Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 10, Number 3
In this Issue:
The Annual LMS Conference and Convention
June 20-22, 2003
A Brief Report
It was one of the best gatherings in the eight year history of the LMS. We had more than forty in attendance from ten states.
The LMS Convention
Maybe the most important of the several matters of business that we dealt with this year had to do with the LMS Constitution. In the past there have been a couple of issues that we have tried to deal with which we have come to understand differently than when the LMS was first formed. Also, there are a number of things that not spelled out in the constitution proper or in constitutional by-laws which should have been. Therefore the convention moved to form a committee to look into the rewriting of the LMS constitution. Rev. Ralph Spears was reelected Chairman of the LMS Ministerial, and thus, Pastor/President of the LMS for another three year term. Rev. John Erickson was reelected LMS Synod Chairman, Dianne Boekankamp, Indanapolis, IN, and Jan Jerabek, Chetek, WI, Synodical Secretary and Treasurer, respectively. The 2004 Conference/Convention will be held once again at St. Matthew, June 25-27, 2004.
The LMS Conference
Fear of God
by Rev. Richard W. Horn
Who is a God like unto thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11).
With these words, Moses and the Israelites celebrated the victory God gave them over Pharaoh and their Egyptian slave masters. God had indeed shown his power, a power Pharaoh had denied and rejected; even after seven plagues, Moses had to remind the disbelieving Pharaoh that "as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God." (Exodus 9:30).
As the young people participating in the 2003 Youth Conference portrayed to the members of the LMS-USA Conference and members of St. Matthew congregation, the "Fear of God" can be powerful, fearsome and awesome. With humor and dramatic effect, retelling the story of God's plagues upon the Egyptians, they brought out many of the same aspects which were the theme of the Conference and the focus of presentations made on that theme.
Luther's words, repeated over and over again in the Small Catechism "We are to fear and love God . . . " became the backdrop over the entire 2003 Annual Conference of the LMS-USA. Each of five presenters examined "the Fear of God" and its many characteristics as though facets of a precious gem. Synod President Pastor John Erickson prepared "A Word Study on 'Fear'"; Seminary President Dr. Robert Hotes spoke about "Overcoming Fear through Forgiveness"; Dr. Orv Langhough spoke from "A Layman's Perspective"; Ministerium President Pastor Ralph Spears prepared a paper on "Facing Fear, Finding Love!"; and Ministerium Secretary Pastor Richard Horn spoke about "Good Fear - Bad Fear." None of the presenters collaborated together, yet each presented a different perspective and characteristic which complemented the others. With humor, scholarship and insight, we all examined the fear of God in faith and confidence.
Pastor Erickson set the Scriptural foundation with definitions of "fear" and an examination of the eighteen Hebrew words used for "fear" in the Old Testament with their meanings ranging from terror and dread to awe and reverence. Similarly, the Greek words in the New Testament range in their meanings from terror and alarm to the piety of a "holy fear" that mingled both fear and love together. Clearly, this "Holy Fear" drove Luther to make the point (from his own experience) that man alone cannot fear God perfectly or have total reverence for God's authority and obedience to God's commandments. This is the God-given "fear" from which wisdom flows, a holy "set-apart" fear which is the source of joy, more treasured than riches.
"Fear" can also be slavish, a consequence and punishment of sin. The rejection of Christ leads to this kind of fear; but the Holy Spirit can also use this fear to turn and convert souls to Christ. Fear holds some people in bondage and keeps them from enjoying the freedom that should be their's in Christ Jesus. God does not will wrath upon us if we are open to His forgiveness and grace.
There is also a fear of men, fear of what others can do to us. This includes a respect for authority and recognition of the power of others over us. It also includes the blind fear which gets in the way of our fear of God, which prevents us from following God. But even this aspect of fear can be useful by prompting the Christian to fear on behalf of one outside of the love of God, driving individuals and the church into concern for mission. The writer of Proverbs says "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe." (Proverbs 29:25).
Still one more understanding of "Fear" is that of the Righteousness of God. God is described in Genesis 31:42 as "the Fear of Isaac," bringing a sense of terror in the presence of the Almighty. Facing God's righteousness gives us the sense of awe and reverence and the sense of confidence in God's presence. Certainly, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8, "If God is for us, who can be against us?".
