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Where do I sit?

Seat Selection for Worship
Sometimes the Spirit doesn’t give you the coveted aisle seat.
Gordon MacDonald

Monday, January 17, 2011

My wife, Gail, and I were early arrivers at church this past week, and when we entered the sanctuary, only a few seats were already occupied. That meant that we had—I’m guessing here—about 350 seats to choose from.

Would we sit near the front? Probably not. I’ve spent more than a few years in the front rows of worship sanctuaries, and a tiny rebellious spirit within me now seemed to say, “if you’re not preaching today, go for one of those sought-after back seats. Hey, why not go all the way and do the balcony?” Continue Reading »

Islam for Lent?

From getreligion.com.

I’m still here in Israel on an Act For Israel media fellowship. After many days, packed with meetings, yesterday we visited the Golan Heights. On our way from there, we stopped at Yardenit, a site on the Jordan River where, in honor of Jesus’ baptism near there, some are baptized into the Christian faith.

While there, a young woman was wearing a white robe indicating she was to be baptized. I overheard a conversation she was having with someone else. She said she was going to be baptized but “not really” as she’s not very religious and just wanted to do it for her own interest. I’m not easily offended but I was sickened and saddened by this behavior. I thought of that incident as I read this fascinating report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Episcopal cleric tries Islamic rituals for Lent”:

The Rev. Steve Lawler should have just given up chocolate or television for Lent.

Instead, Lawler, of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson, decided to adopt the rituals of Islam for 40 days to gain a deeper understanding of the faith.

On Friday, he faced being defrocked if he continued in those endeavors.

“He can’t be both a Christian and a Muslim,” said Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. “If he chooses to practice as Muslim, then he would, by default, give up his Christian identity and priesthood in the church.” Continue Reading »

What to give up for Lent?

An interesting post from getreligion.com.  There’s an old joke that Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith and Baptists don’t recognize each other at the liquor store.

I thought of that tidbit of religious humor as I read a Religion News Service feature on some United Methodists giving up alcohol for Lent.

The top of the story:

(RNS) The Rev. James Howell knew he had a problem on his hands when several teenagers arrived at a church dance drunk and had to be taken from the church by ambulance for treatment for alcohol poisoning.

Starting in 2009, he urged his flock at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., to give up drinking for Lent and donate the money they would have spent on booze to a “spirit fund.”

It’s a timely, interesting story filled with excellent history and background on Methodists and their positions and beliefs on drinking and temperance.

However, the 800-word piece falls short when it comes to explaining how other faith groups treat the alcohol issue:

From teetotaling Baptists to Episcopalians who uncork champagne in the parish hall, what to do with the bottle can be a tricky question for religious groups to answer — especially during holy periods or holidays.

Catholics are not supposed to drink on Fridays in Lent, while Muslims are called to abstain from alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. But to celebrate Purim, Jews are encouraged to actually get silly drunk, and what Christmas Eve would be complete without spiked eggnog?

Unlike prohibition-minded Mormons or Catholics who belly up to the bar at a Friday fish fry, Methodists — the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination — have a more ambiguous stance. Now, the denomination’s General Board of Church and Society is following Howell’s lead and is pushing a churchwide Alcohol Free Lent campaign.

Overgeneralizations seem to plague that section of the story.

I wish the report had included more details from named sources (actual Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, etc.) on what the various faith groups teach — and practice — concerning drinking.

I am a lifelong Church of Christ member and don’t drink. Our fellowship is pretty united on the belief that the Bible forbids drunkenness. We are less unanimous on whether social drinking that does not lead to drunkenness is a sin. In fact, in my travels to different parts of the nation, I have found myself at social gatherings with Church of Christ ministers and elders who drink wine with meals. In other cases, Church of Christ members take the Baptist approach. (See joke above.)

Given the nuances in my own faith group, I can’t help but suspect that there’s more diversity in other religious circles on this issue than the RNS story indicates.

Among my questions:

— Are most Baptists really teetotalers, or do they face the same issue as the Methodists in that the church officially frowns on drinking but many congregants do it anyway? (See joke above.)

— Unless I’m wrong (wouldn’t be the first time), aren’t Muslims called to abstain from alcohol all the time, not just during Ramadan?

— Is “silly drunk” the actual term a rabbi would use in relation to the Purim celebration? (If so, then I think that would make a terrific direct quote!)

— And why are Catholics bellying up to the bar at a Friday fish fry if they can’t drink on Fridays during Lent? (Must be a non-Lent fish fry …)

 

Another interesting post from cyberbrethren.com.  Enjoy!

Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse answers the question well:

“Why is Luther the greatest in what has been a long line of teachers in the church who have proclaimed the Word of God from generation to generation? It is because none of the others understood the Word of God so profoundly. The Word of God is greater than human words, which have limitations. The time will come when nobody remembers Homer, or Shakespeare or Goethe, but the Word of God will endure forever. Human words can certainly accomplish much – the command of a powerful ruler or of a general can decide the fate of nations, but sooner or later their power ceases to be. No mere human word is almighty. But God’s Word is always living and active because it is the Word of the eternal, almighty God, the Word through which all things were created. It is the Word of the Judge of all who live. It is the Word of forgiveness, the Word of redemption, the Word which no human word can contradict. It is the Word which, as John says, has become flesh in Jesus Christ. He is himself the eternal Word of God; ‘his name’, it is written in Revelation (19:13), ‘is called the Word of God’. To proclaim the Word of God is to proclaim Jesus Christ. ‘To him all of the prophets bear witness’, according to the apostle Peter (Acts 10:43). ‘We preach Christ crucified’ says Paul in regard to the preaching of the apostles (1 Cor 1:23). He, Jesus Christ, is the content of the church’s preaching – that he is the Redeemer and the Lord is the proclamation of the teachers of the church from its very beginning. That is the message which has been handed down from one generation to another. The proclaimers come and go, but the proclamation itself remains the same: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. That and nothing else is the content of the Christian proclamation. Luther again and again reminded the church of this – a church which had forgotten it, and indeed which had almost buried the one Word of God under so many human words of religion and philosophy.

