Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

The church-people

"What is the church?" Thus far we have discussed how the church is:
1) Pillar of truth (I Timothy 3:15) of God's Word.
2) The Visible Means of grace (Gospel and Sacraments)

These two distinctions eliminate many things that we often associate to be the church. The confessions made these very important distinctions due to the nature of the church in the 16th century. The church was defined more by political structure leading to the pope than it was by the Gospel and God's Word. This understanding leads us to depend on men more than on Christ (an obvious issue).

Today we look at probably the biggest distinguishing factor in this discussion in Luther's time and also in our own. "Who is the church?" The Apology of the Augsburg confession sums up who the church is in a few words, "The Church is a spiritual people." (Ap AC, VII & VIII, 12).

The old definition of church centered on the political structure, building, and membership roles. Therefore, someone could be attending church, love the pope, work on the building, and automatically be "the church." However, it is conceivable that one could do all of those things and not believe in the grace of Christ and His atoning work on the cross. So who is the church?

The Reformers centered on the people and the "invisible" church. No longer is the church only what is visible, but the church is made up of believers throughout the world no matter their denominational affiliation. "For Christ enlivens His true kingdom by His Spirit, whether it is revealed or is covered by the cross, just as the glorified Christ is the same Christ who was afflicted." (Ap AC, VII & VIII, 17). The church therefore is made up of people where the Holy Spirit has taken a dead unbelieving heart and resurrected it to faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. We would argue this happens in our Baptism.

At the end of the day, how do we know one has true faith? By their reception of the visible means. Our judgment can only be based on their worship, reception of God's sacraments, and living a repentant life in the name of Christ. A person knows they and others are saved by God's Work which points us instantly to our Baptism (I Peter 3:21).

What is the church? Spiritual people who believe in Christ. How do we know they believe? By the phyiscal means God uses (Word and Sacrament)? Who makes the final call on who is in? God.

Lord have mercy

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What is the church? Part 2

What is the church? Over a week ago, I discussed how the church is manifested by the Gospel & the Sacraments. This definition does not solve the many questions that follow, but it gives us a solid beginning in discussing the essence of the church. Notice the focus is not on the people or structure but on the external means of grace.

Today, I will move forward to discuss what the church should be for the world that surrounds it. Once again, I am going back to basics and digging in the confessions and Scripture. Not only is the church about the external means, but when the world walks through the doors of a church they should see it as a "pillar of truth." (I Timothy 3:15). In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, it is written after the external means that the church is to keep the gospel and doctrine pure from error. This would imply that the truths taught in the church do not change.

However, have we seen many changes in beliefs/doctrine? The United Church of Christ's mission statement is "God is still speaking" which comes from a theology that promotes a progressive revelation of the Holy Scriptures. This theology begins by looking to culture and then arrogantly promoting that the church can discern what God is revealing in truth apart from the Word of God. Therefore churches can promote universalism, pluralism, immoral sexuality, women's ordination and skip over certain scriptural passages because God is trumping the Bible with culture. The problem with this theology is that the truth always changes and the church is no longer a pillar, but a sandy beach always changing.

In my post-modern mindset, I must admit that the "God is still speaking" theology is quite appealing. It lets me get off the hook of pointing out someone's wrongdoing, especially my own and allow all of my unbelieving friends and family to go to a heaven without worry. Although nice, it is not the truth. And we live in the reality that truth is real and we will struggle with that until the resurrection.

Need a good reminder of the truth? First go to the creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) and then dig deeper into the confessions. More less if it doesn't sound like what you learned as a child at church, it probably isn't the truth (assuming you grew up at a sound church). May the church be seen as a place of solid truth, truth that does not change, and truth that points to Christ our truth.

Lord have mercy

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

The same, but not at all

Another Friday night with four kids and yet another attempt to get out of the house by going to a restaurant. In the midst of the chaos and crazy kids, we wanted to buy a small treat/dessert. My wife reached in her pocket and gave what seemed to be a quarter, it was the same size, color and general look. However, the waiter realized that it was not American money, but a Jordanian coin. No, we have not taken a worldwide trip in the middle of having four kids in five years. The coin must have come from another store. No matter how much we would have argued that they looked the same, it would not have mattered, it is not the same. Yes they are both money and can be exchange, they are significantly different.

This moment reminds me of many people from our churches that leave the Lutheran faith and go to "non-denom" church down the road. They will proudly say, "Pastor, that church is basically the same, they just don't baptize infants." Hold the phone, since when has that been a minor theological issue? We are not discussing how they play the piano or where the pastor preaches out of, we are talking a significant difference.

Now before anybody says, "Pastor Finnern is saying non-denoms are not "Christian" let me remind everyone that disagreeing over theology does not imply we are denying the faith God gives. We can however argue/discuss why we think the others are wrong. This is my focus in this subject as I have heard the argument WAY TOO OFTEN. Here is why there is a more significant difference from a Lutheran and your typical non-denom:

1) How one comes to faith. If a church doesn't baptize infants, the most common argument is that babies can't have faith. If one does not believe that a baby can have faith, then I guess all people who can not speak, mentally handicapped, or on their death bed are out. This is a disturbing thought and much different than our understanding of faith being a gift from God alone.