Both Scriptures and the writings of Luther are filled with the many aspects of the "fear of God." Luther, describing the fear of God in the terms of Law and Gospel in his Table Talk (I, #568), says that "the Law is to warn us against future sins, the Gospel is to comfort us for past sins."
Both Dr. Hotes and Dr. Lang-hough built on the theme of forgiveness as an essential part of the fear of God. Failure to forgive is not strength at all; rather, forgiveness itself is strength. Jesus tells us (Matthew 5) that forgiveness of others requires a spirit of repentance and reconciliation on our part. Our accountability is to God. If we are willing, in the fear of God, to leave the judgement to God alone, then we must forgive and we must not condemn. The choice of forgiveness or condemnation is not ours to make.
Pastor Spears showed from Scripture how our fears of evil, alienation and even death are not set aside by any of our own efforts or works but only by a close reliance on God. All of us who follow Jesus must face our fears, even as he did, to find the "saving way" (salvation) in Jesus. The ultimate fear of death, even from the beginning of time and creation, is set aside; "as in Adam all die, so in Christ are all made alive." Our fears of "the devil, the world and our sinful nature" force us to rely on God's forgiveness, renewal and absolution.
Even beyond Scripture, the Essene "Manual of Discipline" reminds us that our fears cause us to be detached from our base: God. Our Lord doesn't leave us; we leave him! For this reason, the Essenes proclaimed:
"At the onset of fear and alarm, or when trouble or stress are at hand, I will bless Him with special thanksgivings and muse upon His power, and rely on His mercies always, and come thereby to know that in His hand lies the judgement of all living, and that all His works are truth. Whenever distress breaks out I still will praise Him; and when His salvation comes, join the chorus of praise!"
Fear, whether of the known or of the unknown, must be met by faith:
Luther, becoming an Augustinian monk to appease the fear of God which he felt surrounding him with terror, came to the realization of the power of faith as fulfillment of the fear of God when he studied St. Paul's writing to the Romans (Romans 1:7), that "the just shall live by faith." His study of scripture convinced him that the works of man are futile, and he related his own painful experience in vainly seeking to secure salvation by humiliation and penance. Only by looking away from himself and relying on Christ had Luther now found peace and joy.
In the fear of God, we acknowledge God's discipline and we want nothing more than to please Him. Discipline is freeing, even for us as Christians. In the Post-Reformation church, many ecclesiastical abuses of doctrine, worship and discipline became common. Luther deplored the abuses because they show a lack of the fear of God, and he welcomed the action by the electors, noblemen and magistrates to reimpose discipline on the churches and pastors.
As the participants in the Conference examined and reexamined the fear of God and what it means for us as Lutheran Christians, we were compelled to grow in faith and understanding. We and all heroes of faith, with the fear of God before us, remembering the youth in their portrayal of the Israelites in Egypt, remembering the admonitions of Scripture, and recalling the writings of Luther, boldly say "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen!"
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Fear about the Future
A Sermon on Isaiah 43:1-3a
The Closing Devotion of the 2003 LMS Conference
by Rev. Jeffrey A. Iverson
|1.||But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.|
|2.||When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.|
|3.||For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isaiah 43:1-3a RSV)|
Dear Friends in Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have spent a great deal of time at this conference reflecting on the "Fear of the Lord." And that is a good thing. As Luther says, "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." But that is, and remains, a word of Law. What about our fears of things that will face us in the world as we leave this place? Our fears of travel hazards, of health problems, of terrorism, of poverty, of death? What does God say about these fears?
God's Word for our fears about the future is a word of Gospel. It comes from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, where God says:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." "Fear not." This is one of the most common ways our Lord has of greeting us humans in those situations where we fear for our future.
