Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just Listen

The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. If we open our hearts and minds to the Lord, we will find that He does indeed communicate with us. Subtle nudges from the Spirit push us to do the right thing and resist wrongdoing. If we choose to ignore those gentle cues, we often recognize that the Spirit was encouraging us to do God’s will. How do we know if it is the Spirit that is directing us? Since we are, by nature selfish and sinful, it is fairly obvious when the Spirit is leading. Placing others before ourselves, volunteering for charitable causes, living out our lives as the Lord directs us, engaging ourselves in His Word, and speaking out for our Lord. These are just a few of the tasks that God places before us. We need only to open our hearts and minds and listen to God.

We must also realize when we substitute our own judgment in the place of the Lord’s will. When we fail to listen to Him, we can end up dismissing God’s word as antiquated or not appropriate for this day and age. Exercising one's "bound conscience" places our own selfish wants and desires over God’s plan for us, leading us away from Him. Romans 8:5 “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires: but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Those that place self above the Lord and believe that the Scriptures are just a set of values no longer pertinent to our more "enlightened" society are leading others to a false gospel. Our Lord has set before us a guide to lead us toward a godly life. If we pick and choose what part of Scripture is valid for today, we are falling toward agnosticism. Proverbs 10:17 “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” God speaks to us through the Holy Scripture and gently nudges us through the Holy Spirit to correct us and lead us on the right path.

If we follow this new concept of bound conscience and place our opinion above God’s Word, we will continue to minimize sin and eventually, learn to ignore sin as irrelevant. Social justice and good works are all part of doing God’s will and should always be an important duty of any religious organization. Good works do not alone make the case for salvation. Martin Luther said, “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised for our justification. He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own good works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, in His blood. This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us.”

We must continue to do the good works as God directs us. But, first and foremost is our faith in our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ that is our salvation. We must also work to bring others to Christ as we continue to do His work. This is where the ELCA fails the members of its denomination. By overemphasizing the importance of good works, the ELCA broadens the gap between the Lord and His people. By minimizing sin and disregarding “unpopular” portions of Scripture, they are promoting a false gospel and putting their members at risk of losing their salvation. We must continue to pray that all Christians keep strong in their faith and rebuke this false gospel of the bound conscience. As for the leaders of the ELCA, perhaps they should open their hearts and minds and just listen to what God is telling them, rather than trying to satisfy their earthly desires.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Great Moral Conflict

Over the past two years our pastor has chosen a number of people from our congregation to be lifted up as leaders of the church. Teaching laity to be leaders of the church is no small undertaking. I commend our pastor for having the fortitude to work to open the spiritual eyes, hearts and minds of those four leadership groups that he has chosen for this daunting task. Being a leader carries with it a great responsibility, not only to serve the Lord, but to serve their church and church family. Reading, learning and living the Word as God directs us, becoming prayerful, and leading by example are just a few of the responsibilities that a leader is expected to fulfill.

1 John 2:4 “Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them.” 1 John 4:5 “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” The leadership of the ELCA has lost its way and is promoting a false gospel, emphasizing the secular while leading our brothers and sisters on a path away from God. Social justice is the rallying cry while God’s Word is debated, voted on, and disregarded. Many pastors are using the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach and hoping to avoid any discussion of the matter in order to remain “on the fence.” What does God expect from the leaders of His Church? Scripture is quite explicit in this matter. As leaders, our Lord expects us to make a stand for Him and His people. 1 Peter 5:2 “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” Those who are not strong in the Spirit must be lifted up so they do not follow blindly into the abyss.

Whether a congregation chooses to leave or remain within the ELCA church body, we all must work to bring the ELCA back to the true Gospel. It is not good enough to be only a faithful witness; we all must actively fight for our Lord. The Spirit compels us to obey God’s law and to do what is right. Galations 6:1-2 “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Those that remain in the ELCA cannot just sit on the sidelines or be neutral; they must take up the Cross and speak out for the Lord at ELCA functions and assemblies. Those that choose to leave must continue to pray for the people who remain and challenge the false gospel. Let God’s Word be heard. Ephesians 6: 11, 18 “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Through prayer, anything can be accomplished. A small minority of those who wish to hijack the church in order to promote their worldly desires cannot prevail against the Word of God if we are strong enough in the Spirit to proclaim His Word, loudly and proudly!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What of Sin?

The ELCA is all about acceptance, social justice and unity. These are all good and honorable callings. But, while striving to attain these goals, sin is being minimized. Confession of sin and absolution is being phased out to be replaced with a celebration of Baptism. Bound conscience is placing self over God's Word. The ELCA task force on human sexuality omitted many pertinent verses from Scripture in their report, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. Consider 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolater nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Verse 11 tells us that no matter what we have done, as long as we believe, we are saved. But, our continuing actions do have a bearing on our salvation. Those three words that I emphasized within that verse, when properly explained, will lead you to a clear understanding.

