Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
- Henry David Thoreau
I liked the characters whom McCandless met as he traveled the country almost as much as I liked McCandless. He meets and befriends a unique group of people in his travels ranging from a hippie couple to a wheat-farmer to an older Catholic man living near the Salton Sea in Southern California.
Along with the characters and the plot, I really enjoyed two other aspects of the film, the cinematography and the soundtrack. Eddie Vedder provided much of the soundtrack and being a Pearl Jam fan I enjoyed it. Much of the film takes place in the west and, of course, Alaska, with beautiful views of the Grand Canyon and the Alaskan wilderness.
Oh it's a mystery to me.
We have a greed, with which we have agreed...
and you think you have to want more than you need...
until you have it all, you won't be free.
Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
When you want more than you have, you think you need...
and when you think more then you want, your thoughts begin to bleed.
I think I need to find a bigger place...
cause when you have more than you think, you need more space.
Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
Society, crazy indeed...
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
There's those thinkin' more or less, less is more,
but if less is more, how you keepin' score?
It means for every point you make, your level drops.
Kinda like you're startin' from the top...
and you can't do that.
Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
Society, crazy indeed...
I hope you're not lonely, without me
Society, have mercy on me.
I hope you're not angry, if I disagree.
Society, crazy indeed.
I hope you're not lonely...
- "Society" by Jerry Hannan, performed by Eddie Vedder in the soundtrack of Into the Wild.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The last three weeks have been challenging spiritually. God has made me aware of areas where I still struggle to trust Him. I am trusting that God will bring me through this though, to a greater trust in and love for Him and a greater love for all of the people in my life. In the midst of the struggle, I have experienced a new gifting from the Holy Spirit. Truly God provides during times of struggle!
I brought home a number of books to read. I plan on finishing the missionary autobiography of John G. Paton. I also borrowed "Aglow With the Spirit" by Dr. Robert Frost from the same brother at Christ's Church (Anglican) who lent me "Nine O'Clock in the Morning." There's a good chance I'll write about some of those books sometime in the next two weeks.
I thank God for weakness. Paul said:
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Saturday, November 24, 2007
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.
2nd Timothy 2:13
"When I look to myself all is flesh, that is, sin,
but when I look to Christ all is righteousness."
- Martin Luther
When we do evil He is still good.
When we do things deserving of hell-fire He is still interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)
He is still the God, "who wants all men to be saved." (1st Timothy 2:4)
He is still the God who, "takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked." (Ezekiel 33:11)
He is still the God who, "was pierced for our transgressions" and "crushed for our iniquities," for, "the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
He is still the God who is utterly perfect and holy but who was made "to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2nd Corinthians 5:21)
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Last night I went out for the second time to do street evangelism at a popular street-market in the nearby city of Redlands. I went with a classmate who invited me to go with him and some other men from his Bible church. I have felt a desire to do this for a while, especially after hearing of the exploits of my friends Josh and Tres in their experiences of taking the gospel to the streets. We handed out tracts and used “The Way of the Master” technique when we got to have a conversation with someone. This involves confronting a person with their own sinfulness in order to try to bring them to realizing their need for Christ. I like this method because I don’t think it is possible to come to salvation in Christ if we don’t even know what we are being saved from, that is, the wrath of God(Romans 5:9). Last night we got to pray for a number of non-Christians and we got to share the gospel with around nine or ten people. I haven’t seen anyone actually come to Christ in my two times of going out but I know that a lot of good seeds have been planted. For God’s word will not return empty. My hope is that I can eventually witness to people who will want to meet again later. It is certainly not the easiest or most enjoyable thing for me to go up to random people and preach the gospel but I am praying that God will give me courage and a greater compassion for the lost. What inspires me most about going out though is thinking of God’s glory and the worship that He deserves. I find particularly inspiring a quote from John Piper, “Missions exists because worship doesn't.”
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Occasionally I hear a theology presented that just doesn't sit right with me even though I can't discern exactly why that is at first. This happened recently where I heard a theology presented which basically claimed that we have had a wrong understanding of the character of God and that Jesus' mission was to give us a correct understanding of God's character. Jesus' mission was to show that God is good and he is not a wrathful tyrant. In this system, sin was presented as a result of the misunderstanding. Part of the reason why I had a hard time articulating exactly what it was about this theology that seemed so wrong to me was that I agree that Jesus gives us a fuller and more accurate revelation of God's character than anything else. He is after all, God incarnate. But I think it becomes very problematic when Jesus' entire mission is reduced to revealing the character of God and sin is reduced to a misunderstanding. This system turns the Fall of Man into one big misunderstanding and, in my opinion, does away with any doctrine of the atonement, save perhaps Abelard's Moral Influence Theory. It seems to empty the cross of its power by its "human wisdom." (1st Cor. 1:17) To me it basically says, if Adam and Eve would have just had more or better knowledge then the Fall never would have occurred. Of course, it was desire for the knowledge of good and evil which led to the Fall in the first place.
