Tuesday, November 26, 2013

'sola scriptura' today

‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’  (Jesus in Matthew. 24.35, Mark 13.31 and Luke 21.33)
One of our mottos as Lutherans is ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture alone). This describes how we choose to limit what we regard as God’s authoritative word to the words of the Bible.   It is a position on divine revelation that requires an explanation to our friends, neighbors and family who, as never before in our lifetime, may not only fail to understand it but may even find it offensive.
The easy part is explaining that we believe to be divine revelation what we know Jesus of Nazareth believed to be God’s word.   He was crucified to redeem us from our sins and and rose again from the dead, so He is in a unique position to know!  He believed in the authority of the writings of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms and so we believe the Old Testament is God’s word—as Jesus did (Luke 24.44)  We also believe what the apostles of Christ have written to be divinely inspired, as they themselves believed (2 Peter 1.21)  Only ’Scripture’ is ’breathed out by God’ (inspired) in this way (2 Timothy 3.15).  It is easy to assert that, as Christ and His apostles did, so we believe that the Bible we hold in our hands is the most perfect thing we human beings encounter on a daily basis.
The hard part is explaining that we treat other people’s religious impulses and insights as of lesser authority.  One might think that simply pointing out that other people ’are not Jesus’ and that the apostolic witness was unique would be self evident, but not these days.   Alien to many people’s thinking today is the apostolic willingness to ‘let God be true and every man a liar’  (Romans 3.4).
Unlike people today, the apostles did not ‘believe every spirit’  (1 John 4.1).  St. Paul went so far as to say,    ‘even if we (!) or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.   As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.   For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ  (Galatians 1.8-10).
The polite thing to do today is ‘please man’.  If someone feels divinely inspired, even if their ‘gospel’ contradicts that apostolic Gospel, we are supposed to listen and make approving noises.
Yet, with every possible sensitivity to people’s spiritual intuitions and religious feelings, we choose to say ‘no thank you’ to their new twist on God, and we should do so carefully, as St. Peter teaches, when he says, ’Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame’  (1 Peter 3.13).
It is lamentable but true that, when it comes to new religious insights, ’people ruined it’ and nobody’s spirituality can now be trusted to have the same authority as the Bible.  In all humility, ’Sola Scriptura’ is simply a Lutheran ‘self-limitation’ that we reckon will do us less harm than ‘believing every spirit’ would do.   We may be wrong to limit ourselves this way, but we have been burned in the past and we have scars.  Please understand.
We can only hope that people will be polite enough to permit us to obey God rather than men and the freedom to choose between their voices.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

“Life after death - proven”

The world is rightly fascinated by that growing body of testimony consistently coming from people who have been resuscitated after clinical death and lived to publish their experiences.  People who have come back from hell feel as though they have been given another chance by the grace of God.  People who have had heavenly experiences and been re-united with loved ones in paradise have said that death no longer frightens them since they have been there and done that.  Even the blind report being able to see during these experiences, some for the first time in their lives.   They say they never felt more alive than when they were ‘dead’.

Lutherans should have mixed reactions to this.  On the one hand, we rejoice that further evidence is available  (if more were needed) that God, heaven and hell are real and our souls do survive death and every human being does live forever, as the word of God teaches.  

We also rejoice that these things, formerly considered mere doctrines, have now been proven scientifically, since vivid experiences had by souls cannot be explained away as ‘brain activity’ when a brain has been disabled.  So writes renowned Harvard professor of brain surgery, Dr. Eban Alexander, in his best-selling book, ‘Proof of Heaven’ – having himself been a disembodied soul, his body comatose with meningitis for seven whole days.  

On the other hand, we should not take people’s experiences as anything more than ‘tours’ of the afterlife given to their souls by forces beyond their control.  Because they vary so much from person to person, little ‘objective’ data about the afterlife has accumulated as a result of these ‘tours’.

Some of these souls – particularly unbelievers - may even have been deceived during their time away from the body, much as they are deceived whilst in the body into false belief and doctrines of demons.   Testimonies from disembodied souls that contradict the Bible cannot be trusted since ‘God…does not lie’ (Titus 1.2)

Believers know that God will not let any souls ‘blow His cover’ or see what He does not want them to see.   Speaking of himself, St. Paul wrote, ‘I know that this man was caught up into paradise - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter’. (2 Corinthians 12:3-4).  

We mortals cannot survive even clinical death without God’s permission.  Although an amazing resuscitation suggests that, with modern medical technology, we can give ourselves ‘second chances’, we really can’t.   Many resuscitations fail, and those that succeed only succeed with God’s help and approval.   

Meanwhile, we may say with St. Paul, ‘If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better’  (Philippians 1:22-23).

'Speaking of Life...'

As our nation’s president begins his second term and a new congress moves forward into 2013, pro-life Christians contemplate this year the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion, the supreme court decision known as ‘Roe v Wade’.

 As we lament a decision that has resulted in the tragic loss of over fifty-five million lives, our grief is further compounded by the facts that legislation overturning Roe v Wade seems less likely than ever and our tax dollars will be funding these killings more than ever - with no escape in sight. A real-time counter showing the world-wide tally of aborted children growing by the minute at www.numberofabortions.com

 “What can we do?” is the question. Yet we should not ask that question in despair. For the answer to that question has remained the same since the beginnings of Christianity in Roman times. We are to ‘speak the truth in love’, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Eph 4.15) and we are to ‘speak truth to power’ - an American tradition going back to the revolution that launched this nation.

 Even if we are not able to legislate the culture of life that we embrace, we can and must still preach it. We must speak of life, and let the Church of Christ prevail against the gates of hell rather than the other way round (Matthew 16.8).

 We should also note that abortion is on the retreat as a choice, despite all its political support. The latest report from the Center for Disease Control shows that abortions declined by 41,057 compared to last year, a one-year drop of nearly 5%, the largest drop recorded by the CDC in more than ten years. Moreover the report documents abortion rates and abortion ratios lower than any seen since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.

According to CBS news, ‘The CDC says that “multiple factors are known to influence the incidence of abortion” and goes on to list several: the supply of abortionists, pro-life laws such as waiting periods, parental involvement, increased acceptance of non-marital childbearing, population shifts, the economy, and factors such as contraception impacting fertility’.

We need not give up, but should continue to speak up and speak out as people who know the true freedom from death that comes from faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As the secular culture promotes its culture of death, we owe it to our neighbors to to promote our culture of life; not aiming to force Christian morality on them by law, but offering our neighbor a faithful and blessed alternative to death. We can remind our neighbor that there is love and support to be found in God that provides them with a ‘choice’ they may never have considered.