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Topics - Dan Fienen

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1
Your Turn / Forum Letter, Jan 2021
« on: December 19, 2020, 10:06:01 AM »
I just got and read the electronic edition of the January 2021 Forum Letter. I always enjoy the Forum Letter but this issue was especially thought provoking.


I particularly appreciated Charles Austin's article, "The Issue of Issues." In it he pointed out that while gender equality for women and recognition and acceptance of gender and sexual minorities is an important, even critical issue for the ELCA, it is not the only issue or even the most important issue. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, that sinners are forgiven and saved because of Jesus and what He did needs to be at the heart of what we do. That does not mean that gender and sexuality issues can be ignored or neglected, but neither dare we neglect the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus. That is applicable to everyone.


Naturally, Charles has much more to say than I could summarize in a paragraph or two, but the take away that I took from his article is the salutary reminder of the temptation that threatens to side track all of us to elevate a side issue or a part of the implication of the Gospel for the Gospel itself. For the ELCA now that might be gender and sexuality issues. For the LCMS it might be issues of doctrinal purity and unity or Biblical inerrancy. Important issues and worthy of our time, effort, and dedication, but not the Gospel itself.


It has become a common trope, even a cliché, that people are tempted to major in the minors. But these crucial issues for either the ELCA or LCMS are not exactly minor issues. They are important in the over all scheme of things and are important to us. We care about them in part because we perceive them as an important part of what supports the Gospel or an important implication of applying the Gospel to life. But we can end up getting so caught up in those that we lose sight of the heart of the Gospel. Sort of a not seeing the forest for the trees situation.


That brings me to the opening article "Lessons from My Uncle" in the issue by associate editor Peter Speckhard. In it Peter shares a letter that his uncle wrote explaining why he left the LCMS for the ELCA. Like Peter, I would not agree with his uncle on a number of points that he made, but here again an important point that I took away from this letter and Peter's article is that we need to be careful not to let subsidiary issues overshadow the Gospel.


One point, for example. His uncle Tom commented on the LCMS insistence on a particular understanding of the real presence in the sacrament that prevented fellowship with the Reformed. I do not wish to argue that point here, but I have long thought that making sure that the sacrament is offered to everyone to whom we should offer it should be at least as important as making sure that no one who should not be offered it at our altar receives it. It seems to me that if we are to err on the side of caution, it should be to err on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt rather than when in doubt, exclude.


Issues of inerrancy, real presence, and correct teaching are not unimportant nor should we neglect them. But in our zeal, we need to remember that they are not what saves any more than promoting gender or sexuality equality and acceptance. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what saves, these other issues may be important to support that Gospel or as implications of the Gospel important for living it out in our world, but they are not what saves.


Good articles and they made me think.

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Your Turn / Romans 13 and Revelation 13
« on: September 28, 2020, 01:41:20 PM »
Over on another thread it was pointed out that Romans 13 and Revelation 13 have very different attitudes towards government. In Romans 13, the government is portrayed as serving as God's agent in punishing wrong doers and that Christians are obliged to offer it their respect and obedience. In Revelation 13, the Roman government is an enemy of God and His people. So is this a contradiction in Scripture?


Let me offer an observation and interpretive principle: In giving us His word in Scripture, God limits Himself to the limited bandwidth available in human communication. Or to put it another way: God cannot say everything that can be said on a subject all at one time.


As a theological work, the Bible is almost exclusively Occasional rather than Systematic theology. Systematic theology tries to be comprehensive  in its treatment of a topic and include all aspects. Occasional theology is more focused on a particular situation and discuss the theological implication of that situation while leaving unexplored and unspoken how that theological topic might be applied to other situations. In the New Testament, Romans is probably the most Systematically presented text, but even there it addresses primarily the situation of the Christians in the city of Rome at that particular time.