Worst of all though, I think this system does away with the need for Christ. After all, if sin is just a misunderstanding, then it is conceivable that an especially intelligent or enlightened person might come to the conclusion that God is good even without ever knowing anything about Christ. Maybe he would conclude this because of the beauty of nature or the pleasures of life. In this case, Christ would be unnecessary. In fact, the way in which this system was presented suggested to me that many Unitarians and liberal New-Agers are probably more sanctified than most Christians because the kind of god they believe in might seem more loving (in human terms) than a God who would send a world-wide flood, destroy cities with fire or command His people to wage war. I think what was presented was a kind of salvation by knowledge instead of salvation based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. So if certain facts about who God is are what saves us then it seems that relationship with Jesus Christ becomes unimportant. Jesus is useful but ultimately superfluous in this system.
A few years ago, at Asbury, I heard one of my more liberal-leaning classmates present a similar system (in that Jesus was superfluous). He argued that someone who loves and serves his neighbor, but who has never heard of Christ, is a better Christian than someone who has been converted to faith in Christ but who isn't as compassionate or giving. This kind of argument can be good if it inspires us to seek greater holiness and obedience to God but ultimately it has the same horrible ending as that "salvation based on knowledge" argument. While in the first argument salvation was based on knowledge of some general facts about God, now salvation becomes based on some general good works. In both systems Jesus is useful because he reveals correct facts and spurs us on to good works but Jesus in both systems is ultimately superfluous. He is unnecessary.
The only kind of theological system that will not lead to this is a system that sees Jesus as the beginning and end of all things and that does not underestimate man's fallenness and therefore his need for Christ. Either the Fall and its effects can be undone by some new knowledge or works [the general] or else they can only be undone by a relationship with a particular Person, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ [the specific]. In this day and age, systems that make Jesus superfluous are attractive to many because they are less offensive to our liberal and pluralistic sensibilities. But any system where Jesus is superfluous is not a Christian system. Christ and His glory must be at the center of everything we believe and do.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Friday, November 2, 2007
The Lord has brought me through my second week of medical school exams. I am overwhelmed by his providence. He has blessed me and given me my heart's desires. I will proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ, His Cross, His Resurrection and His Salvation, until I leave this world which is not my home.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
How the king rejoices in your strength, O Lord!
He shouts with joy because you give him victory.
For you have given him his heart’s desire;
you have withheld nothing he requested.
You welcomed him back with success and prosperity.
You placed a crown of finest gold on his head.
He asked you to preserve his life,
and you granted his request.
The days of his life stretch on forever.
Your victory brings him great honor,
and you have clothed him with splendor and majesty.
You have endowed him with eternal blessings
and given him the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord.
The unfailing love of the Most High will keep him from stumbling.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
…at that moment, some strange melodious bird took up its song, and sang, not an ordinary bird-song, with constant repetitions of the same melody, but what sounded like a continuous strain, in which one thought was expressed, deepening in intensity as it evolved in progress. It sounded like a welcome already overshadowed with the coming farewell. As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy. Cometh white-robed Sorrow, stooping and wan, and flingeth wide the doors she may not enter. Almost we linger with Sorrow for very love.
From his “fairy tale,” Phantastes
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
In other news, living in Southern California has been interesting this week. Over the last couple of days I watched a large forest fire work its way down a mountain north of here. Other than that, visibility has been low and I always think I should see someone barbecuing somewhere. Pray for the firefighters and for those who have lost their homes. Pray also for the arsonists who started the fires, that they would realize that their sins make them deserving of a fire that will never be quenched and that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to escape that fate.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Friday, October 5, 2007
I actually debated once with a liberal pastor whom I worked under and she used this argument to justify acceptance of practicing homosexuals in church leadership. She said that since she was divorced and remarried, she was technically living in adultery according to Christ's words, so how could she judge a homosexual? I was, of course, unimpressed by her argument but I didn't have the courage right there to say, "well maybe you shouldn't be a pastor." Ultimately her argument was that because certain things described as sin have become acceptable to many in the church, that we had no right to choose other sins which would bar one from positions of leadership in the church.
If freedom from sin does not come with conversion to Christ than I say that Christianity is proved to be a false religion. Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(Matt. 5:48)" Is Jesus calling us to something that is not possible? And what does Jesus mean by perfection? In the context of this call to perfection we see the Sermon on the Mount, we see teaching on anger and reconciliation with brothers, sexual morality, marriage, oaths, retribution and love for enemies. We also see in Matthew where a fundamental part of Jesus' message is repentance. We read, "From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.(Matt. 4:17)'" So it is obvious that Jesus was calling his followers to leave sin behind and follow him. If all of this talk of repentance and leaving sin behind and holiness is not reflected at all in actual followers of Christ then I say the whole thing is a sham. And yet it seems that many believe and teach that there is no real change in the life of a Christian other than maybe a new hope or some warm feelings. In fact, maybe the only life change encouraged by the liberal is abstinence from ever making a judgment call that something is actually sinful or contrary to God's will. Even in evangelical circles you can see the theology of praying the "sinner's prayer" and then everything is a-okay. This theology doesn't match the New Testament, or the Old Testament for that matter, though. If you take a verse in isolation here or there you can argue for that theology. If you only read John 3:16 then maybe you could believe that no repentance is required but if you read it in the context of the entire gospel of John you see calls to repentance in both 5:14 and 8:11. The Gospel of John also contains some of the most sublime writing on the promise of the Holy Spirit. In connection with this promise we read Jesus' words, "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment...(John 16:8)" It is claimed in the New Testament and in the testimonies of multitudes of believers that the Holy Spirit really has come into the lives of many. So if this testimony is true and if Christ's words are true, then what is the point of the Holy Spirit convicting of sin if there is no change in the life of a Christian?
