Lutherans have officially apologized for persecution of anabaptists

In the past, even shortly after the Reformation was kick-started by Luther, the Reformation period wasn’t all that rosy.  Followers of Luther’s doctrinal beliefs began to persecute the Anabaptists because they had other ideas of how far the Reformation should go.  This persecution in Lutheran lands lasted for many decades, if not centuries.  The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has made a courageous moved that required some humility.  The LWF has offered an official apology of the wrongs on behalf of Lutherans around the world.  Here’s the LWI Council Press Release:

GENEVA, 26 October 2009 (LWI) – The Council of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has approved a statement that prepares for a significant action of reconciliation with churches of the Anabaptist family.

With this endorsement, the statement “Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of ‘Anabaptists'” is recommended for adoption at the July 2010 LWF Eleventh Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany. The statement expresses “deep regret and sorrow” for the legacy of violent persecution of Anabaptists, and especially for the ways in which Lutheran reformers supported this persecution with theological arguments. It asks forgiveness, “from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers,” for these past wrongs and also for the ways in which later Lutherans have forgotten or ignored this persecution and have continued to describe Anabaptists in misleading and damaging ways.  Read on…

While reading church history, I remember feeling how Anabaptists must have felt during the time of the Reformation. It was not necessarily a time of wonderful change but also a time of hurt and pain felt by many Anabaptists.  An apology is a bold move.  Way to go!

Vestments: to wear or not to wear?

Is there a scriptural basis for clergy vestments or any kind of distinctive clothing as an element of worship in the New Testament church?  Not that I can find in scripture; but if there is, it’s more of an anti-vestment tone. In this Sunday’s reading, Jesus warns:


38 “…Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).

What really puts me on the edge is what Jesus said in v.40 “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers“.  I’m okay on the first point, but on the second, “gulp”, I better try to keep my prayers shorter.  When I read this passage, it often reminds me of  my fellow clergy persons in mainline traditions (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic) who wear traditional vestments like albs, gowns, and stoles.

These white albs/robes are suppose to symbolize the baptized ones, but in our case today, why are pastors/priests the only ones who wear this?  Aren’t we all baptized?  Clergy vestments may have been a regular form of dress centuries ago, but today, it’s only the pastors/priests who wear these long robes.

Some of our pastors even take pride in how the robe/alb flows and how the fancy colourful stole looks on them.   Many people feel vestments put a separation barrier between professional clergy and laity.  Clergy vestments  has a funny way of elevating the status of a pastor/priest.   So why do we continue to wear these garments?  Perhaps it’s to guard against the devolution of the responsibilities of the professional clergy?  (Talk about obstacles to the priesthood of believers?  (a previous post). This is a challenge I pose to myself.  More about my clergy vestments later).

All Saints Day: any saints today deserving of recognition?

In the earliest days, St. John the Baptist and the early martyrs were honoured by a special day. The earliest day was traced back to Sunday after Pentecost. During the persecution under Diocletian’s rule there were a great number of Christians martyred so this common day was appointed by theRoman Catholic Church (RCC). Gradually, more saints were added to the list of saints including patron saints recognized by the RCC, plus saints like Luther and Calvin added by protestant churches.

I found out how a person becomes a Catholic saint according to the RCC:

1) The person must have exhibited heroic virtues in life;
2) There must have been a confirmed miracle attributed to the person; and
3) There must be another miracle attributed to his/her intercession.

If a person meets these three requirements, then he/she is canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint.

Today, there are almost as many saints as there are days in the year. But why stop now? Today, I think many more saints of the Lord who are not Roman Catholic but are evangelicals. Protestants, evangelicals, and charismatics who claim numerous uncountable miracles are not as big on celebrating saints like the RCC but who are, nevertheless, deserving of the same commemoration as martyrs.

Why not open All Saints’ Day to all deserving candidates? Are there any lesser-known saints you know of who deserves to be recognized by us today?

Martin Luther’s Here I Stand – free download

FYI, there a free download of Martin Luther’s Here I Stand, a 24-minute recording by Max McLean. Download it by November 1.HT: TC

We just celebrated Reformation Sunday this morning, and showed our youth a clip from the Luther movie Joseph Fiennes (2003) during confirmation class.

