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Topics - Dan Fienen

#1
Your Turn / What Hasn't the Holy Spirit Been Telling Us?
December 19, 2023, 10:55:28 AM
John 16:12-15  "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

This passage has become for some a wonderful blanket justification for every theological innovation or fad. Every new or different position becomes instantly authenticated as from God because everything new must be one of those things that Jesus didn't or couldn't tell His disciples but the Holy Spirit would come along later and reveal. Same-sex marriage, of course it is God pleasing and God blessed. It's just one of those things that Jesus left for the Holy Spirit to reveal latter. To resist it would be to resist the working of the Holy Spirit. If it is new or different from what has been taught, it must be meet, right, and salutary, the Holy Spirit has just now gotten around to revealing it.

As may be apparent, I am not a fan of this way of understanding this passage. So how do I interpret it? Not as a blanket endorsement of every theological doctrinal or Christian moral innovation. 

To place the passage in context, this pericope is a part of Jesus' farewell address to His disciples given at the Last Supper and recorded by John. Jesus knew full well that later that night He would be arrested and the next day crucified. He also knew that He would rise from death on the third day, but even so He would no longer visibly be with His disciples on a day to day basis as He had been. He tried to prepare them for the trauma of the next hours and days, even though they had no idea of what faced them despite Jesus' warnings that He had given. They were not ready, but ready or not, much was coming.

Jesus was also well aware of the coming of the Holy Spirit that would happen on Pentecost and the transformative effect He would have. While at that moment, the disciples were not ready to hear Jesus reveal what would happen (witness Peter's repeated objections when Jesus would speak of His impending opposition and death in Jerusalem) or understand the significance, the Holy Spirit given especially on Pentecost would bring them understanding and empower them to preach. The New Testament was written in light of that revelation as the Gospel writers and Epistleists recounted and reflected on the events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. They also reflected upon and prescribed how the followers of Jesus, both the OGs and those who would be brought into the fold should understand Jesus and live into faith in Jesus.

Thus, my understanding of Jesus' promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the revelations He would make for which the disciples were not yet ready to hear, was primarily fulfilled at Pentecost and with the writing of the New Testament. I do not see it as a promise of an indefinite continuing revelation with the Holy Spirit continually revealing new things which may contradict what had been revealed in Scripture. (For example, a new understanding of the propriety of same-sex sexual relationships that contradicts Leviticus and Paul.) 

It has been opined that the Early Church, drawing on this putative continuing revelation by the Holy Spirit, formulated doctrine not found in Scripture. Such would include such basic Christian teachings as the Trinity, a word never used in the Bible, and the two natures of Christ, a concept not explicitly and systematically delineated in the Bible.

My response is this: The Bible is not a systematic theology textbook. As questions arose and people came up with dubious formulations and explanations of what the Bible said, Christians thought through the Biblical revelation and created systematic summaries of the Biblical teaching, sometimes creating neologisms as shorthand referents. While the word "Trinity" is not Biblical, Scripture does speak of God as one and three. Similarly, both the humanity and divinity of Jesus are displayed in Scripture. These doctrines were not created new from extra-Biblical revelations. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit helped guide the deliberations that resulted in the creeds and confessions. But to characterize them as new revelations without Biblical precedent, or even contrary to Biblical revelation is false.
#2
Your Turn / Reconciled to God
December 15, 2023, 11:41:45 AM
Repentance is a perennial topic for discussion/argument on this forum. Some assert that it is essential that Christians live lives of repentance. Others assert that the demand for repentance is a form of works righteousness, that demanding repentance makes it our contribution to our salvation. Another assertion that is either made or assumed to have been made is the idea that true repentance can only happen when the particular sin is not repeated. Another apparently implied position is that without repentance, heaven is barred. 

I'd like to suggest a slightly different perspective and paradigm on repentance and salvation. Key to the understanding of salvation and repentance that is a factor in salvation that I have come to is a passage from Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians, 2 Cor 5:18-20: "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

The point of salvation is not to get us into heaven or out of hell. That is a result of salvation. The point is to be reconciled to God. The rest follows. The initial impetus for that reconciliation must originate with God. Since He is the offended party, He must decide that He wants to be reconciled and set up terms. His terms was that He would make the effort to make reconciliation possible in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. "In Christ God was reconciling to world to himself." 

The role of repentance is not our part of the bargain, our contribution, but rather being reconciled to God. As Paul implored in 2 Cor. 5:20 on the basis of what God has done in Christ, "be reconciled to God." God opened the door, paved the road, provided the transportation, so, come home. In the glossary of the CPH Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation © 2017: "Repentance: Turning away from sin to faith in Jesus and His forgiveness." Whatever else is involved in repentance, it is being turned back to God. We still have enough free will to refuse, and need the power and work of the Holy Spirit not to. It is perhaps notable that Paul framed verse 20 in the passive, not "reconcile with God" and action on our part, but "be reconciled" we are the passive recipient of reconciliation effected by God in Christ. 

Sin separates us from God. That is what happened in Genesis 3 in the Garden. Eve and Adam distrusted God, longed to be God for themselves, usurped His position, disobeyed. When we decide to value the sin more than God, when we commit sin not out of weakness but out of defiance, we are striking at the heart of our relationship with God and rejecting His work of reconciliation. In the end, if persisted, it can sever the relationship with God that He established in Christ. It is not the disobedience itself that is the problem, it is what it does to our connection with God.

One of my favorite hymn verses is the third stanza of the Oswald Allen hymn "Today Thy Mercy Calls Us."