So is Christianity a big lie? Well, I don't think so. It follows that I believe that there is a real life-change in Christians that is supernaturally enabled by the work of the Holy Spirit. There is real sanctification and freedom from sin in this life. God in His grace has freed me of things that many don't even think a person can be freed of. Am I entirely sanctified? No. But God is working on me and I have a blessed hope for entire sanctification and Christian perfection in this life. And for any who scoff at terms like "entire sanctification" and "Christian perfection," I say, how dare you limit God! How dare you answer Jesus "no thanks, I don't think it's possible," when He says to you in His Word "Be ye Perfect." This freedom from sin will come differently to different people but it always requires patience, perseverance and a willingness to lose one's life for the sake of following Christ.
And for those who perpetuate the lie of the "carnal Christian," Jesus warns, "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.(Matt. 18:6)" The lie that there is no supernatural life-change when a person in converted to Christ keeps many today in sin. If revival is ever to take place we must break free of this lie.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Now what is to be learned from the law can be readily understood: that God, as he is our Creator, has toward us by right the place of Father and Lord; for this reason we owe him glory, reverence, love, and fear; verily, that we have no right to follow the mind’s caprice wherever it impels us, but, dependent upon his will, ought to stand firm in that alone which is pleasing to him; then, that righteousness and uprightness are pleasing to him, but he abominates wickedness; and that, for this reason, unless we turn away from our Creator in impious ingratitude, we must cherish righteousness all our life. For if only when we prefer his will to our own do we render to him the reverence that is his due, it follows that the only lawful worship of him is the observance of righteousness, holiness, and purity.
John Calvin, Institutes 2.8.2
Monday, October 1, 2007
Church was great also. Our guest pastor preached on the story of the rich man and Lazarus. He went so far as to say that by not caring for the poor we are earning ourselves a place in hell. It might sound harsh but I think it is a message that Christians in a rich country need to hear over and over again. I know that I need to hear it... and act on it. To me what made the sermon so exciting though was that he shared about the Common Cause Partnership and the strong possibility that a united orthodox Anglican presence will arise in North America. He also warned that as this comes to together, fulfilling the hopes and dreams of many Anglicans, that we must guard against becoming prideful about it. I think any newfound unity between Christians can only come from the Holy Spirit as it seems that human effort only leads to more divisions or to the sickly kind of ecumenism we have seen in the past century that seems only to lead away from Christianity and toward liberalism.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Friday, September 7, 2007
One of my fellow parishioners named Fred was kind enough to give me a book about when the charismatic renewal broke out into the Episcopal Church in the 1960’s. The book Fred lent me is called “Nine O’Clock in the Morning,” and is written by Father Dennis Bennett. Father Bennett had been a priest in Van Nuys but moved to Seattle where he introduced many to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The book is a very inspirational read and shows what an openness to God’s power can do in a person. One thing I appreciate is how Father Bennett describes the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. He says that Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not more of the Holy Spirit in a Christian, as every true Christian has the Holy Spirit in them. He says that Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit having more of the individual Christian. I think that he is correct and I think that this theology undoes a lot of what can seem problematic to some about this Baptism.
Two other things in the book so far have struck me quite deeply. One place is where Father Bennett describes a conference of the Assemblies of God at which he spoke at. Concerning the Pentecostal ministers there he said, “Few of these good men had what my church would consider adequate theological training, but I had more than an inkling that they were my superiors in the training that matters: knowing the Lord, and his ways.” It can be hard, as a seminary educated man, to admit that this is, in fact, true. But I learned this summer that it was most certainly true. I learned it while I was at Bethel Church in Redding with some friends from the Foursquare church I attend in Battle Ground. While I was there I became convinced that one of my friends was actually my spiritual superior. He had been in the school of the Holy Spirit while I had attempted by my striving and “knowing” more about God to draw closer to Him. I don’t think it works that way. Academics is no substitute for simply resting in the Presence of God. Please don’t misunderstand me though. Asbury Theological Seminary is a wonderful place, which I will always see as a home away from home, and God changed my life greatly for the better there. I think a person can be in “the school of the Holy Spirit” while in seminary but usually the two do not go together.
Another thing that struck me deeply was a passage on how the Baptism of the Holy Spirit affected Father Bennett’s view of the Bible. Bennett had been educated at a liberal seminary and steeped in higher criticism of the Bible. Before his Holy Spirit Baptism Father Bennett said that, “to accept the Scriptures in their entirety as the work of the Holy Spirit was foreign to anything I had been taught, and yet that is exactly what I found myself being pressed to do as I continued in the life of the Spirit.” At one point in a meeting, where a minister who doubted the veracity of Scripture was present, a woman spoke in tongues and it was translated by another in the room as, “This is my Book! This is my Book! You read my Book! Don’t criticize my Book! Just read my Book! For I am the Lord! I am the Lord! I am the Lord!” That was so powerful to me to read because I have noticed this summer, since my experience at Bethel that my own respect for the Word has greatly increased. I actually prayed at one point this summer, “Lord, help me to really believe the Bible.” To some of you this may seem strange coming from me. I am a very conservative person so you might not think that I would have a problem believing the words of Scripture. But I think that I was so steeped in the lies of liberal theology from my past that many of those lies took root and I really did doubt the truthfulness of portions of Scripture. I knew that it was where I had met Jesus but I still didn’t necessarily believe the veracity of some Old Testament miracles or maybe every word that is presented as having been spoken by Christ. But when you begin to see real miracles taking place today it is much easier to believe that God perfectly inspired the Bible and preserved in perfectly for today.
