St. Matthew Luth. Church
Plans are being finalized for the Annual Conference/Convention of the LMS-USA.
Synod Chairman, Rev. John Erickson, reports convention business will consist
of the usual matters of committee reports, election of officers and committee
members, the setting of a budget, approval of membership recommendations
of pastors and congregations, and the licensing of lay pastors. In addition
time will be spent looking into the matter of dual membership of our pastors
and/or congregations with other synods, and a number of matters pertaining
to our new seminary. As in the past, our first business session will begin
on Saturday afternoon and continue into the evening. The final session is
scheduled for later Monday morning.
As for the Conference presentations, the first presentation will take place on Sunday at 2:00 PM. Presentations will continue into the evening, with a final presentation on Monday morning. The bulk of the presentations will focus on theological education.
Rev. Robert Haltner, Sr. and Rev. Michael Zamzow will be presenting papers dealing with the purpose and methodology of theological training. There will be a prepared response to each of these papers and they will then be open for discussion. In addition to these more extended presentations, a number of more brief presentations are planned by clergy and lay alike, dealing with content and methods of the theological training of pastors. These papers will serve as a basis for discussion that will help 'give shape' to our seminary program.
One additional paper, The Most Beautiful Song in the World (a brief look at the Song of Solomon), will be presented by Rev. William Hartman.
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The following is continued from last month and reprinted from Exploring
God's Word, by Jacob Tanner, Augsburg Publishing House, Mpls., MN; 1950.
Used by permission of Augsburg Fortress.
Faith, justification (forgiveness of sins), and regeneration are not successive
in time. They describe three different sides of the same process. They take
place at the same time.
Read John 3:1-6.
It is one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible that man must be born again in order to be saved. What is born of the flesh is flesh, Jesus said. Flesh means sinful human nature. It is one of God's biological laws that sinful human nature produces sinful nature.
The new life does not come out of man. Only the Holy Spirit has power to create new life. He creates this life as He does all His saving work in the soul, through the means of grace.
Read I Peter 1:28; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:1.
The Holy Spirit brings new life (regeneration) through the word of God. Ordinarily the Holy Spirit creates this new life through the word of God in Baptism. However, many of those who were baptized stray away from God, as did the prodigal son. They become anew dead through trespasses and sins. So they must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. In such cases the Holy Spirit creates the new life through the word of God without new Baptism. The new birth is always wrought through the word of God.
Read James 1:18; I Peter 1:3; Colossians 2:12; John 5:21.
The different terms used in these passages signify that regeneration is an act of the Holy Spirit by which He begins a new life in the heart of man. When the new birth is spoken of as an act by which we are raised with Christ, a two-fold thought is expressed. The first, we were dead in trespasses and sins; the second, through regeneration the Holy Spirit grafted us into Christ and changed us so that we began to live a new life.
Read Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:34; Romans 7:22; II Corinthians 5:7.
The passage from Ezekiel gives us a good description of what the Holy Spirit does when He regenerates a person. He gives a new heart, a new spirit.
A new heart means a new light in our understanding. We look upon God, ourselves, sin, and the world with new eyes, so to say. God doesn't look to us as He did before, neither does sin, nor the world.
Further, it means a new nature in the will. No longer does the will want to rebel against God and go its own way. It wants to know God, have fellowship with God, and be cleansed from all its former evil. Again it means a change in the conscience. No longer is the conscience accusing and reminding of sins we have committed. There is peace through the forgiveness of sins.
Regeneration means a change of the center of a man's life. Before, it was I and my desires and interests that everything centered around; now it is Christ. And by the side of Christ stands my neighbor. He has a place in that center because it is through him that I serve Christ.
The Ezekiel passage also states that God will put His Spirit within us and cause us to walk in His statutes. The same thought is expressed by Jeremiah. It is the writing of the law in the heart. It means that the new heart wants to do God's will. It is an inner desire, an inner urge.
Jeremiah also points out that all this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of our sins. When a person is condemned by his sins, confesses them to God and pleads for forgiveness, the forgiveness that God gives brings God's love into the heart with its peace and new purpose. The man has become a new creature.
Read Matthew 7:22-23; Luke 18:9-14.
Our eternal welfare is an important matter and a serious-minded person wants assurance of his salvation, if it is possible.
Jesus said that many people deceive themselves, like the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. Going as far to the front as he could he thanked God that he was not a transgressor of the law like other people or like the accursed tax collector down by the door. He more than fulfilled his religions duties both as to fasting and as to tithing. In his own mind there was no doubt but that he enjoyed a most favorable standing with God. He deceived himself.