In Genesis 15, as Abram ponders the hopelessness of his seemingly childless future, the Lord says to him: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." (RSV)
In Genesis 21, as Hagar weeps over the seemingly imminent death of her son, the Lord says "Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation." (RSV)
In Genesis 46 as Jacob (or Israel) worried about going into the enemy territory of Egypt in order to feed his family, the Lord says "I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again." (KJV)
In the New Testament, as Joseph wondered what to do about his pregnant fiancee, the Lord said "fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:20b-21 KJV)
As Mary wondered how in the world she could become the mother of God, the angel of the Lord said: "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS." (Luke 1:30b-31, KJV)
As the shepherds outside Bethlehem saw the heavens opened, an angel of God said "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10b-11, KJV)
As Peter, James, and John witnessed the miraculous catch of fish and heard the Lord's call of common fisherman to a life of discipleship, Jesus said "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men." (Luke 5:10b, KJV)
As the ruler of the synagogue wept over his dead daughter, Jesus said, "Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole." (Luke 8:50b, KJV)
As we ponder the unknown future that lies ahead of us, Jesus says: "do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4b-7, RSV)
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine." The Lord, the Creator and Redeemer of the universe, calls us by name. In baptism, the pastor states our name and baptizes us into God's Name: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From that moment on we belong to God. He knows our name. He numbers the hairs on our heads. From that moment on, our future is His, not our own.
Yes, we still live in a sinful world. A world in which we all suffer, some more, some less, the consequences for our sins and the sins of others. But even in these times of suffering, perhaps even mostly in times of suffering, the Lord God, our Heavenly Father is with us.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2, RSV)
Yes, we may suffer pain in this world, but it will not overwhelm or consume us, for we belong to God, and Christ's victory is ours.
Our Lord is coming. "Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming." (John 12:15) And when He comes for us, individually or collectively as the case may be, then we will like John in the Book of Revelation fall at his feet as dead. And our Lord will lay his right hand upon us, and say to us: "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen." (Rev. 1:17b-18a, KJV)
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isaiah 43:1-3a RSV)
Now, may the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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The Christian Life
by Jacob Tanner
|Editor Note: The recent election of an openly gay priest as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church brings to the forefront the issue of the Christian Life. One can look to any number of Bible Passages, Old Testament and New, that make it clear that there are certain life-styles that will bar one from the kingdom of God (see I Cor. 6, Gal. 5). But rather than pointing fingers, it would be well for each and every person who claims the name of Christ, to think through this matter of the Christian life as it pertains to self. Therefore the following, Chapter VI, in a small volume titled, Ten Doctrines In Church Doctrines, by Jacob Tanner, Seminary Professor in the former ELC. The book was published by Augsburg Publishing House, Mpls., MN., in 1930. But truth, if it is truth, does not change. If it is truth it is as relevant today as it was 70 plus years ago.|
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of God's children must manifest itself. It is impossible to be a child of God and not desire to obey and to serve God in the daily life. The new life consists of a number of spiritual forces which need to be exercised. If we do not make use of these forces, the spiritual life will decay and ultimately die out.
A Christian is "like a tree planted by the streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season." (Ps. 1:3.) The fruit is the Christ-like life of the believer. This fruit is also called good works. The apostle says that we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God before prepared, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10.)
Good works. What does this Bible mean by good works? It means such works as are motivated by faith in God and life to God and our neighbor. Not all that people call good works is recognized by Christ as such. With Him it is a question of motive. The good works must flow out of our life in God. They must be prompted by our life of and obedience to God. Back of our love to God and our neighbor is God's love of us in Christ Jesus. Good works, therefore, is all we do because God's love is shed abroad in our hearts.
It is of this relation that Christ speaks when He tells of those who on the day of judgment shall inherit the Kingdom. They have fed the hungry, housed the strangers, visited the sick, gone to those in prison, and they have done it all for Christ's sake, that is because they loved Christ. Therefore Christ could say that they had done it unto Him. Good works, then, are the works we do because we love Christ and want to serve Him.
Good works do not make a person good. Many people think that good works will make them acceptable in the sight of God. Luther shows how wrong this idea is when he says" "Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good work." To give half a dollar to the poor does not change the heart of the giver. To visit the sick does not produce fear and love of God in the visitor, nor trust in Him. The change of the heart cannot be brought about by outward acts. On the other hand, if a person's heart is filled with love to God and other people, he will do acts of love.
Fruits. Jesus speaks of the life of a believer as fruit. (John 15:16.) He thus emphasizes the relation between the inner life produced by the Holy Spirit and the manifestations of this life in our daily activities.
