More about worship

Go here for part 1.

If the main purpose of Lutheran worship is to receive God’s gifts, then it follows that Lutheran worship is Christ-centered. Just take a look at the liturgical orders of service in either of our two hymnals. Everything said and done is filled with His Word. Why? Because our focus is on Christ and His work, that’s why. The focus of Lutheran worship is on Christ, not man. Therefore, Lutheran worship is always Christocentric-Christ-centered-and never anthropocentric-man-centered.  ~A.L. Barry, as quoted by Matt Richard in part 2 of his series on Lutheran worship

The heart of worship

In my opinion, the greatest statement on worship (as well as on faith) is Peter’s statement as recorded in John 6:68:

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 him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69, ESV)

“Where would we go? Only you have the words of life.”

Our word “worship” means to give something or someone great value or worth. Peter’s statement is really the ultimate worship statement, as he is not just saying that Jesus’ words are better than the Rabbis down the road. Peter goes so far as to say, “only you.” There are simply no other options. There’s life here, and anywhere else is death. This attitude, I think, is the true heart of worship.

Note that Peter doesn’t say anything about himself.  He doesn’t talk about what he has to offer, and he doesn’t say anything about how being with Jesus makes him feel. In fact, given Jesus’ recent teaching topics, Peter may have even been somewhat perturbed with Jesus due to the loss of followers. This is, rather, a clear-cut statement that Peter acknowledged that only Jesus had what Peter needs to survive. As someone once put it, Peter’s statement was one of “enlightened self-interest.”

Christ-centered worship

Mr. Barry goes on to say

… Lutheran worship takes our eyes and sets them firmly on the cross of Jesus Christ, for there the Lord of the Universe suffered and died for the sins of the world. Lutheran worship points us to the Resurrected Lord who lives and reigns to all eternity, and promises us everlasting life. Christ-centered Lutheran worship lifts our hearts and minds to the things of God and helps us to understand our place in Christ’s kingdom better as His redeemed people. Yes, Lutheran worship must always be Christ-centered.

When we say Lutheran worship is Christ-centered, this is not to say that those who gather for worship are mere blocks of stone. Our worship focuses on Christ, who is present for us and with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is truly among us. We are not contemplating a far-off Christ, or meditating on abstract ideas. Lutheran worship is not like going to a self-help group or a therapy session. It is God who gathers us for worship around the gifts He gives to us through Word and Sacrament. We are worshipping the One who is very near, as close as the preaching of the Word. We are worshipping the One who is actually present under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He promised, “I will be with you always.” In our worship service He fulfills that wonderful promise. He is living and active among us, right here, right now, where He has promised to be-in His Word and Sacraments. Therefore, it is important to say that while our focus is on Christ, His focus is always on us! Thanks be to God that this is true!

Now, I don’t mean to say that only Lutherans worship correctly, or that all Lutherans necessarily worship correctly.  I think the principles here transcend Lutheranism, although Lutheran incarnational theology is very intertwined with Lutheran thoughts on worship, and contemporary evangelicalism tends to downplay concepts such as Christ’s real presence.

One of these things is not like the other

My point, rather than to necessarily champion Lutheran worship, is to point out the differences between this philosophy of worship and other worship philosophies which are to varying degrees influenced by Calvinism and Arminianism, both of which can have a very man- and works-centered focus.

I am also not emphasizing one style over another (although I have thoughts there, too). It is entirely possibly to be involved in a very emotionally-oriented style of worship and still be aware that the whole point is to receive from Christ.

This, by the way, is what the Lutherans mean by “Christ-centered,” which is also a term used by everyone else; no one would say that their worship is not “Christ-centered.” The difference is whether or not we are looking solely to Christ as our source for righteousness and holiness as we worship.




On Creeds

James McGrath has an interesting post today, “I Believe in I Believe in God,” in which he writes

Last Sunday in my Sunday school class, the topic that came up here on the blog recently also came up there: the difference between trusting in divine grace, and trusting in one’s understanding of divine grace.