It is a great error to take a passage of Occasional theology and treat it as a comprehensive and Systematic statement. Especially if one then compares it with a different passage of Occasional theology and derives that the Bible is inconsistent and contradictory. That is taking a far too literalistic approach to the text of Scripture.


As a general principle, the Romans 13 view of the nature and function of government is a good summary. However, as Revelation 13 and other passages illustrate, government does not always function according to its mandate from God and must be resisted. The maxim, "You should obey God rather than man," as applied to interactions with the government is not in contradiction with Roman 13, but rather points out limits to the applicability of Romans 13, and with Romans projects a more comprehensive view of how we are to regard government.

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Your Turn / Judging Another's Servant
« on: September 16, 2020, 03:11:54 PM »
In looking at the readings for last Sunday, September 13, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Series A, Proper 19, Romans 14:1-12, I was especially struck by verse 4. "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." The immediate context is the dispute over eating meat that had been associated with idol sacrifices. In the next paragraph Paul also extends it to the observance of holy days. How can we apply this pericope to our sometimes-heated discussions on this forum?

Terms of approbation and disapprobation abound. Orthodox, heterodox, and heresy are bandied about. Terms for various people generally considered rude are used, often seemingly with the intention of rudeness while claiming to be simply "telling it like it is." This behavior does not come only from one end of the theological, social, or political spectrum. One poster habitually questions how a Christian concerned about morality could dream of voting for or defending one presidential candidate. Or how those who have not modified their understanding of how God wants the church to be run or who is to be ordained have simply not been listening to the Holy Spirit or actively resisting God's will. From all sides of any issue it is commonplace to consider those who disagree as deficient in intelligence, faithfulness, piety, or morality. Here Paul argues against such attitudes.

In Paul's day there were a number issues that could divide Christians. They had not yet hardened into what we today have as denominations, but there certainly were recognizable groupings, such as Christians who followed Paul and James's party. It is, I think inevitable that Christians of similar beliefs would band together, eventually forming organization to promote their understanding of the faith. Membership within such a grouping would depend in part on sharing those identifying beliefs. Rejecting those beliefs would naturally eventuate in leaving that grouping. But across those groupings, how should we treat each other?

Each religious group or denomination decides for itself what the requirements are for maintaining membership are and what the limits are for dissent. Maintaining those boundaries is the responsibility of that group. It is not for those outside the group, even if they are a similar group to make that determination. So, for example it is not really for me as an LCMS pastor to decide that a member of the ELCA is a heretic. That is for them to decide. ELCA members are not under my ecclesiastical supervision. They are servants of the same God that I am, but under different authority. The most that I can say is that something that they wrote sounded to me to be similar to a recognized heresy, or that I think that something that they wrote sounded wrong to me and why. Of course, I must accept that they may also find things that I write to be wrong. It is not my place to judge the state of their soul, merely state my disagreement.

One area disagreement between the LCMS and ELCA is over who should be ordained. We are more restrictive. So how should I treat an ordained ELCA minister who in my LCMS understanding of the matter would be disqualified for ordination? She is not my servant, nor is she a servant under the same disciple that I am a servant to. It is not my place to judge whether or not she should have been ordained. If she fulfilled the requirements that her discipline (the ELCA) established, she is an ordained minister in that disciple just as I am in mine, and deserves the same courtesy, dignity, and respect from me that I do from her. In other words, I should treat her as I would treat any other pastor from a denomination in which we are not in altar and pulpit fellowship. We both imperfectly serve the same over all master even if our understanding of the terms of that service contradict each other. Who knows, in the end I could be as wrong as she is or she could be as correct as I am.

Our disagreements certainly become heated in this forum, and at times in anger we become intemperate in our language to each other. I repent of the times when I have offended and do strive to be more respectful. We all (well most of us, I can think of one poster who has stated he doesn’t serve God) serve one master and are responsible to Him through the ecclesiastical order in which we serve. It is not for me to judge someone else’s (God’s) servant unless that judgement has been delegated to me. With the exception of the few Bishops or District Presidents who post here who are the supervisors of others, none of us have authority over others, nor should we exercise that.

