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In Philippians 3, Paul warns against putting too much faith in our own efforts:
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
He tells his own story, describing his former identity as a Jew and a Pharisee. He confesses that he persecuted the Church with zeal, thinking it righteous. Post-conversion everything changed dramatically:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
He acknowledges that he is powerless on his own and:
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
He exhorts the Philippians to do the same:
15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
The closing verses of Philippians 3 and first of Philippians 4 appeared in the June 2015 newsletter of l’Église Protestante Unie de Cannes, in a final written commentary by their pastor Paolo Morlacchetti, who has since been assigned to the Reformed congregation in Nice.
The verses are as follows:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
4 Therefore, my brothers,[a] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
In his commentary, ‘Our city is in heaven’, Pastor Morlacchetti wrote that we can possess the highest human traits and beliefs, but, without faith in Jesus Christ, they count for nothing. Paul saw this in some of the Philippians and, similarly, it is easy for us to recognise such people today:
The enemies of the cross of Christ are those who think they can bypass the cross. They are naturally people who enter one or another of sects which are multiplying in our post-Christian era; they think they can find more and better than the Evangelist [Paul]. Or they think that what the Evangelist said is outdated. These days we need new ideals and a new morality.
The enemies of the cross are also those who believe in humanity, in its faculties, in its achievements without noticing that if humanity is capable of great things it can also commit its worst atrocities. Or they are the indifferent, the great mass of the indifferent, who turn their backs on the cross and obliterate it from their lives.
When the Apostle Paul says that some are enemies of the cross of Christ, he isn’t advocating a crusade against them. He does not say that one must destroy heretics in order to purify the Church and the earth. When he thinks of them, Paul cries (‘with tears’). Yes, he cries with sadness because such people are losing their life by imagining they are saving it.
They have for a god their belly, writes Paul. Their belly, which in that era might have been circumcision or dietary restrictions. It could also be whatever satisfies us morally or materially. It could be moral attributes or a belief system which turns us away from Christ. Any human recourse — false salvation — perpetuates the illusion and enslaves us.
The man who refuses Christ’s cross thinks he can get by on his own efforts; he believes himself to be self-sufficient. But in reality, he obeys this system, this ideology, as if it were a religion and he himself its disciple. He loses his liberty, he allies himself with a foreign power. This is why the apostle Paul directs us to another authority. If we really want to be free, we must choose to submit to this authority, that of Jesus Christ.
As so often happens, we face a choice. No longer putting confidence in ourselves, in our resources and in our own merit … this is the fundamental question which we face our whole lives. Our faith revolves around this decisive choice.
The Apostle Paul understood this well. He ceased putting his confidence in his own personal qualities, however authentic, of being a Jew and a Pharisee. He put his belief in Jesus Christ. When he says to imitate him, he does not say, ‘Follow me,’ he tells us, ‘Follow Jesus Christ, believe in Him’. He directs us to another, not himself.
It is for this reason that we see in him a witness worthy of being believed.
It is useful to read St Paul’s letters not only from a historical perspective but also to discern what they tell us — and the world — today with regard to belief and faith. I’d read this passage before, but not in such a relevant way. Morlacchetti’s interpretation of ‘belly’ was, for me, particularly helpful.
In 2009, I went to a service at Église Reformée in the Rue Notre-Dame in Cannes (right behind La Croisette and the Hôtel Majestic).
The pastor, the Revd Paolo Morlacchetti, was on holiday at the time, and Pastor Tambon took the service. My review of it was mixed, particularly the sermon.
(Photo credit: huguenotsinfo. Note the wrought iron Huguenot cross on the doors!)
In June 2015, we were in town during one weekend, so I went back. The church’s name has since changed to l’Église Protestante Unie de Cannes, which I’ll explain at the end of this post.
Perhaps providentially, SpouseMouse and I got a very early wake-up call via the violent thunderstorm which ripped through the Côte d’Azur. Nice-Matin has readers’ photos of the dramatic lightning and flash flooding from that morning.
I am happy to say that my church experience could not have been better. Pastor Morlacchetti was there. As was an organist! Gone was the little machine with recorded hymn music!
