Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome, 2010

The end of the year is a natural time to reflect upon one’s life and, in the case of a pastor, one’s ministry. One thing I can say about 2009, it was never dull. There were times when I longed to be bored. Times when I prayed for quiet. But God had a plan and although that plan was not easy and required the loss of many things in order to remain faithful, we stand now poised to enter into the new year with optimism and hope because God is on the move and we are following him.

The words of Paul (Romans 8:31 and following) come to mind:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? ... For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will separate us from the love of God that in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Goodbye, 2009.  Your job is done and you have brought us to where we need to be in time.  I hated much of the bumpy ride but we are here, where God wills us to be.  With each bump in the road, I was brought closer to the Lord.  Nothing is wasted in his economy. No experience is without some value. He uses everything to build us and shape us for the future which is of his design and always to equip us for ministry to others. Transitioning to the new year, I pray that Almighty God will grant each of you grace and patience and wisdom and courage and strength for the living of these days.  We live in a unique and challenging time full of colliding ideological forces and an on-going technological revolution which is reshaping our society in yet to be comprehended ways. But for such a time as this were all of us placed upon the earth.  We may not always be comfortable, but let us strive to be faithful to our high calling as followers of Christ to be his witnesses even and especially when we feel that we are living in the end of time.  

Welcome, 2010. You bring us a fresh start, a turn of the calendar page and new seasons of opportunities to sow the gospel seeds as we advance into the future our God has prepared for us. Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas and Here’s the Real Meaning of the Great Commission

It’s Christmas time. Time to consider once again the second most amazing event in human history: that God became flesh and pitched his tent among us. It’s a sign of God’s amazing and unfathomable love and grace that the Son, Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be selfishly held on to, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

The second most amazing event in human history is that Jesus died, a sacrificial death, in our place and was raised again at Easter. Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Some will feel differently, of course, but for me, this is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the time when we can’t help but focus on the fact that the light has come into the darkness. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Then he said, “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.”

We are invited by the light of the world to become light so that the darkness can be overcome. We are also commanded to take this light and let it shine into all the world that others, too, may be in the light. We are followers of Jesus and also his fellow follower (disciple) makers. Jesus asks us to be his followers and also to make more Christ followers. Truly, this is a great commission!

The Son’s commission to us, ”Go and make disciples of all nations…” reminds me of the Father’s commission to mankind: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.”

Have you noticed how we are recently reticent to fulfill either of these commissions? A diminishing number of people have large families any more. We seem to prefer 2 or 3 children to 12. I grew up in a selfish generation. My friends and I grew up believing that we should first “do something important” and then save up money, in order to have children (and only a few) later in life. In other words, the meaning of life was to be found in doing something for yourself, and only secondarily in having a family. My grandparents came from a mindset that family was the most important thing and that children were a blessing from the Lord.

People far smarter than I have been watching this trend for a long time. It has something to do with prosperity: for some reason, the richer we get the fewer kids we have. Maybe there is something to be said about large families having to struggle together, but being stronger for it. I suppose the more prosperous we become, the more we think we have to provide for our children (ipods, cell phones, flat screens, etc) so children become less and less cost effective. Frankly, I like the space we have at our house, more kids would mean there would be less space for me and what I want. But you see, I’m selfish.

God isn’t selfish. He’s magnanimous. He is bounteous. He specializes in abundance. That’s one of the reasons or signs that point to Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God. Wherever Jesus went there was suddenly abundance: water became wine, five loaves and 2 fish suddenly multiplied to fill a multitude and there was still enough left for 12 baskets; fish filled the nets, the dead came back to life. “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”

I remember story time in elementary school. We read a lot of science fiction about the end of the world. On Saturday mornings there were cartoons and dramas (like Ark 2) about how overpopulation and the consequent pollution was destroying the earth. We’d all freeze to death in the dark. Alas, the science has changed and now we’re getting too hot and we now have over 50,000,000 million abortions in this country alone. Apparently we don’t think much as a world about God’s command: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it.” When it comes to not doing what God commands, just about any excuse will do.

So to the church Jesus gives the great commission, “Go and make disciples.” The great commission is simply God reminding us that as far as he is concerned, more is better. “Fill the earth with my disciples because I want abundant children.” “Let there be more light.”

The church is therefore commanded to grow the family. But we’re big enough, surely? Aren't we cozy as we are? More will get messy! Not for the magnanimous, over abundant, bounteous, grace beyond all measure attitude of God. We need to make room. Oh sure, there will be issues like “what about me and mine?” but hopefully, the joy of seeing new life will overcome those if our hearts are in the right place.

But the house is too small! But the budget is too small! But we haven’t prepared! Doesn’t matter. The fields are white with the harvest. God commands: “Go, make disciples, fill the earth and subdue it. Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify me, your Father in heaven.” The most joyous times in ministry and in my personal life were'nt when there was plenty and everyone had their own space. They were when we were together, bunched up, falling over eachother and there wasn't enough to go around. That made community, it made memories, it made love. In a room crowded with disciples, the light is very, very bright.

It’s not a Christmas hymn but it bespeaks the meaning of season: that God became man so that men might become sons of God, and now asks us to increase the family.
"Going forth with laughter, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained, The child often grieves;
 When our weeping’s over, He will tell us gently, 
We shall come rejoicing to heaven, bringing in the sheaves.
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, 
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves, 
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
 We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
Merry Christmas and thanks for reading. PJ

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Everything Must Change

One of the most exciting things I believe was summed up best by Bill Hybels: “The local church is the hope of the world.” I know some people will jump on that and say, “Gee, PJ, I thought Jesus was the hope of the world.” The answer is, of course, that Jesus is the hope of the world and that people best get connected to him in their local church. Jesus is the local church after all, it is his body.

I don’t really care what that church body looks like: high church or low church, cathedral or store front or living room. What’s important is that the local church understands it stands as Christ’s representative. All those wonderful words in 2 Corinthians 5 about being the ambassadors of Christ are written to the local church, to “ya’ll” in the church. If people are going to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord they will somehow need to be connected to his body. That’s why the local church is the hope of the world. Because the local church can bring the hope and transformation that only Jesus has.

This is an awesome mission. What would it be like if we really lived this out together? What if we actually believed and acted like we believed that our local congregation was the hope of the entire world? I think a lot of the petty arguments would stop. I think our priorities would be re-arranged. It would have to stop being about us. I think everything would change for the sake of the mission. And I think that’s what needs to happen. Now.

Why are we slow to adopt this vision that we, the church, are the hope of the world? Because I think we worry too much about our institutional survival. We can’t afford to lose any members, especially in these tough economic times, so we accommodate people who aren’t mission minded and try to keep everyone happy. This mindset can be held by pastors, boards, and members in general. If the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll lose a member, you probably will never gain any. And you certainly won’t add people who didn’t know Christ before because you won’t be being the hope of the world. You’ll be being the customer service department.

Sometimes, as preachers, we’re tempted to preach nice sermons full of empty platitudes that don’t rock the boat. But if we don’t preach for life change and transformation, if people don’t go away challenged to know Christ or know him better and equipped to do so, what’s the point?

I think we’ve been focused on meeting the felt needs of our members for too long. We’ve become insular, unable to identify and therefore to relate to the outside world. We’ve lost our edge, too. We are no longer expected to be imaginative or creative or innovative in the ways we make our witness or engage the world. I suppose it’s too risky to be too innovative, it might make someone uncomfortable or leave them longing for the way things used to be.

I’m speculating here but what if we in the local church have come to believe that if people want to meet Jesus they must first conform to the culture of the church? I think the early church dealt with that problem in Acts 15. Nothing is required before you meet Jesus. If we were missionaries we wouldn’t expect the people of the land we were evangelizing to learn our language or adapt our culture first. We’d learn theirs with joy so we could share Jesus. That’s the right attitude. We’re supposed to be the missionaries, not the consumers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blood, Money and Mission

I went to the Blood Center the other day to give blood. I went because they called, as they do frequently, and expressed a need for blood.

I’ve done this for a while, but there were things about this particular visit that I really hadn’t noticed or thought of before.

They have the latest and greatest technology. Well, I mean, it’s a medical enterprise, what would you expect? It’s important work, you’ve got to keep up with technology.

On the walls around the interior are hung giant posters of people’s faces. These are the faces of those whose lives have been saved or changed by the blood we donate. I know this about the posters because also around the room are smaller pictures of the same people, the smaller versions containing the testimonies of how donated blood changed these people’s lives.

That got me thinking about fundraising. The Blood Center is a nonprofit corporation. But I don’t suppose they have trouble raising enough money to keep the doors open. Why? Because everybody knows how important the work they do there is. It’s work that saves lives. Why, they just call up people like me and say, “We need your blood,” and I show up. Because the work they do is important and I know it. I bet that when there isn’t enough blood to go around, people don’t blame the Blood Center. Nope. They are there to take the blood that people donate. If there isn’t enough blood it’s because people are too selfish or too busy to give it, not because the Blood Center failed in any way.

Anyway, I did my check in and then got sent to do some paper work necessary before they take my blood. It was routine. Same paper work every time. I have the answers memorized. I finished in record time but I had to wait for 40 more minutes. So when they took my blood pressure it was a little high, only because I noticed that people who came in after me were being leaped-frogged in front of me and time was getting on and I had another appointment. Plus, they were about to stick a huge needle in me and I wanted to get that part over with. But hey, it’s the Blood Center, they know what they are doing, it’s important work, and so I just sat there and re-read the impressive fliers telling me about how important it was I was doing what I was doing.

