Sunday, October 23, 2016

Vote Lizard, 2016 or...May You Live In Interesting Times

This AP photo comes from Politico.
I read a fortune cookie once which related what is said to be, depending on who is quoting it, either an ancient Chinese curse, or an ancient Chinese blessing: May you live in interesting times. Well, blessing or curse, we certainly have the distinction, dubious or otherwise, of living in interesting times. Just look at the American presidential election.

If someone would’ve predicted, even just a decade ago, that we would be in our current political situation, no one would’ve believed it. The Republican Party has been called in the past a big tent. Under the canopy of this big political tent were united such groups as social conservatives, evangelicals, fiscally conservative social liberals, small-government advocates, anti-abortion advocates, gun rights advocates, and those who advocate for strong national defense, among many, many others holding what has come to be called “conservative” views. This Grand Old Party, however, has nominated a reality television star. This man, who calls himself the “king of debt[1],” supports and has used imminent domain to deprive fellow private citizens of their property[2]. He has stated multiple times that (though he claims to be a Christian) he has never once felt the need to repent for his sins[3]. He has embodied in his media career the opposite of anything resembling “traditional family values” (a term I do not care for, but one which has taken up a big section of the GOP’s tent canvas for a long time). He has advocated for unconstitutional gun control policies[4] and, for most of his life, was a registered Democrat who even donated large sums of money to his current opponent and said that she would be a good president[5].

On the Democrat side: Let’s forget for a moment her role in the scandals of her husband such as Whitewater, Troopergate, Travelgate, et. al.[6], and focus just on her own, more recent political career. We are presented with a person who, through her managing of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, has set the world on fire. She has worked to topple foreign governments throughout the Middle East, even after decrying the Bush administration for the same type of nation building. She encouraged the so-called Arab Spring which resulted in civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. She supported the fall of the Egyptian dictatorship and its replacement with a Muslim Brotherhood led government[7]. She supported the toppling the Libyan dictatorship, which ultimately led to the Benghazi incident, where three American soldiers and the American ambassador were killed. For weeks she lied about what caused the incident where the US facility was breeched, maintaining that a spontaneous group protest incited by an anti-Islamic YouTube movie got out of hand[8]; the maker of the video in question was subsequently jailed[9]. In reality, it was a coordinated attack by terrorists on the US facility. She led efforts to arm Syrian “rebels” who turned out to be anti-American terrorists with connections to Al-Qaeda and ISIS[10]. Because of her handling of diplomatic relations and her desire to remake the map of the Middle East, we stand at the brink of war with Russia in Syria. She used her private email server for official communications, rather than official State Department email accounts maintained on federal servers. Those official communications included thousands of classified State Department e-mails. The FBI director admitted that what she did regarding the handling of classified material was illegal, but that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case[11].” She is an economic socialist who wants the rich to pay their fair share to feed the ever-expanding welfare state. She supports “common sense” gun laws like the ones in Australia (gun bans, registrations, and confiscation)[12]. She is a feminist who supposedly believes all victims of sexual abuse have a right to be believed[13], but who supported her philandering husband through countless “bimbo eruptions” and sex scandals of his own, even going so far as to work against the women accusing her husband[14]. She believed that marriage was a sacred bond between a man and a woman until it was politically advantageous for her to believe otherwise[15]. It is more accurate to say that she celebrates and promotes abortion, rather than that she “supports” it, right up to the time of the baby’s birth[16]. She is completely disingenuous and morally bankrupt, saying what she needs to say to whomever she needs to say it, to advance herself, and granting access to the power she has amassed to those willing to pay[17].

Now, so close to the November election, I sit back and watch as the same Democrats who defended President Clinton’s sexcapades with Monica Lewinski attack the lewd and deplorable Donald Trump for the same type of lewdness as they defended Secretary Clinton’s husband against.

Remember in the 1990's when President Clinton "…did not have sexual relations with that woman…" and lied about it to a grand jury? Remember all the sex scandals and the parade of women accusing President Clinton of what amounted to rape? Remember how the Democrats circled the wagons and said that President Clinton's private life didn't matter regarding how he did his job as president? Remember when the Republican Party, lead by conservative talk radio and the Moral Majority, said that character matters and someone who was a letch and a liar was unfit to be president? Today all that has been turned on its head.

Today we have Democrats wringing their hands lamenting the character of Donald Trump because he is a vulgar misogynist who would be a terrible role model for America's children. Republicans and evangelicals, meanwhile, dismiss the terrible things Donald Trump has said and claimed to have done because Hillary Clinton is worse than him. The two parties have completely switched places regarding the importance of morality. What this says about the two parties is that contrary to what you may hear from their spin-masters, apparatchiks, and talking heads, the leadership and membership does not believe the things they said they believed. They simply seek to win elections by any means necessary. I know this isn't a huge revelation about politics and political types. It is, however, quite revealing of American Christianity and its leaders.

