it again: this was the grace given to me, this was the mystery revealed which I became a servant, the mystery lodged since all eternity in the creator’s single plan: “that now the many-splendored wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he has accomplished int he Messiah, Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11).

How can “ecclesiology” be a secondary topic, unworthy to be associated with the great doctrine of justification, when Scripture itself gives it this high a place? Why should not the point of justification itself be precisely this, that, in constituting the church as the single family who are a sign to the powers that Jesus is Lord and the they are not, it serves directly the mission of the kingdom of God in the world? It cannot be, can it, that part of the old perspective’s reaction to the new is the tacit sense that once we associate ecclesiology with the very center of the gospel we will have to go all the way and rethink the political role and task of the church? Surely the wonderful “objective” scholarship of so many old perspective exponents would not allow such a motive to affect exegesis! And yet: Luther’s “two kingdoms” theology may have more bearing on this than we might like to think. Not to mention the deep resistance, in some of the same circles where the old perspective still flourishes, to any attempt to articulate a gospel-based “kingdom” theology to complement and illuminate Paul’s soteriology.” (173-174)

Love and Justification

Theologians are always debating the righteousness of God in justification.  Is it imputed?  Is it infused?  Is it forensic?

I can’t tell you the torture I put myself through for decades over this kind of stuff.  Like a navigator who knows if his calculation is off by the slightest degree he will miss the mark, I constantly feel like I have to get these formulations down at the outset, forgetting that all I really have to do is follow the One who not only knows but is the Way.  I swear Christians make this so hard, though.

I could and perhaps will say more about that, but I have to be gone the next couple of days, so for now, just this.

From Lewis, a close paraphrase: God does not make us good [righteous] so that He can love us.  Because He loves us He makes us good [righteous].

Not a righteousness [goodness] that comes through the law, be it God’s covenant law (e.g. circumcision, Sabbath keeping, dietary, etc.), like the arguments of the New Perspectives on Paul, which make a lot of sense to me, nor by the law as in moral laws, but by His grace.

Nouwen: “God’s love does not depend on our repentance or inward or outer changes.”

While I want to be one of those who repents and changes inwardly and outwardly, and believe I am, even if I’m not God loves me.  This is not the message I have heard from the church, but the deficiency may be in me.

I have either heard wrongly many evangelical and/or reformed writers, teachers and preachers, or they have not said it in a way I could hear well.

God’s love precedes his imputed, infused or forensic righteousness in each of us.  His love precedes creation, and creation flowed out of it.  His love precedes the Fall.  His love preceeds the Incarnation and is the very reason for it.  God’s love precedes the cross and made the cross itself inevitable.

Intentional or not the Calvinist/Reformed tradition has taught me that unless I am among the elect I am not and never can be righteous.  It has followed in my mind that if I am not among the elect, therefore righteous, God does not love me.  No matter what they say, one can not know with certainty, I don’t believe, if one is elect.

I don’t care how much good fruit you produce in keeping with righteousness, you’re going to sin, and we are never going to be certain if our motivations are right, and they never will be completely pure.  If our motivations are not right, our actions can’t be fully right-eous.  It produces an effort to prove one’s righteousness to one’s self, so that one can be assured of God’s love and forgiveness.

So, how do I ever know I am really being Christ to other’s, really being transformed, really putting on Christ and not trying to prove to myself and others I am among the elect out of fear of damnation rather than love of God and neighbor?  I don’t see how, but maybe that’s because I’m not elect.

Maybe the elect all have specific, dramatic conversion experiences and are then perpetually filled with peace, joy, gratitude and contentment, never stop growing, love selflessly and sacrificially and forgive everything all the time.  Maybe the elect know they are elect and those who think they are elect and don’t know it are deceived and it’s impossible for one to be among the elect and not know it. It’s a nightmare of a labyrinth.

Yesterday I heard a radio preacher I like.  I’m not going to mention names because it’s a distraction.  I went to his web site and was reading the days devotion.  There’s a line in it I heard countless times in the Evangelical circles in which I ran in college, and to whom I owe a great debt:

“The Holy Spirit…tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’”

Indeed, Christ is all in all.  However, the message I heard over and over is that I am nothing or I am worthless.  The fact is that we elevate Christ so high that we forget what all the bother was about.  Christ is exalted; He is supreme; all creation will bow before His majesty, glory and power when it is made His footstool.

