Along with all the other holiday preparations we all will have to manage are the ways the church “changes things up” in December. One way our congregations prepare to receive the news of our Savior’s birth is to light the Advent wreath. There is some history of this practice that has been published that I have come across recently.
The Advent wreath was “invented” in 1839 in Hamburg, Germany, by Pastor Johann Wickern for the children at his school. As the story goes, the children were “getting on his nerves,” asking him every day for weeks “is it Christmas yet?” Looking for a way of “counting down” the days until Christmas, he took an old wooden wheel from a cart and set it up horizontally. He put candles on it everywhere he could. Originally it had 19 red candles for the weekdays and 4 white candles for the Sundays. Then he lit one each day until it was finally Christmas. This practice was adopted by German Catholics in the 1920s and spread to the United States in the 1930s.
Of course, for most of the children I know of, the main emphasis has always been Santa Claus. As Christians, we are aware of his origin in St. Nicholas, as a real person back in history. He became known as the source of mysterious gifts that kept appearing at households that needed help and money. The emphasis of his season for even non-Christians has grown out of the St. Nicholas story and the tradition that flows from his generosity of gift-giving. This is all part of the season.
In our church during Advent we read the lessons about the prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of a savior, the Messiah, who finally came in the time of Caesar Augustus, a ruler of the Roman Empire. So, Jesus was a real person in a real time and a real place. We read about His life in the New Testament. He grew up. He became the savior of the world. We tend to get sentimental about his birth in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, with wise men and shepherds all around. But the hard cold fact we don’t want to always face is that He came to die for us.
So it is time to think about how to prepare a place for Him in our life here today—our real life, in a real time and real place. He was not just a part of a whimsical story of long ago. He came, and He still comes to us each day, to bring His message of salvation.
His Word speaks to each heart. His message is just as real for you or me as it was in yesteryear. Welcome Him as He comes to you each day, with a word of comfort, peace, or concern for the way you are living—whatever you need! Read the scriptures. Come for Communion. Listen for what He has to say when you open your heart to Him. What will He say to you? That is His Season’s Greeting! That is the real “Season’s Greetings.”
May you be blessed!
The astonishing news coming out of Parkway School’s local ministers and churches is that a start-up of Released Time Bible Education is set for the beginning of the 2019 term. Released Time Bible Education (RTBE) is a program where school-aged children can attend Bible classes on school time. These classes are set up to be offered off the campus of the school building, during an elective period (such as music or art), and with the prior permission of their parents.
The churches then offer a class on the Bible. Yes, this is legal. The constitutionality has been challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court and has held—as long as parents sign permission, it is held off school property, and the child or children are there during an elective class.
The idea that has been working in Van Wert in three county schools is that the children are walked over to a building across the parking lot where the class will be held. In Rockford, this apparently may take place at New Horizons Church Christian education rooms just across from the Parkway School parking lot. There are classroom facilities there and a teacher, who will be paid will teach four classes on one day and four classes on another day of the week. One day will be 5th-8th grade classes and the other day will be 9th-12th grade classes.
The curriculum will be from Group, the publishing company that supplies our Vacation Bible School material every year. It does not mention any particular church or denomination and is fun and full of Biblical content.
A brochure presented by Kingdom Harvest Ministries of Celina says, “Good for students, good for schools, builds trust within communities.” We hope this is all true. We in our congregation will be asked to support RTBE through prayer, involvement of leadership (encouragement and getting the word out), and sponsorship (through financial help). They will need volunteers in the classroom and on the walk from school over to class and back to school again. Material will need to be bought.
This should not inconvenience parents or the school, but it is hoped to be a benefit to our children in various ways.
I have my own questions about all this and will be attending meetings to find out more. Our Church Council will also be evaluating the invitation to join in.
I am hoping to hear your thoughts on this!
REPORT ON THE 2018 NALC CONVOCATION
When we landed at the airport, they told us we were in Denver (actually Aurora, Colorado), but you would be hard pressed to prove it by me. Mostly what I saw was hotels, restaurants, office and apartment buildings. Only as I was leaving on Saturday did I see in the distance some hazy outline of mountains. The reason we couldn’t see much of the mountains, I was told, was because of the California wildfires. (By the way, NALC Disaster Response is taking donations to help victims of those fires.)
NALC convocations don’t do a whole lot of actual business. But I think the benefit to me was more in the networking that is available. You meet lots of folks from all over the U.S. and Canada. You get to speak with and ask questions one-on-one of all sorts of people—pastors and their delegates. I also saw lots of folks from previous congregations I’ve served.
This coming year will be a year of transition for the NALC. Bishop Bradosky has announced he will be retiring at the end of his term in 2019. So next year we will be electing a new bishop at our meeting in Indianapolis. It will be very important to have a full complement of both pastors and lay delegates at this assembly. In addition, Dr. Amy Schifrin has announced that she will be stepping down as president of our seminary, so that she can concentrate on teaching before her contemplated retirement in 2022 or so. Our Board of Regents will be forming a search committee to find a new president who can focus on the primary duties of that office—administration and fundraising.
Speaking of funds, I attended the continuing education theology lectures during the first 24 hours, then the convocation proper. The theme was the Holy Spirit. That was the focus of both the lectures and the speakers at the convocation. We also heard frequent references to the Spirit throughout the week. Due to some major gifts, the seminary is in fine shape right now. The NALC as a whole, not quite as much. But in the past year benevolence increased by 7.8%, our largest year to year increase ever. An increase this year of even half that much will bring our budget of $2.1 million into balance. Still, it was disappointing to learn the 27% of our churches are sending in zero benevolence, and many are far below the requested level of 5% of offerings.