2) Validity of God's work. If a church doesn't baptize infants, then they are saying that you aren't really baptized and God did nothing. That is kind of kick in the face and a huge difference.

3) Denial of God's Word. To look at I Peter 3:21 and Acts 2:38 and say that nothing happens in baptism and/or it is not for children because they don't understand is a direct denial of God's Word and the power it has. It also jumps over Romans 10:17 and faith coming from hearing the Word.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have made similar statements in my past. "We are all pretty much the same, don't worry about it" I would say. Until someone told me that because I had not had an "experience" I was not a true believer. That hit me hard and I knew what it was like to be judged by a Pharisee and also how often I had judged without mercy. This theological issue is one that has huge implications, huge differences, and although we are all Christians it does not mean that we would say theyare wrong on this issue.

I covet everyone's evaluation, prayers, and discernment over your church and her beliefs. Dig into God's Word and make sure the truth is being taught, especially when it comes to things like baptism and how receives faith!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Atonement, morality, and life in Grey's Anatomy

Tonight was the first night that my wife and I actually sat down to watch Grey's Anatomy. I was amazed at how quickly I was hooked (by the way I do not endorse behavior, ideologies, or theological undercurrent). The producers have ran with the old ER dynamic and made a dynamic, thrilling TV series.

All TV shows need to be filtered as Christians. As believers we are not called to stay away from the world, but to be in the midst of the mess. Yet, we all must understand our weaknesses, burdens, and witness to those around us. E.g. Someone addicted to porn (or anybody really) should not watch it to find out what is going on in the world.

The reason tonight was so compelling is that it incorporated at least three themes that affect our worldview and theological understandings. These are important distinctions to know while watching this particular, modern marvel. I will give a quick view of all three:

1) Justice/atonement-A gentleman who had lost his wife at the surgeon's table searched for justice through shooting the hospital staff and struggled to make sure that all who were responsible died. Sound like real atonement?

2) Life-All the people shot struggled to survive, made amends with past sins, and the last scene showed Dr. Grey having a miscarriage and (gasp!) mourning the loss of a tiny group of cells (A.k.a. baby).

3) Morality-Grey's anatomy is trying to make money and to do that today, you need immoral behavior, especially in the sexuality department. Of course a lesbian relationship which struggles with having children (I don't know why, maybe they are missing a father) right in the midst of a crazy guy shooting people just makes sense. In a nice change, random people weren't sleeping together all day.

I attempt to ask myself, "Why do I and others LOVE this show?" "What dangers are present for believing Christians?" "How do I use what I learn to be a better witness to the faith?"

I look forward to future shows and time spent with my wife. Lord have mercy.

Twins, the police, and the church

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. Obviously parenting four children and serving as pastor is more than enough, add to it having to watch the Twins, America's got talent, learning a little sign language, and doing a ride along with the police, and you have a full plate.

This Sunday I am wrestling with the passage from I Timothy in which Paul encourages Timothy to pray for all people. He especially instructs him to pray for kings and leaders in high positions so that we all may live a peaceful, dignified life. As I read this and wrestle with the text, the more I think the life of a baptized believer is first and foremost one of prayer. We like action, we want to get moving, get things done, yet, Scripture talks a whole lot more of prayer than "action" (I am not promoting sitting around, but this argument is made for emphasis sake).

What should we as a church do? Pray. Pray for our President, the government, those who serve our country (military, police, fire), our churches, and each other. And our prayers should always end with the main goal of God for "all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I Timothy 2:4

May we all pray for all people and let Him do the heavy lifting.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Prayer support at Messiah

If there is any fault in the Lutheran church I would argue, revolves around prayer. Not that we don't do it, but we are put to shame by our evangelical friends who use prayer in all parts of ministry. We typically say the "little" prayer before a meeting, party, or meal and leave more prayer for other times which are more "churchy."

As God graciously hears our prayers as a loving father listens to his children, we at Messiah Lutheran are supporting missions this year in prayer. Each month we are inviting the whole church to pray for a chosen mission every day. We also invite ALL people who come to church and/or read this blog to join in this prayer. No money will be required or requested.

This month we pray for Lutheran Island Camp (LIC). LIC is a Christian camp whose main goal is to support the local church in proclaiming Christ. They offer various programs, retreats, and ministries for all churches. One focus at LIC which has brought great success is the start of the Creation-Science EnvironmentalLearning Center. Over the last few years many speakers have come to LIC (Dr. David Menton, Dr. Reed Lessing) to discuss this subject and in the future they will have their own learning center centered on learning the truths of God's Word on creation.

Please keep LIC in your prayers as we join together in the mission of Christ.