Poll: Authority of the Bible vs. the Church’s Teachings

Here’s a poll for you.  Have we gone too far in rejecting the authority in the church, or not far enough?  Find out where your church or congregation stands on authority–on the bible alone, or also on the teachings and traditions of the church?


It seems like the majority in the evangelical church today tend to understand the authority of the bible vs church tradition in this way:

Accepting the infallibility & inerrancy of the bible which is the only authority (to the exclusion of the authority of the church’s teachings)

while

Rejecting the authority of the church’s teachings/traditions based on the bible (but not to the exclusion of the bible as the only infallible authority)

Yes, seems like a small difference in wording but implications can be huge.  It comes down to this: Where upon which does the onus for infallibility lay?  1) Upon our individual congregation’s interpretation of the bible, or 2) Upon the Church’s historic, catholic, and apostolic interpretation of the bible?

What are the implications?  Many evangelicals are never taught anything about the historical meaning of the Church’s early traditions and confessions. As a result, have we evangelicals become individualistic and have a type of privatized inner spirituality where we see our faith as a kind of “me, God and my bible”?  I know it’s a tough question to answer because we need to dig really deep to examine our inner spirituality.

Historical background: The Reformation in the early 1500s carried a strong conviction lrose_stainedglass300that the Scriptures alone was the word of God.  Luther did not trust in the pope or councils alone because, in the past, they had spoken in error and contradicted themselves.  Therefore, reformers like Luther and Calvin rejected the pope’s official words as being the very words of God Himself, thus the phrase: “sola scriptura” and “word alone”.

God’s kingdom’s reign…in our weakness or strength?

My last post was on God’s coming kingdom.  Although how extremist-Islam’s version of God’s kingdom is to come about is violent and forceful, Islam also believes in a new kingdom.  However, if I may also be critical of us as Christians, throughout sectors of the church, some of our Christian ideas about God’s coming kingdom hasn’t been exactly all correct either.  I’m speaking about our “Kingdom Now” theology that some Christians believe in.  God’s kingdom is here now but we just need to claim it for ourselves.  This is true in one sense but false in another.  Theology is not so simple and clear-cut. We are citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom but it hasn’t fully manifested itself on earth yet, until the Last Day.

What some of us Christians might not like to hear is that Christ will accomplish His will in us in our weakness–and not in our strength.  In some parts of the Church, even today, it has deluded itself into believing that God’s earthly kingdom must be strong and victorious in an earthly way and we must exert our power and influence over the earth.   We look to grandiose schemes that are really focused on the earthly realm and view them as reflections of God’s future powerful rule on earth.   This is a theology of glory that attempts to achieve God’s kingdom via human strength–which is pure vanity.  The truth is, God’s kingdom is not of this world and will be nothing like what we imagine.

God’s kingdom is of the spiritual realm–which is unseen, and unknowable through earthly eyes and mind.   It cannot be built or achieved through the secular-earthly realm.  As Christians, some of us have also placed too much confidence in physical-secular power and wisdom.  We ignore the Sovereign and Almighty Power and Presence of God the Creator and trust more in our own wisdom and human potential, which in God’s eyes, really doesn’t amount to much when compared to his omnipotent power.  Our own ignorance and our arrogant attitudes within the church is proof enough.

Two thousand years have passed since Jesus ascended to heaven and returned to the Father and we still ignore what Jesus reminded the Church just before our Lord ascended.

In Matthew 24:23-27, Jesus also goes on to warn his followers about false messiahs and false prophets, who will also be performing signs and wonders to deceive even the elect.

God’s kingdom will come even in our weakness, and amidst our persecutions, trials and hardships.  Didn’t Jesus say:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:5,10)

Both Muslims and Christians alike can fall prey to the evil one’s manipulation of believing that God’s kingdom must necessarily come through our strength and power.  If God is God, then can’t the kingdom of the Sovereign God come in the midst of our meekness and weakness?  When it does, then we know the kingdom belongs to our Lord, and not to us.

Do you support your pastor’s family?

