Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Love is not Enough

The ELCA is all about love, acceptance, welcoming and tolerance. These are all important in our walk with the Lord. 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient, love is kind, It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” And love is not enough. Many at the Greater Milwaukee Synod Assembly were filled with the love of the Lord. Much of the discussion centered about the belief that our God is a loving God, and He is indeed a loving God. God loves each and every one of us, despite our sinful nature. But, there is danger in placing too much emphasis on this free and unconditional love. Simply applying our Lord’s command to love our fellow man can lead us to make compromises when it comes to accepting God’s Word. Many of the doctrines intrinsic to the Lutheran faith have been tossed aside by the leaders of the ELCA in the name of love. Confession of sin is absent from more and more worship services in ELCA churches and either replaced by a celebration of baptism or disregarded altogether. The quest for diversity and acceptance has led to allowing pagan ceremonies to be blended into worship services, such as the libations ritual used in the opening worship service at the GM Synod Assembly. Misguided love for our neighbor has led to doctrine that accepts behavior specifically prohibited by Scripture, in the effort to be more welcoming to the LGBT community. Reaching out to the oppressed in our love has elevated the goal of social justice above our mission as Christ’s disciples to preach the Gospel and bring the lost to salvation.

Not all who profess a love for our Lord are saved. We are saved by our faith in the risen Christ, by our belief that Jesus took our sins to the cross, suffered and died in our place, defeated death, so that we may live eternally with Him in heaven. Without faith, love is meaningless. If we clothe, feed, or heal nations of people, but do nothing to save their souls, we are doing nothing more than conducting a fool’s errand. Faith is constant and unwavering. Faith will never compromise. Faith is steadfast, always true to our Lord. Love, however, can be used by the evil one to cloud our minds and compromise on the very principles our Lord has taught us in His Word. If we use this flawed reasoning that our God is a God of love and love alone, we will find it easy to ignore His Law and replace it with our modern sensibilities. If we feel that our love for our fellow man linked with God’s love for us is all that is necessary to earn one’s salvation, this will only lead us to the bitter realization that there will be no room in His house for us.

So, as we proclaim our love of the Lord and do our good works in the world, congratulating ourselves for doing God’s work with our hands, we are embarking upon the wide path toward destruction. We must love our neighbors as our Lord commanded, but if we are not centered in Christ’s love, we can love them to death. If we minimize and ignore sinful behavior in an effort to show that person how much we love them, we do nothing to help them from straying from the narrow path leading to their salvation. Yes, we can love our neighbor too much. We are not properly equipped to love unconditionally. This is a task that only our Lord can accomplish. Too often our misguided efforts to embrace God’s love and share it with the world, only encourages those is error to continue on a path away from God. Sometimes, tough love is necessary when dealing with our children so that they realize that there are consequences to their wrong behavior. If we acquiesce to any and all behaviors, the sky becomes the limit and those children cannot be successful in society. As with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must love them, but we must help lead them back to the most important thing, their faith. When we have faith, love will come naturally, as we will love as our Lord loves us. Love is important, but it pales in contrast to the faith that is necessary to earn that salvation that is so freely placed before us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shake the Dust from your Sandals

Many congregations within the ELCA are prayerfully discerning where the Lord is leading them. Many of those traditional congregations are struggling with the direction that the ELCA is heading and many believe that they are leaving our Lord behind. The things of this world seem to be held in a much higher regard than our Lord, and the “J” word has little to do with Jesus. God’s work, our hands, is proudly proclaimed as “Our Brand” by the ELCA. Unfortunately, there is little emphasis on reaching out to our brothers and sisters who do not know Jesus. Good works and the acknowledgement of those doing them are nothing without declaring that we do these things in Jesus’ name. The ELCA introduces false doctrine and disregards God’s law in order to more welcoming, accepting and tolerant. God’s Word is amended by Biblical scholars and passed by the votes of His children, using their imperfect love in the name of God’s perfect love. When do children’s opinions take precedence over their Father in heaven?

Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said, “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Jesus teaches that we should try to correct our brother or sister, but if they continue to refuse to listen, we are to treat them as a pagan or tax collector. Tax collectors, for one, were reviled in Jesus’ time, since they were typically dishonest and considered traitors. Our Lord introduces, in this teaching, that those that fail to respond to the church’s discipline should be excommunicated. Further, in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, “Take special note of those who do not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers.” These verses are meant that the disassociation with the believers in error, will cause them to realize their error and come back to the Lord. This is not meant to be a punishment, but an avenue to repair the fellowship with those in error. In regards to disassociation with the ELCA, there have been fellow believers that have tried over and over to lead the ELCA back to the Lord and the ELCA continues to pursue this path of promoting a false gospel. Would it not be appropriate in Christian love to turn away, hoping that this will awaken the ELCA and bring them back to the Lord?