When you finish giving blood, they treat you to your choice of juice or water or coffee and whatever kind of cookies or muffins you want. No charge. It’s free. In fact, the bakery across the street donates their day old stuff and so as a donor I can take home a whole sack of bagels or bread or muffins. Free. Because I gave. And because other businesses recognize that what they do is important.

I didn’t realize it, but the Blood Center also has a point system. Apparently, whenever I give blood I get points. And these points are redeemable on line for Blood Center merchandise: water bottles and sweatshirts and the like.

Some of you are saying, “What’s your point?”

Here is my point:

When the church calls for volunteers, do you think we get a better response than the Blood Center?
There is never enough money in the church budget to keep us current with the latest technology, even though communication is critical to what we do.
We get criticized for spending money on posters that tell people what we’re doing and sometimes we even get criticized for testimonies because “it makes it sound like it’s about the person or the church and not God.”
The church is also a non profit corporation and yet whenever we fail to hit our numbers it is our fault, not the fault of the people who didn’t give.
A lot of church members get mad if they aren’t served within what they consider is an appropriate amount of time and not only do they give feedback about how our procedures need to change to give them better service, but they might just walk out and never come back.
When we tell people what we do in our literature, we get criticized by our own folks for thinking too highly of ourselves.
If our coffee hour doesn’t pay for itself, somebody’s going to hear about it. After all, it’s a luxury, and people don’t really need it.
And as for point systems, give aways, or thank yous, well, it’s the church. If we spend money on that then we’re told that people don’t need to be thanked and if we don’t spend money on that people tell us we’re ungrateful.

Why do two organizations, both specializing in blood (red blood cells or the blood of Jesus) receive such different reactions when they are both simply going about their mission?

I think that part of the answer is that we need to loose some of our “self righteous church people attitudes” that keep us from telling others how important the church is. Fifty years ago the church was seen as important to society and most people attended. Not so these days. And part of that may be our own fault for being so concerned about not being seen as not humble that we come across as insular, insecure and irrelevant.

Another part of the answer, in my opinion, is that almost everyone considers the work of the Blood Center to be life saving and life changing and important. But the work of the church? Only a few realize that we are also a place where lives and eternities are saved and changed. This might also be part of the difference between growing churches and dying ones. Take a look at the materials from your local blood bank some day. No doubt that they consider their work of critical importance. Then look at your church materials. Do you see the same kind of confidence in the critical nature of the church’s mission? Will it ever be different? Will more people come to realize that what we do as a church matters in a life saving way? I believe the answer is “yes.” But only when more people experience the life saving/life changing power in the blood of Jesus. And that is our mission.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A New Identity Comes At Enormous Cost

The Bible tells us that our new identity in Christ was purchased by his death. Because he died, we are made new. New identity costs big time.

I’m contemplating the whole topic of new identity for our congregation now that we are leaving the ELCA. So far, I am very thankful to our bishop for not trying to stop us and for not putting up bureaucratic obstacles. Now that our course seems clear, such obstacles would only make the angry people in our congregation angrier and the sad people sadder. We’re healing and we’re holding together after having a lot of very difficult conversations.

It’s interesting to me that most of the churches leaving the ELCA seem to be finding their new identities in mission. In other words, having taken a stand on the word of God, they now seem more committed than every before to go out and make disciples and be salt and light. It’s exciting to see. All of these departing congregations will be forming new relationships with congregations and denominations and associations that share their scriptural worldview.

It also looks to me that the ELCA will be getting a new identity of sorts. Also termed mission, it seems as if those remaining in the ELCA will be finding new unity in having taken a stand on social justice issues like gay marriage. Now, without the rest of us to raise a ruckus, the gospel of inclusion without transformation and salvation without the cross can be preached across the denomination and the trend toward universalism can continue unabated. Now there will be no one left to point out the inconsistency in preaching the Old Testament prophet’s hatred of the oppressor without preaching the Old Testament prophet’s hatred of sexual immorality.

From what I’ve seen and heard during the last couple of weeks, it looks as if measures are underway to be sure that there is no resistance to the new unified missional identity within the ELCA. From my vantage point, it appears as if efforts are underway to silence any remaining resistance within the ELCA. I site the following:

In a recent conversation with a certified and trained interim pastor, I found out that he was prohibited from even interviewing for any vacant interim position in our Synod. The only explanation is that the Synod office doesn’t approve of his stand against the actions of the Churchwide Assembly.

This from a friend whom I trust: Two clergy reported a bishop said to a group of clergy: "I will not do this, but every ELCA official who comes after me will.
If you do not agree with the resolutions of the CWA on sexuality in August, 
you will be set aside."

From a Facebook post on Nov 6:
“My godfather, a 50 year Lutheran pastor, was forced out of his church this weekend for taking a stand against the ELCA decision. He delivered a sermon regarding the gospel (little g) of acceptance replacing the Gospel (big G) of redemption. Most of the congregation agreed with the sermon, but a small number found it "intolerant", including the Sr. Pastor, and he was asked to resign...and not allowed to clarify his comments. I have a copy of the's quite tame. Anyway, thought you'd find that interesting. He's quite hurt.”

Apparently respecting “bound consciences” does not apply to bishops or Synods, who must carry out the policies enacted at the August CWA. This from the Lutheran Core November, 2009 newsletter:
“ELCA synods will not have the option of upholding traditional Christian
teaching on marriage and homosexuality in their standards for pastors and other rostered leaders according to a draft of candidacy rules released Oct. 10 by the ELCA
churchwide organization. No synod or bishop may make decisions on ministry standards that differ from the new policies of the ELCA churchwide organization as defined by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the policy draft explains.” See the full article and explanation at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Requiem for a Relationship

Our congregation voted last Sunday to leave the ELCA. 85.5% of those who voted wanted to go. It should be noted that another congregation in Waukee, IA also voted to leave on the same day and that the week prior, a church in Fontanelle, IA also voted to leave. We aren’t going alone. And I hear they are more to follow.

I was very proud of our congregation. There was no cheering, no clapping after the results of the vote were announced. We had a prayer and dismissed the meeting. People who wanted to go made an effort to comfort those they knew wanted to stay. The end was full of grace. My attention is now focused on trying to minister to those members who are disheartened by the result of the vote. Some of them will eventually leave our congregation. It’s heartbreaking. Some of them have been here for years and years and invested themselves in our ministry, in friendships and relationships.

Immediately after the vote, I kept fighting back tears. I wanted to get to my office and just ball. But people needed things and they wanted to talk. By the time I did get to my office, about 45 minutes later, I had no tears.

I have a variety of emotions. I’m pleased with the vote because I feel the congregation stood on the word of God. I’m saddened by the rending of people’s lives that will result. Quite frankly, there was no way to avoid this. Because if the vote had been different, it just would have been different people leaving and grieving. And I’m angry. Angry with the institution and establishment that brought this forward when 57% of respondents told them they were strongly opposed to the course of action that led to the current situation in the ELCA. I’m angry at the bishops and lay leaders who let the vote go forward, always keeping their opinions private, and shrugging their shoulders and saying, “We have to proceed. It’s the will of the church.” Rubbish.

We tried to avoid all of this. We played by all the rules.
Our congregation was kept informed of every action at Synod and church wide assemblies.
We did our study group and sent back our info regarding all the various sexuality studies.
We went to local conference meetings and stated our opinions and “engaged in the conversation.”
We sought to elect delegates to Synod and Churchwide Assembly. We were always defeated.
We sent out letters and e-mails to pastors, council presidents and churches, asking them to join us in our opposition.
We brought in speakers and invited local congregations.
We enlisted the help of national organizations.
We kept informing the bishop of our dissent.

But in the end, all our efforts locally and nationally failed.

We are not people filled with hate or anger although that is how we will undoubtedly be characterized. We have been called names and have suffered much from those who disagreed with us.

We are not poor losers. We did what we were supposed to do and we played by the rules. We fought the good fight. We engaged the issues. We are people who are certain that the word of God is clear about marriage and sexuality and who know that you can’t take away the requirement to repent and believe from the gospel of Christ.

We are not being chased out. We are leaving on our own. Heads held high.
We have not left historic Lutheranism. We still hold to the ideals and teachings of the Lutheran Church which has always taught about law and gospel, the centrality of Scripture in everything, and the need for daily repentance and amendment of life.

Finally, I want to congratulate our congregation for making a stand on what is and what isn’t God’s word and for having the courage to leave our denomination because of it.  It is my belief that by doing so, you stand with the likes of Jesus, Peter James John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Eusebius, Justin Martyr, Iraneaus, Augustine, Luther, and your Grandparents and parents.  Those who sought to elevate human reason over the word of God in this matter stand with Bishop Spong and the Jesus Seminar.

Who is the Jesus Seminar?  Exactly.  And if you know or care today who the Jesus Seminar is, know that your kids or grandkids will one day ask:  “Huh?  Who were they?  Never heard of them.”  Because everyone who has tried to change the word of God before is dead and forgotten.  Jesus is alive.  The Bible remains and his word goes out and lives are continually changed and people are healed and transformed.  All because they hear the call of Christ, “Repent and believe.”

