Necessity of the Church

05.20.2014 by Reed Dunn

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Is the church necessary for the Christian life?  I have met a surprising amount of people who consider themselves devout Christians and yet they do not go to church, or maybe they move from church to church so often that they effectively have no church home.  That makes me wonder if the church is a necessary institution.  As a pastor I may be biased, but the question is real – even for me.

Jesus can save anyone, even without the church.  He did that with the thief on the cross.  And yet he did envision a church that he himself would build (Mt 16:18).  To say that Jesus was not interested in the church is simply not true – he died to build a church.  Jesus considers the church to be his possession and the New Testament teaches us that the church is both his bride and his body – his physical representation on this earth.  Is the church perfect?  Absolutely not, but Jesus still uses it.  As many have said, he can make a straight line with a crooked stick.

There is a movement in our culture today to do church on our own.  Or maybe you have heard people talk about following Christ without getting into religion.  Such talk is genuine but it is a bit like my preschool-aged daughter saying she wants the benefits of being in our family but she will go about it by living under a bridge.  We often think that if we read devotional books or even the Bible we’ll be equipped for the life of faith.  I have heard the slogans: “Just me and God!” or “No creed but Christ!”  Those may be catchy, but are they right?

Again, Jesus envisioned a church.  And it was supposed to have spiritual authority, not just spiritual access.  The church, as he built it, was not just an avenue to a personal relationship with him; it was to be a body that had authority in peoples’ lives (Matt 18:17).  Paul sought a commission by the church after he was called to the ministry (Gal 2:2), as did Timothy (2Tim 1:6).  And when Paul started a church he put leaders in charge for the care of the people (Titus 1:5).  Nobody in the Bible was a solo Christian.

My hunch is that we do not like church because we are uncomfortable with two things: intimacy and authority.  A good church has both.  It is much easier to gather with our friends than a bunch of people that are weird or just plain different than us.  But the church is a whole body and not a bunch of legs.  It has to be a place where people are different from each other or it will not be a dynamic, living organism.  It is hard for me to be intimate or vulnerable with people different than myself and yet it must be this way for the church to be the church.  If I isolate myself both the church and I will suffer. 

We also don’t like someone telling us what the Scriptures mean or how to live our lives.  And yet Peter says that the church needs to be shepherded by those God has called (1Pet 5:2).  If a church is worth its salt it will not tell you what to think, it will give you the tools to think for yourself.  But the truth remains that God is totally in charge of his church and he has called some to lead it on this earth (Eph 4:11-12). 

Jesus did not die on the cross to create the Christian book or music industry.  Nor did he do it to create good Bible studies.  Jesus Christ gave his life to create his kingdom on this earth – to create the church.  I believe the church is necessary for Christians.  I believe having a real church home is not just important, it is commanded by God (Heb 10:25).  It’s not that I always love going to church because I certainly don’t, but God loves it.  And that is what matters most.

Heavenly Movies

04.21.2014 by Reed Dunn

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I wanted to share a video about the new movie, Heaven Is For Real.  I think two important things are at play with Christian movies…
1) I think Hollywood’s interest in “our turf” is less than genuine. 
2) Many Christians, so hungry for uplifting entertainment options, follow the herd to movies like this without thinking the damage they might inflict on our understanding of Scripture.

Most of us agree that corporate marketing motives can’t be trusted when it comes to the Christian faith, but I want to add that we should also not let these big budget books and movies be our guide for faith as well.  The new “Heaven Is For Real” movie is now out for your consumption but I wanted to recommend a video to you as you make your judgments about going to the movie, or simply interpreting it if you decide to go.  My wife and I have both read the book.  Something about it bothered us but we couldn’t put our finger on it.  Well, the below video clip from David Platt nails it.  

You may watch this clip and form a rebuttal that goes something like this: "Should we really worry about movies like this since it will possibly do so much good for the Kingdom?"  I am well aware of the argument that the movie/book might “work” and so it should be given its due.  But I don’t believe that all those things that “work" are right and/or good.  The Bible says all those things that are “holy" are right and good.  Satan’s single most pointed temptation at Jesus was offering options for being the Messiah that might “work” without them being “right.” 

Whatever you decide, never stop thinking critically and judging things by God’s chosen form of revelation: the Scriptures.