Medical school is going well, I hope. My first exams are the week after next. I’m already feeling guilty for having taken this much of a break from studying so maybe in a week or two I’ll post something new.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
So my topic as you can see from my title is the problem of evil, theodicy. Just in reading my textbooks I'm constantly being confronted with "clinical correlates" which is basically every rare and horrible disease or syndrome you can imagine. Which leads me to cry out, "why God?" To some extent I know the answer: sin and separation from God. But I am still unsatisfied with my understanding of some of the horrible evils that occur as a result of little things like genetic mutations.
Here at Loma Linda we have required religion classes. So far they have been pretty good. We usually have some Scripture-reading assigned along with an article or two to read. We've also had two patients share. Both are Christians and both have a lot of suffering in their lives to deal with. The response of these two people were different but I found both inspiring. One of them feels robbed by what happened to him and he was unwilling to accept any simple explanations like Satan did it or that it was somehow God's will. I think he might still have some anger about it but with all of that he was still able to say that he has a close relationship with God. The other patient was actually able to see her circumstance as a gift from God, that had caused her to draw closer to God and witness to many. As she talked I was amazed by the amount of trust in God that she showed. She said something like, "if I stay here God will take care of me and if I don't stay here I go to my true home." Both of these people live with the "evil" in their lives in different ways and I'm not going to judge if one is better.
So when it comes down to it, the only thing in Scripture that completely defeats any "problem" of evil is Romans 8:18. Paul says, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Paul suffered a lot, which to me makes this statement all the stronger. Of course this statement only does away with the problem of evil for a person with enough faith to believe it. This level of trust in God is not always easy to have and I admit that I have struggled with it at times on my Christian journey. The wrongs and evils that are experienced in this world are, for the most part, not righted here. All we can do with them is give them to God, trusting in his Victory, Justice and Love which is being and will be revealed.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
In the hospital I was reminded of how frail and short human life is. I was reminded that everything in my body is getting older. This heart in my chest that seems so strong will become weak and will eventually stop. From the moment you come into existence as a zygote your life is fraught with peril. From without as well as from within. Truly as James said, "You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away," is true about us in our flesh. So thinking about these things have made me ponder where my hope is. Is it in the strength of my flesh? Is it in the pleasure that can be gained from my flesh? If that is where my hope is then it is no hope at all. For those things, strength, pleasure and whatever else is connected with the flesh will shortly pass away. Some of my charismatic friends taught me to speak of "strengthening the spirit-man" within me. It only makes sense to strengthen that which is eternal. Of course I know that there will be a resurrection and our resurrection bodies will not be corrupted but this flesh is weak and quickly passing, therefore make no provision for it.
The other thought that has been running through my mind is the utter stupidity and blindness of the idea that we got here by chance. It is insanity to think such a thing. It seems to me that such a thought is a sin of great magnitude and I will confess that there was a time when I committed it. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Praise God for it.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Well, lectures start on Monday so I’m a little nervous about the real start of medical school. For the last two weeks I’ve been in the hospital every week-day on a team, which has been great, but now things get much more serious. I know that it will be hard work but I also trust God that He will provide what I need. I would appreciate the prayers, though, of any Christians who read this that I would trust God and have a smooth transition into school.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Last night I decided to go for a walk. It was already dark but I went for a walk around Loma Linda Hospital and the campus of the university. I was ascending the stairs to my apartment in the near pitch-black darkness when I became aware of movement about three feet off to my left. I stared at what had moved and in the darkness it looked like a small plant. There are lots of plants near my apartment but I knew that this thing had just moved and made a sound. I stared at it for a second, barely able to see its dark outline. I starting walking again toward my door and it also moved. I looked back and I could clearly see two white stripes against a darker color. I hurried away a bit quicker, not wishing to smell of skunk when I start in the hospital on Monday. I was struck right away though by the appearance of a skunk outside my door as I start medical school. I was struck because two years earlier I had a nearly identical experience. On perhaps my first night at Asbury Theological Seminary I was walking back to Grice from Solomon's Porch and a skunk walked right in front of my dormitory. So I don't know what this means but it does seem a strange coincidence.
More importantly, today I found the church that I will most likely worship in for the next four years. It is Inland Anglican Fellowship of Highland, California. Inland Anglican Fellowship is a church-plant of St. James Anglican at Newport Beach which is under the authority of the Archbishop of Uganda. So I've moved from Rwanda to Uganda and continue to be thankful for the institutional connection with my African brothers and sisters. The people were extremely friendly and it was wonderful to be fed with Spiritual Food in the Sacrament of Jesus Christ's Body and Blood.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Thank you Lord for this day! Thank you for friends who encourage us on our pilgrim path and thank you for the beauty of your creation which you made for us to subdue and enjoy.
