Sunday, July 29, 2007

Last Night in Battle Ground

Well, it's my last night in my beloved hometown of Battle Ground, Washington until Christmas-time. This is the third time I've gone on the adventure of moving to a new place and a new school where I don't know anyone. The first time was to Spokane, Washington to Whitworth College in 1998. After that I went to Wilmore, Kentucky to Asbury Theological Seminary in 2005, and now I go to Loma Linda, California to begin medical school at the Loma Linda School of Medicine. I realized today, though, that this kind of move never becomes "normal." I leave this place which I already loved having grown close to a group of friends from my church, Wellspring Foursquare Church, which makes leaving all the more difficult. After church today I hung-out with some of these friends, Josh, Lacie, Loretta, Roman and Heidi. I also had Josh and Ross, who had been the preacher at Fan the Flame, both pray over me to send me off. I think these "sending off" prayers are important. When I left Asbury, I was blessed to receive this kind of prayer from my friend Blake Brodien and my priest, Father Peter Matthews. Having grown to love this place where I call home, I always feel bad for what seems to be the majority of people feel no connection to a "hometown." There is nothing all that special about Battle Ground. The scenery is beautiful and it has its own unique qualities but if I hadn't grown-up here I don't think I'd have any strong desire to spend much time in this town. In fact, it wasn't until I left for college that I had any special love for this place. But it is the place where I first met my Lord Jesus Christ and that alone should make this sacred ground for me. My family and some of my closest friends are here and, Lord willing, I will return to this place after my schooling and army commitment to raise a family.Almighty Father, in your love you made this land which I so love. You have blessed it with a special beauty which declares your glory. In your merciful providence you have put many in my path here who have pointed me to You and shown me your love. Lord bless Battle Ground and bring revival into this town so that every tongue here would confess that You are Lord. And bring me back to this place, O Lord, that I might once again recieve and give love and blessings to these brothers and sisters.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Eagle Creek

Today I went on a fifteen-mile hike on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. I hiked up Eagle Creek with a great group of friends. The coolest thing about this hike were the numerous beautiful waterfalls that the creek flows over as it tumbles toward the Columbia. On the largest waterfall, Tunnel Falls, the trail goes through a tunnel through the rock, blasted out behind the falls. On top of the great beauty of the hike, I also enjoyed the edifying spiritual conversation I had with my brothers and sisters in Christ on the trip. On the hike down I jumped in the creek, it was cold, but worth it.
Loretta, Josh and Lacie checking out a waterfall.

Josh in front of Tunnel Falls.

That's me by the entrance to the tunnel which goes behind Tunnel Falls.

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

Love or Wrath?

In vain the first-born seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine.
-Charles Wesley

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

Apostolic Lutheranism: Theology and Practice

I had hoped to interview one of my ex-Apostolic friends for this post. Unfortunately schedules did not permit and I'm moving to southern California in less than a week so I decided to just go for it. I still plan on interviewing someone, maybe around Christmas time and then posting it here. Out of all of the posts in the series, this one disappoints me for some reason but I wanted to post something to sum things up a bit.

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.
Church Government
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."

"Lars Levi Laestadius."

"The Firstborn Laestadianism."

Various articles at:

Various articles at:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Apostolic Lutheranism: From the Death of Læstadius to the Present

Juhani Raattamaa
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.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Apostolic Lutheranism: Lars Levi Læstadius and the Revival in Lapland

My primary source of information is "The History of the Laestadian or Apostolic Lutheran Movement in America" by Uuras Saarnivaara. The account reads somewhat like a hagiography but I have chosen to give it the benefit of the doubt in most of its claims.