 

Caesar, the Beast, and Crafts

01.02.2013 by Reed Dunn

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This week Hobby Lobby has to either cover “emergency contraceptives” for their employees or face a possible daily fine of $1.3 million.  This may be a bit of a canary in the cave for Christians and we need to be ready for it.  For too long we have thought Christianity and business could make for easy bedfellows - just ask CEO Jesus - but the public sector is changing and Christians will need more than cheap art, quotes from Jesus, and simple answers to engage it. 

Here is my attempt to highlight some of the issues, though I don’t offer any clear answers.  In fact, my first word of advice is to avoid people that think this is cut and dry!  It is not.  We need to be thoughtful on this subject.  Below are two different perspectives through which we can interpret these and future economic events. 

The Mark of the Beast!

Revelation 13:16 introduces us to the mark of the beast.  The author, John, was writing an intentionally cryptic historical and prophetic document.  Also, he had a strange fascination with numbers (Jn 21:11).  Couple that with our overly literal culture and you have the fertile soil of crazy interpretations (the “mark” could even be the internet!)

The mark may refer to Rome, but mostly it is a figurative mark to be contrasted with Christ’s mark (Rev 14:1).  But here is the part we care about: Revelation 13:17.  Without the mark, one cannot buy or sell.  This highlights a theme already expressed in Revelation where Christians, because of their convictions, are left out of the economic fun of Roman life.  Good Christians are said to be poor in Rev 2:9 while Christians in Rev 2:14 and 2:20 are rebuked for aligning with false gods, which convey the sense of material wealth and luxury.

There is an economic impact for being a Christian and it goes way beyond Dave Ramsey.  We overlook it because we may be more Rev 2:20 than 2:9.  For instance, what would be the economic impact if Christians quit coveting?  As Americans, coveting is one of our favorite pastimes... What if we stopped? 

But the impact goes well beyond the hypothetical.  The riot in Ephesus happened because Christians quit buying household gods (Acts 19:25-26).  It was the gods-makers (the silversmiths) that led the revolt against Paul, not the government.  Near the Black Sea, though, the government did get involved.  One of the chief reasons for persecution in the early church in that region was due to economics.  Trajan’s remarkable letter to the Roman Emperor (dated around 111AD) says that due to Christianity, it was hard to find anyone to buy the sacrificial animals!  Trajan’s complaint fits well with the persecution we find in 1Peter, which addressed that region.

So, is Hobby Lobby suffering because they bear the name of Christ instead of the Beast?  OR...

Taxes to Caesar

There is something else to consider.  The incarnation of Jesus is not only central to our salvation, it is helpful to see how God was willing to enter a broken system in order to redeem those who belonged to it.  It is a theme that runs through the rest of Scripture and it needs to be considered as we navigate the Hobby Lobby problem.

In Matthew 22:15-22 Jesus advocates paying taxes to Caesar and in Matthew 17:24-27 he pays the temple tax.  The governments in Rome and Judea were corrupt.  They did things with Jesus’ money that God hated.  Murder, sex, opulence, oppression, incest, unjust war, infanticide, abuse, all this was the practice of these governments.  And, if I can be so bold, Jesus enabled all of this with his tax money.  He could have stood against these injustices and he didn’t.

The concept continues in the early church.  In 1Corinthians 8, Paul allows the mature believers in the church to eat food that was sacrificed to idols.  But in other Scriptures that was considered part of the false religious practice.  Surely there were Christians that wanted to boycott such meat.  Surely they believed the whole system to be so corrupt that no Christian should be in any way complicit in it.  But Paul says no to that.  He famously states earlier in that letter that it is supposed to be the cross that is a stumbling block (1Cor 1:23), not our position against the world (1Cor 5:10). 

A related but less important example is that in seminary certain professors required us to use the secular designations BCE and ACE instead of the Christian BC and AD for dates.  They knew many students would be going on to get secular PhD’s and they wanted us to realize it was the cross that should offend, not Christians unnecessarily bucking the system.

Back to Hobby Lobby.  Is this an issue of compliance to a corrupt system where resisting only shifts the focus away from the primary goal?

The Takeaway

The owners of Hobby Lobby are not being asked to actually perform abortions.  If they were, this would be easy.  They have been ordered to comply with a corrupt system.  I applaud their willingness to prioritize the commands of Christ over financial gain.  And I have to admit that I don’t know what I would do if I were in their shoes.  But the truth is, this may begin happening more and more on smaller scales for all of us.  In fact, it may should have happened a long time ago but we were too blind to see it.  Either way, we must think before we act.