Do you support your pastor’s family? To many people’s surprise, the pastor’s family might be one of the most mistreated families in the church.  The expectations of the pastor is that he/she ought to give, give, and give, and if there’s more to give, then squeeze him dry. The only thing pastor is expected to receive is a salary-paycheck, afterall, that’s what he’s paid to do, right? On top of that, the pastor’s spouse and kids are also expected to serve their hearts out too as a good example to the rest of the church, and also be under the microscope of the people full-time.

These are unrealistic expectations.  A website article (read more: Ministry Matters) suggest some things you can do to show support to your pastor and his family.  Here’s several:

1. Temper unrealistic expectations of the pastor’s family.
2. Make a pastoral support group a priority.
3. Support a sabbatical.
4. Protect your pastor’s sabbath day.

Do these look like something you or your church does to support your pastor?

 

Part 4: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have you noticed a decline in evangelism in your local church?

In most rural communities, the visible church is more stable and will likely remain (although many historic mainline churches are closing).  Naturally, change in rural communities do not happen as frequently; therefore, people will have the opportunity to integrate their spirituality and their religious life when they feel a need to do so (e.g., some may even decide to enter a church after a long absence after Baptism, Confirmation, wedding/funeral, or the odd Christmas worship service).

However, in the urban communities where the visible Church is less likely to be a permanent fixture.  Fast-paced change is common place (due to construction and new developments).  If an established or historic local church were to disappear from a major intersection in “City X”, the religious loss might not be very apparent; however, the spiritual void will eventually be felt by people whether we know it or not.

What does this mean for the visible Church in urban settings today?  The visible church triumphant must continue to remain and become a more visible part in our urban communities.

Are we, the Church, trying and working hard enough to make the visible Church more visible in our urban settings?  Hardly.

Tragically, many congregations of the historic mainline denominations are shrinking and disappearing from the religious landscape.  This will continue for the foreseeable future because they are failing to  help people make the connection between people’s spiritual lives with their real everyday lives.  There is a currently a huge void and lack of vision for evangelism in reaching out to people with Jesus’ Gospel message.

This means that our contemporary evangelical churches must continue to take responsibility and carry the load for evangelism and mission in urban communities.  Thankfully, many churches have not forgotten or lost their passion and vision for evangelism and outreach.  As Christ’s visible Church triumphant in North American society, we must remember and carry out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Is your local church doing taking responsibility in carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28?

[ see previous post: Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural ]

Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Is there still a need in people’s lives to express their spirituality in some way, shape or form–and within community?  Our  western culture seems to have taken individuality to the extreme where religious community life has been secularized and devalued to the sidelines of life, and even ignored.  Participation in religious community life has now become totally voluntary… but maybe this is good.  It separates true and genuine Christian believers/seekers who voluntarily commit to their beliefs from those who follow Christianity due to involuntary happenstance or family heritage.  As religious community life becomes more marginalized, what distinguishes the visible church from the invisible church will be pared down.  The expression of true spirituality and religious life will become more apparent to secular eyes.

Morever, and more to my point, is that, people who voluntarily desire to become a part of an organized religious/faith community (a church) are not as prone to sliding into spiritual oblivion. Here’s a few cases I witnessed the past month that explains our human need to be in Christian community:

The other day, a stranger walked into our church during our prayer meeting.  he didn’t know us, and we didn’t know him from Adam.  I admired his courage to enter our church.  I suspect the reason why he came might have been motivated by his desire to express his thanks to God for getting him a new job, after having been unemployed for the last four months.  In our prayers together, I felt that our small prayer group was successful in helping him express his thankfulness to God for giving him a job.  I ended up giving him a bible to take home, and we all welcomed him to come again to join us for Sunday worship and Wednesday night prayer meetings (may the Holy Spirit continue working in his life).  Also another fellow had walked into our prayer meeting a month ago. I don’t know what motivated him to come but I sensed he had a need to come.  He wasn’t a complete stranger to the church because he says he knew someone from a while back.

All of us need to have  an outlet for spiritual expression.  Without it, we will ultimately become disconnected from true spirituality.  If the opportunity for one to access  such expressions are denied them, will their spirituality become lifeless and formless? 