3     Today our Father calls us;
    His Holy Spirit waits;
His blessèd angels gather
    Around the heav'nly gates.
No question will be asked us
    How often we have come;
Although we oft have wandered,
    It is our Father's home.
 
It's really not how successful we are in turning away from sin and resisting its allure, it's whether we are returned home.
#3
Your Turn / What is sin?
December 04, 2023, 01:12:21 PM
In the Bible, and in Christian theology, sin can refer to a number of distinct but related concepts. The problem when we speak about sin is determining which of these meanings we have in mind and not indulging in concept drift.

A thorough discussion of the various ways that Scripture talks about sin would be worthy of at least a researched paper if not a book. Far beyond the scope of a forum post. So without any pretense of being comprehensive, some observations.

"Sin" can refer to specific actions that in themselves violate God's revealed will for our actions. Thus murder, stealing, lying, etc. are sins. Generally speaking, they also harm our neighbor, ourselves, society, or our relationship to God. In this sense, if what I do does not violate some such revealed rule or standard, it is not a sin. People do all sorts of things throughout their days that are not sins, may even be praiseworthy.

"Sin" can also refer to the basic corruption of our nature that induce us to commit sinful acts that violate God's revealed will for us and taint even the good things that we do. I make a donation to a worthy charity. In itself that is a good thing to do. But because I am a sinful human being, my motivation for doing that is not pure. While I may sincerely wish to support a good cause, I likely also desire (take your pick, some or all of the following) to look good to others, derive satisfaction for having done a good deed, score points with God or others, assuage some guilt feelings, could have reasonably given more, etc. My motivation is most likely not entirely altruistic, and even at my best, I end up doing only what I should have done - no bonus points or extra credit. Thus, no matter what I do, my sinfulness adheres to my actions and taints them with my sin.

See especially Romans for Paul's discussion of his sinful nature and our impossibility in this life to escape it.

So in one sense it is quite true that everything we do is sinful. But that is only one aspect of sin. Some of my actions may be virtuous and I can feel good about that (but not too good).

When we talk about sin, and how everything we do partakes of our sinfulness, we need to keep in mind that sin can mean several things and an action may in one sense be sinful but in aspect, virtuous and praiseworthy.

Another topic for discussion could be how the various aspects of our sinfulness (sinful nature and sinful actions) impinge on our relationship to God.
#4
Your Turn / Hearing Dog WHistles
November 09, 2023, 02:55:43 PM
It has become Standard Operating Principle to dissect public statements of conservatives to detect dog whistle appeals to White Supremacists, Christian Nationalists, Racism, Islamophobia, Transphobia, and a myriad of other social mental disorders that conservatives seem to be assumed to be suffering. Seemingly innocuous phrases may point to deep seated prejudices, terroristic intentions, and support for truly evil groups and actions. People may even betray their subconscious evil racism that they may not be consciously aware of but are demonstrated by these dog whistles that only those on the lookout for them and deeply aware of the pervasiveness of evil racism can detect. That is why they are dog whistles. Defense that the person was not aware of the hidden meaning or did not intend that meaning is fruitless. Utter the dog whistle and you are irredeemably guilty. Time to fess up to your perfidy and retreat from the public scene in shame and disgrace.

Recently Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan was censured by the House for using the slogan "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." Some such as Hamas has used that slogan to call for the eradication of the state of Israel and extermination of the Jews living there. Hamas' intention has been well demonstrated by their actions in recent years and especially by their attacks on October 7. They have also reiterated their continuing intention to fight and kill for the eradication of Israel and death of Jews. Antisemitism and antisemitic actions have greatly increase world-wide and also in America, especially on American campuses. Some who use the phrase, such as Rep. Tlaib, claim that what they mean is not the destruction of Israel and death of Jews but peaceful coexistence within the land between the river and the sea of Palestinians and Jews.

A November 9, article by Joe Hernandez on the NPR website suggests that we should be very careful how we hear people who use the phrase "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" since some, like apparently Rep. Tlaib, mean it as a call for a cease fire and that for the people who live in that area to peacefully coexist, and do not mean what Hamas and similar actors in the area mean.

How can we tell what they mean? If they explain it that can be a help. Perhaps also look and see if they condemn the violence and condemn those who attacked civilians on October 7.  But trying to decide whether or not people are sincere in their explanation is not really my point.

What about this whole "dog whistle" thing were people are accused and assumed guilty of sympathizing with and supporting causes of violence and prejudice because they use certain phrases that others have decided are dog whistles even if they deny that is their intent. It has become the infallible go to weapon of choice against especially conservatives by those on the progressive side of the political aisle.

As Christians, and especially Lutheran Christians, are we not supposed to defend our neighbor, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything? That does not mean trying to explain away overt support for evil causes. But should we not, as Christians, not jump on every phrase uttered by those we dislike or oppose that could be construed to their detriment as proof of their evil intent? It is tempting to everyone on every side of any issue to play the "If he said this, he must have meant that" gottcha game. We see that game played on President Biden and other prominent Democrats as well as on President Trump and other prominent Republicans. We see if played within our theological discussion to prove that those whose ideas we oppose are really heretics or scoundrels. As Christians we should know better. As Christians we should do better.
#5
Your Turn / Disestablishmentarianism
November 01, 2023, 11:30:06 AM
The warning delivered regularly to conservative Christians that we should not expect the government to support or enforce our religious ideology is quite familiar. Nor should it be disputed. In matters of religion the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights includes two clauses. One is the Establishment Clause (more descriptively the Disestablishment Clause): "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The other is the Free Exercise Clause: that Congress shall make no law "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Separation of church and state, disentangling government and religion, is a good thing for all our people, including those who are religious. But those two clauses inevitably exist in tension and maintaining that tension without simply allowing the tension to be resolved by making one or the other clause to dominate is hard. Much easier would be to allow the Establishment Clause to dominate and devolve into hostility and repression of religion, excluding it from public life; or allowing the Free Exercise Clause to dominate and allow the religion of the majority to dictate the terms of public life for all, including minority religions, according to its precepts.  

