"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Friday, July 23, 2010

Evangelicals and Catholics Together...in Error.

I've been interested lately by the fact that many Modern Evangelicals and Catholics have a similar theology in some regards. I'm not talking about the catholic elements that all Christians share: doctrine of the Trinity, deity of Christ, etc. I have my own idea of it, but I thought I might ask here first:

What doctrine do many/most evangelicals (read: influenced by charismatics and anabaptists) and Catholics hold that Reformed/Lutherans do not hold?


What doctrine do both Evangelicals and Catholics deny that Reformed/Lutherans affirm?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Watching the Lutherans, and Violating the 10th Commandment

Something happened last week that few people in the PCA noticed (at least judging from the blogging world). Everyone, of course, noticed the passing of the Strategic Plan by a slim majority in the PCA. In doing so, it seemed to signal the slight majority looking to cultural cues and has moved away from her sister denomination the OPC, seeing her has a little too confessional and “truly reformed” but still does not embrace the mainline PCUSA. They're the evangelicals, not the liberals, not the fundamentalists (which many wrongly equate with confessionalism). In other words, the PCUSA tried to be culturally relevant and failed, but we can do it and we won't fail, because we're smarter or something.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, however, had a much different Synod. They have theirs less often (once every three years), and so their business is serious when they do. There are two groups, much like the PCA, vying for control. One is the confessionalists (to the Book of Concord) who are largely younger, and the other more relevant people (mostly older) who don't want to be like the Wisconsin Synod that seems too narrow in its confessionalism, and they think they can do the culturally relevant thing but not be like the ELCA, because they're smarter or something.

At the LCMS Synod, something interesting happened. The Confessionalists won. They elected their Synodical President Matt Harrison, they filled the mission agencies with confessionalists, all young ministers, and the party the young people found relevant was the confessionalists and not the culturally relevant guys.

It's just interesting. I hope the Strategic plan is not indicating the the “culturally relevant crowd” is winning in the PCA, but if it does, it will be interesting if a different Reformation denomination becomes more relevant to the emerging generation because they didn't try to be...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"High-Church" Preaching?

“You have a high-church approach to preaching, which is fine, but we're more used to practical preaching.

This was what I was told after outlining my plan to preach that the story of Jacob and Esau was about gracious election in Christ. In this class on preaching, I was told that contrasting the merit-based love of Isaac to the gracious love of God was not wrong, just high minded. It was fine, but depended on the forum. It was a thing of higher thinking, more complex with abstract connections.

I wondered: is that true? Is being theological or Christocentric/Christotelic (preaching with the end biblical theme of Christ) “high-church”? The person knew I was Presbyterian, and so perhaps that is where the comment came from. Most Presbyterians, however, would be quite surprised to hear they were high-church, having descended from non-conformists that thought the Anglican church was too high church. Still, Presbyterianism seems high church compared to typical non-denominational/charismatic worship.

Still, I truly wondered if it was true. Could people other than the highly educated 'get' a theological sermon? Depending on the audience, did one need to keep it simple, give some pithy imperatives and walk the congregation through some super specific hypothetical applications and wrap up with a fun story?

If this is true, Protestantism is false. Theology makes up a good portion of the Scriptures - all of it in some sense, but a good portion in a proper sense. Are Paul's letters to be neglected in preaching? Are they to be translated into fun stories? Is Hebrews a book of shadows for the typical congregant? Protestantism believes in the intelligibility/perspicuity of Scripture. If it is not, we ought to be Gnostics or Catholics, but I repeat myself.

I preached my sermon on election, without ever even saying the word (we allow God to 'choose to love' even if we don't allow him to “elect”). It wasn't the best sermon in world. It wasn't my favorite of the ones I preached. It probably wasn't even the best delivered that day of three. But I was encouraged when one person caught me afterward and asked if I have opportunities to preach somewhere.

“Occasionally,” I replied.

“You should use that one, I needed it.”

Maybe doctrine and the Gospel are practical. Even with the flaws my sermon had, I do believe God rewards preaching the word of Christ, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) If that's high church preaching, I think I'm in good company with Paul.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bruised Reed

a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
-Matthew 12:20/Isaiah 42:3

"After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks...hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising. There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who 'was bruised for us' that we may know how much we are bound unto him. Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God's ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielfing and intractable are our hearts.

-Richard Sibbs. The Bruised Reed.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Prayers for the Sick

Throughout my time as a Chaplain this summer, I have prayed, multiple times a day, with the sick. Although I do not read my prayers from a prayer book or the Bible, I also don't think my own words are so grand as not to be helped by Scripture and wise holy men's prayers. Here are a few that I read occasionally and use to form my own prayers with patients:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

-2 Corinthians 1:3-5

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in
time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and
relieve thy sick servant N. for whom our prayers are desired.
Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with
a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations
of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In
thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead
the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant
that finally he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Prayer for a sick person, Book of Common Prayer.

Strengthen your servant N., O God, to do what he has to doand bear what he has to bear; that, accepting your healing
gifts through the skill of surgeons and nurses, he may be
restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Prayer before Operation. Book of Common Prayer.

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.


Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your
servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of
your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your
own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the
glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the
mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

-A Commendation at the Time of Death. Book of Common Prayer

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
- Psalm 23

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Proverbs of Ashes

I recently re-read Richard John Neuhaus' little book "As I Lay Dying," a book written in reflection over a period of time where, struggling with cancer, Neuhaus thought he was going to die. We all think a lot about life, and the "good life." Few think, however, about death or a "good death." Such a thing seems contradictory. Death is bad. This world seems very indifferent to death:

Psalm 103:15-16 - As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Neuhaus states:

"Our little story is one of unrequited love for a world that moves on."

The Poet Stephen Crane put it so well:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."
I find a strange comfort that Scripture does not ignore these feelings. Job's horrible comforters who merely offered religious sounding cliches left him saying:

"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay." (Job 13:12)

Faith doesn't shut us up in asking why. It doesn't even shut us up from confronting God:

"Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my case to His face." (Job 13:15)

Neuhaus has made me re-explore these sentiments. I appreciate his take because he too worked as a chaplain, among those journeying through the shadow of death. Sometimes people shout, sometimes they parrot proverbs of ashes, and sometimes they hope in God, even as they argue their case to his face. I don't think it is the role of the counselor to shut the Jobs of the world up with proverbs of ashes, but to be there to listen to it. If we are, as believers, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) then our conduct should be like the great high priest, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses." (Heb 4:15) Rather, we "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep," (Rom 12:15) just as Christ wept (John 11:35). He was present and He sympathized. Our observations about the crookedness and perversity of the world are valid, they are the reason we need Someone to hope in, and sit next to, while we are slayed.