Pastor Mark Chavez, the general secretary, says our ratio of seminarians to the number of congregations is better than most denominations, including the ELCA and the Missouri Synod. There were eleven ordinations in the NALC last year, pretty good for a denomination of 425 congregations.
And of course, there were lots of other reports and speakers. If you want to know something, ask me! Traveling is a pain and tiring, but all in all, I think it’s worth the trip. Of course, with 2019 in Indianapolis and 2020 in Pittsburgh, we’ll be a lot closer.
Pastor Mike Tamorria
The worshipers of our congregation may be interested in knowing that we have two women evangelists with saints’ days on the calendar this summer. (Not much is said about women in the ministry these days. Maybe we take it for granted that women are acceptable in leadership roles in the church, but they weren’t in years past.) The two women evangelists I will be talking about here help refute the idea that only men are acceptable to speak on Christianity in the Pulpit and in the public forum. And they were actually from Bible times: St. Mary Magdalene and St. Thekla.
St. Mary Magdalene’s saint’s day is July 22nd. That is a day to honor her and her work for the Gospel. Mary Magdalene was among the women who followed Jesus. It is said of her that she had, at one time, seven demons cast out of her. Legends written about her many years after hear death tried to guess what those demons were. Some of these writers of fiction say she was a prostitute, but there is no actual evidence to support that. Mary of Magdala is named in St Luke’s Gospel as being among a few women who gave help to Jesus in the form of financial support out of their own means.
Mary Magdalene is important to the Church in several ways. She was an actual witness to the crucifixion, burial , and resurrection of Jesus, all three events, having been specifically named as having stayed at the cross, followed the body to its grave, and been at the open tomb. The Gospel of Matthew says that the women watched the crucifixion from a distance and sat opposite the new tomb where Jesus was buried when the stone was rolled across it. Then on the first day of the week, when they came back to the tomb, they saw that it was open and were told by an angel to go and tell the disciples that Christ was risen. The Gospel of John says Jesus appeared and spoke to Mary Magdalene.
Later, it was important to the Church that it could insist that there were eye witnesses who saw that it was truly Jesus himself who was crucified, buried, and risen again, because there were some who were tempted to argue otherwise. So Just think–what if the women had not witnessed all this? And then what if they had not told it? They were specifically commanded to go and tell the disciples. Telling the Gospel that “Jesus has risen” is preaching. They were commissioned as the first preachers. They were sent by Christ himself to “go and tell” this. That makes them the first evangelists. How then can women be refused as preachers in the Church. As some will interpret the Bible, if Jesus himself has picked them?
Another woman of the early days of the Church who is celebrated with a saint’s day is St. Thekla (or Thecla). Her saint’s day is in September. She was a convert of St. Paul, in the city of Iconium. The book of Acts tells of Paul’s travels to Iconium. It is said Thekla heard the Gospel from Paul and decided to follow Christ in a life of evangelism and was martyred. In the Eastern Church she is called “First Evangelist,” for she reached out to the people in the nations of the East.
Normally she is not mentioned in our church services since her name is not in the Bible and thus there is no lesson on her. But she is known by her valor and strong witness, facing death many times and choosing Christ over a life of comfort that she was offered, but refused; accepting self-denial and the charge to “go and tell,” and was then persecuted for it, even by her own family.
We could talk about the other early Church proofs for the office of ministry in which women partook, but not in this newsletter. It makes a fascinating study, however. Someday we might, for even though I have not heard such a question come up here, even in our own NALC, I have heard men say, “Why do you women have to have a pulpit? Why can’t you just serve God in other ways?”
There is nothing wrong with serving as a layperson. It is an honorable calling and highly valued! But before someone says a woman can NOT be a Mary Magdalene or a Thekla, they should look at Christ’s word and look at Christ’s example.
THE GREAT GREEN SEASON
We have now entered what I like to call the Great Green Season in the Church Year. These are the seemingly endless Sundays after Pentecost, which this year run through November.
During part of the year we focus on the great events of salvation history. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation, when the eternal Son of God became the human being Jesus in His birth at Bethlehem. We hear about the Wise Men coming at Epiphany and the early days of Jesus, ministry when He first gave hints of His power and mercy. In Lent we recall Jesus’ temptations and the core teachings of our faith. During Holy Week we remember the last week of Jesus’ life, culminating in the Last Supper and His crucifixion. Then at Easter we rejoice in His resurrection and the promise of sharing in His eternal life. At Pentecost we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit and we conclude with the mystery of God Himself, the Holy Trinity.
At the end of the calendar year wee start over again in Advent, which points us to the Second Coming of Christ and the end of all things. But in between Trinity Sunday and the First Sunday of Advent comes the Great Green Season. This year we will have twenty-three weeks with the color green on the altar, broken only when we reach Reformation Sunday in October and All Saints’ Sunday and Christ the King Sunday in November. There is also the possibility of a saint’s day falling on a Sunday this year to break the monotony. Otherwise, the green “generic” Sundays seem pale in comparison to the other half of the church year.
Still, they have an important place to fill. Our Christian life is not all mountaintop experiences and memorable occasions. There are a lot of slow, apparently unexciting times. Discipleship is a matter of steady discipline, sticking with things even when life becomes boring.
The color green is not randomly chosen. It is the color of growth. Once the planting season is over the seeds in the ground grow quietly and steadily until, after many months, the harvest comes. In the same way, after we come to faith in Christ there is a long time of learning to know God’s Word and learning to walk in God’s ways. But growth is happening and the harvest will come. During this time, then, let us not grow lax about studying God’s Word and worshiping Him. God is growing His new life in us.
–Pastor Mike Tamorria
(I find this newsletter article from Kathleen Lutz, our missionary, to be very interesting. Her “Easter message” is a good one for us to hear.—Pastor Karen)
It’s a few days after Jesus’ resurrection. Beyond the initial disbelief and amazement, how it must have been to have those next days with Him. We might ask Him questions like, “Were You with God the Father when the world was being created?”