Friday, July 27, 2007
I was in Portland a few days ago with my friends Josh and Lacie, eating Thai food, and we started talking about God's "attitude" toward us. Josh had had a conversation with a friend who tends to emphasize the wrath of God. It seems that there are real, orthodox Christians who tend to emphasize either wrath or love. I'm certainly not talking about liberal "Christians" here who like to talk a lot about "love" but who pervert it into license and affirmation of what God calls detestable.
When we were at Bethel, one of the things that the pastors there liked to say is that "God is in a good mood." I know this post could get into the whole question of divine impassibility. I happen to accept divine impassibility in submission to the thought of the majority of the Church throughout history but I realize that many faithful brothers and sisters reject this doctrine in what they see as submission to the witness of Scripture. As I was preparing this blog, I found a good article on impassibility here. Affirming that "God is in a good mood" should not really be too problematic for anyone though because the joy of the Lord is strongly affirmed in Scripture and the idea that we will "enjoy God forever" is a basic theological affirmation for all Christians whether it's stated in a confession or not. Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."(John 15:10-11) One thing that might be said about God’s joy is that it is far above a “mood.” God’s joy is an eternal aspect of who He is. When we say “mood” we tend to think of a feeling that can easily be lost. Of course this joy of the Lord and our enjoyment of Him must be seen in light of the cross where this reconciliation between man and God was made possible. For there God's wrath against us was poured out upon God Himself, the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity who became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. God was, of course, joyful even before the cross but humanity could not take part in that joy without first being reconciled to God through Christ’s work on the cross.
I have wrestled with the reality of God’s wrath for a long time and one conclusion I have come to is that God’s wrath must be seen as a part of his love. I think saying love and wrath are contrary to each other or that they can’t be simultaneously believed-in is a false-dichotomy. I believe the over-arching aspect of God in his relation to humanity is love and that wrath must come under the over-arching reality of love. So how is God’s wrath really love? We are made to know God and to be in intimate relationship with Him. We are also made to be in right relationship with one another. Sin always destroys our relationship with God and with each other. Therefore the wrath of God is against anyone who willfully does things (sins) which destroy rightly-ordered relationship, the very fabric of creation. Through the out-working of God’s wrath, the things which destroy right relationship, that is, demons and unrepentant humans, will have their ability to influence reality destroyed. They themselves will not be destroyed but will suffer in separation from God and from the redeemed for all eternity. That was their choice when they chose to rebel and not to repent.
In our conversation, I came to another conclusion, some of the apparent disagreements among Christians are a result of over-simplifications of reality. I know that many Christians want to affirm an extreme simplicity in the nature of reality. And in some ways, reality is simple. God made man, man rebelled, God sent Christ that we might be reconciled, the choice is ours. Simple, right? In one sense it is simple but when we explore more deeply into the nature of reality we see that it is anything but simple. I love C.S. Lewis’ affirmation of the complexity of reality in Mere Christianity. Unfortunately, my copy is stowed away somewhere or else I would quote it here. So there is the temptation that in trying to make things simple, we only talk about God’s love or his desire for intimacy. In doing so, people aren’t even abandoning orthodox Christianity. They still believe in the cross and in the reality of hell. They just see the more fundamental reality being God’s love and his desire for relationship. I think they are correct in affirming that God’s love is a more fundamental property of reality than God’s wrath. But I also think that to never mention God’s wrath, which is mentioned often in Scripture, is an over-simplification of reality with negative results. One negative result, and I think the result that was seen in my friend Josh’s conversation with the guy who perhaps over-emphasizes wrath, is that there is an over-reaction among some to what they see as too much of a de-emphasis of God’s wrath. In reacting against those Christians who don’t want to talk about wrath, they become fixated on the wrath and salvation becomes most fundamentally a ticket out of hell instead of the beginning of a relationship of love with our Creator. So in reaction to an over-simplification, there is another over-simplification. In saying that salvation is a ticket out of hell, the wrath-affirmers are not wrong, but they are certainly missing the bigger picture.
Our conversation went in a number of directions. One of which was that without a strong affirmation of God’s love, what then is the motivation to obey Him? We could obey out of fear of hell but if God doesn’t really love us then heaven probably really isn’t all that great either. If we are ever really going to seek holiness with the right attitude, it must be out of trust in God’s love and therefore the knowledge that what God is calling us to is really best for us. Many seem to view God as having this attitude toward us where he just doesn’t want anyone to have too much fun. But if we accept that God loves us and that he calls us to holiness out of his love we must also realize that the results of this holiness, the enjoyment of God made possible by holiness, is better than any “fun” thing we might be called to leave behind on earth.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The basic authoritative documents for Apostolic Lutherans seem to be Luther's catechisms and the sermons of Laestadius. The Apostle's Creed also seems authoritative but in the 1870's John Takkinen, the Laestadian leader of the time, inserted the words "in Gethsemane" after the words "He descended into Hell." Apostolics would probably claim that the Bible is their ultimate source of authority but it is interpreted through the sometimes peculiar teachings of historic leaders in the Laestadian movement. Here we will explore some distinctive features of Apostolic doctrine and practice.