What people often call good works are like fruit hung on a Christmas tree. It is not the tree that has produced the fruit. Only what is produced by God's Spirit in the believer is recognized by the Bible as fruit. Only such fruit is good works. The Pharisees gave tithes, but the giving was not acceptable to God. It was not a good work, because it was not prompted by love to God, but by the desire for self-glorification, and as a deed that should earn for them God's favor.
A Christian is not his own. He has surrendered himself to his Lord and Master Jesus Christ. He has received salvation from Him and his desire is to serve Him. His whole life is therefore controlled by the love of Christ. There is a vital union between him and Christ and his daily life flows out of this union. His good works are not isolated acts, but an organic result of his relation to Christ. For this reason there is a unity in the life of the Christian. As the fruit of the tree is a manifestation of the nature and vitality of the tree, so the good works of the Christian are manifestations of the nature of his life in God and of the vitality of this life.
Every-day Christianity. A Christian must be a Christian under all circumstances and in all positions and in all places. His whole life and all his activities must be under the control of the Holy Spirit. The Christian life does not consist in choosing certain things as being specially pleasing to God, but in making our whole existence and all activities pleasing to God. Our Christianity, therefore, shows itself in the way in which we discharge our everyday duties. A Christian son and daughter must prove their Christianity in their relation to their parents and to the brothers and sisters in the family. A Christian father and mother must practice their Christianity in their relation to each other and to the children. A business man must act as a Christian when he is planning his business as well as when buying and selling. A Christian in an official position must act in harmony with the spirit of his Master There is no part of our life which God does not want to come under the control of His Spirit.
Too many people seem to think that when they serve God on Sunday, they can serve themselves and the flesh during the week. This is not a Christian life. God aims to sanctify us through and through. That means that our thoughts, words, and deeds are to be controlled by His Spirit, and purified of selfish motives, to be active in glorifying Christ and helping our fellowmen. God does not recognize only a part of our life as belonging to Him, while the other part belongs to ourselves and the world. Every part of our life belongs to God and must be under His control.
It satisfies. When a Christian in his heart loves his Master and wants to serve and glorify Him, he is filled with a wonderful satisfaction. It is a true statement of fact when Christ says that "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:30.) When a Christian lives as a Christian, he is in his right element. To live otherwise causes the conscience to suffer and fills the heart with regret and sorrow.
The fundamental characteristics. The first and fundamental characteristic of a Christian life is fear and love of God and trust in Him alone.
There can never be a Christian life unless we are in the right relation to God. Being in the right relation to God, it becomes a necessity to act in everything as God wants us to act. The details are given in the Ten Commandments as explained in our Catechism. We are taught not only what we should not do, but also what we should do. Too many people look upon Christianity as a series of "don'ts," and their instruction of the children consists mainly in telling them what they must not do. The "don'ts" simply tell us what our relation to evil should be. This is important, but it is only a small part of the life of a Christian. A Christian will do his Master's will, and the Master's will is that we should love our neighbors, help them in all needs, be honest and faithful, courageous and pure, patient and steadfast, humble and strong, honest and generous, temperate and considerate. The purpose of a Christian is not merely to abstain from stealing, murdering, cursing, lying, hating, slandering, coveting, and all such things. He must also practice those things Christ has commanded us to do. It is only as we obediently and lovingly do the things Christ has commanded us, that we grow in spiritual wisdom and stature, and that as a result a Christian character is developed.
God has not more pleasure in one calling than in another, if both are honest. We not only can, but should be Christians in whatever honest work we are engaged, and we are Christians, by doing that work in such a way that it honors our heavenly Father and benefits our fellowmen.
Growth. A Christian must grow. The growth depends upon what is called the daily renewal. By daily renewal we mean that all the spiritual forces in him are daily invigorated and vitalized by the Holy Spirit. His faith, love, obedience, hope, trust, courage, in fact all sides of his spiritual life, must daily be renewed. We can not fight the Devil today with the strength we had yesterday. We can fight only when we have sufficient strength today. We can not love our neighbor with the love of yesterday. Love must be alive in our heart today, if we shall live a life of love. This is one of the fundamental laws of the spiritual life.