Christians are a people that like to act.  Whether it is Disney or Home Depot, Christians like a good boycott.  And now, with Chick-fil-A, we have discovered the fun of an un-boycott!  We like to have a cause we can fix.  As Americans and First World Christians, we have been lulled into thinking that injustices are not to be tolerated and we should always vote with our feet and our wallets.  But the days may be coming where things might not be so clear.  Or worse, where we don’t have full wallets to take elsewhere. 

I believe the Hobby Lobby problem should be seen as a harbinger of the hard questions that lay ahead.  As our government and culture move further away from the echo of Christianity, our involvement in corrupt systems will become more pronounced.  Some will over-withdraw.  Some will over-engage.  Many will argue.  But God help us as we navigate these new (but very old) waters.

One thing is for sure, and it is the theme of Revelation, God is on his throne and we are to trust him as the battle rages and the bowls of wrath are poured out all around us.

Putting Christ Back Into Christmas

12.11.2012 by Reed Dunn

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It’s Christmas time!  It’s the time of year when Christians celebrate the birth of our Lord.  But it’s also the time of year Christians bemoan the fact that Christ is being “taken out of Christmas.”  This is the time when many Christians feel they have been robbed of the sacredness of the season because slogans like “Happy Holidays” seem to outnumber the wishes for a “Merry Christmas.”  During this season, Christians are forced to face the fact that our secular society is tired of playing nice and going to church for Christmas.

Far from wanting to complain about that, I would like to see this as an opportunity.  I may be in the minority, but I find the wishes of “Happy Holidays” to be refreshing.  Please don’t get me wrong; I love Christmas – it’s my favorite time of the year.  But the separation of Christmas from the Holidays is some medicine I think the Church needs to swallow.

Christianity has been the dominant religious system in America since her founding.  Some of that is good and some of that is bad.  The good is fairly obvious – we have enjoyed a cultural situation that has made it very easy for people to believe in Christ and follow him.  Of course, this in itself can be bad since the Bible exalts those who are rejected, poor, hungry, and persecuted – stuff the American church rarely is.  But the other bad part about the American/Christian union is that it has allowed us to confuse what parts of our lives are secular and what parts of our lives are religious.  Christianity and secular American society are deeply divided.  The Bible is clear that the world will always hate God but for some reason we often expect the world to embrace us – especially at Christmas time.

We Christians can be arrogant.  We want the world to acknowledge the reason for the season even though it didn’t in Jesus’ day.  There will come a day when every knee will bow and every mouth confess the reign of Christ our King, but don’t get that confused with whether or not Hallmark makes explicitly Christian greeting cards or Old Navy uses the word Christmas to sell jeans.

This Christmas we have a great opportunity; our secular society has given us a wonderful gift.  They have given Christmas back to the Christians!  We don’t have to fight them for it anymore!  Maybe now we can enjoy the secular side of our festivities (Santa and the Holidays) while also having a deeply religious experience as we set aside this time for our Lord (Christmas).  There is something very attractive to me in the thought of God’s people celebrating Christmas as the world around us celebrates the Holidays. 

Here are some practical things we can do to make this a truly spiritual season…

  • Instead of groaning that you can’t find a book about Jesus for your preschooler, get a Bible and a nativity set and let your child act out the words of Luke 2 with the figurines.
  • Instead of searching high and low for a “Christmas” card, write a Christmas letter explaining what Christ has been doing in your life and family this year.
  • Don’t get mad if you see the word “Xmas” – the letter X is the oldest abbreviation for the word Christ (whether the person using it knows it or not).
  • Finally, raise a glass of eggnog and make a toast to the Christ who is foolishness to the rest of the world but God’s power to those who believe!

On Halloween

10.31.2012 by Reed Dunn

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This post is part of the church history series (click to view the other posts in this series).

The little town of Wittenberg, Germany reeked so badly that visitors dubbed it “a stinking sand dune.”  But on one Halloween in the early 1500’s, this village was poised to change the entire world forever.

With only 2,000 inhabitants, Wittenberg was painfully insignificant.  But it did have its church.  The church at Wittenberg had one of the largest collections of holy relics in all of Germany. It claimed to have a thorn from Jesus’ crown of thorns, a piece of straw from the manger, a strand of Jesus’ beard, a piece of bread from the Last Supper, and a twig from Moses’ burning bush.

