Archives For Luther

The Lord’s prayer is rightly the most spoken prayer in Christianity. But there are several statement in that prayer that are for the most part glossed over by many in the current day church.  One of the most obvious is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  Here is what Martin Luther thought of these words:

The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

As expected, due to Luther’s extremely low image of self-worth he puts it all on God and nothing on man. Why would we need to pray that God’s will be done if it will happen irregardless of what we do or say? Luther was one of the primary people to help turn Christianity into a seemingly do-nothing religion. He has convinced so many that all you need to do is to say the right words and then get a “get into heaven free” card to use after your death.  Luther adamantly believed that all of us should be able to read the words of God, not just the Pope and his bastions. I certainly thank him for  helping to make that happen. I just wished he had not focused so much on one particular verse (you are saved by grace alone)  in order to justify his personal feelings and seemingly ignored so many of Jesus’ commands.

Jesus, through his many words in the Gospels made it ultimately clear how we as his followers were to make God’s kingdom come to earth. We are to love God with all our hearts and love our fellow man, even our enemies.

Was Jesus wasting his breath giving us all his commands when everything was actually pre-determined and set in stone?

Another of the perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible has the most important verse glossed over by us Christians. The Great Commission as it has been called says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

We do a great job of baptizing and an ok job of teaching but why do we almost totally ignore his words to obey his commands?

Jesus told us how to make heaven on earth. He almost gave us a roadmap to make it happen. I personally look at that roadmap daily and try to keep my life well within the lines. Do I do this perfectly? Obviously not, but I will strive till the day I die to fulfill his words and  yes, obey is commands.

If Grace is true

This is an ongoing post about the book “If Grace Is True” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.  Here are the words for today.

Many people are suspicious of experiences with God. The believers in Jerusalem were suspicious of Peter’s experience. You may be suspicious of mine. Some argue that such experiences aren’t trustworthy, that infallible Scripture is the only safe guide in our search for truth. They forget the Bible contains the accounts of hundreds of experiences with God. Again and again, God came to individuals and spoke to them….

The Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. God didn’t fall silent with the last chapter of Revelation. He continues to reveal himself. It makes no sense to glorify the accounts of our ancestors’ encounters with God while dismissing our experiences with him today. We who are Protestants should be especially conscious of this need to listen for the voice of God. We are the descendants of people who, based on their experiences with God, challenged the Church’s interpretations of Scripture and its long-held beliefs. Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Fox, and many others described such experiences. They believed they had received a clearer vision of God’s character and will. All these people respected the Bible. Indeed, it was often in reading Scripture that they began to glimpse God’s new word. But they were also open to God’s leading in their lives. They understood what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 37-38). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I believe that God has spoken directly to me on a few occasions in my life. The most recent one was when he told me to quit being worried about what all those Christian theologians say about him but to listen to his words  for myself.  When I have mentioned experiencing God in the past it has come under suspicion of some, particularly a Lutheran clergy friend I once had. He came right out and said “How do you know it was from God and not the devil?” These words shocked me as I think I could tell the difference.  This was the beginning stage of losing that friend due to theological differences.

I truly believe as Mr. Gulley stated above that the Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. I believe that my previous clergy friend’s staunch insistence that the Bible is the last and absolutely final words of God are depriving him of so much more than he realizes.  Dismissing the experiences with God for the last nineteen-hundred years makes absolutely no sense to me!

It seems ironic that my previous Lutheran clergy friend discounts direct experiences with God when the founder of his denomination claimed to have just that when taking on the pope more than five-hundred years ago. It is obvious that not everything Luther believed was from God. His absolute hatred of Jews was certainly not. His belief in the total inerrancy of King Constantine’s bible wasn’t either. But then again his wanting to completely throw out the book of James among others shows he really didn’t either.  I will say that his understanding of just how wrong the church had gone did come from God.

If God said he wants all of us to accept his grace then I will take his word for that…. He certainly has the power to make it happen in whatever timeframe he deems best.

I was certain if I could preach the perfect sermon the altar would fill with people overcome by God’s grace. Now I realize there are many hindrances to experiencing the fullness of God’s grace—confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and pride, to name a few. The removal of these obstacles ought to be the primary purpose of the Church.

Unfortunately, the Church has often erected more barriers than we’ve removed. Too many have entered our doors, only to experience condemnation rather than welcome. We’ve acted less like Jesus and more like his opponents.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 14-15). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It is indeed hard to comprehend the fullness of God’s grace. Man puts many obstacles in the way of it and unfortunately as the above quote says the church which should be about removing obstacles seems instead puts many of them there. Many versions of church tell us that God can’t stand to look at us because we are just too sinful. They tell us that God sees us as no more than a piece of snot. Each individual version of church almost always tells us that they alone know the heart of God; everyone else just has it wrong in one manner or another.

