Theological pilgrimage

I have blogged about this matter in the past but only very briefly in passing.   After many months of self-reflection and getting resettled, I now have more time to reflect upon my journey and share with  readers here (and anyone else who may be interested).

Since November of 2011, I have made a journey that has brought my family and I to a new denomination, and to another province.  As  some of my old readers may know, I began serving as an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. My family and I decided to leave the Lutheran church for various reasons–partly for family and ecclesiological reasons.  The ELCIC denomination (Canadian equivalent to the ELCA) in which I was a part of had made big changes in the summer of 2011 in the way it treated marriage between two people of the same gender.  I believe its interpretation of Scripture had gone awry and I know that this goes against the popular beliefs in society today. The atmosphere in this denomination made it very difficult for pastors to speak their mind (despite what they may say).  After some time praying and reflecting upon this, as a family we decided that it was better just to leave rather than remain within the system.  The theological currents within the ELCIC was too powerful, especially in its leadership level, so I was under no deception about this.

Despite these huge changes, many of my former fellow colleagues in ministry chose to remain in the same denomination (since they are mostly life-long Lutherans).    I know how hard it is to leave a denomination they have known all their lives.  It takes a lot of courage, perhaps too pressure to stand alone for most.  [but to my Lutheran colleagues and brothers and sisters who choose to remain, I pray for them God’s richest blessings. ]

For me, it was a much easier decision to leave because I was already very familiar with the evangelical church.  I had grown up a classical pentecostal assembly (PAOC) in Vancouver, and was baptized by immersion in a Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) Church in Ottawa in my early 20s, and had fellowshiped in evangelical churches most of my life.  (…yes, I’ve been on a theological-ecclesiological journey.)  So to return to the evangelical fold was no problem at all.  Our family packed up our belongings and moved from the prairie towns to the Greater Toronto Area in eastern Canada.  We finally feel more settled now.  We’re recently in the middle of a transition, but overall, this move has been a spiritual pilgrimage back to our evangelical roots.  In looking back I think this pilgrimage has also stretched me in  ways to become a better pastor. I have recently served as a pastor in a Baptist Church (CBOQ).

Why learning the catechism and bible is important

These day, I don’t know if many people take the catechism very seriously.  Most Lutherans have heard of Luther’s Large and Small Catechism; some have even heard of the Book of Concord.  Reformed and Presbyterians know of the Geneva, Heidelberg, Larger, Smaller catechisms, including the Westminister Confession of Faith.  But many do not even know what is in them.  A while back, I started reading Luther’s Large Catechism and was blown away by it.  I love it and have come to really appreciate the richness of teaching in the words of Martin Luther.

The Large catechism was intentionally written for pastors and preachers, who he assumes are supposed to be hard working and studious with the scriptures. “It is highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and make it a subject of meditation and conversation,” says Luther (381).  As I started reading his large catechism, I am always taken aback by his strong language he uses to exhort others to live piously.

Then there are also laypeople who think they can do without pastors. Concerning these people, he lays it on them heavy:

“among the nobility there are also some louts and skinflints (cheapskates) who declare that they can do without pastors and preachers now because we now have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves.”

So for churches that don’t think they need a pastors: “Eat these words!”

Luther likes to keep everyone on their toes, including pastors. To those who are educated beyond their own good, he pointed exclaims:

“I beg such lazy bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake to let themselves be convinced and believe that they are not really and truly such learned and exalted doctors as they think. I implore them not ever to imagine that they have learned these parts of the catechism perfectly, or that they know them sufficiently, even though they think they know them ever so well.”

So pastors, we have to keep learning the basics.

Luther takes this so seriously that he encourages us to take a hard stance on knowing the catechism. “Anyone who does not know it should not be numbered among Christians nor admitted to any sacrament” (383). This really hurts a lot of Lutherans.

And for young people, he has these tough words to say:

“Young people should be thoroughly taught the parts of the catechism (that is, instruction for children) and diligently drilled in their practice” (383)…. “The children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily, when they arise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and when they go to bed at night. Until they recite them they should be given nothing to eat or drink” (385).

According to this standard, I think more than half of our children would have to starve every night.  This is why I will not take it easy on my confirmation kids.  I am going to do my best to encourage them to learn the bible and the catechism, know it well, and not let them off the hook.

Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.

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!

The Lutheran Study Bible special pricing deadline is October 31: Get one!