Relics stayed under lock and key except for one day.  November 1st was All Saints Day and on that day all the churches of the Roman Catholic Church displayed their relics.  It was Wittenberg’s day to shine.  The display was surely impressive – her relics numbered in the thousands – but each year this day came and went with no real historical significance.

Then came Martin Luther.

Throughout the first years of the 1500’s, Martin Luther – a monk in Wittenberg – was growing more and more frustrated with the Roman Catholic Church.  He had been to Rome and seen how lax, corrupt, and immoral the fountainhead of the church had become.  He confessed his sins constantly, but never felt forgiven.  But the thing that frustrated Martin Luther most was that the Roman Catholic Church was offering Indulgences.

To help the church fund its building projects, the Pope extended forgiveness to anyone who wanted to make a financial contribution.  These Indulgences meant that if your Aunt Betty had died and was suffering in purgatory, you could give some money and get her to heaven more quickly.  Luther wanted to debate this practice.

In Wittenberg, if you wanted to debate the church, you would post your argument on its doors.  Luther, wanting to make his point clear, posted his critique the night before the biggest day for the church.  Everyone came to the church on November 1st to see the relics.  So on October 31 – also called All Hallows Eve – Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door.  The year was 1517.

The Protestant Reformation did not happen that very moment.  Like so many significant acts in history, it went unnoticed at first.  Luther’s 95 Theses are simple points of debate; mostly having to do with Indulgences and the Pope’s power over purgatory.  They are not dramatic to read, nor has history recorded some magical moment when his hammer pounded on the door.  But soon, someone got hold of the Theses and translated them from Latin to German.  When the common people read his critique, the largest Christian revolution began.

If you go to a Protestant Church, then this is should be a special day for you.  Luther was the first to start this reform, but he certainly wasn’t the last.  Within a few years reform would spread to Switzerland – that would create the Presbyterian Church, which would spawn the Baptist Church, the Congregational Church, the Church of Christ and more.  Then it hit England – the Anglicans would later give birth to Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and many in the Pentecostal movement.

October 31st is a big day for Protestants.  It may not be as fun as candy-corn and Snickers bars, but it is hard not see the effects of this historic day.  So as you dress your children for fun and games tonight, let your mind wander over to a small village in Germany where a 34-year old monk changed the world forever.  Happy Reformation Day!

This post is part of the church history series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Mr Darcy and the Church

06.05.2012 by Reed Dunn

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I am a great husband.  I recently read the book Pride and Prejudice because it is my wife’s favorite book.  I read the real one, not Pride and Prejudice Zombies, tempting as it was.  I should at least offer my passing endorsement - I am neither sentimental nor romantic and the book was really good.

I am actually a super-husband.  After reading said novel, I embarked on hours of British television bliss by watching the entire A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  This version is commonly referred to as the “Colin Firth Version.”  I didn’t like it at all.

I am a Common American Male.  I have seen the literal adaptation and I choose the non-literal one.  I have seen Colin Firth’s amazing performance and I choose Keira Knightly. 

As I was being lulled to sleep by Colin and his pals, I kept thinking of how this all relates to the church.  And this is why it is on my blog - that and the fact that I like making you read about Pride and Prejudice.  Stick with me on this...

According to the book, the Bennet daughters were astoundingly pretty - word had even reached London that they were beauties to behold.  As I read the novel I happily pictured Keira Knightly as Elizabeth (with my wife’s permission of course), and the other actress as Jane. 

Then I watched the Colin Firth Version - the “literal” one.  Wow.  There isn’t an easy way to say it; those ladies were not pretty.  Jane, the prettiest of the Bennet daughters, was downright ugly!  As my wife and I watched in astonishment (she was as shocked as I was), it hit us: Jane looked like a Victorian sculpture.  She was a little plump, she had a weird neck, and there was just something a little too "manly" about her features.  She had the look of someone who had never been in the sun, was out of shape, and was the picture of prudishness.

The Colin Firth Version was doing everything it could to make it consistent with Victorian England but they went too far; I couldn’t buy what they were selling.  In a desire to stay true to the original they alienated themselves from everyone but the most committed Jane Austen devotee - which I am not.  They failed because they didn’t make it real to me.  The show could have created something that would move me but ended up creating a study of literature that I found only slightly engaging.  Instead of a something that makes me feel romantic, it is a lesson on what people a long time ago thought was beautiful.  Was it instructive?  Yes.  Was it relevant?  No.