What I perceive as happening is a combination of both those dangers, hostility towards certain religions combined with allowing majority ideologies to use the organs of government to impose their ideology on the public life of all.

A crucial question that needs to be considered is whether ideologies can function in ways that are similar enough to religion to deserve to be treated as religions under the First Amendment. Especially when these ideologies seek the enforcement of their ideals by law and that enforcement impinges on the free exercise of the religion of others. The ideology that specifically concerns me is that of Progressivism, sometimes spoken of as Wokism.

Progressives seek to impose their ideology on public life with hostility to any religion that does not agree with their ideologies. There is the attempt to enshrine hostility to religion in the First Amendment. For example, in 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri applied to the state for a grant from the state program to provide soft playground surfaces to schools. They were denied on the basis that they were religious. Otherwise, their application considered strictly on merit was ranked 5th out of 44 applications and would have been granted. A soft preschool playground surface is hardly a religious matter. But Missouri wanted to discriminate against them because they were religious. In 2017, the Supreme Court disagreed.

Currently the new House Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is being criticized for his religion. He is a conservative Christian and so has been called a Christian fundamentalist, a Christian fascist, a Christian nationalist, among other things. Should there be a religious test for high public office with only those whose religious beliefs are acceptable to progressives allowed? When Amy Coney Barett was nominated to the Supreme Court, many quite vocally opposed her nomination because they disapproved of her conservative Catholic faith. As President Biden and Nancy Pelosi has demonstrated, being Catholic alone is not necessarily opposed, so long as their Catholic faith conforms to progressive ideals in areas such support for abortion on demand and gay rights, but abiding by the official Catholic opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage is seen as disqualifying. 

Should the progressive ideologies of gay rights and abortion rights be enshrined in public law and regulation? In the modern welfare state, the state wields great influence and dominance. It holds the power of licensure and especially in some areas of public service controls a major amount of public funding. Conform to their policy or operate at a great disadvantage or not at all. The 2020 Supreme Court case of Fulton v. concerned whether Philadelphia could exclude Catholic Social Services who do not certify same sex couples for foster parents in accord with Roman Catholic teaching from the city foster parenting program. The ideology that holds that same-sex couples must be considered as equal in all respects to heterosexual couples was being enforced by the secular city government agency. The Supreme Court found in favor of CSS. Anti-discrimination laws are being written and enforced to force people to conduct their business life according to the progressive ideology and contrary to their religious beliefs. 

Should progressive ideologies expect the government to support and enforce their beliefs against competing religious idologies?            
#6
Your Turn / What is a Just War?
October 19, 2023, 03:51:14 PM
In the discussion on the current Israeli Hamas war, the idea of the Just War has entered the discussion. Just War theory has been much discussed in the literature but I think that it should be clarified if it is to figure into how we think about the current Middle East conflict.

For those who would condemn Israel for not waging a just war (and apparently be willing to condemn them to annihilation by withholding any American aid in their struggle for survival) I would welcome having just what would make a war a just war spelled out and how Israel has violated that.

General discussion of Just War theory would also be welcome here and not clutter up the other thread.
#7
Your Turn / Are we back?
September 02, 2023, 03:38:59 PM
The forum has been down for a while and recent (last couple of years) posts missing. Are we back?
#8
Your Turn / Forms of Address
July 19, 2023, 03:47:54 PM
We have discussed and disputed off an on how we should address people. We've kicked around whether holders of honorary doctorates should be addressed as Dr. We've kicked around how women pastors should be addressed by those of us who dispute the propriety and legitimacy of women's ordination (personally, if they have been legitimately ordained in their church the proper address unless they say otherwise is "Pastor"). We've touched on preferred pronouns, and seen attacks on others incorporated into how they are referred to.


I believe that respect and politeness is to be expected of Christians towards others, even those they vehemently disagree with. Disagree or not, we are each a child of God for whom Jesus shed His blood. Passive aggression does not promote profitable discussion but rather subverts is. So using honorifics that belittle or offend the one they are applied to (such as the various distortions of "pastor" for women pastors) is not respectful or helpful. The propriety or validity of women's ordination can and has been debated in these precincts but using belittling honorifics is not an honest or helpful discussion.


My real question here is how we, as pastors, address each other in these discussions. I will often refer to fellow pastors by their first name with no honorific, not out of disrespect, but as a recognition that we are brothers and sisters in ministry, ecclesiastically and socially on the same level. We are pastors but not acting ecclesiastically as pastors to each other, we do not exercise ecclesiastical oversight over each other. When I converse personally with my brother pastors in circuit or district, we usually assume a first name basis. Should that apply to these discussions. Can it apply to these discussions without it being a mark of disrespect and disputing each others place and pastoral ministry?