One can apply the same point to the creeds. There is a difference between believing in God, and believing a creed, even if the creed begins with “I believe in God.”

Hence the title of the post. For some, it is not enough to believe in God. One must believe in “I believe in God…”

The lack of creedalism

Now, McGrath represents the more progressive side of Christian theology, and would perhaps have a different perspective of creeds than the typical “evangelical” (in the contemporary sense, not the Lutheran sense). For that matter, I would not be surprised if many of today’s evangelical Christians know that the creeds exist or what they say. Evangelicalism, in part due to a disregard for the historic creeds, has drifted in myriad directions, and has become quite subjective. From this standpoint, many “conservative” evangelicals are, in fact, “progressive,” when it comes to historic, confessional Christianity.  Far more often than not, what you hear on any given Sunday morning is not historic Christianity or theology, but the pastor’s perspective, salted with verses pulled out of context to support the topic du jour.

This is not to say that these evangelicals have drifted from the essence of the creedal statements, at least as far as their church statements of faith go. In fact, many have actually added requirements for being members of that church. However, it’s my experience that many evangelical Christians have never been taught basic theology, and are in fact heterodox with respect to the creeds.

There is a difference

There is, indeed, a difference between believing in God, and believing in a creed. But I think it is important to understand the origins and contexts of creeds.  Without going into great detail, creeds were mainly developed in response to various heresies that threatened to divide the church. They were developed to reflect what was felt as the absolute bottom-line with respect to what one had to believe in order to be a Christian.  Believing in God is one thing; believing in accordance with Scripture as reflected by the creeds is another.

The Nicene Creed, for example, was developed in the 4th Century as the standard for orthodox Christianity. You could believe otherwise, but you’d be a heretic – outside the faith.  The same would seem to be true today – the creeds haven’t changed.  You can disagree with the creeds, but then, you disagree with conventional, orthodox Christianity as understood for 2000 years.

There are a couple of issues with respect to the Nicene creed that conventional churches disagree about. One is whether or not the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or both the Father and the Son. This is not an issue I tend to worry about, although I tend to go East (from the Father only). The other issue is the phrase “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church” (“catholic” meaning “universal”), which would be disputed by some, and which is interpreted differently by others.  Thus, some fundamentalist churches (who are very anti-Catholic and anti-Eastern Orthodox), would reject the Nicene Creed, again, making them progressives…


What do you think? Is it enough to believe in God, or does one have to believe in one or more of the creedal statements?

On how to read the Bible

On “Progressives”

I just read an interesting blog post entitled, “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.”

First, a rant about how much I hate the word “progressive.”  I think it’s a terrible word. For one thing, the implications of being “progressive” is that somehow you are more advanced than non-progressives.  To that, I simply respond, “bullshit.”  Seriously, I do.  I could go on and on about self-proclaimed “progressives,” but I won’t. At various times and places, progressives have been much different than many of the ones we have today.  For example, our founding fathers were at one time progressives, but now they are not, much less revolutionary.

Another thing about the word, “progressive” is that it’s tied in with the flawed view that progress is necessarily positive, a mentality rooted in the Enlightenment, which wasn’t always as enlightened as many think.  The concept is also tied to a certain view of evolution in which, again, everything necessarily improves over time. However, I think we also see that the opposite is often the case. Without a lot of effort, things tend to fall apart.

The use of “progressive” may simply be to distinguish themselves from “fundamentalists” or other conservative extremists, which I can understand. However, there is also the implication that progressives are more educated and sophisticated, which also falls into the BS category. More educated has never meant “smarter,” and I’ve found over the years that “sophisticated” is often a fancy word for “sin.”

This is not to judge anyone in particular, who may or may not be in some advanced state of development. I’m simply talking about the word and its implications. So, it remains to be seen whether Christian “progressives” are any further along, or are just simply screwed up.  Unfortunately, many I’ve seen fall into the latter category.

Ways of reading the Bible

That being said, there are different ways to read and interpret Scripture, from the so-called “literalist” approach, to viewing all of the Bible as myth.