They tell us that if we really want to be saved from God’s wrath then we must jump through all the hoops they put in front of us. If we dare to skip one or two or question why the hoop is there in the first place then we are told that we are not good enough to be with them.  Of course all these hoops and barriers are man-made; they are not from God.

When Martin Luther, a lowly monk, dared to question the practices of the church of his time the hammer came down hard. He was severely chastised and eventually kicked out.  The rules/hoops of those times mandated that you must pay indulgences in order to get your departed loved ones into heaven.  Martin Luther said no to that hoop.  You might think that he would have learned a lesson from this but that was not to be the case.

Luther decided to put his own conditions on church membership. For you to belong to his church you had to believe that the only way God can communicate with you is through the man-made document of the fourth century. You had to believe that everything in that document compiled under the eyes of a Roman emperor is literally true (or at least according to Luther’s understanding of literally true) and without the possibility of any error. If you don’t jump through this hoop then you were not good enough to be a part of his newly formed church. When Luther limited God’s communications with us to only a 1200 year old document he put in place a condition that was perhaps more harmful than the one he rebelled against.

It appears that I am picking on one particular denomination of the 39,000 different versions of church around today. For this post that may be the case but in reality the only thing that is different between most of the rest are the hoops themselves.

Confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and especially pride get in the way of experiencing God’s grace.  All of these conditions are man-made, especially the last one. The church should be about getting rid of these obstacles. That should be its primary purpose.  Sadly that is not yet the case…..

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James —  If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person

We are not to worship the Bible; we are to worship the One the Bible reveals. Too often, we clutch desperately to our Bibles, memorizing only those verses that support our views and panicking when anyone suggests God might speak a fresh word. We belong to a long tradition of people who’ve found it safer to trust the Scripture we can control than the God we cannot.

Jesus never promised a written document to his followers. He promised something far more wonderful. He said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things…” (John 14:26). To deny the Spirit’s authority is to deny the very means God chose to speak to his people.

With this post I am going to start a short series of posts around a book by one of my favorite Christian authors. Phillip Gulley is a pastor of the Quaker church not too far from me. He is also a world renowned author of many books. The  book which we will study here is  If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person.  Many of Mr. Gulley’s books are somewhat controversial in some theological circles but that is really not the topic for this post.  The Bible as the sole witness to God is the topic at hand.

As I have mentioned before I spent almost twenty-five years in Lutheran churches.  Martin Luther who these denominations were named after had  three solas as the foundation for his revised beliefs.

Sola Fide – This is a belief that faith and faith alone gives us salvation.  Luther made this doctrine based a couple of sentences from one of  Paul epistles. It was about being saved by grace alone and not be works so that no one can boost.

Sola Scriptura — This belief is that all the words in the Bible are from God and he has never provided any others. Everything else is immaterial.

Sola Christo — Only Jesus is the meditator between man and God.

Calvin later added a few more solas but these are the ones from Luther. Over my study of the church and the history around this reformation period I have come to have differences with each of these solas.

Sola Fide – The concept itself is very valuable. That is that faith in Jesus is the foundation of our religion but the trouble I have with this is how that faith was put into practice.  Luther, or should I say later Lutherans, went on to conclude that therefore works had nothing to do with Jesus’ message or commands. To me this could not be further from the truth. Works might not gain us personal salvation but in some ways they are even more important in that they take the focus off of us and onto those Jesus told us to love. If we focus totally on salvation then we are totally focused on ourselves.

Sola Scriptura –  As pointed out above Jesus no where in the biblical text said he was  leaving a written document for his followers to cling to. Instead he said the Holy Spirit would teach us more things. To think that somehow the Holy Spirit finished his job with the Apostles or early church fathers and therefore Holy Spirit revelations ceased is almost heresy to me. The Holy Spirit continues to this day to give us additional messages. I believe that this like the other solas were possibly an human overreach by Luther to get back at the Pope who thoroughly dissed him.

Sola Christo – Yes, Jesus may be the sole mediator between us and God. I know when Luther made up the sola he was disturbed by the actions of the current pope in selling indulgences. He wanted to take the pope, whom he had up to that point deemed the head of the church, out of the picture. He certainly had good reasons to do that.  But I won’t take the possibility away from God in the past or in the future having other mediators for us humans. To do that somehow limits God’s powers and I won’t go there.