I generally prefer to refer to fellow pastors in these discussions in the less formal first name basis. Am I being taken as being disrespectful thereby?
#9
Your Turn / Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
June 26, 2023, 03:43:16 PM
DEI has become a magic concept. Some argue that whatever goes under the heading of DEI it must be good, it must be advocated, and, above all, it must not be questioned. For others, anything that could go under the heading of DEI must be evil, cannot be compromised with, and, above all, there can be no question that it must be defeated.


So just what is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? From the internet at the top of the Bing search results this popped up:
QuoteDEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It is a conceptual framework that claims to promote the fair treatment of all people, especially in the workplace, including populations who have historically been under-represented or subject to discrimination because of their background or identity. DEI also involves acknowledging, embracing, supporting, and accepting those of all racial, sexual, gender, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, among other differentiators.


In itself, there doesn't seem to be much wrong with DEI, as stated. We, as a nation, have a mixed history. We have pioneered human rights, and done many great and good things. We also have a history of racism and prejudice that haunts us to this day, and have left many of our people without equal opportunities. Providing opportunities for those who have been denied those opportunities in the past, and helping them acquire the tools and skills to make effective use of those opportunities seems to be simple justice, and the kind of care for the neighbor that the Bible commands.

But, as in much else, the devil is in the details. Some, in the name of DEI advocate discrimination against people who themselves have not discriminated against others. Some, in the name of DEI and CRT demonize all whites, and anything that could be associated with whites, white culture, and white society. Some, in the name of DEI demonize those whose beliefs do not align with current progressive thought and oppose same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, and the like. Some, in the name of separation of Church and State espouse discrimination against groups and organizations simply because they are religious.

Of course, some in the name of anti-DEI oppose any efforts to mitigate and bring healing to those who continue to suffer disadvantages from past discrimination. Some in the name of anti-DEI and anti-Woke welcome continued oppression of those they disagree with. And I could go on.

There are no simple solutions to the problems of past racism, systemic racism, oppression of women and sexual minorities, nor for the lingering effects of that and current instances. It is easy to stake out a position on either extreme, working together to find solutions that do not simply promote racism, sexism, genderism, and the whole catalog of isms applied to a different group in the name of "justice" is hard.
#10
Your Turn / Church and State Revisited
April 21, 2023, 12:36:23 PM
In the May Forum Letter "Omnium gatherum" is a comment by ELCA Vice President Imran Siddiqui that anti-trans laws proposed and passed in state legislatures are unchristian. I will not comment on the validity of the exegesis employed to arrive at that conclusion, Brother Johnson handled that, but rather the application of Christian standards to state laws.


There have been comments, both in secular and social media as well as with this Forum, that attempts to establish Christian standards in secular law is not only inadvisable but fundamentally wrong. This has not stopped denominational leadership from publishing statements advising and chiding civil leaders on matters of state policies. Nor has it kept posters on this Forum from commenting on how Christian principles of hospitality and Christian care for other should impact our immigration laws and policies or abortion, both on how unchristian abortion on demand is and how restricting abortion would really be legislating Christian morality which should be impermissible.


How far should we go in bringing Christian standards to bear on secular law?




#11
Your Turn / Mifepristone and the Courts
April 21, 2023, 10:27:07 AM
Have you been following the latest abortion flap? As I post, the Supreme Court has suspended a Federal Judge's suspension of FDA approval for Mifepristone as an abortion pill and is expected to rule on the matter soon.


I personally am opposed to abortion in most cases and making it as easy as popping a pill to abort a child is something that I consider wrong. However, is a Federal Judge second guessing the FDA's drug approval process a good precedent to establish? If the drug is dangerous to the woman taking it, surely there are better ways to get the FDA to reevaluate it.
#12
Your Turn / The Word: Human and Divine
April 12, 2023, 02:06:52 PM

Joh 1:1, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Christian theology has several dualities that are challenging to get right. Often people tend to over emphasize one side of the duality and underemphasize the other. Such it has been throughout Christian history with Jesus' two natures, divine and human. There are also the Law/Gospel duality, Christians as Sinner/Saints, and the Already/Not Yet duality of our Christian reality.

Another duality that has often been overlooked and yet is also difficult to keep straight is the human and divine natures of the other Word of God, Scripture. The written word of God has a divine aspect of it, usually described as it being the inspired word of God, but it is also human words, composed and written by humans, in human language, and within a human context. Throughout most of Christian history, the divine aspect of God's written word has been emphasized and its human aspect ignored or at least downplayed. That changed after the Enlightenment and especially in the work of Nineteenth Century German theologians and their spiritual heirs in the Higher Critical disciplines of Biblical study. In their work, the human aspects of Scripture were emphasized, and the divine aspects were downplayed, neglected, and even in some cases denied. Scripture was to be studied like any other ancient text; by some practitioners it was considered to be just another ancient religious text, different in detail but not different in substance than any other such text.

2Pe 1:19-21 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

"Men spoke," only on Mt. Sinai when God personally inscribed His words on tablets of stone, do we have God directly producing a written text.  "As they were carried along by the Holy Spirit," but what the men wrote was not merely their encounter with the numinous, their attempt to put into words their ineffable encounters with the divine.

In contemporary entertainment the docudrama genre has been developed, whose stories are claimed to be "inspired by true events." The true events that inspired the show may have happened, but often lend but the merest flavor of actual event to the flights of fancy that follow. Sometimes I suspect that some who affirm that the Bible is the "inspired word of God" have that manner of inspiration in mind. Something happened that so impressed the author that they were moved to write. And others were inspired by those writings like some today are inspired to nobility and purpose by the exploits of Superman, Wonder Woman, or Harry Potter. Truths are taught, like the truths of Aesop. What more truth do we need?