He had been very conscientious in obeying the many man-made rules and regulations, but he knew nothing about mercy arid justice and purity of heart and a saving love of lost sinners. Pride and self-righteousness made him spiritually blind. The day of judgment will reveal many such tragedies: religious people who never knew their own sinfulness because they never honestly faced God's law, and never knew Him who came to save that which was lost. Their assurance was built on the sinking sand of their own goodness and merits.
Read I John 1:7-9; Romans 4:25; 5:1; Philippians 1:6; I John 3:1-2.
How could John be so certain that he was a child of God? Did he not know that he was a sinner? Yes, he knew it very well, but he also knew that if he confessed his sins, God was faithful and just and forgave his sins and cleansed him from all unrighteousness. Having confessed his sins, John was certain that they were forgiven and that he was a child of God.
Paul had the same assurance. Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, he states. To be justified by faith means that our sins are forgiven; not shall be forgiven, but are forgiven. When Christ died on the cross He atoned for our sins and when He rose from the dead He made the atonement effective as a full forgiveness of sins for all who brought their sins to God in His name. For He was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Paul brought his sins to God and received full forgiveness for Christ's sake. And so he had peace with God, and there was no doubt about it. His peace with God rested on a sure foundation.
Assurance of salvation does not rest in what I have done, but in what Christ has done; not in my godly life, but in the forgiveness of my sins; not in my faithfulness, but in His who both began and will perfect His work unto my salvation.
Assurance is an assurance of faith. It is not faith in my assurance, but in the blood that cleanses from all sin; not faith, in my repentance, love, sincerity, prayers; not even in my faith, but in Him who provided an over-abundance of forgiveness for the abundance of my sins.
I am sure of life and salvation because I am sure of the forgiveness of my sins. And I am sure of the forgiveness of my sins because He who in His Word said that if we confess our sins He will forgive them and wash them away in the blood of Christ. He keeps His word.
Read Romans 8;16; Colossians 2:6-7.
Every Christian has experienced that there are times when his sins loom so large and Christ is so distant that the heart is filled with anxiety, even doubt. The soul clings to Christ in a sort of desperate hope, but there is no peace, no comfort. Then, sometimes all of a sudden, sometimes more gradually- Christ becomes so real, comes so near that sins and doubt and fear fade away. A glad certainty of being God's child and a great peace fill the soul.
What happened is that the Holy Spirit clarifies the word of God, either a word about Jesus Christ in general or, more often, a special word and makes the soul see Jesus as the Savior He is. The anxious soul sees itself saved in Jesus.
We do not have any one of these experiences once for all. They are repeated throughout the whole life of a Christian. Only as they continue do we grow in grace and the likeness of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ Jesus and his forgiveness of sins that our assurance rests and always must rest.
Sanctification is the development of the purpose for which Christ suffered,
died, and rose again. The purpose as well as the effect of the forgiveness
of sins is redeemed, sanctified personalities.
Sanctification is used in a two-fold sense. Sometimes, as in the superscription to the Third Article, it includes the whole order of salvation from the call to the glorification. Generally, it is used in the sense of the daily renewal.
Read Ephesians 1:4-6; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 2:10; II Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:1-2; 2:4-5; II Corinthians 5:15.
Christ suffered, died, and rose again in order to provide the power capable of saving sinners. This power was the forgiveness of sins. Its purpose is to redeem sinners from the power of Satan and sin and make them the children of God. The grand objective is sanctified personalities
The passages referred to are examples of the New Testament emphasis on this truth. Let us make a little closer study of a couple of these passages.
Paul makes a sanctified people the aim of God's eternal plan of salvation. To the Ephesians he writes that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should he holy and without blemish before Him in love. That was God's eternal purpose. Paul adds that God had fore-ordained us unto adoption as sons, a phrase that expresses the same idea, namely, that we should become a people redeemed from sin. It was the good pleasure of His will to adopt us as sons and make us holy and without blemish. All this God accomplished through the grace that He fully and freely bestowed upon us. And the heart of grace is forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake.
One more word from Paul. To the Romans he wrote that "whom he foreknew he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29).
All God's planning and activities for man's salvation had as their aim the transformation of the believers to make them like Christ. All those transformed would then constitute the brotherhood of God's children whom Christ would present to His Father as His brethren. This is the final goal of God's saving grace.
Read I Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:10, 14; 13:12; Revelation 7:13-15.