I know that some of you who read this blog have been doing so because you have found some comfort in the arguments which have been made for leaving the ELCA. I have been overwhelmed by the positive response in e-mails and phone calls. God bless you all. If I can encourage you as you struggle with all the complex issues surrounding these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

For those of you who have been following because you are angry, please forgive me. I am only living out and speaking what I understand about Scripture. May you find peace with God.

Now it’s time now for us to start talking about the future. And what life looks like in a new world, with a clean slate. Mission is there. And we embrace the opportunity. Thanks for reading. PJ

Friday, October 9, 2009

Two Thoughts Confirmed

At the LCMC Gathering this week I had two thoughts confirmed: Thought #1: We need to be around more mission-minded churches. Thought #2: Everything must change.

Here are some vignettes of the conversations I had.

Jamie is second year student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. He has two years left. He was the only Luther student recognized this year at the Gathering. Why? Because students serious about the bible are fleeing denominational seminary programs because of run away biblical revisionism by many faculty members. What does this mean? It means that in the mid-term, it will become increasingly harder to find young pastors who love God’s word and are faithful to it in the mainline denominations. A tectonic shift is well underway.

What kinds of seminaries are students now going to? Their were about 20 seminarians recognized this year. The majority of them are going to Bethel Seminary where are very own Brent and Tina also attended. No one should be shocked by this. Our friends on the west side, Lutheran Church of Hope, has well over a dozen students at Bethel. These days it isn’t a question of “you must attend a seminary of your denomination,” it’s more “you need to attend a seminary that is faithful to the word of God.” How did mainline Protestant Christianity wind up in such a sorry state of affairs in the US? Because we lost the battle for the seminaries long, long ago. Making our master’s degrees count in the eyes of the world means that seminaries have to be accredited by the world. That immediately requires them to compromise. I was taught in seminary by admitted heretics. They weren’t nasty people by any means, but they didn’t hold with the historic teaching of the church and they were bold enough to tell you so. Because of accreditation, they are all tenured and cannot be removed no matter they teach. How weird is that? Many people insist we send our students to denominational seminaries so that they will have a strong denominational identity formed in them. But the denominational seminaries cannot form a strong denominational or even Christian identity any more and haven’t been able to for years. There were also a lot of students going to church run programs like The Master’s Institute ( )in the TC and the brand new, LCMC endorsed, Beyond the River Academy ( )which runs special programs for older, more established students.

Jamie is currently involved in planting a new church ( ) As he’s learning in the classroom is he able to put what he learns into immediate practice. The seminary didn’t set this up, he was asked to help out by a LCMC church in the Twin Cities. He’s a self starter who has decided to answer the call of Jesus and turn his worldly experience toward kingdom work. Jamie is from Des Moines and has been working with our homeless population for years, preaching at the Bethel Mission. Jamie wants to come back to Des Moines after seminary and plant a church for the homeless. Now, I ask you: isn’t that extraordinary? Here is a guy who isn’t looking for a soft landing. He’s not looking for a nice little church somewhere. He wants to do mission. That’s what LCMC is like because it is full of men and women and churches who have that same heart for mission. People and churches who aren’t afraid to change everything and even die to previous ambitions for the sake of mission.

Met another pastor named Dana from northern LA. ( )He’s been working at his church in an urban center for 27 years. These days, if you want the church to thrive, the leadership tends to stay a long time. He’s now lead pastor. His church and school sit on 7 acres of urban land across from a major medical center that wants to buy them out for millions and millions. Those millions could move his church and school out to the ‘burbs and build a really, really nice campus. But God spoke to Dana in a dream. They are staying downtown. And now, everything must change.

Post war, Lutheran churches in California grew because so many Lutherans from the midwest and east coast settled there. Bill Vaswig, our guest at Zion 2 weeks ago, reportedly said told a Zion member who was visiting him in California, “See that white stuff on the mountains over there? It isn’t snow. Those are all the letters of transfers from Lutherans moving to California.” But now, California has changed. It is incredibly diverse and many, many people have never been to church. So Dana’s church decided that if they were going to stay in the city and minister to the city, they would change their name. No one in their city knew what a Lutheran was so they removed it from their name. Then they selected a new name for their church, one that they felt would reflect their new reality as an urban mission center: LifeHouse Church. Now the new name probably won’t bring in people in droves. But it will change the way that Dana’s church thinks about itself. In the Bible, when people had been changed by God, they frequently got a new name. Jacob became Israel. Saul became Paul. A new name to signify a new way of being: mission. Everything must change.

Met an old seminary classmate of mine. He was always very popular. He could have any church he wants. He’s got it together. But he was white as a sheet for much of the conference. Why? Because my old colleague left the comfort of the established church and the salary and the benefits and is now planting a church in California. There is no safety net. He and his ministry are entirely in God’s hands. It’s been three weeks now and he’s a bit freaked out. Why did he do it? For the sake of the mission. Because everything must change.

I’ll close with this. At the Gathering we learned about 20 new house churches planted by two Iowa LCMC pastors in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are both humble, unassuming men. They love their Thai Dam brothers and sisters and risked imprisonment to bring them Jesus. Because they love Jesus. Because everything in this world must change and will change, when they hear about Jesus. That’s the mission for which he’s invited us along. And I am overwhelmed to see how it plays out in the lives of the people and churches of LCMC.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Observations from the LCMC National Gathering

I’m in Fargo, ND, at the LCMC National Gathering. It’s wonderful. It’s like coming home. You can watch the Gathering until 10/7 at noon CST via web streaming at Here is my brief report.

Personally speaking, my time her has been incredible. It has been a time of personal and professional renewal. I have laughed long and hard and sung and prayed with over 700 of my brothers and sisters in Christ. The keynote speakers have been fabulous. The break outs have been informative and very, very relevant. It’s been a joy connecting with these mission minded brothers and sisters.

Here are my observations:

This is where the happy Lutherans have gone. I know this will offend some of you but from my perspective this is true. The worship was songs we know by heart both traditional and contemporary. There was swaying, lifting hands, spontaneous applause... such a sense of joy dominates the environment here. There is laughter everywhere.
The business part of the meeting was brief. There is no bureaucracy to support. Get this, the numbers part was brief, all the motions were passed, all but one unanimously, and the real focus was on the state of the association. And the state of the association is growth. 20 new house churches in Vietnam and Cambodia have been planted. I wept at this because those churches were planted by LCMC pastors who were denied permission by the ELCA to plant those churches. Why were they denied permission? Because it’s illegal to spread the gospel in those countries. Praise the Lord that LCMC exists to empower mission. LCMC churches continue to grow in Belarus, Russia, Canada and Mexico as well. So the business we discussed was about hope, life, and kingdom growth. It was amazingly refreshing.
There was little to no anger at the ELCA. Sure there were some new members who needed prayer in dealing with difficult situations, but overall I found the attendees to be about doing mission in the here and now and leaving the past behind them. LCMC seems to be an organization for those who want to devote themselves to mission, not anger. The quote of the day from a Canadian pastor: “I want to be light. I don’t want to fight.”
I have never met a friendlier group of over 700 strangers anywhere. In the crowded halls they all laughed and talked and greeted each other. So many new friendships were created. There is a real sense here of “being on the same page.” And, just so I’m clear, it’s a unity that comes from where we’re going not from where we’ve been.
The Bible teachings by pastors and by such names as Walt Wangerin and Walt Kallestad was biblically sound and built up all who heard.
The breakout sessions were amazing. Nearly as good as the breakout sessions at a Willow Creek conference. They are mostly congregations sharing what’s working with other congregations. It’s done with such humility and, I’ll say it again, a real sense of having the same mission.
There are many seminarians who are finishing various programs at different seminaries and who will be coming on board in the next year. It was exciting to see them brought forward for prayer. I was astounded by the large number of pastors who joined the association this year as well.
There were so many visitors! Over 300 more than expected. They represented churches checking out LCMC. Word on the street is that most are planning to join.
I couldn’t believe the number of my former seminary classmates I ran into. It seems that everyone I went to school with who loves the word of God and wants to tell people about Jesus is either in LCMC or soon will be. Amazing.

We hope to get all 16 LCMC churches in Iowa into a working relationship. There are many things we can do together and we can support and love and build up one another. Next year at this time Des Moines will host the LCMC National Gathering and Lutheran Church of the Cross in Altoona will be the site. We’re excited to be a part of this great organization. Thanks for reading. PJ

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Belief vs. Belonging

So there is a lot going on in my head these days and it isn’t really fully formed yet but since this blog exists to share those thoughts with you, I’m going to go ahead and do a brain dump here so I can get some extra space between my ears to think about other things.

I was reading another blog by Trevin Wax that I read regularly. Check it out at:

I’m thinking about how and why we do church and I’m thinking about the collision between two predominate and colliding philosophies: believing and belonging.

Belonging has to do with community and is therefore very people focused. We want people to feel connected to our church body. We talk a lot about our “church family.” It’s important that people feel welcomed, safe, and comfortable when we are together. These are all really good points. We wouldn’t want to attend a church where we felt constantly threatened. We wouldn’t want to attend a church where we didn’t think that somebody cared about us.

The downside to emphasizing belonging is that you probably don’t emphasize teaching what Jesus wants you to believe because it will make people uncomfortable. I know that sounds weird to some of you but it’s true: Jesus makes people uncomfortable. Many times, Jesus himself destroys community. He himself admits it: Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. (Mt 10:35-36)

So that leads us to believing. More than anything else, Jesus taught about himself and who he was. He said we must believe in him. He said we had to leave family and friends and preconceptions and possessions for him. In other words, our relationship with Jesus is predicated upon belief. Shouldn’t the reason we do church, stay church together, bring people into the church, everything we do as a church, be because we want ourselves and other people to know Jesus and grow in their belief in him? (In other words, shouldn’t our beliefs be the reason we gather, the reason we do mission?) Shouldn’t our association with a church be determined by whether or not we believe the same things about Jesus?