The challenge of relating Jane Austen is the challenge of the pulpit.  We have an ancient piece of literature most Christians are pretty committed to, but the world sees as only mildly interesting.  How do we engage those people?  How do we get an audience with them?

We need to put Keira Knightly on the cover!  The genius of the Keira Knightly version is that they made it believable.  It was a two hour movie and could never be literal, but even if it were six hours long it was genius to make me understand Mr. Darcy’s attraction.  It drew me in by meeting me where I am - in the 21st century.  When it comes to beauty, we typically value a small frame, a little weathering, and jawline-jawline-jawline!  And the movie met us there. 

So, the question for the church: what is our Keira Knightly?  Where can we “reach out without dumbing down” as Marva Dawn says?  Or as NT Wright says it, “It’s time to get back to reading [Scripture] with first-century eyes and twenty-first century questions.” 

I don’t always know the best way to engage our culture.  Sadly, I sometimes find that my love of teaching Scripture can actually insulate me from the world outside.  I know that isn’t right, but it happens.  I am convinced our message is as attractive as Keira Knightly and the Mr. Darcy’s out there just need to meet her.  But sometimes our love of theology and the Bible makes us prefer the esoteric Colin Firth while the watching world goes on, unaffected by our message.  The world is aching for something we have but they don't know it!  It would help for us to know their needs, their values, and “who they think is hot.”

Well, that should do it.  You may now be worried because you think I said we should compromise the truth of the gospel.  Or you may be mad at me because I had the audacity to dump on the Colin Firth Version of Pride and Prejudice.  And some of you may be mad that I made you read about Victorian literature.  To the first group I will say that we should never compromise the truth, to the second I say that your favorite show stinks, and to the third group I say, "mission accomplished."  And if you are part of that snooty and pretentious minority that says Keira Knightly is not pretty, well, none of us believe you and we always snicker when you leave the conversation.

Topics: culture

Related Posts: Caesar, the Beast, and Crafts

Series

The Takeaway

05.22.2012 by Reed Dunn

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This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran* Captivity of the Church: Part 7 of 7 - The Takeaway

I hope this series has been helpful.  I know everyone has not agreed with me and others may think I have made too much of a debate they don’t even think exists, but I have needed this.  Much of this series has been about putting into words things that have been in my head for years.  But, since putting thoughts into words is more powerful than just thinking about them, I can say with certainty that I have learned more than I thought I would. 

This blog series has also been a kind of mixing bowl for thoughts as I have I preached through Romans in my church.  This has forced me to chase theories to their conclusion instead of letting them linger in my head till I get distracted with something else.

In all, there have been two primary impressions that I will take away from this series.  I would mark both with the word “freedom.” 

First, I have the freedom to obey...
I feel like this study has forced me to confront my over arching desire to "feel forgiven."  I think we need to get over ourselves and just obey God.  I think some of us need to quit trying to figure out our motives for obeying and just be free to obey.  Lutheranism is alway asking you to check the motives of your obedience; this is something Paul rarely does.  More than ever I feel free to obey, even if I'm not really "feeling it." 

I struggle for assurance in the Christian life, and the Lutheran drive to feel things does a number on my flesh and my doubts.  The truth of the gospel is that God has taken certain actions in history and it really doesn’t matter how we feel about it.  But then the Lutheran teaching comes in and says my obedience must spring from thankfulness not duty, or that I should always evaluate myself through the wretchedness of my sin.  These are feelings that rarely overtake me.  So, to me, Lutheranism somehow takes the focus off the facts and puts the focus back on me.   

This study has shown me that my tendency to navel-gaze and the Lutheran drive to feel is an unhealthy mix - I tend to misuse Lutheranism.  But now, I realize I am free to obey.  I am free to obey even without knowing all my motives.  I am free to obey knowing that if I sin I am not condemned.  I have the freedom to get over myself and just go do what God wants. 

Secondly, I have discovered the freedom to understand Paul...
I was in seminary, and about 30, when I finally learned how to read fiction.  I learned the skill like a lot of middle schoolers - I discovered Harry Potter.  That's a little embarrassing, yes, but my discovery of fiction has been much like my discovery of the Apostle Paul over the last few years.  Throughout much of my life, I didn't really read fiction, I only looked for quotes.  I wanted to find some great line by Dostoevsky so I could impress my friends, my professors, or myself.  But if you read a novel like that, well, it sucks!  Whatever story I was reading was lost on me - I was there looking for one thing and one thing only.  This is very similar to my relationship with Paul and justification.

