I feel like I’ve dealt with this so many times. Clearly I am led to do something and then it just doesn’t seem like there’s a point to it.
John Chyrsostom, quoted in A Year With the Church Fathers, Scott Murray, p 9, gave me some assurance:
“Even though the soil that we cultivate might bring forth no fruit, if we have made every possible effort, the Lord of it and of us will not allow us to depart with disappointed hopes but will give us recompense. St Paul says, ‘Each will receive his wages according to his labor’ (1 Corinthians 3:8), not according to the result. And that it is so, listen: ‘You, son of man, testify to this people, if they will hear, and if they will understand’ (see Ezekiel 2: 3-5). And the Lord says to Ezekiel, ‘If the watchman warns us of what we ought to flee, and what to choose, he has delivered his own soul, even though no one takes heed’ (see Ezekiel 3:17, 19; 33:9)”
I’ve said this a lot, but I often don’t take my advice, it does sound defeatist, but it is what faith is about. God doesn’t call me to “succeed, He calls me to be faithful.” Sort of rubs against a man’s mentality. ‘No, if I make the effort, I have to succeed at it’ and yet, perhaps God is using the result, to achieve His own outcome which we may never know, at least not this side of the resurrection.
We all need to trust in and have faith in God’s will, whether it makes “sense” to us or not.”
…Then, so that you would not be confounded by what is going on, and by their strange frenzy (Matt 12:14) He introduces the prophet [Isaiah] also, foretelling all this. So great was the accuracy of the prophets that they omit not even these things but foretell His very travels and changes of place as well as the intent with which He acted in these, so that you might learn how they spoke entirely by the Spirit. If the secrets of men cannot by any art be known, how much more impossible is it to learn Christ’s purpose, except that the Spirit reveals it? …
‘The prophet [Isaiah] celebrates His meekness and His indescribable power, and how to the Gentiles ‘a wide door for effective work has opened’ (1 Cor 16:9); He foretells also the ills that are to overtake the Jews and signifies Jesus’ unanimity with the Father. He said, ‘Behold My servant, whom I uphold. My chosen, in whom My soul delights’ (Is 42:1). Now if the Father chose Him not as an adversary, Christ wouldn’t set aside the Law. The Father chose Him not as an enemy of the lawgiver but as having the same mind with Him, and the same goals.
Then proclaiming His meekness, he said, ‘He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice’ (Is 42:2). His desire indeed was to heal in their presence; and even though they thrust Him away, He did not contend even against this. And intimating both His might and their weakness, he said, ‘A bruised reed He will not break’ (Is 42:3). Indeed, it was easy to break them all to pieces like a reed, and not just as a reed, but as one already bruised. ‘A faintly burning wick He will not quench’ (Is 42:3). Here he sets forth both their anger, which is kindled, and His might which is able to put down their anger and quench it with the greatest ease, by which His great mildness is signified”
(Chrysostom, “Homilies on Matthew, 60.2” quoted in “A year with the church fathers, meditations…” p 397
“Only when we have felt the terror of the matter [of God’s coming at Christmas], can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone’ God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved into us.. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God’s goodness will once again draw near. We think of all God’s goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: ‘Behold I stand at the door … Open wide the gates!” (Ps 24:7) from “A Testament to Freedom pp 185-186
“…If we berate or harass our shepherds, we are berating and harassing the Body of Christ…Our pastors exercise spiritual oversight for the sake of our souls so that we might receive the unfading crown of glory. In that relationship there is a mutuality of love.
Be obedient to your bishop and welcome him as the parent of your soul. Son’s love their fathers, and slaves fear their masters. The Lord says, ‘If then I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master where is My fear?’ (Malachi 1:6). In your case, the bishop combines in himself many titles for your respect. He is at once a monk, a prelate and an uncle who has before now instructed you in all holy things.
‘This also I say so that the bishops should know themselves to be priests, not lords. Let them render to the clergy the honor that is their due so that the clergy mayo offer to them the respect that belongs to bishops. There is a witty saying of the orator Domitius (d. 48 BC] that is to the point here: ‘Why should I recognize you as leader of the Senate when you will not recognize my rights as a private member?” … Let us ever bear in mind the charge that the apostle Peter gives to priests: ‘Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the un fading crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5: ) “
Jerome “Letters,” – 52.7 quoted in “A Year with the Church Fathers” p 375 Scott Murray
When my wife and I first attended a Lutheran service, we were impressed with how formal it was, a far cry from what we were used to in the mainline Protestant denominations we grew up in and in the evangelical congregations we attended in college. So we came back next week, only to find both the congregation and the pastor chanting. We thought we had been transported back to the Middle Ages.
