Saturday, October 03, 2009

Where does the Light come from?

I was just watching episode number 9 of Defying Gravity, a show that was running on ABC until a couple of weeks ago. Click here to learn more information about the show. Now, why am I interested in this show? Because there seems to be some theological questions being asked that are interesting, at least to me. Without spoiling that much of the storyline of the show, I'll tell you this; The "beta" object, as it represented on the show, is as much like God as you can get without actually calling it God. It can heal on whim, and can also cause arteries to develop plaque. It can induce visions. It can manipulate gravity, reality and DNA. And, it would seem, it can reveal itself to whomever it wants, while hiding itself from others.

Pretty amazing.

But the reason I mention this is because the last scene in Episode 9 features two of the astronauts looking at the beta object. As it turns out, all the astronauts, save one, can see it, has had visions, and can hear the music that seems to serve as it's method of communicating. The one astronaut who can't see it can only see the light that is coming from it.

This made me think. When we "see" the light, which is Christ, we also see God by eyes of faith. The unbeliever sees the light, but can't see God at all. In fact, the unbeliever wont even entertain attributing God as the source of the light, literally because they CAN'T see it. They'll find anything as an explanation of why the light is there, even suggest that the light is us. But since they can't see the object of faith, they will always attribute the light to something other than that which it comes from, thus shunning the light itself. After all, what good is light if you can't actually nail down it's source?

This should give pause to any unbeliever. The light of Christ is upon you, but because you can't see the source of the light with natural eyes, you reject the light. Those who can see the light and know it's source have had the source revealed to them by the source itself. You who cannot see the source, conversely, cannot know the source because the source has not revealed itself to you. All you can see is the light, and you attribute that light to everything but the source of the light itself.

How sad.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

When do we make an idol a "real" idol?

I was just preparing to do this blog post when I decided to find some clip art to illustrate the point that I'm going to attempt to make concerning idolatry. I did a Google search, and then clicked on "images" (how ironic), and found myself presented with a number of pictures, many of which pertain to American Idol.

Now, I find that funny, because it's my sincere doubt that anyone who follows the program actually trusts their favorite "idol" to rescue them from times of need and distress. They do, however, trust in their favorite idol to give them pleasure. And herein begins the point I want to try to make.

Anytime we trust in something other than God, we make that something into an idol. Boy, it's not like no one else on the planet or in history has ever said that, right? But the simple statement "anytime we trust in something other than God, we make that something into an idol" cannot convey the true power of the sin behind it. So we have no other choice but to either attempt to unpack the statement, or to try and restate it in a way that actually can convey the sin behind that statement.

Now I could spend some time unpacking this statement, or some time trying to restate it, but instead I think what I'll do is look at what it's not saying. I don't think it's that bad a thing that you "trust" that your car will start and be able to go in gear in the morning to get you to work. I don't think it's even about spending a Saturday afternoon cleaning said car, getting into every nook and cranny and removing every speck of dirt; shooing off the birds as they attempt to drop avian fecal matter on the fresh wax; I don't think that watching your television, or waiting in anticipation for your favorite TV show, or even setting up the DVR to record it; I don't think ANYTHING like that is a problem of idolatry.

Oh, but brother Matthew... OK, hold your horses, don't get yer undies in a bunch... These things can get in the way of your relationship with God. To which I say, sure, the world has a tendency to do that, doesn't it? It get's in the way. Just like wondering what you're going to make for dinner gets in the way, or having to sit down and pay the bills gets in the way.

No, we can drop all pretense and false dichotomies now! Here are the things we Idolize: The volunteer work we did at the local food bank. The cleanup work we did around the neighborhood. Or how we show up in Church to worship God. And how many times we pray in a day, or even an hour. Or how much we read our Bible. Or how many trips we made to the latest revivals. Or how many youth gatherings we helped to plan. Or how many years we were in the choir. Or how many praise bands we helped to form, or how many songs our bands could play. When we trust in our works before God in the grand scheme of things, we make our very works in the supreme idol that, with time, will eventually get us out of trouble. Or worse, we see our works as divine currency with which we buy or sell blessings from God in the very temple that God put forth on the Cross!