Lars Levi Læstadius was born on October 1st, 1800 in Swedish Lapland near Arjeplog. He was partly of Sami ancestry and was born into a family which had a history of pastoral ministry. Læstadius received his first ministerial training from his older brother Karl Erik who was a pastor in Lapland. He also had an intense interest in botany, which he studied at Uppsala University, where he proved to be a brilliant student. Læstadius decided to study theology and was ordained in 1825. He first pastored in Arjeplog where he married a local Sami woman, Brita Cajsa Alstadius, with whom he had twelve children. He soon moved to Kaaresuvanto, close to the Finnish border. At that time Lapland was nominally Christian. Drunkenness and immorality were common and the Finnish settlers only increased the corruption by their sale of liquor and their dishonesty.

When Læstadius became pastor of Kaaresuvanto, he performed the regular duties of a minister but he had no faith, and was unconcerned even for the salvation of his own soul. In 1831 he became seriously ill and almost died and in 1838 his son, Levi, died. These experiences seem to have softened Læstadius' heart and prepared him for a true conversion to Christ. He began to see the miserable condition of his flock and began an energetic struggle against the use of alcohol, which seemed to be the chief cause of misery in Kaaresuvanto. He struggled in vain by his own power to better the condition of his flock but no real results were achieved.

In the winter of 1844, Læstadius went to the Osele district of Lapland where he met a group of people called the "Readers." The Readers were a pietistic revivalist movement who, like John Wesley, had been influenced by the Moravians. There he met a Sami woman named Milla Clementsdotter who told him of her conversion to Christ. It was at this time that Læstadius seems to have first been converted. He wrote, "Only then I understood and saw the way of life. It had been hidden from me until I talked with Milla. Her simple story of her wanderings and experiences made a deep impression on my heart, and the light was revealed to me. I experienced the foretaste of heaven that evening which I spent with Milla."

Læstadius brought a new zeal to his parish. His sermons became straitforward, relentless calls to repentance. An example of Læstadius' new preaching, where he confronted his parishioners boldly, can be found in a sermon preached in 1857 where he says, "The drunkard’s favorite god is the visible flowing liquor, rum, or whatever his name may be, which we call the devil’s shit, for the devil teaches people to ruin God’s grain and to make it harmful to body and soul. The people who drink it become animals." Later in the same sermon is a powerful proclamation of the gospel: "Therefore, give God the glory, doubting and heavy-laden souls, and you will be allowed to see the brightness of God’s glory. Believe as a sinner and glorify the Lord Jesus with your confession, and with an unveiled face you will be allowed to view the brightness of the Lord’s glory and those glorious mansions in the kingdom of glory. Believe and glorify by your confession the King of Zion, who has won the kingdom with his bloody warfare. And into this kingdom he calls all penitent harlots, publicans, whores and thieves, those whom self-righteousness has condemned to hell, those oppressed by the law, those heavy-laden with the burden of sin and those who are laboring. He sends his servants to call the good and the bad to the joyous wedding that he has prepared in this kingdom."
Læstadius proclaimed the good news of the crucified "bloody Savior" and of the grace and forgiveness in his atoning and redeeming work. The laity were surprised at the change in their pastor. Some mocked him but many were convicted of the need for salvation. After a year of his new preaching of repentance, a Sami woman began to praise the Lord in a loud voice in the normally reserved church-service. She was Læstadius' first convert. At that same moment, an earthquake was felt. Læstadius understood the earthquake as a sign from God. After this event, many others began to powerfully experience the working of the Holy Spirit. They began to praise God, leap and clap their hands in church. They began to exhort unbelievers to repent and many began to receive visions. There were also manifestations, called "liikutukset" in Finnish, not unlike those reported in American revivals, where people would cry and wail loudly and roll on the ground.

The revival began to spread from Kaaresuvanto to the neighboring parishes in Sweden, Finland and Norway. As a result of growing family and economic difficulties, Læstadius was forced to move to another parish further to the south. In 1849, Læstadius preached his farewell sermon in Kaaresuvanto. Hundreds wept during the service and a miracle seems to have occured at this service, during the height of the revival. Water began to flow from the altar. Several young men climbed to the roof to find the source of the water but none was found. Said one of those who witnessed the miracle: "God gave us, thirsty whelps of grace, a clear sign that He will graciously let rivers of living water flow into our hearts from Jesus."