The forgiveness of sins makes the believers holy. They are sanctified once for all through forgiveness. Then their robes are washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. They are fully acceptable to God. They are saints.
Sanctification is here used as another side of the forgiveness of sins. It expresses the complete removal of all sin and guilt from God's account with the individual. They can now be addressed as saints in Christ Jesus, as Paul does again and again in his salutations.
This is a glorious truth, a great comfort and help to God's children. As long as they live in the forgiveness of their sins they are fully acceptable to God and have the right to enter His glory, however imperfect they may be in themselves. It is a refuge where they are safe from all the Devil's accusations.
Read Romans 7:18, 23; Galatians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22; 1 John 1:6-9.
The presence of the flesh or the Old Adam in the believer makes daily forgiveness of sins an absolute necessity for evangelical sanctification.
The flesh or the Old Adam is not our physical body, but our inherited corrupt nature, the soil where all forms of sin find their breeding place. It can neither be converted nor sanctified. It must be put to death.
There is a constant fight between the flesh and the Spirit of God. Every Christian knows how the lusts of the flesh worm themselves into the affections of the new man. The result is not only that evil desires may flare up with a violent force, but that our love of God, our trust in Him, and our willing gladness to serve Him are chilled and deadened. And so the struggle between the new man and the old man goes on and on.
These experiences are daily occurrences. Only through the daily forgiveness of sins is it possible for the believer to walk with God in a good conscience.
Read Galatians 5:1, 13; Colossians 2:20-23; I Corinthians 6:12; I Corinthians 8:9,13.
The spiritual freedom of the gospel is a priceless treasure.
By rudiments of the world the apostle most likely refers to the ways and means by which paganism sought to win the favor of the gods. In Christ the Colossians had found the right way to God. Now came Gnosticism, a mixture of Christian teachings and pagan philosophy, and urged the necessity of ascetic abstinence as the way to holiness. It is of no value. Why not? Because no regime of conduct, however rigoristic, has the power to change the nature of Old Adam and eradicate evil thoughts and desires ("the indulgence of the flesh"). Neither is it able to fill the heart with unselfish love, peace, and joy.
A Christian may marry or remain single; he may eat any food set before him or abstain from it; he may hold office or remain a private citizen; he may be a business manager or a labor leader; he may join others in their fun or stay away. His relation to his Lord is not determined by such outward things. He is saved solely by the forgiveness of his sins as a free gift from God. No rules or regulations can add to or detract from this salvation. As a child of God he is free to use all his heavenly Father's gifts.
Two considerations will govern him in the use of this freedom. The one is that what he does must not stir up the lusts of his flesh, but, on the contrary, be helpful, spiritually and otherwise. The other is that he does not use his freedom so that it becomes a snare to his weaker brother, who, by following his example, may be led into sin.
A Christian in the rise of his freedom will in love and gratitude aim to glorify Christ. That is evangelical liberty.
Read Philippians 1:20; Revelation 2:1-7.
We speak of evangelical sanctification and of legalistic sanctification. The first flows out of love and gratitude to God, the other is a religious business proposition.
The nature of evangelical sanctification is stated by Paul in his words to the Philippians. In life and death he has but one aim, that he may glorify Christ, his Savior and Lord. The compulsion of love is the driving motive in his life.
The church at Ephesus is an example of legalistic sanctification. The church had toiled in patience. It could not bear evil men that called themselves apostles. It had suffered for Christ's sake and had not grown weary. In addition, the members had a genuine abhorrence for the immoral teachings and practices of the Nicolaitans.
Still, the motive back of all this was not love and gratitude. Their seeming flawless congregational life had become Christian business, not a spiritual fruit. The watchover thoughts, words, and deeds had been slackened. The old selfishness came back. Their heart relation to the Lord became more and more superficial and convention. It was not of vital importance that the joy of the Lord's salvation was restored in their souls. The whole relation became formal and their prayers were part of this formal, taken-for-granted relation. The daily repentance and need for forgiveness had died out. As a result the ever fresh gratitude and joy, produced by daily repentance and daily acceptance of forgiveness of sins, had also died. Their Christianity had become a program of obligations and performances that left the heart untouched and cold.
Read Ephesians 4:23; Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:10.
When the New Testament speaks of sanctification as daily renewal, the question comes: What is it that must be renewed? The whole soul life of the Christian must be renewed daily - his thoughts, faith, love, obedience. He must ever anew learn to think God's thoughts, become better acquainted with the originator and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ, that his faith may grow; he must daily live in the love of Christ that passes all knowledge and learn obedience of Him who was obedient unto death.