No question, no doubt, but is it possible that in the way we do, we corrupt even that to the point that we claim for Christ something He never claimed for himself: that God bounded Himself in flesh, space and time, suffered and died for…nothing?  That’s the word I hear all the time.  Not ‘nothing’ as in for “no reason,” but ‘nothing’ as in “worthless,” the other word I hear all the time.

Like Jeremiah’s potter, God is reshaping spoiled vessels.  Spoiled is not the same as nothing; it’s not the same as worthless.  The misshapen vessels have such infinite value and worth that even if they are not usable in their current distorted shape, the Potter loves them so much, that rather than just discarding them and starting over, He reshapes, remolds, restores, recreates them.

God does not make us good so that He can love us.  Because He loves us He is making us good.

To preach Christ and Him crucified is to preach his radical, all-encompassing, unalterable love for us.

I suppose the concern, as it has been for me often, is that if we preach this love to ourselves and others it might lead to encouraging sin to abound so grace can abound even more, or it might make us think there is to be no striving or pressing on towards the goal.

If that is what we or others hear it is not the Good News because the Good News is that because God loves us we can be recreated, not stay the same miserable, spoiled vessels and the Potter merely says “Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to begin with.  It will look lovely in this spot or I can just use it for this purpose instead.  Silly me.  What was I thinking?”

The full quote above from the devotion, which was adapted from Spurgeon, is “But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’”

I’m not at all certain the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self.  Away from false self, fallen self, sinful self, but not true self.  Paul spends much time in 1 Corinthians 15 expounding on the resurrection of the body.  We must avoid a purely spiritualized theology.  Theology is incarnational and embodied. The Word made flesh and the risen Christ.  We can not stop at the cross for all it’s majesty and glory.

There IS a me, a true me, a me crafted, knit together and wonderfully made. God does not want me to forget this self, but to become it.  To remember it, not as though I have a memory of it, but His memory of it.  His memory of ME.

We live in a self-absorbed, self-fulfillment, self-obsessed me-driven world in the grip of relativism.  Be that as it may, like with everything else, it’s not purely and solely a lie.  All good lies have an element of the truth, and the truth is that there is a me for God to love.  Distorted, warped, and idolized though self-love may be in this world does not mean the solution is the forget self; it’s to remember our true self.

God is not running an assembly line in which we turn to Him, climb on the conveyor belt and God stamps out a Jesus such that when we stand before Him all He sees is His Son.

In The Wrinkle in Time, Meg defeats the lies of the enemy with this truth: “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”  Because I am clothed in Christ does not mean there is no me to be clothed.  Because I am made like Jesus does not mean I am the same as Jesus.

I don’t know how many times I have heard “When God looks at you on Judgment Day, He will see Jesus.”  When I stand before God He will see the true me I can only be IN Christ.

Heaven will not be populated with a bunch of Jesus clones.  Only Jesus is Jesus, thanks be to God.  Heaven will be populated with resurrected, unique, infinitely  precious, incalculably valuable people of inestimable worth, spoiled vessels recreated.

God does not make us good so that He can love us.  Because He loves us He is making us good.

To me, it makes all the difference in the world.

Reflections on a Yard Sale

Yes, I confess.  I used to dread our biannual church yard sales, which are always on a Saturday, but take two days to set-up.  A lot of my distaste for them was the pressure of time while raising kids, the neglect of my own home and yard that would still have to be made up, and the tedium.  I’ve noticed a gradual and growing shift in my attitude over the years, and while my reflections are fresh in my mind from our most recent one today, I thought I’d share some of them.

We live in a consumption driven, acquisitively orientated society.  No doubt about it.  I lament it often—just ask my kids—while knowing full well I am implicated in it.  It’s tempting to look at all the donations we have at our yard sale and think “What a shame.  All this stuff people acquire and discard.  We live in such a disposable society, buying stuff we don’t need and then tossing it out.”