Please, let us be respectful and polite to each other even when we disagree, and even when someone is so obviously in the wrong. As Paul wrote, Galatians 6:1 (ESV), “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”


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Your Turn / Reparation, Restitution, or Retribution
« on: September 08, 2020, 11:22:47 PM »
Reparations for slavery and racism has been much in the news and a topic of much discussion over the past years. I certainly am not interested in rehearsing all the ins and out of that debate. What I want to suggest is perhaps a different way of looking at reparation.


What is usually suggested as reparations could, I think, often be more accurately termed restitution or even retribution. The idea is the slavery and subsequent systemic racism in our legal, social, educational, and economic systems stole a great deal from people of sub-Sahara African ancestry in the United States. (That can hardly be disputed.) They should be paid back for what they lost. That seems to me to be more a matter of restitution than reparation. And also those who participated in that theft, their heirs, and those who benefited from that need to pay those damages as punishment. That edges towards retribution.


In theory that seems fairly straightforward. In practice that would be quite difficult to be done fairly, both for the victims and the accused culprits. If we are to total up what is owed, lets not forget that part of righting this wrong involved the Civil War in which conflict a great number of lives and a great deal of material resources were spent. With historical events spanning centuries, and the majority of victims and culprits all dead, determining just who has legitimate claims and what they are owed, as well as who owes the restitution and how much is likely an impossible task to accomplish.


One approach is not just restitution but retribution, and not by individuals against individuals, but racial group against racial group. Guilt, culpability, and liability are assigned by being deemed to be part of a victim class or a victimizer class with little regard to whether the individuals so designated had any personal or ancestral connection. That to me seems to not only risk but insure that injustice would be resolved by perpetuating more injustice.


If one of our goals is to bring our fractured nation together and to encourage peace, retribution is a very poor way to try to accomplish that.


Rather I would like to take a new look and different slant at Reparation. Etymologically speaking, reparation traces back to Late Latin reparationem, an "act of repairing, restoration." Instead of looking on this as an opportunity to stick it to people who harmed others and make them pay restitution, look upon it as people who have suffered grievous loss and we should help repair the damaged done to them. And make it a national effort involving all of our people, according to their ability, since this has been a national disaster.


I think that the most important thing here is that those who currently are still suffering the effects of centuries of systemic racism have as much repair done to their lives as possible. While simply a lump of money would no doubt be useful for many people, educational opportunities, better job opportunities, could in the long run be more important.


There would also need to be an examination of our legal, social, educational, and economic system for racial barriers.


Reparations as repairs will not be easy, nor really cheap. But in the long run, I think that it will be beneficial.

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Your Turn / What Is Systemic Racism?
« on: August 31, 2020, 04:04:39 PM »
Systemic Racism has become a catch all phrase to describe any widespread instances of racial inequity.

From the Bing "Anti-Racism Glossary"
Quote
Systemic racism, sometimes referred to as structural racism, encompasses the overarching system of racial bias across all aspects of society, including history, culture, politics, and economics. All other types of racism, such as interpersonal and institutional racism, emerge from systemic racism. For example, redlining was a system that limited Black people's access to home ownership, locking them out of a major pathway to wealth—an economic disadvantage that can take generations to dissipate.

As such, Systemic Racism, has become too broad a term to suggest just where the racism lies and thus what part of the overarching system that is the totality of American society that must be fixed. To diagnose American society as having Systemic Racism is like diagnosing someone as sick. True enough as far as it goes, but it does little to suggest what needs to be done to bring the person or society into a healthier condition. It doesn't specify where in the body the illness lies much less whether anti-biotics, surgery, amputation, or two aspirin call in the morning is the best course of action. Recognizing that we in America have a problem of Systemic Racism is a start, like a person realizing that something is wrong and they need to go to the doctor. Before action is taken, it needs to be specified just what system in the body of the American social system is malfunctioning, and what will improve the situation.