The Scripture texts were written by specific people, at specific times, for specific audiences. All of which is useful information in understanding and interpreting those texts. The Old Testament historical books made frequent reference to Court archives that could be consulted for further information. Luke, in the prologue to his Gospel, mentions the sources and research that he used in constructing his account of Jesus. As we read the texts we can note the stylistic variations among them and differing vocabularies, all indicative of the human touch in their composition. The idea that God simply dictated the Scriptural texts to the Apostles and Prophets as to a secretary or Dictaphone does not accord with characteristics of the texts which we have. Ignoring, neglecting, or discounting the human aspects of Scriptural texts impoverishes our understanding of them.

But for all that they are human texts, they are also divine. "Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Ruling out a priori a divine aspect to these texts also impoverishes our understanding and could lead to serious misunderstanding of them. These texts are not simply a record of human meditation and speculation on the divine in response to noumenal encounters, but Divine self-revelation, communication, promises, commentary, and predictive prophecy. The prophet who declares, "Thus says the Lord," either is writing out of extreme hubris or communicating Divine words given to be handed on.

That means, among other things, that the immediate human author may not always fully grasp the full import of what has been written. Some prophecies in Scripture are given with full contemporaneous knowledge they are rectilinear and fulfillment of the prophecy is for some time in the future. Others may be typological with immediate import but also acting as a foreshadowing of usually more important fulfillment to come. The virgin in Isaiah 7 may, as some have asserted, be a contemporaneous pregnant young woman who serves as a timer for the resolution of Ahaz's immediate concern without invalidating it as a prophecy for an even more important salvation event fulfilled in the Virgin birth of Jesus.

The danger of over emphasizing the human aspect of Scriptural word is that it can lead to a rejection of the divine aspect of the word and even of the God revealed in that word. Movements such as the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Christ myth theory, the Jesus Seminar, and the efforts of such scholars as John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, and the like are extreme versions of the rejection of the divine aspect of the word. As is the tendency to regard all Christian related writings of the first few centuries as witnesses to the faith of early Christians. So the theory goes, eventually the political battles of the early church resulted in winners and losers with the winners designating what was orthodox and banning the losers. The canon of the New Testament is the result of the political wrangling within the early church, so this extreme school of thought goes. The difference between the texts that were in and those out being whether or not their champions were winners or losers. Consider that higher critics usually consider at least some of the canonical texts to be pseudepigraphal, I.e. the Pastorals.

Paying attention to the human aspect need not lead to a rejection of their divine aspect, any more than paying attention to the divine aspect inevitably leading to a neglect of their human aspect and the valuable insights to be gained from that study. But as with the other dualities within Christian doctrine, care needs to be exercised lest an over emphasis on one side or the other lead to heresy.
#13
Your Turn / Politics and Mass Shootings
March 29, 2023, 10:51:33 AM
I find one aspect of the coverage of the recent tragic mass shooting in Nashville especially disturbing. That is the quickness with which some officials and some commentators exploit this tragedy for their own political ends. Immediately, some have jumped on this event as justification for new and more restrictive gun laws. AR 15s have come in for special concern even though apparently the guns used were not AR 15s. But why let a good tragedy go to waste when it can be exploited for one's cause. Those who immediately protest against such laws are little better. The facts are that police and other officials have only begun their investigation into what motivated the shooter and how the guns were obtained. Could we allow the parents, children, siblings, and friends a little chance to mourn before shoving microphones in their faces and asking them to comment on gun policy? Could we let the appropriate agencies investigate and determine the details of this before making pronouncements about what could or could not have prevented this tragedy?


The shooter has been identified as transgendered and the place of the shooting a Christian school that the shooter attended over a decade previously. It has been reported that the shooter left a lengthy manifesto, but the contents of that manifesto have not yet been released. There were also apparently some as yet unspecified mental health issues. It has not yet been released what bearing the shooters transgenderism had, if any, on the shooting. That has not stopped some commentators from implying that the school and the Christians who run the school are at least in part responsible for the shooting. Or for blaming current Tennessee law concerning transgenderism for the shooting. Again, that may or may not be factors, we may possibly know more when the contents of the shooter's manifesto are released. But until then or when more is released about the shooter's mental state we don't know and speculation does little but inflame an already inflammatory debate. And it does little to help and likely increases grief and anger among the survivors. Don't they deserve more consideration than just being used as cannon fodder in our culture wars?


As Christians we should be slow to judge not quick. Yet even on this forum there have been those who are quick to judge those who do not immediately support "assault weapons" bans as unfeeling towards those who suffered in this tragedy and selfishly concerned only with their own gun owning desires. And among commentators, there are those who reject gun control concerns as misplaced or just virtue signaling. This whole transgender debate has brought out the worst in judgementalism from all sides of the debate.
#14
Your Turn / Meanwhile, back at the Supreme Court
December 07, 2022, 10:57:04 AM
Lorie Smith, an evangelical Christian web designer in Colorado, has sued the State of Colorado for an exemption from the state anti-discrimination in public accommodation law to allow her to design web sites for opposite-sex weddings but refuse to design web sites for same-sex marriages. The case has made it to the Supreme Court and oral arguments were held recently. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-weighs-web-designers-refusal-work-sex-weddings-rcna59852


Oral arguments got complicated and there are many aspects that could be discussed. I'll not try to summarize it all but suggest some online looking at trusted sources for more in depth information. What we have here is a clash of rights. Conservative Christians have First Amendment rights to freely practice their religion without undue burdens being placed upon that practice by the government. LGBTQ persons have the right, as affirmed/established by the Supreme Court, to marry and have their unions recognized and celebrated and under state law not to be discriminated against in public accommodations. At issue then is how to maximally uphold both sets of rights when they conflict.