As I teach the Bible with grades 7 and 8 at our school in the Kawangware slum, this was a question of the students: “Was Jesus with God in the beginning of creation?” Together we delve into the scriptures to learn more.
On Easter morning I was with 20 children rescued off the streets of the slums last year. I helped them act out the story of Jesus’ final days and His resurrection. The rejection. These children have experienced in some way rejection. So they understood some of the rejection Jesus faced in His final hours. The resurrection. These children have experienced in some way a new life after facing hopelessness of living on the streets. We drew closer to know Jesus.
Just as those who saw Jesus after His resurrection drew close to Him, many today draw close to Him through the Word. Some for the first time! It is very exciting for me to be able to bring others closer to Jesus!
His is risen! And He continues to draw people closer.
Thank you for your support and prayers in getting the Good News out.
Easter is a time to say “Alleluia” again, but Easter is also a time to tell jokes. Jokes? Yes, jokes on the Devil! “Jokes on the Devil?” you say, shuddering. “Why would we do something like that?”
It is Easter. Good Friday has just past. Satan thought he had won when Jesus was put in the ground. Satan thought he was done with THAT troublemaker!
Satan thought he had won a great victory! He was giving himself a whole bunch of pats on the back. He was giving himself a whole bunch of glory!
He thought he didn’t have to bow to God any more. It looked like Jesus (God’s agent here on earth, who kept kicking Satan’s butt by reversing all that Satan had done to us) had failed to complete his mission, the mission the Messiah was expected to do. He was gone. Now Satan could go back to his old usual habits of making humankind miserable! Next, the whole cosmos! Next, Heaven itself!
Satan was giving himself a lot of glory. But Jesus had not failed. Jesus did accomplish the true mission. He did it by not using his power. He did it by laying down his glory. He did it by obeying God, even to death. He did it by obeying God and giving all praise and worship to God. He reversed what Adam did in the Garden.
So instead of Satan, it is God who is now going to get all the glory. We will give Him praise for freeing us from sin death, hell, and the Devil. We will thank Him, because Jesus has restored our relationship to God, and opened the way to the kingdom of heaven for all who believe! Glory to God!
Why is it important that God gets the glory? It is not that God is a glory-monger. He does not need us to give him glory. He does not need us to give him worship or praise.
We humans tend to want glory, though. Even just a little bit. But when we are giving glory to ourselves we are not giving all glory to God. We are serving ourselves. Ultimately that means we will serve Satan. If we serve Satan, that means Satan gets the glory he wants. But if Satan gets all the glory that means all the wrong things. Whoever we give glory to is who we serve. Who we serve is who we belong to or eventually belong to.
The antidote for this is to give glory to God. That will spare us of the consequences of straying in Satan’s ways. Giving ALL glory to God is the preventative of accidentally giving glory to Satan. So, it is for our good. And giving glory to God is right. It is just the right thing to do.
I am not the first person to talk about jokes on the Devil. Look it up! A day for doing this has been observed any time after an Easter Sunday for years! This year especially, when April Fools’ Day is on Easter Sunday, we ought to do it. But, you say, “Jokes on the Devil? Who would do that? Who wouldn’t be afraid of that?”
We don’t need to be afraid of Satan anymore Jesus has been given ALL power. He has Satan under his feet—according to the scriptures. WE can be relieved of our fear of him. We can even tell a joke on him—although our chief focus should be on Christ this day.
One of the jokes my friends made on the devil when I was in seminary was to call him “Grimy guy.” He thought he was going to be “his majesty!” He has found out he is not. His face has been rubbed in the soot! He does not like that! But there is nothing he can do about it! He was strutting! He was boasting! But the joke’s on him!
All glory on God now! All glory be to Jesus Christ, who has won the victory! And “Alleluia” to HIM!
The Need for Lenten Repentance
Lent is upon us and Holy Week draws near. As we look at Good Friday, what can we learn? We can learn some things about ourselves we do not want to know. As we put ourselves in the place of the people who appear in the passion story, we find in others what we ought to repent of, too.
When we look inside ourselves we find things we like to mistrust as being unreal or untrue. We find sin, but do not like to be seen as sinners. We find darkness, but do not like to be known for a darkened mind or darkened heart. Why do we fight against how the scriptures describe us and what they demand we acknowledge?
Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times. He was afraid and he was trying to save himself from capture, yet a few hours earlier he proclaimed (and really believed it) that he would die for Jesus. When Jesus accused him, he denied what was his inner self, till the truth came out.
All the other disciples fled from Jesus when He was arrested. They had been His constant companions for His three years of ministry among them, seeing every day His miracle might and close relationship to God, but they still lost faith. They failed Him but they did not see that coming. They were thinking they were headed for greatness; high ranking ambition had caught their souls.
The crowds yelled for Jesus to be crucified; that same week they had hailed Him as king and laid their very cloaks down in front of Him to ride upon coming to Jerusalem. They thought He was God’s Messiah. Then they turned on Him. They were fickle. They thought they had the right to judge.
Numerous scriptures affirm: “the human heart is devious above all else, it is perverse—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Not even we ourselves can understand our own heart. We are so self-deceived. Just when we think we stand, we fall. But we don’t like to hear this.
Why do we turn a blind eye to our own offenses, weaknesses, and carelessness? Yet we think we are well-equipped to find offenses, weakness, and carelessness in others. Why is so much good and evil in humanity? The Bible and theology give us answers to such questions but the part we like to turn away from is that given enough circumstances, we could be guilty of equally bad sins or crimes. Give certain circumstances we too could fail and fall.