For some, the cry of Systemic Racism has become the cry to destroy all of American society as we know it and build something, as yet unspecified except that they know it will be utopian, new and much better. Some of the people who claim to speak for Black Lives Matter proclaim that All Police Are Bastards. That the current system of policing needs not reforming but to be completely disbanded and that everyone who is associated with the police are the enemy of the people no matter who or what they are and no matter what they do. Police must go, completely. There has been the claim that the very act of declaring that some actions are illegal is inherently racist and that the whole system of laws must be done away with. That looting and destruction of property is a good thing and should not be discouraged.

We hear echoes of this in the current iconoclasm that would pull down statues not just of Confederate Generals, but anyone of American history that does not match their idea of ideal and that would deface and destroy any monument to American history. It resounds in the contention that American is racism and slavery and only that. That not only has slavery and racism been a part of American history since the beginning but that there is nothing else to American history but that and all of what America has been must be pulled down and discarded. After all there is Systemic Racism so the system must be destroyed to destroy the racism. Thus the cry of Systemic Racism can be used as a club to destroy everything rather than a wake up call the there are problems to be solved and injustices to be ameliorated.

All of American history needs to be known, understood, and dealt with. Our greatest men and women all have had their darker sides, and American history has its dark side also. But while that part of our history needs to be recognized, so also must the good and noble aspects. And ignoring and denying the good side of American history and American life is part of what some intend the cry of Systemic Racism to accomplish.

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Your Turn / Science, Archeology, and Solomon's Temple
« on: August 17, 2020, 04:37:56 PM »
Interesting article from the Biblical Archeology Society https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/solomons-temple-destruction-gives-clues-to-modern-science/]"Solomon's Temple Destruction Gives Clues to Modern Science".  Hundreds of floor segments from Solomon's Temple discovered in the Givati parking lot excavation revealed that in the fire that was part of the destruction of Solomon's Temple they were heated to over 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. That was a high enough heat to totally demagnetize the material. Then in cooling they would align to the prevailing magnetic field. That field then could be compared to the contemporary magnetic field. Since the date of the destruction of Solomon's Temple can be reliably established from Babylonian as well as Israelite sources, scientist can then establish with accuracy the state of the earth's magnetic field at a known but ancient point of time. This gives them the ability to chart with some accuracy how earth's field has changed over time.


I don't know that there are any crucial theological points to gleam from this, but I found it interesting. That this is even attempted points out to me how Biblical history is also related to real earth history. Solomon's Temple and its destruction was not just some story that was told around camp fires and home hearths, but happened in history and can assist in scientific discovery.

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Your Turn / How Were OT People Saved?
« on: August 15, 2020, 03:52:38 PM »
Over in the LCMS Racial Justice thread the question came up as to whether Cain could have been forgiven because of Jesus since Jesus had not yet been crucified for sins. Rather than see that thread go off the track, I thought I'd start a new thread here for that discussion in case anyone in interested in pursuing it. If not, it will sink unused and unloved to the bottom of the page to finally disappear, lost forever.


My understanding of this relates to my understanding of God's relationship to time. Sorry, but I'm going to exercise my background in philosophy and especially philosophy of religion here. Once a philosopher, always a philosopher.


In Christian theology God is forever, always was, always will be. Numerous Bible passages could be cited, looking them up is left as an exercise for the readers. In philosophy of religion, two different understandings of this have developed. They are usually labeled for convenience as God as Eternal and God as Everlasting. The designators are somewhat arbitrary.


If God is conceived as Everlasting, the idea is that God experiences time in a linear fashion much as we do. The difference is that He has much more of it than any of us. His time began, if there was a beginning, when time began, and will only end when time ends, if it ends. This makes God much more of a person like us than does the alternative. The downside of this concept is that it becomes much more difficult to account for God's foreknowledge of the future without running into problems of causality. It also allows for the question of if God had a start (being a part of time like we are) what started Him?