Read John 15:4-5; 3:30; II Corinthians 3:18.
Abide in me, Jesus said. That is the first law of spiritual growth.
In our daily life the abiding of Christ meets us as a sevenfold challenge. Abide in His word; abide in His love; abide in His forgiveness; abide as a regular and frequent guest at the Lord's table; abide in prayer; abide in thanksgiving; and you will abide in obedience.
Read Matthew 25:34-36, 41-43; James 2:24; Matthew 5:13-16.
The stress the New Testament places on holy living as the aimed-at fruit of the forgiveness of sins receives added emphasis by the words the Lord will use on the day of judgment. His power unto salvation had redeemed those on His right hand from the power of sin and Satan and sanctified them unto the Master's service. And so they were invited to come into the kingdom of glory.
The insistence of James that man is justified by works is another way of stating the truth brought out in the words of Christ just referred to. Faith apart from works is barren, James says. Such faith is largely intellectual approval. It never accepted Christ as Savior unto holy living. It is an inactive, unproductive, dead faith. And a dead faith does not save.
The regenerating effect of the unreserved acceptance of the forgiveness o£ sins produces a qualitative change in the man. It is this new quality created by the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of sins that manifests itself in holy living. It is the fruit that the Spirit generates (Gal. 5:22). A Christian lives as a new man because he is a new man. The result is that the believers are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
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by Pastor William H. Hartmann
DeBary is a community in Central Florida, about halfway between Daytona Beach
("the world's most famous beach") and Orlando (home of Disney World). DeBary
is a very nice city to live in and is fast growing. You would think that
anybody could make a church grow here!
That is what we determined to do when my wife Liz and I, and our three youngest children, moved to Florida just after Christmas in 1992. Our two oldest daughters stayed behind in Wisconsin with our sons-in-law (We now have nine grandchildren up there!).
We looked around for where to start a church. We found the Civic Center could be rented for Sunday mornings at a reasonable price. We placed a notice in the newspaper. For our first service on January 17, 1993, we had 14 people in attendance. We thought that was pretty good. Our average attendance that first year was 15 each Sunday, with the highest attendance at 23.
But we just could not seem to get past what/who we started with. Then some fell away; some moved away; some died. We thought we should try to do something; so we did. I remember that I stressed we should put no trust in such a thing, but we hoped we could find some lost souls. So we printed up and distributed 5000 flyers throughout DeBary. That effort never brought one single guest into our church service. We never even received one telephone inquiry!
When you do not see "results" you begin to wonder whether God wants you there. You begin to wonder whether God wants you to "succeed." You are tempted to give up what you are convinced is the way to shepherd a Christian Church. For you appear for all to see - - a failure.
Just after Easter, 1995, we stopped our worship services at the Civic Center. We figured why pay for the room for public worship services when nobody wants them here anyway. We could not help ourselves but to feel that way in our frustration.
So we had Sunday services in our home. If anybody wants to go down an almost certain road to failure in life, just give up your public worship services! We tried not putting on our Sunday clothes and regularly going to a public worship site at a definite time for a real, live, sing your hearts out, who cares what the neighbors think - - worship service.
We were just about dead from our lack of trying when we started again - - by the grace of God. This time we paid a pretty penny worth for our rent. But we were hopeful that our very nice room in a very nice building right on the main highway going through the heart of DeBary would spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s. With the world going right by our sign every day we were sure that the possibly neatest sign on the block would appeal to all the halt, lame and blind zooming by!
They just kept zooming by as if we were not even there. After being there for well over a year we moved to the other side of the street. The rent was considerably less and I liked the big wide window which let everybody look in to see how neat it was inside. How church-like, even if it was sort of like a storefront. We gave it a special lighting effect and left it on all night. We wanted to be a mighty fortress that was even a light of the world. Come in; come in! we pleaded with all we tried to do. Yet, no matter how beautiful and invitingly we presented our church and congregation to the world, we can just about number the guests who once walked in our door on one hand.
I did not want to try to do anything like so many churches were trying to do to make their churches grow. I was determined not to do anything which was not preaching, teaching and serving people with the Word of God. I was determined to let God make the congregation grow if He wanted it to grow. and when. But it was hard. It is hard! It appears those other churches are succeeding; it appears that we are doing something wrong.
Then something happened which made us, made me, think the Lord wanted us to go in a new direction. I learned of a Church in DeBary that was without a pastor. They were a daycare that wanted to have a Christian school and regular Sunday services. They were of no denomination and had chosen a rather nondescript name. I thought that might be okay. Make Christians out of people. Besides, the name "Lutheran" does not mean anything anymore anyway. If you say you are "Lutheran" you need a long list of disclaimers attached.