There is no Peace with handshakes and hugs, thankfully. In Continental Protestant tradition, people talk to each other in church before the service, sometimes rather loudly. The clergy also appear briefly. A lady came over to speak to me, complimented me on my French, told me there was someone else there from England that morning and cordially asked why I hadn’t gone to the Anglican Church instead. I said that our hotel was but a two-minute walk away.
Most of the liturgy was sung to organ music. These prayers praised God in His glory. The melodic public confession in minor key was lengthy and meaningful.
Hymns were traditional and serious.
The readings were as follows. First, the Psalm:
Come, Bless the Lord
A Song of Ascents.
134 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
Then the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, rather apposite for me and the other Briton in the congregation (see verse 9):
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
The Gospel reading was Mark 4:26-34:
The Parable of the Seed Growing
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
Pastor Morlacchetti tied the Epistle and Gospel together in an excellent sermon on developing one’s personal faith.
He advised us to resist the world and focus on pleasing God instead. This world is not our natural home. He discussed the mustard tree growing abundantly, almost miraculously, from an incredibly small seed. That is how we should be growing in faith.
He said this would come about if we prayed regularly and studied the Bible daily! (A man after my own heart.) He explained that the more we focus on prayer and Scripture, the closer our relationship with the Lord becomes. We begin to put away the things of this life and focus on pleasing Him, as Paul says. We also give a true Christian example to others in demeanour and deed.
I wanted to applaud.
After the service, Morlacchetti — in full Geneva gown and starched bands — seemed genuinely happy to greet everyone, including visitors. He seems to be a godly man, truly serving the Lord in ministry.
Paolo Morlacchetti’s theological speciality is Italian Protestantism, particularly at the end of the 19th century.
The revolution in Italy of 1848 resulted in a decree by their king which permitted freedom of worship for Jews and Protestants. Protestants living in the Piedmont region were finally able to escape their mountain ghettos, where they had been forced to live in isolation for centuries.
Morlacchetti preaches on Pasteur du dimanche (Sunday Pastor), a site which features short videos from Protestant clergy on Scripture.
In July 2015, Morlacchetti briefly discussed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, emphasising that Jesus’s multiplication took place only once the disciples believed that He could feed everyone. Therefore, faith brings abundant blessings:
Unfortunately for the Cannes congregation, Morlacchetti has been called to continue his ministry in Nice. His last Sunday with them was July 5, 2015. I’m sure they will miss him greatly. I wish them all the best in a search for a new pastor. Their newsletter L’Arc en ciel (Rainbow) explained that it would take at least a year to find a suitable replacement. They have been able to arrange for clergy to take Sunday services in the near term.
L’Église Protestante Unie de France
In 2007, France’s Lutheran and Reformed Churches began unifying both denominations. In 2012, this process resulted in the creation of a United Protestant Church of France.
Whilst l’Église Protestante Unie allows the Reformed and the Lutheran churches to maintain their own churches and theology, they are unified as a Protestant body following the example of United Churches in other countries.
Although France’s Protestants are a small group, indeed — 400,000, or 2.3% of the population — immigrants from Africa are steadily increasing these numbers. An African family was at the church in Cannes the morning I attended, and two African youngsters were confirmed there on Pentecost Sunday this year.
France’s Protestants have 500 clergy, one-third of whom are women. They have 1,000 churches and two seminaries.
Yesterday’s post looked at Matthew 8:18-22, wherein Jesus told a scribe who wanted to follow Him that (verse 20):
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
In his sermon on that passage, John MacArthur explained the meaning of the ‘Son of Man’ as follows (emphases mine):
I love the statement: “The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” The Son of Man first appears in Daniel 7:13. Daniel prophesied that the Messiah would be Son of Man, and Jesus came and said, “I’m Son of Man.” Do you know how many times that’s used in the gospels? Eighty times! Jesus affirmed He was the Son of man. What is it? It’s a term of humiliation. Son of God speaks of deity; Son of Man of His humiliation. He’s saying, “In my humiliation I don’t even have what foxes have, and the foxes were very common in those parts of the world in those times, and they would burrow little holes in the ground. And birds were everywhere and they had their nests, and He said, “I don’t even have that.” In my humiliation I don’t have the basic comforts of life and if you’re going to follow me you’re going to have to be willing to give that up.