I was reading about a division in one of America’s premier churches, Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Florida. They have a new senior pastor after 50 years of following their founding pastor. Read about it at this link:

The long time members were upset with the new members and the new pastor because they didn’t “pay their dues.” They just walked in a took possession of something other people had built. The ones complaining have put tradition, belonging, membership, history, above what they as an evangelical church are supposed to believe: that everyone needs to come and meet Jesus and believe in him.
Check out the senior pastor’s op ed piece in a local paper to apologize for the bad witness all this was creating:,0,6104431.story

I think this conflict between believing and belonging is played out everyday in many churches. I think pastors wimp out because they don’t want to deliver a message that people don’t want to hear. They don’t want to tell their churches what to believe because that will somehow violate community. What that means is that their churches are built on a foundation of belonging and not believing. Keeping people happy and together is more important than teaching them what they need to believe. It means that whenever some big issue that God has something to say about comes roaring in from the world, these churches are silent.

I think what this means overall is that instead of influencing and changing the world for Christ, many churches allow themselves to be changed by the agenda of the world. They bow to a membership that demands: “You must change what you believe in order to accommodate me and make me feel like I belong.”

Does the church of Jesus Christ exist to make people feel good or to tell them the truth about Jesus, themselves, life and eternity?

Jesus himself has been the one who always issued the invitation:  come to me and be changed.  We teach what it is that has been handed down for centuries by the saints who have gone before us - we call it the apostolic teaching.  The church has been the place that changes the world and its beliefs.  Where the church has been changed by the beliefs of the world and has changed to accommodate the world, reformation and revival breaks out, led by the Holy Spirit, to take the church back to the Bible and the apostolic teaching.  I believe very strongly that the result of the ELCA churchwide assembly will be reformation and revival in the Lutheran church.  I doubt the ELCA will survive as an institution, but Biblically faithful Lutheranism will thrive and grow and perhaps even fully take root in the soil of America.  

Here’s what we don’t want to happen: we don’t want our desire for community to trump doctrine (what we believe). Why? Because community that isn’t built on true doctrine won’t survive anyway. But community that is built upon a shared belief system will flourish and thrive. Look at China, Vietnam and North Korea where the church is exploding. Those Christians are brought together by shared beliefs and truly enjoy a type of community that is an authentic community of those who could be arrested, tortured or killed at any moment. It’s biblical community. They come from different social and economic positions, different backgrounds, different politics, but the thing that makes them a community together is what they believe about Jesus.

I guess I’m saying that believing (what we believe) must form our community and not vice versa. A community that has no doctrine or determines doctrine by consensus of the community is really nothing more than a mob.

Where do we get this “doctrine” in which we are to believe? The Bible. That’s where we learn about Jesus, life, ourselves and eternity.

So what does this mean for us and the way we do evangelism and welcome guests? It means that we proclaim what it is that we believe and teach and it means that we’re certain that when people join our church they understand and recognize that these beliefs are not negotiable, even if they bring discomfort. It means that we must make sure that our desire to create community never trumps our desire to share what we believe with others. What we believe (about Jesus) has to be what holds us together. Not our fear of people leaving.

The ELCA made a decision to elevate making a segment of it’s community feel comfortable over and above what it professed to believe (biblical doctrine). A community that violates it’s own doctrine is no community at all and will factionalize over every issue imaginable. Without belief being the reason for community, community is never sustainable.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Confusion Between Love and Hate

Jesus says: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:18-19 NASB

This is what I wonder: if the Church of Jesus Christ isn’t being persecuted, called names, tortured, driven underground, hunted, put to death, short of funds, etc., is the Church being the Church? If Jesus warns us that the world will hate us because it hated him, should we even desire a relationship with society in which the Church is encouraged, respected, revered, etc.?

Sometimes those of us in church work wonder aloud if it wasn’t a terrible thing that the Emperor Constantine made Christianity not only legal, but the state religion of the Roman Empire. Oh, I don’t doubt that God can work good in just about any situation men muck up, but it does make you wonder if the Church (at least in some parts of the world) hasn’t lost her edge and grown soft and complacent.

Now this softness is definitely not found in areas of the world where the Church is hunted down and persecuted. Places like Vietnam and North Korea and China and Saudi Arabia see enormous growth and incredible miracles. Without the support of the world, the Church flourishes because it cannot help but to rely solely on the power of Christ.

I see a real change in the way that the Church has engaged society in North America over the years. The Church was a huge leader in drawing together 13 very different Colonies and giving them a sense of shared identity and a common view of liberty. The Church was the leader in the movement to abolish slavery. The Church was the leader in the prohibition movement (OK, maybe that didn’t go so well, but hey, we were definitely pushing society). The Church was the leader in the Civil Rights movement. When the lack of available health care was an issue during the last century, the Church led the way in establishing hospitals and clinics to provide needed medical services. The Church cared for immigrants and widows and orphans before the social welfare net even existed. For nearly 300 years the Church has led the way in teaching people how to read (so they can read the Scriptures - the original Sunday School). I saw a glimmer of leadership from the Church after 9/11, during the invasion of Afghanistan, when hundreds of Christian workers arrived to help the new government and establish schools, radio stations, women’s centers and help to write a new constitution which includes freedom of religion. But those were mostly ‘undercover’ operatives from non-denominational fellowships that were ready to go and minister to the people who lived in darkness. Conversely, when the Iron Curtain came down and many countries became open again to receive the Gospel afresh, most of the historic denominations in the US were unprepared for the event and had no plans or people in place and ready to go. Cuba could open any day, and yet, I very much doubt whether any of our Mainline Protestant Churches are ready to go with Spanish speaking evangelists and mission workers.

Lately, all I see from the Church in North America is a kind of whiney complacency. I think this is especially true in Mainline Protestantism. Gone are the days of standing boldly against a sinful society in need of the redemption of Christ. Gone are the days of the talk of sin and how society is going astray. Gone are the days of a radical dependance upon the grace of God in Christ. Instead of initiating bold new initiatives to advance the Gospel, the Church has settled for following along with the rest of society. Instead of opening hospitals and clinics, some denominations hire lobbyists in the vain hope that Congressmen will be impressed by their denomination’s declining membership statistics. Instead of taking a stand against society, conversely, some expressions of the Church have taken a stand against the Bible’s view of marriage and have joined society in advancing alternate views of marriage between a man and woman. Instead of seeking ways to evangelize new arrivals to our shores, these denominations seek ways to nullify their historic beliefs in a vain attempt at accommodation. In many churches, care of the earth and recycling are considered of much greater value than making disciples of Jesus.

In a phrase: instead of the Church remaking society in the image of God, the Church has given in to the remaking of the image of God by society.

What should be done? It’s time to get back to our first love, as Revelation has it. It’s time to get back to a passionate love for Jesus Christ. A love that will spur us on to share him with our neighbors, our society and our world. It’s time to get back to being disciples. Oh, by the way, that means that the world will hate you. Are you ready for that? You might just find it’s worth it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Meditation on the Future of Zion Lutheran Church

I have recently shared with you a lot of my thoughts as to why the ELCA vote to nullify the Word of God at the recent Churchwide Assembly is wrong and cannot be support by the Bible, by the Lutheran Confessions, the historic teaching of Christianity for the last 2,000 years, nor the context of first century Judaism, in which Jesus lived and ministered. Now I simply want to do this: I want to paint you a picture of what the ministry of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church would look like if the congregation decides to sever ties with the ELCA.

First, a pre-supposition: since Zion is already a member of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC - I am going to presuppose that we will continue in our relationship with this denomination/organization. In other words, I’m going to assume that we will not have to shop for another Lutheran body outside of the LCMC. You may recall that we joined the LCMC in 2007 in order to be able to call Pastor Chris Magnell, a member of LCMC and not the ELCA, as our associate pastor.

That being said, this is what I see as our future: freedom and joy. Allow me to elaborate:

Zion will have the freedom to believe. Throughout it’s 150 year history, Zion has been characterized by a high view of Scripture. A century ago, Zion left another Lutheran denomination (which doesn’t exist anymore) over a dispute regarding whether or not the theological concept of millennialism was biblically faithful or not. Zion felt strongly that it was not and separated itself, joining another denomination which eventually became the ALC (American Lutheran Church which merged with others to form the ELCA). In other words, we believe that the Bible is the word of God and that the Lutheran Confessions are an accurate interpretation of that word. This means that the Bible is to be the standard by which we measure our lives and faith. The ELCA does not share our high view of Scripture. In Synod gatherings and pastor’s meetings, in the books and curriculums put forth by the denominational publishing house, in The Lutheran magazine itself, the ELCA continues to broadcast that it’s beliefs that place human reason and experience above the word of God and demand that the word of God be subject to human wisdom. Increasingly this has led to “agenda politics” culminating in the passing of that latest social statement and it’s resulting ministry changes. Without the ELCA, Zion will be free to continue its time tested beliefs in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions without interference from its own denomination.