Læstadius moved to Pajala. There he received much opposition. Complaints were made to the governor and to the consistory where Læstadius was accused of preaching "brimstone" sermons and of causing congregants to fall into the disrupting "liikutukset." To avoid annoying the unconverted, two services were held, one for the converted who easily fell into "liikutukset" and one for the unconverted. Despite the opposition, the revival continued to spread largely through the work of lay preachers. Læstadius wrote sermons for these lay preachers and sent them to areas where he could not go.

In the last period of his life, Læstadius remained in the background of the revival. His "disciples," the lay preachers, were now doing most of the work including preaching their own sermons. Læstadius died on February 21, 1861. When he felt death approaching he said, "The Savior comes to receive me with open arms, and guests from heaven come to take me to be with them."

Lapland was a changed place when Læstadius died. Alcoholism had once been an epidemic among the Sami and the settlers. Prior to the revival, about 6000 gallons of liquor were consumed every year in the Jukkasjärvi parish. In 1850, not one drop of liquor was to be found in the whole parish. Among the 2500 people of the Tornio district of Lapland, there were in 1853, only two persons who habitually used alcohol. Vanity among the rich decreased, women sold their jewelry and gave the money to the poor and literacy was also greatly increased. According Saarnivaara, all of these outward changes were unimportant compared to the fact that, "hearts were turned to God and experienced God's grace, which made new men of sinners. They had peace and joy in Christ in their hearts, and they sought those things that are from above."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Apostolic Lutheranism: Introduction

Since getting a site meter and seeing how much of my blog traffic comes from google searches, I’ve decided to write on a subject about which there is not much information on the web. It is also a regional issue (for Battle Ground, Washington and North Clark County) and the subject is religion so it fits well with my blog.

The subject is Laestadianism or Apostolic Lutheranism. North Clark County, in which Battle Ground is the largest city, has a large population of Apostolic Lutherans. They are mostly of Finnish descent. There are some different groups in the movement but the largest group in this area is the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, a fundamentalist*, restorationist and, I would say, heretical Lutheran movement. They are usually called just “Apostolics” but two other, probably more popular names, are used. These are “bunhead” or “bunner.” The reason for this name is that most of the Old Apostolic women wear their hair in buns. I find the name “bunhead” to be too derogatory sounding but I am good friends with an ex-Apostolic who doesn’t see any problem with the term, at least when used by those who are or have been in an Apostolic Lutheran church. Other attributes of Apostolics are that they tend to have very large families, often of at least ten children and when they greet each other they say, “God’s peace.” Some of the funnier cultural characteristics of Apostolic Lutherans are that they tend to drink a lot of mountain dew, which in Battle Ground is also known as “bunner-beer” and many of the Apostolic young people have been known to wear almost exclusively quiksilver brand clothing. In Battle Ground the Apostolic young people are also known for hanging out in large numbers in the Fred Meyer's parking lot.

Most of the Apostolics I’ve known have been very kind people. I went to the church once with a good Apostolic friend when I was in middle school. All of the ex-Apostolics I know are fervent followers of Jesus Christ who have accepted the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are serious problems with the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, though, and most of the ex-Apostolics I know would question whether many people in that church are actually even Christians. I trust these ex-Apostolic's judgment. I believe that the revival in Lapland which gave rise to Apostolic Lutheranism was a true act of God but since that time the movement has gone far wrong. This blog post will begin a series on Old Apostolic Lutheranism. My goals in this series are to shed light on a subject that I think many people in Clark County would find interesting but more importantly to reach out to Apostolics who are in a dark place and to let them know that the power of Christ is real and that it brings freedom and joy. My primary resource will be “The History of the Laestadian or Apostolic Lutheran Movement in America” by Uuras Saarnivaara. The book was kindly given to me by an Apostolic man whom I befriended while I worked at Barnes and Noble. I find part the preface of the book to be a good introduction to this series:

…God has led thousands of people to the saving knowledge of Christ through the Laestadian revival. But at the same time the powers of evil have endeavored to destroy this work of God and to break the bond of love between the children of God. Consequently the history of the Laestadian movement is an account of the great saving work of the Holy Spirit in its[sic] conflict with the deluding and disrupting work of the devil. A study of this history therefore brings to us both joy and sorrow.