It turns out, that first service we attended was the one informal service that was held on months with five Sundays. We came to learn that when Lutherans try to be informal–or, more recently, contemporary–they are still more formal and less contemporary than just about anyone else. But the definitive Lutheran worship, which we learned to treasure, is to be found in what they call the “Divine Service,” which is called that because in it, Lutherans believe, God serves us.
Patheos has asked its writers to respond to some of the most frequent questions about the various religious traditions that they receive. What most puzzles Patheos readers about Lutheranism is its worship. They wonder what they need to know in order to understand what is going on. Specifically, as the Patheos editors summarize the inquiries, “What should I keep in mind when visiting a Lutheran church?” So it falls to me to try to explain.
What follows is an account of the traditional Divine Service, which can be dressed up or down, made more elaborate or more simple. Even contemporary Lutheran services will tend to have the same structure and most of the same elements–from the confession and absolution to the Law & Gospel sermons–so that what I describe here, except for what I say about music, will mostly still apply.
(1) The Liturgy Consists Mostly of Words from Scripture
The first reaction of many visitors is, “This is Catholic!” Or, “This is too Catholic!” Yes, the liturgy goes way back through church history and is similar to that of Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and, among Protestants, Anglicans, whose Book of Common Prayer was greatly influenced by Lutheranism.
But the Lutheran liturgy also shows forth the principles of the Reformation. Luther wanted to reform the church, not start a new one. Later Protestants would want to start, more or less, from scratch, but the work of “reforming” means changing what is problematic, but leaving what is good. For Luther, everything that pointed away from Christ and the Gospel should be eliminated, but what does point to Christ and the Gospel should be retained.
So the Lutheran liturgy leaves out elements in the Catholic mass such as praying for the dead and invoking the saints. But it retains the overall structure and the ancient liturgical set-pieces, such as the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy. . .”) and the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”). In fact, those set pieces and nearly all of the responses of the congregation are taken straight from the Bible. When someone objects to our liturgy, I ask, “Which words of God do you think we shouldn’t say?”
The sanctuary will also demonstrate the Reformation principle of retaining elements that point to Christ. There will typically be quite a bit of art in the sanctuary. Lots of crosses. That will include pictures of Jesus and other representational art. This is not idolatry, since that means worshiping false gods and Jesus is the true God, who came as a visible, tangible human being discernible by the senses (1 John 1:1). Lots of crucifixes, depicting Jesus on the cross. Some Christians say that one should only use empty crosses because Jesus isn’t on the cross any more–He rose! Well, Lutherans certainly believe in His Resurrection (and also have empty crosses), but we need to keep a constant focus on “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:2), upon which which our salvation is based and which Lutherans apply in a host of ways in their “theology of the Cross.”
(2) Chanting Lets Us Sing Prose, Such as Texts from Scripture
The Divine Service is mostly chanted by both the pastor and the congregation. This may be the aspect that seems the most “Catholic” or “Medieval” or just unusual to visitors. But chanting, with its flexible meter and flowing melodic line, is simply the way that a person can sing prose.
Most of our songs today–whether hymns or raps–are metrical, with fixed patterns of rhythm and rhyme. That is to say, they put music to poems. But it is also possible to sing any sequence of words. That requires music that flows along with the pattern of speech. This is what chanting is.
Some of my friends who are Reformed (a term Lutherans never use for themselves), belong to Psalms-only congregations. Using their principle that Christians may only do what the Bible specifies (while Lutherans believe they are free to do whatever the Bible does not forbid), they do not sing hymns, just Psalms. But what they sing are really metrical paraphrases of the Psalms, forced onto the Procrustean bed of meter and rhyme. But we Lutherans sing the Psalms right out of the Bible by chanting them.
Lutherans do sing hymns that will be familiar to most visitors, including some of those metrical Psalms, drawing on the vast and varied musical heritage of the church universal. Perhaps stranger to some visitors’ ears are the hymns from the Lutheran tradition, particularly those from the 16th and 17th century, often in the baroque style of vivid imagery and achingly beautiful, but complex, music.