The other concept is that God is Eternal. That is shorthand for saying that God does not experience time as we do but rather is outside of time and experiences all time, especially all our time, in an eternal present. Foreknowledge becomes not only easily accounted for but inevitable since He does not see His future but rather ours as part of His eternal present. It can also account for a number of other oddities in Scripture. All language that talks about God planning, foreknowing, deciding, regretting, etc. becomes much more metaphorical since He literally does none of that, those being time bounds actions, but rather translating in metaphor what He actually does, which is beyond our comprehension, into our time bound language and concepts. A downside to this concept is that God ends up being an exceedingly weird Dude.


(For a popular Science Fiction attempt to play with the concept of beings who operate outside of our linear time, take a look at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. At the beginning of the series they established that the wormhole near Bajor was inhabited by The Prophets, beings that did not experience linear time but who interested themselves in Bajor and were a major influence on the events in the region. The series at times played with theological concepts. Maintaining The Prophets as beings outside of linear time proved a very difficult plot device to sustain.)


So, what does this have to do with the salvation of OT people? If God is eternal, and most Christian theology that considers the topic opts for God as Eternal, then Cain, Adam, and Eve were before the incarnation and salvific actions of Jesus only in their time frame, not God's. God who knew Cain from before the founding of the earth, also knew Jesus dying for his sins. Since God, in this conception, lives in an eternal present that encompasses all our time Cain's murdering and Jesus death for the murder are contemporary events to God. All the people of Old Testament times were saved in Jesus salvific actions. The sacrificial system, etc. in the Old Testament was to prepare His people for the salvation that Jesus accomplished which in their time was still in their future, but part of God's eternal present, not His future.

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Your Turn / Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
« on: July 03, 2020, 05:14:25 PM »
Periodically, the issue of Christians eating shellfish comes up in these discussions. Saw an amusing Lutheran Satire video on the topic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r2m_cffRjI

Some years back, I tried a recipe for 007 Shrimp on my smoker. It was bacon wrapped shrimp marinated in a vermouth marinade and smoked.

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Your Turn / Independence Day in a Time of National Turmoil
« on: July 01, 2020, 03:24:53 PM »

While I was considering my 4th of July Sermon for this year, and reflecting on the turmoil that our nation is experiencing, I decided to go off Lectionary and preach on a free text, Romans 7:14-25. Considering what to do about monuments of men who did monumentally good things and bad things and our nation that has achieved greatness and great bad, I was drawn to Paul musing about his own spirituality and sinful nature. We need to accept that great people can be great but still do great harm, ditto our country, ditto ourselves. I am still working on it.


Imagine my surprise when I looked at the readings for this Sunday and discovered that the Epistle Lesson for this Sunday in LSB Series A is Romans 7:14-25a! Don't need to go off Lectionary after all.


Hidden inside of a lot of us (me for example) is a strain of perfectionism. Our assessment of people, institutions, movements, nations, ourselves, tends to be binary. Either we are all good, perfect for all practical purposes, or we must be no **** good at all. Abraham Lincoln was not the perfect Emancipator and champion of Black Americans, so he was just another closet white supremacist, tear his monuments down.


A whole essay or book could be written about the dangers of perfectionism, should be written, probably has. It prevents us from having a realistic assessment of people, recognizing both their good and their bad, or ourselves. We must clearly and realistically face the bad aspects and actions of people and people in groups, even nations. Without facing that, how can we diagnose where we have gone wrong and work to correct it? But without also clearly and realistically assessing and facing the good side of people and the good side of their actions, our understanding of them, and ourselves, will be just as distorted as those who hide and refuse to face our dark sides.