Imagine what it will be like never again to have to apologize because one’s own denomination has made a decision that our church doesn’t agree with and wound up on the front page of the local paper. Imagine what life will be like without the endless march of ELCA social statements telling us what we are supposed to believe about everything. Imagine what it will be like not to have one’s own denomination publish a document like the “Use of the Means of Grace” which dictates how often we have to have communion in order to be Lutheran, and which liturgies and resources we have to use and the words we have to say.... Imagine what it will be like not to ever have to worry about our denomination making an agreement with another denomination which violates our own Lutheran teachings and requires our pastors to be ordained a certain way by certain people in order to legitimize their ministry like the ELCA did to us in the agreement with THE Episcopal Church in “Called to Common Mission.”

Zion will have the freedom to choose it’s own pastors for the future. One of the best benefits in being something besides ELCA is that Zion will be able to choose it’s own pastors based on what those pastors believe about the word of God and the Lutheran Confessions and about whether or not they practice that teaching in their own life. I know that some of you will argue that Zion has chosen it’s own pastors and that I am an example of that and so is Pastor Chris. But I want to tell you that the days of that kind of freedom are coming to an end. We have enjoyed a period of time of liberty lately because many of the ELCA’s own bishops (including our former bishop) were in violation of ELCA standards for ministry because they refused to bring disciplinary action against pastors who performed same sex blessings or who were actively engaged in lifestyles contrary to Scripture. But those days are quickly ending and I believe there will be more emphasis placed upon local Synod involvement in the call process (which the rules call for already) and that churches will be compelled to choose between candidates supplied by the local bishop who may very well wish to remake a congregation in a different image using a pastor whose beliefs are contrary to that congregations culture. We already see this kind of “top down” management in many Synods.

Zion will have the freedom to participate in ministry projects of our choosing with other congregations. I know one objection I’ve heard to leaving the ELCA has been that we lose the opportunity to participate in all those wonderful missions the ELCA does. But, rest assured, in LCMC, there is a lot going on already. Mission is done not at the national level, but at the local congregational level. In other words, we can work with any congregation, LCMC or otherwise in any mission project we choose, locally, nationally, or globally. Zion’s current relationship with Redeemer Lutheran Church (a member of the AALC - American Assoc of Lutheran Churches) required the approval of our former bishop. Now we won’t need permission to engage in mission with any congregation of our choosing, whether Lutheran or not. There will be no need for complicated ecumenical statements or verdicts or the reading of speeches. We can simply do mission with whom we choose to do mission.

In Des Moines already there are two other LCMC churches. Ephphata Deaf Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church of the Cross. Both have opportunities for us to engage in mission. We simply need to take the time to fellowship with them, learn what they are doing, and join in. I forecast that there will be at least two other formerly ELCA congregations joining LCMC in Des Moines. They also have opportunities to do mission and so do we. There are a total of 16 LCMC congregations already in Iowa.

Some of you might be concerned about our relationship with the ELCT (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania) and our sister congregations in the Pare Diocese. Believe me when I say that the ELCT will be in sympathy with our decision to move form the ELCA as the ELCT bishops are already on record before the vote as condemning this action as unbiblical. The ELCT may very well end its relationship with the ELCA.
Check out further mission opportunities at LCC - .

Zion will have the opportunity to join in joyous fellowship with other congregations. One thing about ELCA gatherings: they aren’t joyous. Did you know that we don’t order any materials from our own ELCA publishing house, Augsburg Fortress? Why not? Well, they don’t print the kind of things we think are appropriate for our people to read. They offer a mere human view of the Scriptures. Another interesting fact about Zion: we haven’t attended an ELCA youth event for a decade. Why? We don’t think it’s good for our youth to be exposed to what the ELCA is exposing them too. In the LCMC our youth will have the opportunity to be with other believers and learn things that will strengthen their faith and spur them on to live lives as witnesses for Jesus Christ.

Each year, the LCMC has a National Gathering. Pastor Chris tells me that they are really wonderful, edifying events. I will confess to you that in some 14 years as an ELCA pastor, I have never been edified by our Synod or ELCA events. I have been called names for quoting Scripture, told that my congregation was unfaithful and that I stood in the way of progress. I’m looking forward this October to seeing if Chris is right. I think he is. Turns out I know so many of the pastors in LCMC already. They are extraordinary men and women with amazing gifts who used to be in the ELCA but whose congregations simply couldn’t abide being told that what they believed about the Bible was uninformed and not in keeping with the times.

You should know that LCMC also has a district structure. That means that congregations group together by shared emphases or passions. We are free to join as many “districts” as we want. We currently belong to the ERD - the Evangelical and Renewal District, which Pastor Chris helped to found. There are fellowship and mission opportunities also available through districts. Further, if more churches in Des Moines join LCMC, as I believe they will, we have the opportunity to form our own local district. But none of this is mandatory, which means that it is pure joy.

Will things be different if we vote to leave the ELCA? Yes. But I wonder if they won’t be better, more joyous, and if we won’t be more eager to serve together.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. God bless you. PJ

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Redemption is God's Way of Inclusion

Today I was talking to our beloved scholar in residence and he reminded me what Church was all about. It’s odd how quickly we forget. It’s easy to turn Church into something that is really just an aspect of something Church is. Like focusing on one role a person plays as opposed to seeing the totality of that person. The Church, he reminded me, is the fellowship of the redeemed. I suppose it warrants capitalization: the Fellowship of the Redeemed.

Paul writes: “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor adulterers nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. BUT you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The Church is the Fellowship of the Redeemed. We were something else entirely but we have been redeemed.

God saves. It is what he does and he’s good at it. He saved his chosen people from slavery and death and brought them to the land of the promise. He saved his chosen from exile in Babylon and brought them home to the land of the promise. In Christ, he saved his chosen ones, undid the curse of Adam, and opened the door so that all the lost might join his chosen people. And it all required a sacrifice and it all required a change in us: Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14)

Change is the cost of redemption. Not that change for the sake of change can accomplish redemption, but that redemption itself, when done by Almighty God, brings about change in people. Few could break bread with Jesus and not leave the table changed and transformed by God’s redemption made flesh. They stopped being who they were, and they became something else; his people. They came away from the encounter forsaking their former way of life, their former constructs, their former prejudices. Redemption has a way of cleaning out the old and bringing in the new creation.

What we mourn in the decision of the ELCA last weekend is that it slammed the door on redemption because it told a group of sinners that they were “good enough” and had no need to change. But if they were made that way, why should they change? Because people are changed everyday by a radical encounter with Jesus. Every day, someone predisposed to addiction is liberated; every day, someone hooked on an activity which leads to death is set free and redeemed. Everyday, a very real Jesus brings healing, wholeness, and, yes, redemption to real people. Jesus said, “Go, back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Mt 11:4-6)

Christ desired that his redeemed ones, snatched from the devil, bought and paid for by his precious blood, should be in community together. Jesus founded the Church, died for her, cleansed her with his blood, that she might be the community of the redeemed, the Fellowship of the Redeemed. It is a community based upon redemption, upon change and transformation. “You once were... But now you are...”

When the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted for inclusion without repentance and for leadership without surrender, they voted out the need for redemption. They said, “Sure, Jesus talks about marriage between a man and woman but what is more important is that Jesus would want everyone included, not that they should be changed.” They thought the point was that there should be this big crowd, not that the folks in the crowd should go away changed by their encounter with Christ.

What the scholar reminded me of was that nowhere in this debate in the ELCA is there talk about redemption. It’s absent. The talk is all about social justice, political correctness, inclusion, hospitality, etc. But what happened to redemption? Oh, yeah, it requires change. And change isn’t on the table.

Maybe that is why the ELCA is dying. I don’t say that lightly or with prejudice. I simply state the fact that the ELCA is shrinking and has been since even before the predecessor bodies merged. Soon, regardless of what the consequences of this vote will be, it will vanish from the earth. Why? Perhaps because somewhere along the way the ELCA forgot it was about redemption...

These are the statistics and can be found on the ELCA’s own website, look under ‘research and statistics’:

The ELCA represents 3% of the US population.
Non Christians also represent 3% of the US population.

ELCA average worship attendance is down 291,847 people between 1987 and 2008.

The average age of the person in worship on Sunday in the ELCA is 54.

Between 2001 and 2007, membership shrank 7.5% overall, from about 5 million to 4.7 million people.

The future trends, however, are more disturbing:
Between 2001-2007, the number of infants being baptized is down 19%;
the number of adults being baptized is down 30%; the reception of new members from other denominations is down 21.5%. In other words, we’re having fewer babies, fewer adult conversions, and fewer transfers.

Membership transfers from other ELCA congregations are down 33% from 2001-2007. Transfers from other Lutheran bodies are down 31% and transfers from non-Lutheran churches are down 20%. The total number of members added to the ELCA roles is down 24%.

Number of baptized youth being confirmed: down 20.9%

Average weekly attendance at ELCA churches is down 13.4% overall between 2001-2007.

The only positive news is that giving is up. 29.8%

God is busy doing his redeeming work. And maybe it is necessary for one denomination to die so that from that loss might emerge a new and redeemed people, a holy remnant, with a fire in their belly, to share with all who will hear: our God is in the redemption business; our God saves. And in saving, he changes lives and eternities.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Should We Leave the ELCA?

I want to begin by asking this question: Why do we have denominations? I came up with a short list which includes the following: For the sake of our identity; for the sake of our accountability and integrity; for the sake of doing ministry and mission; and finally, to provide "approved" or vetted pastors for congregations to choose from.