Probably the most problematic theological distinctive of Old Apostolic Lutheranism is the belief that the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church is the one true church and that all those claiming to be Christians outside of their group are bound for hell. I have read that Old Apostolics might believe that there are true believers in other places but that they would have to hold to the theology and practice identical to the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. It is also interesting to note that no evangelism is done by the group. They believe that if a person is to be saved that they will be drawn by God into their church.
Confession, Absolution and Justification
My resources for writing this series offer conflicting definitions of Apostolic doctrine. A statement will often be made on a given subject that sounds good and orthodox. For instance, concerning salvation, Saarnivaara states that Apostolics believe that, "the only condition of salvation is faith and trust in the Gospel." That sounds good but the problems come in when the definition of "the Gospel" is explored. It seems that for Apostolics, "the Gospel" is only to be found in Old Apostolic Lutheran churches and it must be expressed in confession to another believer and then absolution from that believer.
Based on their "Doctrine of the Keys," the Old Apostolics believe that Christians (only Old Apostolics) have the power to forgive sins and that without hearing the "word of reconciliation" in the preaching of the Apostolic church or by way of personal absolution a sinner cannot be forgiven. One source identifies the origin of this belief saying, "Careless statements of the elders, which equated the gospel with confession and absolution, contributed to the new focus and reliance on confession and absolution as the 'pilgrim’s staff,' which became the new savior or the sole method of purification from their occasional lapses into sin. Such persons could not appreciate a gospel that unlocks the gates of heaven for unworthy and totally depraved wretches by the preaching of the free, full and unconditional forgiveness of sins." After making a statement which suggests that Apostolic believers are the agents of justification, Saarnivaara goes on to make a statement that seems to conflict with it. He says, "Confession of sins to a confessor is no meritorious work, and the believer is not justified by that, for he is already righteous in Christ." A paragraph later he says, "If someone has fallen into sin which is known to other people, private confession is not sufficient. In order that he may be known before the congregation as one who has repented of his sins and forsaken them, he should confess them publicly before the congregation. Otherwise he cannot be cleansed and justified before the Church of Christ.[emphasis mine]" The act of personal absolution is actually a very emotional thing for Apostolics. When I went to the Old Apostolic Lutheran revival service a few years ago, where elders from Lapland preached, I witnessed this confession and absolution which occurred before the eucharist. People would embrace, confess sins while weeping and then obtain absolution.
It is unclear exactly how problematic the Apostolic's "Doctrine of the Keys" really is. In affirming the importance of absolution, the Apostolics join the Catholics, Orthodox and many Anglicans. If a Christian feels that they have lost their salvation each time their conscience is troubled by a sin and that they only regain salvation upon confession and the reception of absolution, then it seems that this doctrine is problematic. It would be interesting to explore more deeply historic doctrines of confession and absolution as in the Catholic Church and compare it to what Apostolics believe. From my reading of my sources, I am very uneasy with the "Doctrine of the Keys" in Apostolic Lutheranism but some of that may be a Protestant bias which downplays the importance of confession and absolution.
The elders in Gällivare in Swedish Lapland hold a place of authority in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. They are consulted on all important affairs. In American congregations, preachers are called from the laity. They have no trained or ordained ministers. Preachers in the church will call up others in the congregation to be preachers and from that point on, they are expected to preach and to counsel members. Apostolic preachers are expected to retain full-time jobs on top of their responsibilities to the church to support their families.
What Went Wrong?
How did the Laestadian movement progress from a God-glorifying revival to a dead, legalistic, oppressive and heretical movement seen today in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church? First of all it should be pointed out that there are different groups of Laestadians and the theology and practice among those groups may be far less problematic than the situation in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. I believe that there were problems from the start, even at the time of Laestadius. The strong emphasis on the doctrines of confession and absolution became problematic when a certain way of doing things became enshrined in the doctrine of Apostolic Lutheranism. I strongly believe that we should confess our sins to one-another. I have seen the freedom and the deliverance both from guilt and from the continued desire to sin that comes through regular confession. It seems that in Apostolic Lutheranism, the good thing that is confession became problematic when it was turned into a formula which must always be followed and when justification became based on the confession of any sin which troubled the conscience. Another thing that seems to have led to some of the problems in Apostolic Lutheranism is a lust for power that was seen in some of the leadership in movement in North America at the time when the schisms occurred. It seems that the problems in the movement, which may have been present in Lapland became more acute among the American leadership. Takkinen tried to control the movement by appealing to the elders in Lapland, which resulted in schism and the formation of the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church and Matoniemi encouraged an extreme legalism with his preaching that all innovations were dangerous for Christians.
There are serious problems with the movement other than the problems of doctrine. I believe that the heretical doctrines contribute to the other problems seen. I have heard the allegation from multiple reliable sources that child sex-abuse is not uncommon in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. One reason for this is that it is always covered up. It is reported in one place that when a parishioner went to a preacher to report that her daughter had been molested, that the preacher told her not to go to the police.
Another problem not uncommon in sectarian fringe movements is that members of the church who decide to leave are shunned and shamed by continuing members. Leaving the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church is a difficult and traumatic experience and is best done with a support system outside of the church. I have witnessed one such exit where a young family left the church, came to live with other ex-Apostolics and also joyfully embraced true and life-giving Christianity. The husband also lost his job because he worked for a company owned by Apostolics.