*I hesitate to use the word "fundamentalist." Its definition is ambiguous and some liberals would probably consider me to be a "fundamentalist." One definition I've heard which I like is that a fundamentalist is any religious person who is more conservative than you are. When I use the word here I am referring to a highly legalistic way of living where the teachings of church eleders are not to be questioned.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer wouldn't be complete without buckin' some hay

Well, I thought I had escaped the yearly ritual when I went down for the conference at Bethel in Redding. But alas, today my dad asked me to help him move some hay. I don't know why this is blog-worthy but I'm posting it anyways. In the picture you can see our barn, my dad getting a haybail I just handed to him and our little dog, Sunny, helping out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Mercy of the Fall

I have come to view the doctrine of the Fall as one of the most merciful and liberating doctrines in Christian theology. I'm not speaking of the event of the Fall in history. I would hesitate to label that event as merciful, although I do think that the freedom God gave to Adam and Eve, which enabled the Fall, was a great gift. A downplaying or outright rejection of the doctrine of the Fall in liberal "christianity" and some emerging-church circles is perhaps the characteristic in those movements which grieves me the most. G.K. Chesterton also found the doctrine of the fall to be liberating from the sickly optimism of his time. In his wonderful book, "Orthodoxy," Chesterton writes:

But the important matter was this, that it [the doctrine of the Fall] entirely reversed the reason for optimism. And the instant the revearsal was made it felt like the abrupt ease when a bone is put back in the socket. I had often called myself an optimist, to avoid the too evident blasphemy of pessimism. But all the optimism of the age had been false and disheartening for this reason, that it had always been trying to prove that we fit in the world. The Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit in the world. I had tried to be happy by telling myself that man is an animal, like any other which sought its meat from God. But now I was really happy, for I had learnt that man is a monstrosity. I had been right in feeling all things as odd, for I myself was at once worse and better than all things. The optimist's pleasure was prosaic, for it dwelt on the naturalness of everything; the Christian pleasure was poetic, for it dwelt in the unnaturalness of everything in the light of the supernatural. The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. The knowledge found out and illuminated forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy. I knew now why grass had always seemed to me as queer as the green beard of a giant, and why I could feel homesick at home.

I certainly identify with Chesterton in the liberation I find in the doctrine of the Fall. It is through that doctrine that I can see that my "citizenship is in heaven," and that I am an "alien and a stranger on the earth." There was a time when I tried the kind of optimism that Chesterton describes, and it failed me... miserably. It was only through realizing that the world is screwed-up and that we're screwed-up that liberation, sanctification and victory are possible. If everything is a-O.K. then what's the point of coming to Christ in the first place? When we realize that we are sinners deserving of hell-fire and that we are slaves needing to be set free then we can come to Christ for salvation and deliverance. He will not disappoint.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Joy of the Lord

Last Friday night I was in prayer and worship with my friends Josh, Lacie, Stacy, and Ross who had been the preacher at Fan The Flame. I had started the evening at the Seppala's barn in Hockinson in a time of soaking prayer. On my drive there I had prayed to God something like, "Lord, I have had small tastes of your Presence, of your joy, but tonight I want to be overwhelmed, let me be drunk in your Presence." I got the feeling even up at the barn that the evening would be different. I felt God's Presence strongly and I felt deep and powerful joy in his Presence. We drove down to Ross' house in Vancouver and we began a time of worship and soaking. I was sitting on a couch with my eyes closed, singing a song of praise to God. I don't want to claim a "vision" in what happened next. It's hard to tell where the imagination ends and where the supernatural vision begins. Whatever it was, I believe that God was in it and I believe that He communicated truth to me in it...

