Mon 6 July 2020, 21:37:05 PM
Grace and Peace to you All,
This is question four of my Colloquy process into the American Association For Lutheran Churches (https://www.taalc.org/). I am transition from a Pentecostal church into Confessional Lutheranism, and what a journey it’s been! This question is multi-faceted, but starts with the question of whether it is sufficient for a church or denomination to be “Bible-believing.” So let’s get right into it!
4. IS IT SUFFICIENT FOR A CHURCH OR DENOMINATION TO BE “BIBLE BELIEVING?”
This question has several parts that I wish to answer. But first, it SHOULD be sufficient for each church or denomination to be Bible-believing. However, for some reason, many churches simply do not take the scriptures at face-value. They read things into the text that should not be there. Many of the Reformed churches are guilty of this. It would seem that American Christianity has been dominated by Calvinism in its short history, so many Christian denominations will try to rationalize and reinterpret texts so that they make sense. But God never promised that we would fully understand the Bible, or that we should try to. We are supposed to believe it. And many denominations simply just don’t do this. Let’s begin by exploring law and gospel:
4. IF SO, WHY DO CHURCHES WHICH PROCLAIM ADHERENCE TO DOCTRINES SUCH AS: INFALLIBILITY, INERRANCY, AND INSPIRATION DIFFER SO GREATLY ON:
4a. LAW AND GOSPEL — I believe that the reason why many churches differ so greatly on this is simply because they have ignored Luther, Lutheranism and the Protestant Reformation. They have ignored church history. Although we don’t agree with Anglicanism’s three-part model of biblical interpretation (the text, reason, and tradition should equally help us understand the text), there is tremendous value in respecting the past 500 years of the way in which Lutheran Reformers have interpreted the Bible. Many are ignorant of everything that happened from 1517 until now. Many denominations do not have any educational requirements for their ministers and pastors; and other denominations have very minimal or simplistic academic standards for their ministers. Although there are many seminaries, it is not mandatory for pastors to study Greek, church history or anything else. Many churches encourage their pastors to pursue formal education, but at the local church level, too many pastors and congregations are anti-intellectual, and overly pietist and focused on mysticism), but nothing approaching the rigor of seminary. As a result, you have armies of pastors who are not familiar with church history, or the heresies of the past, or the biblical languages, or theology. So they certainly will not be familiar with C.F.W. Walther’s Law & Gospel, or Luther’s thoughts on Law & Gospel, or the Word & Sacraments, the Bondage of the Will, etc. The only reason I pursued seminary was because the Master of Divinity (I hold a Bachelor’s in Pastoral Studies from Southwestern College in Winsfield, Kansas, a 93 credit hour M.Div. in Military Chaplaincy from Liberty University, and 4 credits of CPE from the Institute for Clinical Pastoral Training ) is required for military chaplaincy. I’ve heard things like seminary is “cemetery, it don’t take all that,” and on and on. But many denominations do not properly distinguish between law and gospel, and have pastors who have never read the Bible from cover to cover! And not only do many people not respect church history, their denominations do not truly have a sola scriptura culture. I know that especially in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, the culture is not sola scriptura across the spectrum of the denominations. Again, there are many individuals and individual congregations in various denominations and non-denominational churches who maintain a high view of scripture. But many of these people are seminarians or seminary graduates! My current denomination is the Assemblies of God, who I have a high level of respect for. In fact, in the Sept/Oct 2019 issue of Influence Magazine, the official AOG ministry magazine, the Protestant Reformation was highlighted. Yet in other places in this magazine, Luther’s temper, or his treatise on the Jews was highlighted more than Luther’s theological contributions to Protestant thought. His breakthroughs on scripture were briefly mentioned, but the magazine focused more on his flaws. This magazine article magnified the speck in Luther’s eye that was his character, and minimized the plank in its own eye in regards to its minimalist approach on what God did through the Reformation. Many Pentecostals and Charismatic hail from the Wesleyan/Methodist movement, and the Holiness Movement, which focused highly on personal piety. However, do they properly distinguish between law and gospel, or the theme of Commands & Promises that are interwoven throughout scripture? I have been to many, many, evangelical churches — Independent Baptist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, non-denominational, etc., etc. And yet, I have rarely heard the Gospel in the same sermon as the Law, or the scriptures in their entirety. The focus on attaining and striving for holiness in this life often produced guilt and shame in my personal devotional life, and that of course is condemnation, not conviction, and certainly not the Gospel. I have heard various ministers discuss lengthy fasts, and ways of mortifying the flesh, which are not wrong in and of themselves. However, I have heard some of them speak of forty day fasts in a competitive manner; something that only Christ and Moses were able to accomplish, and both were sustained supernaturally by the Father in those fasts. Now that we have seen how other denominations err distinguishing between law and gospel, let us see how other denominations approach the Word & Sacraments.