(3) The Pastor Will Forgive Your Sins
What most puts off quite a few visitors is at the beginning of the service when the members of the congregation confess their sins, first reflecting silently and then reading a prayer of repentance, after which the pastor says this or something like it:
Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“I forgive you?” some say. “The pastor can’t forgive sins! Only Jesus can do that!” Well, right, only Jesus can forgive sins. But Lutherans believe that God works through human beings. That is the doctrine of vocation. Notice the wording: “As a called and ordained servant of the Word.” “Called” refers to vocation, which is simply the Latinate word for “calling.” God forgives sins through pastors, just as He gives us our daily bread through farmers and creates new life through mothers and fathers. The basis of the pastor’s forgiveness, also known as “absolution,” is “the grace of God to all of you” and the fact that He “has given His Son to die for you.” (Lutherans reject the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, so all have access to this grace and atonement.)
And the Scriptural warrant for human beings forgiving sins is pretty explicit. After His resurrection, Jesus breathes on His disciples, saying,“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).
(4) You Will Hear a Law and Gospel Sermon
The sermon may also be different from what you are used to. There will be no politics, no pop psychology, no Biblical principles for successful living. (Lutheranism, with its theology of cross-bearing, is pretty much the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel.) The sermon will be based on one or more of the three Bible readings (an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading as determined by the Lectionary, a plan for Scripture reading tied to the church year), but it will be handled in terms of the distinct Lutheran hermeneutic and preaching paradigm of Law and Gospel.
The moral law in the Scripture will be proclaimed, but in a way that precludes self-righteousness. Listeners will be persuaded that they do not, in fact, obey God’s Law, with its multiple ramifications, and that they are in sore need of repentance. Whereupon the sermon will move to a proclamation of the Gospel, namely, that Christ has fulfilled this law on our behalf and has paid the penalty that we deserve for breaking it with His atoning death and resurrection. When we know that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves and believe that Jesus has died for us and offers us new life, we have saving faith, which, in turn, bears the fruit of love for our neighbors.
This is not “cheap grace” the pastor is teaching. A skillful preacher can really make you feel guilty, which tempers our bad behavior. And, by preaching the Gospel, he really make you feel free. Lutherans speak of three uses of the Law: the first, the civil use, is to restrain our external sinful proclivities; the second, the theological use, is to convict us of sin and drive us to the Gospel; and the third, the didactic use, is to teach Christians how to live in order to please God, which, motivated by gratitude, they now desire to do.
You will find no altar call in a Lutheran sermon. Coming to faith is not a one-time decision. Rather, the pattern of repentance and faith is repeated throughout the Christian’s life, and is enacted throughout the Divine Service. The point at which you objectively became a Christian is when you were Baptized, even as an infant, a purely passive experience in which God called you by name and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, just as that infant must be fed, be taught, and grow, the baptized Christian must be fed and taught and grow by means of the Word and Sacraments. Otherwise, faith will die.
(5) You Must be Catechized Before You Go Up for Communion.
If you are a visitor to a Lutheran church, observe what is happening and, if you want, go up for a blessing. (Bow and cross your arms when the pastor comes your way.) But if you are not a Lutheran and if the pastor doesn’t know you, you should refrain from taking the consecrated bread and wine. The liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would probably let you, but the more conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and smaller and independent church bodies practice “closed communion.” Sometimes this is phrased as “close” communion, meaning that those who commune together should be close to each other as in being part of the same congregation or church body, but it means the same, that the altar is “closed” to those who have not been catechized and confirmed in the host church, its denomination, or a denomination with which it is in formal fellowship.
Please, please, do not be insulted, as many visitors are. Lutherans are not denying that you are a Christian. Anyone, of any denomination or non-denomination, who confesses faith in Christ is considered to be a Christian, and Lutherans do accept all Baptisms, of whatever mode or at whatever age. It’s just that Lutherans hold to the Biblical teaching that no one should receive the Lord’s Supper without examining oneself and without “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).
“Discerning the body,” of course, means different things to different theologies. Catholics believe the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ and so is no longer bread; Calvinists believe in a spiritual presence that depends on the faith of the person receiving it; most Protestants, again, hold it be merely symbolic. But Lutherans believe that the body and blood of Christ are really present in, with, and under the bread and wine. More than that, Christ gives His body and His blood in these physical elements “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Evangelicals speak of “receiving Christ” at their conversion. Lutherans believe they “receive Christ” every time they take Holy Communion.
Some say that “discerning the body” refers not to the bread and wine of Holy Communion, but to the Body of Christ that is the Church. Well, fine, and maybe it refers to both, since the two senses are intimately connected. But that too is an argument for “closed” or “close” communion, since it requires awareness of those with whom you are communing.