Again, as MacArthur says, which I covered in my post, the Lord might not ask us to give up material and familial comforts at all, however, if circumstances beyond our control demand that we do so in order to follow Him, then we must. However:
He may not want to take away your personal possessions. He may not want to take away your personal relationships. But you have to be willing to let him if He wanted to, you see? That’s the affirmation of His Lordship in your life. If you come, saying, “I’ll come, but I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this,” and you give Him half a heart, you get nothing. If you offer Him everything, He may allow you to keep the portion. He may give you more than you have. It’s the willingness that is the issue.
Something to consider. How willing are we to truly follow Christ?
Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
First chapter: genealogy. That attested to the legal qualifications of the Messiah. Second chapter: birth, and all of the fulfillment of prophecy attested to the prophetic qualifications of the Messiah. And then you come to His baptism: attested to the divine approval of His messiahship. Then you come to the temptation: attested to His spiritual qualifications to be the Messiah. Then you come to the sermon [on the Mount]: His theological qualifications. And now you come to the miracles, the most essential qualification of all, the proof that He is God. He’s God.
By the way, chapter 8 begins where chapter 4 left off; the sermon is stuck in the middle. But when we closed chapter 4, do you remember what He was doing? Verse 23? “And Jesus went all about Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria. And they brought unto Him all the sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those who were possessed with demons, those who were epileptic, those who had paralysis, and He healed them. And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan.” You see, this is right where He left off, isn’t it? He went up in a mountain, preached a sermon, came down, and started it all over again. Thousands, uncounted numbers of healings, and He healed all who came to Him.
The first miracle recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is the healing of the leper. MacArthur describes the pattern of miracles in Matthew 8 and 9 and the narrative through Matthew 13:
The 8th chapter through the 12th chapter is really, in many ways, critical to the understanding of the life of Christ and the message of Matthew. For in this section, Matthew records a series of miracles performed by Jesus Christ. There are countless thousands of miracles that are done, nine of which he singles out as examples of the power of Jesus Christ. They are really His credentials as the Messiah. They are those signs which point convincingly to His deity, for only God can do the things that He does. The sad part is that, after the miracles in chapters 8 and 9, after the preaching that occurs following that, the Jews conclude in chapter 12 that Jesus is of the devil. That was their conclusion. So in many ways this becomes the heart of Matthew’s message. Christ does everything possible to manifest His deity, and they conclude exactly the opposite. And then in chapter 13, He turns from the Jews toward the establishment of a Gentile church. This is a monumental section of Scripture. Now you’ll notice that it begins with three miracles: miracle of healing the leper in the first four verses; healing the man with paralysis, verses 5 to 13; and the woman with fever in verses 14 and 15. This is the opening triad of miracles. There are nine miracles in these two chapters. They come in three sections of three: three miracles, then a response; three miracles, then a response; three miracles, then a response; all designed to manifest the deity of Jesus Christ.
Miracles, you see, were God’s way of attesting to the deity of His Son. They are creative miracles. They manifest power that is only defined by the essence of God. They are things that man could never do. They are supernatural.
I will continue to write about the miracles in Matthew 8 as they have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary, widely in use for public worship.
However, understanding more about how Matthew structured his Gospel will help those of us new to the Bible to better understand and appreciate it.
A brief excerpt follows:
Too many pastors treat Jesus as the cameo guest star. It’s absolutely amazing how these so called pastors can spend over an hour preaching on finances or good sex and never touch the gospel. They just bring Jesus out, bound and gagged mind you so that he doesn’t interfere with the message, and say, “Hey look, it’s Jesus,” thereby giving the impression that the Son of God actually approves of what is being said despite having absolutely nothing to do with him.