On a personal level, Romans 7:25a "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" We can face our darkness like Paul did because we can take the sin that dwells within us to the cross where it is forgiven. And then join the war between evil and the good for which our lives are the battlefield, knowing the Jesus fights in us and with us. We can also out of the forgiveness God has given us, forgive those who have wronged us and work with them to make it right.


On a national level, we are not all Christian, appeals to the Gospel will not always be met with belief or willingness. Perhaps we start by being examples of what redeemed people can be like.

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Your Turn / Memorial Day, 2020
« on: May 19, 2020, 03:19:29 PM »

My congregation has a long standing tradition on Memorial Day Weekend to honor those from the Armed Forces who died in service, as well as remember members and family and friends of member who died in the last year. (Yes, I know that remembering family and friends who have died is not exactly what Memorial Day is supposed to be about, but for many it has come to mean that also.) I know that Memorial Day is a national rather than church holiday and honoring the Armed Forces is problematic for some (not honoring is problematic for others) but this year in particular I think that we have a special opportunity to reflect on those who risk and give their lives for others.


I'm reminded of this comment on Memorial Day written by Paul W. Nesper in 1952 in his volume Biblical Texts.


"On the 30th of May, America pays tribute to her soldier dead. The day has found a permanent place in the calendar of national holidays, and well so, for any nation which is unmindful of its heroic past will be heedless of its possible future. The church can ill afford to ignore holidays of this nature which touch the very heart of our nation life. A sense of dependence upon God as a nation will contribute much to the spirit which makes a nation strong. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord," Ps. 33:12"


We have had only one death in our congregation recently and that likely from heart related issues rather than Covid-19. Yet our people can see the toll that this disease has taken on our country and in our state, Detroit has become on of the major hot spots. And we can honor especially this year the first responders, medical personnel, and essential workers who have risked much and given many lives in service to their neighbors. We can also honor their families who also have risked and given much during this pandemic, and continue to do so.


I feel that this Memorial Day can be a good time to reflect on this and on the hope that we have in God, Whose Son Jesus gave His life for us.

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Your Turn / The Role of Faith in Salvation
« on: March 06, 2020, 12:21:23 PM »
The readings for this coming Sunday, Second in Lent, Series A are from Genesis 12, Romans 4 and John 3. Genesis 12 is the call of Abram. In Romans 4 Paul commented on Abraham, that it was not his works but his belief, his faith that mattered.
Romans 4:3 (ESV) 3  For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
A few verses later, Paul commented:
Romans 4:16 (ESV) 16  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

Here Paul clearly referred not to God keeping faith with His people, God’s faithfulness, but the belief or faith of Abraham that is instrumental in him being counted as righteous before God. Paul also here used both the terms “faith” and “belief” almost interchangeably. It was not just an abstract faithfulness, being in a state of trust of God, but that there was also content to that faith, beliefs.

In John 3:16 Jesus said, “16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. “(emphasis added) Jesus at least seems to imply that belief in God’s Son is a part of not perishing but having eternal life.

Similarly in Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) “8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Paul again emphasized that salvation is the gift of God, not of our doing and yet he still said that is “by grace you have been saved through faith.” (emphasis added) Faith is an element in that salvation and Paul saw no contradiction in that.

Yet it has been suggested that by including our faith as instrumental in salvation we are reintroducing legalism, negating grace, since we would be making our work, namely having faith, as a part of salvation. Therefore if salvation is by grace, our faith can play no role in it, cannot in any way be necessary for it. If God wills it, He can save people who do not believe in Jesus or even never heard of Jesus.

How can resolve this conflict? The problem is the concept that our faith is somehow something that we produce on our own. That it is a work. But as Lutherans we have specifically denied that. For example in Luther’s Small Catechism:
“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my LORD or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.” (Kolb, Robert ; Wengert, Timothy J. ; Arand, Charles P.: The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2000, S. 355.)

