Preaching assurance vs. preaching doubt

I have noticed that there are two kinds of preachers, especially when addressing young people: One kind tries to assure the listeners of their salvation in Christ, underscoring His grace and mercy and His atoning work on the Cross. The other kind tries to make the listeners question whether they are “really” Christians. (“Did you REALLY give your life to the Lord? Do you show the fruit of true faith? Does your life show evidence of true conversion? Maybe you need to commit your life to him again, just to be sure.”)

Granted the problem of nominal Christianity. And granted the need to make people realize how sinful they are so as to help them grasp their need of the Gospel. But I would argue that the latter approach can do great harm. The one thing that DOES make a Christian is faith in Christ. Doubt is the opposite of faith. To make a person doubt his or her salvation is, ironically, to destroy faith, rather than to build it up. Furthermore, these “are you really a Christian” messages have the effect of making the hearers look within, at their good works or their feelings or their piety or whatever. Surely, whenever we look honestly at ourselves we will find nothing to commend ourselves before God. Rather, what needs to happen is to encourage troubled or doubting souls to look OUTSIDE themselves to the Cross of Jesus and the promises of God’s Word, to objective facts about God’s disposition towards them (“Did God cause you to be baptized? Have you taken the Lord’s Supper and heard the words “given for you”?)

I wonder if the attempts to scare young people into greater piety may be having the opposite effect.

What would a theocracy look like?

Joe Carter looks at the “theophobes” who are all worried about America becoming a theocracy, as if evangelicals who don’t even believe in a central church authority would institute a central government authority.   He tries to calm their fears, pointing out that the number of “Reconstructionists” who might be interested in going for a theocracy is so small they could all fit into the conference room of a Holiday Inn in Helena, Montana.

But then he launches into a thought experiment, wondering what such a theocracy would look like:

What would the nation look like if we became the Dominionist States of America?

Here is the most plausible scenario I can imagine:

• After agreeing that it’s no longer applicable to a country that was founded by Unitarians and Deists, the term “Christian nation” is forbidden from being used in reference to the pre-dominionist era (i.e., from 1776-2012).

• The Marriage Protection Amendment is added to the U.S. Constitution, setting gay rights legislation back to the regressive year of 2003. The Human Life Amendment is stalled in Congress as pro-life factions fight over which of the 330 previously submitted proposals should be implemented.

• A revision is made to the First Amendment in which the words “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise of religion” is underlined and put in bold font. High school valedictorians—whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew—are extended the same right to pray at graduations as Supreme Court justices and members of Congress have had throughout our country’s history.

• A national ban on pornography is implemented. The prohibition has a negligible effect since there is already more porn on the hard drives of computers in Christian homes than was produced from the death of Caligula to the birth of Hugh Hefner.

• Creationism and Intelligent Design theory are included alongside the theory of evolution in school curricula. Students are forced to learn three theories, the details of which they’ll have forgotten about by graduation day.

• Congress passes the Christian Television Act which requires (a) every show must have as many Christian characters as homosexual characters, (b) Catholic characters must not be limited to elderly Latino women, Irish priests, and lapsed nuns, and (c) CBS must bring back Touched by an Angel.

And . . . well, that’s about the most that could ever happen.

Perhaps my ability to imagine a more robust form of Christian theocracy is dulled by the fact that I know so many actual Christians. The average Christian in America isn’t all that radical, which is why I think my list is a fair representation of the worst-case scenario. We would not have a zombified R.J. Rushdoony returning from the dead to stone men who lie with men and children who lie to their parents. We’d merely have average Christians acting much like average Christian acts now.

Most Christians merely want a return to the standard of public morality that prevailed during the country’s first two hundred years. As Ramesh Ponnuru has said about the “values voter” hysteria of 2004, “Nearly every one of these policies—and all of the most conservative ones—would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.”

Indeed it is not. America was not a theocracy in 1950 and it won’t be a theocracy in 2050. Everyone, even the theophobes, knows this is true. The fact is that the journalists behind God Scare 2011 really aren’t concerned about dominionism. They aren’t really afraid that America is hurtling toward theocracy; they merely fear that our nation is drifting away from their goal of a secularacracy.

They need not worry. We’ll get there soon enough. And many Christians will be leading the way.

via What If America Did Become a Theocracy? | First Things.

Good new words:  Theophobe!  Secularacracy!

Seriously, do you think this is anything the left or anyone else really needs to worry about?  What are the prospects of us conservative Christians taking over the country and dismantling the Constitution?  (I thought we were the ones trying to defend the Constitution!)  To be sure, there are  theological dangers of a social gospel of the right, but aren’t those  far greater than any political danger?