Fundagelical hatred of Hillary Clinton apparently trumps their professed moral values. Character, evidently, does not count in 2016 as much as it did in the 1990’s.

Fundagelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, and Dr. James Dobson are defending Donald Trump, mostly on the grounds of “…but Hillary is worse!” I agree that Hillary Clinton is worse than Donald Trump. That does not mean, however, that we should abandon our moral principles and support him. To be clear, these American Christian leaders should have been nowhere within 10 miles of the Trump Train from the beginning. With the most recent revelations, one would have expected all Christian leaders to denounce his sins, call him to repentance, and pull their support until he did so. Instead, the opposite happened. Falwell and Dobson, while calling Trump’s statements and behavior toward women in the past deplorable, doubled down in their support, citing that Hillary is worse! Falwell said:

“The comments Mr. Trump made 11 years ago were deplorable and I condemn them entirely…I also find Hillary Clinton’s support of partial birth abortion criminal and her opinion of evangelicals to be bigoted. There really is only one difference between the two. Mr. Trump promises to support religious liberty and the dignity of the unborn. Mrs. Clinton promises she will not. It [the video] was completely out of order, it’s not something I’m going to defend…it was reprehensible. We’re all sinners, every one of us. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t…It was just a horrible thing. He apologized. He was contrite about it” (Bailey 2016).

Dobson defended Trump along the same lines as Falwell, and he even compared him to President Clinton, though Dobson maintains his condemnation of President Clinton for his misdeeds is comparing apples to oranges:

“First, I do not condone nor defend Donald Trump's terrible comments made 11 years ago. They are indefensible and awful. I'm sure there are other misdeeds in his past, although as Jesus said, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.' I am, however, more concerned about America's future than Donald Trump's past…To my knowledge, Donald Trump has never abused women physically or had oral sex in the Oval Office with a vulnerable intern. Nor has he committed perjury by lying to Congress for many hours…Clinton, on the other hand, lost his license to practice law for that criminal act” (Malado 2016).

I can’t agree more with most of what Falwell says. The things Donald Trump said were indefensible and reprehensible. We certainly are all sinners and I, for one, regret many things I have said and done in the past. I certainly would be embarrassed and ruined in the eyes of many who count me as friends if video footage of my “mistakes” was broadcast all over the world. The difference is that the church is to call Christians to repentance for their sins. Donald Trump has made no bones about telling us all just what he thinks of the state of his nature, and what he thinks his standing is before God. 

“I try not [sic] make mistakes where I have to ask for forgiveness…Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honorable person” (Nothstine 2015).

The answer to Donald Trump’s question is simple: Law. You are making mistakes. Except, they’re not called mistakes, they’re called sins. You are sinning every day. In fact, you were conceived and born in sin, and you are, by your very nature, sinful and unclean. You have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what you do, and by what you fail to do. You have not loved God with your whole heart, and you have not loved your neighbor as yourself. You deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment for your sin.

And, when/if he acknowledges his sin and repents, Donald Trump could hear the Gospel and learn about God’s grace; he could hear that, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus, God will be merciful to him and forgive him all his sins.

That, however, isn’t being done. Fundagelical leaders (I refrain from calling them pastors) should be calling Donald Trump to repentance, but they can’t, and I think it is because of how American Fundagelicalism looks at sin, human nature, and worship.

In much of American Fundagelicalism sins are viewed as “mistakes” or “bad breaks.” Human nature is sick, but not dead, and therefore able to cooperate with or respond to God. Worship is not where God’s people gather around Word and Sacrament to receive the gifts God would give us through Christ. It is a place where Christians come to serve God, to learn what they need to do to please him (and the five keys to a more fulfilling sex life with your spouse), and evangelize “seekers” who may have unsuspectingly wandered in off the street for a cup of coffee, thinking the strange modern-looking building was some kind of new Starbucks. To the average American Fundagelical, I suspect it is perfectly reasonable, even expected, that their leaders should tell them which political candidate to vote for, just as they tell them which store to boycott, and how much money to give. Pastors, however, are to stand in the stead of Christ, handing out his gifts as they have been called to do. Pastors preach Law and Gospel, calling people to repentance and forgiving sins. Pastors wear vestments which hide the man and serve to focus attention, not on the man underneath them, but on Christ. Secular politics have no place in Christian worship, and church leaders should not endorse candidates. They should make disciples, baptize and teach, and administer the sacraments.

By boarding the Trump Train, I believe Dobson, Falwell, and Graham have done severe damage to their reputation, and that of all faithful Christians, in the eyes of those young “unchurched” people they have been courting. Those outside of Christianity don’t make a distinction between American Fundagelical and Confessional Lutheran. We are all one flavor to the secular press. And, to them, we look like hypocrites because the heavy hitters of American Christianity are supporting a lewd, irreligious man, and they are justifying their support with grade school arguments.