Catholics and the Orthodox also practice closed communion, in line with their similarly high view of the Sacrament. I have had occasions—weddings and funerals—to attend a Catholic mass, but it never bothered me that I couldn’t take communion. I didn’t want to. If I presented myself for communion, I would be participating with a church body that I don’t belong to and that I don’t agree with. This is also why most Lutherans won’t commune at other churches that practice “open” communion. It’s a matter of respecting differences. And this respect can co-exist with a spirit of welcome and good-will.
So, please, visitors, know that you are welcome to a Lutheran service and don’t let our quirks be an obstacle. I think you will appreciate, as my wife and I did, the sense of transcendence and holiness that we found there.
Results of a new large-scale study by the Springtide Research Institute have seemingly confirmed decades of previous research pointing to a positive relationship between religion, spirituality and mental health.
And Josh Packard, the organization’s executive director, has suggested ways churches can ensure they remain relevant institutions for the younger generation as physical church attendance dwindles.
The study found that during the pandemic years, most (53%) of the respondents reported that mental health was their biggest challenge. Only 34% of them reported being comfortable talking about their struggle with adults.
Some 57% said new spiritual practices helped them endure the pandemic and more than half (51%) said they turned to prayer. Others turned to activities like reading, yoga, the arts or being in nature.
The study found that while religion and spirituality “can be strong antidotes to much of what contributes to mental-health struggles among young people” and that “people who are religious are better off mentally and emotionally,” only 35% of the respondents said they are connected to a religious community.
Respondents connected to a religious community were found to be more likely to say they are “flourishing a lot” in their mental and emotional well-being (29%) than those not connected to a religious community (20%).
Respondents who say they are “very religious” were more likely to report that they are “flourishing a lot” (40%) compared to those who say they are not religious (17%). Respondents who are “not religious” were more than twice as likely to say they are “not flourishing” (44%) than “very religious” respondents.
While the study indicates that religion can have a positive impact on mental health, Packard notes in the report that “solutions to mental-health struggles are more complicated than just ‘give young people more religion'” as about 20% of “very religious” respondents report they are “not flourishing.”
“The reality is that without addressing mental-health issues, a young person who is mentally and emotionally unwell won’t be able to really engage with or understand the depth, beauty, power, awe, and love that can come with religion and spirituality,” Packard wrote. “As Jeff Neel, the Executive Director of Northern Colorado Youth for Christ, puts it, ‘Young people have to heal and belong before they can hear and believe.'”
When asked how churches could be more mental-health positive, Packard told The Christian Post that churches must first get more involved in the general conversation about mental health.
“There is a step zero before you start digging into that, which is that a lot of religious leaders and organizations sort of opt out of this conversation because it makes the older [generations uncomfortable]. There is more of a stigma around mental health for people my age, for example, than there are for 15 and 16-year-olds,” Packard said.
“A lot of times, churches might not think that this is their thing to do. I’m not sure that rabbis are running around the country thinking my job here is to support the mental health of young Jews. … Increasingly, the more that we can see that as part of the work that we do and see really faith as instrumental in that work is really, it’s going to be important for young people.”
“One of the things that comes through so clearly, which is I think a lot of people are astonished by this, whether its academic research or the big report that Gallup just released or even our own data about flourishing, is that religious young people are better off,” he continued. “They’re simply better off in all aspects of their life than their non-religious or even less religious peers, including their mental health.”UnmuteAdvanced SettingsFullscreenPauseUp Next
Packard said young people need to see faith as a “resource for solving the biggest challenges in their lives.”
“And if they see faith as disconnected from that, they’re just going to be less likely to engage,” he stressed.
“Acknowledging that there is a real role to play and this is not parallel at best alongside your real mission. This is actually a part of the sort or real mission for existing in the world especially when it comes to engaging young people.”
Packard said the evidence showing a positive relationship between mental health, religion and spirituality is “pretty overwhelming.”
“It’s not just [religious youth are] doing a little bit better. They are doing significantly better,” he said.
The Springtide leader suggested that churches can focus more on bringing the Gospel to young people instead of waiting for them to come into the walls of their church community to connect.
“If we were to draw some lines, I want to be really careful. The things that worked to lead to those data outcomes currently might not be the things that will work for this generation. In the past, what mosques, synagogues, churches have done really well is connect you to a real physical in-real-life community in this neighborhood, in this part of the city that knows you well. And that’s still really, really critical work,” he said.