4b. THE WORD & SACRAMENTS
4b. THE WORD — There are many denominations who do not adhere to the Word of God as the infallible, inerrant source of all matters pertaining to faith and practice. There are some who state that the Bible has erred in its historical data. There are even some Lutheran groups who teach this. But I believe that much of this has to do with churches being swayed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). I believe that popular ideas over the last few centuries such as cultural Marxism, relativism, pluralism, secularism, the new atheism and Darwinian evolution have crept into churches and denominations where the leaders aren’t adequately trained to combat these doctrines of demons. And so the pastors aren’t really sure if they trust the Bible, which reflects on their congregations. As a result, the Word is not held in high regard by the congregation, so they often have varied and random beliefs. Some of the beliefs of congregants in these churches are an amalgamation of New Age mysticism, Buddhism, Hinduism (I have heard countless Christians use the word karma), and many more faith systems. This is all because a sola scriptura culture hasn’t been established in too many denominations, resulting in the Word of God being relegated to something optional in too many Christian’s lives. So if people have a low view of scripture, they most certainly will have a low view of the Sacraments.
4b. THE SACRAMENTS —- First of all, what is a sacrament? I am so used to calling Baptism and the Lord’s Supper “ordinances” that I had to intentionally transition to calling them sacraments. I believe a sacrament is first something Jesus commanded us to do, then uses physical elements, i.e. taste and touch, then then is connected to the Word of God, the promises of scripture, which generate and produce faith in us. Why do so many churches have such different views of the sacraments? One of the reasons I believe is because of personal laziness on the part of pastors. Paul encourages and admonishes Timothy to be studios (2 Tim. 2:15). Then there is the beautiful passage in 1 Tim. 4:14-16: 1 Timothy 4:14-16 English Standard Version (ESV) 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. — Paul admonishes Timothy here to practice and immerse himself in preaching and teaching, and also to keep a close watch on himself and the doctrine he teaches. There are several parts to this passage that can give us insight. First, many churches differ on the sacraments simply because they don’t practice and immerse themselves in study. I love recreation just like anyone else. And at 37, I grew up in the Nintendo generation. So I watch movies and play computer games for entertainment. But I know ministers and pastors who never study scripture or doctrine, and are proud of that fact. They do all their sermon prep the night before they are to preach. They use the idea of being “Spirit-led” or inspired as a cover up for slothfulness! Also, the parishioners are sometimes the same. They will listen to their pastors and never develop a Berean mindset as the book of Acts describes (Acts 17:10-11). My prayer has always been to grow constantly in my knowledge of the Holy Writ. As Luther said at the end of his life, we are all beggars. None of us will ever be able to fully grasp God’s Word. Yet we should pray for the spiritual fruit of self-control, and strive to be disciplined in our study of it. And in that discipline, there is one doctrine that is pivotal to Lutheran thought, and that is the bondage of the will. I will do my best to try to explain why so many churches differ on this teaching.
4b. MAN’S ABILITY TO CHOOSE CHRIST OR TO PARTICIPATE IN ONE’S OWN SALVATION — Many churches believe that man can participate in their own salvation because they don’t know the scriptures, or because sinful human pride resists the idea that we cannot contribute to our salvation. Erroneous teachings have always crept into the church, and will always be there. But thanks be to God for champions of the faith who have risen up every few years, from Augustine to Luther and to modern Lutheran theologians…here we still stand. I am reminded of these words: Genesis 6:5 (ESV) – The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 6:6 (ESV) – And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Genesis 8:21 (ESV) – And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.
I could definitely cite more passages of scripture, but these should be more than enough. If people believe the Bible states what it states and means what it means, these should be non-issues. So we will move on to the nature and authority of the Bible, which is the topic of question 5.