Lent is a time for reflection. We reflect on scripture; we reflect on our own inner self. We find that the scripture describes us accurately. Let’s stop being self-righteous against others who fail and fall. We all have failed and fallen. Let us pray for others who have moral failures, as Jesus told us.
And let’s look for moral failures in ourselves. A “fearless moral inventory” is what it is called in A.A. Let us look deeply within for the truth about our own moral failures. We may not find all of them, to a large degree. But we will find the same kind of moral failures, to some degree. Our need for a full experience of repentance is clear. And then….
What we need after this dose of truth is the Good News of the Gospel! Jesus came to die for all us sinners! Yes even us! All those who fail and fall! That is good! We have hope, then! We have hope, not in our human goodness, but in the goodness of Jesus Christ who came to die for us sinners, to grant us grace, to put us right with God, and keep us in a right relationship with Him. There may be darkness in us; darkness of knowledge and understanding about ourselves. There is sin in us, but Jesus Christ came to overcome sin.
Trusting in Him, we have all we need to have sin overcome in us. That’s what we need. To trust not in ourselves or our own strength, but in Him.
Watching for the coming Resurrection,
Since Valentines Day is on Ash Wednesday this year I thought I’d let you know in this February edition what Martin Luther said about the heart in his seal:
“There is first to be a cross, black, and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color (red), to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saved us. For if one believes from the heart, he will be justified. [“For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.”–Romans 10:10]. Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature…that is, the cross does not kill, but keeps man alive. For the just shall live by faith, by faith in the Savior. [“This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”–Romans 1:17].
Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In a word, it places the believer into a white joyful rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy as the world gives. [“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”–John 14:27]. Therefore, the rose is to be white, not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all angels. This rose, moreover, is fixed in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy. It is already a part of faith and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest.
And around this field is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all joys and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.
May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come. Amen.”
[Luther’s works–American Edition, Vol. 49, pp. 356-59]
Hindrance or Help?
When you think about the manger where the baby Jesus was laid and the house where he was found by the wise men, you realize that physical places to dwell in are a necessary part of life even for the Son of God. But what about worship places? Do we really need physical places to worship in? In John 4:21 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “The time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” He adds that, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
This seems to imply that physical houses of worship are frowned upon by the Son of God. But is that always the case in the Bible? In Haggai 1:1-15, God is actually perturbed that the captives returning from Babylon are working on their own houses and not on the house of the Lord. The Lord’s temple lies in ruins while they are fixing up their own living places. Zechariah (1:16) echoes the idea that God wants His house rebuilt and he wants it rebuilt now. Why does God want a temple in on instance and prefers worship not tied to a building in another (as in John 4:21)?
Maybe God wants us to realize that houses to worship Him in can be a hindrance or a help. When Jesus takes a whip to the money-changers in the temple it is to honor God. It is so that worship of God can continue there. He even calls it “my Father’s House,” a term of honor for the temple (John 2:16) and also when he is found teaching at the temple as a boy (Luke 2:49).
However, in another place, when Jesus’ disciples call on Jesus to gaze up admiringly at the great temple’s walls, Jesus retorts, “Do you see all these thigs? I tell you, not one stone will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2). Jesus doesn’t seem to be of a mind to assign a lot of importance to the temple’s longevity. He doesn’t put a lot of faith in the temple.
There is the same minimizing of the physical building that was in use as a temple at that time when Jesus says, “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). His listeners thought that he was talking about the physical temple but he was telling them about the resurrection and He meant that His body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, was going to be raised again after death.
We have all been taught that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within our body, therefore we should use our body in ways to honor the Holy Spirit, and not sin.
Was Jesus saying that in the future He would replace the temple? That He was the center of worship of God now; He was the actual place where God and man met and were joined; He was the location, no longer the temple, where God was found?
If that is what He was trying to tell us, then how much ought we to downplay our own places where we worship—their importance, their necessity, their centrality for us? Maybe we put too much emphasis (time and money) on taking care of them and not enough on spiritual worship—spiritual worship that costs little in terms of money but costs a lot more time, effort, and attention.
As one Christian lecturer has said, “Going into a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage make you a car.“ Maybe we are apt to think, once we have put in an hour in the building, we have done our “all” that is necessary to worship.
God wants all our worship. He doesn’t want a building to take the place of spiritual worship, such as prayer, service toward others, sacrificial giving for other, etc. If we forget all those just because we have walked inside and sat in a beautiful building for an hour, then indeed a building has become a hindrance, not a help.
Let us take seriously the first commandment and not make a building our total attention; that is the kind of idolatry that God would be against. Instead let us make our building a help for the spiritual worship that really matters. Our forebears have given of their best gifts to make these buildings rise up strong and beautiful to the skies. Let us take note and remember what buildings are there for, really!
“Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her” [From Heaven Above to Earth I Come]
The wonder of Christmas has no comparison. Part of that wonder is found in the music. Who could not be stirred by the loudness (sometimes) and the stillness (sometimes) of every voice of every creature, lifting in adoration to the new-born king?
Instruments raised, we add the words that tell the most famous story ever, of God coming down in a little baby boy, from heaven, child of Mary, born in a manger?
We capture that story as best we can, putting into rhyme the verses from Luke, Matthew, and John. Martin Luther was one who put some of these words into music and placed the meaning of these preserved in out hymn book, in the ELW (the cranberry book) #268: “From Heaven Above to Earth I come.”
In this year of honoring Martin Luther, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we have been remembering all the work done by this father of our denomination. He brought to our attention the grace of God found in the Bible—most particularly, in the death of Jesus for our justification. But also the grace of God found in the birth of Jesus, when a sin-sick world was given a free, undeserved gift—that of God imparting himself to us, for us to see who He is and enjoy in the child-like face of a humble child, the love of heaven for us here on earth.