I saw myself in heaven. I was prostrate, on my face in worship, in the presence of God. I knew that this was the proper posture. It was all very serious. But then something happened. Jesus came up to me and He touched my outstretched hand. I looked up at Him and he was laughing joyfully. I mean, seriously, out-of-control joyfully. He was even dancing around. He looked at me and what I felt he communicated was, "Reality is this good. It is so good that I can't do anything but be overwhelmed by joy." Another aspect of it was that the way He looked at me, it was almost like it was our secret, this joy. It was so intimate, so friendly. Another thing I remember is that He showed me His hand. It was nail scarred. I had the feeling that He was showing me that He had bought me and that His scars showed that all that seriousness had been taken care of. Now was the time to rejoice. I began to laugh. I was just sitting there on that couch, praise music playing, just laughing for like five minutes. I kept thinking about the way He looked at me and the way He laughed. I've had that image of Jesus in my mind since Friday. I am very thankful to Him for it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mt. Adams #10...and 11

I just returned home from climbing Mt. Adams for the second time in five days. Mt. Adams is the mountain you see in my "header" area of my blog. It is a 12,256 ft. extinct volcano in the Cascade Range of southern Washington state. It has become a tradition of mine to climb the mountain with friends. I've climbed it once a year every year since my senior year of high school in 1998. This year I climbed it twice, which made my tenth and eleventh ascents. It is also a tradition of mine to pray the 104th Psalm up on the mountain. This year I was blessed to climb with my brother and some of my best friends. Some pictures from the climbs are interspersed below with the words of the 104th Psalm.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

less the LORD, O my soul!

O LORD my God, You are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Who cover
Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.

He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters,

Who makes the clouds His chariot,
Who walks on the wings of the wind,
Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.
You who laid the foundations of the earth, So that it should not be moved forever,
You covered it with the deep as
with a garment; The waters stood above the mountains.
At Your rebuke they fled;
At the voice of Your thunder they hastened away.
They went up over the mountains;
They went down into the valleys, To the place which You founded for them.
You have set a boundary that they may not pass over, That they may not return to cover the earth. He sends the springs into the valleys; They flow among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches.
He waters the hills from His upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
The trees of the LORD are full
of sap, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,
Where the birds make their nests;
The stork has her home in the fir trees.

The high hills are for the wild goats; The cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers.
He appointed the moon for seasons; The sun knows its going down.
You make darkness, and it is night,
In which all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar after their prey, And seek their food from God.
When the sun rises, they gather together And lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
And to his labor until the evening.
O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions—
This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things, Living things both small and great.
There the ships sail about;
There is that Leviathan Which You have made to play there.

These all wait for You, That You may give them their food in due season.
You give them they gather in; You open Your hand, they are filled with good.
You hide Your face, they are troubled;
You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
May the LORD rejoice in His works.
He looks on the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the hills, and they smoke.
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
May my meditation be sweet to Him;
I will be glad in the LORD.
May sinners be consumed from the earth,
And the wicked be no more.

Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!

Monday, July 9, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'll be mountain climbing for the next few days so I wanted to post something before I left. I was thinking about posting a cool quote from John Calvin on holiness, which I will probably post later, but I decided to post something I've wanted to put on here for a long time. I read a lot of good books my last semester at Asbury. But one quote from one book has stayed with me. It is from a book I read in Jerry Walls' class on theodicy called "The Doors of the Sea." It is by Eastern Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart...

Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdom, where light and darkness, life and death grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be until the end of days. As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy. Such faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give him peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his arguments can defeat: for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead. Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history's many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes - and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, "Behold, I make all things new."