Pope Benedict makes it easier for disenchanted Anglicans to convert

Since the consecration of the openly gay Bishop gene Robinson in 2003 and the blessing of same-sex marriages in the Anglican Church in Canada (ACC), there was no turning back.  The wedge was set and hammered into the heart of the Anglican Communion across the U.S. and Canada.  Now it’s open season.

It is now easier for disenchanted Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism.  The new constitution will allow groups of disenchanted Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church while keeping some of its Anglican traditions—even some Anglican liturgy.  This openness from Rome will allow the appointment of leaders and bishops to oversee former Anglican churches.  It will even allow married Anglican priests to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests, except for bishops. Sorry bishops.

In response, Cardinal George said in a USCCB press release:

“Today the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has received word of the new Provision in the form of an apostolic constitution issued by the Holy See for the reception into full communion with the Catholic Church of groups from the Anglican tradition. The USCCB stands ready to collaborate in the implementation of that Provision in our country.

“This step by the Holy See is in response to a number of requests received in Rome from groups of Anglicans seeking corporate reunion. The application of the new Provision recognizes the desire of some Anglicans (Episcopalians) to live the Catholic faith in full, visible communion with the See of Peter, while at the same time retaining some elements of their traditions of liturgy, spirituality and ecclesial life which are consistent with the Catholic faith. full article…

Is this easy pathway the best for disenchanted Anglicans?  It’s an easy way to stick it to the Episcopal Church and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury but is the Roman Catholic Church the only place to turn to for protestants of the liturgical tradition?  Traditional Anglicans have nowhere else left to turn to right now because the Lutheran Church (ELCA) has become as liberal as the Episcopal Church.  But who wants to join a church that carries the name of an excommunicated Augustinian priest?  Anglicans still have a choice. Pre-existing Lutherans don’t.

It’s nice that Rome is so open to receiving disenchanted Anglicans but I wonder why Pope Benedict is so eager?    It almost seems like this is open season in the Roman Church…anything goes and everything is up for grabs.  He is becoming as anxious and eager as evangelical protestants in receiving new converts.  Evangelical churches, watch out.  Rome is coming and competing with evangelicals in converting the converted.  Pope Benedict really knows what he’s doing.  He’d make evangelicals proud because he’s outdoing the evangelicals in evangelism in typical evangelical-style.  It seems like the only church that isn’t doing much evangelism to Episcopalians is the Episcopal Church, which will be sliced and chopped apart.  Oh, but we can’t forget about the other evangelical Anglican churches competing for disenchanted Anglicans (e.g., ACNA).

Is it going to be so easy for Anglicans to recognize the pope as their leader?  The risk for the Roman Catholic Church is that it may even reopen the issue of celibacy in the priesthood.  I wonder what deacons in the RCC think about this?

Cardinal George Responds to Vatican Announcement on Anglican Groups Entering Catholic Church

(Hat tip for video: Tim).

Roman Catholic bishop facing child-pornography charges

Rev. Father Raymond Lahey, a Roman Catholic Bishop from Nova Scotia, Canada, was caught with child pornography on his laptop computer by RCMP officers.  They searched his home and office.  He’s now facing charges.  Child pornography is a big no-no everywhere, not just in the church.  I wonder if Bishop Lahey will still be considered a bishop by the Roman Catholic Church?

If the Roman Catholic Church knew about this for 20 years, why isn’t its leadership more transparent and pro-active about this stuff, especially when he was around vulnerable young children? I’m glad my church makes Lutheran ministers go through police checks and sit through a sexual boundaries workshop–even before ordination. But of course, we know that these do not guarantee any safety.  Still, “we are poor miserable sinners” as Luther would say.

When sins like this happens in our church leaders, it causes a person to become more aware of how our human nature is untouched by the prevalence of sin (keeping in mind our paradoxical nature of saint and sinner (simul justus et peccator).  Luther wrote in his lecture on Romans:

The saints in being righteous are at the same time sinners; they are righteous because they believe in Christ whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them, but they are sinners because they do not fulfill the law and are not without sinful desires. They are like sick people in the care of a physician: they are really sick, but healthy only in the hope and insofar as they begin to be better, healed, i.e., they will become healthy.