I used to do that, and maybe I’m just projecting onto others; maybe no one else looks at it that way.  Without a doubt there’s some truth to it.  I see it differently now, though.  I look around and I see a high chair parents used to feed their baby in.  I see couches people used to snuggle on as they rested at the end of the day.  I see kitchen tables that people used to fellowship around, pray around, laugh around and sustain themselves with daily bread.  I see toys and games a child once opened with delight under a Christmas tree or unwrapped for a birthday.  I see clothes that protected people and kept them warm or cool or dry as they worked, played, worshipped or even hurt, hungered and grieved.  I see exercise equipment that at least represented hope if not reality, cups that helped quench thirst, pictures that used to hang on walls and brighten a room and vases that held beautiful flowers that brightened a day.  I see books that educated, fascinated and entertained.

It’s all there, and more, much more.  Above it all I see love.  We all know that the most precious gifts we have to offer are not tangible.  But, being the frail creatures of the tangible world of sense that we are, when we freely and joyfully give tangible gifts to one another, we are able, by doing so, to also give them intangible gifts.

Not all, but some of the donations were once gifts given or received in love.  Some of them were probably things that used to belong to departed loved ones that their family is finally able to give away as they struggle to move through their grief.  Some of them were originally purchased as a way to care and provide for someone’s family.  Some were bought in hopes (perhaps misplaced, but who knows?) of being better people.  Some were bought to do good work, to better care for creation, to spend time in genuine activities of re-creation.  Some, yes even some, were probably bought wisely, on a budget, when something else nicer, better, lovelier, but more expensive, would have been preferred, but the person wanted to save more for generous, cheerful giving or necessary provision.   And now they have given them away, in hopes that others may find some value in them, rather than toss it in a landfill.

Of course some of the stuff was unneeded, was charged with money one did not have, was bought in an attempt to satisfy a selfish desire, or was put to bad use, but not all, probably not most.  Many of the donations we had to offer were bought by people seeking to fulfill real needs or to give as the best gift they could to someone they dearly love, and maybe even to save money to give more to God or to others, and the donations helped them to do just that.

On yard sale weekends, our fellowship hall is packed with shared humanity: our memories, hopes, generosity, longings and love as well as our greed, acquisitiveness, envy, discontent and self-inflicted pain.  It’s packed with the image-bearers of God and the fallen, broken, prideful rebels those image-bearers have become.

And it’s packed with another kind of humanity, too: the humanity of church family fellowshipping and serving.  I say serving because I believe most of the people who come are sincerely glad and genuinely needful of the things they buy, and knowing it’s not ideal, it truly helps our church continue to serve and worship God.  It would be nice to not have to use the proceeds for the budget, to give it all away to Lutheran Services for the Aging or ELCA World Hunger or Disaster Relief, or to Synod benevolence, and that’s a good goal worth striving for and remaining mindful about, but God knows our frame; He knows our need; and He understands our fears and weaknesses.

I’m not willing to concretely say that we have not been faithful in giving.  I only know that I haven’t always, so it’s likely in the abstract that others have sometimes also not been as faithful as they should.  But this too I know:  God is always faithful, and He provides in our unfaithfulness without ever approving of it, always prompting us to more faithfulness and more generosity.  We need, nay, we must move towards that with the help of God’s grace and the power of His Spirit, but we must also give thanks to God for His provision now.

I also say fellowshipping because there’s a chance to get to talk to church family you may not get to talk to that often, the sharing of stories and memories, and even a good laugh or two.  Most get the chance to sit down and share a meal with someone.  There’s also the natural fellowship of shared labor, which doesn’t always include words, and the appreciation one gains for the willingness of others who do all the setting up and preparing.  To top it all off, it’s intergenerational fellowship!

One also meets members of the community.  Some of the same people come year after year, and many of them will stop and talk if you give them an opening.  In the slow part of the afternoon this past Saturday, I spoke to a man who seemed hesitant to say more than hello, but I pressed a little and the next thing I knew we had a 20 minute conversation.

It’s a different world for me than it was 5-6 years ago when I begrudgingly started working at them.  Go to one sometime and see for yourself.  Bring a fresh pair of eyes.  They really help!

(5 + 2) x Jesus = Enough 4 All

“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ’Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?'” –John 6:8b-9

As school starts back and we approach Rally Day and the kick-off of our annual stewardship campaign, imagine if there were a way to multiply time. Would you believe me if I told you it’s possible?