Use the means of Grace. How are we to be renewed? It is the Holy Spirit that renews us through the Means of Grace. This means that we must use the Means of Grace. We must fill our mind with the thoughts of the Word of God in order to obediently live by it. The Word of God must be the food of the soul every day. It should not only be the lamp for our feet, but the Word should also bring us the forgiveness of our sins, and the comfort and encouragement from God that we need. The question is not how much of the Word of God we study every day, but whether we every day live by the Word. It was this that made Jesus invincible. He lived by the Word. In the Word He heard His Father's voice. To the Word He subjected Himself in every detail of His life. We must use the Word in the same way. We must submit ourselves to what God says in His Word and find our comfort and our guidance in it.
Baptism is a help. As Christians we must not forget our baptism. At times it will be difficult to apply the comfort of the Word to oneself. The conscience accuses, and one is keenly aware that one is a sinner. It often looks as if there is nothing left of fear and love of God, of trust in Him. It is as if there is nothing but sin in the heart. In such hours our baptism has a special message to us. The message is that however dark it looks in us, there is no darkness in God. The covenant He established when He in baptism made us His children remains unbroken on His part. The Fatherly love that He gave us in baptism, He gives us today. The forgiveness of sins that He bestowed upon us then, He bestows upon us today. He can not fail Himself, or go back on His covenant. Thus our faith is strengthened or even rekindled. Baptism therefore helps the soul to appropriate to itself God's grace in Christ Jesus.
At the same time, our baptism becomes a call. In our baptism we came into a special relation to our God, we became His children. The call that comes to us is to live as God's children and not to bring dishonor upon our heavenly Father, nor upon Him who bought us with His blood.
Fight the good fight
with all thy might,
Christ is thy life,
and Christ thy light.
Lord's Supper a help. We also have the Lord's Supper, which has been provided as a Means of Grace for God's children. Also here God comes and deals with us individually, and by means that are visible. He gives to each individual new forgiveness, new assurance of love, new inspiration, new strength.
It is by making use of the Means of Grace that the soul receives the nourishment that is necessary for spiritual growth.
Put to death the old man. One more thing must be mentioned. The greatest enemy we have is within ourselves. It is what the Bible calls the flesh, that is, our in-born selfishness and unwillingness to submit to the Lord, our desire to satisfy the lusts of the flesh. This enemy will cause the Christian a great deal of trouble. He will have to fight him constantly, and there can be no quarter given. We are told in the Word of God that this old man or old Adam must be put to death. He can not be sanctified, he will never repent. There is, therefore, only one thing to do with him, put him to death. This we do when we, using the Means of Grace, live a Christian life and bring our failings, shortcomings, and sins to our Lord and Master, ask Him to make us truly sorry that we are not better Christians, and to forgive us and renew us that we may continue to live in fellowship with Him.
From the Confession. Art. XX of the Augsburg confession sets forth the teaching of our Church regarding good works. We quote a part of this article.
|Furthermore, it is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God. It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins is apprehended, and that, for nothing. And because through faith the Holy Ghost is received, hearts are renewed and endowed with new affections, so as to be able to bring forth good works. For Ambrose says: Faith is the mother of a good will and right doing.|
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Newly Elected LMS Officers
Synod officers elected at our June convention were: Rev. Erickson, Chetek, WI, President; Dianne Boekankamp, Indianapolis, IN, Sec.; Jan Jerabek, Chetek, WI, Treas.
Ministerium officers elected at our June Ministerial meeting were: Rev. Spears, Indianapolis, IN, LMS Pres.; Rev. Barley, Parsippany, NJ, Benefits Officer; Rev. Hotes, Springfield, IL, Sem. Pres.; Rev. Horn, Percipiany, NJ, Sec., Rev. Iverson, Brooklyn Center, MN, News Letter Ed.
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Truth and Controversy
Rev. Ralph Spears
|And they took up stones to stone Him but Jesus answered, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me? (John. 10:31 ESV)|
|And they rose up and drove Him out of town and brought Him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built so that they could throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went away. (Luke 4:29 ESV)|
|After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! (John 6:66 ESV)|
Controversy is surprisingly prominent in what has been called "the greatest story ever told from the greatest life ever lived!" After all this was serious stuff. Several times before the very public crucifixion, our Man of Sorrows was very nearly executed because of the nature of His teachings. John's Gospel in fact mirrors a growing conflict between the religious authorities and the traveling Rabbi, Jesus.