My own personal Lutheran captivity meant that much of Paul was lost on me.  I would read him looking around each corner to find justification - even if he was telling people to simply imitate him!  So I often skimmed much of his writing, waiting for "the good stuff" or sometimes I just didn't understand him.  I can’t tell you how much clearer he sounds now.  If I can be really technical: Paul’s whole theology comes alive when you realize that his "indicative" is as much about God’s regenerative work in us as it is about God’s meritorious work for us.

Anyway, that is what I’ve learned.  I hope you have learned some things too.  I hope that my series will not produce dissension, but understanding.  Luther should have made more room for the book of James, just as Lutheran churches should be more understanding of “good Christians.”  Similarly, I hope I have proven in at least the last post, that to overreact to all this with the law would be death.  I hope the labels have made it easier for you to understand that there are different positions on these matters and you may just be hearing one of them.  I hope all this will lead you to read the Apostle Paul over and over again and see what you can discover about our great salvation.

Here are a couple of links you may find helpful...
A wonderful presentation on this topic by Rick Phillips
An online critique of the Lutheran-styled book “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”


* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Lutheran theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I would not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

The Road Ahead

05.08.2012 by Reed Dunn

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This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 6 of 7 - The Road Ahead


NT Wright makes a startling statement in his book "Justification."  He says:

I have often reflected that if it had been the Reformed view of Paul and the law, rather than the Lutheran one, that had dominated biblical scholarship through the two hundred years since the Enlightenment, ...the new perspective [would] not have been necessary. (Justification, pg. 72)

When I first read that, I was encouraged by the fact that Reformed scholarship, at least in Wright's eyes, offered a more balanced approach to understanding salvation.  But the more I have thought about it, the more I see his statement as an admission of a troubling reality: the New Perspective is simply a reaction to what I have called the Lutheran* Captivity of the Church.

Here is what I mean: I believe that legalism, in whatever form, is a natural response to Lutheranism once Lutheranism has lost its luster.

Much of the Lutheranism in the PCA today is a reaction to the legalism of the 1970’s.  It is natural to think that grace is the right response to law, but that is more dangerous than it sounds.  The problem with this approach is clear when we reverse the process.  What will we do when our churches are full of lawlessness?  Do we respond with legalism?  Of course not.  I hope not.

Most of the people I know that have sought out the Roman Catholic Church came from a Lutheran understanding of salvation.  And that includes myself.  The New Perspective, for all its insight, can lend itself to a legalistic understanding of salvation.  The same is true for the increasingly popular Greek Orthodox Church, not to mention the social gospel of the Emergent Church.  Legalism is all around us.  I even once heard of a PCA church where the departing pastor was of the Lutheran bent.  The church made it known that they were interested in getting “more law” from the pulpit.  I understood what they meant, but I was troubled by it none-the-less. 

What are we creating when we preach a Christ that saves but not one that transforms?  Grace is fun to talk about and a great joy of the gospel, but if it isn’t connected to the right rudder it can run us aground as quickly as a false teaching.

Humanity is hardwired to obey the law and God is the one that hardwired us that way.  The desire to keep the law isn't bad; what we do with it sometimes is.  We need to know where we stand.  We need to perform.  We feel the need to please God.  If the PCA overlooks this "need" and doesn't get people to understand how to appropriate it, then we will inevitably see people leave our churches to find answers in the wrong places.  The Catholics, Orthodox, Social Gospel and New Perspective churches are not going to preach the right gospel - they are as legalistic as the Lutherans are gracious. 

Law and Grace simply aren't the answer.  Jesus Christ is.  Luther was wrong when made justification the center of the Bible, based on Jesus' own assessment (Luke 24:27, John 5:39).  We are wrong when we equate the gospel with nothing more than forgiveness of sins. 

Jesus Christ (and our union with him) should be our overarching narrative, not grace.  Sermons should be rooted in the identity and activity of Christ and not just his cross.  Grace can end up a meaningless philosophy and the law an illegitimate badge of honor if neither is connected to the person Jesus Christ.  He provides the substance that makes grace effective and the law a blessing. 