So, what are we to do? If we don’t vote for Trump, Clinton – whom we *know* to be evil – will get in. At least Trump, the argument goes, says he’ll do some of the things we want. He says he’s pro-life new, even though I have no real evidence of his change of opinion, and he has a long pro-choice record[18]. I suppose it comes down to whether or not you take him at his word. He says that past performance is not indicative of future results, but you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe that to be the case. “But…a vote for a third-party is a wasted vote!!!” That argument reminds me of a passage from one of my favorite books of all time, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

By Douglas Adams, 1984
In book four of the five book trilogy (yes, you read that correctly), “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish,” A flying saucer lands in London, and a 100 foot tall silver robot exits and says, “I come in peace. Take me to your Lizard.” Ford Prefect explains to Arthur Dent that the robot comes from a very ancient democracy where, “On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards, and the lizards rule the people.” Arthur can’t grasp this and wonders, if it is a democracy, why the people don’t just get rid of the lizards, rather than voting for them. “Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” replies Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”

Gin would be helpful indeed.

Stop voting for lizards. Stop voting for the lesser evil. Stop voting against people. When you do those things you’re voting for lizards, and evil, and people who don’t hold your values (political or moral) and will ultimately bring us to ruin. If you have to hold your nose to vote, you’re doing it wrong. As for wasting your vote: maybe, but I remain unconvinced. I can hear my “binary choice” friends now, saying, “Sure, your Constitution Party candidate might be better on paper, but he can never win!” To that, I say that’s what the GOP establishment thought about Donald Trump during the Republican primaries. He was a joke, and he couldn’t win. Every political expert was waiting for him to fizzle out. It only took people not listening to the conventional wisdom of the talking heads to cast their votes to change that, much to the chagrin of the GOP. The voters chose to defy the Republican Establishment progressives, only they did it with Donald Trump rather than Cruz or Paul, more’s the pity.

It is my hope that all those conservative, Constitution-loving (if indeed they are) Fundagelicals will realize this, abandon the progressive Republican party, and put their considerable money and support behind a party and candidate that deserves it. If they do, Dobson and Falwell and Graham won’t have to defend the indefensible. And, neither will you.

Works Cited

Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. "We're all sinners: Jerry Falwell Jr defends Donald Trump after video of lewd remarks." The Washington Post. October 10, 2016. (accessed October 22, 2016).

Malado, Jardine. "James Dobson defends his continuing support for Trump." The Christian Times. October 14, 2016. (accessed October 22, 2016).

Nothstine, Ray. "CP Politics." Trump: 'Why Do I Have to Repent or Ask for Forgiveness If I Am Not Making Mistakes?' (Video). July 23, 2015. (accessed October 22, 2016).

Wikipedia. Gun laws in Australia. October 22, 2016. (accessed October 22, 2016).

End Notes

[1] "‘I Love Debt’: Trump Says He Is the ‘King of Debt’ | Video ..." Accessed October 22, 2016.

[2] Lott, John R., Jr. "Trump & Eminent Domain - National Review Online." February 2, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[3] Ray Nothstine. "Trump: 'Why Do I Have to Repent or Ask for Forgiveness If ..." July 23, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[4] Ward, Jon. "The Surprising Agreement between Trump and Clinton on Gun ..." September 27, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016. Donald Trump said that he agreed with Hillary Clinton when she supported infringing the Second Amendment rights of Americans who were placed on the no-fly list. This would amount to an infringement of a constitutional right protected in the bill of rights without due process of any kind.

[5] Rothfeld, Michael, and Mark Maremont. "Donald Trump Said Hillary Clinton Would ‘Make a Good ..." July 11, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016. Donald Trump is attacking Hillary Clinton these days, but eight years ago, in the midst of the 2008 Democratic primary race, he said she would “make a good president” and a lot of people thought pairing her with Barack Obama would be a “dream ticket.” 

[6] Graham, David A. "From Whitewater to Benghazi: A Primer on Bill and Hillary ..." September 23, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016. This list of Clinton "controversies" is surprisingly comprehensive and accurate in it's summary, though I do not necessarily agree with the author's assessment of the seriousness of each one.

[7] Case, Spencer. "How Obama Sided with the Muslim Brotherhood - National Review." July 3, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[8] Pavlich, Katie. "Clinton Claims She Didn't Blame Benghazi Attack on a ..." October 22, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2016. Not only did Clinton blame the attack on a video "offensive" to Islam, the Obama administration and the State Department purchased $80,000 worth of commercial airtime in Pakistan apologizing for the video.