Obviously I am not a Calvinist. Dr. Walls cured me of that. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for John Calvin and I like many Calvinists. My favorite line is, "
God will not unite all of history's many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable." There are things in this world that happen and exist and are contrary to the will of God. It is only a hope in God's victory in the Eschaton that can make sense of the world we live in. I thank God for the tokens of His promise that we receive in this life.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Discernment, Dwarfs and Digory

Okay, I know the title's a bit dorky but I couldn't help it. A series on discernment has materialized on this blog and now I have something to write that I really believe is from God. Of course, use your discernment as you read, but as I prepared to write it I got the funny feeling that God was saying, "Hey Matt, open your eyes, you've had it wrong." So here goes:

When is "discernment" really just cynicism? When is "discernment" just bowing down to the lies of enlightenment, materialistic thought? When does "discernment" get in the way of the supernatural and the unexpected? Can what we might think of as "discernment" really be a lie from Satan that keeps us away from God's blessing? I think it can. I think fear of the new and the miraculous and a cynical state of mind, unwilling to accept amazing and unexpected blessings from God, is often labeled as a discerning mind. I am guilty of all of these things. Lord help me to repent.

In "The Last Battle," the final book in his "The Chronicles of Narnia," C.S. Lewis includes a peculiar story of a group of Dwarfs who have come into Heaven from Narnia. They enter through a stable door. Chapter thirteen of The Last Battle begins with King Tirian, Peter, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, Eustace, and Lord Digory and Lady Polly beginning to explore the paradise that is Heaven. Tirian and Eustace, like the dwarfs, entered Heaven through the stable door from Narnia. The Pevensies, Digory and Polly were all killed in a train accident on earth and are now in Heaven. Heaven is described by Lewis, thus: "They stood on grass, the deep blue sky was overhead, and the air which blew gently on their faces was that of a day in early summer. Not far away from them rose a grove of trees, thickly leaved, but under every leaf there peeped out gold or faint yellow or purple or glowing red of fruits such as no one has seen in our world. . . Everyone raised up his hand to pick the fruit he best liked the look of, and then everyone paused for a second. This fruit was so beautiful that each felt 'It can't be meant for me . . . surely we're not allowed to pluck it.' 'It's all right,' said Peter. 'I know what we're all thinking. But I'm sure, quite sure, we needn't. I've a feeling we've got to the country where everything is allowed.' 'Here goes then!' said Eustace. And they all began to eat. What was the fruit like? Unfortunately no one can describe it. All I can say is that, compared with those fruits, the freshest grapefruit you've ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry, and the most melting pear was hard and woody, and the sweetest wild strawberry was sour."

Lewis' description here is somewhat reminiscent of his description in "The Great Divorce," with the fruit in Heaven being more real than any fruit on earth.

But the Dwarfs also entered Heaven through the stable door. Lucy leads the group to the Dwarfs and this is what they see: "They weren't strolling about or enjoying themselves . . . nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round or took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn't see anyone but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.
'Look out!' said one of them in a surly voice. 'Mind where you're going. Don't walk into our faces!'
'All right!' said Eustace indignantly. 'We're not blind. We've got eyes in our heads.'
'They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,' said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
'In where?' asked Edmund.
'Why you bone head, in here of course,' said Diggle. 'In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.'
'Are you blind?' said Tirian.
'Ain't we all blind in the dark!' said Diggle.
'But it isn't dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,' said Lucy. 'Can't you see? Look up! Look around! Can't you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can't you see me?'
'How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain't there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?'
'But I can see you,' said Lucy. 'I'll prove I can see you. You've got a pipe in your mouth.'
'Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that,' said Diggle.
'Oh the poor things! This is dreadful,' said Lucy. Then she had an idea. She stooped and picked some wild violets. 'Listen, Dwarf,' she said. 'Even if your eyes are wrong, perhaps your nose is all right: can you smell that?' She leaned across and held the fresh, damp flowers to Diggle's ugly nose. But she had to jump back quickly in order to avoid a blow from his hard little fist.
'None of that!' he shouted. 'How dare you! What do you mean by shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in my face? There was a thistle in it too.'