In today’s culture, to preach Christ is code for preaching a Lutheran form of grace.  I would like to see that changed.  Christ is all things to us - not just grace - and it is through him that we can please God with our actions, it is through him that we are transformed into new life.

I have mentioned in this series how much I struggled with a Lutheran perspective.  When I sought out answers beyond just “resting in my justification,” I looked in many of the wrong places.  I started with the Catholic Church and ended up in a form of mysticism that nearly shipwrecked my faith.  At the time I didn’t think a Reformed understanding of salvation was sufficient - what I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t hearing the Reformed position.  Once I came out of all that, I rediscovered how true to all of Scripture our theology is and that it does offer a full-orbed view of life and faith.  That is what I want for all of us in the PCA and that is the primary reason I want to see the influence of Lutheranism diminish.

It is my hope that we could get to a place where preaching Christ is code for preaching all of Christ; where a sermon rooted in Christ is not just rooted in his death.  It is my hope that our churches would be as well rounded as Scripture and we stop leaking people to more legalistic theologies.  It is not consistent with our theology to zero in on one concept within Scripture at the expense of everything else, and I am hopeful that will change.  It is my fear that we will someday switch grace for law - that has certainly been the story of church history.

The next post in this series will be the last.  It will be an overview of some things I am taking away from this study.

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Luthern theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I would not be the judge.

 

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

Reclaiming Mythology

05.01.2012 by Reed Dunn

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This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).

I believe that Genesis is mythological, and you should too.

That statement sounds heretical I know, but I think it’s real and important for us understand. 

We are taught that for something to be mythological it inevitably means it isn’t true.  When we hear the word “myth,” most of us think of Zeus, dragons, or even Superman.  But I want to think about another aspect of myth that we often overlook.  There is one thing that Zeus, dragons, and Superman have in common.  They represent something significant to the people who believed in them.  You can hardly think of Ancient Greece without Zeus, China without dragons, or America without Superman.  They have been inseparably woven into these different cultures and, more importantly, they have contributed to each culture.

Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral
Wyatt Earp was a true, historical person.  The OK Corral was a historical place.  On Wednesday, October 26, in 1881 at 3:00 pm, a gunfight erupted in the streets of Tombstone.  That gunfight is as real as anything you or I have done today.  But here’s the deal, that gunfight is MORE than real. 

I am completely convinced that Wyatt Earp also went tinkle on October 26, 1881.  But that event, like the countless tinkles before and after, went unnoticed.  No other event that day contributed to the larger narrative of what it means to be American.  But the gunfight did.  It was more than real in that it didn’t just happen, it actually became part of the American mythology.

What images were being recalled as President Bush stood on the rubble of the Twin Towers and called for justice?  It was the image of the American West - that is one reason it resonated so deeply.  It was justice at the end of a Colt Revolver!

Why could the Marlboro Man sell cigarettes?  Why was Brett Favre called a gunslinger?  Why do we love rugged individualists?  The answer is because of the American West.  It represents something to us as Americans.  It contributes to who we think we are - it contributes to our world view.  It is both mythic and true.  And the gunfight at the OK Corral is part of that mythology.

Back to the Old Testament
It seems as though we are headed for another round of struggle in understanding just how historical the book of Genesis is.  Once the “guns start blazing,” it will be tempting to think that proving Genesis to be reliable is good enough.  It will be tempting to think that the most important thing Genesis can be is true.

I believe Genesis is historically accurate.  But I also think that isn’t enough.  I believe it needs to be more than real.  It needs to contribute to our fabric of ideas and the way we see ourselves and the world.  A whole lot more ink is spilled on whether Genesis is true than in trying to get us to see the Genesis patterns in our own life and faith as believers. 

As more and more books will question things like the historicity of Adam, it will be tempting for us to circle the wagons around the truth of Adam and forget the meaning of Adam.  It may get uncomfortable for conservatives to discuss the mythological significance of Adam for fear of sounding like a liberal.  In the past, many wonderful teachings of the Bible were rejected because they sounded too much like the liberals.  But God went to great lengths to ensure that Adam had mythic influence over history - let’s not undo that in an attempt to guard the truth.

Using the categories of mythology may not be the best, I understand that.  But I have yet to find a better one.  So as the battle begins anew over issues of historicity, lets not forget that Wyatt’s tinkling was not nearly as historically important as his gunfight.  Let’s fight for historicity and mythology all at the same time.  Even with a Colt Revolver if need be...