First, about literalism: No one reads the Bible literally, even if they say they do. They may read many more things literally than others, but that’s about it.  Sometimes, “literalism” means they also read the side notes of the Scofield Bible as inerrant. “Inerrant,” too, is a rather useless word.  It seems to have been used to draw a line between true “evangelicals” and others (progressives?).  In any event, I don’t think it’s helpful. And, oddly enough, I’ve heard some of the most twisted interpretations of Scripture coming from those who claim to believe in inerrancy. It seems that a belief in inerrancy has little to do with how much you respect Scripture. And, as the article points out, often atheists read the Bible more literally than many Christians.

On the other hand, I don’t think anyone with any real brains can seriously look at the whole Bible as myth (that is, not factual, but written to make a point). I know some who try, and try as they might, they simply can’t sound intelligent while defending this claim. The reality is, some of the Bible is meant to be taken as fact, and some of it obviously employs various literary devices to make a point.

Without endorsing everything in the article, “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible” provides an interesting set of points for discussion, and I think anyone who is serious about interpreting and understanding the Bible will at least appreciate the opportunity to think about this things, whether progressive or otherwise.

I have read some other “liberal” guidelines for interpreting Scripture which I couldn’t respect at all, as they were as skewed as what you’d expect from fundamentalist guidelines. The 16 points in this article, however, are at least sensible.  Take, for example, #12: “We also tend to employ a “canon within the canon” lens whereby we give greater weight and priority to certain texts over others.”  I think all of us do this already, even if we don’t realize it. Personally, I give highest priority to the words of Jesus, who is the highest revelation of God that we have.  And, I tend not to stick to the verses I understand, and let the rest work themselves out.  (One of my life rules, that my kids have heard me say a lot, is “you can only do what you can do.”)

I am sure that there are some who will have knee-jerk reactions to this and to be honest, I’m not very interested in what you have to say. But, I think this outline would make a for a very interesting discussion, and then to consider how reading the Bible differently would impact our faith.




What’s up with the Lutherans? Part 2

This is an addendum to my prior “What’s up…” post. I’m not trying to pick on the Lutherans, but since I was raised Lutheran and still hold to a very Lutheran-ish theology, I just can’t help going “What??” as I encounter various Lutherans online.

I’ve already discussed that for many Lutherans, the key Lutheran writings, aka The Book of Concord, takes the place of the Bible as the foundation for Christianity. I get that the whole idea is that Lutheranism is the accurate interpretation of Scripture, but just assume for once that Luther or Melancthon may have been wrong. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of those who followed Martin made a few errors, especially in the whole 3rd use of the Law thing (no, I won’t discuss that again).  If you don’t always go back to Scripture, you’ll never know if the Confessions are wrong about something. And if they’re right, Scripture will back up your position.

The thing is…

The thing is, in my mind Lutherans are supposed to be the “grace people,” not the “follow our rules or be cast out into outer darkness” people.  Trust me, we have enough fundamentalist wackos in our country without adding those calling themselves Lutheran into the mix.  This whole “Lutheran Fundy” attitude is new to me… there’s probably a good reason why certain branches of the Lutheran Church were never spoken of when I was growing up.  Granted, my grandfather came from the Swedish/Augustana Lutherans and had been influenced by pietism. When my father was growing up, playing cards were forbidden, for example.  But by the 60’s, we were part of the Lutheran Church in America, which had lost much of the pietistic influences.

Pietistic errors aside, Luther is widely recognized as the person who rediscovered the Gospel in the Western church. The word “evangelical” was first used by Martin Luther to identify those holding to a theology of salvation by grace.  However, it would seem that for some who call themselves Lutheran, grace takes a back burner once you are baptized, and it’s right theology and rules from there on out.  At least that’s the way it reads.