I couldn’t agree more. I have heard too many modern sermons from Protestant and Catholic clergymen alike who shoehorn Jesus into their preaching as if a mere mention — a sentence or two — will do. And, as Brad Grierson says, the clergyperson might be falsely linking Jesus’s sayings with unbiblical concepts.
Grierson’s advice is to hightail it out of churches where the Word is not preached. Where the Word is not preached, the Gospel is lacking.
In 2015, Ascension Day falls on May 14.
The Feast of the Ascension is always on a Thursday — 40 days after Easter — and ten days before Pentecost Sunday.
The Sunday between the two is known as Exaudi Sunday, particularly in Lutheran denominations. My 2013 post cites a beautiful sermon from my cyberfriend Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod which explains more.
On Ascension Day, the faithful recall Christ’s rising to heaven in order to send the disciples — and us — the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. From that point, we were — and continue to be — in the ‘last days’, awaiting His coming again in judgement.
My 2013 post on the Ascension ties together Acts 1:9-11 with other passages from the New Testament which demonstrate that Christ will indeed return in glory. This event did not occur with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, as preterists would have us believe.
Today’s post looks at a Reformed — Calvinist view — of the Ascension by Dr Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Anaheim, California) and co-host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast.
A few years ago, Riddlebarger wrote an article for Modern Reformation called ‘Jesus Christ — our Prophet, Priest and King’.
He tells us that John Calvin brought the theological concept of munus triplex to prominence in Protestantism and says that the Lutherans later adopted it. Munus triplex states that Christ’s offices are threefold; He is our prophet, priest and king.
A later Calvinist reformer Francis Turretin took this Christological concept and tied it to the human condition (emphases mine below):
The threefold misery of men introduced by sin — ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage by sin — required this conjunction of a threefold office. Ignorance is healed by the prophetic; guilt by the priestly; the tyranny and corruption of sin by the kingly office. Prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the Priest takes away guilt and procures a reconciliation for us; the Power of the King removes the bondage of sin and death. The Prophet shows God to us; the Priest leads us to God; and the King joins us together and glorifies us with God. The Prophet enlightens the mind by the Spirit of illumination; the Priest by the Spirit of consolation tranquilizes the heart and conscience; the King by the Spirit of sanctification subdues rebellious affections. (5)
Riddlebarger provides copious biblical evidence as to why Christ is still our prophet. With regard to the Ascension:
Christ’s prophetic work does not cease, however, with the end of his earthly ministry at his Ascension. As Louis Berkhof notes, Christ “continues His prophetical activity through the operation of the Holy Spirit. His teachings are both verbal and factual, that is, He teaches not only by verbal communications, but also by the facts of revelation, such as the incarnation, His atoning death, the resurrection and ascension.” (7) Christ is the one who sends the Holy Spirit, and as the Spirit of Christ, he is the one who “will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). As Christ is the Word incarnate, and the central figure in biblical revelation, so too we cannot divorce the work of his Spirit from the written word. Since Christ fulfills the office of prophet, and since he continues to speak to us through his word — and only through his word — the Reformed are very reticent to give any credence to supposed “words from God,” or “words of knowledge” from modern day schwärmer such as Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn who repeatedly make such claims to speak forth Spirit-led utterances.
Throughout the Old Testament we find references to a coming priestly Redeemer ordained by God. Our Lord’s role as high priest did not end when He ascended to Heaven. Riddlebarger explains:
Jesus Christ presently intercedes for us when we sin (1 Jn 2:1-2). While we are correct to focus on what Christ has done for us as our high priest, we must not forget those things he is doing for us even now. He prays for our sanctification (Jn 17:17). He is now our “great high priest who has gone through the heavens,” so too we can now “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:14-16). Even now, our great high priest is building us “into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). What comfort we can take, knowing that our Lord is in heaven, preparing for us to see his glory (Jn 17:24). For the great high priest who intercedes for us never sleeps nor wearies, he never prays without full effect, and he is ever mindful of our continuing struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (Heb 2:18). Jesus Christ is both the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). He is our great high priest and the good shepherd, who even now guards his flock. No one shall ever snatch us from his hand (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing will ever separate us from his love (Rom 8:37-39).
