A House Divided…

I attend a church made up of three congregations.  There’s the 5:30 Saturday night congregation, the 8 AM Sunday morning congregation, and the 10:30 AM Sunday morning congregation.  Some of the 8 AM people pass through the 5:30 service occasionally, and the 8 and 10:30 people cross paths in the airlock of the 9:15 Bible classes, but even there, it’s less about the congregations coming together and more about a whole different group who happens to attend Bible study at the same time.  A house divided…

At what point does it become OK for a congregation to be this way?  We are there together to make up the Body of Christ, yet we can’t be together because we won’t sit in the other’s service.  We are divided not by time (although some have chosen when to go and make it a point to follow that choice), or because of a propensity to attend Bible class before/after the church service.  We are divided because of music and liturgy.

Our congregation has become the congregation of the Divine Service and the congregation of the Contemporary Service.  Those who attend 5:30 PM or 8 AM do so because they want to attend during the worship service from the Lutheran Service Book.  They enjoy the hymns and cherish the settings of the Divine Service, and want to go to church when they know they will be comfortable and able to worship in a predictable and reverent manner.  The Contemporary Service people go to 10:30 AM because they like the music, and the way the service changes every week, and how it fills them with faith and gives them hope for the week to come.

Both are valid and healthy ways to think about and participate in church.  Both services include the key parts of any worship service:  Confession and Absolution, the Readings, Songs and Hymns, a Sermon, the Lord’s Supper, and Blessings and Prayers.  Each service builds faith and brings the forgiveness of sins.  Each strengthens the children of God in the Body of Christ.  And it’s tearing us apart.

We are not to seek a church of faithful INDIVIDUALS!  We are the whole Body of Christ, His Bride the Church, and yet we would never set foot in the other’s service.  And why not?  Because we would say, “I don’t worship that way.”

It is a work of the Law to believe that church is only to be done as the Divine Service lays out, rubic by ordinary by proper, start to finish.  It is also a sinful heart who would criticize the worship of another because it is “repetitive” or “boring”.  We have become the circumcized and the uncircumcized of the early Christian church, divided by practice and by our view of the other’s worship style.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:14ff:  “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  Christ is the One who gathers us up and brings us together.  We are not a church because we share a building.  We are a church because we share Jesus and Him Crucified.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” -Ephesians 4:1-6.

We are to love one another, not tear the other down or turn up our noses.  We are to worship with one another, not because we have to, but out of love for one another, and because we are the one body, with Christ as our head.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” -Ephesians 4:15-16.

I have sinned greatly in this as well, for I have stated, quite plainly, that I do not like Contemporary worship, and key changes during songs, and sermons from the communion rail rather than the pulpit.  I ask for your forgiveness, and the forgiveness of my Lord, for I have torn down the faithful worship of others.  I am not proud of my actions regarding the other service, and I will seek to understand and encourage those who would sing to the Lord a new song.

I ask of you the following:  attend a service you normally would not.  Share Christ with the brothers and sisters in your church, in your one congregation, at the table of the Lord.  Seek to build each other up, and understand the faithfulness that comes not from liturgy or from songs, but from the Word of Christ, and the Supper we partake in Him, and the Baptism we have received through Jesus our Lord.

Was the American Revolution Unchristian?

I’m beginning to do some reading on the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (aka the Two Realms).  This is the concept that God is the ruler over all things, and all He rules over is based in two realms, His left hand (the “civil” realm) and His right hand (the “heavenly” realm).  But before I go any further, let me break this doctrine down very quickly (I’ll do a more in-depth post on the Two Kingdoms later…and special thanks to Pastor Joel Biermann and Concordia Seminary’s iTunesU videos as a source for information).

The “civil” realm is not just the government, but also includes the home, the economy, the environment, etc.  It is the realm of preservation, such as preserving peace and justice in the world.  It is the realm of the Sword, which the government (or those in authority, i.e. parents, teachers, bosses) wield to maintain order over the earth and those over which God has placed them.  This is a key point.  God rules over both realms, and as such, grants authority to those He wishes to have it.

The “heavenly” realm is the church, but not the little “c” church of this world, necessarily.  It is the realm of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  It is the realm of the Word, and is the realm of the work to bring salvation to those who believe.

The two realms are not opposed to each other.  They are not at odds.  Instead, they cross into each other and even compliment each other.  The work of the left realm is to maintain order and civility so that the work of the right may continue to save.  The right hand will bring peace and comfort to the soul, and allow the left to complete it’s task.

An excellent set of examples is the judge and the murderer.  The judge will work in the left realm, dispensing justice from the authority of the government to the murderer.  The murderer, who may repent and truly be sorry for his sins, will still be punished for his crime.  The judge does not let the repentance of the murderer sway him from his task of judgement, and the murderer does not expect that his repentance and forgiveness from God will remove from him the judgement he faces.  The murderer will be forgiven by God, but will receive the Sword of the left hand kingdom.  The judge will use the Sword, but may still work to spread the Word of the right hand kingdom outside of his job.