This week’s stupid Lutheran discussion

I belong to a Facebook group called “Confessional Lutheran Fellowship.” It seemed like a good way to learn what’s gong in in Lutheranism, and discuss theology on occasion. I’ve seen some stupid things posted on occasion, but this past week someone asked, “Is a female pastor a pastor?”  It started out a bit surprising when the 2nd person, a female, responded, “No. She’s a sinner in rebellion to the Word of God.”  Female pastors were then referred to as false prophets, and “preistitutes.”  Seriously.  So I did what I normally do, and replied “yes.”  Some people appreciated my honesty and bravery, someone else told me that I couldn’t be a Confessional Lutheran and hold that position.

About 150 comments into the discussion, it turned to the issue of whether Communion was really Communion if “administered” by a female pastor.  Then it just got weird.  I then jumped in to point out that these rules they were discussing were not Scriptural, but based on church tradition.  While one person “liked” my comment, I also got this response:

Alden, our Lord Jesus Himself establishes the Office of the Holy Ministry as the essential public office of His Church in Matthew 28. Making disciples by means of Word and Sacrament is precisely what Jesus gives there. And we see this very thing playing out in Acts 2.42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” which explicitly locates the Sacrament in the Apostolic Office. This is precisely how the matter is treated in the Symbols of the Church, so if you would be a Lutheran and Christian, you would agree.

Contrary to my impulsive, combative nature, I did not respond, and for the most part abandoned the discussion. I probably could have explained that Acts 2:42 says that the Apostles taught. Period.  Since no one believes teaching is a purely apostolic function, his argument disintegrates completely.  Not to mention his presumption of “Office” in Matt. 28.

The benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate

One of the benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate is that I’ve had 35 or so years of non-Lutheran context.  In that evangelical milieu, I have retained the essence of Lutheranism. But I came back to a Lutheran theology after sitting under a variety of more contemporary theological teaching, and don’t look at Scripture through merely one filter.

I don’t have a problem with church structure.  For example, I’m very comfortable in Anglican churches, and respect those in Eastern Orthodox traditions. However, I also recognize that the New Testament does not set a “head pastor” model for churches.  Elders are discussed, as are those who serve in various functions. I am aware that while Paul makes statements about women no being over a man, I also see women being named as prophets, and being “counted among the Apostles.”  You can have a pastor, but you can’t claim it’s the Biblical model.

Besides, in the New Testament, leaders are those who serve. No one has a problem with women serving men. And when it comes to Communion, there are no requirements at all, except for Paul’s short teaching as to how it should be presented.  It was a meal, after all.  It only became a token ritual later on.  (No one could have become drunk sipping wine from a common cup.)

All this talk of “Offices” and rules are completely foreign to the NT.

The Gospel Uncensored

When I wrote The Gospel Uncensored from Ken Blue’s sermons, I never anticipating having to deal with a Lutheran legalism.  But presenting any sort of church rules—especially those that are used to disparage someone else—is not unlike requiring circumcision or dietary rules.  In the discussion thread I mentioned above, it was actually stated that women who become pastors are unrepentant sinners and are destined to hell.

Seriously?  In Galatians, the only people Paul suggested should go to hell were those imposing rules on the Galatian Christians.

It’s okay to believe that women should not be pastors. Traditionally, this has been accepted, and it’s difficult for people to change their perceptions. And, there are arguments on both sides. But, holding people to man-made rules is clearly condemned by Paul, as is judging others.  These attitudes are just plain evil.

I should mention that not everyone in the Facebook discussion were condemning, and many stood up to those who were clearly out of line. But, there seemed to be an unfortunate number of people who were so entrenched in their legalism that there was no room left for grace.

An interesting twist

I have had to deal myself with my thinking about women pastors, peeling away various filters that have been in place for years. However, I occasionally attend an Episcopal church with a female priest, and I like her. She is there to serve, and does it well.  I’ve also met a female Lutheran pastor who I think has the same heart. However, I have a greater problem with some female pastors in more contemporary churches, as the servant leadership mentality is often notoriously missing, with pastors often occupying a separate class than others. There, pastors are assumed to be “over” the church. In that case, I would firmly be against women in that role. However, I’m also against men in that role…

Bottom line, I’m thinking I should probably just leave that Facebook group, as it’s clearly a much narrower group than it claims to be.  And, I don’t need that kind of irritation.