After just going over to talk to them and to see what the Lord would say about this matter; and after meeting with the owners and getting to know some of the teachers; that no-denomination Church with the nondescript name called me to serve as pastor of their church and school. Of course, I accepted. I believed it was the Lord's direction for me and the few people we had in our congregation. In fact, we were very excited about this opportunity we felt the Lord had given us. I was all set to preach the Word in season and out like I had never done before; and to get God's Word into the educational program of our new congregation with all my might.
So, just like that, I shut down A Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church, canceled the lease, and closed the checking account. The pews, altar, lectern, hymn board and cross that I had made so lovingly some years before, could be used in this new church.
The next Sunday we were scheduled to have our first service... but it never happened. Before Sunday arrived, the local authorities closed down that "operation" for various reasons, and there was nothing we or I could do about it.
I was crushed. The little congregation was in shock... devastated! It looked like it was the way we were supposed to go. We thought God was in control.
Of course, he is.
I did not stop the closing of A Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church. I had no strength to stop it even if I had wanted to. And I did not want to. I gave away practically everything that had been in our church building. One lady took the three pews to her own congregation which had none. People took away all the odds and ends "junk" by comparison; but nobody even asked about the main things, i.e., the altar, lectern, hymn board, and the cross. Those things remained where they were... with our vital piano... until we finally had to move them out.
In the meantime, we met a couple of times at our home. I warned that if we had a "public" worship service there we would find ourselves in trouble (You cannot conduct public worship services in a private residence in our neighborhood). We decided to investigate if there were any other congregations that perhaps we could hook on with who sincerely wanted to be faithful Christians. But we found nothing that would really work.
On the day we tried to move the piano back into our home - in fact, while it was going through the front door - a letter arrived in the mail, and the phone rang. A lady said in the letter that we cannot quit; and the phone call said that there was a site for worship services available to us if we wanted it. The piano kept coming into the house. We could not just leave it outside. The cross and altar were in thecarport. The letter and phone messages slowed me in my tracks. I had to think about these things. I was not sure if I could start up again. I was not sure if the Lord wanted me to do so.
Perhaps a new name for a congre-gation's brand new start. Perhaps forget the name Lutheran. Just be 'Christian" or something.
I poured over the history books to learn about all the churches who just wanted to be "Christian." What all their names have become - and they are changing all the time - can fill not so few volumes.
The history books tell the story that you have to make clear where you stand. I knew that all the Lutheran Confessions are a good statement of what Christians should say they stand for. I could write them all over again; or, just use what is already there which states the true Christian faith. It is Lutheran! If only people who say they are Lutheran would stand for what the name says they should stand for! It is Scriptural! It is truly Christian! ... Lutheran Christian! That says a lot. The best summary of the true Christian faith anywhere is the Lutheran Confessions.
Furthermore, regarding our "A Mighty Fortress" name: a man who, with his wife, had begun to come at this time, said that he always liked that name. We always wanted to be A Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church in the world - - and all that the name implied.
While A Mighty Fortress has had its ups and downs in DeBary - at least it has felt that way to us - from the very beginning we have conducted Monday afternoon worship services at DeBary Manor Nursing Home. The number of people who have attended these services has gone up and down. We almost stopped them this last time. But some of the members of this special congregation begged us to continue with our services like we have always done. For over six years we have had that service. You know what? Now our new church site is right next door to that nursing home.
Yes, we started our services again. For the last few weeks one lady has walked from the nursing home over to attend our service every Sunday. On this past Easter celebration we had eight people in church! We have weekly Bible classes... learning about our order of service which we believe is very special; learning the story of the Bible as taught in the Bible, and its course in history; adults are learning the books of the Bible in order to be able to better use their Bibles. We are preparing ourselves for our first Holy Communion Service.
Our son is returning home after four years in the U.S. Marines in a couple weeks. He is thrilled he will find his church home ready for him to sing his heart out to the Lord, and with us. This is what we care most about: that we are gathered together in Jesus name. We plan on doing just like we have done in the past. We have a beautiful church and we have a living congregation that is happy together. We will make it the most beautiful place in all the world because Jesus is in the midst of us there. And we want our other son in the Air Force to also be eager to get back to his church home.