Perhaps there are more reasons and if so, I'm open to hear them. But now that we understand the "why" of denominations, let's look and see what the ELCA's recent decisions affect those "why" reasons.

1. For Identity. We are this and not that. Denominations are a way of how we see ourselves and understand our history. Sadly, the ELCA has never been able to provide a common Lutheran identity that applied satisfactorily to those who came out of its predecessor bodies. In other words, they were never able to galvanize a collective identity of what it meant to be an ELCA Lutheran. Lutherans have ALWAYS identified themselves as people of the Word. Our entire Reformation history is about freeing the Word and making it available to all. Now, with the passing of these new policies, our own denomination has betrayed our history. How can we who value the Bible as more than just another book possibly find our identity in this denomination?

2. For Accountability/Integrity. Denominations are supposed to maintain standards for member churches to follow. Denominations are supposed to be the guardians of “what we believe and why.” They are the ones who enforce discipline against heretics (wrong thinkers), who zealously guard the historic, orthodox Christian faith. In this case, the denomination has betrayed it’s own incorporating documents and its own historic teaching. The ELCA is not accountable to the majority of its members nor to the Word of God anymore and therefore lacks any integrity as a denomination whatsoever.

3. For Shared Ministry/Mission: Denominations, historically, have maintained that they can do mission better then individual congregations acting alone. Rather than each congregation supporting one missionary a little bit, denominations basically asserted that they could do mission better by collecting funds from member churches and then using the money in a directed way. Can we actually be a part of a ministry or mission done by a denomination with no Scriptural, historic or orthodox Christian integrity? In other words, if our own denomination doesn't adhere to Scripture, do we really want to support any ministry or mission that the denomination does because won't we possibly be propagating false faith and error? After the passage of this social statement and implementing policies, do we even believe that we share the same idea of mission or ministry with this denomination? At Zion we are currently participating in only one ELCA initiative: the Companion Synod Program that partnered us with the Mhezi Parish in Tanzania. Our contacts among the Mhezi can continue because we now have direct lines of communication and relationships with people on the ground in Tanzania. We currently lose nothing by not being a part of the ELCA mission structure. It's important to note here that bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania have gone on the record as saying that the passing of this social statement and it's ministry resolutions would cause them to break off relations with the ELCA. I wonder if this will apply to others of our more biblically conservative Lutheran partners in the Lutheran World Federation as well?

4. To Provide "Approved" Pastors: The ELCA has always tried to have a lot of control over who could be a pastor and where they could serve. Most congregations must wait up to a year to find a suitable pastor and most congregations are limited in the pool of candidates the local bishop will give them from which they can choose. That hasn't been an issue at Zion, but it is in other places who haven't felt confident enough to go outside the process. Since the ELCA has abandoned the historic, orthodox Christian faith, what kinds of pastors will it be able to supply to its churches in the future? Won’t those biblically faithful men and women considering becoming pastors decide to join a different denomination? I believe the pool of faithful pastors will dry up quickly in the ELCA which will leave Zion ultimately unable to find ELCA pastors who share our beliefs. What pastor who loves the word of God can abide a denomination which doesn't?

So we have a lot of work ahead of us. We must pray and seek the face of the Lord together but in short of repealing recent decisions, I don't see how we can proceed in the company of the ELCA. We simply don't value the same things any more.

This will be an incredibly hard parting for those of us who grew up in the ELCA and its predecessor bodies. We need to be very patient and understanding with each other. But this isn't about leaving the Lutheran Church. This is about finding our home in a Lutheran body which shares our love of Scripture and of Christ Himself. To quote an oft use phrase: In this case perhaps we have not left the denomination so much as the denomination has left us.

Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

For more information, please see the following links: (About the tornado) (Presiding Bishop Hansen's letter) (news releases about what was passed at the Assembly)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A 21st century church system failure

So at the end of May I was on vacation with my family in Seattle. We had a rental mini-van and it had a gift from God just to me: Sirius satellite radio. Jazz, 24/7. No talk. No commercials. No breaking for NPR news. It was pure grace. For 2 weeks I didn’t hear the news. I had no idea what was going on in the outside world and I liked it. Why? Because the world is too much with us and its fun to get away and escape.

When I got home I had some catching up to do. So I went to the usual places to find out what was going on in the world. I don’t take the local city paper or any other paper. One of my former colleagues used to cut out the articles for me so I could stay current. She was like my own private clipping service. But I don’t have that anymore.

I trust one network to give me a synopsis of the news; one website to keep me current on what’s happening in the greater culture; and one or two magazines to give me an update on everything professional.

There simply isn’t time to process all the information that’s out there. I want the gist and if I’m interested, I can go find out more. So I rely on a few select outlets to be a kind of clipping service for me.

It occurs to me that one of the serious systems failure we have in the church is that I, the preacher, have become a kind of religious clipping service for my flock. They come for an hour a week and expect me to download the gist of what they need to be christians for the week.

But following Jesus doesn’t work that way at all. You can’t rely on others to give you the gist. You have to relate to him personally. He didn’t say, “get the gist from the preacher and follow me,” he said, “Deny yourself daily, take up your cross and follow me.” In other words, you can’t do discipleship from a church clipping service. You have to live it, breathe it, work it, struggle with it, deny yourself and pick up your cross yourself. No short cuts.

The systems failure comes about in that I think we who do church professionally play too easily into people’s desire to do faith easily and then move on to the next thing. Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Pastors Head and Home are Scary Places to Be

Wow, hard to believe that it’s been so long since I blogged. I have pages of notes of things I’d like to share with you but time and space have been in short supply. I wouldn’t even be sitting down now, grabbing a few minutes between appointments, but this one sort of wrote itself in my head and I had no choice but to crack open the lap top and write.

Luther once wrote: “Every preacher should exhibit two things. First, a blameless life by which he can defy the world and no one have cause to slander the teaching, and second, irreproachable teaching, that he may mislead none that follow him.”

In my experience in growing up in a pastor’s home and now being one myself, it’s that first one, the “blameless life by which he can defy the world” that is the kicker. It’s easier to preach pure doctrine than it is to live it. It’s easier to preach about how we shouldn’t be so busy than it is to actual not be so busy you lose your way.

So there is this coffee shop in town I go to sometimes when I need a place to work besides the office. Somewhere where I can think clearly and without interruption. What you need to know is that this particular coffee shop is frequented by an alarming number of pastors from all over town. I guess we all have a need to be outside the office sometimes. I was happily working away, thinking great thoughts, minding my own business when the conversation three tables over intruded upon my inner peace and purpose.

Two guys, late forties, casual dress. Topic: their fall sermon series. Gosh, turns out one guy is going to do something similar to what we’re doing. Darn! After the pleasantries it’s on to the hard stuff. Oh no, its an accountability meeting. Two pastors meeting together and asking about the hard stuff in their life and telling each other the truth.

“Are offerings still bad?” “Yup.” “What are you doing about it?” “No more college fund for the kids.” “Stopped making retirement contributions to my IRA.” “Pulling in the belt everywhere.” “Church can’t afford me.”

“How’s the wife?” “Still struggling with depression?” “Is she seeing anyone?” “How are you coping?” “I’m cooking and cleaning and trying to help out.”

“How’s your health?” “Cholesterol is 216.” “Mine’s 260.” “What are you doing about it?” “I don’t have time to exercise.”

I know I should have left sooner just to be polite and give them some privacy, it’s just that I got sucked in. I got sucked in because their struggles sound so much like my life it’s scary. Why should I be surprised? Surveys continue to show that clergy rates of heart attack, divorce, suicide, depression, alcoholism and bankruptcy are all among the highest of any profession. Right up there with policemen. A former bishop told me he knew that 2/3rds of the pastors in our denominational district are on depression meds.

Why is that the best job in the world, getting to tell people about Jesus, has such a shocking level of sick practitioners? I think it must have something to do with the expectations we place on ourselves and which other people have of us as well.

Like the fire department, we’re to be on call 24/7. When people need us they expect us to be there for them.
There is no room for error in our preaching/teaching or our private lives and if we start to get into trouble somehow, there isn’t anyone we can go to for help. We can’t risk telling people about our own personal struggles for fear they will lose respect for us and no longer submit to our teaching.
We have all the risk of small businessmen but almost none of the rewards.
People expect us to put the church first and our own lives and families second and if we don’t, there is frequently trouble.
People perceive that we work only one day a week and have no real idea about the myriad things that are expected of us, including, when necessary, cleaning the church.
If we’re involved in giving direction we’re controlling. If we aren’t involved in giving direction we’re either aloof or a bad leader or not doing our job.
If we talk about how wonderful things are at church we’re egotistical and if we don’t talk about what’s happening at church people think nothing is happening at church and lose interest.
People are angry that they don’t feel the presence of God during worship but when they do they are also likely to blame the pastor for what the Spirit of God does to them or say the didn’t want “that much religion.”
You get the point.

How do you fix this? Well, the answer may very well be that you have to do church differently. Many of the expectations we have of pastors these days come about because of the old European parish system and are not biblical at all. And just as the world has changed considerably in the last 500 years, the model of how we do ministry also needs to change.

But change is scary and in a world of constant change people want something familiar, someone they can count on, someone to come and comfort them when they need it. So it is an extraordinary church that can break free from the past and forge a new model.