[ next post expresses what we need to do about this disconnect. See previous post Part 2. ]

Part 2: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have we, as a society, kept our spirituality hidden away too much from the eyes of others for the sake of being tolerant? 

In my move from rural to urban, I have also noticed a big difference in how people approach spirituality (as opposed to religion).   Spirituality in the urban setting (especially on the part of the postmodern generation), is much more individualized, where one person’s spirituality might not  be the same as another’s approach.  This is fine, but when one’s spiritual life is totally disconnected from the religious community life and privatized, there is a hidden danger.  When a person’s sense of spirituality goes dry and empty without some kind of organized religion to support and back them up, their spiritual lives can slide into oblivion.   They may lose their entire sense of spirituality and never know how far they’ve gone because no one is there to keep them accountable.

Has the expression of individual spirituality become too privatized?

[ next post expresses our lack or need of spiritual expression in society. ]

Part 1: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

This will be the first post in a four part series.  I want to bring up and provoke some thoughts about differences in people’s attitudes toward religion and spirituality in both rural and urban settings. The Church is at a critical moment in the 21st century. Either we work to survive and thrive, or we curl up and die in a corner.  What has Christ called us to?

Have you noticed a difference in people’s attitudes toward religious and spiritual expression between rural and urban communities?

Having moved from a small community to a large one, I have noticed very big differences in the religious and spiritual landscapes between urban and rural settings.

In the rural setting, religion is still part of people’s normal everyday lives.  Whether or not they participate in organized religion, the established Christian church is there and is accepted as an integral part of the community.  It is funny how even non-church goers understand and accept the Christian church as  part of being people’s normal everyday life.  If the church were to collapse or close  in a rural community, there would be a marked void in their life because they will feel that something is missing.  I think this is due to how the church has remained somewhat integrated into the life of small communities.

In the urban setting, religion is hardly and rarely a part of people’s everyday lifestyle.  If a church is not sitting there in front of their face, it can very easily go unnoticed and be forgotten.  Furthermore, the impact of the Christian church is minimal and hardly felt in the midst of the busy and changing marketplace.  If an urban church were to suddenly disappear due to deconstruction to make room for a new condo and business developments, most people won’t even notice.  They will have forgotten that a church had even existed on intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue.

How is your local church integrated into your community (rural or urban)? Would there be an impact in your immediate community if your local congregation were to burn down or suddenly disappear?

[ next post touches on society’s approach to finding a connection with their spiritual lives. ]

The Mushy Middle series: on church life

… a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry

It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in politics that is being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in church life.  Take a look at the life of the established (or rather, de-establishing) mainline churches.  The United Church and Anglican Church have been the fastest dying churches in Canada for years. The Lutheran Church is also headed in a similar direction today.  The United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA), amongst others, are also quickly emptying out in America (see 2011 Yearbook).  Today, there is a feeling of desperation—a desperation to find a last gasp of air before easing into oblivion [maybe this is an exaggeration, but it’s only to make a point].

Soren Kierkegard, a Lutheran religious philosopher, railed on the wishy-washiness of the spiritual state of cultural Christians and state-run Lutheran church in the 18th century (Attack upon Christendom).  Today’s state of Christendom in the northern hemisphere is in a similar state—a state of death and dying.  The numbers of young people attending historic mainline, and some mainline evangelical churches, are decreasing each year (Hat Tip: Rev. Tim Keller).  The mushy middle within church life today is too comfortable.  There is no need to have a clear conviction in one’s personal religious beliefs or any need to live as devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. Many pastors are no longer preaching Law and Gospel. Their faith does not really mean very much to them, and lacks any sense of urgency or intent.  If you’ll allow me, I wonder what would happen if our churches were to burn down?  Would it upset many Christians who are in the mushy middle?  I suspect that it might not affect many in “Christendom”  This explains today’s closures of our mainline congregations.