Another thing which seems almost inconceivable to me is that there is reportedly little or no prayer life or Bible study outside of time in the church-service for Old Apostolics. Prayer is always done in the context of the church and the church teaches that individuals cannot understand the Bible for themselves, it must be interpreted by one of the preachers. Individual time in the Word and in prayer has been for me the chief means to greater intimacy with my Creator. This one place where I whole-heartedly embrace Reformation teaching, as Archbishop Orombi has said, "Part of the genius of the Reformation was its insistence that the Word of God and the liturgy be in the language of the people—that the Bible could be read and understood by the simplest plowboy."
After all I have said about heresy and serious problems of practice in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, I want to reiterate that out of all of the Apostolics I have known, I have never met one that I didn't like. When I was going to school in the Battle Ground School District I appreciated the friendship of a number of Apostolics and now, nine years after graduating from high school, I still appreciate friendships with some ex-Apostolics. Some of the greatest examples of Christian love I have seen have come from Christians who came out of Apostolic Lutheranism. The devotion to Christ I have seen among ex-Apostolics has actually surprised me. It seems that the stereotypical ex-fundamentalist either completely abandons Christianity or embraces anti-Christian liberal "Christianity." This has not been the case among the ex-Apostolics I know. I would certainly also not want to make the claim that there are no Christians within the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. I know that there are and I can only hope and pray that a new move of the Holy Spirit will occur among these people which will free them from heretical doctrine and legalistic practice and will redeem the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church to be a force for God's Kingdom in the world, bringing sinners to salvation in Christ and releasing God's healing, liberating and sanctifying power into the lives of those who are bound.
Allworth, Louise McKay. Battle Ground . . . In and Around. Battle Ground, WA: The Write Stuff Publishing, 2006.
Saarnivaara, Uuras. The History of the Laestadian or Apostolic Lutheran Movement in America. Ironwood, MI: National Publishing Co., 1947.
"Laestadians to the Present." http://www.apostolic-lutheran.org/history/present.html
"Lars Levi Laestadius." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laestadius
"The Firstborn Laestadianism." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Firstborn_Laestadianism
Various articles at: http://users.erols.com/ewheaton/laest1.htm#juhani
Various articles at: http://www.oldapostoliclutheran.com/
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
At the time of Læstadius' death, one of the greatest lay evangelists in the Læstadian revival was Juhani Raattamaa. Raattamaa was born in Kaaresuvanto in 1811 and served as a catechist under Læstadius. About his conversion Raattamaa wrote, "But then it came to pass that when I was permitted to look to the blood-red Savior who was crowned with thorns, a power came out of Him and effected a living power in my soul which had been unknown to me. I believed my sins forgiven in the shed blood, sprinkled upon my heart, from which followed the knowledge of the risen and living Lord Jesus. He whom I had sought from afar off was very present and worked a joy and peace in my heart. Now I was ashamed of my unbelief and realized that I had never before believed with my heart."
It was under Raattamaa's ministry at the Lainio mission school that a distinctive practice among Apostolic Lutherans arose. In his study of Luther's Church Postil, Raattamaa became aware of Luther's understanding of the "Power of the Keys" from Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 and John 20:19-23. In some of his sermons, Luther taught that a minister or any other Christian should lay his hands upon a penitent sinner and pronounce absolution of sins upon him and that these words of absolution should be believed as if Christ himself had said them. Raattamaa tried this in the case of a woman who was burdened by her sins. He pronounced absolution to her and she was released and began to praise God. Raattamaa said, "I and some brothers and sisters have put the keys of the kingdom of heaven into use, by which troubled souls began to be freed and prisoners of unbelief began to lose their chains, and they rejoiced in spirit." This began the use of personal absolution among Apostolics which began in 1853. For Apostolics, this absolution is always pronounced "in the Name and Blood of Jesus." It seems that for Raattamaa, the use of the keys was related to freedom from guilt and assurance of salvation but that it was not a means of justification as it now seems to have become among the Old Apostolics. Raattamaa also believed that there were true Christians in various churches and groups outside of the Læstadian revival. This belief seems to have been lost in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church which claims to be the only true Christianity on the earth. Raattamaa recognized the work of the Holy Spirit among the Methodists and Baptists among others. He died in 1899.
The Læstadian movement remained within the state churches of Sweden, Finland and Norway, desiring to bring renewal to these churches rather than form new, independent denominations.
The Finnish Emigration to America
The 1860's was a time of economic distress in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Areas in the United States became particularly attractive to these people, especially the northern parts of Michigan and Minnesota. In 1864 the flood of Finnish immigrants from Norway, Sweden and Finland began. These Finns settled primarily in what is known as the Copper Country of Michigan. The Læstadians formed their first church in America in Calumet, Michigan in 1871. Salomon Korteniemi came from Hammerfest, Norway to serve as Pastor. The name "Apostolic Lutheran" was first adopted under the leadership of John Takkinen in Calumet in 1879. Apostolic refers not to the Apostolic Succession but to a desire to return to the practice of Christianity at the time of the Apostles. For this reason, Apostolic Lutheranism could be viewed as a restorationist movement. Some of the problems currently seen in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church seem to have first arisen under the leadership of Takkinen. One source says of him, "Takkinen started to pressure people into obedience through the power of the elders. Then a doctrinal dispute began, for Takkinen demanded obedience to the firstborn, and, in his opinion, these firstborn were the elders of Swedish Lapland. This was the whip that he swung and with which he ruled. In his opinion, those who were obedient to him and these firstborn were in the congregation of the firstborn, but those who dared show opposition were condemned to leave this congregation, and it was said that such have no part in heaven, that they are heretics."