There are many issues that can be explored in this. One that particularly caught my attention was the question of speech. Freedom of Speech is an important Constitutional right. But what constitutes speech? In recent decades, the Supreme Court has used an expansive understanding of speech. For example, the right to burn the American Flag in protest has been upheld as a protected form of speech.


Is designing a web site a form of speech and thus subject to free speech rights? Should the web designer be held in any way responsible for the content, originating from the client, of the web site? Thus, if the web designer is hired to create a web site for a same-sex wedding, does the same-sex wedding reflect in any way on the designer. If not, then even if the designer conscientiously objects to same-sex weddings (against her religion) should she legally consider her designing the site to not be supportive of same-sex weddings?


Legally, could a designer of a web site that is used to distribute child pornography be held criminally responsible for helping to distribute child pornography, even if the designer were told that was the purpose? I don't know, but if so, then a web designer does have some responsibility for how their creation is used. That would argue that designing a web site for a same-sex wedding constitutes support for same-sex marriage.


Should a Black web site designer be legally compelled to create a web site for a customer who wants the site for a Whites' Rights rally. (I'm assuming that the rally is not itself illegal.) Or a feminist web designer to create a web site for a Men's Rights rally?


Misinformation being propagated on social media has been a matter of much debate and concern. After the New York Post in October of 2020 published an article using emails from Hunter Biden's laptop left at a computer repair shop, discussion of that was suppressed by Facebook and Twitter. Some discussion of Covid has been suppressed on those platforms. Does Facebook and Twitter come under the heading of public accommodation like a business designing web sites? If the designer or platform has no intrinsic connection with content distributed using those products, then how can discrimination against legal viewpoints (no matter how wrong or screwy the owners/proprietors may think them to be) on their platform? If they are in some way responsible for the content propagated by their product, they why should they be legally compelled to assist in propagating what they believe is false, wrong, or sinful?


#15
Your Turn / Abortion Statement Archived?
August 27, 2022, 04:29:05 PM
In the comment on the recently concluded ELCA CWA, many comments were made on the possibility of revising HSGT to eliminate the implied acceptability of the four bound conscience positions on same-sex sexuality. In at least one post there was an almost offhand comment about archiving the ELCA Social Statement on Abortion. Was that done? Was that suggested and might still be done? What would that mean? On ALPB that social statement has been repeatedly pointed to as demonstrating that the ELCA is not pro-abortion but is pro-choice. If that statement were to be archived would that indicate a change in position on abortion by the ELCA and if so a change in what direction?
#16
Your Turn / Memorial Day
May 29, 2022, 02:45:59 PM
I sent the following to my congregation in an email. We cancelled our usual Memorial Day Weekend service because of a Covid outbreak, including me. (We're recovering fine.)


Memorial Day began after the Civil War as Decoration Day, a day set aside in the spring to decorate with flowers and flags the graves of the soldiers who fell in battle during that bloody conflict.


Over the years the commemoration has expanded to include all service men and women who have fallen in service to their nation.

It has further grown to include the remembrance of all of our loved ones who have gone to their eternal rest.

We are citizens of God's Kingdom. He has also placed us in earthly nations and under their rule. We dedicate ourselves to service to our Heavenly King and in His name to service in and to the land where we are earthly citizens.

The British Patriot Hymn, "I Vow to Thee My Country" reflects on our loyalty and devotion to the country of which we are citizens, but also our loyalty to God's heavenly kingdom of which Jesus' death on the cross made us heirs and citizens, and our eternal home.
[
(330) An American Tribute "I vow to thee, My Country - YouTube

As God's baptized people we hear His call, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" We respond, "Here am I! Send me." We go as God's people into the many places and walks of life into which He sends us to serve Him and, in His name, serve our neighbor.
One of the arenas of life into which He sends His children is into our communities and nation. God is the ultimate ruler of this world and its nations, and it is His will that we live together in communities and nations. Some have it as their primary calling to serve people by serving their nation and community.

This Memorial Day weekend we especially remember those who have given their lives in service to our nation. We remember those of our Armed Forces who especially in time of war but even in time of peace gave the last full measure of devotion. We remember and honor their devotion and their sacrifice.

We also remember those who made the final sacrifice in domestic service to our nation and communities as Police Officers in the various local, state, and national branches of law enforcement. We also honor and remember those who's service was in Fire and Rescue and other First Responders and gave their lives by going into harm's way to serve, protect, and rescue their neighbors.

In addition, we tender our respect, honor, and remembrance to all those who currently serve in these capacities around the world and here at home. They may face active conflict, battle, and danger, or stand watch to preserve peace and security. Our honor and respect also go to those who have retired from their service and live as veterans among us.

We Pray: Lord of hosts, You command Your angels to guard Your people and stand watch over the world and her inhabitants. We thank You for the men and women that You have called into that service, and we ask Your abiding love, care, and protection over them. Jesus said that greater love has no one than that they give their lives for their friends. We remember before Your Throne of Grace those who gave their lives for their country and people, those who returned home maimed in body and spirit, and honor their memories and their dedication. Console and comfort those who mourn their loss. May they rest in peace.
Amen

Following is a link to a presentation of "Hymn to the Fallen" from the movie score of "Saving Private Ryan" by John Williams to all those service men and women who have fallen in war.