“We might need to move that a little bit outside of that space. One of the things that has shifted in our society over the last 50 years is the level at which people trust institutions of all kinds, not just religious institutions.”
Packard contends the “idea of building a community for a young person to walk into is just not going to have the same impact that it might have once had because not only young people but their parents are just less likely to trust those institutions to do that kind of work.”
“And so we’re going to have to do some more sort of like moving forward with this generation to have that same kind of impact and effect, we’re going to have to do some sort of outside of the walls,” he argued.
“I’m using walls here kind of metaphorically. … There are lots of Christian campus ministries, for example, who, I don’t know if they have offices or they’re just working outside of their house. Maybe they spend their entire time in coffee shops or out in public with young people, and so we start to see the engagement that places like that get, we start to see some of the pathways forward to retain the positive effect that religion has.”
You are only complete in Christ in His Body which is His church, which is His community.
You can carry on with all your blather about being personal, between you and God can worship anywhere, blah, blah. This is sheer disingenuousness, i.e. you don’t know what you’re talking about and you’re just making it up.
That’s a dangerous, in the genuine sense, not the overworked phony sense of the world. You want to play with your eternal destiny and keep testing God? He told us what we needed to know, the Bible, yet, we continue to make it up and think we are the masters of our fate. So wrong and playing an eternally dangerous game.
Christian community can be problematic. Unfortunately you have too many people in the church, clergy and laity, who don’t know what they’re talking about. Jesus gathered together a few very close followers, then many hundreds, thousands of disciples of varying closeness. This is the church, this has been passed down and this is what will be raised up at the final judgment. If you’re not part of that you will not be judged to be saved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “Life Together” p 29 writes: “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. With great yearning the imprisoned apostle Paul calls his ‘beloved son in the faith’, Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life (1Tim 1:2). He wants to see him again and have him near. Paul has not forgotten the tears Timothy shed during their final parting (2 Tim 1:4). Thinking of the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays ‘night and day … most earnestly that we may see you face to face’ (1 Thess 3:10) The aged John knows his joy in his own people will only be complete when he can come to them and speak to them face to face instead of using paper and ink (2 John 12). The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living too much in the flesh. A human being is created as a body; the Son of God appeared on earth in the body for our sake and was raised in the body. In the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected community of God’s spiritual – physical creatures. Therefore, the believer praises the Creator, the Reconciler and the Redeemer, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of other Christians.” (quoted in “A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer edited by Carla Barnhill p 308)
And it is within the Body of Christ, His Church that you are saved. You want to make your own rules and decide it’s all about your own personal preferences, likes and dislikes it will not go well with you. God has made it so that His people can be saved in the most magnanimous manner imaginable You turn down God’s offer of His Son, who gave His life for you in His Church, His Body, all for you. Your eternal fate is your own responsibility. You have no one to blame but yourself.
The peace of the Lord that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Jesus. Amen.
“More Light on the Path, daily devotions”, makes a great observation about God and sin: “There is something crazy about the way we are afraid of God, the One who gives us life and whleness, but we aren’t afraid of sin, the thing that kills us. To reverse that order is to rightly fear the Lord.” (p 293)
If we are not in Jesus, sin will ultimately kill us, condemn us into eternal punishment. That’s the way it is. You may not like it, or think that somehow it doesn’t apply to you, but you are wrong..
Do we fear God? Yes, in the sense of respect, trust, we know He is entirely about giving us His eternal best. He already has in Jesus. You can keep putting your trust where it will lead you to doom. Or put it in Jesus who is the source of eternal life.
Prayer is our privilege to come into God’s presence. It’s not really elective, God expects it. Not in a legalistic do such and so. But in a way like talking to your parents, your spouse, your children. God doesn’t “need” our prayers, but He makes it so we “get” to pray to Him and He honors and listens to our prayer.
Praying the Psalms is an excellent way to pray. David Rosage in his book “Rejoice in Me” writes: “WE pray the psalms regularly and repeatedly in order to experience the power and presence, the loving car and concern, which the Lord has for each one of us.
Praying the psalms repeatedly transforms our hearts and minds. It helps us form deep and strong Christlike habits and patterns which influence our attitudes and actions.
One special habit which constantly needs augmenting is our trust and confidence in our loving Father and in his plans for us.
It is so eaSy for us to fear, doubt, or even mistrust the Lord when hardships and difficulties, when pains and suffering, descend upon us. Let us listen to what the inspired writer says to us this week about rust in God.” (p 201 )