[9] McKay, Hollie. "Blamed For Benghazi: Filmmaker Jailed After Attack Now ..." September 12, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[10] McElroy, Damien. "CIA 'running Arms Smuggling Team in Benghazi When ..." August 2, 2013. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[11] Zapotosky, Matt, and Rosalind S. Helderman. "FBI Recommends No Criminal Charges in Clinton Email Probe ..." July 5, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[12] A “mandatory buy-back program” is, in its effect, a confiscation and ban. Quite contrary to the intent of the Second Amendment, Australian-style gun control would mean implementing laws along the following lines: A person who possesses or uses a firearm must have a firearm license. License holders must be at least 18 years of age, have a "genuine reason" for holding a firearm license and must not be a "prohibited person". All firearms in Australia must be registered by serial number to the owner, who also holds a firearms license. Firearms manufactured before 1 January 1901 may not need to be registered in some states. The firearm owner must have secure storage for the firearm. Firearms dealers must be over 21 years of age and hold a dealer's license, and dealers' employees must be vetted by the police. "Prohibited persons" cannot be employed by dealers. Besides other requirements, dealers must ensure that the purchaser of a firearm holds a firearm license, must maintain a register and must notify police of each transaction (Wikipedia 2016).

[13] Wilkinson, James. "Hillary Clinton's Website Removed Promise to 'believe' All ..." August 15, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[14] Scher, Brent. "Hillary Clinton’s Long History of Targeting Women ..." March 9, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[15] Weiner, Rachel. "How Hillary Clinton Evolved on Gay Marriage - The ..." March 18, 2013. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[16] Payne, Daniel. "No Fact-Checkers Can Cover For Hillary Clinton’s Ghastly ..." October 21, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[17] "New Abedin Emails Reveal Hillary Clinton State Department ..." August 22, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016.

[18] "Donald Trump on Abortion -" September 15, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Forgive us our trespasses, but don’t trust or accept the behavior of those who trespass against us…

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared (Psalm 130:3-4)

We all, from time to time, think that because we hold a certain belief, others who belong to our social/economic/political/religious group(s), whatever that may be, think the same way we do. To some degree this is true; it's safe to assume that if you belong to a stamp collecting society, the members all, to one degree or another, have an affinity for philately. On the other hand, we as individuals often project our personal beliefs onto the group. My theory is, most people don't study these things and whatever way they "feel" about the issue in question, they associate with their group. The formula goes like this: I'm a Lutheran. I think all people are basically good (because it seems mean, negative, and unfair to believe what the Bible teaches about original sin). Therefore Lutherans believe people are basically good. This is demonstrated by the recent Lifeway survey which shows that a large percentage of American Evangelicals hold heretical beliefs[1] (Lindgren 2016).

This phenomenon can also be seen among Christians because of the unrestricted posting of internet memes. Every day I see people who are confessing Christians, who belong to and regularly attend church, posting memes that would make the toenails of orthodox theologians curl in fright and disgust. The most recent gem to convulse my brain was a meme with the following phrase superimposed over a background of floating clouds, or majestic mountains, or whatever, no doubt meant to be “inspirational” (whatever that means):

I forgive people but that doesn't mean I accept their behavior or trust them. I forgive them for me, so I can let go and move on with my life. 

While this may seem to make good common sense, and even be seen by some as inspirational at first blush, this meme’s notion of forgiveness is, in reality, anything but actual forgiveness. This meme could be summed up as "Forgive, but don't forget." This sentiment may resonate with our sinful human nature, but it bears no relation to actual forgiveness, and Christians should not apply this nugget of worldly wisdom to their lives. 

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation (Psalm 130:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20).

First, we Christians confess in the Apostles Creed that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. What does that mean? We believe that through Christ, God the Father has pardoned and forgiven sinful mankind. That's all there is to it, really. He keeps no record of our sins, as the psalmist tells us. In Christ we have been reconciled to God, and our sins are wiped off the books. With God there is no "forgiving, but not forgetting."

Scripture tells us that God hates sin and that it must be atoned for[2]. So, how can he simply declare sinners to be righteous? Well, it isn't simple. It took God the Son, second person of the Trinity, to come down to earth, take on human flesh, keep God's law perfectly, and bear our sin and it’s punishment in our place by dying on the cross to make the atonement. Jesus, the sinless one, became sin for us so that we could become righteous[3]

So, to God, all our sins have been paid for through the death of Christ. They are gone. They are forgotten. There is no record of them for God to consult and hold over our heads, as we sinful men do when we "forgive" our fellows. Moreover, having been baptized into Christ, we are joined to him in his death and in his resurrection. That means that his death is ours, and his life, the life that the Son of God won for us on the cross, is ours also[4]

How do we get this forgiveness of God? Must we complete some series of tasks? That might be logical to the human mind, and we certainly tend to operate that way with our neighbors on a daily basis. That would, however, be us working to atone for our own sins and would defeat the purpose of what Christ came into the world to do. No, God offers us his forgiveness as a gift through the Gospel. Through the means of Word and Sacrament Christ comes to us and works faith in us, according to his own timing and will. That faith, worked in us by the Holy Spirit, through his means, takes hold of the forgiveness Christ won for us. 