Just kidding, don’t kill anyone over this.

This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

Johnny Law

04.24.2012 by Reed Dunn

2 Comments

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 5 of 7 - Johnny Law

This post is about God’s Law, not Johnny’s, but if you have never seen the movie Bottle Rocket then please stop reading this blog immediately and go watch it.  Or at least the trailer... 

This post references one of the striking differences between Calvin and Luther* - their view of God’s law.

Even the biblical writers seemed to have a volatile and confusing relationship with the Law of God.  No wonder we as Christians do too.  One example is how the law guards us.  In some passages the law guards us like a kind old watchdog (Psa 94:12) while other passages make it sound like a prison guard (Gal 3:22)! 

So which is it?  Good or bad?  Binding or not?  Or, maybe, what is it?  Is the law a dungeon master making us crave the light of God?  Or is it a well-worn path that acts as our trusty guide?

Lutheran theology doesn’t have much use for the law beyond its ability to show us our sin.  This is definitely a use of the law - it is attested throughout Scripture - but as we have seen Lutheran theology is not always informed by ALL of Scripture.  Rather ALL of Scripture was informed by its view of justification.  In justification, the law is clear.  Before Christ came the law was brutal - it condemned us, killed us, imprisoned us.  But for the Christian, the law is not there to condemn us (Rom 8:1).

For the Lutheran, this is a cycle that is played over and over.  The law shows us our sin.  The Spirit shows us Christ’s mercy.  And we, in turn, live a more righteous life that springs from our thankful hearts.  And then the cycle begins again.

The problem with all this is all the places in Scripture where the law still is in effect, and used for something more than condemnation.  Whether it is Christ intensifying it in Matthew 5-7, Paul calling us slaves of righteousness in Romans 6, or James saying all his Jamesy stuff, any simple reading of Scripture will find that the law (or some form of it) is still an active part of the Christian life.  That it is good, helpful, and keepable.  This is Paul’s presupposition in many passages.

In all my struggles with this, I have found one analogy more helpful than any other.  The Bible writers used analogies all the time to describe the law so I think we are on firm ground to look for such a thing.  And my analogy is that of a map.

A map is powerless.  Anyone that has ever owned a map has probably used it the right way.  We cannot say that about the law.  Paul says the law is powerless to save us, powerless to impart life, powerless to grow us.  It is the Spirit that moves us from one place to another, not the law.  No one has ever wanted to drive to Chicago and tried to do it by climbing onto a map!  The map will tell you how to get to Chicago, but a map by itself cannot get you there.  You need a car for that.  The Holy Spirit is our spiritual car, and the law is our spiritual map.  Without the Spirit the law is worthless for getting us anywhere.

A map can condemn.  So, you want to go to Chicago.  You go to google maps and print out everything you need, maybe even plan your meal stops based on the map.  You walk outside and... O yeah!  You don’t have a car!  What now?  Now you look at the map and you don’t see a road trip, possibilities, and nice scenery, you feel trapped.  The map now condemns you because it shows you just how much you need a car.  Because the map is right it shows you the distance, because the map is powerless it reminds you of your inability.  The same is true for the law.  The law condemns us because it makes God far off and doesn’t provide any transportation.

A map can guide.  But your buddy pulls up in his nice new car.  Now things are different!  Now the map does help you.  Now the trustworthiness of the map becomes crucial.  If you have the wheels, the map is great.  Now, people in Paul’s day tended to make the map more important than the car.  Paul rips them up and, in so doing, makes the map/law seem really bad.  It isn’t.  His comments need the context.  If at a rest stop you told your driving buddy you could finish the trip on your own because you have a map he would laugh at you.  But, get in the car with him, and he sings a different tune, now he needs your map.  The map is not bad and neither is the law. 

Luther placed the law and grace at odds with one another.  He took the tough language about the law to heart and basically overlooked the rest.  For him, or at least for his followers, keeping the law meant legalism.  But to take this position means that you are only reading about half of what Paul wrote and almost nothing of Jesus or the other New Testament writers - something Lutherans can end up doing.  There is much more that could be said about this, but hopefully that helps a little.

My last two posts in this series are coming up, so you are now on the home stretch.  This was my final post on the technical aspects of the theology.

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Luthern theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I would not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

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