Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Yesterday had been declared “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” by a group of activist pastors and a conservative legal organization.  Over a thousand pastors purposefully violated the law by endorsing, by name, a political candidate, something non-profit organizations are not allowed to do.  They recorded their endorsement sermons and are all going to send a copy to the IRS.

The idea is to force the IRS to take action against them, setting up a court challenge on the grounds that the law violates the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  See Pastors to take on IRS in plan to preach politics from the pulpit | Fox News.

Did any of you pastors take part in this act of civil disobedience?  Did any of you attend a church where this happened?  Do you know of any Lutheran churches that participated (which would seem to be a clear violation not only of the secular law but of Lutheran doctrine with its Two Kingdoms theology)?

Doesn’t this violate Romans 13?  Shouldn’t the churches that did this lose their tax exempt status?  After all, civil disobedience includes taking the punishment for violating the law.  If churches want to exercise a political authority–something that the Reformation utterly opposed when the Pope did this sort of thing–shouldn’t they just abandon their tax exempt status so they can function like other political organizations?  Is it really unconstitutional?  Or is there a case to be made for Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  If so, what is it?

Iranian pastor under death sentence freed

That Iranian pastor who had been sentenced to death in Iran (we blogged about him here and here) has been freed after three years in prison:

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been released from prison in Iran, where he has been held for almost three years on charges of apostasy from Islam, as well as evangelizing. On its website, “Present Truth Ministries” quotes a Luther-like Nardakhani in court:

“During one hearing he was told to recant and he responded, ‘You ask me to recant. Recant means to return. What do you wish me to return to? The blasphemy that I was in before Christ?’ The judges responded, ‘To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.’ Youcef replied, ‘I cannot.’”

The effort to get Nadarkhani released seems to have been spearheaded by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ, obviously not to be confused with the ACLU). This American organization offers legal services when rights, especially religious ones, have been inhibited. The ACLJ was in contact with the U.S. State Department and was instrumental in making people aware of Nadarkhani’s imprisonment (especially through Twitter, with over 3 million people re-tweeting the ACLJ’s “Tweets for Youcef.”)

via Steadfast Lutherans » Steadfast Guest — After Three Years, Freedom by Pr. Timothy Winterstein.

HT:  Anthony Sacramone, who comments, “Most of us will never have to endure anything more onerous than a snarky remark or a sneer as the price of our faith, so take a moment to consider a man who clearly counted the cost of following Christ and persevered under terrible duress for three years—and who also had a wife and two young sons who no doubt suffered terribly as well.  Of course, Pastor Nadarkhani was already free long before his captors opened the gates of his cell.”

For more details, see this.

Vocation Day reading

Happy Vocation Day!  It was formerly known as Labor Day, but this blog has crusaded to take over this national holiday–day off work, last day of summer vacation, cook-out customs and all–and add it to the church year as a commemoration of the doctrine of vocation.

That topic is a major theme of this blog.  Vocation is more than just the notion that you can do your work to the glory of God.  It has to do not only with how we make our living–though it includes that–but also with our life in our families, our churches, and our cultures.  The doctrine of vocation is filled with specific details and practical guidance.  It is, in short, the theology of the Christian life.

A good activity for Labor Day would be to read up on the doctrine of vocation.  You could read from my two books on the subject– God at Work and Family Vocation–or, if you are in a hurry to get the car loaded, I’ll post a brief article with a sidebar that I wrote on the subject for  Modern Reformation.  Click “continue” to read it.

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The Church of England is opposing gay marriage

We often give up on the vitality of Europe’s state churches, but the Church of England–unlike its affiliate Episcopalians in the U.S.–is standing up against the plans of the Conservative (!)  government to legalize gay marriage.  From Mark Tooley:

The U.S. based Episcopal Church’s recognition of same sex unions last month mostly excited a big yawn. More interesting is the resistance of its mother body, the Church of England, to Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to install same sex marriage in Britain. The latter’s opposition is more significant because it remains its nation’s established church and still wields political and constitutional powers. . . .

In a secularizing country, the Church of England (unlike U.S. Episcopalians, who mostly just resent more numerous evangelicals) appreciates the threat to religious liberty under a regime of imposed same sex marriage. How would the established church disallow what the civil law requires? The church may have to disestablish, especially if it desires any continued leadership over global Anglicans.

British media quoted church officials dismissing government plans as “‘half-baked,’ ‘very shallow,’ ‘superficial’ and ‘completely irrational.’” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu only slightly more diplomatically lamented that government proposals “have not been thought through and are not legally sound.” The church’s official response rejected the government’s push with vigorous, point-by-point rebuttals.

One organizer of that response was Bishop of Leicester Tim Steve, who declared on his own: “Marriage is not the property of the Church any more than it is the property of the Government. It is about a mutually faithful physical relationship between a man and a woman.” He warned, despite government claims of protection for churches, “If you do what the Government say they are going to do, you can no longer define marriage in that way. It becomes hollowed out, and about a relationship between two people, to be defined on a case-by-case basis.” Imposed same sex marriage would precipitate the “gradual unravelling of the Church of England which is a very high cost for the stability of society.”

via The American Spectator : This Could Be Its Finest Hour.

Lutheran economics

The New York Times, no less, has published a piece by Harvard Luther scholar Steven Ozment (author of that new book on Cranach that I intend to blog about at some point) on the Lutheran elements in today’s German economic policy towards the Eurozone:

Even today Germany, though religiously diverse and politically secular, defines itself and its mission through the writings and actions of the 16th century reformer, who left a succinct definition of Lutheran society in his treatise “The Freedom of a Christian,” which he summarized in two sentences: “A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none, and a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all.”