This teaching on forgiveness is the most important teaching of Christianity. It is what distinguishes Christianity from every other false religion. Salvation is completely the gift and work of God. It doesn't depend on me in any way, which is a relief, since there is no merit or worthiness in me. This scriptural teaching is of immense comfort to the penitent sinner, and much more satisfying than any fleeting feeling of self-righteousness we get from announcing to the world via Facebook that our philosophy is to "forgive, but not forget" the sins of our neighbor.

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:8-15).

Second, we are commanded by Christ to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." In this petition of the Lord's Prayer we are literally told to forgive others the way that God forgives us. If we do not, it is perhaps a sign that we do not really believe that God has forgiven us as he has promised. This is a thing we cannot do perfectly and, when we sin by failing at it, we should repent...and ask for forgiveness! In the Small Catechism, Luther explains the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer like this:

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us (Concordia Publishing House 1991).

Stated another way, when we forgive others, it shows that we truly believe that God forgives us.

We have briefly described how God acts toward us; let's consider how we act toward him. We sin again and again, we repent of our sins, and God forgives us for Christ's sake. There is no mention of God not trusting us, or not forgetting our sins. In fact, scripture tells us precisely the opposite. Our sins are wiped away for good. This is the standard we are to have when forgiving those who trespass against us. 

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).

How many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Not seven times, but seventy times seven. So…490 times? Jesus isn't giving his disciples a mathematical formula to figure out the exact number of times they should forgive someone before giving them the proverbial boot. He's telling them to endure repeated injury and continue to offer them forgiveness, just as God has done for them. Imagine how terrified and uncertain we would be if God adopted the philosophy of "Forgive, but don't forget" toward us sinners. When we put ourselves in that scenario, we get some idea of what actual forgiveness is, and why "forgive, but don't forget" is counterfeit wisdom. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

It is logical to the mind of man that we should love those who love us and hate those who hate us. Christians, aware of the fact that we have a corrupt and sinful nature, should be wary of those things that "just feel right," like asserting the self-righteous attitude of "forgiving, but not forgetting." Because of his great love for us, God the Father sent Christ, his Only-Begotten Son, into the world to bear our sin and be our savior. Jesus, God in human flesh, demonstrated for us the very thing he teaches by his willingness to be put to death on the cross as the propitiation for the sins of the world. You see, we did no good thing which attracted us to Jesus and compelled him to save us. He loved us, his enemies, while we were still his enemies[5]. This is the attitude we are to have when dealing with our neighbors. Because Christ has been victorious over sin, death, and the devil, and forgives us our trespasses, we can love our neighbor and forgive them that trespass against us.

 Works Cited

Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Lindgren, Caleb. "Evangelicals' Favorite Heresies Revisited by Researchers." Christianity Today. September 28, 2016. (accessed October 17, 2016).

[1] Reprising their ground-breaking study from two years ago, LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries released an update today on the state of American theology in 2016. Researchers surveyed 3,000 adults to measure their agreement with a set of 47 statements about Christian theology—everything from the divinity of Christ to the nature of salvation to the importance of regular church attendance (Lindgren 2016).

[2] Psalm 5:4; 92:15; Hebrews 9:22

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[4] Romans 6:1-11

[5] Romans 5:6-11

Friday, October 7, 2016

Death is the Sentence

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:20-23).

Death is the sentence. We know. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence…We have to have compassion for people. With homosexuals it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.

I don’t know if this imam’s speech or teachings directly lead to the shooting at the Pulse night club on Sunday, June 12, 2016 (though I have my suspicions). I certainly don’t share this man’s idea of compassion and think the idea of “getting rid” of any group of people is disgusting. He is right about one thing though: The sentence is death.

The sentence for the sin of homosexuality is death. The sentence for the sin of adultery is death. The sentence for murder is death. The sentence for lying, stealing, coveting, slander, despising parents, and despising God and his word is death. God has told us that the wages of sin is death.

Moreover, we are all owed these wages, because we are all sinners. Since the Fall we humans are conceived and born in sin. We are full of evil lusts and inclinations from the womb. We are unable, by nature, to have true fear and love of God. In a manner of speaking, we have received our wages already, as we are, prior to our conversion, because of this total corruption of our human nature which we inherited from Adam through our parents, spiritually dead. We enter this world spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Scripture says:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me…There is none righteous, no, not one (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:10).