So the Dwarfs, who in reality are in Heaven, have so deluded themselves and are so cynical that they can't see the blue sky, the grass, the trees or even the light of heaven. They also have their rationalizations ready. When Lucy tries to prove to them that they are in the light by telling Diggle that he's smoking a pipe he just explains it away by saying that she could smell the tobacco. Because of the Dwarfs' unbelief, they can't see Heaven even though they are in it.

For you poor souls unfamiliar with Narnia, Aslan is a Great Lion and the character who represents Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Soon after the events described above, Aslan comes along. Here's the scene: ". . . but as he spoke the earth trembled. The sweet air grew suddenly sweeter. A brightness flashed behind them. All turned. Tirian turned last because he was afraid. There stood his heart's desire, huge and real, the golden Lion, Aslan himself, and already the others were kneeling in a circle round his forepaws and burying their hands and faces in his mane as he stooped his great head to touch them with his tongue. Then he fixed his eyes upon Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling, and flung himself at the Lion's feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, 'Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour.'"

Isn't that a beautiful picture of intimacy with God?

Lucy asks Aslan to help the Dwarfs. Aslan answers, "I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do."

"He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, 'Hear that? That's the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don't take any notice. They won't take us in again!'
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn't much use. They began eating and drinking eagerly enough, but it was clear that they couldn't taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he'd found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said 'Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey's been at! Never thought we'd come to this.' . . . 'Well at any rate there's no Humbug here. We haven't let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.'
'You see,' said Aslan. 'They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.'"

Does it not break your heart? It didn't break my heart before but it does now for some reason. I think it's because I'm beginning to think most Christians, including myself, are like those Dwarfs. We're so cunning and so afraid of being 'taken in.' And why do we feel this way? Because of pride and fear. We don't want to look foolish. It seems foolish to believe that people get drunk in the Spirit and see angels and visit heaven. It seems foolish that God would cause something to materialize in thin air and fall on the worshippers at a church in California. But, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." Are we not, "Fools for Christ?"
But, "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom." If we say we believe the Bible and in the Bible people saw and conversed with angels, became like dead men in God's presence, received revelations and were caught up to the third heaven then why do we doubt now? Why do I doubt now? Lord, free me from my unbelief! When we trust people we risk being hurt. We risk believing lies. We risk admiring a fake. But does that mean that we should not trust? That we should not believe? That is the choice many of us make. But what are we missing? What feasts that God is laying before us do we see as 'stable litter?' What new wine do we see as trough-water? And what is the feast? What is the wine? The Psalmist says, "You are my portion, O Lord." Jesus said, "For my Flesh is real food and my Blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him." God is our portion.

Jesus said to Thomas, to Thomas who wouldn't believe the words of his own brothers and sisters that his Lord had been raised. He said to Thomas who had heard Jesus' own words predicting his resurrection, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." It all seemed too good to be true to Thomas. He knew that those other disciples wanted so badly for the resurrection to be true - maybe they had just imagined something and convinced one another of its truth. Thomas knew that people don't normally rise from the dead. But he also knew his Lord. He also knew the words of his Lord. He had been in close company with the other disciples for years. Yet he didn't trust any of that. It was too good to be true. He wasn't going to be 'taken in.' Thankfully Thomas' case wasn't as bad as the Dwarfs in the story. He did believe after he saw and touched his Lord and there proclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"

Let us not be so cunning in our "discernment" that we choose it over belief.


Friday, July 6, 2007

Didache on Discernment

So I was working today, doing construction and continuing to ponder discernment. And suddenly I remembered something I had read long ago in a wonderful work called the Didache. Didache simply means "Teaching" in Greek and it is a short work that may have been written as early as the first century. When the canon of Scripture was being formulated, some Church Fathers even argued for its inclusion in the New Testament. I think texts like the Didache, even though they should never be placed on the same level of Scripture when it comes to authority, should have a privileged place when we are seeking the will of God.