As a result, generations of children of unchurched families rarely ever darken church doors (except for the occasional wedding, funeral, confirmation, and infant baptism).  Spirituality in their eyes is privatized and is not lived out in fellowship/communion with other Christian believers.  Today, as a result of generations living the mushy middle life of “church-ianity”, people have either become atheists/agnostic, or living like as if they were one.  This is why there is an increasing number of people who are declaring themselves as ‘non-religious’, ‘agnostic’, or ‘atheist’.  The alternative, which is increasingly more popular today, is that they are rejecting the wishy-washy ways of their parent’s past life, and are seeking to live a more devoted Christian life, and are attending church more often and regularly. This explains the growth of evangelical churches.

Here’s my point.  The mushy middle in church life seems to be in the process of being weeded out.  People who do want a new way of living in spiritual/faith community will find it.  They want to be a part of a spiritual Christian community in which they are challenged to live as devoted disciples, othewise, they may choose to have no part of the church at all. Wishy-washiness should no longer be tolerated.  It’s time to say bye bye to the mushy middle attitude.

The church is like Jekyll and Hyde?

Is the church holy, divine, and theological in nature?
Or is the church human, historical, and sociological in nature?

Well, when everything seems to be going wrong…when I see all the horrible things happening in the life of Christian people…when I see all the imperfections, I tend to see the church as merely a human institution.  I just absolutely dislike the church when I see it in this condition, but after all, aren’t we just humans?  So should we just accept it as a human institution?

But when I see everything in the church going right…when God’s people are fulfilling God’s mission in this world…when I see Christ-followers actually following Christ and yielding their lives to the will of the Holy Spirit, and loving others as Christ has called us to love one another, I tend to see the church as holy and divine in nature.

So what gives?  Is the church like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—a split personality with good and evil within?  How are we supposed to see the church?

The church is divine, one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  Yet, the church is also functioning in and throughout history as a human institution along with all of its sociological problems.  There seems to be a dual nature to the church, human and yet holy and divine.  The human is the old, and the spiritual is the new.  What makes this dual nature of the church possible has to be the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of sinners.

Top 50 Ecumenical Blogs and being ecumenical

I’m honored that the New Epistles blog has been put on the “Top 50 Ecumenical Blogs” at Biblical Learning Blog (http://BibleCollege.org).  I guess this means that I’m ecumenical…but what does “ecumenical” mean?  Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines “ecumenical” as:

promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation.

However, there are different levels of ecumenism.  On a basic level, ecumenism tries to overcome barriers to unify congregations through cooperative efforts to increase our understanding of one another’s religious/spiritual beliefs.  This is where I’m at. I am all for this type of ecumenism because God calls us to enter into a true spirit of Christian unity.

On a much grand scale, ecumenism tries to unify the ecclesiastical structures of denominations in order to form one official worldwide church with the ultimate goal of achieving a single “organic union”.  This type of ecumenism is not true ecumenism; rather, it is dictatorial and can even border on the tyrannical through a forced and artificial structure devoid of a true spirit of unity. My personal feelings toward this is that this oversteps the will of God (e.g., Tower of Babel in Genesis 11).

An inherent weakness or danger in this type of ecumenism is that our preferences for various and beautiful expressions of the Christian faith (e.g., biblical interpretation; worship styles; etc.) can easily be diminished, or even squashed, through a single organic union.  Personally, I would much rather prefer to see a multiplicity of theologies and worship styles.  This is natural to human nature because each person has different personalities, tastes, and ways of understanding religion and the world. Therefore, I think a multiplicity of Christian denominations, with a heart for true ecumenism, is the most desirable way for a “one holy catholic church”.

What is your view of ecumenism?

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. Has the church been taken captive?

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church
Author: Michael Horton
Publisher: Baker Books (272 pages)
ISBN-10: 0801013186
ISBN-13: 978-0801013188

I wish to thank the fine people at Baker Books for sending me this review copy.

Has mainstream evangelicalism gone Pelagian and taken captive to consumerism, pragmatism, self-sufficiency, individualism, positive thinking, personal prosperity, and nationalism?  Dr. Michael Horton thinks so.  The author of Christless Christianity is Professor Dr. Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, California.   Dr. Horton has good and accurate insights on the situation of popular mainstream evangelicalism.  I agree with much of the opinions he has expressed.  Mainstream evangelicalism is going in the wrong direction.  We need to be Christ-centered, not human-centered.  Otherwise, evangelical churches will see the same fate as most mainline churches.