And worst of all? Some of us worship mans reason and knowledge. There in lies apostasy. Elevating such things above God will do nothing more than bring wrath and destruction on us for it is the very fallen reason of man that makes us believe such ignorance. This is why when I hear the words "we need to" feel a cringe ready to happen because I know that the next lines will be something other than "trust God who gives us all good things". (And before the word of faithers rejoice, see to it that you understand that the word "trust" and the phrase "speaking to the situation" are as diametrically opposed to each other as apple pie and arsenic.)

I was reading in Luther's Larger Catechism:

"And just because of such hardened heads who imagine because God connives and allows them to rest in security, that He either is entirely ignorant or cares nothing about such matters, He must deal a smashing blow and punish them, so that He cannot forget it unto children's children; so that every one may take note and see that this is no joke to Him. For they are those whom He means when He says: Who hate Me (Exodus 20:5), i.e., those who persist in their defiance and pride; whatever is preached or said to them, they will not listen; when they are reproved, in order that they may learn to know themselves and amend before the punishment begins, they become mad and foolish so as to fairly merit wrath, as now we see daily in bishops and princes."

Do we not see it daily now?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lazy and overwrought pastors

I was just watching a "Sermon Jam" of a sermon by Paul Washer. In this message, Pastor Washer asks the question, "How do you know that you believe"... Paul Washer is another of those preachers who are law light, but he fancies himself a Neo fire and brimstone preacher. He often admonishes his congregation to look inside themselves, examine themselves, which is good as far that will take a Christian. But he goes too far in asking the question, "How do you know that you believe?"

Now, why do I say that? Because Paul Washer hasn't thought his argument through. All of his arguments start with the idea that a sinful child of Adam can hear the law and obey it. He thinks that the law is user friendly, and mixes the Law and the Gospel in his sermons. He tells his parishoners, for instance, that they should be reading God's word and applying it to themselves while he doesn't realize that his congregation isn't really qualified to do that.

What do I mean, "the congregation isn't qualified to do that?" The Bible tells us that we are like sheep. We wander far afield. We do things that sheep do and act like sheep do. Left to our own devices we'll follow the herd to our deaths. Sheep are incapable of taking care of themselves. In fact, it would have been an insult to call someone a sheep in Jesus' day. Similarly, a congregation is just as incapable of doing for themselves. Where Sheep cannot take care of themselves physically, fallen sinners are incapable of taking care of themselves spiritually. They need a shepherd. One who will do for them what they themselves cannot do. The congregation does not have what it takes to properly apply God's Law to themselves. Left to their own devices, they will dumb down the law, especially if their example is a preacher who dumbs down the Law himself. Their fallen sinful hearts will tell them they are keeping the Law when in fact they are breaking the Law. They need a Pastor who will preach the Law of God in all it's severity and properly apply to his congregation.

But what Paul Washer and Pastors like him do is rely on their congregations to do what he should be doing for them. At Willow Creek, Bill Heibels does exactly the same thing. When a poll of his congregation told him that his people are saying they are not being fed, Bill Heibels concluded that he needed to teach them to become "self feeders". Paul Washer and pastors like him do this all the time. His commandment to his congregation is to read the word of God themselves and apply it to themselves. These types of Pastors, who think they are the new fire and brimstone preachers, have fallen for the idea that as long as the Holy Spirit is there to witness to his congregation, everything will be fine. But, everything is imperically not fine. The Law is regularly dumbed down by congregations and believers to the pointed that many of them believe they are keeping the Law.

Pastors like Paul Washer are fond of telling people they need to be careful if they say they know they are saved because they believe it in their hearts. Paul Washer is right when he points out from Jeremiah that "the heart is exceedingly wicked above all things and who can know it?" (Jer 17:9) But the heart doesn't just decieve us into false hope Paul. It also decieves us concerning the Law. When we tell people to merely open God's word and apply it to themselves, we encourage a problem called heterodoxy, which basically means to be at variance from the accepted positions of orthodoxy, namely what the Bible teaches clearly. Anytime a pastor becomes lazy and relies on his congregation to do what he should have done himself, he encourages his parishoners to come to conclusions for themselves, which leads them often times to conclusions that at variance to what is accepted orthodoxy.

A Pastor, as charged by St. Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy, Chapter 4, should "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." But Pastors like Paul Washer are anything but careful. They confuse Law and Gospel and most startlingly, the only time they will pull authority on a person is if someone disagrees with them... Like I'm doing right now. In fact, many will come at me and say, "You're not saved. You teach that all you have to do is believe. You teach false hope".