The Bible is full of lessons on different types of sacrifices to make to God: a “broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51), “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Ps 116), “of praise” (Heb. 13), our “bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12), and money, among others. In speaking of the monetary sacrifices made “beyond their means” to financially support his ministry, Paul said, of the “churches of Macedonia,” that “they gave themselves first to the Lord.”

“They gave themselves first to the Lord,” and somehow, then, were able to give “beyond their means, of their own free will, begging earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” (2 Cor. 2:8) Wow!

Jesus has a knack of multiplying that which we first freely give to him for His service. Take the fish and loaves, for example. When I read that story in John 6, I have to stop and think “Only a child would have given his small lunch to Jesus to feed 5000 people.” Someone, probably more like Martha than Mary, had responsibly sent her son out with a small lunch. Which of us would have given it up? I’d have thought “Why should I go hungry so that everyone else can also go hungry, because if I give up this lunch you can be sure of one thing: None of us will be satisfied.”

Not that boy. He gave “first to the Lord,” and the Lord multiplied it, not just until everyone was satisfied, but until everyone was satisfied and there were leftovers to boot! In our frantic, panicked, stressed-out, overwhelmed lives do we dare to believe He can do it with time?

I think the answer is a resounding and emphatic “YES!” I firmly believe that God gives us more than enough time to do the work He’s given us to do. Sadly, we beg for enough time when He longs to give us leftovers.

Often times in our lives, when it all gets to be too much, the first thing we neglect is our relationship with God. Our personal devotions, our church attendance, and our participation in Sunday school and Bible study (that is, our personal and corporate worship and our Christian education) suffer. Our service is often maintained, because so much of our image is dependent upon it, but it’s often done with feelings of stress and frustration rather than joy and gladness.

Lord knows (and I say that literally without an ounce of irreverence) we need to rest. He knew it when he designed us; He knew it when He instituted the Sabbath; He knew it when He called us and when He commissioned us. We’re the ones who don’t seem to understand.

Who Would Jesus Deport

Today, the first of May, there were protest all over the country against Arizona’s new immigration law.  One protestor was carrying a sign  “Who Would Jesus Deport?” What if it said “Who Would Jesus Marry?”  (I mean by this not get married to but whose marriage would he preside over.)  Can you image the outrage?

The Left welcome Christian principles and arguments when they support, or they think they can be used to support, the things they agree with like homosexuality, immigration, the environment, and care of the poor.  They don’t seem to have any problem at all suggesting that governments should encode such principles into law.

At a blog I recently stumbled across and really like, the author, Wes Ellis, posted a prayer for humility regarding immigrants.  I liked it, and have no problem praying it in agreement with the him.  However, it implied to me that he thought Christian charity on this point should be the rule of law, so I posted a comment:

Amen, by which I literally mean, I agree and beseech God with you. I do, however, believe there is a distinction between the Church Universal and national policy.

As Christians, the true Jews, the command in Leviticus 19:34 is also commanded of us: “The alien who resides among you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” Likewise Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

This is how the Church should act, and pray.

That does not mean God’s left hand, the State, does not have an obligation to protect its citizens or enforce the laws, nor does it mean Biblical commands given to God’s people should be encoded into immigration policy.

To which he replied: “I don’t think God’s left hand would work in opposition to his right…”

This is loaded with all kinds of implications for Church/State relations, most of which the Left would condemn if used to support a conservative viewpoint.  It almost sounds like he supports a theocracy, like Israel was when God gave them the command in Leviticus.  Besides, nothing I wrote even implied that I thought God works at cross-purposes with Himself.

I think that we should be Christ to immigrants, and we should call on our government to create just policies. But those just policies have to take into account justice for the citizen. Forget popular sovereignty; only God is sovereign, and He established the US government (whether they know it or not) to govern US citizens.

Concerning the roles of the State in the Two Kingdoms, Luther argues that government is “First, established [by God] to provide order and maintain the peace. Second, it must wield the sword with justice and according to the statues and laws of the nation.” ((http://www.servetus.org/en/news-events/articulos/ensayo240206.htm“)) No government has ever been the source for God’s redemptive, social transformative work. That’s not its function. That is the task of His Church.