I have read and reviewed another  book of Dr. Horton’s, Introducing Covenant Theology, and gave him two thumbs up for that one.  In Christless Christianity, Michael Horton takes an extremely critical approach and leads the reader through his critique of the less-than-desirable theologies in some of our mainstream evangelical Christian leaders.  This is only the second book of Dr. Horton’s that I’ve read and I hope he has taken a more positive approach in his other books.   I think the tone and the approach he takes is less-than desirable because it takes on a very condemnatory tone.   I know that Dr. Horton is concerned about the state of today’s evangelical church.  I am too.  However, after you hear a person rant on and on about the same subject, it gets tiring after a while. This is how I feel about this book.   This book is basically a rant against what’s going on in today’s misled evangelical Christianity and it feels far from being a book on theology.

I fully agree with Horton’s view of law and gospel, on the theology of the cross, and on the monogeristic position that we are helpless and cannot save ourselves.  I have absolutely no disagreement with Horton on these theologies.  However, I think he is picking on the wrong target.  I am also glad he is speaking up against the false promises in today’s feel-good therapeutic and prosperity gospel theologies.  Furthermore, I have never been a fan of Robert Schuller and prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen because I think their theology is wrong-headed.  To be fair and just, I am coming to their defense because I think Dr. Horton has gone too far and is even unfair at times in his critique of them.  He labels today’s mainstream evangelicals as “revivalists”.  This is the wrong term to use.  In chapter three’s “Smooth Talking and Christless Christianity”, the author basically spent most of the entire chapter critiquing Osteen’s teachings.   Horton feels that Osteen is really a “positive thinking” Robert Schuller-type who shameless advocates a theology of glory, and is selling a gospel that teaches people how to be a success in life.

Another beef with this book is that it misleads the reader into thinking that most of our modern-day evangelicals are spouting a message that humans are sinless and do not need Christ to save us from our sins. That is simply not true.  Many, if not most, evangelicals do preach on the seriousness of our sins, some times a little too much.  Many accurately divide law and gospel.  Moreover, other than our traditional-orthodox evangelical protestants, some of the mainstream evangelical churches are likely the last remaining bastions where law and gospel is still proclaimed and rightly taught rather than the wrong-headed antinomian approach.

Revivalist preachers like Charles Finney, whom Dr. Horton harshly criticized, was painted as a Pelagian, or at best, a semi-Pelagian who was fixated on human self-will. Horton says of Finney:

“Where American Transcendentalism and Romanticism (the nineteenth century’s equivalent of the New Age movement) attracted Boston’s intellectuals, Charles Finney and his revivalistic legacy  represents “an alternative Romanticism,” a popular version of self-reliance and inner experience, “taking up where Transcendentalism left off.”… And revivalism in its own way was popularizing this distinctly American religion on the frontier… Efficiency was the rule for success in religion as in business, and ever since evangelicals have judged new movements by whether they “work” in terms of subjective experience and moral transformation.” (p. 52).

Finney’s sermons were anointed by God’s Holy Spirit and his messages have brought a deep conviction of sin and were used by God to lead many souls to salvation or recommit their lives to Christ.  On the contrary, it was not popular but it brought a conviction to many souls, as did the sermons of John Wesley.  Finney’s and Wesley’s sermons have encouraged many to live their lives to the glory of God.  People with an Augustinian-bent can believe that the human will can play a part in the sanctification process but not in justification.  Sanctification is the only place where synergism is active in the Christian’s life.  However, what many of our pro-Augustinian Calvinists (and Lutherans included) misinterpret about “revivalist” evangelical preachers is that when they put the emphasis on how the human will plays a big part in the sanctification process of the Christian, they also assume that evangelicals are saying that it also has a part in justification.  There are many mainstream evangelicals who do not see the power of human will playing a part in one’s salvation.

At times, in one’s zeal for evangelism, a revivalist’s plea to the sinner to accept Christ comes across as decision-theology.  I have to admit that some evangelicals who are theologically untrained do give the wrong impression that it is in the power of one’s will that enables one to choose salvation.   However, we should not allow our theology to blind us to the point where we deny that the human will does exist and can have a part in the life of a Christian.