1 Corinthians 9-11, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy or swindlers, or idolators. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with any who claim to be fellow believers but are sexually immoral, or greedy, idolators, or slanderers, drunkards, or swindlers. With such persons do not even eat.” In these verses Paul refers to those affiliated with the church that are engaging in immoral conduct. Calling oneself a Christian while leading an immoral life is reprehensible and by doing so they give false testimony to Christ. If Christians associate with other Christians that continue to disregard God’s law by engaging in immoral conduct, non-believers will see this and assume that this is the proper way for a Christian to conduct himself, dishonoring the name of our Lord. Does not the ELCA promote immorality by condoning the homosexual lifestyle? Is placing the social justice agenda above our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ tantamount to idolatry? When the leaders of the ELCA complain openly about the loss of revenue, causing reductions in staffing and compensation, does that not fit the definition of greed? When we are told that we don’t need to turn the hearts of non-believers to Jesus and all are saved regardless of their faith in the risen Christ, we truly need to pray about our continued affiliation with this Synod. We need to continue to prayerfully discern where God is leading. We need to dwell in His Word and let His will be done. If enough of God’s children turn their backs on the ELCA, it may just be enough to open their hearts and bring them back to the Lord. If SOTH decides to remain with the ELCA as it continues on this path, we will not only be guilty by association, but we may be just as well be guilty of dishonoring our Lord.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Spirit of Truth

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth has transpired within the membership of the ELCA since the adoption of a doctrine designed to justify the reinterpreting of God’s Word to meet their goal of social justice. Some of the ELCA biblical scholars believe and are teaching that the Bible is an outdated collection of anecdotes and stories written by simple, uneducated men specifically for the people of that time. Some say that the Word is clouded by the attitudes and perspectives of a people that were culturally predisposed to prejudices against practices that were acceptable in other societies. These misguided opinions have supported the ELCA’s attack on Scripture and are the principal rationale used to defend their effort to supplant Scripture with man’s more enlightened version. This modern and secular interpretation of God’s Word has brought us the doctrine of bound conscience.

Many of the activists that have fought for the full inclusion of the LGTB community in the church are still angry that many traditional Lutherans continue to believe that homosexuality is sinful and that the actions of the 2009 ELCA assembly violate God’s law. Simple inclusion without the acceptance of their lifestyle is not sufficient enough.  This sinful traditional Lutheran knows of no congregation that prohibits anyone from the LGTB community to worship and have full communion with the church. As a matter of fact, no sinners are prohibited from fully participating in worship, fellowship and Communion at any Lutheran church. We need to remember that we are all sinful beings and need to regularly ask God for His forgiveness. Most of us are not proud that we fail our Lord on a regular basis and realize that our Lord suffered greatly for each and every sin we commit.

Unfortunately, the ELCA has invented doctrine that allows one to disregard language in the Bible if one only has an opinion contrary to God’s intent and further, allows it’s membership to engage in acts that defy God’s law. In doing so, their selfishness and arrogance separates them from our God. That the ELCA would voluntarily adopt doctrine that, by its nature, distances us from our Lord is beyond belief. There are many excuses one can use to justify engaging in sinful behavior. With bound conscience, the ELCA provides a doctrine that legitimizes that excuse for anyone to engage in sin if only they believe in their own interpretation of Scripture. It is when we deny our sin that we betray ourselves, convincing ourselves that we are indeed good and have no need to confess to the Lord. We need to realize that we are all equals as sinful human beings. No sinner is better than or worse than any other. No sin should cause any brother or sister in Christ to be rejected or treated any differently than any other child of God.

Then why is there so great an outcry about the actions of the 2009 ELCA assembly? This dispute should not be exclusively about human sexuality. The fact of the matter is that the new doctrine of bound conscience elevates man to a position to be in authority over Scripture and, as such, places all of God’s word in jeopardy. Argue about the other matters all you want, but when it comes down to the ultimate authority, God has the final word, not us. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ told his disciples in John 15:26-27, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” and John 16:13-14, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” The testimonies of the Apostles are, indeed, the inspired Word of God, received from the Holy Spirit as directed by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Peter testified, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” All Scripture, in this instance the Old Testament is the subject of Peter’s testimony, is God’s Word and therefore, His truth and law for us.

It is more than unfortunate that some of God’s children believe it to be appropriate to disregard our Lord’s word and replace it with the words they long to hear. It is heartbreaking that some of God’s children feel the need to place their sexual identities above their love of our Lord. Our salvation was paid for in Jesus’ blood and suffering. Those that refuse to obey our Lord and cling to their own selfish desires will only place their salvation at risk. The leaders of the ELCA that encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to ignore God’s Word are leading others away from the Lord and jeopardize their own salvation as well.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Our World, His Law

Genesis 1:27-28, “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” So our God made this world for us and placed us as stewards over all the creatures that live upon this world. As stewards we have a great responsibility to care for this world, not misuse, squander or waste the resources of this world. We are to utilize the gifts of this world to give glory to our Lord, in the service of God and for all humanity. In particular, these verses of Scripture are very important to those that promote the environmental agenda, such as the Care for Creation task force of the ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod. God’s wisdom is obvious throughout all Scripture.