And what a scene to be painted, for our soul’s delight, our mind’s imagination, and our heart’s filling. As the missing verse (below) and the rest of them say and pray:
“Thus hath it pleased thee to make plain, the truth to us poor fools and vain.
That this world’s honour, wealth and might, are nought and worthless in Thy sight.
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child, make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be, a quiet chamber kept for thee.
My heart for very joy doth leap, my lips no more can silence keep;
I too must sing with joyful tongue, that sweetest ancient cradle-song:
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, who unto man His Son hath given!’
While angels sing with pious mirth, a glad New Year to all the earth.”
A Merry Christmas to all! A joy-filled, grace-filled, Season to all!
The Reformation in 2017
What does the life of an Augustinian monk in the 1500s have to do with us today? We call ourselves Lutherans, but is the Reformation still relevant? After all, there has been half a millennium, five centuries of history, since then.
In some ways, Luther’s actions are just history. The Roman Catholic Church still hands out indulgences, but doesn’t sell them. The venal corruption of the Vatican in Luther’s day was mostly cleaned up by the Council of Trent after Luther’s death. In the last few decades, Catholics have also come to accept many of the practical reforms the early Lutherans advocated, such as worship in the vernacular rather than Latin, and offering both bread and wine in communion.
Nevertheless, the Big Lutheran Idea, justification by faith, is still a message the world needs to hear. We still need to hear that it is only Jesus that saves, by grace, and not by anything we do or by anything we have earned or deserve. Non-Christian religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, emphasize what we have to do to find salvation. Many forms of Christianity and so-called Christian preachers also talk about what we have to do to earn favor with God. These might be some sort of spiritual exercises to achieve inner peace. This is often buying into some political program, whether of the right or of the left. Jesus isn’t enough; you have to also be an environmentalist, for example. As in Luther’s day, this may mean making donations to support the religious institutions. The larger your check the greater chance of salvation.
Our secular society also sends us the message that we have to justify ourselves, by our achievements in school or work or society, to be thought a worthwhile and deserving individual. It’s not enough that God created us and gave His Son to us and for us. We have to earn our right to just be alive. In Denmark and Iceland (historically Lutheran countries) they have eradicated Down Syndrome—not by curing the condition, but by aborting every fetus that shows the genetic abnormality. In our own country as well as overseas, the path to assisted suicide is open and urged upon elderly and terminally ill patients. Stop being a drain on out societal resources; we’ll help you kill your no longer worthwhile self.
Luther preached that following Christ meant suffering and service to our neighbor. TV preachers say that following Christ means wealth and prosperity and happiness (at least wealth for the preacher). It’s about using God for our own egocentric and selfish ends.
The Reformation and the Big Lutheran Idea are as necessary in 2017 as they were in 1517. Our justification for existence is nothing we have done or earned or deserved, but simply the fact that God has created us. Jesus has died for us, and the Holy Spirit has called us. It’s never Jesus AND something else. It’s simply and always Jesus only. That’s what Luther taught, and that’s what we have to stand for today as his heirs.
Pastor Michael Tamorria
The Reformation of 1517
On Saturday, October 31, 1517, as later sources tell us, a monk and college professor named Martin Luther walked up to the town bulletin board in the smallish town of Wittenberg, Germany, where he taught. This bulletin board was actually the side door of the Castle Church on the west end of the town, which was used for putting up public notices. Luther was posting an invitation to a public disputation to discuss 95 theses, or points of argument, on the subject of indulgences. This notice was written in Latin but a German translation was readily available and many copies were printed up and distributed throughout Germany. It was this event from which the Reformation is customarily dated and of which we are celebration the 500th anniversary this year.
The controversy about indulgences would prove to be just the tip of an iceberg which would turn the Roman Catholic church and the Western Christian world upside down over the next few decades. From this period most of the varieties of Protestantism we know today trace their origins. The Catholic church itself would undergo a massive cleaning up of corruption and theology.
Luther’s criticisms all trace back to the Big Lutheran Idea—justification by faith. Luther had come to this understanding four years earlier while studying the Book of Psalms and St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in preparation for his teaching. He realized that we do not earn our own salvation by anything we do, however noble and holy, but solely by trusting in what Jesus has already done for us in giving up His life on the cross. Not only can we not earn our salvation, any effort we make to do so is actually insulting to God and rooted in sinful pride.
The Catholic church Luther grew up in taught that a whole variety of good works could earn merit before God—prayer, fasting, pilgrimages, giving money to worthy causes, attending worship. The surest and safest thing was to become a monk or a priest, or, if you were female, a nun, so you could be a full time merit-earning Christian. Another shortcut was to obtain indulgences, which promised forgiveness and years off your sentence in purgatory, in return for monetary contributions. You could, the indulgence peddlers claimed, literally buy your way into heaven. (A lot of this was not official Catholic theology, but it was what was popularly believed, taught, and practiced.)
It was the peddling of indulgences in Luther’s neighborhood, supposedly to support the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that caused the academic Luther to go public with his theses. He had said many of the same things a year earlier in a sermon, but this time his objections were translated into German, printed up, and widely distributed. Luther took advantage of the new technology of his day, the printing press. Over the next 30 years he would crank out an enormous amount of writings, both scholarly and popular, which take up 106 volumes in the German edition. (Even today, only a bit more than half has been translated into English.) By the time of his death in 1546, western Christianity had been irrevocably changed.
The last we left our history of the influential life of Martin Luther [see June 2017] he was at the Diet of Worms in 1521 declaring “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me! Amen.” An imperial ban was imposed on him and his followers by Emperor Charles. His life was in danger; he could be killed if he stayed in the empire. But Prince Frederick sent soldiers to “kidnap” him and take him to Wartburg Castle for safekeeping, where he hid for almost a year.