Washed; In Hebrews 10:22-27, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” Paul explains that even though our sins are washed away, we are expected to lead a moral life and not continue to disregard God’s law by deliberately sinning, lest we bring God’s punishment upon us.

Sanctified; John 17:19 “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” Sanctified in Christ Jesus, consecrating us to the service of God through Christ’s saving action in our lives-as Jesus had sanctified Himself, setting Himself apart to do God’s will, which meant sacrificing Himself on the cross in order to save us. Such consecration makes one “holy” and set apart for God and requires that they be morally “holy” everywhere and in everything.

Justified; Romans 3:24 “And all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This term describes what happens when people believe in Christ as their Savior. God declares them to be not guilty and He declares them to be righteous. He cancels the guilt of their sin and credits righteousness to them. All who believe are justified freely. This is not to say that all that have sinned are justified freely. However, no one lives a perfectly good, holy and righteous life. None are righteous because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But, because Christ died to pay the ransom for our sins and lived a life of perfect righteousness, and through that righteousness, He redeems us, releasing us from guilt and our liability for judgment.

It is readily apparent that Scripture is consistent with the message that, when we believe and accept Christ as our Savior, we are saved. It is also apparent that, as Christians, we are to resist sin and lead Godly lives. The standards God sets for our expected behavior are quite obvious when we read and accept His Word. We, as humans, are by nature selfish and sinful. All of us fall short of the glory of God, no matter how hard we try. But, if we take God’s word and disregard it, based upon our own selfish wants or desires, we jeopardize that salvation that God so freely offers. Let us not place ourselves and our modern, enlightened societal “norms” above the path that God has placed before us. As long as we know that our sins are forgiven, let us remain steadfast in the Word, in spite of what the world would want us to do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What Exactly is "Bound Conscience"?

Bound conscience is a term coined by the ELCA’s task force on human sexuality. ELCA scholar Timothy Wengert wrote an article attempting to justify the concept of bound conscience. Wengert cited several events during Luther’s priesthood where Luther discussed conscience and also referenced a number of passages in Scripture describing conscience. In Luther’s testimony at the Diet of Worms, he stated, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” Luther was being brought before the Holy Roman authorities after his posting of the 95 theses. Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church after that hearing.

From this testimony by Luther, Wengert extrapolates that what Luther truly believed to be the correct interpretation of Scripture was made by his “bound conscience”. It is with this bound conscience that when an interpretation of Scripture is made, even if the interpretation is in obvious error, that interpretation must be respected. Wengert cites another event that occurred in 1522, while Luther gave 8 sermons in 8 days in Wartburg. While Luther was away, other priests in his home town of Wittenburg made several fundamental changes in church doctrine at their parishes. One change forced congregants to take both the bread and wine during communion. It had been the practice to only offer the host to congregants at that time. Many of the parishioners were upset and confused with the changes. Luther stated that although he agreed that it was appropriate to offer both the host and the wine, that congregants should not be forced to receive the sacraments in both kinds. Wengert writes that even weak consciences, such as those of the Wittenburg parishioners, should be respected.

Wengert also cites 1 Corinthians 8:7-8 as an example of bound conscience. 7 “But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” His explanation is that although this may seem a very trivial matter to people of today, eating food sacrificed to idols was considered by some to be idolatry and a sin against the First Commandment in Paul’s day.

Wengert uses these examples to justify a person adhering to his bound conscience in the matter of human sexuality. His explanation is that, if in one’s heart, someone truly believes that God will accept their behavior, then all should respect that opinion, even if Scripture forbids that behavior. While being more open and welcoming to the LGBT community is a noble and righteous cause, ignoring sin does not help our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. While we love and accept all sinners, we must endeavor to lead them to the Godly path, as God has set before us in Scripture. An unintended consequence of this new way of thinking, is that one’s bound conscience does not need only pertain to matters of human sexuality. Any and all Scripture is at risk to this doctrine. Scripture does not conform to this idea that conscience, bound to the self, should be respected above God’s word. It is a recurring theme that those that are in error or follow a false doctrine should be corrected. Jude verse 22, “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire:” 1 John 5: 16, “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life.” James 5: 19-20, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring them back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the way of error will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

It is the responsibility of the ELCA to guide us to the truth in our understanding of Scripture, not encourage us to put our own wants and desires above God’s law for us. Jude verse 4 states, “For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” 2 Peter 2: 2-3, “Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.” While the leaders of the ELCA continue to distort the word of God, they take with them many of our brothers and sisters in Christ that look to the ELCA for leadership and guidance. 2 Peter 2:20-21, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end that they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, that to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”

We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. What becomes of us if we say we have no sin? Why then did our Lord take our sins and bear them upon the cross? Why did he defeat death and rise again so that we may live? If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. There is a reason that we confess our sins and look to the cross. We are nothing without our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When we put ourselves before God, we jeopardize our relationship with Him. 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” Pray for our brothers and sisters in the ELCA, that they may see the errors of their ways and hold fast to the word of God. The Holy Scripture is God’s law for us yesterday, today, and for all time.