Closed Communion question

I know that the confessional Lutheran practice of “closed communion,” in which you have to be a member of the church body (or a member of a church in formal doctrinal fellowship with that church body) to commune at the Lutheran altar, is offensive to many non-Lutherans.  I don’t particularly want to debate that practice, which we’ve talked about extensively.  Rather, I would like to ask those of you who are offended some questions:  Have you ever been to a Roman Catholic mass or an Eastern Orthodox divine liturgy?  Perhaps you attended a funeral or a wedding or had an assignment in a religion course or dropped in on a service for one reason or another.   Were you offended because you could not commune?  Did you expect to?  Did you even want to, given your theological reservations about what was going on?

Though some Roman Catholic priests will commune anyone, this is strictly forbidden by canon law.  I would say that there are proportionally more Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors who practice open communion, even though it is against denominational policy, than there are Catholic priests who do it.  And, as an Orthodox commenter helpfully observed in one of our earlier threads, you will come close to never finding open communion practiced in an Eastern Orthodox church.

Used to, one’s membership in a particular theological tradition was defined by whom you would take communion with.   Then we had the ecumenical movement, largely among Protestants, and different churches–usually highly liberal–started sharing Communion with everyone.

Anyway, my impression is that few people feel insulted when they don’t join Catholics or Orthodox in their sacramental rites.  After all, we think, I’m not Catholic or Orthodox.

So why is it different with Lutherans?

 

One legacy of 9/11: More interfaith services

Ecumenical News International reports that the number of interfaith worship services–that is, those in which people of different religions worshipped together (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.)–have doubled since the 9/11 attacks:

Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since the 11 September attacks, according to a new study released 7 September, even as more than seven in 10 U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.

The survey by an interfaith group of researchers found that about 14 percent of U.S. congregations surveyed in 2010 engaged in a joint religious celebration with another faith tradition, up from 6.8 percent in 2000, Religion News Service reports.

Interfaith community service grew nearly threefold, with 20.4 percent of congregations reporting participation in 2010, up from 7.7 percent in 2000, according to the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership. After the attacks, “Islam and Islamics’ presence in the United States (became) visible in a way that you couldn’t ignore,” said David A. Roozen, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

National Muslim groups tried to build bridges to other faiths, who in turn “reached out in new ways to be neighborly,” he said. Reform Jewish congregations led the way, with two-thirds participating in interfaith worship and three-quarters involved in interfaith community service.

The largest percentage of interfaith-worshipping congregations (20.6 percent) was in the Northeast, which is home to a disproportionate percentage of more liberal mainline Protestant churches. About 17 percent of interfaith-worshipping congregations are in a big city or older suburb, where greater diversity makes interfaith activity more likely.

The study implies that the more liberal a congregation, the greater likelihood for interfaith activity. Approximately half of Unitarian Universalist congregations held interfaith worship services, and three in four participated in interfaith community service. By contrast, among more conservative Southern Baptist churches, only 10 percent participated in interfaith community service, and five percent in interfaith worship.

The study shows most of the 11,077 congregations surveyed reported no interfaith activity, a finding that troubled the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Washington-based Interfaith Alliance. “The reality in our nation now is we have a major problem with Islamophobia, and that fear is being fed by people in large enough numbers that we need probably ten times as many people involved in interfaith discussions and actions,” Gaddy said.

via Paul McCain: Interfaith Worship on the Rise Since 9/11 | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

But if we have a major problem with Islamophobia, why the growing popularity of Christians worshipping with Muslims?  The bigger question is surely, why the vogue of interfaith, syncretistic worship in the aftermath of 9/11?  Do any of you have an explanation?

What defines an “evangelical”?

Al Mohler has an interesting piece trying to define what is meant by “evangelical.”  He goes back into history, though strangely he says nothing about the source of the word in Lutheranism.  “Evangelical” used to be the name for “Lutheran,” in distinction to both Roman Catholics and Calvinists, a.k.a., “Reformed.”  The term comes from  evangelium, the Latin version of the Greek word for “good news”; that is, the Gospel.  And the Christian Gospel is that  salvation is a free gift, won by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who atoned for the sins of the world when He died on the Cross and who rose from the dead for our justification.  “Evangelical” was used to describe Lutheranism because the Gospel is the “chief article” of its theology–not God’s sovereignty, not morality, not church government, but the Gospel–the linchpin of every other teaching, including Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But I acknowledge that many other kinds of Christians–not just Lutherans–also believe in the Gospel and make it central, and they too can go by the name “evangelical.”