Yes, death is the sentence. The imams, however, may keep their “compassion.” We have one who is willing to assume responsibility for our work of sin. Out of compassion, and his obedience to God the Father, Christ suffered death for us. On the cross Jesus has received the wages for our sin, paid to him in full. Through Baptism we are baptized into Christ’s death, and because we share in his death, we will also share in his resurrection. There is forgiveness in the wounds of Christ; Even though temporal and eternal death is the sentence for our sin, we have life through his word.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Does Life Really Matter?

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Everywhere you look it seems people are talking about how life matters. Black Lives Matter claims that their entire existence is dedicated to proclaiming that the lives of black people matter, and shouldn’t be devalued by society. White people counter with, “All lives matter,” and the politicians, activists and Facebook fanatics scream at each other about which statement makes you a more patriotic American, and which makes you a racist. Black, blue, white, or all…is there really any evidence that American society, as a whole, thinks that any lives matter? American secular society seems to have adopted a culture which, if it doesn’t officially worship death, certainly seems to have befriended it, and uses it to achieve its own ends. Abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, violent crime, and terrorism are just several ways in which we worship at the altar of death, all the while giving lip-service to the idea that we think anyone’s life matters.

In 2012 the Centers for Disease Control records that there were 699,202 legal induced abortions in the US (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016). This is a procedure, lauded by those on the secular political left as a constitutional right and ignored by the secular political right (if they could get away with it), which extinguishes a human life based on how convenient it is to those who would have to care for it. Abortion advocates say that women have the right to choose this “reproductive health option” since women have a right to do with their bodies as they please. Men tend to cop out on this issue, saying that they shouldn’t have an opinion, since women are the ones who have to carry the baby. I suspect, however, that a more accurate reason is that most men secretly support abortion on-demand as they benefit from it. With abortion on-demand sex is divorced from procreation, and men get all of the pleasure with none of the responsibility. All through the debate we know that abortion takes a human life, whether we’ll admit it or not. Do those lives matter?

Organizations such as the Hemlock society, Final Exit, Death with Dignity, and Compassion and Choices advocate the so-called “right to die.” These groups believe, in the words of the Hemlock Society of San Diego:

“…that every competent adult has the incontestable right to humankind’s ultimate civil and personal liberty – the right to die in a manner and at a time of their own choosing (Hemlock Society of San Diego n.d.).”

And, they say, since suicide is no longer a crime, it is logical that society shouldn’t punish those who assist those who wish to commit suicide. No matter what sort of gentile language they use one cannot escape the fact that they advocate murder. The grounds are simple – selfishness. I am in pain, so I should be allowed to kill myself. I want to die with dignity (whatever that means). I have a poor quality of life, so I should be able to kill myself. Those who are burdened with an elderly relative may empathize, but how long will it be before we start making these “compassionate” choices for those not-so-competent adults who just don’t have a good quality of life? 

According to Peter Singer, personhood is defined, in some capacity, by the ability to reason and self-awareness. He’s the chair bioethics at Princeton! How long before our selfish society accepts the premise, as it has with babies in the womb, that people are no longer people once they lose their mind, and can be killed for convenience? There are many in our societies who are working to see that, when people stop being convenient and productive, their lives stop mattering. But perhaps I’m trying too hard to make my case. It isn’t as though people are any different than they used to be. Ever since the Fall, mankind is completely self-centered and sinful. And, from that beginning man’s sinfulness has manifested as death. Since Cain killed Abel we have been killing each other and rationalizing it however we could. What we need to do is repent.

But, we can’t. We are, as the corporate confession says, “…by nature, sinful and unclean.” Left on our own, we fall back on that which we know and understand – killing and death. We hate God, and we who are governed by the sinful mind are enemies of God, and God cannot tolerate sin. Rather than toss humanity into the cosmic waste bin, however, God took on human flesh, and entered his creation in order to bear our sin and be our savior in the person of Jesus. So, ultimately, it’s Christ’s life that matters. He calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and sanctifies and keeps us in the faith. By Jesus’ holy, precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death on the cross he bore not only the guilt of our sin but also its punishment – separation from God the Father, and death. Through his means of word and sacrament, by the working of the Holy Spirit, He grants us faith, repentance, and life-everlasting.

Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reproductive Health. August 24, 2016. (accessed September 18, 2016).