In an interview in 2004, N. T. Wright addressed this kind of thinking:

“I’ve sometimes hypothesized, what if someone were to say to Paul: ‘Well, according to your principle of love, all God’s people should share their possessions with one another. Therefore, some of us in the church think that we should help this process on the way by going into our neighbors’ houses and helping ourselves to whatever we fancy, thus liberating these objects from the spurious idea of possession.’ You can imagine someone might say, ‘Well, some of us believe in theft and others don’t, so let’s not judge one another.'”

As long as we have legitimate laws, the State has to enforce them. As a Christian I will minister to a resident alien, but I will not hire him or help him get here.  I simply do not see how my ministering to anyone obligates me to support a particular governmental policy.  Are we to just open the borders then?

Besides which, Chrisian principles of love and hospitality apply to all Christians in all places at all times.  So, should Christians in Japan, say, try to make the government relax its strict immigration policy?  Are all governments everywhere supposed to encode our beliefs into law?  Even in Iran, say?  Did Jesus intend His commands to His Church to be imposed on all people through the State?  Sure sounds like exactly what the Left is always accusing the Right of wanting.

When I protested his characterization of my comments, Mr Ellis clarified: “If God is in solidarity with the poor and with immigrants, and the government passes a law that is unjust toward immigrants, then God would be ‘cross-purposing’ himself.”

First, God does not stand with the poor and with immigrants, per se, in and of themselves.  He makes it sound as if just by virtue of stepping aross a border, even if done so illegally, even if done so with the intent to commit crimes, that somehow God stands with and for them, collectively, as a group, automatically.

Nor does it follow that because God clearly does have a heart for the outcast, the poor, the sick, the broken, the marginalized and oppressed that anytime a government passes a law that may not be equitable and just He is either working at cross-purposes with Himself or He is not really sovereign over the State.

It’s a flawed conclusion from an equally flawed premise.

Abandoning Those Most in Need

If you follow what’s going on in the news in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe, you can see what suffering amidst chaos the church is dealing with there. Did anyone at the ELCA Assembly last August even stop to consider how the vote to roster gays would affect our ability to stand with them in solidarity and continue to support them, or would they even want our support after such a vote?

The following press release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania clearly states the reasons that recent ELCA advocacy for same-sex unions is both false teaching and a serious threat to the authority of scripture.

  • ELCT Press Release
  • Date: April 29, 2010
  • Press release No. 004/04/2010

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) has reiterated her opposition to same-sex marriage and stated that those who are in such unions are not welcome to work in the ELCT because such practice is incompatible with Biblical teaching.

The ELCT Executive Council meeting, held in Moshi on April 27 to 28 this year, received and approved “The Dodoma Statement” prepared in January this year by the ELCT Bishops’ Council. The bishops met in Dodoma to discuss in details steps to take after the decision of some European and American churches to recognize same-sex marriages.

The Statement says: “Those in same sex marriages, and those who support the legitimacy of such marriage, shall not be invited to work in the ELCT. We further reject their influence in any form, as well as their money and their support.”

“This church affirms that love is the essence of a relationship between two people who live, or who want to live, together in marriage. But, with regard to married spouses, this is the love between two people of the opposite sex.”

“This church does not accept reasons offered by advocates of same-sex marriage and its legitimacy unless it is based on the Word of God and Biblical teaching; therefore, we reject inappropriate and false interpretations of scripture produced to justify the marriage of people of the same gender.”

“This church encourages and supports all those around the world who oppose churches that have taken the decision to legalize same-sex marriage.”

“We appeal to those of like-mind with us to continue to be salt and light in our relationships. We should direct our energy into maintaining the unity and cooperation between us. Such unity will help us avoid falling into a state which would further injure the body of Christ, that is, the Church.”

“Those supporting same-sex marriages have started to do all they can to destroy one Biblical passage after another in order to legalize homosexuality and affirm that marriage is not necessarily between a man and a woman. They do so by putting forward their new and wrong interpretation – one which displays an attitude and understanding which differs from that which has existed for many years in the Church regarding the meaning of marriage in accordance with the teachings of the Word of God.”

Some Bible passages that have been misused and given another interpretation to defend same-sex marriage are the following: Genesis 1:27-28, 2:24, Matt. 19: 5-7, Rom. 1:26-27, Gal. 3:28, etc.