And if you or your sons and daughters are around our neighborhood some time; or if you plan to retire soon to some nice sunny spot; here we are! If you are two or three gathered together in Jesus' name, but sometimes feel like crawling into Elijah's cave to die because you feel you cannot go on, we are here to talk to you and encourage you. We know how you feel. When we feel down again in the future - - which is bound to happen, knowing us... here we are! Help us back up, in God's name!
Together with each other let us work under God's grace to be faithful Lutheran churches, which means that we believe all things that Jesus says in Scripture and are ready and willing to go and teach and baptize all nations to the edges and end of the world, confident of the success of our mission. Jesus tells us what to do and is always with us to help.
Through our experiences, A Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church of DeBary, Florida, has learned some very important lessons. The most important is that not anybody could make a church grow in DeBary. But God has founded one that is the most beautiful place in the whole world for us. We are finally happy and content to be just who we are - - because that is what God has made us.
We loved the song when the congregation started. We have learned to sing it better than we ever did before; A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD.
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by Rev. Ralph Spears
Many years ago a well known leader of the Church in England, Julian Huxley,
(brother of Aldous Huxley) with a strong interest in Christian education
wrote that, "the proof of the strength of the Christian Message was the fact
that it survived Christian education!" Anyone who has survived countless
songs and stories from Sunday School on their way to yet another perfect
attendance pin, may chuckle knowingly at his saying. For the old dual concern
of teaching something interesting and relevant, while imparting good content,
went through many twists and turns on the way to its goals.
Most Christians might remember Sunday School in a blur of 'flannel-graph' stories and motion songs as they recall the foundations of their present hard won faith, no less as a teacher than as a student, and wonder how the Faith came through sometimes - in spite of the methods. At our coming Conference (June 12th through 14th) we focus on Christian education more from the perspective of theological education, while realizing that the Sunday School and the seminary are inexorably linked at least by those two concerns of holding the interest of relevancy while imparting the best of content. Seminary experience presented a fresh set of concerns yet so close to those of the Sunday School. There were those concerns about the 'ivory towered' leanings of the seminary linked to our thoughts in retrospect as to how really relevant or helpful much of the course work there, was. At one point, as we seminarians anguished over relevancy, we were met by a study of Dr. Walter Wagoner, Dean of Yale Divinity School called "B.D. - Bachelor of Divinity" by which we realized that ALL seminaries, not just ours, seemed to have the same inherent problem. [I especially remember one cartoon from the book, of a disheveled Elijah emerging from a battery of testing, having been dismissed for his less than satisfactory attitudes and practices!] How is it then that we measure Christian education, whether it be in the Sunday School or in the Seminary? One of the most compelling bits of evidence is in the Gospels themselves. How is it that Jesus taught best? Yes, there are the marvelous set of teachings to the Apostles alone and to the crowds, there are the illustrations from their own lives contained within the parabolic stories. But Jesus taught best by actions with LOVE as a verb more than a noun. He 'looked upon them and loved them'. The Twelve, as well as the many who followed Him, were eyewitnesses to his glory put into action. In fact, His teaching sections were reported by the Gospel writers as a part of the action and interaction with people rather than as a stay put storyteller. Now, as we think back to our Sunday School whether it was last Sunday or fifty-years ago, which teachers or teachings do we remember? Likewise, for those of us so blest with a theological education, what comes across the years to us still from our time in that ivory towered place? Is it not those teachers and professors who taught from the strength of their own conviction of faith, is it not those who taught by example and some how activated the teaching in their own acts of love and example; who were thereby a party to the very best of Christian and Theological education? The fifth book of the New Testament, after all, is called The ACTS of the Apostles which is proven true by Luke's narrative. Furthermore, most of the commands of Our Lord to His followers are action oriented, "do this in remembrance of me", or "go into all of the world baptizing all", even that final command that "you love one another as I have loved you" is a directive to action rather than rumination. Indeed that is how the early Christians were best known - by their love for one another - and eventually - the world. So then as we teach best with the very best curriculum, which is our goal, as we go forth bravely in search of the most relevant materials, methods and course structure; our Lord is still best known to us "in the breaking of bread" in the action of fellowship - in the movement of love in our midst. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted in "Life Together", "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die" - in a selfless action of his own faith to the ultimate of giving as defined by Christ - the "greatest - is laying down our life for a friend". Meanwhile said Pastor Bonhoeffer, Christ alone creates our community for it ("our community with one another) consists solely in what Christ has DONE to both of us." And this defines our actions in community whereever we are.
The proof of the strength of the Christian Message then is in allowing IT to be put in motion in our midst. It will not only survive but flourish!
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