(330) "Hymn to the Fallen" by John Williams - YouTube

We remember the One who came, not at risk of His life, but with the sure knowledge that He was coming to lay down His life for us. We are "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) The joy that was set before Him was our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins, and opening for us the door to heaven, won by His death on the Cross.

In this Weekend of Remembrance, we also remember our brothers and sisters in Christ, friends and kin, who have departed this life and now rest with Christ from their labors

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they who have now completed their course in faith and received the crown of life, through the mercy of Jesus Christ, Rest in Peace.
Amen
Memorial Day began after the Civil War as Decoration Day, a day set aside in the spring to decorate with flowers and flags the graves of the soldiers who fell in battle during that bloody conflict.

Over the years the commemoration has expanded to include all service men and women who have fallen in service to their nation.

It has further grown to include the remembrance of all of our loved ones who have gone to their eternal rest.

We are citizens of God's Kingdom. He has also placed us in earthly nations and under their rule. We dedicate ourselves to service to our Heavenly King and in His name to service in and to the land where we are earthly citizens.

The British Patriot Hymn, "I Vow to Thee My Country" reflects on our loyalty and devotion to the country of which we are citizens, but also our loyalty to God's heavenly kingdom of which Jesus' death on the cross made us heirs and citizens, and our eternal home.

(330) An American Tribute "I vow to thee, My Country - YouTube

As God's baptized people we hear His call, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" We respond, "Here am I! Send me." We go as God's people into the many places and walks of life into which He sends us to serve Him and, in His name, serve our neighbor.

One of the arenas of life into which He sends His children is into our communities and nation. God is the ultimate ruler of this world and its nations, and it is His will that we live together in communities and nations. Some have it as their primary calling to serve people by serving their nation and community.

This Memorial Day weekend we especially remember those who have given their lives in service to our nation. We remember those of our Armed Forces who especially in time of war but even in time of peace gave the last full measure of devotion. We remember and honor their devotion and their sacrifice.

We also remember those who made the final sacrifice in domestic service to our nation and communities as Police Officers in the various local, state, and national branches of law enforcement. We also honor and remember those who's service was in Fire and Rescue and other First Responders and gave their lives by going into harms way to serve, protect, and rescue their neighbors.

In addition, we tender our respect, honor, and remembrance to all those who currently serve in these capacities around the world and here at home. They may face active conflict, battle, and danger, or stand watch to preserve peace and security. Our honor and respect also go to those who have retired from their service and live as veterans among us.

We Pray: Lord of hosts, You command Your angels to guard Your people and stand watch over the world and her inhabitants. We thank You for the men and women that You have called into that service, and we ask Your abiding love, care, and protection over them. Jesus said that greater love has no one than that they give their lives for their friends. We remember before Your Throne of Grace those who gave their lives for their country and people, those who returned home maimed in body and spirit, and honor their memories and their dedication. Console and comfort those who mourn their loss. May they rest in peace.
Amen

Following is a link to a presentation of "Hymn to the Fallen" from the movie score of "Saving Private Ryan" by John Williams to all those service men and women who have fallen in war.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTgWH72StOo

We remember the One who came, not at risk of His life, but with the sure knowledge that He was coming to lay down His life for us. We are "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) The joy that was set before Him was our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins, and opening for us the door to heaven, won by His death on the Cross.

In this Weekend of Remembrance, we also remember our brothers and sisters in Christ, friends and kin, who have departed this life and now rest with Christ from their labors.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they who have now completed their course in faith and received the crown of life, through the mercy of Jesus Christ, Rest in Peace.
Amen
#17
Just got the May Forum Letter in the mail and reread (I also get it online) the lead article, "St. John and the Jews." Excellent article, by the way, as usual with Pr. Johnson.


I was reminded of a point that was made in several venues by the historian Rev. Paul L. Maier. The question comes up, how could "the Jews" be so fickle. On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome Jesus with a parade and rejoicing. Good Friday morning in Pilate's courtyard, the crowds clamor for His crucifixion. What happened, why did they so turn against Him. Maier's answer is that they didn't, it wasn't the same crowd. The Palm Sunday crowd reappears in the Passion Story later that day on the Via Dolorosa weeping as He goes to the cross. The courtyard crowd was probably a crowd of the High Priests employees and retainers gathered by them specifically to reinforce their demands of Pilate. Not some random gathering of people in Jerusalem. The priestly establishment in Jerusalem was a big family business, employing hundreds of people, easy to get a crowd of them together and willing to do as they were told.


I've included this in my preaching and teaching as a likely explanation of this seeming anomaly and fickleness and it has been well received. It would also be a natural way to bring in the idea that not all the Jews agreed with the crucifixion.
#18
Your Turn / LCMS Anniversary
April 26, 2022, 06:43:04 AM
On April 26, 1847, 12 pastors representing 14 congregations from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, New York and Ohio signed the constitution of Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten at First St. Paul Lutheran Church, Chicago. Thus began what is today The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Today is our 175th anniversary.

Like every human institution, we have had our highs and our lows, good times and bad, our virtues and our vices. By God's grace we have served our Lord and Savior and with His grace His people these 175 years. It is only by God's grace and forgiveness that we have endured despite our human weaknesses, errors, and sinfulness. We have offered God our humble and flawed service and He has graciously accepted and blessed our efforts. We have much to be proud of these 175 years, and much to be ashamed of.