The statement goes on to say: “The ELCT and other people worldwide who support our stand on the issue of opposing same-sex marriage believe that the Bible cannot be interpreted according to people’s wishes or according to other authorities or to culture. Rather, the Bible is self explanatory and is merely translated into various languages without altering the meaning.”

“The ELCT accepts that moral values may change among people as their situations change; however, ELCT believers know and believe that there are some things that cannot change, such as people having noses, ears and mouths.”

“This church believes that, based on the teaching of the Word of God, there are values that cannot be adjusted even under the pressure of changing conditions and locations. One of these unwavering values concerns the issue of marriage and its meaning.”

Issued by:
Office of the Secretary-General, ELCT

Churches splitting here, new Synods being formed, staff layoffs because of decreased funding, world missions and unity undermined.  So much for justice.

ELCA Fallout

In the cover story of this month’s “The Lutheran: ” “Sexuality issue causes division, sadness — and hope: Assessing the fallout from decisions made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, one can read the following:

Jo Hollingsworth, an admittedly left-leaning member of Hope Lutheran Church in Fostoria, Ohio, supports ELCA‘s decisions on sexuality issues. She finds her decision strengthened by her first-ever reading of the Bible from cover to cover in just more than a month’s time.

“In a book this extensive — more than 700 pages — of course the writers contradict themselves. They say gays are anathema, but they say divorce is anathema too,” said Hollingsworth, a lifelong Lutheran. She picked up on another theme as well: “You’d better be careful before you go around condemning people, saying that they are wrong.”

You can not see the full article unless you’re a subscriber, but this is all of Ms Hollingworth’s printed comments.  For me they highlight several important problems with Lutherans and Scripture.  First, she self-identifies as “left-leaning.”  That’s fine as far as it goes–I don’t pretend to believe that there is such as thing as pure objectivity–but one has to question the purpose for reading the Bible cover-to-cover after such a vote, in the middle of a controversy, in light of a political ideology.

If someone is just now, for the first time, reading the entire Bible, and doing so with a leftist bent then of course it will “strengthen” her decision.  I can’t imagine any other reason to do so in light of the ELCA controversy on gay rostering than to find what you want to find there.  This sense is strengthened by her description of what she read.

“Of course the writers contradict themselves,” she says.  Well of course she thinks so.  She came at the book already believing the authors are merely human writers of spiritual literature.  Rather than focus on the reader, herself, and what God may want her to have ears to hear, she focus on the writers.  The “of course” shows how she sees Scripture as literature and found what she expected and that there is not one true author but dozens of “writers.”

It’s interesting that she says they “contradict themselves,” not “one another.”  One might expect multiple writers from different cultures over thousands of years to say things that at least appear contradictory. It’s another thing to claim that John, say, asserts one truth in his first epistle and another in his second, or Matthew one thing in one chapter of his Gospel and another in a different chapter.

Nor is she willing to concede that what looks like contradiction may be a flaw with the reader, any reader, including her.  One does not have to believe that Scripture was “transcribed”–God’s mouth to the writer’s hand–in the originals to believe that God is indeed the sole author of Scripture who has a consistent message full of mystery and paradox that He wants us to hunger and thirst for so deeply that we “eat this book.”  It is a message that must be prayerful sought after in communion with the Holy Spirit and God’s people over decades, not a quick cover-to-cover reading in a month in order to confirm one’s political positions.

Apparently, as evidence that “the writers contradict themselves” she offers this: “They say gays are anathema, but they say divorce is anathema too.” What’s the logic here?  That since many Christians shamefully no longer consider divorce to be a problem that we also should think homosexuality is fine and dandy?  That somehow seeing divorce as wrong contradicts seeing homosexuality as wrong?  Does she understand that a contradiction is saying one thing about some thing and then saying something contrary about the same thing?

What’s more, it sure sounds to me like she at least concedes that Scripture condemns homosexuality.  Her solution, then, seems to be that we shouldn’t listen to that condemnation because the writers contradict themselves and also hate divorce.  It begs the question of why should we listen to anything Scripture has to say about any moral truth claim.

(Granted this reasoning can be taken too far, as in “You don’t believe God created the world 15,000 years ago so you can’t believe in the resurrection.” This, however, is not the same thing.  One thing that is clear from reading Scripture is that when it comes to sexual relations, Scripture consistently proclaims that God-pleasing sexual relationships can only be found within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.)