I didn’t get a review copy of  The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) but I know that I will be very impressed with it when I get my own copy.  Yesterday, our bible study group put in an order for a case of these babies before the October 31 special pricing deadline.   The regular hardback is 3½ pounds and large print is a whopping 5½ pounds.  I prefer large print but am I going to lug a 5½ pound bible to bible study? No way. So I ordered the regular font sized hardback edition without the frills, just a basic hardcover that I can use for bible study on Thursday evenings.

Why would a person want to use The Lutheran Study Bible?  There are 12 reasons if you’re Lutheran.  But if you’re not Lutheran, I don’t really know why except to educate yourself in some good old Lutheran theology.  It’s good…really! In the past, I know Lutherans haven’t exactly been high profile bible publishers and translators but I think this edition will be a first for Lutherans putting out a very high quality study bible so I applaud Concordia for taking this initiative.  I was impressed with the sampler so I’m looking forward to finally getting my own copy just for its Lutheran content written by Lutheran contributors.  Note, that I’m not in it for the translation (ESV);  I’m in it for the uniquely Lutheran perspective, and its emphasis on rightly dividing law and gospel, which is lacking in much of our theologies today.

In the past, the small Lutheran voice in the culture of faith have been drowned out in the cacophony of evangelical voices in airwaves and popular Christian media.  And sadly, I think The Lutheran Study Bible will also likely be lost in the plethora of evangelical-based study bibles and translations, but that’s okay.  If you’re Lutheran, don’t let that deter you from investing in one.  I honestly believe that if  TLSB had the opportunity to really display its qualities, I’m sure it would stand out as a bright gem amongst other gems of study bibles. It easily holds its own against the ESV, NLT, and T/NIV study bibles and it might even out-do them. I still need to get a copy in my hands before saying anything more.   I admit–the reality is that if you’re not Lutheran, you probably won’t get one.

But okay, enough bragging up for the Lutheran Study Bible.  Get one for yourself, especially if you’re Lutheran.

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.

The Lutheran Study Bible to release on Reformation Day

October 31 seems too far away.  I just got the promotional kit in the mail today from Concordia Publishing House (CPH). It says that this new upcoming release of The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) in the ESV translation is to be released on Reformation Day, October 31.   I can’t wait.  This really is something I am really looking forward to as a Lutheran.

I know some of you out there are not too keen on the ESV but I still like it, despite some of the rough spots.  But the study notes in this study bible are going to be amazing. I’ve only seen a sampler and it looks very good from what I can see so far. I guess the old NIV Lutheran Self-Study Bible is on the way out.

Some of the features will include:

• 26,500-plus uniquely Lutheran study notes.
• Over 2,000 application notes and prayers for every part of the Bible.
• 80,000 center column cross-references.
• Over 900 cross-references to 120 full or half-page maps, charts, and diagrams.
• 220-plus articles and introductions to biblical books and topics.
• Insights from early church, medieval and Reformation era church fathers.
• Uses the English Standard Version translation, one of the most precise English translations available.
• Durable Smyth-sewn binding.

The promotional DVD is slick…I mean totally slick.  They have two young post-moderns in their twenties talking up the new TLSB.  This campaign is really geared for the younger generations.  Take a look at this video. I have to hand it to Concordia. They’re really doing a top-notch marketing campaign–one of the best I’ve seen, at least in the Lutheran world.

The ELCA approves ministry for pastors in same-sex relationships

The church has been broken and needs fixing.  On Friday, August 21, 2009, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have voted to approve for ministry those who are practicing homosexual pastors.  The vote passed 559-451 with 1,045 eligible voting members. It was by a margin of 108.  No longer do people with same-sex attraction (SSA) have to remain celibate.  As long as they are in an “accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationship”, the church will recognize, support and uphold them for ministry.

I think this signals the end of the church, as we know it.  Many in disagreement with this new church policy will probably see no hope of a reversal of it.  Once it is implemented, another churchwide assembly to reverse this is unlikely.  It also signals where the leadership of the church is.  I suspect that an overwhelming majority of the church leadership is on-board with this new policy.  However, if one were to take a grassroots poll, I don’t feel that the majority would approve of this.  But  this is what happens in a representative type of democracy.  The majority opinion is not heard.