He soon got to work on his translation of the New Testament into German, which appeared in print in September, 1522. Returning to Wittenberg in March 1522, he wrote sermons and resumed his lectures for the next 20 years.
He abandoned the Augustinian religious habit in October 1524. He married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, on June 13, 1525 and they had their first child on June 7, 1526. It was a happy marriage. They had 6 children of their own and gave a home to 11 orphans.
In March of 1529 he wrote his Small Catechism and the Large Catechism came two months later. The Diet of Augsburg occurred June 20-November 19, 1530 [see July 2017].
In 1534 he finished translating the Old Testament and published his first complete edition of the Bible in German. All in all Luther published almost 400 works during his lifetime, including Biblical commentaries and tracts. Emperor Charles was too busy fighting other enemies and Luther was able to carry on, enjoying the support of the people which was widespread in Germany.
One task he undertook involved the people in a new way. Luther desired for everybody in a congregation to be able to participate in the worship service. In 1526 he produced a liturgy the people could speak and sing during worship, called the German Mass. He wrote many hymns. He re-introduced the practice of lay persons joining the clergy in receiving the wine as well as the bread in communion.
He also taught that all Christians were priests before God. Christ is the only intermediary between people and God; through our baptism we are all members of the “priesthood of all believers.”
Luther had a great impact on Christianity and the world. That is to be celebrated as we observe the 500th year of the Reformation this fall. Luther died in 1546 at the age of 63. More important than the man himself though, is his legacy in calling people back to the word of God.
Martin Luther’s teachings, as we saw in last month’s newsletter article, got him in a lot of trouble with the Church of his day. Luther’s followers had to stand before the Diet of Augsburg and defend them. Philipp Melanchthon, a close friend of Luther’s, wrote the Augsburg Confession, which fairly summarized Luther’s teachings. Below are some of the points that were of concern as stated in the Augsburg Confession.
#15 Ecclesiastical Usages—Lutherans believed that church holidays, calendars, and festivals were useful, but observing them is not necessary for salvation. Human traditions like fasting on these days do not earn grace.
#16 Civil Affairs—Part of living in this world means Christians can serve in government and the military and engage in business. These vocations, offered to God for His use, are part of His ordering of the world and equal to the priesthood.
#18 Free Will—Lutherans believe that we have free will in our choices in every regard except we do not have free choice in the matter of salvation. God calls, gathers, and enlightens us. Creating faith is the work of God, not of humans.
#20 (and also #6) Good Works—The Lutheran theology of justification by faith does not negate the importance of good works. (We can see, though, how some opponents of Luther might have thought that he downplayed the place of good works in his enthusiasm for portraying that salvation is by faith alone, as if God is unconcerned about our doing good works.) Luther believed our good works are important to God, but they do not earn us salvation. Luther stated that the Christian does good works “because it is a pleasure to please god; the Christian serves God purely and for nothing, content that his service pleases God. On the other hand, he who is not at one with God, or who is in a state of doubts, hunts and worries in how he may do enough, and with many works, to move God.” Luther said, “”faith must be present in all works…or they are nothing at all.” Our faith is what causes us to do good works, and these good works show that our faith is alive and our salvation is already in operation.
#21 The Worship of the Saints—Saints are examples and an inspiration to us. They are not intercessors before God to whom we pray.
More on Luther’s contribution to the Church as we have it today—next time!
The events of the beginning of the Reformation are famous by now. A monk named Martin Luther posted 95 points of discussion on a document on the castle church door in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. His protests against certain practices of the Catholic Church had been brought on by the promise that forgiveness of sins and salvation could be obtained by the purchase of a paper from the pope called an indulgence. Luther was certain that forgiveness of sins could only be obtained by faith in Christ through the grace of God alone.
There was an official reaction but Luther faced these challenges that came to him by going back again and again to scripture. He defended his actions to Cardinal Cajetan at the Imperial Diet in Augsburg in 1518. As discussions broke down Luther’s friends were alarmed that some physical “accident” might happen to Luther and they bundled him away. Later Luther found out that he had left just in time.
In 1519 Luther faced a church theologian, Dr. Johann Eck, at Leipzig. There Eck got Luther to admit that he denied the divine origin of papal supremacy, the teaching that the pope could not err and was infallible. Eck then went to Rome and helped prepare the papal bull (edict) “Exsurge Domine” in 1820, giving Luther the choice to recant or be excommunicated. Luther publicly set fire to this in December of 1520. He was excommunicated in January of 1521.
In 1520 Luther had also published a document, “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.” In it he urged the “abolishing or curtailing of pilgrimages, privately endowed masses, and the veneration of the saints.” He asserted “heretics are to be refuted with arguments, not with fire.” He said “priests should marry or not as they choose.” And in another document, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” Luther rejected the sacramental system as having no basis in scripture except for baptism and the eucharist.
The enforcement on the ban on his teachings fell to secular authorities. It was decided that Luther should stand for another hearing. At the Imperial Diet in Worms before the Emperor in 1521, which lasted from January 28-May 21, Luther made his famous defense, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me! Amen.” This declaration led him to be outlawed as a heretic; he was to be arrested, there was a a penalty imposed on others for reading and publishing his writings, anyone giving him food or shelter would be a criminal, and anyone killing him would face no legal consequences.
More exciting story to come…!
As I write this article it is May 2017, 500 less four years since that. We owe quite a debt to Luther. I’ll discuss that in another newsletter!
Sincerely yours for the Gospel.
A question about the Reformation was posed to me last week by a home-bound member who has been watching TV preachers lately. She was confused because last week’s Easter Sunday message by the preacher on TV was against infant baptism. She wanted to know what our church says and if Martin Luther ever wrote against infant baptism.