Still, both kingdoms are ruled by God.  He grants grace and forgiveness on the right, and sets up any authority He wishes on the left.  If God did not want an authority to rule, He would not allow it to be.

So, was the American Revolution against the will of God?  Did our forefathers sin as they overthrew the government which ruled them?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Romans 13:1-2:  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

But God works through the sinfulness of man to fulfill His purposes.  Were our forefathers wrong?  Yes.  Does that mean that our nation is inherently evil?  Not necessarily (although THAT’S a discussion for another time).  God uses our country to fulfill His purpose.  May He grant us the strength to do His will when it is our time to complete it.

Now, ask yourself this:  Are the Occupy Wall Street protesters right or wrong?  Are they doing God’s will?  And is supporting them sinful?

A Persuasion to Prayer

As we move through the stress and strain of our daily lives, sometimes we wonder how we should best handle our worries and fears, our hopes and desires, our needs and our wants. Where can we find help and strength to carry our in the burden of life? Stress relief is often the topic of many emotional self-help books and audio recordings, like the ones we see on TV at 3 am between Law and Order and Dracula vs. the Wolfman, Part 17. They tell us that we can look inside ourselves to find The Power of Living, as one so-called collection states. Yet, these always cost large amounts of time and rather large amounts of money, because, as we all know, 4 easy payments of $39.99 is not cheap to anyone in a recession.

However, I would like to offer a simpler, easier, more fulfilling method to handle to problems of this world. Something that is useful anywhere, in any situation. It’s inexpensive (actually, it’s free), anyone can do it, and available to all. The solution is prayer.

Now, you may ask yourself, why pray? Well, Paul tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 17, to “pray continually.” I know that in my life things happen on a regular basis such that I need help, or just want to talk about them with someone. God is always there and ready to hear what I have to say. Christ commands us to pray in Matthew 7:7ff, when He says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” God wants us to talk with Him. He is willing to listen to us in our times of trouble, or even to thank him for what He has done for us. Even medical studies show that prayer is helpful in the midst of an illness. Prayer relieves stress by focusing one’s attention and calming an individual. Prayer is the equivalent of a child’s time-out. It gives us a moment to step back and look at the things around us.

How, then, should we pray? Christ answers this question fully when He says in Matthew 6:9ff, “This, then, is how you should pray,” and follows with what has thus been known as the Lord’s Prayer. However, this is not the only way that we can talk to our Father. Martin Luther states one method of praying in his definition of the Second Commandment, taken from his Small Catechism, which states that we should “in every time of need call upon [God], pray to him, praise him, and give him thanks.” From this we can see three major types of prayer: prayer in times of need, praising God as our great and almighty King, and thanking God for the gifts He has given to us. When we pray in times of need, we should ask God not only to help us and watch over us, but those around us, such as our family and loved ones; Christ even tells us to pray for our enemies. Thanking and praising God should be the easiest part of prayer, because of all of the gifts we receive from Him should be more than enough of a reason to pray. All of these types of prayer can be seen in the most amazing collection of prayers ever assembled: the Psalms. Here we see many of the different ways that we can talk to God. But these are not the only ways. Even just having a plain, old conversation with the Creator of all (as ironic as that sounds) is a comfortable and helpful way to give peace to our lives. Some see prayer as a quiet meditation time, to look over the events of their lives and to seek God’s guidance. That is the essence of prayer. Asking for God’s guidance and strength, seeking His peace and love, searching for His will and desires in our lives.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of prayer? As for the latter, I see no drawbacks to talking with God. He commands it, and answers us. When we pray, He comes to us and comforts us in our time of need. All that He asks is that, when we pray, we thank and praise Him. To me, this sounds like a win-win situation. The benefits of prayer are even greater. Besides the physiological benefits of relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation, we receive many mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits as well. Peace, joy, happiness, restoration of the heart and mind, comfort, and strength are just a few of the things that we see in our lives after we pray to God. Also, God answers those questions that most trouble our hearts and minds, and He leads us to live lives of good and faithful righteousness in Him.

After having seen all of these reasons to pray, sometimes we are still unsure of what pray. Many daily devotional books and pamphlets, such as the Portals of Prayer series, updated every quarter, which is available online through Concordia Publishing House, are readily accessible to all. Also, leaflets, like Talking with God, are handy in looking into the discussion of prayer and its usefulness. The Treasury of Daily Prayer, and it’s corresponding app, Pray Now, are available at all times through any Apple device.

Prayer should be a major part in the lives of every Christian. Its benefits are far greater than even the person praying can ever imagine. We are commanded to pray by God Himself. It is not time consuming nor is it hard to do. We have a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with about the humor of life, someone to hear us and understand all of the things that affect us in our daily lives. With this kind of a deal, who could pass up the opportunity to be heard? The benefits are outstanding, and in the end, we will be glad that we did it. So go on, pray. It regularly gets me through this blog. It can get you through anything.