To God alo e be the glory.
#19
Your Turn / Holy Thursday
April 11, 2022, 12:43:25 PM
An honored custom of Holy Thursday observances is the Stripping of the Altar at the end of the service. Traditionally that is done while Psalm 22 is read. I fully understand why Psalm 22 is appropriate for that part of the service, but for a number of years I've changed that to having the congregation sing "Go to Dark Gethsemane," the first three stanzas while the Altar Guild strips the altar. It is not as long and tells the aftermath of the last supper, continuing the story. Comments?
#20
Your Turn / God, Time, and Free Will
March 26, 2022, 05:24:56 PM
Quote from: Brian Stoffregen on March 26, 2022, 04:58:36 PM
Quote from: Dan Fienen on March 26, 2022, 03:54:44 PM
Quote from: Brian Stoffregen on March 26, 2022, 02:16:27 PM
Quote from: George Rahn on March 26, 2022, 10:53:36 AM
Quote from: Brian Stoffregen on March 26, 2022, 01:11:12 AM
Quote from: George Rahn on March 26, 2022, 12:47:45 AM
There is a wide difference between God offering salvation to everyone and all being saved by God's grace.  Faith receives the forgiveness of sins.


Faith is a gift from God. Do you suppose God keeps people from receiving what God wants to give them? Matthew 5:43-48 indicates that God treats the good and evil just the same - and so should we - loving neighbors and enemies.

God offered and initiated to Abraham a promise.  Abraham believed God.  God did not force this relationship on Abraham.  Abraham believed God.  In believing, Abraham received what God was offering.


God knew Abraham would believe before making the offer; or, God gave Abraham the ability to believe before making the offer. The same can be said about young Mary and the statement that she would give birth to a son ... without "knowing" a man.
Do you realize how deep the philosophical waters are into which you so blithely venture?


Yup.

QuoteThere are several crucial philosophical aspects to the simple statement that "God knew Abraham would believe before making the offer; or God gave Abraham the ability to believe before making the offer." To take you second alternative first: are you implying that by God giving Abraham the ability to believe, God determined that Abraham would act as he did? In other words, did Abraham have free will in making the choice or was the choice fixed so that Abraham had to choose as he did? Determinism is an ugly road to follow.


Theologically, wouldn't we have to say that if Abram had free will in making a choice, he would have chosen to eat the forbidden apple ... or whatever he shouldn't have done, i.e., what God told him not to do? If Abraham was able to choose to obey God or believe in God, we have undermined our understanding of original sin; and Luther's explanation to the third article: I believe that I cannot believe. Abraham believed because God had given him the ability to believe.

QuoteAs to your first, that "God knew Abraham would believe before making the offer," this is not a simple situation. First, we must consider whether God and Abraham experience time in the same way. Classic Christian theology has held that God does not experience time the same way that we do but rather is outside of time and holds and beholds all time in His eternal present. We experience time as a sequence of events. We remember but no longer experience or affect past events, anticipate but do not yet experience or definitively know future events (at best we can make educated guesses as to what will happen), and actually experience and act in only what is now until it become past. God experiences and knows all of our nows all at once. Thus, strictly speaking, the statement that God knew something before it happened (as in what Abraham will choose before he makes the choice) is meaningless. For God there is no before or after. Thus affirming that God knew what Abraham would believe or choose before God made the offer makes sense only from our point of point, and only because God did make the offer and could see in His eternal Now, how Abraham in fact chose. Down this road also determinism lurks to ambush the unwary.


I agree. God is beyond or outside of our time. As I picture it, the world progresses along a time line with a beginning and an ending. God is above the line and sees the beginning and the ending and everything in between from his vantage point. Before the foundation of the world and the creation of the first humans God "saw" the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus and humanity's need for that. God's choice of us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) is an indication of God's ability to have seen us and our lives even before creation occurred.
I suggest moving this discussion to a new thread as issues being raised go well beyond the topic of the ELCA relationship to Ebeneezer Lutheran in San Francisco.


Free will raises a number of interesting and possibly important issues.


Given original sin, can we realistically talk about people having free will? In brief, I believe that people have a certain amount of free will. In regard to the crucial area of salvation, on our own and by our own power we are not free to independently choose salvation. But God, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word, Sacrament, and the experiences in our lives (including and especially our interactions with Word and Sacrament) enable us to choose life from Him. But we also have the power to choose death. Free will, I believe, is there because God gives us the power to choose, but in a limited way.


That is a limited and nowhere near comprehensive discussion of the topic. But evening is approaching, it is Saturday, and I need to put finishing touches on my sermon.


God's relationship to time, how that affects what the Bible says about God, and God's foreknowledge of our actions quickly becomes a complicated topic. A difficulty is that we can hardly wrap our minds around the paradoxes inherent in talking about time. And to the extent that we can, our language is very ill suited to such discussions. For examples consider the vast science fiction literature of time travel and the difficulty, near impossibility of keeping internal consistence in the stories. For those familiar with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine one of the founding principles of the series are the Bajorian Prophets, a race of beings who exist within an artificial spatial wormhole. A key characteristic of them is that they do not experience linear time as we do. In that they seem to experience time in a way roughly analogous to the classic Christian understanding of how God experiences time. The writers of Star Trek tried mightily to keep that concept consistent within the series, but we not always successful in the attempt. Shows how difficult it is for us to deal with the concept experiencing time in ways that differ from us.
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