I believe that one can choose to reject God’s sanctification process due to our curved-inward nature that is hopelessly inclined toward sin, selfishness and self-idolatry.  However, our human will to say “Yes” to God’s salvation is made possible only through God’s gift.  Before I was theologically trained myself, I did not realize this important piece of theology, so, I can sympathize with some of my friends who ignorantly teach this to parishioners in evangelical churches.  Some of it may just be an issue of semantics but some of it is definitely due to a wrong understanding in theology.

The author also took the approach of trying to teach what unorthodox Christianity is like rather than what orthodox Christianity is supposed to be like.  Have you heard the analogy of how to recognize a genuine dollar bill from a counterfeit?  When one wants to teach someone how to recognize a counterfeit $100 dollar bill from a genuine one, the teacher should have the student should learn what characteristics makes a genuine $100 dollar bill, not what makes a fake one.  The student is not able to learn effectively from studying a counterfeit one. If you enjoy what seems like endless ranting about what is wrong with today’s evangelical church, you will enjoy this book; but if you want to learn about what is authentic evangelical theology, I would suggest you find another book.

Horton labels preachers like Osteen as semi-Pelagian New Age teachers.  Some of today’s teachers may be self-deceived but they are not as dark as Professor Michael Horton would seem to portray.    I wish more theologians as theologically astute as Dr. Horton could write books that help us to properly understand evangelical theology rather than continuously rant about what is not genuinely evangelical.  It would just be more edifying to the entire body of Christ.

There are very few books that I have reviewed and had to stop before reaching the end.  This is only the second one ever because I could not endure the negative tone.  It is not easy to read.  However, I did manage to review this one but not the other.  Please do not misunderstand my intentions for this review and commentary, for which I give the book a thumbs down.  Christless Christianity is available from Amazon for $13.59 in hardcover.

I have read and reviewed his book Introducing Covenant Theology and gave him two thumbs up for that one.I have read and reviewed his book Introducing Covenant Theology and gave him two thumbs up for that one.

Mel Gibson and wife Robyn to divorce

Those who hold to conservative family values still end up in the same messy situations. Rep. New Gingrich, Pastor Ted Haggard, Senator Larry Craig.  Now it’s actor Mel Gibson’s turn.  Hollywood is as mixed up as always.  Mel Gibson’s adulterous affair with actor Oksana Grigorieva has recently resulted in an out of wedlock child, Lucia, born on October 30, 2009.  Grigorieva who is 39 has another child out of wedlock whose biological father is former James Bond actor Timothy Dalton.  He probably has no intention of marrying her.

Wife Robyn Moore, his wife of 28 years, and Mel Gibson will be getting a divorce. Gibson had seven children with his wife Robyn and now that’s all coming to an end.  Sad…truly sad.  I feel for his children. I wonder how that is going to affect their children?

Gibson is a committed Roman Catholic who attended the traditional mass in Latin and even drove his children to church.   After Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ (2004), I learned more about Gibson and got to admire his piety, but recently, any respect he garnered from conservative Catholics and protestants will be lost.  But of course, we still pray for him.

Since he believes in pre-Vatican II theology, his infidelity and divorce and be the cause of his wife’s and his own adultery in the future.  When he marries again, his second marriage will be considered adulterous.  The only way for Gibson to avoid adultery would be to annul the marriage and say he made a mistake after 28 years of being married to the same woman.  He could afford it.  One billion minus $500 million leaves him with $500 million.  Yeah, I think he can afford it.  Oksana Grigorieva will still like that.



What does your pastor wear on Sundays?

What does your pastor wear on Sundays?  I envy the likes of Pastor Mark Driscoll who looks like he just slapped on a T-shirt and a pair of old ripped up jeans for Sunday morning church service (or gathering).   I wonder if he even plans out his wardrobe for Sundays?  I wish I could wear something more casual but in my Lutheran tradition, I can’t because people expect the pastor to wear something more formal.   I wear a simple clergy shirt with a tab collar (on the right).  On praise & worship service Sundays, I might just wear a clergy shirt.

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:

liturgiafron

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).