That we need faith in Jesus for salvation does not negate God’s grace since God gives the faith. In the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22, the man without the wedding garment is cast out, even though the king had just commanded that people be brought in off the streets to attend. The usual interpretation is that the king also provided the proper wedding garments to those brought in but the one man had refused. He could easily have had a wedding garment but had rejected it. Could that be how it is with Faith? God provides the faith but some refuse?

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Your Turn / A Refugee's Christmas
« on: December 28, 2019, 03:48:06 PM »

Several churches gained a measure of notoriety this year by setting up their nativity scenes in cages made of fencing. While I think it a bit late to protest the Obama administration's setting up those fencing cages for refugees, I suppose I see the point. However, Joseph and Mary ending up in the stable for the birth of Jesus was not because they were refugees. Joseph hadn't called ahead to reserve a room. (Well, couldn't call ahead, several anachronistic jokes could be offered.) Depending on the nature of the inn at Bethlehem, the stable may have been a better choice anyway. Often travelers did not have separate rooms in caravansaries, so the stable would have been warm, out of the weather and provided a degree of privacy, at least until the shepherds showed up.


But the Series A Gospel for the First Sunday after Christmas does provide a refugee story for Christmas. While coming to Bethlehem Mary and Joseph were not actually refugees, going to Egypt they were, fleeing in apparent haste from a murderous régime who was an existential threat to their family. Matthew doesn't say what kind of reception they got in Egypt, likely they were taken in by the Jewish community who lived in Egypt, had been there for several centuries.  Make of it what you will.

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Your Turn / Fairness for All Act
« on: December 09, 2019, 09:43:22 AM »
A Bill is being introduced in Congress by Utah Republican Rep. Christ Stewart that seeks to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination while also protecting the religious liberty of those carving out exemptions for religious organizations to act based on beliefs that may exclude those of different sexual orientations or gender identities. Called the "Fairness for All Act" it has so far garnered no Democratic co-sponsors. It's likelihood of passage is slim. Here are links to articles about the bill from Christianity Today and the Associated Press.

What the bill tries to do is find common ground for religious liberty and LGBTQ rights. It would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation for LGBTQ persons. At the same time it would exempt religious organizations, both churches and religious nonprofits from those discrimination rules, protect them from loss of tax exempt status for condemning homosexuality, and it would also exclude small (fewer than 15 employees) businesses from the definition of "public accommodation."

The bill faces strong opposition from LGBTQ rights groups who contend that it doesn't protect enough from discrimination and from some conservative religious groups who contend that it concedes to much to LGBTQ rights groups. Some religious groups that have endorsed the bill are the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Mormons. I did not find any comment on either the LCMS or ELCA web sites.

Another bill, the "Equality Act", was passed by Democrats in the House earlier this year and promoted by LGBTQ advocates. It gave similar protections against discrimination but had no religious exemptions.

Like many issues, the issue of LGBTQ rights is both contentious and polarizing. The attempt to find common ground to protect both the religious rights of people to be a part of society while practicing their religion and who for religious reasons oppose same sex marriage and the like, and the rights of LGBTQ people to function in mainstream society is difficult. A winner take all attitude for either side will end up oppressive for the other. That nasty word, compromise, is needed. Neither those who support expansive LGBTQ rights nor those who consider homoerotic behavior as sinful like compromise. But isn't that what is necessary if we are to live together in this diverse and pluralistic society?

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Your Turn / Can Someone Wrong about a Teaching Still Be Christian?
« on: November 20, 2019, 03:57:44 PM »
A side issue developed on the "Impeachment Hearings" thread that is not really germane to that topic but does raise some potentially interesting points.
Rev. Austin, you write:

"We have been moving as a society towards acceptance of same-sex marriage for some time; and it would seem - I don't know how you could deny it - that the acceptance is rather widespread with a married gay man (actively and vocally Christian) running for president and leading the polls in - wait for it! - Iowa."

You err when you assert that a man who is "married" to a man is actively and vocally Christian.  That is not possible.  A man who is "married" to a man is not a Christian.  He is not a Christian and he doesn't speak for Christians.  God's word is crystal clear on this.  Read Romans 1.