I leave this topic now, unresolved, because as yet, I myself am not certain how to fix it. I only know that the model of ministry we use has to change because the world has changed and because we need to figure out a way to make being a pastor a sustainable life so that the pastor can, by his life, “defy the world.” Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Report from Synod Assembly

The Southeast Iowa Synod Assembly (about 150 churches in the ELCA) was held June 12 and 13 in Waverly at Wartburg College.

Most people at our church wouldn’t know or care about the meeting. After all, it doesn’t really affect us, right? What trouble could a bunch of pastors, lay delegates and a bishop get up too?

For a more complete answer to that question, talk to Dwain and Dorothy Swanson, our lay delegates from Zion. They will be presenting their report in a forum this Sunday, June 21, at 9:15 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall at Zion. Knowing the Swanson’s well and having experienced what they experienced this past weekend, I’d title their presentation: “Why Dwain and Dorothy Will Never Go to Another Synod Assembly Ever Again.”

Yes, it was that bad. One issue dominated, as it has for the last nine years. Human Sexuality. Here’s the BIG QUESTION in my mind: Can conduct forbidden by Scripture (in this case, sex between people of the same gender whether “married” or not) be blessed by the Church? The answer, according to the Assembly, is yes, by 2/3 to 1/3 of delegates.

Now it’s true that the Proposed Sexuality Study and the changes it will necessitate in who can be a pastor and whether or not pastors can perform same sex unions will not be voted on by the Churchwide Assembly until August. But our experience at this Assembly along with the Twitter and Facebook feeds from other Synods who were meeting at the same time, all seem to indicate that the Study and the changes it will bring to the ELCA will pass.

Let’s be clear: I don’t really care about the issue per se. This isn’t about gay people and I’m not opposed to the Study because I don’t like gay people. I love them. I love them so much I want them to know Jesus and his healing. This is really about whether or not the Church should say, “To heck with the Bible! To heck with the word of God and 7,000 years of consistent teaching on this issue! We don’t care if the Bible calls it sin or not. We just want people to feel affirmed and be happy.”

So let’s just change the issue. Let’s say it’s alcoholism. The Bible says it’s wrong to get drunk. No dispute from anyone that alcoholism is a sin that breaks up families and ruins lives. Should the Church, for the sake of wanting the alcoholic to feel affirmed and happy, say, “To heck with the Bible! We just want you to feel affirmed and happy! Drink all you want!”

Or what about adultery? (That’s having sex with someone who isn’t your husband or wife). The Bible is not down with it. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “But this is different! If I had met him/her first, I never would’ve married my husband/wife. I believe God brought this person into my life and he/she is my true love.” Should we say, “Gee, now that you brought God into it and you feel he did this to you, golly, maybe what you’re doing isn’t a sin at all. In fact, maybe it’s his will. Never mind about the body count that will result spiritually and emotionally from your betrayed spouse and kids. Let’s have a ceremony and bless this thing, because now you’ve found out who you really are supposed to be with and we want you to feel affirmed and happy.”?

The point here isn’t about sex or sexual orientation. It’s about the Bible. Either the Bible is the Word of God and you should submit to it’s teachings or it isn’t. In the ELCA we say, er, used to say, that the “Bible is the norming norm for all matters of faith and life.” We used to call it the “final authority.” I guess that just went out the window. We just un-sinned sin. Having done that, what need do we have of a savior? Gosh, if God made people sinners I guess that’s his problem and not ours. So who needs Jesus anyway? He was a great teacher, but that whole dying on the cross thing? Overkill. Who needs that?

For a decade we’ve been fighting this fight. Everything that can be said has been said. We’ve listened and listened and listened. We’ve prayed. We’ve sought unity and reconciliation. We’ve repented, we’ve been challenged to examine our hearts again and again. We’ve done everything but be obedient to what the Bible teaches. It still boils down to whether or not we’re going to submit to Scripture as God’s words or not. If some congregations decide they will submit and others won’t, well, what is the point of that denomination?

More later. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

To see a response to the proposed ELCA Social Statement that mirrors my own thoughts, see:

To see the Proposed ELCA Social Statement on Sexuality, see:

To see what the proposed ELCA Social Statement means in practice, see:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What I Believe About the Church

1. I believe the local church is the hope of the world.
No one has the “words that give life”, the Gospel of life, the truth about Jesus, except us.
2. I believe the church is sustainable.
When we’re doing it right, there is enough to help the widows and orphans.
When we’re doing it right, people give to the church because it’s obviously of critical importance to them.
When we’re doing it right, there are enough people helping out that you can say “no” without feeling guilty.
3. I believe the church has a priceless treasure from God (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) stored in clay jars (us).
4. I believe the church is dynamic and not static.
Jesus himself equipped us to take his message to the world and while the message doesn’t change, the generations do and so does the way we present the message.
5. I believe the church is a warship and not a cruise ship.
Our struggle is spiritual and the forces of evil are arrayed against us.
Our job is not to make people feel happy and served but to make disciples who will in turn make disciples and so on until everything submits to Christ as Lord.
6. I believe the church is a mission outpost and not a family chapel.
We exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ in a world that is hostile to him and therefore to us and not simply to carry on our own family traditions and cultural and ethnic practices.
7. I believe that God made every church to glorify him by being unique.
We are all part of one body but as a part we have different giftings and different functions.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's the plan after Pastor Chris leaves?

First, let me be clear that what I'm proposing will first have to be approved by the elected leaders of the congregation on the Board of Spiritual Oversight, of which Pastor Chris and I are both members.

Because Chris and I are so close, I've been in on his discernment process from the beginning and have therefore been able to devote a lot of prayer and thought to this plan. At this stage of Zion's development, I wouldn't want to work with someone whom I didn't know. This is a moot point anyway, as our current financial situation really won't allow us to hire a seasoned professional. So what could God be up to? I think that his answer is this: we are being given the perfect opportunity to promote from within. We have two of our current staff involved in getting their M.Div degrees. Brent Osborne, our youth guy, and Tina Rasmussen, our director of adult discipleship. So what I propose is a two part plan:

First, Brent and Tina begin pastoral internships at Zion. Some of you will be familiar with this concept that is part of the education process within the Lutheran church. A seminary student serves at least a year under the supervision of a pastor in order to experience real ministry situations in the congregation. Some interns are given programming responsibilities and others are basically given churches to lead and their supervising pastor might be in another town. Each intern has an internship committee made up of members of the congregation who provide feedback and evaluation to the intern. I would like to see Tina and Brent moved into official roles of Intern Pastors and proceed toward their ordinations in 2010 and 2011 respectfully. Each would continue in their present responsibilities as well as taking on some additional pastoral responsibilities such as visiting and occasional preaching. Interns are compensated at a set rate that is within our ability to afford and this would allow us to actually pay Tina for what she has been doing at Zion for the last year already.

In the summers of 2010 and 2011, respectively, after having graduated from their programs and received their degrees, Tina and Brent will be ordained and able to fulfill full pastoral responsibilities as well as oversight of staff and programming to be determined. Each will be given the title: “Teaching Pastor.” I realize that some people will question why we need three pastors. I think it's important that everyone understand that it is not unusual for churches of Zion's size to have several pastors on staff, each one charged with responsibilities in different areas of programming. Their titles are usually something similar to "Missions Pastor" or "Children's Pastor" for example. They are on the church staff and serve as program directors but can also do pastoral acts like weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. I've had many titles over the years I spent at Hope. Over my tenure there I was: Teaching Pastor for Discipleship, Teaching Pastor for Adult Discipleship and Prayer and Missions, and Teaching Pastor for Care. It's a worthy model to follow and utilized by many churches.

Brent has a pastor's heart. He is incredibly gifted and is developing to be a great preacher. He preached almost every weekend last year at the Veritas service on Sunday nights. His abiding passion is in the care of souls, which we desperately need. I believe he is the right one to one day lead a ministry at Zion that offers care to people through a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Tina is a gifted teacher who as a staff member at Hope had a 100 people attending her Bible study. She has just finished as a long time board member of Crossways International where she has been a protege of Harry Wendt, the founder of the Crossways curriculum, the best Bible survey material I have ever used. She has a background in leadership training and small groups. She has a lot to offer as a gifted teacher and preacher.

Pastor Chris' current duties will be distributed as follows:  teaching:  between Pastor John and Tina and Brent.  Pastoral Care:  between Brent and Tina.  Missions: to BreeAnn Williams, our director of childrens discipleship who has a deep passion for missions and experience as well.  

Tina will be tasked with the following: adult discipleship; leadership development; hospitality (which will include evangelism, coffee hour, transportation, information center, ushers); she will teach and preach; she will have some care responsibilities.

Brent will be tasked with the following: youth discipleship; supervision of Carli; continued development and oversight of our cradle to grave discipleship plan; preaching and teaching; care responsibilities.

BreeAnn will be tasked with the following: kids discipleship; oversight of nursery; missions.

I will be tasked with the following: vision, staff, preaching and teaching, leadership development, and care.

In addition, Stephen Ministers will come on board this spring and will be tasked to help with visitation to hospitals and the home bound as well as being assigned one on one relationships. We'll ask the Prayer Team to step up efforts to meet and pray with people on Sundays and Wednesdays before surgeries and so on.