Concerning Christ as King, Riddlebarger rightly takes issue with certain Protestants who ask people to make Him their Lord when that is not a matter of human choice and dispensationalists (rapture believers) who purport that His divine kingship does not occur until the end of the world.
The Scriptures plainly declare that”the Lord has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over it” (Ps 103:19). We don’t make Christ anything — He is the Lord over his creation. His throne is in heaven, and he is king over creation. This kingship is therefore to be seen as”his official power to rule all things in heaven and on earth, for the glory of God, and for the execution of God’s purpose of salvation.” (11) If Christ is not presently ruling in this capacity, we must ask ourselves, just who exactly is minding the store? Reformed theologians usually argue that there are two aspects to this kingly rule. The first is Christ’s regnum potentiae (kingdom of power) and the second is the regnum gratiae. Unlike the dispensationalists, who argue that Christ delays the full manifestation of his rule in this present dispensation, the Reformed argue that Christ presently exercises full dominion over all, even now. He is king and his kingdom is presently a kingdom both of grace and of power. He is in full control and he is ordering all of human history as he sees fit. This means that at his Ascension, Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of his father and even now rules over all of creation (regnum potentiae) and over his church (regnum gratiae).
He provides numerous verses from Scripture to support this position.
Therefore, the importance of Ascension Day is as follows:
If the Scripture bears witness to Christ (Jn 5:39), then the Holy Spirit, who is Scripture’s divine author (2 Tim 3:16), will open our minds and our hearts to hear our Lord’s voice as we read his word (Jn 16:12-15; Acts 16:14). This is what theologians have historically spoken of as illumination. Since we are blind to the things of God, the Holy Spirit must provide the understanding we need through the Scriptures. Thus, Christ our prophet certainly speaks to us today though the pages of his word. In fact, whenever the minister of the word opens the Scripture for us, there is a profound sense in which Christ our prophet is speaking to us through his word every bit as much as if he himself were standing in our presence and speaking these words audibly. Therefore in Scripture, God’s word written, we find a voice that is certain, not like the extemporaneous musings of those today who claim to speak for God.
The same pattern holds true for Christ’s priestly work. Not only has Christ done what is necessary for our salvation through his sinless life (his active obedience) and through his sacrifice for sin (passive obedience), but at this very moment he has assumed his place at the right hand of his Father where he now intercedes for us …
Christ’s kingly office provides us with a wealth of comfort and assurance. For while the nations rage one against another; while the earth groans beneath our feet; while there is sickness, disease, and economic hardship (Mt 24:3 ff.) Even now our Lord is ruling and reigning, until he makes his enemies his footstool (1 Cor 15:22-27). And so while unbelievers may look around at these world conditions and see the apparent chaos as an excuse to scoff, saying “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Pt 3:3-4), the believer can take heart, for the signs of the end are exactly that. The tumult we see around us is, in fact, proof that Christ is reigning and that he is directing all of history toward a great and final consummation, when he will come with great glory with his angels, as the great conquering king (1 Thes 4:13-5:11).
I hope this gives us food for thought and reassurance on Ascension Day.
He is risen!
Our Lord has overcome death and the tomb.
It is vital that our children understand this. I mention it because some British crèches teach little ones that the Crucifixion is Easter. No, it is not. This post has a true story about a little boy who learned that Jesus died, end of.
An excellent sermon by the Revd P G Mathew of Davis, California, brings the Resurrection story to life and answers a few questions we might have.
John MacArthur rightly tells us that without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity. He answers general questions regarding the faith, well worth reading.
In the 17th century, an Anglican cleric, the Revd George Herbert wrote two beautiful poems for this feast day, ‘Easter’ and ‘Easter Wings’. The latter is especially striking, as he arranged the verses to look like wings. Have a look!
I would like to wish all my readers and subscribers a very happy Easter. May the joy we experience today fill our hearts and minds the whole year through.
The Gospel of Barney — highly recommended — recently detailed the growth and development of the Lutheran Church in the United States.
Please read it in full, as it has much useful information. A summary follows.