Why then do we fight our Lord and decide that our enlightened ideas supersede His authority and wisdom? Is it appropriate for us to pick and choose which parts of Scripture are valid for us and which we should disregard, based upon our modern sensibilities? By adopting the doctrine of bound conscience the ELCA has decided that, as a church body, they have the authority to decide what part of Scripture is valid for today. This doctrine allows those that have the audacity to believe that the Bible is God’s Word, true and infallible, for today and forever, to use their bound conscience to object to the sin of homosexuality. The ELCA actually believes that by allowing those that adhere to Scripture the right to object to this false doctrine, the ELCA will, by being so welcoming, tolerant, and inclusive, hold the moral high ground.

The definition of morality is as follows; conformity to the rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong. The ELCA is deliberately obscuring those boundaries between right and wrong. By consenting to conduct that is specifically prohibited by Scripture, the ELCA sanctions those that choose to place themselves in authority of Scripture. In essence, they allow their members to be their own god and to make their own rules of conduct. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, 17 so that all God’s people may be equipped for every good work.” All of Scripture is the subject of this verse in Paul’s letter to Timothy, not only those parts of Scripture that are agreeable to us. If, in society, we decide to disregard the laws that we disagree with, we will fall into anarchy and lose control of our society. If a church body decides that God’s law is no longer pertinent and advocates its membership to ignore those laws that are troubling to them, we fall from grace.

God’s grace is without measure. By His grace we are forgiven of all our sins, granted our salvation and a place in His house. Should we continue to act as petulant children and show disdain for our Lord by willfully disobeying His laws, we run the risk of losing that grace that is so freely given. The leaders of the ELCA need to turn back to God, respect and promote His Word, and begin leading their members on a path that leads to salvation. The ELCA must abandon this secular course of action and place Christ back as the center of our faith or it will surely endure a fall from grace that will ultimately lead to death.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Called to Christ's Mission

The April 2010 edition of the Lutheran magazine contained an article entitled Sexuality, issue causes division, sadness – and hope, by Sandra D. Guy. This article discussed the fallout from the 2009 ELCA assembly actions. Nine bishops responded to questions from the Lutheran. Each had a distinct and unique interpretation of the varying responses to the assembly actions. Their responses can give us insight as to how they may prioritize the role of mission in the Synods that they lead.

One bishop bemoaned the fact that the assembly actions were a distraction to the church’s ministry. Another likened the reactions to a divorce and a sense of grief over the loss of community. Two commented on the reduced financial support leading to staff cutbacks and one of them complained that rancorous partisan sniping has invaded the church. Three commented that the assembly actions send a message that the ELCA is an inclusive, welcoming and hospitable church. One bishop senses that the people who are angry “want someone to pay” and that he also noticed that “we claim that the Holy Spirit is present if a vote goes one way, and that the Spirit is absent if it goes against what we think is right.” One bishop said that the ELCA needs to focus on rediscovering a passion for evangelical outreach and putting mission at the heart of our life and at the center of our identity. At least one of the bishops seems to be on the right track. The church’s mission is not about the amount of money needed to pay for staff, it is not only about being inclusive, welcoming and hospitable, and it is not about voting to change doctrine. It is important, in this context, to explain what the mission that Christ calls on us to undertake is all about.

We know that our belief and faith in the risen Christ is the only way to our salvation. John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays for all believers, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one. Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This prayer is for all future believers, calling us to preach His Word and spread the Gospel throughout the world. A point of emphasis is our spiritual unity as believers, that Jesus wants us to be unified in His mission as He is unified with the Father. We are to share our love with one another as God loves us all. Brothers and sisters, this prayer was meant for each one of us.

We, as believers, are also our Lord’s disciples. Our Lord places before us the task to reach out, share the Good News, open the eyes of unbelievers, and to bring them to the Lord. Our mission in this world is to follow Jesus’ example and teachings, and to preach the Good News of the Gospel to all we meet. We must use our good works to minister to the spiritual longings of God’s children who do not know Him. When we have unity in Christ and are led by the Spirit, we will be able to guide unbelievers to the Lord and to their salvation. We need to be the branch that bears fruit for our Lord. With unity in His love we can uplift and encourage our brothers and sisters to be fruitful and serve the Lord. Our Lord is the vine and we must always keep Christ first and foremost in our hearts to remain faithful servants. John 14:23, Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” We must keep our Lords commands and strive to lead godly lives so that we may be a light to lead others to our Lord. This is the mission that our Lord expects His Church to accomplish and without Christ as the primary focus, we will only lose our way.