Today I will continue my discussions of a book by Tony Jones entitled The New Christians; Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.  I’m sure if there are any pastors or theologians who accidentally come across the blog post their first reaction is to adamantly disagree with the title that all theology is local. Here is what Tony Jones says about that:

Theologytheology is not universal, nor is it transcendent. The God about whom we theologize is transcendent, but our human musings about God are not. To think that our theology is not local and specific is a falsity that has been foisted on the church. Professional theologians, those men and women who sit on seminary faculties, are sometimes tempted to write and speak with the confidence that their theology is somehow clean or sterile or untainted-that they come to their task without any presuppositions, prejudices, or context. But of course, they’re just as local as the rest of us. They live in a certain place, speak a certain language, talk with certain people, read a certain newspaper, and are held accountable for what they write and say by other theologians in their guild. This localness of theology is a hallmark of emergent thinking and sensibility.

When we recognize that what we think about God is mostly a matter of our life’s circumstances then we understand how to approach the theology of the church both past , present and future.  Theology is nothing more than how we humans perceive the nature of God.  As mentioned further in the book when we understand that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology was shaped by Nazi Germany, that Augustine’s was formed by his neo-Platonic area of Northern Africa, and Martin Luther’s was fashioned by the Roman Catholic monastery we come to realize that all theology is local. That is not necessarily a bad thing but something we must realize in order to understand it.

Being a human endeavor theology is naturally local. It is shaped by our circumstances. God is indeed transcendent, but our human understanding of him is not. Christian theology has a two thousand-year record that contains some very inspiring writings that all Christians should study and learn from but we must always understand the circumstance around those writings in order to put them in the proper context.

Understanding that all theology is local helps to even explain some of the writing of Paul. We must understand that Paul had no personal exposure to Jesus other than that fateful afternoon on the road to Damascus. So, you could also call his writing theology. When we understand this then we understand why there is almost no cross reference between the teachings of Jesus and the words of Paul. When Paul told women to be quiet in church he was relating his local circumstances. When he said it was better to be a bachelor than to be married he was relaying his condition.

All theology is local and that includes theology throughout church history. When we study the words of the great theologians we must understand the conditions which surrounded the words. Many say the Bible is a very simple document to understand, all we have to do is to read it.  Tony Jones says, and I believe, that it is really the opposite. It is a very complicated document and for that very reason it has remained pertinent throughout the ages.

I think most people, especially those who call themselves Christian, are at least a little familiar with the third great rummage sale in Christianity which was the Reformation.  I will only give a very brief look in this post. Martin Luther, a monk with an incredibly low self-image, started it in 1517 when he nailed his list of 95 complaints about the workings of the church on the Wittenberg church door.  Martin’s initial goal was to try to turn the church from corruption of its day. But, due to bruised egos he ended up causing the second great schism in the church.

Luther would not be the only person who would separate from the catholic church; many more would follow.

  •  John Calvin in 1534 followed Luther in forming his own church. Whereas Luther decided that the most important part of the bible was that we are saved by grace alone and works don’t really matter, Calvin went even further to believe that God simply chooses certain people to give his grace and everyone else is doomed to an eternal agony regardless of how they lived their lives or what they chose to believe.
  •  Ulrich Zwingli would started a Swiss reformation in 1523.
  • The Anabaptist movement began in 1525.  They did not favor church bureaucracies such as pope and bishops. Like most of the reformation proponents this group would later split into many others arguing over doctrinal and beliefs differences.
  • In 1523 King Henry VIII  split due marriage issues around wanting to marry Anne Boleyn. He started the Church of England
  • John Knox started the Scotland reform in 1559
  • In 1608 John Smyth baptises the first Baptists. He fixated on the method of baptism for his split.

Over the centuries many others would jump onto the separatist bandwagon. Of course splitting over interpretation of sacred documents and other such things continues even now. It is believed that there are now over 39,000 different versions of Christianity in existence today.

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Next time we will be talking more about the rummage sale that we are now engaged in. This time around some are basically trying to reassemble the church around actions rather than man-made beliefs. The emergent movement has some exciting possibilities in that regard.

Let’s close out this post with another visit into the book The Great Emergence  by Phyllis Tickle. This time about the coming age:

Now, some five hundred years later, even many of the most diehard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of “Scripture and Scripture only.” We question what the words mean— literally? Metaphorically? Actually? We even question which words do and do not belong in Scripture and the purity of the editorial line of descent of those that do. We begin to refer to Luther’s principle of “sola scriptura, scriptura sola” as having been little more than the creation of a paper pope in place of a flesh and blood one. And even as we speak, the authority that has been in place for five hundred years withers away in our hands. “Where now is the authority?” circles overhead like a dark angel goading us toward disestablishment. Where indeed?