Hemlock Society of San Diego. "Hemlock Society of San Diego." About. (accessed September 18, 2016).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fundagelical Newness of Life

When I go out of town I love to read the newspaper, particularly when I’m in a small, isolated, rural community. You get a feel for the local culture. For example, when I worked for the Desplaines Valley News in Summit, IL, it was completely natural to find novenas and other Roman Catholic prayers interspersed among the advertisements. Though it is now changing, the population of the area where the paper was widely circulated was Polish, Hispanic, and Irish…and Roman Catholic. Reading the Daily Corinthian, Corinth, Mississippi, caused some religious culture shock. The predominant religious culture in northeast Mississippi is what I call American Fundagelicalism[1]. It is as ubiquitous in that area as Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism was in the area where I grew up. Reading the paper one morning, I came across an ad for a Church of Christ which, in part, read:

Once a person has been baptized for the remission of sins, he is a “new creature.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Paul said to the saints at Rome that we have been “buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Baptism of the penitent believer who has confessed Jesus as God’s Son puts one into a new relationship with God. Old sins are washed away (Acts 22:16), and he or she is able to live a new and different life in Christ. What a great thought: to know that we can leave the burden, the baggage, and the condemnation of sin at the cross, and start over (Carothers 2016).
One of the reasons I like being Lutheran is that it is the practice of our theologians to speak where the Bible speaks, and to remain silent where the Bible is silent. This is tough to do since we human beings want to explain everything, and expect that everything can be understood and explained to our satisfaction. Since confessional Lutherans, however, have the Bible alone as our rule and norm for determining doctrine[2], we are obliged to confess what scripture says. In fact, the word confession means, “to say the same as.” This is why confessional Lutherans subscribe to the Book of Concord; it says the same thing as Scripture.

This also gets us into trouble. It frustrates people to hear, “The Bible doesn’t go any farther than that,” or “Scripture is silent, so we can’t say.” Moreover, people become indignant when we make concrete assertions. When we confess, for example, that Baptism saves us[3], we are called arrogant for daring to say that we understand what Scripture says, thus condemning the interpretation of others.

Many in American Fundagelicalism believe that they are literal interpreters of Scripture when, in fact, they are not. I know many personally who believe that God created the world in six literal 24-hour days, but do not believe it is possible for God to be present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, even when a plain reading of the text leads us to that interpretation[4].

Likewise, this sermonette is a good example of how literalistic interpreters of scripture read a text and, far from taking the plain meaning of the entire passage in context, superimpose a logical human view of how the spiritual things described in the passage should work so that they make sense to our puny human minds.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:1-14).
In Romans six Paul lays out how, through Baptism, we are made alive in Christ by being joined to his death and resurrection. Paul says, in verse four, that since we have been crucified with Christ and joined to him in this way, we are no longer alive to sin. Since we are now dead to sin and alive in Christ, we should, to quote Luther, “…by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation 1986). It is through our sorrow for our sins and our repentance that we resist and overcome evil desires. The thing is, repentance and faith are gifts given to us by Christ through the means of his word[5]. A person’s decision to accept Christ doesn’t put that person into a new relationship with God, as Rev. Carothers writes. Rather, God makes Christians when and where he wills, through the tools he has chosen – the means of Grace. Rev. Carothers treats the astounding thing that Paul tells us as a mere figure of speech – that our baptism unites us to Christ. The reason: to the human mind such a thing is inconceivable, so it can’t possibly mean what the plain reading in context says. Our connection to Christ, his death, and resurrection, isn’t simply a symbol in this passage, it is a spiritual fact accomplished by God’s work through our baptism; If it is not then “the likeness of His resurrection” to which we are also joined through Baptism must also be symbolic.

If you believe that Baptism is simply a symbolic act through which you demonstrate the sincerity of your commitment to Christ, then of course you wouldn’t think that it has the power to do anything. You would look at it as a human work which has no power to save. The real power, in that scenario, is in your decision to follow Christ (which is also a human work, though Fundagelicals can’t, for some reason, see this). My Fundagelical friends would disagree at this point and say that the power by which they are saved comes from their faith in Christ. Moreover, an infant, in comparison to an adult “penitent believer,” cannot believe because they don’t have the intellectual capacity to choose Christ, to believe with their heart and declare with their mouth[6]. They would be correct about the intellectual capacity thing, since the Bible says that men are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Christ. However, I would also point out that, without the working of the Holy Spirit, adults are just as incapable of faith as infants. Neither infant, nor adult can, by their own reason or strength, believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, or come to him. To be saved by God’s grace – his undeserved good favor – means that the decision belongs to him, not to us. Emphasizing the fact that scripture says all people are spiritually dead and inclined to turn away from God, and that we are unable, in our natural state, to understand spiritual things[7], St. Paul writes this in Ephesians:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Nowhere in Scripture is Baptism tied to a decision to believe. The disciples are not commanded to baptize penitent believers. Instead, they are commanded by Christ to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. Baptism is tied to teaching[8]; it is tied to salvation, forgiveness, and repentance; it is tied to receiving the Holy Spirit[9]. If Baptism is something man does to demonstrate his obedience to God, Baptism could claim none of this. If, however, the work of Baptism belongs to God and not to man, then what we have in Baptism is undeserved gift rather than ordinance.