It is ironic that it is precisely because of these weaknesses in our human nature that we, as saints, are able to minister to others with the same weaknesses.  The writer of Hebrews says: “A high priest has weaknesses of his own, and he feels sorry for foolish and sinful people. That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins and for the sins of others” (Heb.5:2-3, CEV).

UnChristian: Change the Perception

UnChristian: Change the Perception (DVD)
Publisher: Baker Books
ISBN: 9780801003172

Based on Barna Group’s research on 16 to 29 year-olds, here’s how people outside the established church perceive Christians:

91%  anti-homosexual
87%  judgmental
85%  hypocritical
78%  old fashioned
75%  too involved with politics
72%  out of touch with reality
70%  insensitive to others

The presentation of their data is rather stinging to traditional conservative evangelicals, including myself.  Based on my own perception of myself, I would never say these things about myself or about some of Christians I personally know or have befriended.  Self-perception of oneself can be powerfully self-deceptive.  Have we deceived ourselves into thinking that we are loving, compassionate, kind and open-minded? Perhaps.  Whether we agree with our own perception or not, this is how the world outside our Christian bubble  perceives us.  Many of the older generations might not see Christians this way, but the younger ones do, so there has been a shift of perception of Christianity.

[added] What seems to be absent in this DVD was any attempt to address the concerns of Christians who hold to a traditional view of heterosexual marriage.  We have to try to soften, and even reverse, the pejorative terms used against those of us who hold to a traditional view of marriage; terms like: homophobic, intolerant, discriminatory, or hate-filled.  We are none of these things; we are loving Christian people who love all people.  There are some Christians who are ignorant and unwise, and who will say the most stupid things that further negative stereotypes rather than change the negative perception to positive ones.

Some people on the outside feel that Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended.  They may like Jesus as a figure/person but they don’t necessarily view Christians in nearly as good of a light as they would in Jesus.  Well, that’s a little more comforting, but I wouldn’t allow that to let us get too comfortable.  There’s lot of work we Christians need to change our image.  The church might return to the pre-Constantine era soon than we think.  If we do not diagnose the problems occurring within our Christian bubble, we will soon find ourselves on the outside of society within one or two generations.  If that took place, we will hurt even more.  So let’s do something today before it’s too late.

The UnChristian curriculum includes a DVD and a small study guide.  The creators of this want to inform the church “what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters.”  They want to change the way Christ-followers perceive themselves.  We tend to see ourselves in a positive light, but those outside of the church have a different perception.  That is the thrust of this DVD presentation.

There is also a book co-authored by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.   This DVD with study guide is part of a series of four categories of DVDs: Culture, Future, Church, and Gospel.  They each take the basic format of four group meetings:  18-minute video talk on the topic, 2) a Fermi Short which is a 5000 word essay to be read ahead of time; 3) a video expression that models the theme, and 4) suggestions for a Culture Shaping Project. Other study guides in this curriculum include:

  • Influence Culture
  • Create the Future
  • Find the Good
  • Unchristian: Change the Perception

The model it takes is based on the Society Room model, which is now simply called Q, which encourages people to participate in group meetings of learning and discussion.  The leader facilitates the group discussion and plays the DVD rather than just talks. In the small booklet provided with the DVD, there are questions for the leader to ask the small group in his/her facilitation of each of the four meetings, which might include a dinner.  This format kind of reminds me a little of the way Alpha group is done.  The leader is encouraged to create conversation, cause people to do some critical thinking, influence and to take action.

By having a group of concerned Christ-followers from your church or fellowship watch this DVD “unchristian: change the perception”, we might be able to take a few first steps to learn about ourselves and see our own problem (or put in positive spin, to see our current situation as a problem).

I would recommend Q for all concerned Christians and church groups. It will definitely make us more self-aware.  Believe me, as Christ-followers, we need to be more self-aware.  Otherwise, we may lose an entire generation of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. They are already entire generations missing in many of our churches. We need to turn this tide around before it’s too late.