N. T. Wright addressed just this kind of thinking in an interview on his views on homosexuality.

So the attempt to get around Paul’s language on homosexuality by suggesting that its cultural referent was different than ours doesn’t work?
At any point in Paul, whether it’s justification by faith or Christology or anything else, you have to say, of course this is culturally conditioned. He’s speaking first century Greek, for goodness’ sake. Of course you have to understand it in its context. But when you do that, it turns out to be a rich and many-sided thing. You cannot simply say, as some people have done, that in the first century homosexuality had to do with cult prostitution, and we’re not talking about that, therefore it’s something different. This simply won’t work. So yes, it is impossible to say, we’re reading this in context and that makes it different. What can you still say, of course, and many people do, is that, “Paul says x and I say y.” That’s an option that many in the church take on many issues. When we actually find out what Paul said, some say, “Fine, and I disagree with him.” That raises all kinds of other issues about how the authority of scripture actually works in the church, and at what point the authority structure of scripture-tradition-reason actually kicks in.

That’s really what’s at the heart of this issue, and everyone knows it, and that’s basically Ms. Hollingworth’s reasoning: Paul says x but I say y. I once had a Christian tell me “I don’t care what the Bible says about abortion.”

If it’s just a collection of sacred stories–and I used to love that word, story, and am growing it hate it because so-called “progressive Christians” are using it in a kind of 21st century demythologizing project–from which we can find our own stories validated, and from which we can pick and choose based on supposed contradictions, ignorance of Science at the time of writing and out-dated cultural notions then it’s not really Scripture at all. It’s merely an edifying good read, like Dostoevsky.

Adultery, pre-marital sex, homosexuality are all expressly forbidden in Scripture.  Divorce is allowed because of the hardness of our hearts, but considered sin, and though polygamy was practiced (like divorce) it was not endorsed (like divorce was not endorsed), and may even have been implicitly condemned in such passages as Deuteronomy 17:17 where God commanded that the king “shall not acquire many wives for himself.”

Ms. Hollingworth’s reasoning, and I realize “The Lutheran” could not have done her full views justice, and neither can I, is like arguing “The writers say that stealing is anathema, but they say dishonoring the Sabbath is anathema, too.”  First of all, so?  Don’t do either, then.  Second, just because many people do not “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” is hardly a rationale for stealing.  And finally, it is no way no how a contradiction of any sort.

Church Constituencies?

According to a recent Synod newsletter referring to the upcoming Synod Assembly: “Congregations with members who are persons of color or persons whose primary language is other than English: Send one additional lay voting member from each constituency.”

Huh? Did I miss something in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”? Or maybe I misread something in 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

We Lutherans seem bound and determined to model the world. As an issue of justice in the world at large, we should support those with less voice or no voice, those who are marginalized and maligned, but to bring the concepts of constituencies and the politics of interest groups into the church?

In keeping with the spirit of generosity, I imagine this is being done because historically Lutherans churches, in America, anyway (not Africa), are not exactly full of mixed ethnicity. It is a good thing to try to find ways to minister and welcome all.

However, this is not a vision conference. They clearly want varied representation in the voting, which seems to imply that congregations with people of color or who are not native English speakers somehow need mandated help to find a voice in their own home churches. It’s almost as if the thinking is, “We have to enable them to come or the representatives their churches do send will not represent them adequately.”

Red Pew, Blue Pulpit

There’s an interesting article today in “The Courier-Journal” about a new survey done by the Research Services of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.  “Donkeys are often preaching to elephants in Presbyterian churches, a denominational survey says. Specifically, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin among Presbyterian pastors. In contrast, Republicans far outnumber Democrats among Presbyterian members and elders (lay leaders).”

The article goes on the say “Another survey of 10 denominations (five mainline, five evangelical) affirmed those results. Democrats in the pulpit far outnumber Republicans in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”  Big surprise.  As the ELCA’s vote last summer on the rostering of gays showed at the time, the leadership is often out of step with the members, just as in politics.

The article poses an interesting follow-up:  “How often do these pastors preach their politics?”  Not often in my church, but Republicans have been the object of some derisive comments by my pastor in the pulpit.