At another time many of His followers fell away and stopped following Him over the same teachings. If Jesus had not been able to answer with irrefutable wisdom, and move mysteriously through their midst, He would have been dead long before His passion. But He knew that they could not touch Him before His time.
Was this heresy, a break from traditional doctrine that got Jesus into such serious trouble? No rather his crime was declaring the fulfillment of Scripture and the arrival of a truth - in person - which thereby gave rise to a very public controversy. As a matter of fact Scripture (Prophets and Psalms) - even said that such a controversy - would take place in detail, eerily close to the events recorded by all of the Gospels.
If today's solutions such as conflict resolution were used, we might conclude that Jesus' comments were just not politically correct. In analyzing His dialogue it is rather obvious that He is too blunt. Perhaps if He had employed speechwriters to avoid certain key phrases and hot button issues, these crises might have been avoided and He may likely have spent several more years in productive teaching.
However, when God speaks, through prophets and the Messiahs it is not to please man's conventional wisdom. It is truth with a capital "T" which is portrayed with such symbols as a two edged sword which cuts both ways or a Holy fire, that burns of its own and on its own.
The latter chapters in John just before the Passion, has Jesus explaining why; "Because the world hates me and my Word", He says, "it will hate you also." The world cannot stand the Truth no matter how it is stated, therefore "blessed are you - the Church and individual members-when you are persecuted for My sake!" "For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you!"
Today controversy is no stranger to the Church of Jesus Christ. In fact it is hard to avoid the disgusting taste that it leaves because of late, it has become embarrassing to any who love the church and what it stands for. Many now wonder if they can continue the usual walk with the Master or be affiliated with His Church. Or is it His church any longer, some wonder?
Names such as, Episcopal, Roman and even Lutheran, which once described what the Church should be to many Christians, have sold out, and seem jaded - their bright colors like stained glass have faded and the truth for which they once were pillars of truth, have crumbled in the minds of former constituents.
Many will never go to another church again. Some have looked in the direction of the up-beat expressions that might make one feel good at least. Deeper thinkers, after much consideration, have tried to search out some ecclesiastical safe house, and have jumped to what appears to be a steadier denominational ship as a way of seeking some kind of spiritual prestige of clarity, even sanity.
What was once safe, comfortable and familiar, has become strange and unacceptable and exists best in past memory. And as the controversy has increased, the numbers for church attendance have fallen to their worst level - ever!
But the controversies of the Church today are strangely similar to the sins of the past, they ARE those sins revisited!
The argument goes, that if we just bless that sin and overlook that foible we will win a new peace because, after all, we are of the (add your present time) century! Furthermore, the plea for unity from none other than Our Lord's prayer in John 17 is employed here, "that we may all be one!"
But -of course - in other Scripture, Jesus, and Paul warned of this very thing, not to mention Peter, John (in his Epistle), and James.
There is then this second kind of controversy. The controversy making the headlines today! It is not new in relation to Scripture. It attempts to bend the Truth with a smaller truth, to make kosher that which is not clean for it is not of truth at all, but of the lie. Bent truth is broken truth. It is but another chapter in an ages old battle between the Sons of Righteousness and the those of Belial* - the lie.
Effete reasoning is used which purports to rise above and replace Truth and act surprised that it is not recognized immediately by all as the final word.
Controversy - in any age - however, still brings an unexpected uneasiness to the pit of the stomach. What do we do about that?
Undoubtedly it existed with Elijah as he hid out in his cave overlooking the ancient city of Haifa and rehearsed his lament about "being the only one left" who was faithful!
The "still small voice" of God moves us out of our safe little hiding place, reminds that we are not alone - that there are many others that feel the same way; and directs our steps to the detail of the job that we are to do. "His truth - through controversy - is marching on!"
May our prayer and our resolve be, to be found faithful in these days!
|* Belial is an ancient term used more than twenty times in the Hebrew Old Testament and many times in the War Scrolls of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness in the Dead Sea Scrolls, often referring to "Sons of Darkness" who bend the truth. However, Belial is used only once, but effectively, in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:14 ff)|
|What partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?|
|What fellowship has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?|
|For we are the temple of the living God! [Italics mine]|
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