Who is eligible to vote in the ELCA?  The documents of the ELCA states that each synod “shall elect one voting member … for every 5,800 baptized members in the synod” and “one voting member for every 50 congregations in the synod.”  Sixty percent of the voting members must be lay persons, 50% male, 50% female, 10% of color whose primary language is other than English.  The structure of the ELCA is like a representative democracy.  Not every pastor has a vote, nor does every member.  Is this democratic?  Not really. I feel an overwhelming majority of the grassroots membership in the church would not approve of this policy. [see some reactions and videos here. ]

This signals what has already been happening within the undercurrents in the church—a disregard for obedience to biblical teaching.  The teachings of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 1:26-27 clearly states that homosexual practice does not meet God’s approval but we have gone against God’s written word and approved this.  The teachings of the church have its source in holy scripture and when scripture is disregarded in favor of human policies, the church will ultimately move into a wrong direction.  This week’s voting results is an example of this human policy.

Gender identity and sexual orientation should be based on biological reality.  To tear this down and reconstruct this goes against reality.  I believe that all of humanity were created for heterosexuality.  If one were to honestly answer this question: “How could a man be designed for anal sex?”  It’s clear that there is no other way to answer this but to say that a man is not designed for anal sex.  If God meant for humankind to have anal sex, God might be an absurd God.

For those men and women who want to reverse their same-sex attraction (and there are many), there is no more justice for them in the ELCA.  Hope has been removed in the name of justice for those who desire to ordain ministers with same-sex attraction.

I predict that there will be a large exodus in the future of the church. Some have already left, but many more will begin to leave the ELCA, and there will be no stopping the floodgates because the gauntlet has already come down.  Well, the church is, after all, just a human institution, full of faults and errors.  But God is already fully aware of this.  A prophetic sound from outside the ELCA, through Pastor John Piper, has spoken out about our tendencies toward disobedience.  Take a look at the photo of the broken steeple at Central Lutheran that broke at 2:00PM on August 19, 2009.  The church has been broken and needs fixing.

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. (Romans 1:26-28, NRSV).

Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV by Augsburg Fortress

Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV
Publisher:
Augsburg Fortress
ISBN:  9780806680590

I wish to thank the good people at Augsburg Fortress for sending me this copy to review. 

The Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV is the first study bible published by Augsburg Fortress.  This was a fruit of the Book of Faith Initiative in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is designed to encourage members of the church to dig deeper into the bible.  Through this initiative, Augsburg Fortress has inadvertently entered the study bible market. I don’t think it was meant to compete with the upcoming Lutheran Study Bible, which is soon to be released in October by Concordia Publishing House.  These are entirely two different study bibles and are based on different translations.

The NRSV is the translation that is most widely used in the ELCA.  As a result, it was the obvious choice for the Lutheran Study Bible.  The NRSV is one of my favorite translations because it is very accurate, dependable, and uses gender inclusive language.

Upon my opening of the bible, the first thing I noticed was that the study notes were situated on the side of the page instead of the traditional place at the bottom.  I found this easy to locate the study notes because I could just look horizontally and right next to the passage is the corresponding notes.  There doesn’t seem to be an abundance of study notes but since this is Augsburg’s first study bible, it’s a good start already.  Perhaps the next edition in the future will be more notes.  It also surprised me to find that some of the articles were located in between the books of Nahum and Habakkuk. It would be so much easier to locate them if they were all placed at the beginning of the bible, including the subject guide and the bible reading plan.

Added to this critique would be my recommendation to either increase the font size of the biblical text from a 10 point font to an 11 point font, or to change the font to something easier to read, but preferably both.  Keep the study notes located on the side.  It’s a great approach to layout.  I also like the single-column layout because it is much easier to read than a two-column layout.

On a note of personal preference, I prefer something other than baby blue for the chapter headings and cover.  A darker and more visible color would be easier on the eyes.  But since this is also the theme color of the Book of Faith initiative, I guess I could go for that, but I say: “Buck the theme color and go against the grain!”  Give it a nice richer and fuller color in the future.  I’d also like to note the nice art work at the beginning of each book.  That’s a nice addition.

The forty-nine contributors of the study notes with individual book introductions are Lutheran scholars almost entirely from the ELCA. However, as a Lutheran, I’d also like to see some commentary by Martin Luther himself.  If that were to be included in the future editions, it would really make it a ‘Lutheran Study Bible.’ So add some more of Luther. 

The study notes use four icons to indicate:
• World of the Bible: people, places, events and artifacts;
• Bible Concepts: ideas and theological insights;
• Lutheran Perspectives: asks a question about a bible verse or passage from a uniquely Lutheran theological perspective;
• Faith Reflection: asks a question to cause one to think about and discuss the meaning of the text.

The other main feature of this study bible is all the articles throughout the bible.  All the contributors are ELCA scholars and pastors.  I will comment in more detail what I think about my four favourite articles below.  However, regarding the other five articles, they range from okay to good. Moreover, there is some overlap between these other articles. I appreciate their scholarly background, however, I found some of the contributors to the articles being overly-defensive about the Lutheran perspective, which need not be.