I wish to thank the good people at Baker Books for sending me a copy to review.

Is rising trend of Calvinism in SBC seminary graduates long-term or just a passing fad?

Why is Calvinism making a comeback?   According to data presented at the opening session of a conference on Reformed theology in the Southern Baptist Convention, a survey found that nearly 30 percent of recent Southern Baptist seminary graduates identify themselves as five-point Calvinists.  This trend is rising.  Most recently, this figure was 34 percent! Full article.  As a Lutheran with Calvinistic tendencies, I find this trend exciting.

That’s an incredible change from Southern Baptists, which are historically known for being dispensationalist and Arminian.  I wonder how this is going to affect the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?  And is this comeback in Calvinism a long-term thing or is it just a passing fad like the Emerging church that is fading away in less than ten years? I think this is still hard to tell because this trend is still on the upswing and in its early stages.

Regardless of where this new Calvinism is going, for me personally, I would say that Calvin and Luther have been my two biggest influences in my Christian life in the last five years. Previous to my seminary education, I felt like I was floating somewhere in evangelical space but after I got a taste of Luther and Calvin, there was no turning back. So what is it that attracts people like others and me to Calvin specifically? I’m not sure and can’t put a finger on it. Maybe it’s all this hype that has been building as we crept up to Calvin’s 500 anniversary? Maybe. But it’s unlikely. It’s probably due to our increased understanding of the depth of Calvinist theology.

Amongst the Calvinists most of us know of are preachers and teachers, R.C. Sproul and John Piper, and academics, J.I. Packer and Alvin Platinga. These people are probably today’s movers and shakers in the world of Calvinism.  They are well-respected  and are making an impact on many evangelical Christians today.

Why the United Church is dying

The United Church in Canada (UCC) is the fastest dying church in the nation of Canada today.  Its membership has declined from 25% to 9% of this nation’s population and originally formed in the 1920s as a merger of Canada’s three churches: Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist.

This was the church my father first got involved with when he immigrated to Canada.  He still remembers when a UCC congregation reached out the the immigrants through the congregation’s outreach ministry: English as a Second Language.  If it wasn’t for this outreach, my father might not have ever gotten involved in church.  My heart sinks as I think about the state of this once-great-church in Canada.

I don’t wish to see the UCC fade away and disappear in twenty or thirty years; but realistically, that’s what I foresee for the not-too-distant future. It seems to have engaged in social activism tied heavily with political issues leaning toward the left side of the political spectrum. Furthermore, its leaders are proud of this fact. They deride conservative evangelicals of leaning toward the right side of the political spectrum, which is also a politicization of the church, and this should also be seen as being equally disdainful.  We have all retracted from the heart of the message of the gospel of Christ! Sorry for being so hard on both mainline and evangelical churches, but that’s just how I feel.

The UCC’s Twenty Articles of Faith as set out in the Basis of Union is something that I, as an evangelical, could agree with.  However, its leaders have apparently forgotten about the heart of the evangelical gospel and what is important for the spiritual health and well-being of it’s parishioners.  The heart of the evangelical gospel is the message of eternal salvation and the hope of the resurrection of God’s chosen people, rather than, the leftist anti-semitic social activism that the UCC has been engaged in.  Social justice and social activism is only a fruit of one’s love for Christ and others, but this fruit of the gospel has now become the church’s idol.  The fruit of social justice should not be the core of the church’s message and mission. The UCC has confused social activism for the core message of the gospel and views evangelism as politically-incorrect. This church has lost its former understanding of the core message of the evangelical gospel and has deceived itself into believing that it is fulfilling the mission of God. The mission of God is to: “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, NRSV).

Hopefully, God will raise up leaders within the UCC who will be focused on the heart of the mission of the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than on worshiping the idol of politicization of the fruit of social justice. This is the spiritual sin of  idolatry.  As concerned Christian Canadians, we ought to pray for the United Church of Canada that it may turn back to the heart of the message of the gospel.