Consider Luther’s view on charity and the poor. He made the care of the poor an organized, civic obligation by proposing that a common chest be put in every German town; rather than skimp along with the traditional practice of almsgiving to the needy and deserving native poor, Luther proposed that they receive grants, or loans, from the chest. Each recipient would pledge to repay the borrowed amount after a timely recovery and return to self-sufficiency, thereby taking responsibility for both his neighbors and himself. This was love of one’s neighbor through shared civic responsibility, what the Lutherans still call “faith begetting charity.”

How little has changed in 500 years. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, a born-and-baptized daughter of an East German Lutheran pastor, clearly believes the age-old moral virtues and remedies are the best medicine for the euro crisis. She has no desire to press a secular ideology, let alone an institutional religious faith, on her country, but her politics draws unmistakably from an austere and self-sacrificing, yet charitable and fair, Protestantism.

If Ms. Merkel refuses to support so-called euro bonds, it is not because it would be like giving free money to the undeserving poor but because it would not help the redeemed poor take responsibility for their own houses and grow strong for both themselves and their needy neighbors. He who receives, recovers and profits from society in a time of need has a moral responsibility to pay society back by acting in turn as a strong citizen who can help fill the common chests and sacrifice for his now needy neighbors, who had once helped him. Such is the sacrificial Lutheran society.

For this point of view Ms. Merkel has been derided as the “austerity queen,” and worse. But she is undeterred. She admits that austerity is the toughest road home but hastens to add that it is also the surest and quickest way to recover the economy and gain full emancipation from the crisis. Luther would agree.

According to polls, so do Ms. Merkel’s fellow Germans. They hold tight to their belief, born of staunch Lutheran teachings, that human life cannot thrive in deadbeat towns and profligate lands. They know that money is a scarce commodity that has to be systematically processed, recorded and safeguarded before being put out to new borrowers and petitioners.

And they take comfort in the fact that, unlike what they consider the disenchanted, spendthrift countries of Greece and Italy, those living in model German lands have obeyed the chancellor’s austerity laws and other survival programs designed for a fair, shared recovery.

But if their Lutheran heritage of sacrificing for their neighbors makes Germans choose austerity, it also leads them to social engagement. In classic Lutheran teaching, the salvation of the believer “by faith alone” does not curtail the need for constant charitable good works, as ill-informed critics allege. Faith, rather, empowers the believer to act in the world by taking the worry out of his present and future religious life.

via In Euro Crisis, Germany Looks to Martin Luther – NYTimes.com.

We often complain on this blog that the Lutheran influence via the state churches of Germany and Scandinavia is “only cultural.”  And of course, cultural influence means little without saving faith.  Still, at a time when Christianity and churches seem to be losing their influence to the detriment of society and at a time when Christians are trying to figure out how to be influential once again. it’s worth contemplating how churches have, in fact, both in the past and continuing into the present, influenced their cultures.

If Lutheranism influenced and is still an influence in those increasingly secular European states, it must, somehow, be a presence and it must, somehow, be influential.  How does this happen?

Can any of you speak about some other specific cultural influences of Lutheranism in, say, Scandinavia, or that of other theological traditions in other countries?

For example, Scandinavians are often portrayed  culturally as BOTH guilt-ridden AND morally permissive.  Is this a twisted, secularist remnant of Law and Gospel?

Is the President our national pastor?

No, the president is most emphatically NOT a national pastor, such an understanding betraying a deadly confusion of God’s Two Kingdoms and completely distorting the nature of the pastoral office.  But the normally circumspect Christianity Today has two articles that say, yes, the president kind of is a national pastor.

See Owen Strachan,“Our American President: The ‘Almost Pastor’ of an ‘Almost Chosen’ Land” and  Judd Birdsall, “Is the President America’s Pastor in Chief?“.  A sample from the latter:

Ironically, the curious American integration of piety and the presidency largely stems from our separation of church and state. Without an established religion led by an archbishop, ecumenical patriarch, or grand mufti, the President acts, for better or worse, as the nation’s senior religious figure.

Cambridge University professor Andrew Preston makes this point in his massive, 815-page work Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy: “There is no official hierarchy in the American civil religion, but as the nation’s head of state as well as its chief executive … the president has acted as its de facto pope.”

What exactly are the President’s papal duties? Preston explains: “Since George Washington, the president has been the interpreter of rites, symbols, and meanings of the civil religion, with some—particularly Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—significantly recasting it under the pressure of war.”

Obama’s and Romney’s faith-infused interpretations of the Aurora shooting are case in point, and the most recent chapter in the long history of the presidential pastorate. Both politicians denounced the killing as “evil,” and both turned to the Bible for meaning, solace, and hope.

In his public statement after meeting with victims’ families in Aurora, Obama quoted the famous eschatological promise found in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Focusing on the here and now, Romney encouraged his audience to “mourn with those who mourn,” a reference to Romans 12:15. In poignant remarks packed with Christian language, Romney expressed his prayer that “the grieving will know the nearness of God” and “the comfort of a living God.” Citing the apostle Paul by name, Romney quoted from 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, “blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.”

Many commentators applauded Romney for sounding “presidential.” Especially in times of tribulation, Americans expect their President to be their pastor—not in any formal sense as a leader of a church but in the general sense as a provider of spiritual care and theological perspective for the nation.

The president as our archbishop, since we’re not allowed to have a state church?  Our pope?  A provider of our spiritual care?  These writers, of course, are speaking by way of analogy.  The workings of the “civil religion,” not to be confused (though it often is) with Christianity, though I’m not sure these articles finish that point.  They describe how the presidency functions and how the public responds, not how things should be.  But still. . . .

What is wrong with this picture?

HT:  Paul McCain


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