Luther protested about many teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of his time, but the practice of infant baptism was not one of them. Our newsletter articles of late have already covered many of Luther’s chief teachings about salvation (rally, St. Paul’s), like faith alone, grace alone, and scripture alone, and how he stood opposed to ideas like salvation by good works and the authority of Church traditions versus the scriptures.
Luther was happy with the grace of God as he saw it present in infant baptism, noting that it was altogether proof of God’s love and full acceptance of us for Christ’s sake that God would embrace children into His kingdom, not for their sake or for anything they had done. Luther did not insist that one had to have the faith and understanding of adults to be in the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus himself said, “allow the little children to come to me, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.”
We should be joyous that God has offered a way for all persons to be part of His kingdom, not just mature-thinking adults. Otherwise, what hope would there be for others not so blessed?
Peter preached in his sermon on Pentecost that the gifts of faith and holy baptism were for all—for “you and for your children” (Acts 2:39), not doubting that baptism was effective for children for their salvation, for he wrote elsewhere, “this baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).
Our home-bound member told me more that the preacher on TV said, including that adults who had been baptized as infants had to be baptized again. But the Bible never tells anybody to be re-baptized, even though there were whole families (we’ll assume there were young ones) in the book of Acts that were baptized. Regarding the family of Cornelius (11:14), the family of Lydia (16:15), and the family of the Philippian jailor (16:31)—the whole household was baptized on the same evening that the head of their family was baptized and they were promised salvation. Nothing was ever said about them having to be baptized again at a later time.
A precedent for early child baptism is found in the Old Testament. God chose the people of Israel as his covenant people and members were initiated into that faith community by means of circumcision. This happened at the age of eight days. If God accepted people into his faith community at such a young age back then, why would God not accept a little child from a Christian family into the faith of the New Testament? After all, “this promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39).
Luther’s view was that practicing baptism in such a way had produced a full harvest of great Christians throughout the years of the Christian Church (The Large Catechism). Therefore, there is no need to practice re-baptism, especially since the Bible states there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
Practicing the faith—
What is vocation? This was the subject of our recent NALC retreat and continuing education event for pastors. What is vocation and why should it humble us as well as help us realize our value and the importance God places on our life?
In our time people refer to the work that they do for employment as their vocation. In the pre-sixteenth century, the time before Martin Luther, people speaking of someone’s vocation often meant religious orders or a calling to religious life. A calling to the priesthood, for instance, was referred to as a vocation. Luther, however, saw vocation as what everybody does for God in all areas—for family, for work, and for public life where you were involved in the church, in politics and in the community.
When Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic he could no longer be a priest. Many people, men and women, left the religious life. Luther had to think about what his calling was and what vocation really was.
Did you ever think that God called you in the same way God called me to be a pastor? Called you to be a parent? A farmer? A member of the church with gifts you could share? A tax-paying, voting citizen? A member of the community with responsibilities you were able to do? That elevates the thought that whatever we—all of us—have been given by God to do, is holy, special, and used by God for His own purposes. For instance, when the farmer brings in the harvest he is helping God answer the prayers of His people for “daily bread.”
The petition ‘Give us this day our daily bread” is answered by God by calling some people to be farmers, some people truck drivers, some people store owners, some people security guards, and some people lawyers and judges to keep the peace so that food can safely end up in the hands of hungry people who are asking for “daily bread.” Soldiers keep peace for the whole country so that commerce and trade for needed items can continue uninterrupted.
Yes, God needs some who, when the necessities of life are interfered with, will prevent this from happening and protect us from wrong-doers who would threaten us. God also calls people who govern us. That’s why we should especially pray for them. God cares about every aspect of life. He cares about our health and calls those who can help us in medical areas so that His spiritual purposes for us also may not be thwarted. In other words, God in His fatherly goodness cares about “everything that pertains to daily life,” which is what “daily bread” means, according to Luther’s Large Catechism, the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
So you have a vocation! God does not just call a few to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, though He does call some to do that. God calls YOU. In your life God is hoping to work through you as a student learning a livelihood. In your life God is hoping to work through you in your relationships, where you live, as you cook and clean and tend the home. God does not just call pastors. He calls everybody to live the Christian life in every arena they find themselves and to be willing to serve Him in every area, to call upon his great help in every trouble, and to know He will answer, and to follow Him even when fishing for just plain fish.
God enjoys being present in everything we put our hand to and will do so whenever we offer “to do what we do” for His glory. God Himself may well be enjoying playing a game with a child through you, or as Luther said, “milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid,“ answering the prayer to “give us this day our daily bread” through YOU.
With prayers for you as you pursue your vocation, especially those who graduate.
The Lutheran Reformation that is celebrated this year highlights the doctrines on which our church takes a stand. A doctrine is a major teaching that our Bible presents and Lutherans uphold the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the two natures of Christ (his humanity and divinity) and the doctrine of justification by faith. You should find that all true Christian denominations agree on the first two; not all agree that “justification by faith” deserves to be up there with the other two.
However, “justification by faith” is the idea first presented in scripture (read key passages in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians) that we are “justified,” that is “made right with God” on the basis of faith, not by our earning our “rightness with God” with things we do.
Tied in with faith is grace; we are justified with God on the basis of faith alone, by grace alone. That is, it is God’s good “gracious“ gift to us. Grace means God does this for us, for Christ’s sake, not because we have earned or deserved it.
Now we see a pattern and Lutherans are often fond of saying, “saved by faith alone, by grace alone, because of Christ alone.” And lest anyone forget the great cost He paid for this I sometimes add “by the cross alone.”
What is essential to understanding the above is the Bible; so Lutherans sometimes add “as found or presented in the scriptures alone.”
We often hear this group of “alone” assertions called the “solas,” The word “sola” means “ alone,” So “faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, scripture alone” is a good way of understanding the model the Lutheran Church holds forth.
