Converts to “religion of freedom” are boosting church attendance in Europe

refugees-A-INThe Muslim immigrants converting to Christianity are having a noticeable effect on church growth and church attendance in Europe.  (See this, this, and this.)

For the last few decades, churches have been almost empty on Sunday mornings. But congregations that have evangelized Muslims are coming back to life.  For example, theTrinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, which we have blogged about, used to have 150 parishioners.  Now they have 700.

The phenomenon has spread to England.  One Anglican bishop says that one out of four of the confirmations he performs are for Muslims converting to Christianity.

Two stories from British sources after the jump.  They give some inspiring testimonies about how some of these immigrants came to Christ.  A common theme:  the realization that Christianity is “the religion of freedom.”

I suppose there is a connection between the freedom of religion and the religion of freedom! [Read more…]

Mortification of the flesh

Lent has traditionally been a time to practice “mortification of the flesh.”  That’s another concept we don’t hear too much about today.

But isn’t that Catholic?  An example of that medieval asceticism that the Reformation reacted against?  Not at all.  Reformation Christians also emphasized mortification.  In fact, it’s enshrined in the Lutheran confessions:

“We teach this about the putting to death of the flesh and discipline of the body. A true and not a false putting to death [mortification] happens through the cross and troubles, by which God exercises us . . . .There is also a necessary voluntary exercise. . . .This effort [at mortification] should be constant.”

Philip Melanchthon,“The Apology of the Augsburg Confession,” Article XV, in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), pp. 193-194.

This is pretty much the opposite of the “prosperity gospel.”  God gives us the crosses we have to bear and the troubles of our lives in order to “exercise” us.  Such problems and sufferings drive us to prayer, to greater dependence on God, and thus to the growth of our faith.  Furthermore, we voluntarily mortify ourselves–not doing what we want, depriving ourselves of certain pleasures, denying ourselves for our neighbor–in a “constant” effort at self-discipline.

More on mortification, including its Biblical and theological basis, after the jump.  [Read more…]

A new approach to evangelism

prayer-1143598_640The traditional approach to evangelism, according to Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today, has started with presenting the Gospel to unbelievers.  The new approach, he says, starts with getting them involved with the church.  In the course of their relationships in the community of Christians, they will come to believe.

He sums up the two models this way:  Old:  Believe, Become, Belong.  New:  Belong, Believe, Become.

For more details, read the excerpts and the article linked after the jump.

As a Lutheran, I do see that bringing an unbelieving friend to church is a good way to evangelize that person, since a pastor, by virtue of his call, is going to proclaim the Gospel better than I can.  And yet, the church is a community of Christians, not something non-Christians can fully enter into, even if they wanted to, and I’m not sure they do.

And what makes a non-believer into a believer is the Gospel.  Even if the non-believer becomes, to some measure, a part of the  community and comes to have Christian friends who are good influences, at some point that friend–or the pastor, or someone–is going to have to tell the person about Christ.  (Actually, bring the person to the point of repentance through the Law, so as to make the hearer receptive to the Gospel.)  At that point, the “old” model would seem to reassert itself.

Actually, both models seem inadequate.  Baptism is nowhere mentioned.  Nor is Law, which leads to Gospel.  The very breaking down of the process into steps seems to go against the organic, unique, and varied way the Holy Spirit works.

What do you think about these approaches?

[Read more…]

Spiritual anguish

grief-927099_640Contrary to the “prosperity gospel” and other theologies of glory, negative experiences can also have a positive spiritual significance.  Many of us go through depression, blue moods, black moods, and other sufferings, whether physical or emotional.  These are not signs that you have lost your faith or that God has abandoned you.

Luther, who knew these states of mind well, considered them important for the Christian life.  In fact, he considered them necessary for anyone who presumed to be a theologian, the three attributes for that office being meditation, prayer, and tentatio–struggle, trial, assault–the closest he could come in Latin to the untranslatable German word Anfechtung.

In looking for a good description of Anfechtung for that Bach post I wrote recently, I came across “A Primer on Anfechtung” by LCMS pastor Paul R. Harris.  It’s worth looking at for its own sake and for what it discloses about a state of anguish that can seem devastating–especially since Christians seldom talk about it today–but which can draw us closer to Christ. [Read more…]

Have an Epiphany!

Definition of epiphany

  1. capitalized :  January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ

  2.  an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being

  3.   (1) :  a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) :  an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) :  an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure  b :  a revealing scene or moment

Source: Epiphany | Definition of Epiphany by Merriam-Webster

All of these meanings apply to today and to the new season of the church year that we are entering!

The Eighth Day

All_Saints_fontThe Gospel reading for yesterday, commemorating the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, was Luke 2:21, the shortest text in the Lectionary.  (See our recent post on the subject.)  In the course of an excellent sermon that explored the depths of this one verse of the Bible, our pastor cited the significance of “the eighth day.”

God created the universe in six days and on the seventh, He rested.  Then on the eighth day, the creation began to unfold.  Jesus rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath; that is, the eighth day.  Christians worship on Sunday, the eighth day, which is also the first day of a new week.  With Christ’s resurrection on the eighth day, God has initiated a new creation.  Those with faith in Christ are part of this new creation.  Thus, very early, Baptismal fonts were made in the shape of an octagon, the eight sides symbolizing the eight days.   [Read more…]