The Formation of the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church
The origins in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church lie in a number of schisms that occurred both in America and in Lapland. A split occurred among the U.S. Læstadians in 1894. After the death of John Takkinen in 1892, there was disagreement as to who his successor should be. Those who would become the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church followed a pastor named Matoniemi while the other Læstadians followed Charles Ojala. This split in the U.S. was then solidified by a split that occurred among the Læstadians of Lapland in 1897. A mission school had been founded in Lannavaara village in Lapland in 1888. The annual meetings of the Læstadians were held there and were led by Raattamaa. There were, however, many preachers in the region of Gällivare in Swedish Lapland who were suspicious of the school. The Gällivare Læstadians, also known as "Western Læstadians" were more pietistic, laid more emphasis on separation from the world and accused the "Eastern Læstadians," associated with Lannavaara, of moral laxity and of being harmfully influenced by their stronger ties with the official state church. In 1897 the last "big meeting" was held in Lannavaara. The Gällivare Læstadians presented accusations against the Eastern Læstadians but Raattamaa acknowledged all Læstadians present as faithful Christians. A schism began at this meeting and at the time of Raattamaa's death in 1899, the Læstadian movement had broken into two parts, the Western Læstadians or "esikoiset," also known as "The Firstborn," and the Eastern Læstadians or "vanhoilliset," also known as the Old-Laestedians.
In America, the followers of Matoniemi joined the Firstborn Laestedian group which gave rise to the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. Some of the strict legalism seen today in the movement was introduced or at least encouraged under Matoniemi's leadership. When he broke with the other Læstadian Christians in Calumet he moved to Lake Poinsett, South Dakota and began to preach that many innovations were a danger to Christians. He preached against curtains, pictures, neckties and telephones.
Apostolic Lutherans in North Clark County
The first meetings of Apostolics in North Clark County most likely occurred in Hockinson when that community was still called Eureka in 1878. The meetings were organized by Abraham Lehto. In 1884 the elders in Lapland sent John Henry Lumijärvi to the Calumet congregation but he relocated to the Portland area and ministered to the small congregations on both sides of the Columbia. In 1894 the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church was officially organized in Hockinson. In 1922 the eighteenth annual conference of the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran churches was held in Hockinson with around 700 in attendance. This was of course after the split had occurred between the Old Apostolics and the other Laestedian groups. Although it is not clear from my sources, it seems that the Old Apostolics may have established their first separate congregation in Brush Prairie in around 1926. In 1937 this group bought an old schoolhouse and later built at their present location on 142nd Ave.
The Present Old Apostolic Lutheran Church
The Old Apostolic Lutheran Church today is distinguished by its continued belief that the "church government" is in Gällivare, Sweden. In all important affairs, the Gällivare elders are asked for counsel. The Gällivare elders decide what should be the "fashion of Christianity." In 1947, when Saarnivaara's book was written some of the requirements from the Gällivare elders were that, men were forbidden to wear neckties, photography was forbidden, women were forbidden to wear hats (only kerchiefs were permitted), Christmas trees were forbidden, life insurance was forbidden and flowers and wreaths at funerals were forbidden. Of these prohibitions I know that neckties are still banned along with television. I'm not sure about some of the other prohibitions. Old Apostolic youth are allowed to befriend children from outside the church, which they call "the world," until they are confirmed in the church at the age of fifteen. After confirmation, it is sinful to befriend anyone who is outside the church. The Firstborn were the first among the Læstadian groups to introduce the English language to services and to translate Læstadius' sermons to English in what are known as the New Postil and the House Postil. The elders from Swedish Lapland visit the American congregations about every four years. I attended part of one such meeting which occurred at the Amphitheatre at the Clark County Fairgrounds a few years ago. The elders preached in Finnish and the preaching was translated into English.
While this series is on the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, it should perhaps be mentioned that there are other groups of Læstadians in Clark County who also are known as "Apostolics." There are also the so-called "New Apostolics." These people are actually part of a denomination called The Apostolic Lutheran Church in America. The Apostolic Lutheran churches in Hockinson and Vancouver are part of this group. I don't know much about the "New Apostolics" other than that while they also are very conservative Lutherans, they are less legalistic than the Old Apostolics and are obviously allowed to use the internet as their churches have websites. The New Apostolics are one of the groups that did not align themselves with the elders in Gällivare but are based in the United States. There is also an "Independent Apostolic Lutheran church" in Ridgefield. The Independent Apostolics are also known as the Pollarites as they broke away under a leader named John Pollari in 1928. The relations between the Old and New Apostolics seem to be somewhat hostile.
We will continue to look at present-day Apostolic Lutheranism in the next post where we will consider some of its theological distinctives.