Students of church history know that Germany and Scandinavian countries adopted Lutheranism during the Reformation.
When people from these countries emigrated to the United States, they stayed in their denomination and worshipped in their first language.
Consequently, there were groups of German congregations: the General Synod, the General Council and United Synod of the South. These merged in 1918 to become United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA).
There were also Finnish congregations under the banner of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Suomi Synod), established in 1890.
Danish congregations comprised the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, established in 1872.
Swedish churches affiliated with the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, established in 1860.
In 1962, these groups merged to become the Lutheran Church of America (LCA). It was the largest Lutheran church body in the United States. The German congregations were in the majority.
At that time, I remember seeing a lot of Lutheran churches in the Midwest. Some towns had a majority of Lutheran and Catholic congregations. My Lutheran neighbours were of Swedish heritage on one side and German on the other. I went to church with them a couple of times in the early 1970s. The service was liturgical with traditional hymns. Sunday School was demanding for my young peers. The senior pastor took the Confirmation class and drilled the candidates on the Bible and their ability to associate various Old and New Testament passages with common scriptural themes.
The Lutheran Church impressed me. As I was about to be confirmed at that time, the Lutheran classes were much more in-depth than my Catholic ones.
However, Barney tells us that, a little over a decade later — in 1988 — the LCA became the ELCA in what is considered to be a ‘hostile takeover’.
Like The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA), the ELCA is now more interested in ecumenical unity and left-wing politics than spreading the Gospel.
This is ironic, particularly as the ‘E’ in ELCA stands for … ‘Evangelical’. Hmm. ‘Evangel’ means ‘the Gospel’. Evangelical Lutherans should be preaching it.
And like TEC and PCUSA, ELCA’s congregations are on life support. Their leaders think that by espousing universalism and politics congregations will grow. In fact, the opposite is happening.
Older people continue to attend because that is their church heritage. A number of Anglicans, myself included, feel the same way as do our contemporaries in TEC and PCUSA. We pray for faithful clergy and congregations.
However, these congregations are dwindling because pewsitters no longer hear the Shepherd’s voice from the mouths of His clergy — John 10:1-18 (emphases mine):
1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Sadly, we are hearing the voice of the stranger, the hired hand and the thief.
His current ministry focus is on rural pastors in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
Barney’s posts are not only thought-provoking but witty — recommended reading.
One of his posts deals with pastors new to churches in rural areas. In it, he also addresses the problems they face, particularly if they are fresh out of seminary.
To those of us sitting in the pews, Barney says that a pastor’s life is far from easy. The graphic comes from his post, ‘A Country Parson’. Excerpts follow.
Barney has a list of rules for those of us who go to church and complain about those who lead our walk in Christ. In addition to praying for them, he suggests ten great ways we can be generous (emphases in the original):
1. They are not the last pastor you had, who may have been a saint or an idiot!
2. Your budget is small, but your hearts are large! – money is not everything, you have beef, pork[,] eggs[,] chicken they too are tax-deductible.
6. Invite them out for coffee, to the farm or ranch!
7. Buy them season’s tickets to all High School sporting Events, give them invitations to all significant events.
9. Relax, teach them; it takes time, but they’ll change with love and care – If not[,] you’ve left them better ready for rural ministry.
And what follows are the first five of Barney’s 11 survival rules for rural clergy. (The post actually starts with this section, but as most of my readers are laypeople, it seemed fitting for me to prioritise generosity towards the pastor.)
1. You know all that wonderful stuff they taught you in seminary? – Forget it!
2. You know all those wonderful liberal ideals you think are oh so important? – listen first – talk later!
3. That idea you are going to change the way these folk think and live – Toss it out!
4. Don’t charge in gung ho to change long-established traditions no matter how politically and theologically correct you know they are! Most of your seminary professors and Bishops have not done real ministry in real congregations in years – if ever!
5. Do go to all High School sports, Grade School programs, graduations, County fairs, Rodeos, 4H and FFA are big out here!
Any pastors from the rural Pacific Northwest who are interested in a private conversation with Barney can contact him via his blog.