My inspiration several years ago was to find a strong preacher and teacher who would help me address our greatest need: to get into the Word. We’ve really been blessed to have Chris with us. I estimated Christ would be here 3-5 years but obviously God had other plans and so basically shy of 2 years, he’ll be leaving us. But I know that this is the right move for Chris and his family and for the kingdom of God. Brent and Tina will make excellent preachers and will grow into their roles. It will take practice, which means they need time and opportunity. Zion will be raising up and equipping new leaders for the whole Church and not just our congregation.

The second part of this plan has to do with finding someone to begin to take over our youth ministry program in the fall of 2010. I'd like to find a young candidate in need of formation and opportunity who will meet our immediate needs with the intent of raising him/her up through the ranks. More about this second step in my next blog. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Becoming a Church that Disciples

What would it be like to be a church that had as it’s primary focus making disciples? Oh, I know most churches think that’s what they do but I’m not convinced that’s what is actually happening. A disciple of Jesus is one who follows Jesus and learns from him and in whom Jesus has complete control of the daily agenda and life. I think most of us in church-world think that if people come to church they must be disciples. But I haven’t experienced that to be the case ever.

How would we go about “making disciples” and not just members?

Jesus’ method was to take 12 men and pour his life and teaching into them for about three years. He also kept them on the move. Interesting. Not sure what to do about the “on the move part.” Part of being church today is to have a facility. Facilities don’t move. But I’m not ready to engage in a discussion about whether or not buildings help or hurt discipleship. We’ll tackle that one another day.

Jesus’ didactic style was to say: Follow me. Now watch. Now you try. Now go and do likewise. The style would be fun to try. Not sure how it works in the “classroom” settings we have. We usually just lecture. Sometimes we give homework. But we never really get around to “go and do.” Oh, sure, we like to think that people will apply what we’ve lectured on, but will they? Another discussion for another day.

What would be the curriculum? A series of questions?
#1: Who is Jesus? Seems important if we are to be making his disciples.
Who are you? The work of Jesus on the cross gives you the opportunity to be a child of God, a disciple, a new creation in Christ.
What are you good at? What spiritual gifts has the Holy Spirit graced you with? How can they be employed in the Body of Christ?
Who are you discipling/training/mentoring? In other words, as you have been taught, now teach. Sort of that go and do thing applied for the multiplication of leader/disciples.

I suppose that additional work would need to be done on “how to minister to others” and then something about how to minister to yourself - that is, how to keep yourself hardwired to Jesus; the practice of spiritual disciplines and so on. How to develop a personal devotional life, in other words.

After three years, the disciples would be released to disciple - well, sort of, as with #4 they ought to have been doing it as we go along...

This certainly is a different way of learning. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned. God bless.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Spiritual State of Zion

In a couple weeks we’ll spend some time talking about how we’re doing as a church. Are we following Jesus together? Are there things we should be doing differently? It’s called “The Spiritual State of Zion” message and here is a preview:

There are four priorities which need to be addressed and addressing them will require some resources. They are: Scripture, Leadership Development, Communication, and Love.

Scripture: As a congregation, Zion is incredibly hungry for the Word of God. And we need more of it. We need our people to be immersed in it. Not just at church on Sunday or Wednesday, but every day in time spent in the Word. The most recent and comprehensive study of spiritual growth in churches indicates that at every stage of spiritual growth, Scripture is critical. We have done a good job of beginning, but we need to continue and build upon what we’ve done and move now from teaching and preaching into application. We also need others to help us teach and challenge others to get into the Word. Which is why leadership development in critical for us.

Leadership Development: To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a leader. All of us are called to follow him. And all of us are called to “make” disciples. That is a leadership role. We need leaders on every level: teachers of the Bible, small group leaders, Godly leaders of various ministries, leaders who are called by God to start new ministries and inspire others to follow them. We also need to be sure that Christian parents understand their leadership role in bringing their children to faith. We need new elders and board members. We need mentors and disciplers.

Communication: In order to share the vision we have across three services and to those who don’t attend every single week, we need to develop new and improve existing methods of communication. It is also necessary that we customize communication to fit specific groups within the church like visitors, youth and children. We have been given a developing vision of the church to communicate and we need to spend time and resources developing and improving our style and methods.

Love: Scripture tells us that God loved the world so much he gave us Jesus. We need to learn to love the world the way God does. Not the way the world wants to be loved (unqualified acceptance and license), but in a godly way. Our failure to be able to do a better job reaching out beyond our own walls is less about organization or structure or resources then it is about our hearts. Our hearts, as a congregation, aren’t soft enough yet. How do we get the very heart of God within us? Jesus tells us: Love one another. So I understand this to mean that love starts at home and moves outward. We love the ones right here first and somehow that begins a heart transformation process that leads us into the lives of our neighbors and to those we meet along the way. My analysis is that the staff has come a long way in truly loving each other. Now it’s time for the boards to love each other, and then the congregation as a whole. Then, I think, the Holy
Ghost will invite us to leave this place and go out into the world and share the love of Christ and it won’t be compelled or guilt ridden, it will be freeing and joyful and exuberant and we will surpass everything we can imagine as our hearts and lives are opened up to this kingdom work.

Thanks for reading. Come to Zion on May 17 for the rest of the story. God bless you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Random Thoughts From My Last Two Posts

This has been an intense week since my last post. Several things have cause me to continue to reflect on what I’ve written in the last two blogs.

First, recalling a past conversation on a list serve on which I am a lurker. The idea being expressed by fellow pastors who share many of the same theological and biblical prejudices was that we Christians couldn’t make gay marriage a big issue because we would loose our “right” to talk to the younger generations who feel strongly about gay rights and equality. I think this is what concerns Rick Warren in his recent “about face” regarding his support for Prop 8 in California.

I suppose the answer came in a subsequent conversation with a colleague. “You won’t have a seat at the table by betraying what you believe,” he said. And I think he’s right on the money. Yes, the “young” are far more likely to embrace social license and call it equality. But the next generation also has no time or respect for those who betray what they believe in order to be hip. They’ll see right through those “Bible believing Christians” who are fudging on the issue of gay marriage and rightly call them hypocrites. I think we will do much better as stewards of the Gospel by being true to what we profess we believe, namely that the Bible is True and is the authority for us in how we are to live, if we stick to our guns and say about gay marriage, “It isn’t part of God’s design.” That is biblical truthful, faithful, and not hateful. It simply states what we believe.

Second, to back this up, a recent article in Leadership Journal caught my eye. In that article, a Muslim professor at a Christian Seminary (yes, you read that correctly) stated that in his experience, Christians frequently were willing to compromise their beliefs in order to prevent others from feeling “uncomfortable.” This is his response to that kind of behavior, which, in my opinion, has taken over the Church:

“If you enter a ministerial gathering as a Christian minister and downplay your Christian identity in an attempt to make everyone comfortable, as a Muslim leader, I’m immediately suspicious. I don’t trust you. Embracing your identity as a Christian creates safety for me to be Muslim.” - Eboo Patel, McCormick Theological Seminary and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.

Patel goes on to remind Christians: “If you don’t use the Christian narrative to define reality for your people, then someone else will define reality for them with a different narrative.” This is most certainly true. We have allowed those proponents of gay marriage to define the entire debate in terms of “feelings” and not kept the debate centered around Jesus, who loves sinners but doesn’t leave them hostage to their sin.

Finally, a good conversation on FB with a great friend who is Roman Catholic. He follows my blog and has written the following in three or four different responses:

“I think it isn't so much re-defining (christian) marriage in light of the same sex stuff as it is reclaiming the original meaning. The (christian) Church was the arbiter of marriage until this power was ceded to the state. The state was, after all, more favorable to divorce than the Church. Call it the law of unintended consequences, 500 years on.

“Some might argue that this was (in part) the original motive of moving marriage from church authority to state authority (convenience). The state no longer recognizes the authority of Scripture. A democratic state is by nature interested in equal protection of its citizens. Seems to me this same sex stuff is only the natural outcome of transfering this authority to the state (which in addition to being arbiter of divorce includes the ability to define it). Perhaps the mistake on the part of some sects is in too closely identifying with state authority and too willingly cedeing authority over marriage to the state? The only way out I see is the theological way...

“I think the answer is theological. legal contracts don't make a marriage because it is a spiritual covenant - i.e., God is the third party, not the government. In short, because marriage is covenant and not a contract, government doesn't define it. God defines it. Government can only define a contract, not a covenant.

“We need a theology of marriage that is not dependent upon the civil contract. In Mexico (and all over Latin America), couples go to the courthouse the week before their church wedding to finalize their civil union, which can only be done before a civil judge. Interestingly, couples don't generally regard this as their wedding date. They regard the day of their church wedding is the start of their marriage. Marriage as Sacrament needs to be restored...a marriage begins when Jesus is invited into the relationship, not when the papers are signed because it is a covenant, not a contract.”

I argued in my previous blog that supporting gay marriage as a denomination means that we nullify Scripture. And as a Reformation Church that staked everything, including our identity, on the authority of Scripture, that leaves us with no reason to do mission because we have no Holy Book, no reason to exist. Without Scripture, as a Reformation Church, we have no reasonable basis on which to base our identity. If we can pick and choose what we like and don’t like about Scripture, then that means that we can pick and choose what is true and what isn’t, and if that’s the case, there is no reason to believe that Jesus was right when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

My dear Catholic friend responds from the heart of his tradition, which, unlike my own, gives equal standing to the tradition of the church along with Scripture. He writes, “Losing the Authority of Scripture is a particularly difficult problem where tradition has no authority. I see the "slippery slope" argument here. What else is left?”

Indeed. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