This post assumes that Pastor Preus has never sat down with Pete Buttigieg  and assessed the nature of his faith, but rather reaches his judgement on the basis of the fact that Peter is living in a state of unrepentant mortal sin. I suspect that many Lutheran pastors don't function with the idea that unrepentant mortal sins separate us from justifying grace because by committing them "faith and the spirit have departed from them"( Smalcald Articles Secton III:43 see also Apology IV and Thesis X Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel.) but it is part of our tradition. I wonder, however, if Pastor Preus applies this theology equally unquestioningly to other forms of unrepentant adultery.  I am thinking of, of course, the commonest form adultery, divorce and remarriage without the reason for the divorce being adultery. I take great interest in obits for prominent conservative Lutheran pastors which describe his widow as "the love of his life" while omitting the minor detail of the "love of his life" is his second wife. I notice that we treat homosexual sins much more harshly than heterosexual sins.

None of these observations is to suggest that I support the ELCA's celebration of all things sexual (the newest twists being ethically sourced porn and throuples). Indeed people with good memories might recall a number of articles I published in the Forum at the beginning of the process of the ELCA rejection of traditional sexual ethics.They were considered very homophobic by the more enlightened. I still stand by everything I wrote. I comment rather that given the terrible nature of our commitment to marriage and the ease with which  divorce and remarriage is accepted, running immediately to absolute judgement on the nature of a gay man's soul might be seen as a tad hypocritical.

Homosexuality is a descent further into depravity than divorce and remarriage.  The acceptance of divorce and remarriage likely paved the way for same sex marriage.  When marriage is no longer upheld according to its institution by God, it will be twisted into increasing perverse forms.  Adultery is bad.  Pastors who divorce for reasons other than adultery and remarry should not be permitted to continue to serve as pastors.  There is a difference between adultery and homosexuality.  The one is the misuse of what is inherently good.  The other is the use of what is inherently bad.  It is unnatural.  It is perverted.  The very act is a denial of God the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  For representatives of the church to speak of manifestly impenitent homosexuals as Christians is to fall under the woes of Isaiah the prophet,

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

To identify Mayor Pete as a Christian, as Rev. Austin has done, is to define Christianity by the standards of an anti-Christian culture.  It is a skandalos.

The issue of homosexual marriage effects Lutheranism and the teaching of youth confirmation classes.
How does a married homosexual pastor in the ELCA teach the 6th commandment?   Youth need to be
taught that homosexual marriage undermines God's purpose for marriage between one man and one woman.

The ELCA decision to allow married homosexual pastors to have parishes was not God-pleasing.  The Exodus
of 1.9 million members from the ELCA demonstrates the foolishness of that decision.  Hopefully, the ELCA
with either drop the name Lutheran or repent of the idea that married homosexual clergy is God-pleasing.

One need not be Mayor Pete's pastor, nor must one engage in judging something beyond his vocation, to say that a man who is "married" to a man is not a Christian.
Sincere question--given that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, is it within the vocation of any human being (other than the Lord Jesus Himself) to judge definitively whether another specific person is or is not a Christian?  I generally prefer to leave such a determination entirely in God's infinitely capable hands, since He alone knows the heart.  Presumably we can all agree that being "married" to a man is not, by itself, the unpardonable sin.

Take this repetitive discussion on homosexuality to another thread, please.

15
Your Turn / Walter A. Maier II
« on: October 09, 2019, 12:40:48 PM »
Just back from Michigan District LCMS pastors' conference. Our DP, the Rev. David Maier, was not in attendance because he was in Fort Wayne, Indiana with his father, the Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier II who is in hospice care. Prayers please.


WAM II has been a fixture of the LCMS for decades. Generations of pastors, including me, learned Romans under his tutelage. The passing of an era seems to be at hand.

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