You can read the entire editorial here: The National Post: “Why the United Church is dying”

For years, the United Church of Canada has been in decline. What once was a popular, mainstream Protestant denomination has largely forsaken its mission of spreading God’s message, and increasingly has become just another left-wing tea-and-biscuit talk shop for supporters of gay marriage, unregulated abortion, and Palestinian rights. As a result, declared membership in the United Church has declined from about 25% of Canadians several decades ago to about 9% today.

This week’s General Council meeting in Kelowna, B.C. exemplified the trend, with four antiIsraeli motions on the agenda. Israel is one of the few places in the whole Middle East where Christians can worship in peace without worrying about some Islamist maniac blowing himself up in the pews. And so the fact that it also happens to be the one nation targeted for boycott by left-wing Christian denominations speaks to the ignorance, moral perversion and — in some cases — outright anti-Semitic bigotry that now informs their agenda.

….Is there hope for the United Church? Probably not. While backing away from its quartet of hateful resolutions, the Church’s leadership still persisted in urging member congregations to launch their own grass-roots campaigns against the Jewish state. Canadian leftists already have plenty of outlets at their disposal if they’re looking to bash Israel and hold bake sales for Gaza or what not. It’s a tired ideological product being sold in a crowded market — which is why the church is dying.

Perhaps the folks at the United Church believe that their church’s extinction is a small price to pay to effect social justice in the Middle East. But Israel’s economy is doing fine these days — despite all the manifestos and boycott calls circulated by Western bienpensants. Which is to say: The boycott movement is not just a moral embarrassment, but pathetically futile as well.

Perhaps rather than trying to tear down Israel, the folks at the dying United Church might want to focus on their own survival instead.

A related article here: Kelowna summit signal to leader, By Ron Seymour, Monday, August 17, 2009

The evangelical church in the UK is on the rise

In mainline Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian churches, we are seeing a constant and continual drop in church attendance.  Something has got to change!

But when we look at evangelical churches, attendance tend either remain stable or are flourishing.  What is the difference?  What are evangelical churches doing that is different?

In relation to my previous post “Will evangelicalism decline or continue to expand?“, I noticed from an article from the UK newspaper  “The Independent” that the evangelical church in the UK is now growing.  [HatTip: Rachel Marszalek ]

“Church of England pews may be empty, but the fields of Somerset are rocking with a series of evangelical festivals this summer….. As the leaders of Britain’s more mainstream denominations scratch their heads and debate how to revitalise their congregations, evangelical Christianity in Britain is going from strength to strength. The number of evangelical churches in Britain has risen from 2047 to 2,719 since 1998 and their followers now make up 34 per cent of Anglicans, figures show.”

News like this in the UK is very encouraging. I can still remember constantly hearing about how the church in the UK was on the verge of dying but it has seemed to resurrected due to a revival in the evangelical/charismatic movement.  For this, I’d like to say: “Praise God! God is on the move in the UK.”

Some might ponder if it’s just some gimmick.  I have no doubt that there is no gimmick.   I think mainline churches have a lot to learn from evangelical churches.  Evangelical churches are simply more in tune with God’s clear sense of mission and evangelism than mainline churches.  Evangelicals are clear in encouraging that every disciple should engage in personal evangelism.  How evangelism is engaged may vary widely.  Worship may also vary widely.  Not all evangelical congregations use drums or electric guitars. Some are still in the stone age using organs, but the commonality is in the attitude of the believer: everyone is encouraged in the teaching and preaching to have a mindset of fulfilling God’s mission on earth.  For some of you reading this, this is pretty old hat and may seem strange I’m talking about this like as if it was exciting and cutting-edge missional stuff. But for the old church world, evangelism is  like a bad word.

The source of this mindset or attitude, I think, is the experience of God’s love.  When believers experience the love of God in their lives in a spiritual way and also in a tangible way within the congregation, the Holy Spirit transforms the believer into a Christ-loving individual.  When the individual loves the Lord God, one will understand the importance of sharing the love of Christ with others around them.  This might translate into an engagement in some type of evangelistic activity, either on a personal level or congregational level.  That’s how the gospel transforms people and an entire society.