The Reformation stood for these ideas; stood often against fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, although you can find these same teachings in many Catholic writings through the centuries by their great theologians, like Augustine. However the Catholic Church at the time of Martin Luther would not agree with Luther on these (on many other points as well) and thus there was a parting of the ways.
Recently much publicity has appeared around the idea that we Lutherans are getting together with Roman Catholics and some other denominations, saying that we now all agree about “justification by faith.” However, this pastor looks carefully at what the other churches are saying behind the scenes and is not yet ready to say that Lutherans are not still sitting center stage on the right understanding of this doctrine.
More on other issues of the Reformation to come…
Pleasantly feeling proud to be a Lutheran,
In a recent article, our NALC Bishop said:
“The nature of revelation is to expose what was hidden, to shed light on something that was concealed, to make known or provide insight. When something is revealed we see it! Jesus uses the contrast between light and darkness in a variety of ways. He is the light of the world. The Word of God in its entirety bears witness to that light. Holy Scripture exposes us to that light.
This light is critical for visionary leadership in ministry and is a light that brings true insight.
In fact I believe Jesus wants us to see or envision the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven He came to proclaim. It is not something accomplished with our physical eyes but through the ‘eyes of faith.’ “
Last month I continued his thought by showing how our physical eyes are an example of our “spiritual” eyes. The eye can have problems physically, and the spiritual eye can have similar problems. For instance, the physical eye can be nearsighted, seeing only the near things clearly, or farsighted, seeing only the far things clearly. Similarly, our spiritual eye might be nearsighted, or farsighted, seeing what is near but not far, etc.
Today’s example of eye problems is macular degeneration. With macular degeneration the eyesight is around the sides but a core in the center is missing. People cannot drive because they cannot see what is straight-on, or see faces that are straight ahead. This would be the spiritual equivalent to failing to see the central core mission that Jesus had for all churches—that they would get the Gospel out to all nations.
Now I have been considering what could be my Christmas message in this newsletter and have churned out what could be another application for macular degeneration of our spiritual eyes. And that would be to not see the central blessing of our Lord and Savior’s Gospel/good news for us. For instance, some people “see” that Christmas is for families, for fun, for shopping, for pleasure. But those are the blessings of Christmas-time that are on the outside of the central core. The central core of Christmas is a message that is proclaimed in churches, not in the outer (secular) world.
That message is that God came as a baby, as Jesus, to our world, just to show His love, chiefly through dying for us so that we can live for Him, now and eternally.
If we lose the central core vision of what the Christmas message is, and only have the outer family, fun, shopping, and pleasure part that is on the outer perimeter of what we see at Christmas-time, that would be a form of “spiritual” macular degeneration.
With such macular degeneration vision, we shall surely crash in life and we will never see correctly our own life or the people in our life.
Now is the time to let others know what is the central core of your life. It is not all about family, fun, shopping, and pleasure, for these ultimately will not last. It is a message that changes your life completely, and for the better. It is the message that God is for us and with us, so much that He came to us as a little babe in Bethlehem to reveal Himself and to save us, so that through us He could express His Gospel to the whole world.
Yes, He is with us—He is Emmanuel. God is with us, with forgiveness in His eyes, to love us, to understand our needs, to care for us, to be with us always, and to bless us eternally.
He is the center of our lives…clearly!
A recent article written by our bishop, the Rev. Dr. John Bradosky, brought up an interesting idea to me and showed me the need to understand congregational thinking and the way it varies from person to person. His article likened the way people see things physically to the way people see things spiritually.
He began his article saying that people in a congregation need to see things the same way in order to get together on the same plan. And every church needs a plan. Some people think the plan is for everything to go smoothly and for all challenges to be solved as simply and as easily as possible. Sometimes it is said—“the older I get, the more I want ‘simple’ and ‘easy.’ “ That is fine and I might agree, except not all challenges are going to go away simply and easily. To be solved well it may take an effort within ourselves to get us to address things in the best possible way…which may be a hard way.
The Bishop reminds us that if all the people in the church do not see reality in the same way they will have trouble with a plan from the start. For example, what direction should our congregation be taking in the next year…five years…twenty years? Many people feel we have a problem with not having enough young people to carry on into the next forty years. But what is our plan for that? Do nothing? That would be the simple, easy plan. But that is not the most effective plan, and therefore not the best plan.
Now take the eye for example. Some eyes are nearsighted. They can see things near but not far away. Our Bishop says, “Spiritually we become so caught up in the immediacy of the present—the things right around us—that we can’t see anything else.” The only direction we seem to have is to keep on the same course we have taken before; “maintaining” things as they have always been, because even just maintaining things is taking a lot of our time.
Some eyes are farsighted. They can see things far away but not close up. The Bishop says, “Spiritually we become so caught up in imagining the future that we fail to see the current reality” that is right in front of us. This kind of vision doesn’t provide a plan or practical step-by-step direction, as farsighted ones are dreamers but “fail to discern a strategy to get to a goal that makes sense.”
With nearsightedness, we maintain our building. And we maintain our slow and steady administration of the practical side of church existence. This is good and necessary. But no vision excites us; the future and what to do about it seems to be an empty stare into a gray fog.
With farsightedness we have enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God and the message of the Gospel but after we speak of it and hear it we go home thinking we have done everything that has to be done. Farsightedness gets us off to a good start and it makes us feel good, but it hardly accomplished much.
I know I am (spiritually speaking) a farsighted kind of person. What kind do you think you are? Do you think you are farsighted or nearsighted? What can we all do to come together as nearsighted and farsighted people? Can we start with agreeing that we need to see the same thing and be able to come up with what that is?
My hope is that the council will be working with these questions. I invite you to join in the conversation!