Derek Johnson Muses

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The Social Church: Everything is Under Control

There is another aspect to woman’s ordination that needs addressing and that is the aspect of the social church and civil religion. This has become a growing phenomenon in America, more so in the black community than others, where it the church was indeed a great force in the progress of social relations. These aspects are present in every church, whether it be the pastor who spends have his sermon talking about his programs (Rick Warren) or the mainline denominations, who preach about their vast ecumenical progress, that really does nothing but make a mockery of the term agreement. The teaching out there, and it is clear: the church’s greatest value to society is to provide an avenue for social change. Meanwhile, the outsiders wouldn’t know that Christian churches teach Christ for the salvation of our sins.

This is a fine distinction that we must make: the church can, and should, be a cause for uplifting the political causes, as in the abortion debate and the debate over gay marriage, and for caring for the elderly and the poor. But that isn’t what the primary focus of the church is: that must be to call sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

The church that focus on social good is not practicing Christianity, but a form of civil religion, with an emphasis on the “civil”. The real temptation here isn’t just to put social needs ahead of the church, but to be a church that agrees with the ways of the world. What the world wants is a church that makes good citizens, get them politically active, teaches them morals, but doesn’t upset the social balance. Ancient Rome set up this practice more directly: citizens could worship their own gods, but they had to give a pinch of incense to the emperor. And of course, here in America, a church that puts special emphasis on women, to the point that it breaks its solid contract with the Scriptures, well that church should be give special celebration in the public eye.

Our church, while not facing dramatic social persecution, is nonetheless in the position where it has to be in contradiction to the world. God has given us such a great blessing in Scripture, with salvation through his Son Jesus Christ, and many other teachings, including the Order of Creation and the roles of men and women. But if we throw away even one part of the Scriptures, we loose their authority and everything is out on the table.

Maintaining this is a tireless task. As I’ve written about before, I know many people who’ve left the LCMS because they felt like they’ve mastered its doctrine. Even now, I hear theologians talking about woman’s ordination as if they are sick of answering the question, and frankly, I’m a little sick of having to write about it. But let us not grow weary of defending the truths that have been passed down to us by our Christian fathers. If we don’t cling to the Scriptures alone, there is the potential for false teaching, and soon we’re on the path to universalism.

ACELC Conference-Day 2

Yesterday (Wednesday), the statement at the ACELC conference that made the biggest impression on me was when Professor John Pless said that “closed communion goes against the cultural grain of North American Christianity”, and the first thing I thought was, Well, duh. I guess this was something that I knew to a certain degree, but when he came out and said it, it made me think about it. I like to be like, sometimes more than anything else. Being Lutheran within the context of closed communion means that, probably they are time when I will be set up not to be liked. I think I might have to deal with that.

Pless’ paper dealt with the Lord’s Supper in light of both the ecumenical movement and in terms of the more seeker driven services. Professor Pless gave one of the better presentations of a theological paper that I’ve heard, dealing with the complex subject with thought and insightful complex, and using a wealth of references. Clearly, Pless has read every major Lutheran book and paper on practical theology, and I did very well to hear his paper. Many of you would too.

Pastor James Gier presented on the topic of exceptions in admissions to closed communion, which was mostly his reading from Walther. What I took away from it was, that the Confessions, and more importantly, the Scriptures don’t say that there can’t be exceptions in cases of peril or where public confessions can’t be made (I get the sense he meant persecutions), but they really don’t leave open the place for exceptions either. Since Scripture is silent on this matter, we best be too.

However, a document from the Committee on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) basically affirmed Walther’s position on the matter, in line with the confession, but then said that the pastor had “discretion” in certain cases. That statement sounded remarkably similar to the one that allowed “lay ministers” back in the early nineties, where the Scriptures were affirmed, but then the committee said we had to bow to social pressure.

By far the most “revealing” learning experience for  me was Pastor Brent Kuhlman’s presentation on Berthold Von Schenk, a pastor who I had never heard of, but almost laughed at when I heard that an LCMS would teach as he did. Von Schenk, an LCMS pastor in the Bronx, kept all the Lutheran teachings on the Lord’s Supper, but then added a bunch of mysticism junk to them, all the while decrying Luther while remaining in the church that bore his name. As I listened to the paper, I felt sorry that Von Schenk didn’t live in the age of Oprah, because he’d found the ideal way to sell the Lord’s Supper to a mass audience: as a mystical communion where you rise to be with God. The New Agers and the Eastern Religions would have come running, and at least with the extra visibility, the educated laity might have pushed to keep him out of synod. (I’m being highly optimistic on that one).

But the one thing I took away about Von Schenk after that presentation was that, he was just a lonely guy who looked at the Anglicans around him and said, I can’t believe this. I can’t believe that the church is as small and as exclusive as the Scriptures say it is. But this is the truth. When our Father in Heaven gathers us to the wedding feast, many will be thrown out, including many who were in Christian churches. The answer isn’t to accommodate our theology; it can only be to plead for God’s mercy on their part, and know that he can save anyone. Meanwhile, we need to encourage our Christian brothers and sisters, and lead lives worthy of our calling. Thanks be to God.

I didn’t get to everything, but there’s one more day of the conference, and tomorrow, I’ll have some summary and evaluation. Now, for that long drive into Lincoln.


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