But similarly, I rarely hear from Paul Washer and his types a clear preaching of the Gospel, namely Christ and him Crucified for sinners. All I ever hear them preach is "The believer and him obeying". Do any of you think that God will put up with that in the end? Do you think that the Father is happy when we usurp the Glory of His son? We will not be saved by crying over our sins, we will not be saved by examining ourselves, we will not be saved by reading the Bible, we will not be saved by spending time in fervent prayer, for there is no other name under heaven by which we will be saved. And that name is Jesus Christ.

Our Sinful nature resonates with the law. But the Gospel is not something that we resonate with. Only after having the law rightly preached to us and properly applied to us will the Gospel make sense to us, and it is the solemn duty of a pastor to do exactly that. The answer to the problem of sinners do wrong things is not to preach a lighter for of the law for them to keep, but rather to give them the only thing that will work faith in them and therefore save them, and that it preach the Gospel. Anything else is pure laziness.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Law and Gospel: The special Brillian light

C.F.W. Walther wrote a series of Lectures on Law and Gospel, but not to be overlooked are the essays that are recorded in the CPH editions called Essays for the Church, Volume 2. On page 64 we find Theses on the Distinction of Law and Gospel, given by Franz Pieper* at the Iowa District Convention in 1880. What we find listed there is a great presentation of nine ways in which law and gospel are confused.

The first and certainly the most obvious and most flagrant way of intermingling Law and Gospel is to make Christ a new Moses or lawgiver and thus turn the Gospel into a doctrine of works, meanwhile condemning and cursing those who teach the Gospel as a message of God's free grace in Christ.

Second, God's Word is not correctly divided when one does not preach the Law in its total severity nor the Gospel in its full sweetness, but instead minges Gospel elements with the Law and Law elements with the Gospel.

Third, God's Word is not correctly divided when one preaches first the Gospel and then the Law; first sanctification and then justification; first faith and then repentance; first good works and then grace.

Fourth, God's Word is not correctly divided when, instead of directing sinners who are struck and terrified by the Law to Word and Sacrament, one tells them to work their way into the state of grace by prayer and striving--that is, to keep on praying and striving until they feel that God has pardoned them.

Fifth, God's word is not correctly divided when one preaches concerning faith either as if the mere acceptance of faith justifies before God and saves in spite of mortal sins, or as if faith justifies and saves because of the love and renewal that it works.

Sixth, God's Word is not correctly divided if one wants to comfort with the Gospel only those who through the Law have come to repentance not out of fear of God's anger and punishment, but out of love for God.

Seventh, God's Word is not correctly divided if one teaches in such a way as if repentance, besides faith, is a joint cause for the forgiveness of sins.

Eighth, God's Word is not correctly divided when one makes a false distinction between awakening and conversion, and not being able to believe is mistaken for not being permitted to believe.

Ninth, God's Word is not correctly divided when one tries to move the unregenerate by the demands or threats or promises of the Law to put away sins and do good works and thus make them pious, and tries to drive the regenerate to the good by commanding them legalistically instead of admonishing them evangelically.

Obviously in the first statement we can see strains of Rome, whose theologians have often revered to Jesus as "the most perfect lawgiver" while at the same time condemning in the council of Trent those who would preach this Gospel. And we can easily see many of today's teachers such as Joel Osteen, who commit what is recorded in the second statement. But these other theses seem to be more subtle. I'm going to make a study of the Evangelical horizon to see how the preaching and teaching stacks up. We're already planning a program on Law and Gospel in the scriptures themselves. I've been doing a study on how the New Testament writers often make Law and Gospel distinctions themselves, and it's been quite and eye opener.

*Walther had apparently given a presentation on these 13 Theses two years earlier at a Southeastern Pastor's Conference.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Show Digest, Episode 89

Hello everyone,

This afternoon episode 89 of Radical Grace Radio went out over the airwaves. First out of the gate was listener emails. We get some really good ones, and some with some good questions. One was about our Calvinism show where Pastor Gary Held used an analogy where salvation is like a valve that we turn off and God turns on... The listeners may not like the answer to that one, but we gave an honest answer.

But on the back half of the show Pastor Greg LeSieur told us about his experiences at at ELCA Seminary in Gettysburg, and this is one where everyone needs to hear what goes on in these schools.

the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
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