Among my top favourites are the Old and New Testament Overview and Section Introductions.  The two articles written by Walter C. Bouzard (O.T.) and Arland J. Hultgren (N.T.) provide a top-notch scholarly perspective on the Old and New Testaments. 

Bouzard provides the reader with a simple explanation of JEPD.  He also describes God’s involvement in the life of Israel as a picture, in stating: “virtually all agree that the Penteteuch is made up of multiple literary strands. Thus, the Penteteuch is like a mosaic created of many colored stones or pieces of glass.” I also like his explanation of the Penteteuch:

“Jews refer to these books as the Torah, a word that is too narrowly translated as ‘law,’ as in the ‘books of the law.’  That translation is unfortunate, because torah cannot be summed up in the single word law.  Torah also includes ideas like direction, instruction, and teaching.  Moreover, thinking of the content of the Penteteuch only as law is not helpful.  It is true that many of the chapters in these books are filled with legal material, but they include much more than that.  Between Genesis and Deuteronomy we find stories, poems, genealogies, folk tales, and other types of literature” (p. 45).

Hultgren takes a stand on the authenticity of Paul’s authorship for at least seven of the thirteen epistles that have been traditionally seen as authored by Paul. Of these are: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  I like his admittance to Paul’s use of secretaries or scribes to help write his letters.  I have always thought that this was done by Paul in writing his epistles.  Some scholars don’t admit to this.  To not consider this as a real possibility denies the circumstances of Paul’s days.  Regarding the other six epistles, Hultgren states:

“The other six letters attributed to Paul may not have been written or dictated by him in a literal sense. Many scholars believe that their authors were associates of Paul who felt authorized to speak for him and who may have continued to speak and write in his name for some years after his death.  This would explain why these six letters are so different from the other seven letters of Paul in vocabulary and style….and why some major concepts found in the seven letters certainly written by Paul are missing from these six” (p. 1850).

My third favourite article is the Introduction to the Bible, written by Hans Dahl, discusses how the bible came to be, beginning from an oral tradition and leading up to the culmination of various manuscripts over centuries, and eventually forming the canon.  I like how Dahl leaves room for the various interpretations of the inspiration of Scripture: “…the Bible does not explain how this inspiration occurred.  Some believe the Bible’s words were communicated directly by God to its authors, and the authors wrote them down as if listening to recording.  Others argue that the message of the Bible is what God inspired, but the actual words were the work of the authors.  Still others believe the authors themselves were inspired by God, but not necessarily the words” (p. 20).

This leaves room for the learner to make up their minds for themselves, which is what I like.  Dahl also mentions that Martin Luther wrestled with four books—Jude, James, Hebrews, and Revelation—which were included in the canon.  I also like his mention of Luther’s idea of a canon within a canon.

“Luther also promoted the idea that the Bible contains a “canon within a canon.”  He recognized that within the biblical canon there are books, such as the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, that hold greater authority than others because they convey more clearly who Christ is and what Christ came to do” (p. 23).

My fourth favourite article is the Small Catechism: A Simple Guide for the Book of Faith written by Timothy J. Wengert (who is also co-translator of the Book of Concord).  Wengert ably explains the doctrine of law and gospel par excellence.

“The law—in addition to providing good order in this world and its institutions and restraining evil—breaks down, strips bare, destroys, terrifies, and puts to death by unmasking our lust for control of God and salvation.  The gospel, as God’s answer to our human predicament, builds up, clothes in righteousness, creates, comforts, and brings new life by announcing God’s unconditional promise.”

Wengert explains that our human condition is not that we ought to feel guilty, but rather, we are guilty and ashamed by our sins.  Our weaknesses in our sinful condition trap us into manufacturing the proper spiritual feelings.  He states:

“The Holy Spirit (not the preacher, teacher, or reader) then takes those very truths and does what only God can do—destroys the unbelieving Old Creature and creates the New Creature of faith by revealing the truth about God: that God is gracious and merciful” (p. 1531).

When the Holy Spirit does the work, it removes any possibility of glory due to our our human efforts.  We are left without any choice but to give God all the praise and glory.

I recommend the Lutheran Study Bible for any Lutheran pastors, lay leaders, and learners who are searching the Scriptures and desire to reflect more deeply upon Lutheran perspectives as they read the Holy Scriptures. This first edition of the Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV is wonderful.  I am sure Augsburg Fortress will see that many Lutherans will also be highly appreciative of this.