Luther is one of the great Christologists, the great witnesses to Christ in the church. Like the great theologians of the early church – an Irenaeus or an Athanasius – he stood in reverence before the great mystery of God’s revelation: ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); ‘great is the mystery of godliness, that God was manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16). All of his life Luther stood prayerfully and reverently before the incomprehensible mystery of the person of Jesus Christ, ‘where God and man meet and all fullness appears’. What the Greek fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries acquired by deep study of Holy Scripture with reverent and prayerful meditation, what the ancient church confessed in her ecumenical councils and stated contrary to the reasoning of philosophy – that Jesus Christ is true God, God from God, Light from Light, very God of very God, of one being with the Father, and at the same time true man – Luther thought through these powerful truths and took them even further in his theology in connection with the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. However, he tried to speak of these things so clearly and simply that even the simplest Christian – yes, even a child – could grasp them. ‘He whom the world could not contain, lies on Mary’s lap. He who upholds all things becomes a little child’. That is the teaching of Nicea. Or we think of how Luther expressed the doctrine of Chalcedon, the teaching of the two natures of Christ, in his catechism – ‘I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord…’ This explanation of the second article of the creed has been called by some the most beautiful sentence in the German language – it is the most beautiful sentence in the German language, but not only because of its structure, which reveals a master of language, but also because of its content. Here we find the eternal Word of God, the eternal Gospel: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.

From a sermon given on Reformation Day 1943 in Erlangen, Germany.

 

If only possible!

Bad Vestments?

If your pastor comes out of the sacristy wearing this – run, or laugh!

Review of Lutheranism 101

by Garry Heintz

When Lutheranism 101 first came out, pictures floated about on Facebook of people “caught” with their nose in the book. LCMS President Matt Harrison; a pastor eating sushi; a bust of Luther; an Octoberfest band; people’s pets and children. Even a few Canadians were found reading it! So who should read this book?

Although the title implies it is an introduction for those with little exposure to the Christian faith, Lutheranism 101 is a great resource to help any Christian understand why historic, reformation Christianity believes, teaches, and practices the faith as it does.

The editors and authors (including LCC’s Rev. Michael Keith) have ensured that Lutheranism 101 is an easy read for anyone. There are margin notes with quotes from Luther, explanations of Biblical words, Bible verses, and insights into the practice of the faith. The book opens with a quick-start guide and throughout provides resources like “How Should We Pray,” “Christian Denominations,” and “Bible Study Tools.”

Getting into the text, Lutheranism 101 goes through the main teachings of Christianity, but it is not a Mere Christianity-type book. It doesn’t only deal with articles of the faith on which most Christians agree: Who is God?  What is sin?  Who is Jesus? What has He done for us? The authors deal with all these basics of the Christian faith with the Lutheran emphasis on the Gospel.

And like the Lutheran Church, Lutheranism 101 strives to keep Jesus at the centre of its teaching. For example, while many churches make prophecy a confusing maze to navigate, this book simply explains the return of Christ as a joyful hope of the resurrection.

While much of Christianity is trying to look indistinguishable from the world, this book isn’t afraid to say, “Here is what Lutheranism is.”  For example, the church isn’t just a group of like-minded individuals, but it is every redeemed sinner. God then gathers His Church to hear His Word and receive His gifts from men set apart for that task.

Lutheranism 101 is not designed to be a new edition of the Catechism

Lutheranism 101 offers no apologies when it presents the Word of God as the source for all Christian teaching, understood through the lens of Law and Gospel. The Word of God is applied to sinners, calling them to repentance and to the places where Jesus works through His Word to give forgiveness in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

So how did the Lutherans start teaching these things? A look at Luther’s life and times presents Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel and how the Church has continued in that message. Christ’s saving work prompts Christians to gather for the Divine Service, the weekly gathering of believers, to receive God’s gifts. Having received God’s gifts, Christians live out the life of faith to the glory of God.  Jesus’ saving work moves Christians to sacrifice for the sake of others and for the further proclamation of Jesus, visible for the entire world to see. That’s what you get in Lutheranism 101.

Some may criticize the book as being too traditional, spending too much time on things like history and worship. However, tradition is simply that which is handed on. The purpose of this book is to pass on that which is at the heart of the Christian faith. Likewise, some may gripe that this book doesn’t delve deeply enough into the core Christian teachings: it doesn’t look at each of the commandments; it doesn’t spend enough time focusing on prayer. But Lutheranism 101 is not designed to be a new edition of the Catechism.

However, in one of the appendices Lutheranism 101 points readers to other books which make up a Christian library.  Other valuable resources in the appendices include timelines for Biblical and Christian history, overviews of major events and people who have gone before us in the faith, and a glossary of important words.

Perhaps the best comparison for Lutheranism 101 is a retract-a-bit screwdriver. It isn’t a specialized tool. It doesn’t fit every situation, but it sure is handy to have.

Pick up a copy. Use it to help your children with their confirmation homework.  Use it for Bible study or adult instruction. Use it to remind yourself of the great good news of Jesus at work in your life.  And get “caught” reading Lutheranism 101, so you can pass it on to a friend, a family member, or a co-worker who would also benefit from a better understanding of God’s gifts for them!

Rev. Garry Heintz is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kakabeka Falls, Ontario.