Dr. Mohler, whom I think highly of,  says that the term refers to conservative Protestants to distinguish them from liberal Protestants, as well as from  Catholics.  He then gives some description of evangelicals as a social group.  But I think that the term, to be meaningful, must retain its core meaning of holding to the centrality of the Gospel.  And some conservative Protestants do NOT make the Gospel central, not really, and so shouldn’t use the name “evangelical.”

If you believe that you are saved by your good works, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that salvation comes from how good you are, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you no longer believe in justification by grace through faith in Christ (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you do not believe in the Atonement (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about creating a perfect society on earth,  you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about giving you prosperity, that the good news is about your earthly success, rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe in faith, but put your faith in yourself, rather than in Christ (as I have heard “evangelicals” preach on TV), you are NOT an evangelical.

I’m not saying those I’m referring to may not be Christians–if they have even a trace of faith in the work of Christ, buried under all kinds of other teachings, they may be–but they should come up with other words for themselves.

What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical?, Christian News.

The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven

More great preaching from our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, on the text Matthew 18:1-20.  Read it all.  Here is the beginning and the end.  Notice how the law passages are all brought down on Jesus:

In common thinking, the phase of life called childhood is something to pass through. But for Jesus, to become as a child is something to attain, and a place to remain.

In common thinking, children need to be taught to become adults. But for Jesus, adults need to be taught to become like children.

In common thinking, children grow up to become something great. But for Jesus, greatness is in being like a child.

Clearly, Jesus is looking at things quite differently than we often do.

For being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with your age. Whether you are the youngest of the young or the oldest of the old, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how much you know. Whether you have been a Christian all your life and know your Scriptures and catechism well, or you are just beginning in this life of faith, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how you act or your level of spiritual maturity. Whether you are a pastor or a layman, an apostle or a catechumen, a leader or a learner, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

And so the disciples’ question today, “Jesus, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” betrays the fact that they are not thinking as Jesus thinks, or seeing as Jesus sees. And so Jesus rattles them good! No beating around the bush with Jesus. He grabs a child – who, by the way, always seem to be around Jesus, have you ever noticed that? He grabs a child, stands him (or her) right in the midst of these big disciples and says: Here you go. Greatness. Be like this child. Humble yourselves. And if you don’t, you will never, ever, not in a million years or a million tries, enter the kingdom of heaven.

As usual, the disciples got more than they bargained for. But its always that way with Jesus. He is always giving more than we ask or imagine or think. And so the disciples ask a greatness question, and Jesus gives a faith answer.

For that’s really what this is. It’s not primarily about what we do, it’s about faith. For to be a child as Jesus is describing here means to be dependent. To be dependent upon your Father in heaven, like a child, for everything – to supply your needs, to give you your identity, to rescue you, and to protect you from your enemies. It is to acknowledge that you are, in fact, utterly dependent and in need of Christ and His provision. It is to be weak and vulnerable, and to learn to see yourself in this way.

For no matter how strong or high or learned or powerful you may be in the world and in the eyes of the world, none of that matters when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. Here, greatness is quite different. Here, greatness is to be among those whom Christ serves. And to see others and to serve others in the same way. . . .

And so you are the greatest when you are the least, for then all that you are and all that you have is of Christ and not of yourself, as He supplies your need, as He gives you your identity as His child, as He rescues you, and as He protects you. For greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not to accomplish the most, but to receive Christ and what He has done for you. For He has come and given His hand and feet and eyes in place of yours. He has taken the millstone you deserve and put it around His neck. He was cast into the hell of fire on the cross, for you, in your place.

And so if it is better for you to be hacked and plucked and drowned, far better is it for you that Jesus has come to do this for you! That the Father has sent His child, His beloved Son, to seek and to save the lost. That you have a faithful Father, a Good Shepherd, and a Spirit given to you and living in you. A Spirit by which we pray, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) as His children, and knowing that our Father has heard our prayer for Jesus’ sake, and will always do what is best and good for us. . . .

For Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Working! More huge words! Promise words. Words you can count on as you ride the Gospel all day, until your Father calls you to come into your heavenly home.

And with those words – did you notice? – we’re back where we started – except now the child in the midst of us is the very Son of God. And He really is. Not just in some mystical way – He really is! In His very Body and Blood, given to you here in the midst of your sin and mess. But He is not ashamed of you, to give Himself to you, to forgive you and give you life again. He is happy that you’re here. Not because of all that you accomplished this week, but because you are His little one. Which makes you great. For in the end, greatness is not what you do, it’s who you are. And you are a child of God.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 12 Sermon.


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