Teachings of the Didache:
The Didache is a very interesting text. An important theme is the idea of the "Two Ways." The Didache says, "Two Ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways." The way of life is summarized as, "First, love God who made you, secondly, your neighbor as yourself: do not do to another what you do not wish to be done to yourself." One thing that would be nice if the Didache had been included in the NT would be its prohibition of abortion. The Didache says, "do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide." Although I'm sure that even if this were in the Bible, the loving, tolerant liberals would just ignore it like they do the rest of Scripture... Okay off the liberal thing... Later there is an interesting instruction on the sacraments. The instruction on baptism says that the candidate should fast prior to their baptism and that it should take place in running water. If no running water is available then cold water should be used and if there's not enough water to dunk then a baptism could be done by pouring water on the head thrice and baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. There is a powerful and, I think, correct admonition against open communion, "Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: 'Do not give to dogs what is sacred.'"

The Didache begins its teaching on discernment by saying, "should the teacher himself be a turncoat and teach a different doctrine so as to undermine (this teaching), do not listen to him. But if he promotes holiness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as the Lord." So discernmet begins with knowing what good doctrine is and avoiding any teacher who does not believe in and teach good doctrine. In the context of the Didache, good doctrine seems to be the teaching on the "Two Ways" which encompasses Christ's moral teaching and also the instruction on the sacraments. Good doctrine is also described here as a doctrine of holiness and the knowledge of the Lord.

Now to the interesting stuff: "Moreover, if any prophet speaks in ecstasy, do not test him or entertain any doubts; for any sin may be forgiven, but this sin cannot be forgiven. However, not everyone speaking in ecstasy is a prophet, except he has the ways of the Lord about him. So by their ways must the true and the false prophet be distinguished. No prophet who in an ecstasy orders the table spread, must partake of it; otherwise, he is a false prophet. Any prophet that teaches truth, yet does not live up to his teaching, is a false prophet. When a prophet, once approved as genuine, does something by way of symbolizing the Church in an earthly manner, yet does not instruct others to do all that he himself is doing, he is not liable to your judgment, for his judgment rests with God. After all, the Prophets of old acted in the same manner. But if anyone says in ecstasy, "Give me money," or something else, you must not listen to him. However, should he tell you to give something for others who are in need, let no one condemn him."

There's a lot of good stuff there. The first admonition is strong and convicting, equating doubting the words of a prophet with the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit seen in the NT. The primary standard of discernment seems to be the way the prophet lives his life. Does the prophet have, "
the ways of the Lord about him?" Even if a prophet teaches truth, if he hypocritically does not live up to that teaching, he must be considered a false prophet. Instances where a prophet says something for their own gain, like ordering food (having a table spread before them) or asking for money are fundamentals in distinguishing true from false prophets.

For true prophets, the Didache establishes a high place of honor: "Every genuine prophet who is willing to settle among you is entitled to his support. Likewise, every genuine teacher is, like a laborer, entitled to his support. Therefore, take all first fruits of vintage and harvest, of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets; for they are your high priests."

In discerning who should be in leadership in the Church, the Didache teaches, "elect for yourselves bishops and deacons, men who are an honor to the Lord, of gentle disposition, not attached to money, honest and well-tried; for they, too, render you the sacred service of the prophets and teachers."

Near the end of the text is a warning and a retelling of our blessed hope, "For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters will come in swarms; the sheep will turn into wolves, and love will turn to hate. When lawlessness is on the increase, men will hate and persecute and betray one another; and the Deceiver of this world will appear, claiming to be the Son of God, and give striking exhibitions of power; the earth will be given over into his hands, and he will perpetrate outrages such as have never taken place since the world began. Then humankind will undergo the fiery test, and many will lose their faith and perish; but those who stand firm in their faith will be saved by none other than the Accursed. And then the proofs of the truth will appear; the first proof, an opening of the heavens; the next proof, the sounding of the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the dead - not all indeed, but in accordance with the saying: The Lord will come and all the saints with Him. Finally, the world will behold the Lord riding the clouds in the sky."

May we heed this warning and stand firm even in the midst of false prophets and wolves.