Faith, St. Paul says, comes though hearing and hearing comes through the word of Christ[10]. In other words, the means through which the Holy Spirit creates faith in unregenerate people is the word[11]. The sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are ways God has given to his church to deliver that faith-creating word to people. A sacrament is nothing other than God’s word of promise connected by God to a physical element such as bread, wine, and water. An infant, for example, though considered to be innocent by the theology of much of American Fundagelicalism, is considered by God, according to Scripture, to be a lost and condemned creature that is, by nature, sinful and unclean[12]. This infant needs to receive God’s faith-creating word just as much as an unrepentant and unregenerate adult does. God has graciously given a way for that infant, who is unable to receive the preached word as an adult does, to come to faith and receive the Holy Spirit.

Those who can receive instruction are to be baptized after being instructed as the Ethiopian and the jailer were[13]. Little children, however, should be brought to baptism by those who have authority over them, just as little children under the old covenant were brought to circumcision by those who had authority over them. After all, Baptism, Paul writes, is the circumcision of Christ:

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:11-15).
But we could argue about Baptism all day and not get anywhere. The real issue lies, again, with who is doing the work. To the author of this message, the Christian life is defined by the law and a person’s keeping of it. “Jesus requires us to live differently if we are to wear his name,” Rev. Carothers writes. Indeed. To understand the “living differently,”  however, as a precondition to entering Christianity, as this message suggests, is once again to put the emphasis in the wrong place. We don’t “live differently” in order to become Christians, to be admitted to Baptism, and be justified. We are saved by God’s unmerited favor through faith in Christ, who died on the cross as the propitiation for our sin and rose again from the dead.  Baptism unites us to Christ. Because we have been united to Christ, and his death and resurrection, through Baptism, “We too can and must daily overcome and bury [sin]” (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation 1986). This daily struggle to mortify sin in our lives is the natural reaction of the regenerate man – he wants to fight and kill the Old Man. It is certainly not the first step down a road of obedience, at the end of which waits for us a crown of life…if we did all that we were supposed to do.

Works Cited

AndreƤ, Jakob, et. al. "Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration: The Comprehensive Summary, Foundation, Rule and Norm." Book of Concord. 1580. (accessed August 17, 2016).

Anonymous. "Fundagelical." Urban Dictionary. April 21, 2005. (accessed August 17, 2016).

Carothers, Rev. Tim. "Newness of Life." The Daily Corinthian, August 11, 2016.

Issues, Etc. Encore: Reaction to the Tim LaHaye Interview on the Rapture - Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. Podcast. Lutheran Public Radio. Collinsville, IL, August 10, 2016.

Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1986.

End Notes

[1] The secular world defines this contrived contraction of the words fundamentalist and evangelical as, “Someone who believes in a totalitarian world rule with an American Christo-theocratic party dictating legislation based on limited interpretation of scripture they consider applicable…James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Fred Phelps are leaders in the Fundagelical movement” (Anonymous 2005). This adversarial anti-Christian definition is not the sense in which I use this term. Rather, my definition of this term is based on the actual meanings of the terms fundamentalism (a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture) and evangelical (a member of the evangelical tradition in the Christian Church). I find this term useful for differentiating confessional Lutheranism from popular and main-line American Christianity, groups with which confessional Lutheranism could not be more at odds. The first time I heard this term was on The God Whisperers podcast; if you are offended, it’s their fault.

[2] Since for thorough, permanent unity in the Church it is, above all things, necessary that we have a comprehensive, unanimously approved summary and form wherein is brought together from God's Word the common doctrine, reduced to a brief compass, which the churches that are of the true Christian religion confess, just as the ancient Church always had for this use its fixed symbols; moreover, since this [comprehensive form of doctrine] should not be based on private writings, but on such books as have been composed, approved, and received in the name of the churches which pledge themselves to one doctrine and religion, we have declared to one another with heart and mouth that we will not make or receive a separate or new confession of our faith, but confess the public common writings which always and everywhere were held and used as such symbols or common confessions in all the churches of the Augsburg Confession before the dissensions arose among those who accept the Augsburg Confession, and as long as in all articles there was on all sides a unanimous adherence to [and maintenance and use of] the pure doctrine of the divine Word, as the sainted Dr. Luther explained it. 1. First [, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart] the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged (AndreƤ 1580).

[3] 1 Peter 3:18-22

[4] Kim Riddlebarger, one of the hosts of “The White Horse Inn” radio program, uses the term “literalistic” rather than literal to describe how Fundagelicals interpret Scripture, interpreting things such as prophecy and poetry according to a strict literal reading, and symbolizing passages where human reason says they “must” be figurative, all the while disregarding the intended meaning of such passages in proper context (Issues, Etc. 2016).

[5] 2 Timothy 2:25

[6] Romans 10:9

[7] Romans 8:7

[8] Matthew 28:18-20

[9] Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 3:21

[10] Romans 10:17

[11] 1 Corinthians 1:17-18

[12] Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3

[13] Acts 2:41; 8:26-39; 16:25-33